Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hubris, Thy Name is The Daily Duck

Today this blog turns 1,000. Had it lived up to its grandiose claim, this postiversary would have occurred in July of 2007 or, if one is charitable by considering only those days between Sunday and Saturday, January 2008.

Clearly, then, The Daily Duck stands in some sort of pantheon of the over promised or under delivered, a distinction probably without difference.

Robert Duquette started TDD in October 2004, inviting Brit, Oroborous and me to contribute. TDD was both an extension of, and reaction to the Brothers Judd Blog. Orrin had an unparalleled format: pithy and contrarian takes on a wide range of social, political, religious and economic viewpoints. Probably because the topics were rather more demanding than most would willingly read for entertainment, BJB wasn't much visited by nitwits, flamers, or fools. Instead, it gathered posters who were largely articulate, knowledgable and analytical.

Unfortunately, and for reasons I've never sussed, Orrin suddenly changed. First becoming antagonistic then, through surreptitiously vandalizing comments, dishonest. It isn't clear what was to be gained by causing readers to beat a path to the exits, but that was the genesis of the term Post Judd Alliance.

Unsurprisingly, at first TDD largely focussed on the same topics as BJB: religion with regard to ethics, religion with regard to knowledge, religion with regard to politics, religion with regard to evolution, religion with regard to science, religion with … well, you get the idea. For example, Brit's brilliant post, The Story of the Moral is as good a discussion of ethics and religion as can be found anywhere.

In contrast, Oroborous gave TDD much needed breadth. Writing outside the nearly pervasive all religion vs. [fill in the blank] all the time, Oro's wide-ranging posts almost never had anything to do with the God wars. Thank goodness.

Inevitably, TDD has changed over the years. In May 2007, Brit left to start The Dabbler. Whether it is rhetoric, verse, prose (see in particular his Dabbler Diary) or satire, he is one of the very best writers I have ever read. With regard to the latter, I wrote my one and only Amazon review of his Blogmanship:

Sociology has long been stuck in the deathless troika of class, race, and gender. Blogmanship, to which the appellation 'seminal' surely applies, shows the way forward for sociology to gain in the 21st century the relevance it claimed for itself in the 20th. After all, as this sharply observed study clearly demonstrates, on the internet the color of your gender, or its bank balance, are completely irrelevant. All that matters is the correct and timely application of the principals of blogmanship in order to leave your opponents watering their keyboards with tears of humiliation.

In assembling this academic masterwork, Noseybonk -- considering the subject, an actual name would have been as jarring as a Lamborghini at a Green Peace meeting -- has cited the leading experts in the field, as well as adding his own sharply observed insights.

The result is a definitive delineation of blogmanship principles which, absent being extremely well written, will surely be seen as Clausewitzean in stature.

Just six months later, Oro stopped posting. Later I heard it was because he had started a business, and simply didn't have the time. To this day, however, I can't help but think that my post on the FLDS and polygamy angered him; after all, he was Mormon. That was the beginning of the end of my posts on religion.

Tragically, Duck passed away in January 2009. Unsurprisingly, in eulogizing Duck, Brit perfectly encapsulated TDD, and, by extension, all bloggers within the same genus as TDD:

The Daily Duck was the cornerstone of the ‘post-Judd Alliance’ and, for a few years in particular, when there were four of us posting regularly, it was an absolute riot – providing the ideal, uncensored outlet for a motley bunch of amateur intellectuals to engage in ferocious debate, ribbing, one-upmanship and all the other things that prolix but intellectually-frustrated men love to get up to in their spare time. The infamous limerick war was particularly memorable.

So I became The Daily Duck. If not for Duck's invitation, I would never have done anything other than comment on others' blog posts. Not that I didn't want to, but rather, for some odd reason, I thought of hosting a blog as something bloggers do. That isn't quite as circular as it seems, because it comes from a now outmoded way of looking at the world. Conceptually, I equated bloggers with journalists. Just as I wouldn't presume to be a journalist, I didn't think of becoming a blogger.

Thankfully, one of the things the internet has ditched is the notion of journalists as some privileged class of information purveyors and arbiters of Correct Thinking.

I've spent good chunks of the last several days looking over the 999 posts and comment threads. At the risk of excessive self-congratulation through association, there is an amazing amount of first rate writing and thinking in there, frequently better than that coming from "professionals". Regardless of anything else, it proves that there is, occasionally, such a thing as "free".

I also found myself wondering if these posts and at their roughly 15,000 comments had any impact at all on my thinking, or if it was a completely empty exercise in using ideas as dams, no matter how little water they held.

For myself, I am no more religious. However, I am far less dismissive of religion, even to the point of sometimes defending it. Perhaps it was the Kitzmiller decision, but the air seems to have gone completely out of the evolution wars. Certainly, I felt a twinge of sudden self awareness when I found myself objecting to the global warming content in the new national education standards. Similarly, I remain pro-choice, but am quite queasy about it, and realize (unlike everyone remotely like Amanda Marcotte) that the pro-life argument has a great deal going for it. When taking seriously arguments presented seriously, the first casualty is certainty.

What blogging hasn't changed for me is my opinion of progressivism as a collection of people who aren't smart enough to be progressives. No one is, but large-L Liberals are at least smart enough to know it. Worse, though, is that Marcotte is progressivism embodied, and one thing progressives cannot do, by nature, is take seriously any contradictory argument. They are pretty good at demonization, though.

So far as I know, Guinness doesn't keep a record for such a thing, but if they did, I might just hold it. As a consequence of my phony-balony job, I have gotten to meet, at one time or another, almost every member of the PJA: Ali Choudhoury during a Stansted, UK layover; AOG while returning to Michigan from Memphis following MD11 initial qual; Duck in Minneapolis during DC9 requal, and again on roadtrip from Boston, where we met David and Peter along the way; Harry in Oahu and Kauai; Chris Markle (a ThoughtMesh regular) in LA; Brit in Bristol; Bret in La Jolla; and lonbud (a very left leaning commenter to whom I lost a thread bet and owed dinner) in San Francisco.

My family, who apparently aren't worried about my easily injured feelings, referred to the PJA as my "invisible friends". Along the way they got to meet Duck, Harry and Brit. Despite that, I think my wife still finds this way of socializing quite odd. Perhaps she is right, as virtually all my friends are virtual.

Playing at being an intellectual is a decidedly minority pursuit, even more than being an F1 fan at a NASCAR race. TDD and the rest of the PJA made possible many enjoyable, informative, and wit-sharpening hours that would not have been possible at any other time in history, and without Orrin.

I don't know how much more life TDD has left to it. I enjoy writing, and do it serviceably enough. But more and more I am frustrated by the lapidary paragraphs in my mind, the sort of prose to make Hitchens weep in sheer envy, no matter where he is, that vanish the moment my fingers get near a keyboard. To have readers, a blog needs regular posting. Yet despite all the time I have in hotels, that frustration has become a real barrier — it is no fun reflecting on how age is gradually erasing a skill, modest as it was.

Perhaps, then, there will ultimately be a modern variant of Zeno's paradox: if a blog post is unread, does it exist?

14 Comments:

Blogger Bret said...

Congrats on 1,000!

"...first casualty is certainty."

That's for sure, and the second casualty is transformation into a devil's advocate every time one meets certainty and (for me) a hypocrite since I always meet certainty with certainty of my own from the other side.

"...that frustration has become a real barrier..."

Please keep in mind that communication does NOT require "prose to make Hitchens weep in sheer envy" and secondly, the more you write, the longer you'll keep your writing ability. Perhaps you'll even enhance it. If you don't write, it will certainly get worse.

I, for one, look forward to more TDD posts.

June 19, 2013 9:55 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

It may have overpromised with 'Daily', but I would guess that very few blogs make it to the 1,000 mark, however long they take to get there.

Lovely post, Skipper, it was a lot of fun.

June 20, 2013 5:33 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I've enjoyed it and learned a lot.

Cannot say I've lost my certainty in some kinds of certainty, though.

No one, by the way, should attempt to write anything really good as often as every day. Nobody knows that much, no matter haw fluent their writing.



June 23, 2013 10:50 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Great post, Skipper. Those were the days indeed.

We were lucky enough to all meet in the mid-oughts, a time when existential "first principle" debates were raging in the public square. A bit like the thirties, I think. 9/11, the war(s) on terror, Dawkins's aggressive atheism vs. the spiritual, Darwinian, medical and environmental scientism, gay rights and the family, EU/UN internationalism/legalism vs. American morality/unilateralism, etc, etc., all were juicy opportunities to draw swords and throw down gauntlets. Did we just all run out of gas? A bit, perhaps, but today we live in more nuanced and complicated times. As I've said before, coming on as zealously today as we all did then would be a bit like first hearing Churchill make his "We'll fight on the beaches" speech in 1953.

I still miss very much the passionate multi-comment debates that so gripped me I had to abandon my own blog to give real life its due. There are lots of new and troubling issues out there that we are just beginning to understand, particlarly in the realms of culture, high tech, social change, etc. Hard cerebral work, though. They can't easily be grounded in the 19th century philosophies that gave us such ballast. C'mon, fellows, we have miles to go before reaching true enlightenment.

June 27, 2013 3:39 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I think more impressive than our efforts is that Andertoons guy.

June 29, 2013 10:34 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

[Peter:] There are lots of new and troubling issues out there that we are just beginning to understand, particularly in the realms of culture, high tech, social change, etc.

Like …

The pathology of black urban culture. No matter what the causes may have been, there doesn't seem to be anything like an answer.

The failure of the war on drugs, and the consequences of liberalizing drug laws.

Information technology provides increasing amounts of goods and services with decreasing amounts of human involvement (i.e., labor). Where is the end point?

Many trends point towards making children an increasingly expensive proposition. What if the inevitable consequence of modern society and women's choice over their fertility is average total lifetime fertility less than replacement? It could be the most existential question of them all.

In comparison, debates over, say, the objective truth of evolution are simple and, ultimately, empty. At the end of the day, I'm certain my side won, and I'm certain I no longer care.

July 01, 2013 9:06 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

The pathology of black urban culture. No matter what the causes may have been, there doesn't seem to be anything like an answer.

--and--

In comparison, debates over, say, the objective truth of evolution are simple and, ultimately, empty. At the end of the day, I'm certain my side won...

Savour the triumph, Skipper.


July 04, 2013 3:52 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Tongue-in-cheek is even harder to convey than sarcasm.

July 04, 2013 2:04 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Mmmm. A bit slaphappy, maybe, but not tongue in cheek. I was responding to there doesn't seem to be anything like an answer. Not that Black America would listen to a pale-skinned Canadian, but I think I can point to a few historical instances where a religious revival made great strides in treating a mass social dysfunction. Volatile medicine, though.

July 05, 2013 3:46 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

By Tongue-in-cheek is even harder to convey than sarcasm. I was referring to At the end of the day, I'm certain my side won ...

I think I can point to a few historical instances where a religious revival made great strides in treating a mass social dysfunction.

Religious revival made great strides in creating mass social dysfunction, too: Prohibition.

That aside, I grant your larger point. However, religion has been so eviscerated everywhere outside the Islamic world that I can't see how a religious revival could even be possible, no matter how desirable.

July 07, 2013 11:46 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Yes, I think it was Louis VI who, fearing similar social dislocation, asked Talleyrand how he could go about establishing a new religion, to which came the reply, "Perhaps, Sire, you could arrange to have yourself crucified and then rise again on the third day."

The English Victorians arguably pulled it off with a combination of non-Conformist religious activism, a cult of the family and a tough-love zeal for "improvement" and reform. The filthy, drink-addled urban social cesspools of the mid-19th century gave way to the lowest crime, alcoholism and divorce rates ever by the 1920's. Lots of room for "but, but, buts...." because of other stuff, but it's hard to argue they weren't a lot more succssful than modern welfare bureaucrats. Also, despite huge political problems, much of Africa today is actually experiencing fairly impressive growth at the same time that both Islam and fundamentalist Christianity are spreading widely (and in competition) and leaving behind the Western leftist aid establishment with their community consultations and planeloads of free condoms.

Do you know the novels of black author Stephen Carter? In New England White, a black couple reaches the pinacle of success--he's the president of an Ivy League university, she's a dean. A murder leads them back into contact with characters from their pasts in an urban ghetto. In one scene, the president meets a wizened elderly woman totally committed to a radical church and convinced it held out the only promise. Her life had been a mess of drugs and multiple partners and she had lost all of her three or four sons to guns and drugs. She delivers this amazing soliloquy about how the only answer is in the church and a moral revivial, but the racist liberal, secular white culture is blocking it. "Man get a girl pregnant? White man says we can't make him marry her. Gang selling crack to our kids on the street? White man says we have to respect their legal rights." Etc., etc. It's a novel, not a political tract, but I was blown away by her perspective. At least the Victorians walked the walk, preached a universalism and didn't just try to impose it on the Welsh while everyone else partied on down.

July 08, 2013 3:20 AM  
Blogger David said...

Cheers to all, and particularly to Duck.

There are times that I look back at the height of BJB and think that we were all suffering from a mild and fairly benign joint psychosis, a odd sub-species of obsessive compulsive disorder. On the other hand, my virtual life caused me to change my real life, and entirely for the better.

July 29, 2013 8:22 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

... we were all suffering from a mild and fairly benign joint psychosis, a odd sub-species of obsessive compulsive disorder.

I hadn't thought of it that way. And now that you have forced me to, I rather wish you hadn't brought it up.

... my virtual life caused me to change my real life, and entirely for the better?

How?

July 30, 2013 9:34 AM  
Blogger David said...

I realized that my compulsive blogging/commenting/inability to accept that someone on the internet is wrong (h/t Brit) was a good indication that I wasn't getting enough intellectual stimulation. I went back to school got (4/5's of) a PhD, and not I'm an assistant professor at an elite liberal arts college.

July 31, 2013 11:27 AM  

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