Friday, March 18, 2016

Return On Investment

     “Opinions are like assholes: everyone’s gotta have one.” – Me

     Just in case there’s anyone in the Liberty’s Torch readership who hasn’t noticed, what appears here is mainly opinion: lots from me, some from my Esteemed Co-contributors Col. Young, Col. Bunny, Scott Angell, and Patrice Stanton, and the occasional guest essay from Ol’ Remus

     Opinions aren’t journalism, per se. Persons who consider them reportage of a sort are woefully mistaken. Many an opinion piece found in a “respectable” publication plays fast and loose with the facts in an attempt to justify its author’s exhortations. That includes historical facts multiply documented and cross-checked over the decades...or the centuries.

     The explosion of blogdom in the late Nineties was driven by the desire on the part of millions of people to express their opinions to an audience wider than their families and friends. The subsequent contraction of blogdom in the Naughties occurred largely because no one was listening. After all, if “everyone’s gotta have an opinion,” what makes yours any more reasonable or valuable than mine? So why bother to read all that crap? And if no one is reading it, then why bother to write it?

     Yet opinions continue to be expressed – horror of horrors! – right here on the World Wide Web. Some opinion writers are more popular than others. Some aren’t popular at all. And some draw the ire of the dissenting, which they express in colorful and insulting terms.

     This isn’t one of the more popular sites. We get somewhere from two to five hundred readers on a typical day; the average seems to cluster around 300. Neither I nor any of my Co-contributors expects great wealth or a Pulitzer for what we post here. Indeed, there’s essentially no return on our investments of research, thought, and effort. So why do we do it?

     Why are you doing it, Gentle Reader? Assuming that you are, that is. Several of you maintain your own sites, where you hold forth on your own views. What’s your return on investment (ROI)? Even if you aren’t one of us loony bloggers, do you ever express an opinion about political, social, economic, cultural, military, or religious issues to your family or friends? Why do you do that?

     Think about it.

     For some reason I cannot fathom, we feel it’s important to express ourselves on certain subjects. By “we,” I mean approximately everyone. From time to time just about everyone feels and surrenders to the impulse to give his opinion on some subject of public interest to others. Sometimes, a little fire starts, and friends or family start to build upon one another’s ideas. Sometimes there’s disagreement, and sometimes such a disagreement has unpleasant consequences. And sometimes – most of the time, I’d guess – nobody gives much of a damn.

     But we do it anyway. Something in the human psyche occasionally rears up and demands that one express an opinion even knowing that the likely consequences range from indifference to hostility.

     I doubt there are evolutionary reasons for it. Nor would I put cash on the proposition that it’s the result of an opportunistic viral infection. So why do we do it? Especially since any adult will know that the probable ROI is negative: an expenditure of breath or keystrokes to which the most likely reaction is silence.

     I know of an extreme case that’s had extreme consequences: a fellow who has opinions about everything and who apparently cannot restrain them. Thirty seconds after he’s met you, he’ll have a multitude of opinions about you: where you live, what you do for a living, the company you work for, the company you keep, your taste in clothes, music, movies, food, politicians, women, and the way you knot your tie. And he won’t spare you any of them.

     I don’t like him. He doesn’t like me. We both know it. Moreover, I don’t know anyone else who likes him. Indeed, he’s the most roundly disliked person I’ve ever met, and his inability to keep his opinions to himself is the reason. He knows it – and he continues on, forever unchanged.

     Fancy that.

     Everyone who makes his opinions known receives feedback of some sort. Very, very few receive only agreement and applause. Yet for the overwhelming majority of us who write for the Web, that feedback is all we get for our troubles. That’s why many a blogger departs for the silence of obscurity: either he doesn’t get enough feedback, or what he does get displeases him.

     One of the early pioneers of blogging, Steven Den Beste, became well known for a number of reasons. One of them was his dislike of any reader feedback, however delivered. His site didn’t permit comments, and he became famous for repeatedly pleading with his readers not to write to him. Those pleas weren’t always heeded.

     Den Beste was / is – I have no idea whether he’s still on the sunny side of the sod – an intelligent and accomplished man. For some time he indulged in the expression of his opinions about a wide variety of things here on the Web, even though his ROI appeared to be decidedly negative. Moreover, he would occasionally take up cudgels with those who disagreed with him: a strenuous undertaking that’s seldom brought anyone any meaningful gain.

     He quit this madness after a few years. There were several reasons, but one was undoubtedly that he was unable to express himself without getting feedback he didn’t want to cope with. Those of us who valued his thinking and writing mourned the loss.

     That’s what a negative ROI can do to you.

     Today, those who disagree with an opinion monger will often try to silence him. One of the ways to attempt that is insult, delivered directly and in quantity. The tactic is more common among activists on the political Left, but it’s not unknown on the Right.

     Sometimes the tactic works. When it works, it’s reinforced. It acquires greater popularity and staying power. This is a major contributing factor to our sociopolitical polarization.

     Time was, gentlemen refrained from the direct insult. Oh, they insulted one another, but with a degree of adroitness and grace that would permit the target a dignified silence, perhaps reinforced by the Cut Direct. “A gentleman is one who never gives offense unintentionally.” Subtlety and indirection in giving offense were considered the distinguishing marks of the gentleman. (Gentlewomen slanged one another with no restraint nor compunction whatsoever, but then, women have always been like that. They still are.)

     Of course, I speak of a time when gentlemen wouldn’t dream of going out of doors without their swords and often responded to a direct insult with an invitation to coffee and pistols at dawn. The prospect imbued the men of that time with a greater degree of circumspection than ours routinely exhibit.

     Those were better days. The men were better men. And there was no World Wide Web. Coincidence? You decide.

     “If there were more bloody noses, there’d be fewer wars.” – Hagbard Celine, in Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus!

     I’m getting pretty old. My energies are flagging, yet my obligations and activities continue to increase. Indeed, in all my years I’ve never been busier – and to drive that home, bear in mind that I no longer hold a “regular” job. At some point, I’ll have to sacrifice something.

     The volume of reader commentary here is considerable. Most of it doesn’t appear; I find it insulting, whether to me or to a Co-contributor, and delete it. The process isn’t physically tiring, but dealing with such comments is nevertheless a wearying thing.

     Near to the end of his blogging at USS Clueless, Steven Den Beste commented wryly that one who gives out free ice cream will eventually meet persons who complain about the narrow choice of flavors and the absence of whipped cream and sprinkles. “Free ice cream” became an idiom, a way of describing the emissions of us unpaid opinion mongers. Other bloggers who decided to lay it down would often comment to the effect that they’d run out of ice cream.

     But some of those retired bloggers didn’t run out. Some just got tired of other people pissing on it. Too negative an ROI endured for too long simply bankrupted them. There’s a moral in there, somewhere.

     Have a nice day.