Monday 29 July 2002

Ego and arrogance in blogging


Anyone who’s been scolded by Mike Sanders for offering an analysis of the Middle East tragedy based on “believing false information or not thinking things through” might be tempted to take his recent posts on ego and arrogance in blogging with a grain of salt or three.

“A meaningful life,” Mike explained, “can be summed up as doing positive things and not doing negative things.”

On the positive side, we need to be outer directed. We need to give to others with our financial, physical, mental and emotional resources. This includes giving charity, volunteering for community service, helping people with their problems, encouraging people in their endeavors and making people feel good about themselves and others.

On the avoidance of negative, we need to be inner directed. We need to control our anger, watch our words, focus our desires, introspect on our motivations, and most of all reduce our egocentricity.

Mike also suggested three ways in which bloggers might implement this advice:

  • Introspection must ultimately be done in private.
  • A blogroll, link or complement on a blog are at the lower end of the giving spectrum.
  • Share your experiences, but be aware of self-centeredness.

To which Katherine Derbyshire replied:

Most of the blogs I read violate at least one of these principles, and several violate all of them. If every blog followed Mike’s advice, the Internet would be like a steady diet of white bread: utterly lacking in taste, texture, or nutrition.

And followed up with:

My take is that I’m not convinced that ego and arrogance are necessarily bad things. The neurosurgeon whose ego drives him to be the best, most well-informed, and richest doctor on the planet is the guy I want holding the knife if I have to get my skull cut open. Arrogance is part of where people get the chutzpah to do things that are supposed to be impossible, and so arrogance has led to many of the breakthroughs that support modern medicine (not to mention the Internet).

And, where Mike described a vision of a low-egocentricity, reduced-arrogance Internet as an extremely beautiful place of compassion, sharing and love, S.L. Viehl saw a tranquillized psych ward, with bloggers doing the Thorazine shuffle. “People who preach to others about how they must behave,” she added, “remind me of Super Nun.”

I’m not going to be like Super Nun, or hand out tranquilizers, or otherwise tell you what to think or how you should behave. I may make observations and suggestions from time to time, but that’s all they are. You do what you want, and have fun. As for me, I’m an arrogant egotistic bitch and proud of it.

Book cover: Theordore Dalrymple, Life at the BottomOne wonders what it was in Mike’s posts that engendered such ferocious responses. After all, he’s simply made some “observations and suggestions” for implementing changes in one’s own life that would almost certainly benefit society at large.

Part of the problem is that you can choose to interpret Mike’s tone as kind of sanctimonious or preachy. S.L. Viehl did. I think it’s also the case that humility and social responsibility—which are really the values Mike espouses—have fallen out of fashion. At least it’s seemed that way to me for a long time now. I liked Mike’s posts very much, probably for the same reasons that attracted me to Peter Saunders’ interview with conservative doctor and writer, Theodore Dalrymple, whose recent book, Life at the Bottom, is based on his work as a doctor in British slums and prisons.

PS: Let’s try to pin down in a bit more detail what this culture is and what’s bad about it. You’re saying that it’s something that’s developed since the 1960s—it’s come out of the intellectual ferment of that decade, and it’s trickled down, and now we’re living with the consequences of it. So what is this culture?

TD: First of all I think it’s a radical egotism. And self-importance. What one wants oneself becomes all important. At the same time as that egotism, you also have a conception of rights. I suppose you can say it’s the libertarian right admixed with an element from the left of a rights-driven agenda.

This focus on ME produces advertising slogans like “You can have it all” and “For the most important person in the world: You.” And statements like “You do what you want, and have fun.”

Needles to say, a world view based on an exaggerated sense of one’s own rights requires a correspondingly diminished sense of one’s responsibilities. No wonder Mike was castigated for suggesting means by which rights and responsibilities might be brought back into balance.

The more we are focused on ourselves, the more we take and exploit and the less we give and share with others. A healthy society and healthy relationships are founded on giving, caring and sharing which are antithetical to self-focused taking.

It’s difficult to argue with that—as either an individual or a social ideal. The problem arises, however, when you add blogging to the mix. Perhaps that’s where Mike got himself into trouble. Storytelling isn’t founded on “giving, caring, and sharing” but on artfully constructed conflict. With blogging, which is essentially a new way of telling stories, the conflict can either be created within a post or, alternatively, can arise from the interplay between a post and other blogger’s responses to it. Like this.

What Mike and his adversaries could be missing is that—just as Theodore Dalrymple suggests “it’s perfectly possible for people to be economically left-wing and culturally conservative”—it might also be possible to be arrogant and egotistical in one’s blog and humble, generous, and compassionate in one’s offline life. Unless you believe in the unitary self. Which I don’t.

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Hm. I suppose it's also possible to be a humble blogger and a raging real-life jerk. Which suggests, given how often a certain self-effacement has been noted on CavLec (not least by you), that I had better watch myself.

Posted by Dorothea Salo on 29 July 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Lets hope you become Super-Nun.

Posted by Achhala on 9 September 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour