(Sorry about the lull in posting. It wasn’t that Reasonable People took a lot out of me, it’s that I managed to come down with the creeping crud making its way through the rest of the family on Monday. Commenting was about all I was up for for the last few days. It still sounds like a TB ward around here.)
One of the things I often get in comments is that my posts run too long. (No, this is not specifically targeted at you, Mark.) Reasonable People runs about eight and a half printed pages. Why Ballistic Fingerprinting Doesn’t (and Won’t) Work about eleven. Ravenwood dubbed it “Longest post ever.” The self-consciously named Blog that Ate Poughkeepsie runs about seven. I guess Reasonable People ate Cheboygan.
The point is, I’m fully aware that my posts often require a longer than average attention span. I will happily admit that they could be improved with some judicious editing for length and precision. However, while my audience is important to me, and what I’m doing is quite plainly open advocacy (thus necessitating said audience), my posts are more (and admittedly often less) than that.
Mark Alger wrote a piece at Baby Troll Blog that touched on the length of Reasonable People which inspired this post (now that I feel up to writing it.) Here’s the pertinent part for this discussion:
I want to offer this piece of gratuitous advice: an op-ed is 500 words. A regular column maxes out at 1500. By the time you get to 2,000 words, you’re in short story territory. At 7,500 words, you go into novelette mode, and at around 15,000 you make it to novella — which rolls over into a full-blown novel at 40,000 words or so.
Kevin’s post is (by MS Word’s count) 5,692 words. ‘Way too long.
So — as Kev himself might say — the fuck what?
Well, Baby Doll, it’s this: I think his thesis — as vaguely as I understand it — is worthwhile. It deserves consideration. It deserves discussion. It needs to be disseminated far and wide.
There’s a joke among writers. It goes: “Sorry it’s so long; I didn’t have the time to make it short.”
A joke I deliberately used in the post, about word 5,200, which makes me think that Mark didn’t get that far.
Distillation adds to the dwell time on an article, and delay in posting can be deadly to a blog post. By the time you consider and mull over a subject long enough to bake it down to the bare minimum necessary, a couple of days may have gone by. You’re yesterday’s news. Not exactly good for the old relevance quotient.
It’s a lot of pressure. And competing needs drive the blogger — the need to get a post up in a timely manner, versus the need to exposit clearly and with economy his thesis.
As Dirty Harry said in one movie or another, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” And I know I’m not my own best editor. But I’m a blogger. I’m all I’ve got.
I also know I’m not an original thinker. I’m never going to sit under an apple tree and invent the next big thing in mathematics since chaos theory. I studied physics in college for three years before convincing myself that it wasn’t a good choice of major because I’d have to get a PhD before I could get a decent paying job. With just a wee bit of hindsight, and someone else’s quotation, I understand much better why I became an engineer:
A good physicist is a man with original ideas.
A good engineer is a man who makes a design that works with as few original ideas as possible.
I keep that posted above my desk at work. It draws some interesting comments.
I was not suited to a career in physics. I am ideally suited to a career in engineering. I am also not a philosopher, though I study the subject shallowly. What I do, in my spare time, is read and think. I collect bits and pieces; other people’s ideas. I store them in my head, and on my computer, and both consciously and subconsciously fit them together in different ways. I’m interested in what works – in fact, one of the things that caught my attention in Dr. Godwin’s post How I Cured Myself of Leftism was this:
(C)onservatism is not so much based on ideas, but on simply observing what works, and then generalizing from there.
There’s a whole essay on “Right vs. Left” in that sentence, and not what most would expect, I think.
As I explained to Mark in his comments – and as I want to expand on (Run away! Run away!) here, writing this stuff down helps me get my mind around it. I’m still working out my worldview, hopefully based on what works rather than how I’d like it to be. I am a pragmatist, albeit with an ideological bent. If you want evidence of that, slog through the seven quite long pieces of The “Rights” Discussion linked on the left sidebar. Or just the two pieces on Is the Government Responsible for Your Protection?
I write a lot of this stuff to help me figure it out. And if others can follow along for the ride, the more the merrier.
The process goes somewhat like this:
A) Here’s a new (to me) idea.
B) Does it seem logical on its face?
C) Is there evidence to support it?
D) Is there evidence to invalidate it?
E) How reliable is the evidence, either way?
This can take minutes, days, weeks, months. Depends on the idea. I collect these ideas constantly.
F) Does this new (to me) idea support what I already know/believe?
Bear in mind here, I fully understand the difference between knowing via emipirical testing, and believing through mere faith. And I’m also quite aware that what one “knows through empirical testing” can sometimes be proven quite wrong – with the right test. Same for beliefs.
G) Does this new (to me) idea contradict what I already know/believe?
H) Does this new (to me) idea suggest a solution to a problem I already have, suggest a problem I haven’t previously considered, or reinforce a concept from an entirely new angle I hadn’t seen? (Otherwise, it’s not a new idea. It’s a restatement of one I’ve already seen. Though restatement can sometimes be helpful itself.)
Reasonable People is not a stand-alone essay (though it does stand quite well on its own). It’s the third (at least) in a series, beginning with True Believers, followed by March of the Lemmings. Hell, it’s part of a long ongoing theme here – coming conflict due to the the dichotomy between what works and how we’d like it to be. Eric Hoffer’s ideas simply reinforced a concept from an angle I hadn’t considered – a new rising mass-movement. But as soon as I processed his ideas it became pretty obvious what “Bush Derangement Syndrome” represents – the attraction of the “average person on the street” to the early stages of the movement. It is a movement capable, as Dr. Santy said, of “being able to convince normally sane people that the source of all evil in the world is George W. Bush.”
And that idea scares the shit out of me.
So please, pardon me for babbling.
(103 minutes, 1,250 words!)
UPDATE: D’OH! I knew Newspeak wasn’t the right piece when I wrote this seven hours ago. See what happens when you’re in a hurry? Your subconscious wakes you out of a perfectly good sleep to go fix your damned mistake at 1AM. I plead illness as an excuse. The piece has been edited to correct the error.