Arguments against blogging

Suppose there were a fellow with a passion for writing poetry, but let’s say he didn’t want to expend his effort in the mundane business of getting a publisher to accept his works.  Still, he wished to share his creations with the world, so he took to scrawling poems on the walls in men’s public restrooms.  Let his poems speak for themselves; why should anyone care about the venue?  The trouble with this strategy is that reading time is a scarce resource for all of us, so we need some pretty crude filters to eliminate lots of possible reading material and bring the serious candidates to a manageable number.  One thing we do is pay attention to signals that the author himself was willing to invest in making his work be regarded as high-quality.

What’s the point of scientific peer review?  It certainly doesn’t guarantee that published papers are valid and original science.  It does guarantee that the authors were willing to expend a great deal of time and trouble (and perhaps money) to give their paper the appearance of valid and original science, and there is a loose but positive correlation between this and actually being good science.

The same thing with publishing vs. personal blogging.  Posting an article on my private blog is so much easier than trying to get a magazine to publish it, and this very easiness is a reason why readers should be a bit warier of investing their time; they know the author didn’t.

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If you’re going to blog, more likely than not, you’re going to be withholding your personal identity.  There are lots of reasons we do this, but one obvious one is to avoid all the unpleasant consequences, social and career-wise, that come with voicing unpopular opinions.  Pseudonymity works, not because we’re impossible to track down, but because chances are you’re remain obscure enough that no one will feel motivated to do so.  There remains a downside.  Blogging as a hobby leaves you with a boring “secret identity”.  I’m sometimes jealous of the other professors in my department who have cool hobbies.  One is in a band.  Another wrote a novel.  Others play sports.  Blogging is not a cool hobby even when you can admit to doing it; there’s no skill involved.  But when you can’t admit to doing it, then you don’t have any answer when people ask you what you do with your spare time.  So, you need a second hobby.  (Any recommendations for me?)  So why keep the secret one?

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There’s a problem:  blogging builds no skill.  It’s too private.  For example, has my writing style improved since my first essay?  How could it?  I haven’t had anyone critiquing my prose.  It has had no public confrontation that could result in failure.  Unimpressed readers usually don’t bother commenting.  Living in my own little world here, I’m free to imagine that all my essays are perfect.  If I had to submit my writings for a grade in a college rhetoric class, that would take a lot of the fun out of it, but I’m not sure that my disdain for such a thing is healthy.

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The argument for blogging, I suppose, is that if I didn’t unburden myself of my opinions somewhere, I might end up popping off and inflicting them on people who would rather not hear or would not be inclined to let me get away with such opinions.

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A blogger should overall spend more time reading and thinking than writing.  I’ve had little time to read for the last half decade, and I think it shows in my writing getting less interesting with time.

 

20 Responses

  1. […] at Throne and Altar presents some arguments against blogging here. Among other things, he notes (I am paraphrasing) the ease of publishing a blog; anyone can do it. […]

  2. Another argument against blogging is that a ‘blog’ sounds like something that lives on the bottom of a swamp and communicates exclusively through fart sounds.

  3. A couple of counterpoints in favor of blogging (though they don’t undermine the points you’ve made).

    Mainstream writers are protected from the public by a wall of institutional respectability. Bloggers are lone wolf nobodies and have to defend their views from all comers.

    Getting some writing published involves a lot of ass kissing. Nothing wrong with that depending on the asses being kissed, but it tends to filter for Overton acceptability over truth. Every publication combines promotion of author with promotion of ideas, but blogging inherently emphasizes the latter over the former.

    Of course in the tradition of “those who can, do” we could argue that bloggers are just the population of failed writers who can’t get published.

    Another argument against pseudonymity is that the masonic scoundrels responsible for the American Revolution often wrote pseudonymously.

  4. What’s the point of scientific peer review? It certainly doesn’t guarantee that published papers are valid and original science. It does guarantee that the authors were willing to expend a great deal of time and trouble (and perhaps money) to give their paper the appearance of valid and original science, and there is a loose but positive correlation between this and actually being good science.
    The same thing with publishing vs. personal blogging. Posting an article on my private blog is so much easier than trying to get a magazine to publish it, and this very easiness is a reason why readers should be a bit warier of investing their time; they know the author didn’t.

    This is a better argument for publishing in magazines than it is an argument for peer review. By the time a paper is written, the author (or someone) has done an enormous amount of work (unless he is just making it up entirely). There is no way the extra work involved in getting it published signals anything positive about the validity of the work.

    A blog post, by contrast, can be written as fast as you can wriggle your fingers. And plenty of them are written that fast.

  5. There’s a problem: blogging builds no skill. It’s too private. For example, has my writing style improved since my first essay? How could it? I haven’t had anyone critiquing my prose. It has had no public confrontation that could result in failure. Unimpressed readers usually don’t bother commenting. Living in my own little world here, I’m free to imagine that all my essays are perfect. If I had to submit my writings for a grade in a college rhetoric class, that would take a lot of the fun out of it, but I’m not sure that my disdain for such a thing is healthy.

    Viciously critiquing another’s work is an act of charity. This is an underappreciated point. To say the least.

  6. Counterpoint,

    Blogging is modern day samizdat. Part of the strength of the Cathedral is their wall of misinformation built to convince you that you are near alone in your opinions. That all the “right” people all think one way, that you don’t see what you see

  7. 1. Before I blogged, I still wrote stuff I never expected to publish – I just kept it locked up in notebooks and text files. I would say on the scale of unproductive writing, there is (a) writing no one ever sees and you know no one will ever see, (b) writing no one ever sees, but they could hypothetically see, (c) writing people see, but they never interact with you or get feedback, (d) writing people see and take seriously, but only after stumbling upon it inadvertently; before we finally come to (e) books published by university presses and the like.

    2. I do feel that even the act of putting my work out there with a pseudonym attached makes me hyper-aware of all flaws in my work, logical and stylistic. — To the extent my style hasn’t improved in six months of blogging, it’s because I feel more of a pressure to publish often and to write efficiently. (I.e., no one really appreciates what I consider “well-written”, let alone the effort that goes into it.)

    3. As it happens, I follow your blog because it has been highly recommended to me multiple times, including by guys who have very, very low opinions of most current reactionary writing; so you shouldn’t feel that there is no filtration mechanism.

    4. If you want criticism, I can criticize! I tend to feel that if a man writes for my benefit for free, it is churlish to (in effect) demand that he write a new, better version of the same essay. And I also get the impression that when you critique people, often you only make them less interested in writing (or more perfectionist, which amounts to the same thing. Moreover, I feel like I should remove the log from my own eye before I go after the mote in another’s… but like I said, if you want criticism, I can criticize.

    5. You may know this already, but many academic monographs are never corrected by a writer, never reviewed, and barely read.

  8. A blog can also be used as a repository for the writer, who intends to use the information, arguments, etc. at a later date for a different purpose (published work, teaching/preaching, for example).Of course, you could just write in a journal or on your personal computer, but a blog has the attraction of a potential audience. If no audience appears, no big deal.

  9. Dammit. Quaslacrimas beat me to the thought, see his point #1, and he writes better than me.

  10. Being someone that writes quickly; I’ve done many forms of writing – including writing many scores of scientific papers and editorials (including a few for colleagues in similar fields), writing paid journalism for mainstream newspapers and magazines (eg The Times of London, New Scientist), books – and blogging.

    When it is going well (say for the first three/ four years of my miscellany/ notions blog), blogging – with a good bunch of regular commenters – has been the most satisfying form of writing.

    Sad but true!

    Also, from private comments, I am positive that my blogging has done more genuine good (albeit for a small number of people) than any other of my writings.

    Still – I do often get fed-up with it – and have ceased daily blogging for the time being.

  11. To answer your question, I recommend building rockets. You can start with simple hobby rocket types with off-the-shelf solid fuel engines, then progress rapidly to cooking up your own engines, all for very little money. If you find it enjoyable, you can then easily move into more involved projects, such as building your own liquid or hybrid-fuel engines, going for height records or contests, or even doing real (if amateur) measurements for atmospheric (or even near-space) science.

    Further, if I’m under the correct impression as to your training, it’s not too far out of your line.

    On top of that, it grants you membership into a real, flesh-and-blood community of people pursuing the same hobby, rather than the erzatz one we have here online.

    If you’re interested, I can perhaps steer you in a starting direction. (Of course I’m recommending my own hobby; I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t think it worthwhile!)

  12. @DrBill: For my collaborators and I, preparing things for publication is often a multi-month ordeal. Part of that is that we often want our students to be 1st author, to get them recognition for their work and experience writing, but as they’re new to scientific writing, they’re often slow at it. Part of it is that I just don’t like scientific writing and tend to drag my feet when I must do it. Part of it is making sure there are no missing citations; part is making plots that look nice. For whatever reason, it ends up being quite an investment.

    @Rhetocrates: That does sound like fun. It’s probably going to be at least a few years, after both of my children are in school, before I can be seriously thinking about hobbies, but hopefully that day will come for me.

    @quaslacrimas & Major7: These are helpful distinctions. In my case, I had the basic arguments for most of my essays in my head before starting this blog, but I doubt I would have ever taken the time to put them on paper (much less to polish and refine them, even to the extent that I did) without at least the possibility of an audience.

    @Bruce Charlton: Now that you mention it, I’m pretty sure my blogging has done more good than my scientific writing, too. (In my case, we’re talking about a lot less writing and a lot less good accomplished on both fronts.) I’m prouder of some of my essays than most of my papers, which seems anomalous, giving the amounts of time spent on each.

  13. I think we all end up feeling this at some stage. I definitely used to read a lot more, but having to write for multiple outlets, as well as managing accounts for Twitter and Youtube has eaten up my time. Also it doesn’t help how expensive books on right wing philosophy tend to be!

  14. @Bonald, you have to distinguish between what you do to get something ready for publication and the additional work you do to get it past referees. It’s only the latter which counts.

  15. @Bonald,

    I completely understand. Hobbies take time and energy that you don’t always have. And only you can be the judge of whether or not you have that available. But let me argue for you starting sooner, on whatever you choose to do.

    First, while hobbies take time and energy, if we keep putting off things that take time and energy until we finally feel ready for it, we have one foot in the grave before we ever bother to start anything. Think of the rosy picture of the 1950’s husband: he went to work and near killed himself (which was bad), but came home and made model trains anyway. The picture gets more pointed if you reach back to, say, Victorian England.

    No, the picture’s not very accurate, but it gets at a truth nonetheless.

    Second, a properly interesting hobby actually repays dividends in energy and engagement. When you’re intellectually wrung out, all you may want to do is sit on the couch and watch an episode of something stupid, but if you force yourself to go to the barn and work on your design for a new cupboard, you find yourself awake and alive again much more fully and quickly than if you didn’t. And, depending on the hobby, you surround yourself with the artifacts of your industry, which act both as a spur to improvement and as a remedy to malaise. Investment is key to man’s happiness, after all.

    Third, many manly hobbies can be great ways to spend time with your children, both giving them the love and attention they crave and also teaching them how to be men who lead productive, fulfilled lives. (It works with girls, too, but as a man I’m more in touch with the masculine spiritual nature than the feminine.)

    All that said, whether or not to start or maintain a hobby is of course up to your discerment. Don’t let some stranger on the Internet press you into doing something that, after reflection, you shouldn’t. And it’s a lot easier said than done. I myself don’t have any rigorously-pursued manual hobbies (though I’m hoping to start soon).

    In any case, I wish you well whatever you decide.

  16. Blogging is modern day samizdat. Part of the strength of the Cathedral is their wall of misinformation built to convince you that you are near alone in your opinions. That all the “right” people all think one way, that you don’t see what you see

    Good point. Isolation is a key component in most SocJus intimidation efforts and usually sunlight is an effective disinfectant.

    Blogging has been described negatively as “internet graffiti” but one Catholic blogger made the case for good graffiti as the little guy versus the monolith when one day he noticed on a condom machine in a public restroom that someone had scrawled, “My dad says these don’t work.” Counter-propaganda more effective than a crate full of NFP pamphlets. 🙂

  17. You can write more truth in a single blog post than you’ll find in the entirety of Published Clown World.

    Orwell showed to my satisfaction that speaking the truth makes your writing better.

  18. […] Bonald has a grab bag of miscellany on immigration, lesbians, and space colonization. Also some Arguments against blogging. […]

  19. Officially Approved Hobbies by the Commissariate of Ideological Purity;

    Grappling combat sports (eg, sambo, wrestling, judo, jiu jitsu, etc.)

    Firearms (esp target shooting or/and hunting)

    Tabletop roleplaying games (eg, Exalted, WoD, WHFRP, Riddle of Steel etc.)

    Starcraft

  20. Your comments re: publishing made sense back when the industry was far less scaled down and was much more accepting of newer writers. Now, publishing is no guarantee of quality.

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