Monday, July 25, 2011

Blogging and Thinking

It has been some time since I made a contribution to this blog. That, of course, is one of the cardinal sins of blogging. If you don't post frequently, we are told, you lose readers. If you don't establish a regular schedule of posting, you lose momentum. Both lead eventually to the demise of the blog.

But here, perhaps, we see the shortcoming of blogging as a vehicle for serious thought. Is it possible to have anything significant to say and yet to say it on a regular schedule? Does the muse inspire a thinker regularly, frequently, on command? Or do frequent postings prevent serious thought by forcing it to occur on demand? Isn't blogging more congenial to those who would utter random thoughts on random topics of the day, who think it important to treat others in the great wide world to their musings on current issues or features of their daily lives? Can, or should, someone trying to do some serious thinking use a blog as a medium, or is the medium the (determinant of the quality of the) message here?

There are, of course, a few exceptions to the general tendency of blogs to be either mere reportage or the product of relatively shallow thinking. But my bet is that those blogs are products of those with much leisure time and, even then, are either not very regular or are shot through with "reactions" to issues of the day rather than serious thinking. In general, I think, the demands of a regular production schedule force the writer to compromise, to post something (no matter how minor or off-the-cuff) rather than nothing, and therefore to renege on a promise to offer serious thought truly worth considering.

Some (and not just bloggers) would disagree. They would point to the work of great journalists -- or, more accurately, great columnists -- as examples of the way in which sound thinking on significant matters can regularized. Depending on their persuasion, they would point to the work of H.L. Mencken and Walter Lippmann in the past, or David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Roger Cohen, or any number of others today, arguing that these writers demonstrate that good thinking can be produced on a journalist's schedule. This is not the place to examine this claim, at least in any detail. Certainly some of these writers have produced work that is thought-provoking, smart, even wise. Lippmann, for instance, wrote a number of books that still deserve our considered attention. But I would suggest that, while some of the work produced by some of these writers is of high quality as thought, much of it is not. Indeed, much of it is filler, forced from the pen to meet a deadline, half-baked ideas expressed well but with few signs of having been forced through a reflective process. These writers are unquestionably good, even great, writers. But there is a difference between great writing and great thought, and the vast bulk of the material produced by these writers is ephemeral and shallow, no matter how well expressed.

So good, serious thinking is likely to express itself in fits and starts, in spurts of activity and periods of lull, in creative bursts that follow no schedule rather than tightly structured statements produced on a regular calendar. I think the reason has something to do with the nature of thinking itself. In a series of posts I want to think about thinking and its place in a democratic republic. The muse has struck. Stay tuned.