So I’ve been looking around at what blogs I read and what they do, for inspirational purposes.  Here are two good examples: Marginalrevolution.com and Ezra Klein.

These sites serve two purposes for me as a reader. First they aggregate interesting links so I don’t have to read every site on the internet. However since I’m already taking advantage of services provided by people like these I don’t think I can, or  for that matter, have a large desire to replicate this type of service.

These two specific blogs, while certainly not alone, do something else that’s important. They tell me how to think. Or to put it less bombastically they shape the way I think about  a topic. Its not that I don’t try to think critically about issues or engage in them on my own time. But reading other peoples opinions on things, other peoples paths of reasoning to get to their conclusion, is if nothing else interesting and I think insightful.

It’s a little hard to explain without an example so lets discuss the recent shooting in Tuscon. I read the initial reports, felt bad about humanity for a day but it never really occurs to me to put it in a larger context. By contrast here’s Ezra Klein’s initial take on the tragedy. He quickly places the slaying as part of a larger story or rather, showing how it emblematic trends in the world at large. In the example linked he’s talking about how truly valuable our remarkably violence free politically system is. I was aware of both events. I even agree mostly with his conclusion. And I think that its the ability to string together events and conclusions into a coherent narritive with a point that make blogs like his easy, interesting and informative to read.

I’m calling the above linking of events and motives insight. It makes me think of those events in a different more interconnected way and that’s valuable to a degree. But I’m also wary of it. I like to think I could write like that. “insightfully” describing the days news from the ideological standpoint of a college student or “insightfully” criticizing someone else’s article (e.g Krugman’s) because I put different valuations on various events or interactions between events that make the story they’re trying to tell  seem incomplete, silly, or just plain wrong. I can do that. I have done that. I’ll probably do that more.

But I don’t think that kind of style is really ideal for the intellectual development of both myself and the general community. I can read a great analysis and keep it locked in my head in limbo, a kind of meta-data about whatever issue that I can pull out to make judgments about the related event. But the nature of writing that kind of analysis means I’m telling a story, an argument if you will. By doing so I feel like I lock myself into one viewpoint, one way of understanding the issue. And I’d be poorer for it.

I’ll probably just dance around this problem. I can do it, I have years of practice as a sophist. But its important, I think, to realize the effect this kind of blogging system can have on our writing and thinking. When I read the papers we have assigned for class, I read them looking for things to criticize, so I can write about them. I’m forcing myself to have thoughts and opinions. Maybe this is a good thing. Its makes me more “engaged” in the reading then I otherwise would be. But I think it also has some pernicious tendencies. I look for negative or sometimes overly positive things to say about the work. After all I’m trying to fit the pieces of the paper into my narrative, e.g. “Krugman’s piece on the state of Macro is bunk because…..” I might not think that’s actually true but I’m still going to write as if its so because that what makes the post (or paper or essay) “easy, interesting, and informative to read.” Its much harder, I think, to write a good paper that full of qualifiers and half measures then it is to write a polemic, even if the wishy washy paper happens to me more accurate. When we’re encouraged to write in a manner that fosters strong, clashing opinions, we’re encouraged to think in the same manner and that, I think, is bad.