Friday, February 18, 2005

Ignorance Can Be Bliss

Jeremiah 1:1-7 (King James Version)

Jeremiah 1

“1The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin:
2To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.
3It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.
4Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
5Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
6Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.
7But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.”

I once heard the story of a student who was required to make a class presentation on the subjects of ignorance and apathy. When the day came for him to reveal his findings he had only one sentence that summed up all of his research – “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

On first blush the student’s words don’t seem to be for someone seeking wisdom or enlightenment. But I think we bloggers need to explore his novel idea a bit closer.

I’ve been blogging since July of last year and have, in the past few months, seen some dramatic changes. Most noteworthy of these is the power that bloggers have gained. You can see that in the reaction the mainstream media has to the new competition in the world of news and opinion. A few days ago I read a piece by Peggy Noonan about this new phenomenon. In the introduction she hit nail right on the head:

“"Salivating morons." "Scalp hunters." "Moon howlers." "Trophy hunters." "Sons of Sen. McCarthy." "Rabid." "Blogswarm." "These pseudo-journalist lynch mob people."

This is excellent invective. It must come from bloggers. But wait, it was the mainstream media and their maidservants in the elite journalism reviews, and they were talking about bloggers!”

It’s a case of name calling being the sincerest form of flattery. Bloggers are hitting the mark. It was the keen eye of a blogger who took down CBS and Dan Rather. A blogger caught Eason Jordan in the act. Ah, how the mighty have fallen. It seems that a new age in information is dawning and bloggers are perfectly positioned to be a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Ms. Noonan goes on to outline several reasons for the rise of bloggers. The one that seems most cogent to me is this:

“Bloggers, unlike reporters at elite newspapers and magazines, are independent operators. They are not, and do not have to be, governed by mainstream thinking. Nor do they have to accept the directives of an editor pushing an ideology or a publisher protecting his friends. Bloggers have the freedom to decide on their own when a story stops being a story. They get to decide when the search for facts is over. They also decide on their own when the search for facts begins. It was a blogger at the World Economic Forum, as we all know, who first reported the Eason Jordan story. It was bloggers, as we all know, who pursued it. Matt Drudge runs a news site and is not a blogger, but what was true of him at his beginning (the Monica Lewinsky story, he decided, is a story) is true of bloggers: It's a story if they say it is. This is a public service.”

We’re an independent lot and that is one of our great strengths. While I’m not what would be considered a political blog or a powerful one for that matter, I enjoy the freedom I have to write what I want to write about. I enjoy being able to pit myself against the high and mighty. And I think it would be fair to say that I enjoy tweaking the noses of the high and mighty as much as anyone in the blogosphere.

Well, multiply me sitting in my upstairs library, tapping on the keyboard of my PC by millions and you have a revolution. And while I don’t feel particularly powerful sitting by myself, I do sense the power we bloggers have as an aggregate group.

In his recent book, “America’s Right Turn,” Dick Viguerie cites historian/economist Gary North to describe this new landscape:

“Every political establishment rests on a specific world view of the way the world works – or at least should work. To maintain their power, men must control the public’s access to ideas. Those ideas that run counter to an establishment’s paradigm are a threat to the system…”

“Part of every establishment’s means of control, North goes on to argue, “has been the printing press” – controlling the flow of information. Enter the Internet: “For the first time in the history of man, there are no longer gatekeepers who can control the flow of information to the public. No longer can the Powers That Be control ideas by controlling printing presses, paper and ink.”

Think of it. Millions of us on a daily basis are challenging the Powers That Be described by North. These powers may argue that we’re pajama clad morons, but that misses the real point. I can get up in the morning, walk down the hall, sit down, un-shaven, at my PC for about an hour, write a diatribe or a devotional, post it, and in a matter of seconds what I’ve written can be read by hundreds, thousands, or even millions. In a matter of seconds my thoughts and ideas are available for anyone in the world to read, challenge, or support. And I can do all of this before I make Nancy’s morning coffee. Again, multiply this millions of times over and you can readily see why the mainstream media is fighting us for all they’re worth.

It’s all pretty heady stuff, this blogging. It feels good to be a part of a group that is flexing its collective muscle and giving the big boys “what for.”

But I think we bloggers need to take a bit of time out from our “march to the sea” so that we can put some brakes on the bus. If we’re not careful we have the potential of becoming the very thing we so dislike about the mainstream media we’re competing with. We can, as power brokers, become just as arrogant as they are. In the same way they have abused their power and privilege, so can we. It’s not far at all to move from being giddy with power to being drunk with it.

How? First, by becoming more and more centralized as a medium. I’ve seen over the past month or so calls for bloggers to band together into consortiums. Now I don’t believe for a minute those who advocate these “collections” have bad intentions. But one of the real strengths of this wonderful new medium is that it is, for now at least, de-centralized. The move toward centralization could, and I’m afraid would, sap the medium of its real power, the power of the individual. As the blog consortiums grew, so would the inevitable war of the blogs. After all, isn’t bigger better? It’s the American way. And worse yet, along with collectivization would come collectivization of thought. Centralization, whether formal or informal, would mean that someone, or some entity, would slowly, but surely, gain power over what information is to be disseminated. And who will that be? Just see who is “big” in the world of blogging now and you’ll see who will be the controllers of the future.

Also, along with the increase in power would come a decrease in the innocence of the blog. Right now, thankfully, we’re not high and mighty. In fact very few of us have any experience in the seats of the scornful. We’re just “common” folks who have something to say. But I fear that along with the power/bigness would come the attitude that all too often comes with it. It’s the attitude that reeks of “I’m the expert, I’m the all wise, the disseminator of facts and opinions, I’ll decide what’s good and what isn’t.”

In other words, we would lose the real core of power, our innocence and inexperience.

Author Mark Edmundson had something very provocative to say in his recent book, “Why Read.” He was looking at education when he wrote, but I believe his words have a broader application. This is what he had to say in a section titled “For Ignorance:”

“What that young man lacks is inexperience”: so said the maestro of the young prodigy. Part of what I hope to do by asking students to brood publicly about God and ultimate commitments is to let them recapture their inexperience. They need a chance to own what may be the most precious knowledge one can have at the start of an education, knowledge of one’s own ignorance.”

“Plato and Aristotle both say that philosophy begins in wonder. But
Ludwig Wittgenstein, perhaps close to the point, thought that people came to philosophy, to serious thinking in their lives, out of confusion.”

I believe that the “inexperience” Edmundson spoke of is, or should be, the foundation of the blogger’s power. We’ve gained notoriety and power not because we are powerful as it all too often perceived, but because we really aren’t. We’re not all wise and all knowing; we’re just ordinary people expressing what’s on our hearts and minds. We’re millions of decentralized “ones,” not a corporate conglomerate with a headquarters in some New York City high rise. We don’t have board-rooms like CBS or CNN. We don’t have some central “Father Blog” figure who leads while we blindly follow. And I, for one, say we need to keep things that way.

I began this post with a portion of a dialogue between the Almighty and the prophet Jeremiah. The great sage, seeing that the task he was called to was too big for him alone, pleaded, “Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.” He was Edmundson’s kind of man, a man who really understood who he was. I believe God saw that and commissioned him because of, not in spite of, his declaration. He was apparently God’s kind of man too.

I believe that in this new information age we bloggers need this perspective. In fact, if we see ourselves as the movers and shakers and blindly proclaim ourselves the rulers of this new age we will almost certainly fail in our mission. And that mission, more than anything else, is to simply express rather than rule, to serve rather than be served.


James Fletcher Baxter said...

The key to Wisdom and Knowledge:
"...knowledge of one's own ignorance" includes the comprehension that our Knowledge and Ignorance are not balanced, even, or proportional.

I pleasure in telling my listeners and readers that "we each have a shoe-boxed collection of Knowledge on one end of a coffee-table while at the same time our Ignorance is universe- sized."

Only thus are we teachable.
KJV "meek."

Gary B said...

What I see as a great undergirding strength of blogging is the obligatory civility amongst bloggers. This civility is not due to our saintly nature, but rather due to our need for one another. But it works. It will be interesting to see how thing evolve.

Now blogrolling you from my blog:

BTW, I like E.B. White, too.

Gary B said...

What I see as a great undergirding strength of blogging is the obligatory civility amongst bloggers. This civility is not due to our saintly nature, but rather due to our need for one another. But it works. It will be interesting to see how thing evolve.

Now blogrolling you from my blog.

BTW, I like E.B. White, too.