A Blogging Challenge

Here's a thought-provoking (and hopefully comment-provoking) exercise, which incidentally (and perhaps oxymoronically) voices my opinion on a few things. I think it provides a good challenge to those who find it necessary to so quickly open their mouths in comboxes internet-wide...

I've been trying to look toward a few other blogs for ideas on how to blog better. For the most part, I've been getting lots of ideas—but in very few cases have they been formulated in positive terms. For some reason, blogging seems to have an inherently degenerative principle of existence (an apparent anomaly in logical thought) which reduces all possibility for constructive dialogue to mere exchanges of heated opinion. It sounds like something from The Matrix, but all you have to do is seek out any number of mainstream 'discussion' blogs to find evidence.

Blogging, in many senses, is like a classroom: one person 'teaches,' and the rest voice their approval or disapproval for that teaching based on reasoned judgments (i.e. "comments"). This can happen in various ways, but two seem prominent in my mind. There are instances of both classical and—for lack of a better term—modern constructions of blogging, each being diametrically opposed to the other. In the (anachronistically) classical approach to blogging, the blogger writes what he or she believes to be the case, anticipating questions and rebuttals, but nevertheless endeavoring to submit new substance for the discussion at hand. In other words, a topic of particular consideration is viewed in its own right, and is subsequently grappled with by inquiring disciples (themselves often master-bloggers in some other and remote niche of cyberspace).

On the other hand, the (felicitously named) modern approach to blogging is closely associated with the modern theory of classroom study, which is dominated by a subjectivist approach to teaching, weakened further by a subjectivist theory of learning. To put it more clearly, a topic is brought into consideration which is admittedly subjective on the part of the teacher, who in turn expects (although often only implicitly, and by virtue of his own example) that his listeners will attempt to discredit his claims based on similarly subjective evidence. The result of this latter method seems to be a degeneration of dialogue, furthered by each side's attempt to undercut the other's evident and otherwise-impenetrable position of subject-focused truth. In plainest terms, the modern construction of the classroom is not a classroom at all, but an endless series of contradictions aimed at establishing personal truths founded on nothing but subjective bias.

Here, I am free to become a bit teacher-ish. I am free to assume that the beauty of my own critique of blogs and bloggers lies in the critique itself, and in the necessarily self-evidencing character of any comment designed to undermine it. If anyone seeks to prove my theory wrong, his or her comment will prove it right: either the comment will be supportive of my theory that reasoned judgments and positions alone have priority in the dialectic setting of the (blog) classroom, or it will itself manifest the degenerative nature of subjectivist positions in the face of logically constructed ones.

That being said, does anyone have a comment?

  1. gravatar

    # by Andrew Reinhart - September 23, 2008 at 7:31 PM

    "I love lamp" (Brick [sorry for the Anchorman quote but I thought it was somehow appropriate])

    You looking forward to the start of the new season of The Office?

  2. gravatar

    # by Andrew Haines - September 23, 2008 at 9:14 PM

    Somehow I knew you'd come up with a fitting response. I'm rather fond of the double bracketing though; I think that proves that even something totally unrelated can be well reasoned and articulated... (and yes, I can't wait to see the new season...)

    Anyone else?

  3. gravatar

    # by Suzanne - September 23, 2008 at 10:03 PM

    Is it a game? I've been thinking about this most of the day, and it seems like a brainteaser to me.

  4. gravatar

    # by Andrew Haines - September 23, 2008 at 10:18 PM

    Well, Andrew sort of nailed it. It is a bit of a brainteaser, coupled with a critique of common blogging tactics.

  5. gravatar

    # by Suzanne - September 23, 2008 at 11:13 PM

    What do you think it means that people employ these two tactics? What is at the root of it?

    I don't read enough blogs to be able to generalize, but my friend, Mike Eppler, commented on what can be found on Catholic blogs:

    "I did a quick surf through the 'Catholic Blogs' that Blogger puts out. It is really interesting to me. There is a small, but vocal, number of bloggers who have certainty in their faith; and from this certainty, they are absolutely convinced that an orthodox apologetic will be the 'winning attraction' to Christ.

    "There are blogs that, while claiming to be a schematic for catechesis or an apologetic, really are nothing more than a Catholic "sourcebook" -- filled with pious pictures and thoughts and strung along an ahistorical thread that has no depth or continuity with the Tradition.

    "BUT! The blogs I am always most struck by are the ones where young adults themselves are begging and asking the question, 'what do you want from me, Lord? To where do I go? Quo Vadis?' Sometimes, these are questions about work: how do I leave my mark on the world? But mostly, these are questions about belonging, affection, and love."

    (I don't always leave long quotes in comboxes!)

    Most of the blogs I read and comment on are by authors who read and comment on mine. There are few arguments, rather the comments are like this: "This resonates with something that happened to me: [...]" or "Thanks for shedding light on this." Often a post at one blog gives rise to an idea at another and becomes a kind of conference. I did engage in one friendly argument, started by someone who was working from a whole other frame of reference, who wanted to respond to something I had copied into my blog. Of course, I was right! Eventually she just let the matter drop -- either because she felt I was a hopeless case or because I'd demolished her argument?

    I'd be most interested to read what you take from your observations -- what does this phenomenon mean for you, for your life and writing?

  6. gravatar

    # by Andrew Haines - September 24, 2008 at 12:34 AM

    Suzanne,

    That's certainly a lot to think about. However, the nature of your comment was precisely the sort for which I was probing; i.e. something thoughtful, articulate and inquisitive (prompting questions from all parties involved).

    I think your friend is right: there are plenty of blogs devoted to pious things with no real substantial contribution to thought, Traditional or otherwise. Likewise, I would submit, there is no shortage of blogs totally devoid of piety, and contributing all-too-much thought (in the form of subjectivist banter, which I mentioned in the post). Both tactics, I think, fall under the so-called "modern" approach to learning I proposed in my argument—each in its own manner.

    The shortage of more "classical" or "university" style approaches to blogging, I think, arises from a twofold source. First, it is a fitting continuation of the manner of learning present in many liberal arts programs nowadays (viz. a quest for truth derived not from any fundamental axioms, but trained upon a method of inquiry primarily concerned with a coherence theory of truth). Secondly, the blogosphere is simply a refugium peccatorum for those whose methods of inquest don't fly in respected circles of discussion. That is, name calling and capslock-tirades won't win you respect at most universities (even those in my first example), but such behavior is tolerated—and even contagiously appreciated—in the blogging forum.

    Your observation of reflective comments is good: I think that is one of many ways to comment effectively on another's work. Questions like yours illustrate another. Really, there are many ways to comment purposefully and fruitfully, and this was precisely the nature of my argument; namely to do a little philosophical game-playing and prompt responses that were either supportive of my point, or altogether dismissive of it. (For the sake of clarity, a comment like, "You are arrogant for writing such a pompous post..." would have been evidence that the position wasn't at all pompous, but warranted.) So, you were right, it was a bit of a thought experiment and nothing more...

    As for my life and writing (at least on this blog), I'll stick to considering all topics from the standpoint of grounded reasoning and an orthodox understanding of the Church's faith. I think it's true that such a position is really the only one worth having, since anything else is less-than-desirable, and ultimately degenerative for the reasons discussed above...

    I'm still impressed at how many comments a post about "comments" has generated!

  7. gravatar

    # by Suzanne - September 24, 2008 at 8:49 AM

    Hi! Thanks for what you've written here. I want to respond to this:

    "As for my life and writing (at least on this blog), I'll stick to considering all topics from the standpoint of grounded reasoning and an orthodox understanding of the Church's faith. I think it's true that such a position is really the only one worth having, since anything else is less-than-desirable, and ultimately degenerative for the reasons discussed above..."

    I think that "grounded reasoning and an orthodox understanding" constitute a the only possible starting point, but they are a starting point only. They are the ground from which we can move from intellectual efforts toward the Truth, which cannot be expressed through "grounded reasoning and orthodox understanding." We can't think [or feel!] our way to Christ. So, either we stay on the threshold, or we move.

    My weekend in Colorado (with GS -- the high school branch of CL) was so amazing. It is true, it really is, that we meet Christ, in the flesh, through witnesses, who don't simply testify to the truth but in some mysterious way also make Christ present, literally present, in our midst. One can be simple, tremendously simple as those Ugandan women in that film we saw, but still have access to this Truth that cannot be reached without the "broadening of reason" -- which is not simply reason + orthodoxy (as I understand Benedict -- partly with Patty's help!) but through reasoning that points us to what Fr. Giussani calls "The vanishing point" where reason intuits that there is something more -- the Infinite. And to paraphrase C.S. Lewis -- this Infinite is not a tame lion.

  8. gravatar

    # by Andrew Haines - September 24, 2008 at 9:22 AM

    Suzanne,

    Thanks for your response. I agree with your statement that such a position is only a starting point; after all, it couldn't be much more, since the faith of the Church itself is the product of firm foundations moving into uncharted waters, reestablishing a foundation and moving further, etc. This constant satisfaction of and quest for understanding is precisely what 'composes' our infinite end as human beings: knowing God as he is, but always by way of our finite capacity to do so.

    The task, if you will, of making Christ present in the midst of Christians is something reserved for personal experience. I think that no matter how hard you try, writing of it will never amount to it actually occurring. But, our writing can (and should) be an impetus toward this obvious goal of the Christian life. I agree that if all our encounters with others were merely reflections of "grounded reason" and "orthodox approaches to the faith," we would get nowhere—at least nowhere worth getting! On the other hand, radical expressions of humanity and human contact (the Eucharist included) are precisely, I think, what Giussani seeks to establish as the "vanishing point," since it is really there that God desires to show himself to us most fully.

  9. gravatar

    # by Andrew Reinhart - September 24, 2008 at 12:53 PM

    I think you are both getting at this (and it is implicit in both of your lines of thought), but I think one of the things that makes an "orthodox" position less than desirable is a belief that its grounded is exhausted in some impersonal and dated set of principles. Thus, the Truth which is written about either focuses solely on these trappings around the faith (ie. "pious pictures and thoughts and strung along an ahistorical thread that has no depth or continuity with the Tradition"). In other words the expressions of faith are confused with faith itself and can become idols (I do not mean to condemn anyone by this but I would call us all on to more). Or this improper understanding of "orthodoxy" is rejected and then there is no common grounds, and the blog is reduced to banter. The key I think we are getting at is that the Truth is ultimately grounded in a person, Christ, The Word (logos) who became flesh. Thus, although the Truth is experienced on the surface as something static, upon further "searching" the Truth is experienced as a mystery (in the sense of an inexhaustible reality [which reflects God's infinity and out finitude (triple brackets just for you bro)]). Thus the blogs of people's life experiences and searching are engaging because they show forth this reality of the experience of Truth being grounded in a relationship with the One. On the other hand a purely academic blog need not be considered stagnate or worthless because with a truly "orthodox" grounding we will discover the person of Christ (logos).

  10. gravatar

    # by Andrew Haines - September 24, 2008 at 2:42 PM

    I do believe Andrew hit the nail on the head. That was a pretty good analysis of the initial point I intended to raise in the post.

  11. gravatar

    # by sal - September 24, 2008 at 2:56 PM

    BRAVO!! What a cogent description for what just may be happening out in cyberblog. I loved it!

  12. gravatar

    # by X-Cathedra - September 24, 2008 at 10:36 PM

    Andrew,

    Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

    ;)

    Pax Christi

  13. gravatar

    # by Andrew Haines - September 24, 2008 at 10:43 PM

    ...and my answer is "Mu"

  14. gravatar

    # by Andrew Reinhart - September 24, 2008 at 11:01 PM

    for being "x-cathedra" you have Many Qustions. That is very informal of you... (sorry I couldn't resist)

    Is this a new record for comments on a post Andy?

  15. gravatar

    # by Andrew Haines - September 24, 2008 at 11:45 PM

    I'm pretty sure we are now through the roof! The experiment was a success...

  16. gravatar

    # by Rachel Ann - September 28, 2008 at 11:25 PM

    I just thought blogging was about American housewives posting pictures of their growing children and writing about how "Cindy learned how to say 'apple' today..."

    Seriously...hit "next blog" up in the left hand corner of your blog screen and that's what about 99% of the blogs will contain...

  17. gravatar

    # by Suzanne - September 28, 2008 at 11:35 PM

    Wow, Rachel Ann! I have to take exception! I just finished posting about one of my kids, who can say way more than "apple." You should hear her!