Monday, 7 July 2014

The blogger's dilemma

Sackers recently sent me this link - a post by John Michael Greer who blogs as The Archdruid Report. It's very well written and well worth reading.

To my mind, one of the problems with blogging is the attraction of extremes. It’s all very well trying to tease out one or two strands of the Great Complexity with what feels like honesty sometimes leavened with a touch of feeble humour. Unfortunately, that approach is almost bound to veer towards the pedestrian.

It would be much easier to choose a more extreme standpoint, skip the logic, ignore the data and blast armies of straw men to smithereens with every trick the rhetorical arsenal. Not that I'm suggesting this is Greer's approach because in a very broad sense I don't disagree with his overall theme.  

However, a gung ho approach would certainly attract more blog hits and probably more comments. The posts might even be more satisfying to write. After all, controversy keeps us on our toes, sharpens the debate and identifies the enemy - and we all like our enemies don’t we?

For me, Greer’s blog is one of the better rhetorical blogs. I think his message is well written, intellectually high-flown but not necessarily wrong. To my cautious mind, nobody can paint worthwhile pictures on such a large canvas, although the temptation is hard to resist and people seem to like the result. Maybe the two are connected?

For me it’s a scoping issue – Greer's scope is too wide. Accuracy suffers and the unfortunate result is that some of what is said is exaggerated and pushed beyond the boundaries of strict veracity. I’ll give one example.

That answer was that science and technology would eventually create such abundance that everyone in the world would be able to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle and its attendant opportunities. That same claim can still be heard nowadays, though it’s grown shrill of late after repeated disconfirmation.

What repeated disconfirmation? What about a few hundred million Chinese and...? But the list is too long and too obvious. To my mind he makes far too much use of emotional rhetoric to push his imminent collapse meme.

Ironically the idea doesn’t need so much pushing because whatever a middle-class lifestyle might be the threat is real enough. Yet it’s only a threat, not a certainty. The complexities, the politics and maybe some more optimistic possibilities could be inserted as caveats – but of course they aren’t because it slows the pace and dilutes the message.

Greer's overall theme of the breakdown or corruption of social imitation, or mimesis as he frequently calls it.

The habit of imitation is as universal among humans as it is among other social primates. The question becomes this: what will inspire mimesis among the internal proletariat? What will they use as the templates for their choices and their lives?

It’s a good question which one should turn around and address to social commentators, popular pundits, journalists and bloggers. A fascinating subject, but an exceedingly complex one where motives continually lurk in the depths of any argument. Unfortunately, tackling the complexity also inclines one towards the duller end of the public arena, the end where caveats come in. Caveats don’t win hearts and minds, don’t feed the anxious soul.

The problem is that people are not amenable to persuasion except under duress or the endless subtleties of social pressure - or mimesis perhaps. So argument is mostly a waste of time. One is mostly stuck with preaching to the converted - and converts like their dose of rhetoric.

The writer enjoys it too.

So the only real alternative for caveat-shackled bloggers is to make a less rhetorical appeal to like-minded people who do not necessarily agree with posts, but are interested enough to read them and interested in the ebb and flow of public debate for its own sake.


Roger said...

Interesting. He touches on a vague feeling I get, cannot pin down and then dismiss as 'silly old fool'. But I think he has and then loses grip of a very elusive idea. I suppose a blog is a bit of a short story form and cannot take on too much in one lump.

A K Haart said...

Roger - I know what you mean.

I'm sure there is something to pin down, but maybe it requires too many pins and seems disjointed when perhaps it isn't.

Sam Vega said...

I agree with Roger about the short story. This is essentially an issue of scope and scale. This topic would once have been a major sociologist's or cultural critic's magnum opus, a book of several hundred pages which made or broke reputations. Blogging is the equivalent of the slim pamphlet. Greer has been lured into the magisterial, when he should have stuck to the suggestive, or (if sufficiently talented) the aphoristic.

A K Haart said...

Sam - I agree, although I've been scratching my head over this subject recently too. Not sure where I'm going with it yet though.