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December 06, 2002

Blogging Bliss

Friedrich --

Do you carry a cafe conversation around in your head? I do. What I mean is that some part of my brain is home to an ongoing bull session.Voices gather to compare notes about all kinds of topics -- occasionally politics and econ, most of the time art and philosophy. (Many detours into sex, of course.) It's Les Deux Magots, open and busy 24/7 in some seedy Montparnasse quartier of my brain, and I'm the grizzled old owner hurrying about with wine and bread, sometimes taking part in the disputes, sometimes watching benevolently out over the excitement ...

Where do these voices come from? Given how hard it is to rustle up good in-person art chat once you're out of college, most of them show up from what I've been reading. I go around thinking about what I've read -- in my mind, quarreling/arguing/discussing/comparing-notes with authors of books and articles. It's all very real to me -- smoke, coffee, lots of intellectual ooo-la-la. It's also all very absorbing, fun, and exciting. So much so that when I surface back into everyday life and start talking to The Wife about the discussions that have been buzzing in my mind, she looks at me (fondly, I hope) like I'm insane.

I raise this because something interesting has happened to this imaginary scene of mine in the last few months. The people taking part have changed -- there's been some turnover in the clientele. Most used to be magazine writers, artists, critics, academics, newspaper people -- professionals. Lately, many of the voices taking part have belonged to bloggers, and fewer voices have come from the familiar old professional crowd (and most of them have been culled from Arts and Letters Daily, here, a kind of meta-proto-blog). The people I'm talking with in my head as I make my way through my daily rounds are as likely to be bloggers like Glenn Frazier, Alexandra Ceely, Aaron Haspel, Sasha Castel, Scott Chaffin, Peter Briffa, Jason Soon, Alice Bacchini, Chris Bertram, Lynn Sislo and many others as they are to be such pros as (god forbid) Paul Krugman and Susan Sontag.

I'm much happier for the change. The conversation is more freewheeling and spirited. There are fresh faces, and lots of new points of view. For every asshole who can't seem to understand that he's addressing another human being, there's a dozen charmers who are funny, loose, wry and civil.

Some human element has returned into my life that I hadn't realized was missing. The bloggers have more sides to them than the pros, their talk isn't tainted by careerism, and they by and large seem to share a respect for life as it's actually experienced. I like the makeup of my new clientele. They strike me as a bunch of rough-edged, three-dimensional people rather than a bunch of disembodied, streamlined egos.

I wonder if my experience reflects the experience of other bloggers and blog-surfers. If so, I think there may be something important happening in the general consciousness, an opening-up, even a general cheering-up. Given that activity tends to arise out of the context of conversation -- one of the reasons I adore Oakeshott is that "conversation" is his central metaphor -- I wonder if better politics, better economics, better philosophy and better art might not be a result.

Whatever the case, what this change has brought me personally is surprise and pleasure, and a much-improved mental climate. My ongoing inner cafe conversation is a whole lot more likable and enjoyable than it was only a few months ago. My brain is grooving to a friendly, unstrained, and goofily cheerful new beat.

Has blogging had any similar effects on your mental state?



posted by Michael at December 6, 2002


Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one hearing those voices! I know exactly what you mean. It is so wonderful to have intelligent discussions about things I am passionate about without getting those damn blank stares. I had almost completely given up on the art of intellectual conversation. My husband has kept me sane in that, but his interests lean more towards the right and away from art. The other day my mother told me I spend too much time blogging. I told her it was the ONLY thing I do purely because I enjoy it. I have way too many responsibilities and commitments (I'm a wife and mother and I work), and blogging makes me happy. She acknowledged that perhaps that was acceptable.

I always read your blog even if I don't look at anyone else's. It's like dropping by the cafe to see who's hanging out.

Posted by: Alexandra on December 6, 2002 9:23 PM

You're one of my voices too Michael. Let's just agree not to tell the men in the white coats, OK?

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on December 6, 2002 11:01 PM

Once I organized an email list of intellectual peers in 1999, I became more agreeable to be around because I lost the urge to argue with my neighbors. I had now had people to argue with who cared, so it was a win for all concerned.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on December 6, 2002 11:49 PM

Um...Michael...I'm really sorry about that fuss I caused the other night when I punched Susan in the nose. I swear it won't happen again. (Though, of course, I have no idea why she even comes to the cafe...)

I've had similar experiences. In Heaven, the world of forms, "an ideal world"—take your pick, according to belief preferences—people associate purely according to affection. In the natural world of time and space, we are thrown together according to a complex interplay of birth, occupation, geographic barriers, chance, etc. Sure, we still manage to sort of group together according to affection here and there, now and then, but such associations are imperfect.

On the net, though, I find that ideal of "societies of loves" more attainable than in the physical world. Without physical or (to a degree) temporal barriers, the net (whether it be via blogs and comment systems, usenet newsgroups, large forum systems, BBSs, whatever) most allows (encourages!) us to congregate with those who share similar loves, affections and interests. Yes, this can sometimes create an echo chamber effect. Still, just because one associates with those who care about the same things does not mean that one is only communicating with those whose thoughts and ideas are the same.

You know you've joined an online discussion that fits the description when it feels like coming home. You and Friedrich have created such a home, here. Thanks!

Posted by: Mac on December 8, 2002 11:43 PM

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