Friday, December 19, 2008

The Main Dilemma
And: Other Projects

I've got a certain type of mind, as do you. Mine has a knack for doing a couple of marginally useful things, like, e.g., analyzing logic problems. That might sound really useful, but, meh, not so much. It probably doesn't outweigh the downsides of my particular mind, which include all sorts of fascinating quirks like, e.g., an inability to sleep. (Let me say once and for all and in no uncertain terms: being able to sleep is more important than better-than-average analytical skills. So if you get reincarnated and get a choice between the two, take the sleep. For one thing, analytical reasoning requires sleep.)

Another little quirk of mine is that waving stupid arguments in front of me is like waving a red flag in front of a cartoon bull.* I cannot tell you how many hours of my life I've wasted arguing with utterly clueless theists, creationists, puritans, hard lefties, illiberal feminists, PC pod people, and Bush dead-enders. (And, note, I'm actually sympathetic to moderate versions of some of these positions--I'm o.k. with certain views that lean in the direction of an attenuated theism, including views about evolution that attract the scorn of orthodox neo-Darwinians. I recognize that certain common views about sex are vulgar and dehumanizing, I'm largely a liberal, egalitarian feminist myself when you get right down to it, etc.) But the more radical and moronic a position, the harder I find it to just ignore it and move on. This afflicts my professional research interests as well, and once prompted a colleague of mine to ask "Don't you ever get tired of taking out the trash?"

The main intellectual dilemma of my life has been: ignore the fools or take the time to defeat them in detail? It's a dilemma we all face, but it hits me in a particularly acute way.

Now, back when Bush was still the President (I wonder what that guy is doing now...?), and when his toadies were still spewing out their lame defenses of his pathetic and disastrous term in office at every opportunity, I felt like it might help to have another voice out there crying "bullshit!" on the bullshit. Now that we're moving into a new political phase, I'm wondering whether it might be wiser to just ignore whatever fools continue to publicize their foolishness.

I mean, we all know most of the pluses and minuses on each side of this question. But I've long worried about a certain dialectical dynamic, exacerbated a thousand fold by blogs, that goes like this: even if most people on side A are being reasonable, there will always be some idiots saying idiotic things on their end of the spectrum. Some people on side B focus on those idiots, and respond, invariably painting with a rather overly-broad brush and thus riling up some of the non-idiots on side A. Repeat until chaos ensues...

Eventually one even stops arguing against them, and just falls back on ridicule. Which is often all they deserve...but it reinforces a bankrupt dynamic.

So I've been wondering: might this not be the time to at least try ignoring the wingnuts at e.g. the Corner (let alone LGF, The American "Thinker," [Argh. See? How can one resist scare quotes there?] Confederate Yankee and so forth)? Might it not be better in the long run to emphasize the conservatives who have seen the light on all this? E.g. the ones who have begun to admit the truth about Bush, the ones who backed Obama, the ones who are praising his cabinet selections? It might not work. But it just might.

Anyway, as we prepare to bid the dark night of the Bush era farewell, and as other projects ignored for too long become more pressing in my life, I'm currently intending to throttle back a bit on the blogging. I'll be traveling to CO and MO for Xmas anyway, and so blogging will continue to be extra light for awhile. After that, I'm going to try to keep it down to a couple of posts a week for awhile and see how that goes.

And I think this is a good time to try to think hard about the future of blogging. Do people like us really want to spend thousands of hours of our lives responding to the sludge that builds up at the bottom of the blogosphere? Isn't it at best a waste of time? And at worst positively pernicious?

I think that's a question that's worth thinking about, and now's a good time to do it.

* As you know, actual bovines don't seem to be all that good at distinguishing among colors. I've spent a fair bit of my life around bulls, and have never noticed any antipathy on their part to any particular color. Some people think they're color-blind, but that's probably not true. Though they may be worse at such discriminations than we are. But we're obsessed with color.


Blogger Myca said...

Certainly one of the more interesting blogophenomenons of the past few years has been Andrew Sullivan's growing disillusionment (turning-to-anger-turning-to-rage) with the Bush administration.

I swear, it breaks my heart to read him these days because he still solidly identifies ideologically as a conservative - not just intellectually, but emotionally - and so many of his criticisms boild down to, "Can't you people see what you're doing to conservatism?!"

It absolutely drives him crazy that being an American conservative these days basically means that you're in favor of torture, gay hate, and unprovoked wars. It's like he's watching someone kick his pet dog dog to death, and it comes out in his writing. Hell, even as someone who wants to watch conservatism suffer, I'm able to realize that liberalism (and our nation as a whole) would do better in the long run if it had a competent and moral ideological opponent. One party states are no good, no matter the party, and as it stands, it ends up being hard to call the Democrats on much of their crap, because, "hey, would you rather we crush the testicles of innocent children?

Oh how I long for the day when we can have a nice civil debate over tax policy again.


11:22 AM  
Blogger Mystic Smith said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:58 AM  
Blogger dallas taylor said...

i think it was mark twain that said one should never argue with a fool, because someone passing by might not be able to tell the difference.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

FWIW, whenever I am intently commenting on a blog, my wife reminds me of this xkcd classic.

In more seriousness, the proposition:
"Might it not be better in the long run to emphasize the conservatives who have seen the light on all this? E.g. the ones who have begun to admit the truth about Bush, the ones who backed Obama, the ones who are praising his cabinet selections? It might not work. But it just might."
is, I think a good one.

I will note one other use of the blogosphere, and that is to be a voice keeping the new administration and the new Congress honest.

In particular, I am happy to acknowledge the need for compromise to make policy and law. However, I want Obama and the congressional leadership to feel pressured to strike the hardest bargain possible for the progressive agenda. The recent history of the Democratic party has had far to many cases of compromising and gaining nothing over vaule in return (e.g., the most recent FISA bill).

In the meantime, enjoy CO, MO, and the break from blogging!

Wishing you and yours a healthy and happy holiday, and new year,

8:18 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Hey, on the road so little time to respond. I'll quickly say that:

I agree with everybody above, except, of course, for Illiterate Anonymous, who is lowering the average IQ of this blog pretty substantially. I'll get off my butt and block him when I get back. I'm all for intelligent criticism, diversity of opinion and so forth. But I really can't stand idiots--and there's plenty of room for them elsewhere on the intertubes. No need to put up with their screeching here.

12:06 AM  
Blogger mark a frazer said...

in my opinion, from where i sit laura, while you may be fatigued by your work on the net or the tubes your site alone is a rich value to this sphere. indeed there is so much crap out here, more each year, but then there are the good spots to balance.

i also think we need to keep pointing out the insanity of the right and neocons as this does seem to be a concerted effort to devour all resources and destroy life. if knowledge is power in all this are not we developing the needed patterns, consciousness resonance patterns, to guide through a coming shift. pardon my need to simplify to make my point but i say again thanks for this site. folks like rove are busy busy planting or embedding little homeopathic bombs, i call them. rove says something then we are told to ignore him. but there go those poison ideas unchallenged. if we ignore we invite the next group in, we even help them build a base in a sense.


1:42 PM  
Blogger Anna Haynes said...

What I learned from animal training

in short, pay attention to the behavior you want to reinforce, and ignore the other kind.

12:08 AM  

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