It’s been a while. Enough to look like this is over.
It remains important to me to think: today, I might blog. And to think: I have a place to do it in.
So why don’t I more often? That is the thing on my mind today.
Reason #1: Because I am storing up some of the thinking that went into this blog for other, as yet unseen, purposes. First, for the Aydelotte Foundation, which I presently co-direct. We’re going to go live in the spring with a new website, and I’ve been writing a lot of content for that, much of which would previously have been grist for my blog mill. Second, I’m working on a long-form manuscript that in some ways arises out of fifteen years of blogging, and that’s absorbing some of the energies that would have gone into this space.
Reason #2: Because the way we’ve come to read in our present public sphere is both boring and terrifying. This N+1 essay in their Fall 2018 issue helped me understand a lot of my own distress. There seems to be almost no appetite now among public readers for interesting, stylistic or exploratory writing. Readers swarm over everything now, stripping any writing down into a series of declarative flags that sort everyone into teams, affinities, objectives. There’s no appetite for difficult problems that can’t be solved or worked, or for testimonies that give us a window into a lived world. No pleasure in the prose itself, and thus none in the writing of it.
Reason #3: Because we seem to arrived at a point where justice means visiting extreme precarity on everyone who says anything rather than making it possible for previously suppressed voices to speak safely. This is a familiar inflection point in struggles for social justice: we despair of a transformation that emancipates and so we settle for a transformation that at least tries to spread the misery. That might even be the right thing to do, for a variety of reasons. Making the powerful fear the consequences of speech that discriminates or hates or creates fear may be all we can do for now. There have been plenty of opportunities for the powerful to instead take a more hopeful and constructive interest in the voices of people who were long excluded from the public, in sentiments that have been unheard, and that opportunity was long unpursued. But the consequence in our current public discourse is that almost everyone is one day away from having someone paint a bullseye on them, deserving or otherwise. There can’t be any pleasure or joy in public writing in our present mood. Moreover, the kind of provocative hooks that I used to really enjoy setting into my blogging feel risky and I don’t have the same taste for risk that I used to. I feel vulnerable and tentative and melancholy even when the visible sociologies of my life and my writing should suggest otherwise.
Reason #4: For all that amateur blogging has faded, there is still a tremendous volume of online writing, and its speed has accelerated. By the time I have thought through my take on something that’s at least a bit timely, it’s been thoroughly masticated and spit out in online conversations. The last thing we need is more roughage to block up the digestive systems.
Reason #5: As I’ve said before, I know too much now and that is producing some of the expected inhibitions–it feels as if almost anything I might say would be taken to be subtweeting even when it’s not.
Reason #6: Everyone I respect who writes online feels smarter and clearer than I feel I am myself. I feel less confident in what I think I know and more conscious of the vastness of the things I do not know. That I know that this is a common feeling does not particularly relieve me of having it.
Reason #7: It’s hard to feel like there’s a point to public writing at the heart of Trump’s ascendancy. Certainly there’s no point to even trying to speak to self-identified conservatives who have aligned themselves with Trump: the will-to-power mendacity and moral vacuity melts anything like honest engagement like a butterfly tossed in a furnace. But it is not merely Trump and his followers. When is the last time you can recall seeing anyone who was meaningfully persuaded by arguments or evidence that contradicted or challenged a belief or position they had previously articulated? When I see people telling me that the only way to deal with people who hold dangerous, untrue or morally bankrupt views is to engage them in a persistently reasonable way, to have a dialogue, I can’t help but think that this is just another untrue idea. Or at least it is a kind of religious dogma by self-anointed rationalist thinkers. It is not an evidence-based proposition about how people shift their values or come to hold new thoughts or ideas. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about people with whom one has personal or familial standing or total strangers, whether this is about a neighborhood or a nation. What passes for reason and evidence among educated readers and writers often feels as if it is just a value system local to them, and no more likely even so to lead to thoughtful changes in perspectives or beliefs among them. I feel no more likely to persuade a person who is in every respect a peer to change a view they have committed to, no matter how strong my arguments or evidence might be, than I am to persuade a stranger with completely different values and social location. And yet, I feel I am persuadable: that I change what I think about specific issues and arguments quite frequently in response to what others say and argue. Perhaps I am wrong even about myself; perhaps this is an unearned vanity. If I am right, then it feels as if I have chosen the worst strategy in Prisoner’s Dilemma: vulnerable to persuasion in a world that increasingly sees persuadability as a vulnerability to be exploited.
And yet, I remain hopeful about blogging. I am not sure why. I am not sure when. This remains open for business, nevertheless.