I mean, what are any of us really doing here, in a cosmic sense of-
No, wait. I don’t mean that at all.
I mean, what’s the point of this blog?
Here’s one part of the answer: I’m having fun. I like having somewhere to vent about stuff that catches my attention and/or bugs the hell out of me. I like constructing a good rant, I enjoy the process of the writing as I try to pick just the right way of phrasing a sarcastic remark to make it as bitchy as possible.
And because it’s a subject of interest, the field of science and skepticism is a great one for me to practise being bitchy about. I’m less interested in celebrity feuds or showbiz events or the latest news from the world of competitive eating than I am in pseudoscience and religion, so I don’t spend as much time being snide about them. And I know a thing or two about some of the hot topics in woo by now, so occasionally I get to be sarcastic and informed.
But it’s not entirely a solo activity for my own isolated benefit. If it was, there’d be no real need to even publish anything I write, and I certainly wouldn’t need to check my hit count as often as I currently do. I get a kick out of actually being involved, too – but what is it I’m involved in? What should my role be in whatever it is the skeptical blogosphere is doing?
I started thinking about this again lately after hearing the Carol Tavris interview on a recent episode of D.J. Grothe’s excellent For Good Reason podcast. She was talking about cognitive dissonance, and the way people tend to justify their own beliefs beyond what’s rational, and how difficult it can be to change a particularly entrenched opinion or idea about something, if changing your mind would cause a fundamental belief about yourself to be shaken.
And this was tied in to how skeptics should approach the issue of pseudoscience, and what sorts of methods are or aren’t likely to be persuasive to anyone not entirely in line with your own viewpoint. (If your opening gambit is “If you don’t agree and you really need this explained to you then you’re an idiot”, you’re less likely to persuade anyone to agree that they are, indeed, an idiot, than you are to put them on the defensive and close them off to any potentially good arguments you might make. Of course, some of us would never stoop to such ad hominem attacks. And fuck you if you think I would.)
Actually, that ironic parenthetical kinda brings me onto what I’m really getting at here. When pondering why I keep this blog, the first reason that sprang to mind was that it gives me the chance to get angry and be sarcastic about stuff. When people read it, they may enjoy the sarcasm if they’re already on my side, or they may be a little turned off by my tone if I’m sounding dismissive of something they believe in – but should that matter to me?
It should, I think, if I have any interest in doing something constructive beyond just amusing myself here. Which I think I do. I take an interest in things like the anti-vaccination movement, and am certainly compelled to try and do something to improve the situation, even if only by cheering on the troops as they totally kick ass. But if I’m intending this blog to do anything more than give me something to do of an evening – especially if I’m hoping it might become any kind of useful informative resource – I have to at least be aware of the tone I’m taking, and what effect this will have on my readership.
I’m wary of misquoting Penn Jillette, but I remember him saying on one of his episodes of Penn Says (before they stopped being available outside the US) that he thought that trying to craft your message to people – curbing the sarcasm, making any compromise, going out of your way to placate people and avoid antagonising them so they’ll be more open to your ideas – is necessarily manipulative and disingenuous. His view was that you should just speak the truth from your heart as you see it, and being totally honest like this is the best way for ideas to be exchanged.
Well, I like honesty, sure, and I think that going too far to appease and accommodate those with an opposing view can be disastrous (cf. just about anything PZ Myers has had to say about Chris Mooney in the last couple of years), but I don’t think that can possibly be the whole picture. Whenever anyone states a position on anything, or reports on any fact or occurrence, it’s unavoidably done so with a particular tone, with certain underlying assumptions. That’s just a facet of language. When you say something, you’re choosing to say it in a particular manner.
And when it comes to choosing that manner, I don’t think it’s simply that there’s “an honest way” to state your case, and then a bunch of devious and dishonest ways to try and manipulate people to your cause. Sometimes tailoring the style of delivery to your audience isn’t pandering, it’s just common courtesy.
So how do I relate all this to me? Well, I don’t plan to really change my strategy anytime soon. Not a lot of people come here, and I don’t have the opportunity at the moment to really engage with people on a grand scale. I have a style of writing that I find most natural, and it involves being sort of a dick and calling people dumb-asses once in a while. They’ve usually earned it, so I’m going to forgive myself the occasional lack of rigorous objectivity, and just keep writing what feels like the right thing to write. Maybe if I’m ever doing this more noticeably, as a more involved part of a big movement, I’ll think more about public engagement, but for the time being, the public can suck it.
Does that sound fair? If you blog, how much consideration you give to the way dissenters react to your style of engagement? Do you think this kind of engagement is even worth your time?