Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A last reflection on scattered words

Today's first column. This is also the last week I'll be writing these things. Believe it or not, I'm graduating. I'm not sure what this will do for the old blog; I've rather liked churning out columns on a weekly basis, but I'm not sure I'll keep it up without a looming deadline and the prospect of being published. I guess we'll see. Still, it's been an intriguing experiment. If you go back in the archives, I think you'll find I've gotten better at this writing business. More importantly, I think I started to cover more substantive topics. Then again, I might look back at this column two or three years hence and say the same thing. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. I've got a lot of writing life ahead of me, and while I would like to say I've stumbled beyond mere competency, I also like the prospect of progression.

Anyway, the column:

“I would not like these last statements to generate automatically another view common to bad writers—namely, that one writes only for oneself. Do not trust those who say so: they are dishonest and lying narcissists.” - Umberto Eco

Writers are a curious breed. A good friend of mine once remarked that my predilection to write was indicative of pride; anyone who writes, he reasoned, felt themselves superior to the rest of humanity. It would be easy for me to casually dismiss the statement as babbling of the envious, but there is some truth to my friend's statement. There are any number of writers—thank goodness—who are far superior to me, even if none of them write for The Lode. Nonetheless, I confess a superiority concerning the ideas for which I advocate, even if I will not stoop to sole ownership of them. This sense of superiority strikes me as unavoidable.

When I first started writing for the paper, one of the reasons I did so—though not the primary one—was to see if I could get a reaction from a campus reputed to be apathetic to the point of torpidity. I stayed far away from mere sophistry, but—occasionally—I turned up the rhetorical heat to attempt to generate a response. Pessimism suggested that Tech students were more interested in playing video games and running equations—so as to attain a job making power points in a cube factory—than they were about mulling over the so-called bigger issues. I've been writing columns for two and half years, and while it might be unfair to use letters to the editor as the sole means of measurement, their number can be counted on a single hand. As they teach in statistics: not enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis.

One writes, I think, because one wishes to convey truths, about which one is convinced, to one's fellow man. It would benefit mankind, so the theory goes, were such truths taken sincerely to heart. Since writing amuses me greatly, the size of my audience is of little consequence. Yet all of my scribblings are intended to move the minds of my readers, whoever they may be. Getting people riled up is enjoyable, but any argument which rests upon an appeal to the emotions will be transitory in its impact. While it is impolite to suggest as much, not everyone is interested in arriving at the truth through the use of reason; most prefer comfort, which excludes entertaining ideas contrary to one's own. The implication is that those who arrive at conclusions based on the capricious whims of their emotions are not worth attempting to convince of anything.

The corollary suggests that the rational are always harder to convince. It is good that this is so; it would be very ridiculous if the rational amongst us wavered incessantly. Conclusions should only be drawn after careful study of the facts. A further implication is that while the columnist may suggest alternative ways of looking at an old problem, his impact, though not insignificant, will be slight. As Vox Day—my favorite columnist—put it: “750 words such as these can't teach you anything of substance, but 750 pages can. And only after building a solid base of knowledge can one begin to make sense of the bits of information floating in the media stream around you.”

I don't know how many minds I have changed by my miserable words; only God knows how fruitful my efforts have been. But if a few of you folks sit down with a good book tonight and turn off the damned television I'll consider the venture well worth the while. I heartily recommend Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton.


hoosiertoo said...

Ah, Orthodoxy. One of the great ones.

Congratulations on your imminent graduation! I hope you maintain the blog; good ones are hard to find.

A Wiser Man Than I said...


Orthodoxy is the best book I've ever read. I've read it four times in the past three years, and each time I find new truths which I had overlooked the previous time through.

I'm glad you like the blog. I don't plan on giving it up, but I hope to do more reading than writing during the next couple of years until I can find a topic which interests me enough that I can write a book about it.

troutsky said...

I trust you won't vanish into the ether.Anyone who can quote Umberto can find a readership somewhere, and I think your motivation for writing goes well beyond vanity. You actually believe in the experiment known as democracy and free expression as one form of liberty.

I believe one aspect of rescuing this experiment involves an articulation between the terms reasonable and rational (which you have used interchangeably) . Where rationality would imply a strictly utilitarian, cost-benefit type analysis applied to the individual making decisions of self interest, reason carries the possibility of transcending the individualistic motive and considering the impact of decisions as they apply collectively. A step towards a pluralist democratic ethic.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

You're probably right.

I believe in liberty more than democracy. I only believe in the latter if it is in a limited form.

That's a good critique regarding reason and rationality. I'll keep it in mind.