Friday, August 19, 2005

The Purpose of Blogging

At risk of oversimplification, let's say there are two broad approaches to blogging: you can write for yourself, or you can write for other people. Put another way, one might view blogging as a solipsistic activity, or else as an ongoing dialectic within a community of inquirers.

I mostly write for myself. Putting my thoughts into words can help clarify them, and my archives serve as a wonderful external "memory bank" of past ideas and arguments. Of course, it's certainly nice when other people respond positively, and discussions in comment threads can be both valuable and fun. But I started this with no readers, and no expectations for more, so that certainly isn't my primary purpose.

So, in practice, I'm mostly a blogging solipsist. But I do (perhaps not so secretly) harbour some dialogistic ideals. I write occasional responses to others' posts, offering counterarguments and so forth -- which is at least the first step towards dialogue. And one of the original motivations behind the Kiwi Carnival was to promote reasoned dialogue between blogs and even across party lines. The hope was that bloggers would respond to challenging arguments they found in the carnival. But, sadly, this never eventuated. For example, I've tried to submit carefully reasoned posts on relevant political issues, but they don't get any response. More generally, there's scant evidence to suggest that the NZ political blogosphere in general has any interest in reasoned debate, as opposed to "point and express outrage"-type posts reacting along predictable partisan lines to the latest political scandal.

That's not to say there are no well-reasoned posts out there. There are. But they tend to get lost in the noise. So we don't get the sort of ongoing dialogue that I think could be really valuable. Instead, we merely have isolated bubbles of reflection. Involuntary solipsism, perhaps. Ideally, the Kiwi Carnival would provide 'scaffolding' to encourage reasoned political debate in the NZ blogging community. It could highlight those bubbles of reason, bring them into contact with each other, and stimulate further discussion. That's the ideal, anyway. Of course, it hasn't happened yet. Perhaps it's an unrealistic goal, I'm not sure.

Or perhaps carnivals just don't provide the right sort of structure for this purpose. Maybe we instead need a more specifically targeted form of 'scaffolding'. Say, a page to keep track of particular debates, with links to specific arguments - and counterarguments - under each heading. That way, anyone interested in, say, the S59 "anti-smacking" bill, or the recent blog debates over substantive freedom, etc. etc., could find all the relevant blog posts and arguments from across the blogosphere, at a glance.

Say, I really like this idea! I'm not quite sure how to implement it though. Any suggestions are most welcome. Perhaps some form of 'wiki', so anyone can edit it and add their own arguments to the list, with a minimum of hassle. Though we'd need to protect against vandalism somehow. Any other ideas? (And does anyone else like this one?)


  1. Here's another reason to BLOG:

    One day, a check will arrive in the mail-box from Google Ad

    Just kidding.

    Anyhow, Happy Blog-Day!

  2. Hey!

    Greetings from someone who live six years in New Zealand, in Christchurch actually. I'm going back in February for the start of Uni in 2006.


  3. If yo ucan agree on someone to be the central blogger and then for him/her to have key blogging assistants you could create a web.
    One that could rest its reputation on its objectivity.

    otherwise you have a problem that bloggers each all want the traffic and their views promoted.

    You could for example have a glen reynolds (instapundit) posting short link-rich blogs on topical issues with sub bloggers doing searches for relevant posts using some sort of search engine within whatever domain they decided to use.

  4. Yeah, I considered the possibility of doing it myself -- just like one of my 'category' pages on the sidebar, except linking to other people's posts besides my own. But it would take a lot of work. (As it is, I'm about a month behind on categorizing my own archives!) One major advantage of decentralized approaches, like wikis, is that they spread out the workload, making it much more manageable. Still, centralization is, at least, another possibility to bear in mind.

  5. Yup, in Christchurch I am. BTW, I recently posted about the phrase "it is (now) tomorrow" -- see here.

  6. Hey Richard,

    I spoke with Jack Copeland about setting up a departmental wiki. He sounded interested, so I'll look into getting the resources together for a mediawiki installation. In the meantime, I have a wiki setup at, though I don't care for the format. Email me at phb27 for the password if you want it.
    As far as a dialogue however, I think an old fashioned message board is still your best bet. A phpBB or Vanilla instance is a pretty simple matter.


  7. Richard, you said, "...I've tried to submit carefully reasoned posts on relevant political issues, but they don't get any response."

    Um, yes they have, but you haven't chosen to read some of those responses before you've pigeon-holed them.

    I agree with you, sadly, that "there's scant evidence to suggest that the NZ political blogosphere in general has any interest in reasoned debate," but when dialogue has been entered with you, you have been as guilty as those you charge here of a "point and express outrage"-type response.

    I agree with you that there is potential for reasoned political debate in the NZ blogging community, and sadly the Carnival hasn't worked, but your Wiki project could well bear fruit.

    But if you do want reasoned political debate, you will need to engage in it yourself,

  8. Well, let's see, my five submissions so far have been on:
    1) The Wellbeing Manifesto
    2) UBI, Freedom, and Reciprocity
    3) Enabling Humanity
    4) Education vs. Training
    5) The Climate of Fear

    Could you point out where responses to any of these posts are?

    (It's true that you and Nigel have written about the 'substantive freedom' debate, which is related to my post #3, but when I responded pointing out the gross mischaracterization you'd engaged in, you both were conspicuously silent.

    And, as I recall, the other political debate we had ended when you refused to offer a clear statement of your argument. There was nothing there for me to argue against.)

  9. I think the blogging world needs a lot of work, still. This is the only blog I have found that I like because it is active and well managed, which I am sure is huge amounts of work. Most blogs are either comatose or so weirdly (dis)organized that I have no patience for them. :-(

  10. I just had a conversation about how to maintain worthwhile debate on an internet discussion. Beside having an engaged moderator, I think maybe having a somewhat formalized process of pointing the use of common fallacies would help. If you have good descriptions of these fallacies that you can link people to, you could take the first step in demanding that they exclude such things from their arguments. Also, pushing people to actually find evidence instead of spouting broad unfounded claims would help.

    With lots of work by somebody, discussions could be both about substantive issues and tutorials on well reasoned debates. Big job! (I’m always on the lookout for such sites, though.)

  11. Back in the days just before the internet, I used to help run a phone-based BBS in my university town. We tried had to develop just this sort of online discussion with mixed success. I might have done better with my studies if I hadn’t been running the BBS.

  12. David Farrar's blog touches on most issues, and attracts a lot of (highly partisan) commentary, but the webhost sucks-- seems to ignore your comment then finds it again half an hour later.

    The blogosphere isn't about reasoned debate anyway! It's about bolstering your prejudices!!;o)

  13. Try this article out for size:

    It shows that it ideas like carnivals will be difficult to established, but once they become entrenched they become very difficult to remove. Good on you for trying Rich.

  14. I really like the idea of a NZ Pols wiki. It's actually pretty easy to protect from vandalism, just click on the revert page.

    Well, that works for Wikipedia, I don't now about other non-Wikimedia Foundation software/hosting.


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