Tuesday, June 24, 2003

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Duty, joy, and blogging

Eugene Volokh on bloggers and biases:

It's certainly good when people are fair-minded and clear-headed enough to criticize people on their side, and we do especially respect people who act this way. I certainly try to criticize conservatives and libertarians when I think such criticism is warranted.

But I think it's a mistake to demand that bloggers be evenhanded in their criticism. Blogging is something that people do for fun. It has to compete with other things -- family, work, reading, sleep.

And usually it's more fun to criticize your adversaries than to criticize your friends. I wish this weren't so, but I think that (at least for most people) it is. Sometimes one might do it out of a sense of duty, a feeling that people in each movement should police their own: That was one reason I complained (fruitlessly) about the Cynthia McKinney misquotes coming from conservative commentators. But the more one blogs out of duty, the more likely it is that one will just lose the desire to blog.

So, yes, people's own political bias is one of the things determining whom they choose to spend their scarce time criticizing.

Eugene is factually correct about the inclination of bloggers -- hence my general silence about the Bush tax cut. However, for scholar-bloggers, I don't think it's that easy to dismiss the notion of obligation altogether.

In my day job as one who publishes and teaches international relations, I feel a duty to acknowledge opposing arguments or contradictory facts. If I don't, then my papers won't get published in good journals and my teaching approaches hackery.

This doesn't affect the choice of what scholar-bloggers write about (Eugene's point), but it should affect the content of their posts. No one can rebut every opposing argument, but the good ones demand acknowledgment and a good intellectual wrestle.

Does this make blogging less fun? Not for me. I like an old-fashioned rant as much as the next blogger, but I like it even better when I acknowledge the points made on the other side of the debate but still win the larger argument.

Finally, there's something of an obligation here. For all of the talk about the Blogosphere as an egalitarian community, hierarchies still exist. It's easier to attract readers when your day job carries some signal of expertise, and being a professor at the University of Chicago is that kind of day job (Many academics forget this, because they tend to socialize only with other academics. When everyone you know has a Ph.D. or is working towards one, it tends to lose its luster. Outside such social clusters, it's a different story altogether). People can point to graduate students or recent undergraduates as exceptions, but their educational affiliations pack a powerful credential.

Because I know that part of what attracts my readers is my profession -- not to mention my acute awareness that several members of that profession will be reading these words -- does create a sense of obligation.

In choosing my topics, I'm never going to be an equal-opportunity blogger. Once I've chosen the topic, however, duty calls [Even on posts like this one?--ed. Well, most topics.]

posted by Dan on 06.24.03 at 03:12 PM