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Disenchantment, democracy, and blogging

Why are people so disenchanted with their democracy? Lots of reasons, but over a cup of coffee with a friend I might sketch the troubling model of citizenship I often see around me. My story would go something like this:

Certain kinds of citizens are essentially silent. They vote, or they don’t vote, but otherwise they keep mum. In school they learned a misleadingly rosy and general lesson about how democracy works. Accordingly, they haven’t built public speaking or writing skills and don’t know how to find a regular civic audience. They don’t belong to organizations that help them rise in public to work on an issue. The news they receive is poisoned by partisanship and by gutless journalism that doesn’t dare take a stand, so they doubt their own understanding of the country or they are reduced to polar generalities that don’t explain much. In despair, indifference, cynicism, or fear, they turn to their private lives, where they work and consume entertainments and where, by their silence, they essentially write themselves out of the democracy.*

Their silence is a blessing to the big players who like having free rein in the marketplace and in civic life. And these quiet citizens, understandably, don’t know what to do about it. Who can blame them? And who can blame powerful people for loving to see quiet citizens remain exactly as they are?

But blogging reveals a more interesting model of citizenship; prominent bloggers realized this and wrote enthusiastically about it, especially in the heady early years.** But nobody managed to change the world while typing away in a bathrobe, and our easily bored society, thinking it has sucked all the marrow out of that particular bone, has moved on. Why look back? Blogging is over.

[Time for a second cup of coffee by now, and I’m buying, since you are too good a friend to up and leave just because I won’t stop talking about blogging.]

Why look back, you ask? Here’s why. Because the experience of blogging hints at good things that might someday come. Because people who have had that experience advance toward the messy world instead of backing away from it. Because the experience of blogging has hope and responsibility and adulthood wrapped up in its DNA, and in our dumbed-down and younged-up society it feels good to act like an adult.

I’m not talking about telling everyone about your life on social media, and I’m not necessarily talking about political blogging either. I’m talking about the way a blogger lives, how a blogger reads and thinks, and how a blogger takes other people seriously through reading and writing with them.

But first you have to get that blogging is not the same as a blog. If when I say “blogging” you are only thinking of the posts, you are not a blogger. Blogging is not the the posts that slide down the screen on your laptop.

The posts are just the places where blogging puts its feet down for a moment as it walks along. Blogging is the motion of a writer through experience of self, events, text, and audience. It’s a self-observation, a self-recording, and an engagement with experience and with others, all tracked and promoted and provoked further along its way with texts that are the traces. Blogging is a way of life; it’s a reflective practice that casts off texts as it goes. Because it keeps tossing out these texts, others can play along.

A writer who lives as a blogger lives feels pretty good, even in bad times, because this is a way of being more alive. Still, I can see that you are about done here. You don’t want any more coffee and you have the counter-example in your head. What about the bathrobe bloggers who haven’t changed the world? Or, better yet, what about the social media heroes who have helped overthrow a corrupt government only to find that the next government was its moral twin? You want to ask: Isn’t it time to be done dreaming hopefully about blogging?

Those are the right questions when a friend you care about won’t stop talking about blogging. Hopefully, the friend has a good answer. Because I’ve tried your patience in this long posting, I hope you will return someday to consider my answer.

That answer involves a story or two. There will be corrupt corporations and principled journalists, heroic citizens and vigilant bloggers in this story. Government institutions get challenged; people’s lives are at stake; the quality of democracy is too. As you might guess, that first kind of citizen is not involved. Stay tuned.

*This description is based on an earlier blog post.

**For example, see this important essay by Tim Dunlop.

***This too is based on the final section of an earlier blog post.

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