Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Blather On, Brothers and Sisters

It seems to me that the problem with diaries, and the reason that most of them are so boring, is that every day we vacillate between examining our hangnails and speculating on cosmic order. ~Ann Beattie

I was proofreading "We Deserve A Break" ... I beg your pardon? Yes, I proofread these entries. Granted I don't catch all the typos, but I do make an attempt. What? Why bother to proofread? Well, I'd like to present a piece with some degree of polish, and ... All right, that'll be enough of that. Even 2/3 of a reader a day deserves to be able to read a piece without having to decode bad sentence structure, misspellings, and missing words.

Everyone's a critic.

Anyway, I was proofreading the aforementioned piece, when I had an epiphany. Quit snickering; they don't hurt a bit. I got to thinking about why a member of the Reformed Church of God should be so bent out of shape about bloggers. Oh, certainly, he gave reasons, such as they were, including the fact that a blogger might have the gall to feel good about expressing an opinion when those opinions were so much “blather.” But, really now, if it is “blather”, then sooner or later the blogger will tire of it and move on to other, more obvious vices.

But then I got to thinking about another rumination where I dwelt on the media frenzy about blogs, and suddenly it all became clear: Vox Populi.

Vox Populi is Latin for “the voice of the people.” Blogs are providing a platform for people to speak, and that has the media and the people “in charge” worried.

It's not that people haven't had their say when they really wanted to, but, for a long time, they had to work at it. In early societies, the voice of the people was the spoken voice. It might be at the Agora or at the Forum, but you had to be willing to stand up and speak up, which was sometimes a risky thing to do. However, during those periods when the exchange of ideas was not totally feared by the leadership, people honed their speaking skills to be able to deliver their opinions. Aristotle gave a wonderful set of lectures, collected in “The Rhetorics” explaining not only how one should speak but a lot of the tricks of the trade to make your case if you were, say, arguing a case that someone had brought against you.

Speaking was nice if no one made you drink hemlock as a result, but, unless you were famous enough to end up drinking hemlock, your voice only reached a few. Beyond the folks who happened to be standing in the area where you were orating, it was unlikely that anyone would ever know what you thought.

It wasn't that there wasn't writing. Of course, there was, and you could always pen a scroll yourself (assuming you could write), but, again, unless you were well-known or rich, no one was going to undertake the labor-intensive copying of your scroll to disseminate it to the masses.

Later, the church door became a place to post your opinion. When Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the cathedral door, he was doing so because this is where people placed announcements, protests, and cow-for-sale ads. Everyone went to church, and the church was a focal point of the community, so anything on the doors was going to be visible to many people. But this still limited the number of viewers to the local folks. Then along came Gutenberg.

When Gutenberg introduced the printing press to Europe, the ability to broadcast ideas increased vastly. Once the process became economical, anyone could prepare a pamphlet for a mass printing. The writer might even sell them for a shilling or a farthing or whatever small change was in those days, but a well-off person could afford to subsidize the printing and send his ideas far and wide.

Pamphleteering was the blogging of its age. Judging by the number of them and the varied subject matter, anyone who could put pen to paper might toss off a pamphlet at some time in his life. But, pamphleteers went beyond little homilies and witty stories. Revolutionary thought was advertised through pamphlets. Printing became a weapon for those who opposed the people in power. As a result, printing presses were often hunted out and smashed by the authorities trying to protect their turf. But, as fast as their presses were wrecked, the revolutionaries always seemed to get another set up.

Oddly, it seems that the 18th century was the last great age of the pamphleteer. After the American and French revolutions, the writers seemed to content themselves more with writing to newspapers or publishing longer works. The press seemed to be the one to collect opinion and spread it about during the 19th century, although the first quarter of the 20th century did see a flurry of rogue printers turning out revolutionary and reactionary material in countries like Russia and Germany. Once dictatorships were established in those countries, those presses fell silent.

Underground newspapers provided a limited forum during the 1960's onward, but these were mostly limited to intellectual and pseudo-intellectual thought. The ordinary person really had only the letter to the editor. The pollsters, the news services, and the television news departments now seemed to control the flow of opinion. At least they did, until the Internet.

Initially, web sites began to provide a means for average folks to broadcast their ideas. But web sites have to be maintained and, as I've noted in one of the earlier articles, are harder to set up to provide access to archival material. Blogs are another matter.

The mechanics of blog software is ideal for journaling, providing different points of view, and, of course, blathering. It would probably be fair to say that blather outweighs meaningful thought by many times, but, when you have millions of blogs, that still means that there are a lot of people putting out worthwhile reading. And that scares the bejeebers out of the media and others who would direct your thinking.

The church member was upset because people might think their opinions mattered. By extension, that bothered him most likely because, if they thought their own opinions mattered, then they might be inclined to question those of church authorities. Church authorities have historically not taken well to being questioned.

The media is upset because good blogs often demonstrate just how shallow the mainstream media sources are. Just look at Dick Destiny, written by George Smith, a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.org. He debunks the media hysteria about ricin, liquid explosives, and other “imminent” terrorist threats which the evening news threatens us with on a regular basis.

Or look at the fear the media has of “political” blogs. The mainstream guys have been telling us what we think for a long time; they feel threatened when there's a body of information available that shows it's not the way they say it is.

So, gang, let's all keep blathering. Our seemingly infinite number of bloggers may not run out Shakespeare's plays, but we just might send out an occasional wakeup call.

Besides, what's wrong with thinking your opinion matters?

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