Two of the most common problems that blogs can fall into involve a descent into monotony and partisanship. When you blog on a daily basis, your repertoire can easily become predictable and boring. As well, there is a powerful temptation to write to your audience, which can all too easily lead to a confusion of partisanship with political philosophy. I try to avoid both temptations but occasionally catch myself resorting to the "easy" path of either echoing writers whose work I admire or "fisking" writers whose work I find shoddy, rather than coming up with original thoughts of my own.
[When I find myself at a loss for a topic the easiest thing in the world is to read Thomas Friedman and point out his inconsistencies and inanities. When I am really stuck, there is always Roger Cohen and Bob Herbert; fish in a barrel comes to mind.]
In an effort to avoid predictability and increase the level of discourse, I have tried over the last few years to engage in productive and constructive discussions with liberals on numerous occasions; it has been difficult. Blogs tend to elicit tendentious arguments and invective and all too often disagreement is taken as evidence that those holding opposing opinions are not only wrong, but evil or mad.
Recently I have been involved in an interesting exchange of e-mails and opinions with Jay Adler, the proprietor of The Sad Red Earth. Our exchanges led to the suggestion that we do a blog experiment, to see if we could speak to each other and to our readers in an open minded manner. Here is Jay's description of the endeavor:
As a recurring feature of both of our blogs, we are going to take on the issues that bedevil relations between right and left, maybe even toss some wild cards on the table for the pleasure of it. We agree on very close to nothing. But we intend – we hope – to avoid the usual debate. We already know we think the other is wrong. You can seek the shouting and the name calling all day long on web and tube. What we hope to make the sharper focus of our effort is the attempt to understand, as SW so well put it, “how two reasonably bright, reasonably decent people can disagree so significantly in their perception of reality.” We have agreed to try mightily not to descend to the usual incredulous insult. We will, if necessary, discover the other to be regrettably mentally impaired rather than a sorry ignoramus.
The plan is that on an alternating basis, one of us will post on a topic, and the other will respond after about twenty-four hours or so. We will cross-post on each other’s blog so that post and response are viewable at both sites. Our valued readers are independent agents (and don’t we love it!) so you will, of course, do as you please, but it probably makes the most sense for comments to my posts to be made at the sad red earth and comments to SW’s posts to be made at ShrinkWrapped. Sometimes, if the spirit or argument moves us, we will follow up on our post and response – maybe, in part, because of your comments.
I have suggested to Jay that when we cross post his posts on my blog I will close comments and direct my readers to make their comments on his blog. My hope is that our commenters will avoid the easy routes to what passes for discourse these days and actually try to engage in substantive argumentation. That implies that people will be polite, there will be a minimum of ad hominem arguments and, hopefully, no name calling. Jay, again:
We hope for some intellectual pleasure, and even – dare I say it – some opened minds. Regardless, it’s worth considering, amid the differences that roil us now, that at the very founding of the nation, Americans, all, argued about – would you believe it – how much power should be granted the federal government, whether there should be a national bank, and (contemplate this one) whether human beings should be trafficked and owned as slaves. Of course, they agreed about much more: democracy, the rule of law, the Bill of Rights, the freedom to pursue our individual destinies, and, you know, it is time to remember, and never forget – that all this land should be taken, through innumerable wars and countless deceits and abuses, from the people who first lived on it.
I think there is a great deal to gain from making a good faith effort to understand each other and am looking forward to watching how this evolves. The best way to hone one's arguments and one's thinking is to have someone critique what you say and force you to defend it. We often fail to recognize our own assumptions. It is possible that we will find, and enlarge upon, some areas of agreement. It is more likely that Jay and I will end up most of the time "agreeing to disagree" but more likely that we won't; if we can become clear about why we disagree, that will be an important achievement. If we are both forced to clarify our thinking and the assumptions that motivate our thinking, we will both end up wiser for the effort.
Jay has volunteered to go first. His post will be on his site and here on Monday.
In the meantime, by all means visit The Sad Red Earth and poke around a bit. Especially take note of his post announcing The Open Mind. He has a picture of himself (OK, a cartoon) and a picture of Kevin Spacey playing me that doesn't do me justice; both are worth checking out.