There's nobody here but us chickens.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

It’s not just about Eldan, it’s about YOU.

Eldan writes about his dissatisfaction with political writing: by others, and by extension by himself. Read it all, but the key point is:

"even if I could write something eloquent and soundly argued that would really be persuasive to a reader with an open mind—there would be no audience for it, and it feels like a lost cause. All I'm doing by writing about politics is effectively wearing a badge, that will irritate some people and signal to others that I'm part of their tribe, and I can't be bothered any more. "

As a consequence he is shutting down active political commentary, while still keeping the door open to writing on political process. He remarks
“I can't imagine anyone will really miss my rantings here, but if I'm wrong do tell me.”

Consider yourself about to be told. Ahem.

I think it’s clear that any media source you care to pick does indeed reduce into an echo chamber of some or other set of dimensions. The dailies do it, the distinguished periodicals do it, the blog-continents excel in it. Hell, the man on the street does it too. No-one is objective, and not enough strive to be. Nowadays it’s accentuated in my eyes due to the number of outlets mushrooming, through cable channels but particularly the internet, where thousands of voices professing to be honest, uncoloured and free from the stain of editorial slant reveal unashamed, jaw-dropping bias. It was easier before when I could just blame the owners of big bad media. No such luck. It’s easier now just to turn sideways and let it slide past.

Yet every person able to well-express themselves, and truly willing in their attempt to eschew reflexivity in favour of a balanced and critical appraisal, is a good voice amongst the sorry chaff. In my opinion Eldan is one of these voices; if not, he’s certainly getting there. For me, the problem is another that he specifies: when I attempt to condense my thoughts into precise words I can too easily become mawkish and winding, often at the same time. I imagine it’s akin to a hierarchy of needs - once I can express myself better I will begin to have issues with whether my expression is actually useful. I think that give or take, he has got to this second stage; and reasonably enough, he is taking on the issue: is there any point if no-one shifts opinion due to what they hear?

Firstly I will take on that assumption. While it’s true that most columnists, bloggers and other vendors of opinions are pretty much entrenched (and bear in mind that there are exceptions; even the devout can become the laity, and vice versa), I think there are many people whose opinions, on a variety of issues, are not set in stone. The rather faceless ‘man on the street’ I introduced earlier (lets face it, he was basically a straw man on the street, wasn’t he?) is really a multitude, and within that you’d find plenty genuinely interested in what other people think about x, y and the proverbial z.
Also, there are certain issues which don’t necessitate a set reaction from each political persuasion, but can elicit diverse responses.

Secondly, even if no-one were to shift, self-expression clearly has an intrinsic value, and I’d argue that political self-expression is particularly valuable. We should entertain and share our opinions on aesthetics (I liked this film, I hated that book) and our immediate social environment; fortunately, most of us do. Politics is easier to duck (one of the dinner table taboos) in our day to day communication, but due to its complexity and importance it is an area where we need to devote resources if we are ever to become rounded, and avoid becoming echo-chambers ourselves. I spend too much time watching public figures I dislike mouth off, and growling inwardly: “Idiot! You’re wrong, and I’m right.” It’s when I actually have to cash out the cheques, and express myself in some way, that I find where my own biases lie, and revise my own opinions accordingly.
Following from this, I would add that a properly functioning democracy should rely on its citizenship being aware and articulate. As a consequence, one could see, if so inclined that expressing oneself politically, even to no-one in particular, is a responsibility we can be proud to carry out.

It should be clear that while the impetus of this post was the decision by Eldan, that its equally about myself and my personal notions about why this is worth doing; it’s also about you, you whover reads this. So for the next paragraph, take Eldan and referents to such as a term denoting Eldan, me, and yes, you.

I'd like to see Eldan continue talking about politics. I certainly don't think he should feel obliged to, or feel that political events should ever dictate a response (I don't think his silence on an issue is likely to be harmful), but if he feels like articulating where he stands on any issue, then that’s enough to shoot on and do it. The argument above asserts it’s good for Eldan (cohering his value system) and good for society (leading from the first point).

On a personal note, Eldan, it's certainly good for me. I’m also wandering the same broad ballpark that you’re in, maybe in the bleechers whilst you’re in the dugout (excuse the terrible American sporting analogy but seeing as Eldan is in the States ‘jumpers for goalposts’ is not legit), but thereabouts, with an interest in the world, hope that it will be better, untied to ideology but interested in ideas. Hell, I’m curious about how you are wending your way from a to b, and if there are any tigers there. Eldan, I’d love to be discussing this over a beer with you, but distances make that a tall order. What? No, not you! You expired from the terminology a paragraph ago. Haven’t you been listening at all? And why the hell would I be addressing myself? Jesus!