I only spend a few hours a week blogging but it’s something I find valuable. There are a number of reasons why which I will discuss. I’ve been blogging at this amateur level for about five years now. I have learnt how to make reading blog articles, commenting and blogging a valuable use of my time and a positive experience.
I observe a lot of nastiness and time-wasting on the internet even amongst more intellectual blogs, and I think many people could benefit from my thoughts on blogging.
Why do I blog and why do I comment on other blogs?
1) To improve myself through learning
2) For entertainment
3) To have a chance of spreading ideas I believe are valuable to myself and others.
4) To find people I have common values with and make friends.
Some further elaboration:
1) To Learn.
The key here is self improvement. This is a natural goal to have for your life. I believe everyone should aim to approach their life in this manner, at any age.
But how do you efficiently improve yourself and sort through the masses of info out there? I try to organise my online time so that I can learn what I consider the most important (dependent on knowing your personal hierarchy of values) information for my life in the most efficient way. Blogging gives you a chance to flesh out your ideas “on paper”. Writing is a tool allowing you to think more clearly by seeing the chain of reasoning in front of you. You don’t have to remember all your thoughts at once and attempt to order them in your mind. ie: Writing allows you to order and keep track of your jumbled thoughts. Writing helps you identify the fundamental ideas upon which other opinions are based.
Another advantage is the chance to have your reasoning critiqued by others who may see a flaw in your reasoning that you don’t.
I have five observations (in no particular order) that fall under this heading (a major goal of blogging is to learn) that are worth a mention.
1) i. If you keep in mind that your goal is learning you will not end up in useless discussions and will not be sucked into abusive arguments. If you want to learn efficiently, you will leave a discussion that has descended into ad hominem attacks and insults. You do not benefit from this time-wasting. You are a human being with the power of abstract thought, logic and reason! Why stoop to the level of a barking dog? You can often quickly identify disrespectful discussions with poor standards of argument and logic. Just keep moving. If you lie down with dogs, you might wake up with fleas.
I try to gauge the seriousness of a discussion. Are people genuinely interested in learning? Are they open to understanding alternate ideas and different perspectives? Most likely, people are mixed, sometimes rational, sometimes irrational and this may depend on the topic too. But I still think it’s worth judging the discussion and it’s participants by asking the question. “Are these people genuinely interested in the pursuit of knowledge?”
I often have strong emotional reactions to issues. For example, I sometimes feel hatred towards many politicians and am frustrated and depressed by people who blindly support these destructive parasites. However, I can usually resist any urges to use blogging as a way of taking out my frustrations and attempting to put other people in their place. By keeping in mind that my goal is to learn, I don’t get involved because insulting and attempting to humiliate don’t help me learn anything of value.
1) ii. One of the things I have noticed over the years is that many Objectivist blogs are focused on self improvement. I visit many blogs discussing topics of interest to me. Topics such as: Philosophy, science, politics, art, nutrition, economics. Many have nothing to do with Objectivism. However as I am a big fan of Objectivism and Ayn Rand, I also often visit blogs written by Objectivists. I have noticed Objectivists are often focused on improving their lives. They like discussing topics like what’s the best food to eat? What’s the best way to exercise? How can I raise my kids well? What are the most inspiring popular movies or books out these days? What’s a helpful book on topic X? etc. I like these types of articles and discussions because I want to achieve my best in my life and be happy. In addition, these type of discussions can be a refreshing and friendly break from the nastiness of many political arguments.
1) iii. It is very difficult to persuade people to change their beliefs on the spot, especially people in an emotional state or people above the age of 25-30 years old. An Objectivist might at this point note that thinking is volitional. You cannot change anyone’s mind, they must do it, and if they’ve spent their whole life believing something false, they will need to go away and think about the topic at length before any changes are made to their beliefs.
For example, I have had many discussions on the net about atheism. But I never expect to convince people to become an atheist on the spot. Has anyone ever seen an on the spot transformation like this? I haven’t. When I became an atheist the process took me months of hard thinking and learning and I had the advantage of being an open-minded 19 year old who knew things weren’t quite right with his life and was therefore actively searching out philosophical-level ideas.
It’s important to have realistic expectations when in an argument with someone. This will help you avoid wasting your time and/or becoming abusive.
1) iv. Keep in mind that your comments may influence a third-party. In fact, I think the third-party is usually a more important consideration than the actual person you are discussing/arguing with. By aiming to influence people who are not involved in your discussion but who may stumble across it later (perhaps even years later), you will maintain your standards of logic and reasoning and will not stoop to the lows of others. Why? Because any half intelligent, intellectually honest third-party reading your discussion will be able to see through bad arguments. If someone uses an appalling bad argument on you eg/ an obvious straw man argument, you will quite possibly be annoyed by this. After all, a straw man argument can be an intellectually lazy or even downright dishonest tactic. This person obviously doesn’t even care to understand your point of view, what a #$%@#! right? But there may be no point to attempt to correct them or take out your frustrations. This may actually harm your position. A third-party can most likely see the straw man attack (for example) just like you can. Therefore, you can leave it at that. However if the third-party scrolls down and sees you have continued the discussion and have stooped to insults, this may damage their opinion of you and your intellectual capacity and may cast doubt on valid arguments you presented earlier.
1) v. In a serious online discussion (as opposed to simple friendly chat) it’s important to gauge whether the discussion is focused and on-topic. One downside to online discussions is that they can be like a lunchroom conversation: All over the place. It’s only natural to some degree as people talk about what interests them even if it’s only somewhat related to the topic at hand. I’m often guilty of trying to change the direction of a discussion myself, and this problem is especially prevalent in discussions with many participants. But to learn effectively it helps to focus on the topic at hand. This way you can investigate an idea’s iterations, discuss finer details and identify fundamentals.
You know when you’re at a party engaged in small talk and a conversation can be based on whatever pops into your head? “Oh… that reminds me of X and Y that I came across the other day”. That’s fine in certain situations, but can be a waste of time online. Beware of people throwing in ideas left, right and centre. This will most likely distract from getting into the nitty-gritty of a topic and result in a superficial conversation.
In addition, communicating effectively is hard in itself. Focused discussions make it easier for people to all be on the same page, and misunderstandings are less likely. I have seen full-blown abuse arising from simple misunderstandings many times.
I don’t think this motivation for blogging needs explanation. My personal hierarchy of values in my life leads me to search for discussions and articles on topics that interest me. I grew up without the internet. I have experienced life before and after the internet. The wealth of information now available at my fingertips is just the greatest thing since sliced bread! I find reading blogs and involving myself in discussions enjoyable and entertaining.
3) To have a chance to spread ideas I believe are incredibly important and valuable.
Over three years ago I commented on a post at the Australian Libertarian Society called “Should Atheists be Evangelical?”. I wasn’t entirely happy with all my comments on this discussion but I am still happy with the first sentence I wrote in my comments:
“I think everyone should believe that the world would be a better place if people adopted their ideology”
I still believe this. I believe philosophy to be the “prime mover” of human action at an individual and cultural level. I also believe a philosophy (beliefs on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics) is actually unavoidable to humans beings. It may be contradictory, it may change, it may not be well thought out, but we all have philosophical beliefs.
What would the world be like if everybody thought like you? Better or worse?
This rhetorical question requires some context. Obviously it is impossible for people to think like you at all levels and this would result in a very boring world. Im talking about fundamental philosophical beliefs. My point is that I believe that virtually every person would like to think that if other people approached life like they did (in terms of their fundamental philosophical beliefs), the world would be a better place.
I believe that a world where Objectivism was more popular and well-known would be a better world for me and everyone in society. That motivates me to attempt to devote a small amount of time to spreading Objectivist ideas in a civil way. Let’s be honest, the world ain’t exactly perfect. Australian politics is a good example of that at the moment. Humans are problem solvers. And many people have ideas on how the world could be a better place.
I would encourage everyone to investigate, discuss or blog about their ideas. Get involved, have discussions with others and seek out interesting articles, blog posts and discussions. If you are genuinely interested in learning and are intellectually honest, this will ultimately be a positive experience. And the world will be a little better for it. (I won’t go into why this is the case because that is a post in itself).
4) To find people I have values in common with and make friends
Well, it sounds pretty lame, but it’s true and it’s not actually lame at all. Internet discussions can be friendly and enjoyable. I don’t think this point requires much elaboration.
Personally I have actually never met another Objectivist person in my life. In addition, now that I am nearly 30 years old I have some fairly specialised areas of interest. In my day-to-day life I just don’t cross paths with people interested in the finer points of topics that I am interested in.
So the internet can be a great way to talk with people you share values with and a way to share knowledge on these topics.