I received this insightful email from R.S. Bakker of Neuropath fame today (reprinted here with his permission). Others might find it of interest as well:
I just finished reading your post on blogging and I thought I would make a pitch for reinterpreting what you take to be the downside. I would have posted directly on your blog, but (ironically, I suppose) I haven’t been able to post anywhere without feeding the spam-filter ever since Norton last gave my system a good scrub. I’ve been warring on the web in various forms (for years, it was only messageboards) for over a decade now. I could literally write a book about the nastiness you discuss! I’ve been stalked. I’ve been the target of organized smear campaigns by groups of fascist and feminist trolls. I’ve been called names I never imagined possible! I’ve had multiple death threats made against me and my family. I’ve had several young schizophrenic men argue that God put me on earth to write for them!
But no matter how rattled I’ve been, no matter how desperately down, I’ve always reminded myself that all these things are symptoms of success
I admit, I have a peculiar way of looking at the ongoing communications revolution, about what it means, where it’s going. I think, for instance, it’s largely responsible for the resurgence of fascist ideologies across the globe. Before the web, you had to talk to your neighbour if you wanted to work through your self-serving parochial intuitions, you had to listen to someone who in all likelihood disagreed.
Not so now. Feel inclined to starve yourself? There’s an ingroup for that. Feel inclined to assault an immigrant? There’s an ingroup for that as well. One of the things that most worries me about the web is that it provides a like-minded community for pretty much any insanity you can think of. The well of confirmation is now effectively empty. And you can count on Google to keep you safe from contrary opinions.
Another thing that worries me is how it has allowed anti-intellectual sentiment to congeal into an explicit cultural self-identity.
So when I established Three Pound Brain I resolved two things: to make it utterly open to all comments (outside verbal aggression directed at fellow commentators (I consider myself to be fair game)), and to self-consciously seek out periodic ‘blog wars’ with politically extreme bloggers. The thing that many liberal academics don’t realize (even as they find themselves amazed time and again every election) is the degree to which they are losing their cultural war. I mean, I’m a moderately successful novelist, with a moderately successful blog, but when I go to battle against the likes of Theodore Beale (‘Voxday’), say, I’m not simply dealing with someone who openly and endlessly advocates for the forced relocation of nonwhite immigrants in Europe and North America into concentration camps, or for relieving women of the burdensome right to vote, I’m arguing with a blogger who gets tens of millions of views. It boggles unto heartbreak.
I don’t want to minimize what you’ve experienced, because I know firsthand what it’s like to avoid my blog and email for days at a time out of dread, but what you’re describing is literally leakage, the drip-drip of what is a deluge of hatred and inanity. The reason I turned my back on writing literary fiction (which is to say, writing for myself) was simply the idea that our technologies are making it ever-more easy to succumb to our groupish instincts, to hang out with the like-minded – the safe. So whenever the opportunity arises, I evangelize like I’m doing now, I urge academics to get their hands dirty and their hearts bruised, to reach out, celebrate the vitriol as evidence that some small shred of something genuinely critical has slipped through.
To practice, in other words, what I call ‘cultural triage,’ to recognize the unprecedented nature of their age, and the unprecedented dangers that confront us all (in this, a time when high-school students can engineer new bacteria for their science fair!). To do what they can to reach out of their ingroup comfort zones whenever they can, and to see the nastiness as forensic evidence of crimes committed against a terrifying status quo.
What you describe is simply an example of blogging outward, Levi, of being part of the solution. Celebrate it, white-knuckles and all! And please urge others to do the same.