Wednesday, March 14, 2007

To Blog or Not to Blog

Tibor R. Machan

Yes, I do have a blog but all it contains is copies of columns I send out to various newspapers, magazines and web sites, as well as a few book, movie, and TV recommendations. I do not get into lengthy exchanges on blogs and despite being asked to do so, I think I should stay away from blogs, for the most part. I have nothing against those who do all this blogging but it’s just not my cup of tea.

While columns are something I have done for over forty years, I much prefer longish papers, articles, and books, mainly because in such fare one is able to address the various controversial assumptions on which one’s more particular suggestions and recommendations rest.

For example, when I attack the institution of taxation in a column, all I can do there is engage in a bit of mind-teasing. I might prompt some readers to undertake their own investigation based on the little I can produce in such a brief discussion. In a longer piece, however, I can discuss how taxation was at home in a feudal system; why such a system appeared palatable to so many people and had a long history (which continues, still); how some of its elements linger on in constitutional democracies even though their foundations have disappeared, etc., and so forth.

Or I can consider how when one discusses what public officials should or ought to do, one is assuming that they have free will, otherwise chiding or praising them is groundless—if one cannot do other than what one did, all things being the same, then one isn’t free to do the right thing or the wrong, just what one must. In which case human conduct is no more praise- or blameworthy than is a tornado or earthquake. And this point requires considerable exposition and explanation, impossible to perform in a column, not, especially, with all the heavy hitters today in neuroscience and other technical fields lining up to ridicule free will. One just cannot handle such matters briefly.

Nor can one do much with these topics on blogs except to exchange points one by one, without the possibility to develop a general thesis that can be convincing. As a result, whenever I have yielded to the temptation to blog, I have noticed how quickly some folks lose their cool—including me, come to think of it. (Some people do post my columns on their blogs and the few times I have checked, many respondents have been insulting—there seems to be this widespread desire to inflict pain rather than to help reach some kind of reasoned conclusion.)

Now there are some matters that blogs are very good for. One that comes to mind is conveying rapidly developing information. When that’s of value, blogs are a great resource. They are like an instant newspaper, with unending stories coming at readers all the time. And that is of immense value when, for example, one needs to make accurate, up to date plans or decisions. Getting word about a fire or heavy traffic or the need for some information is achieved much more quickly these days than it used to be. Indeed, the Internet is of unsurpassed use to anyone who wants to communication such information to maximum effect.

Which brings to my mind how both too much good and too much evil is expect from cyberspace. Like all other human inventions, cyber-communication has its pluses and minuses. The minuses will surely bring out alarmists who will gleefully call for government regulation of the Internet—most often invoking helpless children to justify this, as if government has ever managed to be of much use to the vulnerable among us as opposed to using them to gain more power!

So, just because I will not blog, it doesn’t in the slightest follow that others, with different skills and temperaments, shouldn’t. But then this is yet another place where it becomes so very obvious that how people ought to act varies; there are very few universal ethical or practical principles or rules for people, and when some presume to know what others ought to do, let alone to gain power to make them do the right thing, we are all in trouble. The power is most likely to be used, very soon, to perpetrate far greater wrongs than it was meant to correct.

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