Sunday, September 10, 2006

Blog Birthday: 1 Year Old

My blog is 1 year old today.

I think that it is time for some healthy self-reflection and self-criticism – where this blog is at (the good and the bad, as I see it) and where it is going.

First, some general impressions.

Of course, I want everybody on the planet to read my blog and think it is the best thing ever written. That hasn’t happened. However, I have been able to accomplish more with this blog than I think I would have been able to do in another of my favored professions – that of teacher. (Specifically, a lecturer in moral philosophy.) If I had been such a teacher, I would have had 30 students each in two classes that I talked to three times each week.

Here, I have 100 people visit me every day and, though I am sure that some of them scream and run out of the room as soon as they get a peek at what is going on, there are a few who stay. Hopefully, when they did leave, a few of them have taken away something of real value.

Remember, I am somebody who believes that there is such a thing as “real value.”

Of course, if I’m wrong in anything I say, and I convince others, that does not have “real value.” I need to be right – which means that I need to be careful. There is no value in spreading lies or even from error. People make mistakes. But a mistake, even if unintentional, is still a mistake. It leads people down wrong paths and makes the world worse than it would have otherwise been, not better.

So, I try to be careful. To give real value I have to be right – and I have to be careful. I do actually try to make sure that the 100 people who will visit me each day will find something that actually improves their understanding of the world – that they leave with a little more truth and understanding, instead of a pack of lies and misrepresentation that aims to manipulate them into actions that I (or my ‘faction’) would benefit from.

So, that’s what I try to do. I try to give those who come here a better understanding of some of the arguments being thrown about in order to decide policies, to help separate the good from the bad, in order to help people make better decisions. That, I have decided, is where I want to put my efforts in my time on this earth.

Do I think that I am always right?

Heck, no. However, I do know this: I am better than Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and the people who are responsible for that miniseries “The Path to 9/11”. I am better than Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and smarter than George Bush. I think that a person who cares about truth will still make mistakes, but will have a higher batting average than those who care only about effect, and are willing to lie for effect.

Self Criticism

I know that this blog does have a traits (one a fault, the other is not) that tends to keep the readership lower than it would otherwise be.

(1) The posts are just too bloody long.

Newspapers have a limit of about 800 words on their articles, and they do that for a reason – because people do not read more than 800 words. They get about that far, and they stop. Newspapers want readers. Newspapers lose readers if they write more than 800 words, so they refuse to let their opinion writers write more than 800 words.

Back in February, I tried to limit myself to about 800 words. When I did, I found that I was merely making assertions. Those assertions only spoke to the people who agreed with me; and gave those who did not agree with me any reason to change their mind. It was actually during this period that I “missed days” on my blog because I could not figure out how to write something I felt was worth writing within those assigned limits.

When I filled in those assertions with arguments and I took the time to anticipate and consider objections, the posts grew longer again.

I found that I wrote comfortably at about 1600 words.

I know it is too long. However, I can also imagine somebody saying to Albert Einstein, “You have a wonderful proof for relativity here, but it is 235 steps long. Cut it down to 70, and we’ll consider giving it our attention.” Of course I am not saying that my proofs are as elaborate or rigid as Einstein’s. I am saying that if I cut things out of an argument, I must leave it up to the reader to fill in the gaps. This generates two hazards. First, a certain percentage of the readership will fill the gap in incorrectly. Second, hostile readers almost always respond to these shortcuts by saying, “You have this gap in your argument. Therefore, your argument sucks!”

So, I am back to filling in the gaps, and using extra words to do so.

I’ll keep working on this. Perhaps I will think of something.

In the mean time – this is not going to become a ‘news’ blog. I will write about arguments – why they are good or bad – and what they tell us about the character of the people who use them.

(2) Criticizing the Liberals

I have also noticed that my readership takes a massive hit whenever I say something bad about liberals.

I am not talking about some subtle shift in the numbers. I am talking about a nose-dive every time I point out that some liberal organization lied or they are using arguments not unlike the arguments they criticize when Republicans or Conservatives use them.

These reductions are serious and significant – and it takes a while to build readership back up again. I have found that “successful” blogs seldom say things that would antagonize the tribes that make up the bulk of their readership. They will criticize dishonesty, but will not criticize a member of their own faction for dishonesty. They will condemn hypocrisy, but not suggest that there is anybody on their side who has ever been guilty of this.

I can see why. All a person needs to do is see the effects of doing something like that once and, if he has any interest in running a successful blog, he learns, “never criticize the tribe.”

I am not accusing these people of insincerity. I think that the mind works in more subtle ways than that. I think it has more to do with the phenomenon I discussed yesterday – an ‘uneasiness’ that causes a person to think that there is something more important that needs doing – something other than criticizing the tribe.

I do not consider this a fault with this blog. I suspect that those readers who stick around even when I criticize liberals are those who are, like me, more interested in truth and integrity than in party loyalty. Those are the people that I want to write for anyway. Those are the readers worth having.

Besides, I think that criticizing the tribe is good for the tribe. It makes it stronger.

Advertising and Other Sources of Revenue

I would love to be able to do this for a living. Unfortunately, I fear that doing this for a living might leave me vulnerable to compromising certain principles in order to get paid. I am pleased that I have the liberty to write what I think, and not what I think will make money.

I don’t collect any revenue through this site. One of the reasons is because I want to focus on the quality of the arguments, and not on some irrelevant feedback criterion such as income. I have watched how advertising – the need to increase eyeball count – has damaged or destroyed many things of value, from The Learning Channel to cable news.

However, I’m working on a book. It is a smaller, simpler book than the “Desire Utilitarianism” book that appears on my web site. It simply presents the case for the moral theory that I use in this blog.

Its chapters include:

  • Introduction: There Are Moral Facts
  • Desire Utilitarianism
  • Objectivism and Subjectivism in Ethics
  • Ethics from Scripture
  • Dong Good without God
  • Moral Persuasion
  • Hume on ‘Is’ and ‘Ought’
  • In Defense of Realism: Answering J.L. Mackie
  • Rational Self-Interest
  • A Problem with Faith
  • Morality as Evolved Sentiment
  • The Love of True Belief
  • Using the Founding Fathers in Moral Arguments
  • The Meaning of Life

Some of these come from posts here on the blog. Others come from my web site. All of them have been rewritten in light of comments that people have made here and in other conversations.

It is written. I will clean it up some, and then I will make it available. I hope you will find in it something of value.

The Future

Tomorrow, I will write my first substantive post of the second year.

I do think that this will be a good time to introduce some changes – to try to make this blog better than it has been. “Better” does not mean “more popular,” by the way. “Better” means “contributing to the fulfillment of more and stronger desires regardless of whose they are.” That’s how I work things here.

I hope that you have a pleasant day and that I will see you here again in the future. I hope that when you come I have something of value to offer you. In the mean time, I hope that you get what you want out of life (unless it involves doing harm to others).

See you tomorrow….

Alonzo Fyfe

10 comments:

Dmitriy said...

Congratulations and thanks for continuing writing interesting posts.

"The posts are just too bloody long"
You're right about that. :) However, when one of your posts discusses an interesting topic, I don't mind that it's long. I actually prefer if they were even longer just like a long interesting book that I can read.

"I have also noticed that my readership takes a massive hit whenever I say something bad about liberals."

I admit that when you criticize liberals ("Moveon.org Liars") or atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, I feel weird because I feel like you're indirectly criticizing me because I fall into those categories.

After I finish reading your explanation on why you think that, then I realize that your arguments support your claims and that if I get angry and leave your blog, I will just be getting angry at the truth and acting childlishly. That's why I stay and continue reading your blog.

Thanks again.

NonProphet said...

Hi Alonzo

Congratulations on the blog birthday! I'm one of your 100-or-so regular readers and appreciate you taking the time to write. I too must admit to skipping through a number of long posts, mostly due to time constraints. Hence the following birthday idea (birthday ideas are like birthday cardigans - you typically don't ask for them and it is often necessary to relegate them to a bottom draw once the giver is out of sight)... I wonder if a synopsis of your main points at the beginning of your posts might get your point across for those who have to drive-by, but draw those in who may disagree and want to see the meat of your argument.

Fascinating point about the blog readership dropping at the hint of a liberal criticism! I say stick to your guns, though. I've been challenged on more than one occasion by what I've read in your blog, and am happy that that is the case.

All the best,
NonProphet.

Rev. Bob said...

I'm with you: go ahead and criticize the tribe. It does make us stronger.

What's more, it's yet another thing we can show the conservaclones that we do and that they'll never do.

Rod Hilton said...

This is one of my favorite blogs, so thank you for maintaining it.

For the 800 word limit, it sounds like your comfort zone is double that. I would suggest then, making one post that criticizes whatever news item you are talking about ("making assertions" as you call it) and then a "Part 2" post which explains those assertions in more detail.

Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

From Maya

It's been a year? Wow. Happy birthday!

Another regular reader here.

About the low eye-ball count - consider yourself exclusive.
Write as long as you see fit - skipping a paragraph is easy.
Criticize the tribe, we can take it, we won't run away screaming.
About unintentional errors - if you ever post something fishy we'll let you know.
Looking forward to the book.

Kudos.

P.S. Nice to be considered „the only kind of reader worth having“. :-)

Anonymous said...

My position on this is, it's asking a lot to change the habits of others. Your material is already top-notch, and although you haven't given me a new moral system, you've given me a fresh perspective on myself and others around me. I don't often sit to read through all of it at once because I'm usually busy doing something else (I should be preparing breakfast instead of being here :P). But I do read it all (even the archive). However, material can only be made so attractive. Although the nature of the material here can be blamed for your traffic patterns, so can the nature of your readers. I'd be interested to see how many of them read books regularly, as this would only be a few printed pages per entry.

BTW, smarter than George Bush? Set the bar a little higher, yeesh.. :)

- arc_legion/Patness, introduced through your appearance on SEB months back.

Dar said...

Happy Blogging Birthday! Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful mind.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Thank you all for the wishingness of wellness.

I will continue to write as I think best, as long as there is somebody coming to read it. And I will worry about being right, but not so much that I cannot write at all. Those who are clearly wrong (and clearly do not care about being right) certainly do not feel any restraint on shouting their untruths about. It would be foolish to allow such people to stand on the stage alone, simply because I might be wrong.

I will be trying some experiments that I hope will make my writing easier to read, if not shorter.

Rev. bob I would like to say to you that there are conservatives who question their leaders. Only, they too probably suffer a loss of readership every time they do not toe the party line. As a result, we are not likely to hear from them, unless we go looking for them. Yet, if we do find them, and praise them, their 'tribe' will then accuse them of treason and their situation in their own tribe will become even less precarious.

I question many of the policies of Joe Lieberman and John McCain. However, I admire those who can say to their respective tribes, McCain and Lieberman have a level of integrity not found in many politicians. I dislike the fact that they are punished for this.

Note: I cannot in any way support Lieberman's political campaign. This is a person who said that no person can be a good citizen without belief in God. Though he was later forced to appologize, I suspect that his appology is insincere. It is as unforgiveable as saying that no Jew is qualified to hold government office. To admire one quality of his is not to say that he is a good person.

He made this statement citing George Washington. However, in that same speech where Washington made this claim, the first President also said,

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend.

Minus the beseeching the Almighty, I have to leave it up to you, the readers, to avert or mitigate the evils that may tend to any errors that I may make.

Sheldon said...

Alonzo,
Happy belated birthday for your blog.

On the length issue, yes your posts can be quite long. The problem with this is not just the length, but the format. The internet. I would like to give your articles much more attention, but reading that much in detail on the computer screen can be tiring. Printing from the web browser would waste alot of paper and be expensive. I do have a suggestion. Turn your articles in to .pdf and direct readers to your web site where they could download these for more efficient printing.

Another drawback with the length and web format is that the reader rushes through, and then sometimes makes hasty and less than well thought out comments. That's my own self-criticism.

As for criticizing "the tribe," this is good. There has been many times when I have been embarrassed by peoples' bad arguments for something that in the end I agreed or had sympathy with. If that makes sense.

vjack said...

Happy blog birthday! Regarding the post length, my suggestion is to shoot for more of a mix between short posts and those you generally offer. Like many others, I will take the time to read a long post when it is on a topic I care deeply about. However, there are other times when I'm just cruising the atheist blogosphere and may not want to take the time on a long one. Don't abandon your long posts, but consider changing things up a bit so not all of them are so long. Then again, its your blog so do what you want. I'll keep coming back regardless.