I’m having a lot of trouble with experts lately. Not necessarily all of them – I quite like my obstetrician, for example, and I tend to trust that my advisers know what they’re talking about when we talk history. But lately I’ve been expanding my blog reading beyond the little group of grieving moms with whom I started in February. As I mentioned weeks ago, I’ve already had to ban myself from one particular blog because it depressed me. Since then I’ve found a few others that are pregnancy/labor/premature labor related and even ventured beyond that to Salon and Huff. Post, in addition to some of the more left political sites I’ve read for a year or more. I’m excluding the grieving mom group from the rest of my thoughts here, because with these I’m personally invested and often really impressed by the posts and comments.
With blogland in general, however, I’m finding the level of discussion in comment sections obnoxious and discouraging. Even still, I’m more and more fascinated by it. Particularly when otherwise interesting discussions descend and include phrases like the following, “I suggest a good course in biology to anyone who thinks….” or suggestions that one commenter or another learn to read or get spelling lessons. The reader who can take these proposals in good spirits would be few and far between I’m sure, so they mostly have the effect of destroying the conversation entirely.
We’ve all been attacked by trolls, I think, but the situation I’m describing is different. Participants who enter the public sphere of a blog and decide that they hold knowledge superior to almost anyone else writing there and who think it’s their prerogative to declare other people functionally illiterate seem to play a particular role, and it’s not a good one. Perhaps because they don’t often demonstrate their expertise in any other way beyond declaring it – they might say something vague, like “I have advanced degrees.” I suspect more so that they’ve forgotten the virtues of that widely praised and useful character trait, humility. The image of themselves they forward assumes it’s self-evident that they’re somehow extraordinary. They’re almost becoming a “type” in my mind – and I’d love to spend time compiling examples, to see if I can discern something special about them and how they function in blogs.
It doesn’t give me much hope for the democratic possibilities of this new sort of print discourse. But that’s a normal state of affairs historically. Sources for my research include, fairly exclusively, examples from the sorts of print discourse that were new in the 18th and 19th centuries. Lots of people celebrated the democratic possibilities there, as well. Others were frightened by them, and historians have spent the last 30 years talking about how they weren’t so democratic anyway.
I have many more thoughts about the “average” characters who post so avidly on forums that are either electronic versions of a “letter to the editor” section in a periodical or blogs that straddle the categories of personal/political/activism sites – most of the thoughts being purely academic and non-judgmental. I’m wishing, actually, for some cultural studies scholar to write about it, and if I weren’t already overwhelmed with things I ought to be doing instead, I’d take it up and try to publish something.
But for the moment, do any of you understand what I’m talking about? What are your thoughts?