Monday, February 26, 2007

Blogging, accountability, transparency, and other sticky issues

Over the last week, I've been reading the comments on my last post and a couple of other posts related to mine. It's heartening to hear that people want me to continue writing. I know that many of the people who say so also understand the difficulties of writing openly. I have said to myself over the last few days that I will write, but I will write without fear. That doesn't mean that I don't expect to be held accountable for what I say. I do. Which is why I will write carefully still. Confused, yet?

Let's go back to the Amanda/Melissa issue for a minute. I read their blogs on occasion. As Tim said, much of the time I enjoy them. But let's be honest, they often write in a way that turns the more sensitive among us off. When I read what had led to Amanda's ultimate resignation from the Edwards' campaign, my first reaction was that of course it caused problems. The key posts in question were point for point rebuttals of a FAQ from a Catholic premarital class. While the arguments Amanda makes seem reasonable, it's often the language she uses when she makes them that is problematic. For example, she calls one item a "pile of nonsense" and the second in the series begins with an image of Mary and God that is extremely sexualized. Now, I'm an atheist, so I am not going to be offended by these things, but I could easily see that many people, even those who might agree with her, would be turned off. Neither deserved the attacks they received, but I could see how someone might have been angered by what she wrote. Collin wrote a little about such methods of arguing, labeling them polemic. It's something I see far too much of on both sides of the political blogosphere. And while it may get the extremists on either end fired up, it doesn't do much for people looking for real solutions.

The issue, of course, as both Collin and Tim, point out is that if what we say here matters, then we are accountable for it. Tim says that we can't be surprised when people outside of our normal realm of blog readers (i.e. the mainstream) are upset with what we've written. He goes on:

Blogs are not greasy kid’s stuff. They’re informal, they’re spontaneous, they’re freer in some ways than the mainstream media, not just because of the genre’s evolving expectations but because of their technological and economic character. But they matter, and they should. We can’t suddenly ask that they be dismissed as mere prologue to whatever else we want to do with our voices, our thought, our politics, when the day before we were trying to do something that mattered.

I've come to realize that to some extent, I had wanted to write anonymously because I wanted to rail about some things that I felt strongly about. I wanted a place to vent. But then, I began to realize that venting wasn't the answer. I didn't want to write polemic, even though it might momentarily feel good. I wanted to frame my arguments in a way that would reach beyond the people who might agree with the polemic version of the argument. Lately, however, I felt constrained against doing even that. I felt I'd lost a place to argue from because I feared retribution of some kind. In part, that was just me being paranoid. In part, though, it's realistic. I recognize the weight that words can carry. My words here paint a certain picture of who I am and what I believe in. Some people might take that to be the whole picture. However, I think I can support everything I've written here. And I think I can continue to support it.

When I think about the people whose blogs I read regularly who write anonymously, I think most of them write as if they are writing under their own names. They write thoughtfully and carefully. They make reasoned arguments. And while they may vent from time to time about students or their families, that might be the only posts they'd have to excise before going public, and they are few and far between. I have often wished some of these people felt comfortable enough to write publicly, but when you're trying to hide a part of yourself, it's impossible. Some people are hiding their personal self from their professional colleagues. Others are hiding their fuller selves from family or friends. Certainly, my blog isn't a direct transcription of my life. Despite how open I tend to be here, I'm not fully transparent, but I think that's the impression many people get of blogs (something I know Bitch, Ph.D. has talked about a lot). People think that if you're writing in a way that seems honest (which is kind of a generic feature of blogs as opposed to essays and other forms of writing) that they know you, they know what you're like. And I've wondered, for the people who know me, if what I write here reveals something different about me, something they wouldn't expect of me, and if that's a good or bad thing.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that I will continue blogging. A lot of you said things in the comments that hit home with me. I appreciate the reality check. Interestingly, over the last week, I managed to blog every day on the professional blog. Obviously, I need an outlet. I still have things to say.