Monday, September 04, 2006

A blogger's crisis of faith and the miracle of the non-political blog

When it comes to blogging, my guru Tom Watson sometimes sounds like a parish priest out of a Graham Greene novel who's lost his faith but keeps saying mass every Sunday in the hope that going through the motions will re-inspire him one day.

I say sometimes. And Tom's aware of this tendency in himself and tries not to dwell on it. When he writes about it, he usually does it operating from the self-deprecating assumption that he is wrong.

The survey he took recently, though, didn't help. In fact, it gave him a more severe case of the cyber-grumps. Read his post, My Tail Grows Longer, to get the full effect, of the poll, and of Tom's sane reaction, but the gist is that the poll's designers seem to think that the whole point of blogging is political activism of the stirring up tempests in a tea cup kind and this is a good thing.

Tom happens to lead an offline life of real activism. He does the work, fights the good fight, and in a more direct way than the routine knocking on doors and ringing doorbells at election time politcally partisan way a lot of us do. So he's not the kind of person to mistake typing "Joe Lieberman is a dirty rotten scoundrel and I don't like his smug face one little bit" forty-eight times between now and November for real and effective activism.

I don't know many bloggers who make this mistake. But the designers of the poll seem to have made it or seem to think that we make it and want to have our delusions confirmed and flattered.

For Tom, taking the poll was like that doubting priest needing to sit down with the likes of Thomas Merton and C.S. Lewis and finding in his hand a religious Hallmark card.

It made him a little surly.

Is that all we've got? Credentials to the blowhardathons. Some slight assistance in the self-destruction of a once-brilliant career (Rather, not Lott). Disaster diaries (chilling as some were). Even Lamont's victory - surely the "biggest" blogging victory yet - was the result of the incumbent's disastrous political missteps, assisted by enthusiastic bloggers. Besides, it misses the point.

Because there is none. Blogging isn't about big stories or mainstream journalism. It's about giving voices to thousands and thousands who didn't have them before (beyond their dens and livingrooms and local barstools), providing real open distribution, and creating a vast patchwork quilt of conversation, thought, and passionate argument.

Like I said, I don't know any bloggers who confuse blogging with real activism. But more than this, I don't know many who think of blogging as a purely political act.

There are millions of blogs swirling through the cyberether and very, very, very few of them touch on politics to any degree at all. Spend a day exploring my blog roll---and there are far worse ways to spend a day and few better---and you will discover that except for the blogs listed under the heading Partisans, Pundits, and Pros and several of the ones in Professors and Philosophes, for the vast majority of the bloggers there politics is just one subject among many they write regularly on. And there are quite a few who almost never write about politics at all.

It's the regular media---the MSM as they appear to like us to call them---who are obsessed with the idea that blogs are all about politics and nothing but politics, and this is not just unfortunate in that they are depriving themselves of some excellent and entertaining reading on movies, books, music, science, and life in general, on the job and in the home and on the farm and out in the woods and in the mind; it's potentially disasterous for us, the bloggers, and for our readers, and for the still inchoate art form known as blogging.

Yeah, art form. And I mean it.

In the bizarre and internecine war that some---and that's not a strawman some, not all somes are scarecrows---supposedly liberal members of the supposedly liberal media have been waging on liberal bloggers, the attacks have emphasized our politics and the strategy has been to trash our reputations by accusing us of political extremism, amateurism, and the basest form of rabble rousing. On top of that, we're hysterically partisan and warped by ideological correctness, vicious, vindictive, intolerant of dissent and criticism, foul-mouthed, rude, and just plain mean.

We make hardbitten, cynical, professional journalists cry.

We hurt their feelings.

The ghosts of Mike Royko, H.L. Mencken, and Izzy Stone are so proud of them.

The point of all this is to discredit the blogs. All blogs.

It's obvious to anyone who actually reads blogs that most of the critics in the MSM don't.

They appear to skim the big dog blogs and maybe follow a link or two to some of us lower down the pecking order looking only for the names "George Bush" and "Joe Lieberman" and the nearest curse words, which they always treat as adjectives for the names.

They don't explore. They don't check out the blog rolls. If they know there are young doctors blogging about their experiences as psychiatry residents, like intueri, or insightful and impressively knowledgeable film critics like the Siren who can simultaneously make them want to go out and watch Lubitsch's classic Heaven Can Wait and feel as if they had just watched it, or Tom Watson himself writing on his musical guru Dylan, they are keeping it to themselves.

At any rate, in their quest to discredit the likes of Kos and his diarists, Atrios, and, well, Kos and Atrios---the only two bloggers whose names they seem to know---and deprive them of the educated, informed, attractive-to-advertisers readers they are afraid the blogs are stealing from themselves and their analog publications, they are, whether they know it or not, trying to deprive those educated and informed readers the pleasure of discovering and enjoying the writing of those passionate and thoughtful and not necessarily political voices Tom's referring to.

Voices like Kim's.

Kim is a nurse working in an emergency room in San Francisco. This is Kim writing about dealing with the daughter of a regular visitor to the ER. The daughter had been dismissed as too difficult to deal with by her colleauges and it fell to Kim to handle her:

You didn’t like the doctor who gave you the news that this could be “it”.

You looked like a deer caught in the headlights. You couldn’t spit the questions out fast enough. You said something about your dad not being a “throw away”.

You didn’t process a single answer.

Except that you asked me directly how bad it was.

It was bad, I said.

Very bad.

You looked right at me and started to sob.

And then just as abruptly pulled your emotions right back in.


But it was too late.

I had seen the facade crack.

You weren’t crazy.

You were scared.

And in that one brief moment of emotional release I saw you as a human being who did not want to lose their parent. Not a controlling, off-the-wall family member who could drain you dry of energy in minutes.

You were a child who was afraid that your dad would be written off and that your obserations would be ignored.

And you fought for him. For you.

After all those visits in all those weeks…months…years, I realized your affect in the ER was a defense mechanism built after years of dealing with nurses and doctors who distanced themselves from you and would not listen or respond to what you said or what you wanted.

For your dad.

To keep from having to deal with what you were faced with right now.

Your dad was ninety-nine years old and dying.

And we had taken away the one thing that gave you stability.

We had taken away your hope.

That's what the obsession with blogs as political tracts misses. That's the kind of voice that critics brand, willy-nilly, hysterically partisan and warped by ideological correctness.

That's the kind of post they should be reading, that you should be reading, that you will read when you follow the link to Kim's post, Hanging On For Dear Life.

In My Tail Grows Longer, Tom writes about old posts of his that continue to attract readers and commenters long after they've dropped not just off his front page but deep into his archives. Tattered Coat Matt has been musing on the same phenomenon occuring at his place and, incidentally, mine.


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