Thoughts about the League.
Tim Burke’s recent meditation on the future of blogs has got me thinking about the evolution of The League, and not just in terms of format and color scheme. Though this blog hasn’t yet reached the two-year mark, the roster has changed a lot. I wasn’t an original contributor, but I was a reader from very early on. (Mark, Erik, Dave, and Scott are the charter members, if you’re wondering.) For those of you who weren’t around at the beginning, the League started out with a “conversation” feature. The idea was that one contributor would kick off a topic, and everybody else would contribute in the thread. Though it worked pretty well early on, there’s only so much you can say in roundtables, and after a while we dropped the feature.
While I’m not suggesting we bring back the feature, I do miss the way it underscored what I understand the League to be about. There were two “bloggerly virtues” that the original crew seemed to want in contributors. The first I’ll call “social inquisitiveness”: in short, a good Leaguer needed a sincere desire to elicit opinions from everyone in the conversation, out of a desire to better understand other points of view. Posts without this virtue are meant to finish conversations rather than keep them going, and provoke rebuttals rather than sympathetic musings from another perspective. The second virtue was “responsiveness”: the contributors needed to be willing to jump in when someone asked a question.
Like old Aristotle said, virtues are media between extremes. Conversations are productive when constrained. Too inquisitive, and the conversation loses focus. Not inquisitive enough, and you get rants, raised tempers, and ideological ossification. Too responsive, and insights are crowded out by banality. Not responsive enough, silence.
A number of our individual contributors have ended up on enemy lists, but only one person has really attacked the League’s fundamental philosophy. That was Helen Rittelmeyer, who thought this blog’s corner of the blogosphere was too “gushy” and “huggy.” Part of the problem seemed to be the way that we got a little carried away praising one another’s work. The word “genius” got thrown around a little too freely. But those were heady days: it seemed like the conservative movement was going to have to turn to center-right intellectual conservatism post-Bush. Alas, it was not to be. Anyways, in seeking to explain our hugginess, Helen offered the following explanations before apparently settling on the last one:
- We got distracted by shiny new ideas without considering their value.
- We had some center-right solidarity thing going on.
- We thought a “nurturing atmosphere” made for better debate.
- We were mediocre thinkers and couldn’t distinguish the lasting from the ephemeral.
I’d go for the middle two, actually, though Helen was right insofar as overpraising isn’t actually the best way to foster solidarity. Still, as non-pro writers from all over the country, we had to start with something. And excessive encouragement is not so unhealthy as long as you have the implicit understanding that this is an amateur space and that’s not a bad thing.
Anyways, it seems to me that we’ve gotten much less huggy, and we’re not having conversations among contributors like we used to. Before it sounds like I’m blasting everybody else, I’ll admit that I am pretty much a total failure when it comes to responsiveness. If my count is right, this is my 74th post here, including sidebars, in about nineteen months. Not good.
There’s no great explanation of what’s coherent about the League. Will took a stab at it a few days ago (emphasis mine):
We play host to a variety of writers with some genuinely crazy ideas, but I like to think that everyone here shares an aversion to intellectual provincialism, left, right, or otherwise. Most political controversies involve clashes over deeply-held values or genuinely difficult empirical questions that don’t lend themselves to easy, dialogue-driven consensus, but I do believe that arguing politely yet firmly with the other guy is the best way to improve your own arguments and maybe learn something in the process.
I’ll go on record now as preferring discussion to debate. I’m blogging to learn, not to win, and I like the idea that even if one of us starts off with a furious rant, we can move to a calmer discussion from there. I hope the League remains a space where this is possible.