Why I blog

July 16, 2006 | By | 2 Replies More

Pouring time into this blog has been deeply satisfying to me.  But what is this accomplishing, I sometimes wonder? 

After all, there are already numerous writers out there.  Technorati.com indicates that it is now tracking 48.5 million sites and 2.7 billion links.  Plus, there are numerous traditional sources of information (books, magazines, movies, television) available to anyone who is interested.

I don’t have any illusions about my alleged importance.  As Charles De Gaulle famously said, “The cemetery is full of indispensable people.”  Nonetheless, I joined the Blogosphere to have a voice and to hopefully present a meaningfully unique voice.  This blog is an experiment that will always be provisional and evolving.

This blog grew out of an email relationship between a fellow who lives in Madison (he goes by the name of Grumpypilgrim on this blog) and me.  I met “Grumpy” when I provided legal services for a company for whom Grumpy worked.  We had emailed our rants and observations back and forth for more than a year.  Eventually, I suggested that we exchange our ideas in a public way, in case anyone else might be interested. 

Two months later, dangerousintersection.org was designed by Nick Smith of nicksmithdesign.com.  I chose the name after looking at a big yellow “Dangerous Intersection” sign I had in my office (I had it around as a novelty) and after considering how that name might generally fit an iconoclastic blog.  I took the photo of the intersection used in the site’s logo. Nick made it look more dangerous. Since then Nick has stirred in many navigational features, for which we are deeply appreciative.  

Here are some of our stats.  Ten authors are currently active on the site, with several additional writers to join us in the coming month.  We have authors residing in India, England, and all over the United States, though the core group of us is from St. Louis, where I live.  We were recently joined by Chris VanMierlo, who has been able to provide the perspective of one who previously lived in Africa.  The type of writers I have been seeking have been like-hearted people with unique voices who write impeccably (this last requirement probably means that they make fewer grammar errors and typos than me).  I’m tremendously grateful that the site’s co-authors are so much better versed than me in so many fields. 

That’s really the way it must be, though, because first rate learning is a highly collaborate enterprise.  Every day, I am appreciative of the things I learn from the authors and commenters of this blog.  We are each others’ teachers.  We need each other to knock each other off “safe” ways of thinking.  That is the essence of critical thinking

Dangerous Intersection is totally non-profit.  We don’t ask anyone for a penny.  I pay the hosting fees and that is that. This arrangement frees us from what might otherwise become a temptation to curb our opinions. We write because we love to write and because we sometimes think that we have something to say.  That’s the way it should be, though it would also be nice to pay the authors for the immense hours they spend crafting their posts.  They certainly deserve compensation.  As things are, however, we are all writing only for intangible rewards.

The site began about on March 11, 2006 (though before that, we had a few test posts in place).  Since then, we’ve published 250 posts and 500 comments.  The traffic has been growing dramatically every month.  In June, our fourth full month, we had 7,500 visits to the site and these visitors downloaded more than 40,000 pages of posts. I’ve received several hundred emails showing appreciation for our efforts, more than a few people writing to me that dangerousintersection.org is making a difference in their lives. These notes give me great satisfaction.

Who are the readers?  I don’t know most of you and I have no way of knowing who you are.  I do know that a significant number of you have sites at myspace.com. I formed an adjunct site of my own at myspace.com and personally invited many of you to take a look at this blog.  I couldn’t help but notice how, on your own sites, so many of you were asking the same sorts of questions that I was asking.  I tremendously enjoyed the interactions I’ve had with the myspace people.   Nick was the person who encouraged me to join up.  At first I asked him “But isn’t myspace the place with all of the 13-year old girls who dress up like prostitutes?”  Nick said, “Whatever anyone says about myspace, the answer is always ‘yes, but it is also . . .’”  His advice has proven true, as it should, given that there are 90 million spaces in myspace.  It has certainly been an amazing place for finding thoughtful people (in addition to running across “a few” nutcases).

In the past four months, I’m really pleased that we’ve had so many people commenting to the blog.  The authors love the feedback and we need the feedback.  We suspect, though, that there are many more readers who have considered commenting, but haven’t yet jumped in.  We’d love to hear from you, whether it’s a long comment or just a sentence.  We’d especially like to hear from you if you disagree with our facts or opinions.

Since I’ve recently become almost obsessed (my wife would say “obsessed”) about writing, I’ve decided to write this post about writing (I think most writers eventually write about writing).  Why do I blog? 

First, a bit of background.  As a 17-year old, I often regretted that I would never have the opportunity to shake the hand of philosopher Bertrand Russell, who had died a couple years earlier, in 1970 (at the age of 98). Almost by chance I had found his essay “Why I am Not a Christian” on the shelf of a public library. 

I had been struggling with the concepts and practices of religion ever since the age of five.  I’m not exaggerating this young age.  Religion got really big on my 5-year old radar one winter night, when my father took me into an empty Catholic church for a “visit.”  He told me that Jesus was in the church.  I looked around, perplexed.  He told me that Jesus lived in a little gold box at the front of the church.  I was more confused.  He then told me that Jesus was a piece of bread.  I wondered that the problem wasn’t with me or with my father.  A tumultuous struggle over religious issues continued for more than a decade, during which I received ever more religious indoctrination at several Catholic Schools.  I didn’t have anyone to turn to.  I was raised in a homogenous white middle-class Christian community.  No one else I knew thought like I did.  Instead, the public line was that Christianity was absolutely on target and that the claim that “Jesus died to save us from our sins” was absolutely NOT a non sequitur. 

At 17, though, I came across Russell’s essay and experienced a huge series of mental explosions.  Through his written words, Russell helped me to articulate so very many of the things that were difficult for me to say.  He helped me formulate responses to many of the crazy claims that I was being asked to believe by friends, family and school teachers (much to their chagrin).  His written words assured me that I was not crazy.  Other people had the same concerns I had; I was not alone.  Looking back, I still feel that I owe a great debt to Russell and to many other writers who took the time to carefully articulate their ideas and make them available.

We live in a chaotic intellectual environment.  Not chaotic in the colloquial sense.  Rather, in the mathematical sense. Tiny differences in starting conditions can dramatically affect where you’ll end up intellectually.  If you don’t have some good mental hygiene early on, you can get on the wrong track when you’re young and it won’t seem like a big move, not until twenty years later, maybe, when you’re sitting there finding yourself repeating oxymoronic phrases out of a dusty old holy book, not quite realizing that you’re doing this because you were terrified by others when you were young and repeatedly forced to do so.  When I started blogging, it occurred to me that many 21st century people were in the same place I was more than 30 years ago, when I stumbled across the writings of Russell (and Nietzsche, Hannah Arendt, David Hume and many others, including those listed on the “About” Page).  When I write, I am consciously trying to share many of those ideas that I found to be valuable.  Largely, what I’m often trying to do is to pass on gifts that were given to me.  It’s amazing that so much can be accomplished by causing little squiggles to appear on monitors!

For the first few months of writing on this blog, I really haven’t had any “plan” for dealing with any particular topic.  Sometimes I pick up that pile of scribbled idea notes on my desk.  I have lots of half-formulated ideas on my word processor.  As to what I actually start writing, though, I often decide it on the spur of the moment, choosing (often with difficulty) from many candidates.  With that as background, it appears that my early posts tend to aggregate around the four topics listed in the subtitle to the blog.

I’ve tried hard to point out many of the well-established cognitive vulnerabilities of humans.  There are so very many of these, e.g., the availability heuristic and our limited attentional capacities.  It seems to me that many problems of the human condition could easily be avoided with some humility about our cognitive limitations.  For many people, the big leap is (believe it or not) acknowledging that we are animals.  Because so many of people want to believe that they are little Gods, that their knowledge descends mysteriously from the clouds, they are easily fooled.  Yet they don’t want to believe that we are easily fooled.  The double-whammy of overconfidence.  Here’s a related problem: we are promiscuous generators of “reasons.”  We love to think that we know why we do things (this exposes the title to this very post as naïve!).   In sum, one of my primary concerns has been to stress the organic animal nature of humans and the many frailties of those bags-of-tricks minds upon which we must ultimately depend for understanding the world.

I believe that naively and literally buying into ancient religious writings is a way of blaspheming the mysteries of the real world.  I find traditional religious “explanations” are severely lacking for a long list of reasons that I have only begun detailing.  Someday I will post directly on various philosophical approaches to “explanations.”  It’s a technical and fascinating topic that guides my thinking on religious “explanations.”

I certainly don’t buy into any sort of traditional God. Nonetheless, the universe is a huge place and none of us know that much about it.  Is there room for some sort of Creator or First Mover? I certainly can’t rule that out but, in my opinion, if there is such a Being, He/She appears to be bashful and/or obtuse.  If there is such a Being, my way of connecting to it is by contemplating the mysteries of life through the scientific method, by walking in a quiet forest, by spending time with my wife and young children and by working to really improve the conditions of my community and world.  I get no such sense of connection in the stilted environments of artificially constructed churches, especially the kind of churches that employ know-it-all preachers.  A close friend of mine (who very much believes in Jesus) echoes this lack of connection to such buildings. He calls churches “country clubs with steeples.”

I’ve found that skepticism and the naturalistic method allow me to cut through immense amounts of needless crap.  I know that my writings probably make many religious believers nervous or angry, especially when I push this naturalistic outlook.  Many people think that using the scientific method constitutes an attack on the contemplative and spiritual ways of experiencing the world.  I totally disagree.  So would many of our most successful scientists, such as Charles Darwin, who expressed a profound reverence for life.  Perhaps, someday, I will be able to successfully communicate why I believe that there’s no downside to giving up the vengeful cartoonish Gods of holy books.  After all, I’ve found that I can still seek the meaning in my life.  I can still care about others.  I can still try to make the world better.  I can still laugh and wonder and, yes, I can still strive to live a moral life.

My early posts have also focused on the media.  It is incredibly “noisy” out there in the media.  I’ve struggled often to dig through that noise; my posts discuss some of those attempts.  Those of you who have read my media posts know that I am also concerned with the corporate control of the majority of this country’s media, and not just in the abstract. I am concerned that this astounding degree of corporate control has limited our access of many critical alternative perspectives.  What we’re getting is an incredibly filtered range of information, yet it is all being presented to us as “the news.”  It’s a classic bait and switch that has led us, in my opinion, to make some terrible decisions, especially over the past five years.  

Note the sub-title to Dangerous Intersection: “Human Animals at the Crossroads of Culture, Science, Religion and Media.  I think I’ve covered these highlighted topics, except for Culture.  Frankly, we didn’t want to limit any important topic.  “Culture” serves as our miscellaneous topic.  We’ve certainly crammed a lot of things in there, things such as the environment, consumerism, language, education and, of course, Iraq.  For more of a look at what we are up to, take a look at our “About” and “Manifesto” pages.

Before starting this blog, I found writing to be painful and time consuming.  I do a lot of it during the day. I work as an attorney and much of my day requires putting complicated ideas into writing.  Going home at night and doing more of the same isn’t always easy. Writing for this blog does serve a deep need, though.  I majored in philosophy and psychology back in undergrad. Over the past ten years, I have had the privilege of auditing almost a dozen graduate level cognitive science courses at Washington University in St. Louis. 

All of these studies have had the effect of opening my eyes to many fascinating aspects of human cognition.  In fact, many of my posts constitute my efforts to borrow, compile and elaborate those things that others have taught me.  I’m a big believer in original sources, though, and I’ve tried to include citations to those sources in my posts.  I’ve tried not to get too academic when writing of these cognitive science topics, though this is sometimes difficult. I try to address these topic in the way that I can best remember them myself, so that they are easily accessible by me. To the extent that I cover current events, many of these posts have used such events as an excuse to springboard into cognitive science.  That was on aspect of my plan.

For a dozen years, my wife Anne has been telling me that I’m “different.”  I’ve never believed that, until recently.  Truly, most people don’t have “hobbies” that require so many hours writing about complicated topics.  Perhaps I do it because I just turned a very scary number, 50.  More than ever, I feel like a candle.  Slowly but undeniably I am burning through my last (what I hope are) decades of life. This chance to write has greatly helped me to focus my thoughts. 

This blog has given me a wonderful chance to be part of an intense and enjoyable collaborative process.  It has given me a chance to directly communicate with a wide audience regarding many topics that the mainstream media refuses to touch. Although the authors of this blog hit sensitive issues squarely, we have also tried hard to not needlessly run anyone off.  I know, for a fact, that we can do even better than we’ve done in the past.

I’ll end this lengthy note by thanking everyone who has been part of this blogging endeavor.  I hope that it’s been as enlightening and enjoyable to you as it has been to me.  I hope that those of you who haven’t yet commented will jump in, with anecdotes, corrections and challenges to our posts.   I hope that this blog is still intriguing and provoking people twenty, thirty or forty years from now. 

See you!

Erich
 

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Category: American Culture, Meaning of Life, Media, Politics, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Science, Writing

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Renee says:

    From one candle to another, continue fighting the wind and burn as brightly as you can. I truly appreciate this blog as it puts a tie to those of us (I don't think I'm alone) feeding on philosophical pursuits, whether they are altruistic in their nature or self fulfilling strokes of ego. Those dead and gone can only be read from what was left behind.

    While I don't disagree on your comments of religion, I believe that the origins, the original texts, the intent of the writers of such works as those found in the talmud, Paul's letters, Siddhartha, and Mohammed can be added to Plato, Nietchze, Sarte and the list of others of your choice, if only to understand the various approaches that help motivate those that don't always flex their own thoughts or that at least can take some assumptions to move themselves forward on their own path. So if there can ever be common and basic understandings between two animals of like species, all the more reason to interact and share our ideas before the fire goes out.

    Thanks

  2. Jerry says:

    Hey Erich, I profoundly appreciate what you have been doing with the Dangerous Intersection blogs. Our society is in such great need of minds such as yours speaking rationally about relevent and important matters. I'm glad you contacted me on myspace. Thanks. Jerry (MindExplosion)

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