Saturday, May 4, 2013

Why Are We Here?

"Plaaaaaassssstic...assssshoooooles." -- George Carlin

No, no, I don't mean it that way. I mean, why are we here at Liberty’s Torch?

It's Saturday, as if you couldn’t tell.

Blogging has gone from being the new, exciting method for sharing the significant events of one's day with a circle of intimates, to a proven technology by which total nonentities can vent their spleen onto the World Wide Web for the dubious edification of others, and finally to a hoary old fetish for sexagenarians -- get your mind out of the gutter; that means sixty-year-olds -- who haven't the agility to keep up with Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Surely once the sexagenarians become septuagenarians unable to find their glasses without their minders' help, and presently deteriorate to octogenarians whose walkers prevent them from reaching the keyboard, blogging will cease to command an audience.

Well, all things must pass, as that noted sage George Harrison has told us. But blogging hasn't, and somehow I don't think it will, at least not soon. It's too convenient, and too flexible. At any rate, this sexagenarian finds it irresistible.

We who write here are of several ages, dispositions, and stations in life. We share certain general attitudes, of course, as is usual at most group blogs, though we come at our subject matter from individualized angles. However, none of us can claim an absolutely unique set of perspectives, insights, or opinions. None of us can honestly say to himself, "If I weren't saying these things, in this fashion, no one else would be doing so." So why do we continue on?

It's a question that's been on my mind for a few weeks:

  • It's not because there's money in it;
  • It's not because we have no other outlets for self-expression;
  • It's not because we have much influence over the thinking of others;
  • It's not much of an excuse for holding off the wives and kids for an hour a day;
  • And it's a really lousy technique for meeting girls.

So why, then?

Whoops! Coffee cup's empty. Back in a flash.

The Web is an open forum, much like Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park. (Or perhaps like the "prophets' corner" in Life of Brian.) It's a place to say what you like, about whatever grabs you...and equally, a place where others who seek persons of similar views might find you to be a kindred soul, courtesy of Google or some other search engine.

Because no one can compel anyone to attend to his Web blather, those who choose to do so are likely to be persons of similar bent, who may reasonably be assumed to take a serious interest in whatever one has chosen to write about. Potential friends and / or allies. People you can drink with in comradely comfort. This is especially the case with regular commenters, arguably the best indication of whether the writer is regularly and consistently "making sense" to anyone.

Do our readers need us? Possibly. They enjoy us, almost certainly. But it's far more certain that we who blog need them. It's probably the central reason we spend our time this way.

As an indie fiction writer, I know something about the need to be read. No writer pours hundreds or thousands of hours into the creation of a compelling fiction for the sheer pleasure of the exercise. No writer consigns a completed book to "the trunk" with a smile on his face. And no writer, looking back on a novel that failed to gain an audience, says, "Well, it was worth it for the voyage of self-discovery."

Writing is not speaking. It's not conversation. Stylistic classifications to one side, it is not and cannot be "casual." It's an attempt to weave words into a net that will contain a thought, or a set of thoughts, of importance sufficient to justify the effort. That's the case whether one is writing fiction, or opinion, or exposition, or a daily journal.

Robert A. Heinlein, in the Postscript to his early collection Revolt in 2100, claimed that he wrote "to buy groceries." In The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, he made a flippant comment about the "need to write," and alluded to terrible consequences should that need be forcibly suppressed. Yet paragraph after paragraph, at the risk of alienating a goodly part of his (potential) audience, Heinlein gave the lie to his own claims by expressing and exemplifying some of the boldest and starkest sociopolitical opinions any fictioneer has ever advanced. No doubt his bank balance benefited from his book sales, but he never became wealthy; he did become known as science fiction's equivalent of Ayn Rand.

Everyone who writes is motivated, at some level, by the sense that his chosen subjects, and his insights into them, are important, deserving of more attention than he alone can give them. Were it otherwise, we'd all be standing on our Acme Portable Podia at some version of Speakers' Corner, bloviating into the wind, without any concern for how many listeners we might have...or for whether anyone hears us at all.

It takes a monumental degree of arrogance to think that one has any significant prospect of changing the world through his writing. This is especially the case with blogging, where every voice raised must compete with many millions of others, some in passionate opposition to oneself. Most of us don't kid ourselves about it, but we write anyway. Indeed, we put a fair amount of time and effort into it.

We do it, in the main, because we hope to find you, the reader.

We need the sense of having kindred spirits around us. We yearn to believe that we're not alone in our priorities nor in our passion for them. Many of us have tried the fleshly world -- the realm in which actual living bodies mill about, speaking and doing and occasionally connecting -- and have found it wanting, at least for our purposes. You can take that as an indication of personal failure, if you like; I see it as a preference for methods with a better chance of success.

One way or another, the only meaning our words have emanates from you who read them, take them seriously, and return for more.

Persuasion specialist Michael Emerling once said that the import of any communication lies in the response of the hearer. As true as that is, a stronger statement is possible: Without a hearer, no communication can occur.

We who blog are here because of our need to communicate.
You who read us are instrumental in meeting that need.
We could not do it without you.
Thank you, most sincerely.

All my best,


Horatio said...


You're on my daily reading list. Why?

Because no matter the subject, you write with wit (and sometimes humor), frankness (no pun intended), and a certain disregard for beating around the bush. Even when it is dire and bleak, your writing inspires some hope for the future.

The very few times I have disagreed with something you wrote have not detracted from that. You, the other writers you host here, and my fellow commenters let me know that I am not alone.

Have a good weekend; look forward to seeing you Monday.

pdwalker said...

Don't underestimate the impact of your writing.

You've completed my transformation from Aetheist to aetheist, to something else farther down a road to somewhere.

Guy S said...

If for nothing else, "hearing" others of simular mindset speaking long and loud into the cold dark night, reminds us we are not alone.

You are blessed in that you say it so much clearer than many of the rest of us.

If there wasn't a "interweb", there would still be town squares, pamphlets, perhaps short-wave transceivers. And any number of back-rooms in taverns.

Thank you !

Anonymous said...

Francis, you've definitely reached me in a powerful way. I also fancy myself a communicator, but I don't like to talk and I don't write that well, and I don't have the patience for it. What a failure that makes ME ha ha! But I feel like less of a failure, knowing that you're out there, saying what I only wish I could say.

Often what you write about is upsetting to me. Not because I disagree, but because you lay out so clearly the stark facts and realities that we're forced to live with. A friend of mine, who I forwarded some of your writings to, asked me why I even bother to read it, as it's often depressing, necessarily so. I had no answer, other than to say that it gives me new perspectives on my own views, and also shows me that someone who is much smarter than I shares those views.

And I guess that summarizes why I appreciate you so much. You spend more time than I do digging beneath the surface of the things that matter, and very intelligently put to words what I'm already thinking about. You also tend not to end sentences in prepositions, which I have a problem with. :)


Francis W. Porretto said...

(chuckle) Well, Mike, about that last bit, when an aide faulted Winston Churchill, arguably the 20th Century's greatest orator, for ending a sentence with a preposition, Churchill bellowed, "That is a species of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put!" So be not afraid. Of prepositions, anyway.

On an even lighter note, Charles Hill of Dustbury once told me this story: A little girl tucked in for the night asked her father to read her a particular story. Dad went downstairs to the library, picked up the wrong book by mistake, and trotted back upstairs to his daughter. The little girl spied the book, fixed Dad with an accusing glance, and said:

"What did you bring that book I don't want to be read to out of up for?"

A sentence that ends with five prepositions, yet its meaning is clear. Amazing, eh?

chipmunk said...

I'm only a pentagenarian, so I sure hope you will keep blogging for an extra ten years.

Horatio said...

Mention that the child's book was about Australia, and you get three bonus final prepositions:

"What did you bring that book I don't want to be read to out of about Down Under up for?"

daniel_day said...

"be read to out of up for"
?? I'm missing something.

Anonymous said...

Any day which contains humor about English prepositions is a day which restores hope to the soul! Thanks!