Sunday, September 12, 2004

When Bloggers Stop Being Polite, and Start Being Real: Part 342

There is a whole world out there, separate from blogs, in which people are scampering hither and thither, or as Steve Levitch put it, "Running toward their destinations and away from themselves." Not so in the blogosphere. Here, people stay put. They read the same blogs, and they ruminate, persevorate, and even fulminate endessly over each and every statement with which they disagree. Most of this goes on under the radar, in the minds of dedicated bloggers. Sometimes, though, we get to see this stillness in all its splendor. It manifests in the form of post wars. There have been some great ones. Who in this world can forget L'Affaire Van Dyke, which might be called L'Affaire Leiter, or even L'Affaire Carter, depending on which side one took? Then there was this little dandy of an intellectual tennis match, which many of you may have missed. Now we have L'Affaire Meyers (not Myers!), in which the now famous Pandas Thumb lit the fire, with the Van Dyke game veteran Joe Cater's pants being the first to catch on fire. This one gets confusing when Myers (not Meyers!) chimes in, forcing Carter to pen a rejoinder. I think it's a classic in the making.

These spats can become pretty convoluted. The big ones inspire remarks on dozens of blogs, most of them never read by anyone who doesn't share the last name of the author1, and no one can read everything (though at least one person seems to read, and comment on, each thing). Furthermore, the duels move back and forth between new posts and replies in the comments sections of old posts, making them even harder to follow. Yet, I follow them, and if the comments sections of the blogs involved are any indication, so do many, many others. My theory is that the same impulse that forces so many of us to slow to a crawl on the freeway when there is even a tiny chance of seeing some sort of carnage in a car accident compels us to observe, and even participate in these blog wars. Many of them are quite similar to car accidents, because one or more of the major interlocutors is an expert on the subject being "discussed," while their opponents are often dilettantes at best2. Thus, carnage is inevitable. The major participants, however, seem to have other motives. They want to be right, and they want to get int the last word. Because of this, these things can drag on for months (as in the case of the Van Dyke debacle). Reverse psychology then comes into play, as some clever bloggers try to get in the penultimate word, making it appear as if they have so thoroughly defeated their opponent that there is no need for further comment.

I find all of this endlessly fascinating. I readily admit that most of the time, blogs are boring. Who cares what Professor X, or Dilettante Y, thinks about military tactics in Iraq? I know I don't. Even the best bloggers spend a great deal of time dissecting events and behaviors in domains that they know little about. Perhaps that's what freedom of expression is all about, expressing opinions where you have no business expressing opinions, but that doesn't for interesting reading. What does make for interesting reading is the psychological and "intellectual" tit for tat that characterizes those grand blog battles. I am always on the lookout for new skirmeshes. I've even reached a skill level at which I can read a post on certain blogs, and know immediately that a blogosphere smackdown is imminent. Maybe someday I'll actually get to be a bit player in one these spats. Then I will be a real blogger, and my own lack of movement will be available for all to see.

1 This does not apply to this particular blog, which is not even read by family members.
2 This is the case in each of the skirmishes listed above.

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