Want to know what I think?

| July 1, 2009 | 14 Replies

That’s why you’re on the internet, cruising the interblargosphere. You’re looking for things to read that you might not necessarily agree with but which spark your interest because you’re always on the lookout for a new take or new point of view on something. It might even be something you already have a definite opinion on, but you read on because you like reading things that make you think regardless of whether you agree with them. You’re all about soaking up as many differing viewpoints as you can, but you’ve no interest in entering a comment-battle so if you do object, you do so in silence (possible but unlikely). You may be looking for things to read that you already know you agree with and very little else (more likely). You may even be looking for things to read that not only contradict you but flat-out piss you off in order to inspire you to write a post for the blog you’ve been neglecting (if you have a blog, that’s almost a given).

Martin Luther's 95 Theses (public domain)

Martin Luther's 95 Theses (public domain)

I’ll admit I’m one who trawls for material to inspire my personal outrage, vicious condemnation and inordinately long & verbose sentences, but it’s not a new addition to my activity budget. Long before the internet I was fond of writing essays, treatises, critiques, manifestos, poems (gah!) or comic strips about things which annoyed or intrigued me, or into which I’d put an inordinate amount of idle thought. They were many & varied: a convoluted comparison between the dangers of running red lights at a pedestrian crossing on my BMX with doing the same in a car; a detailed essay on the specific mechanisms of “clown evil” and the macro-karmic reasons for their hideousness; my pseudo-Freudian theories on why some men spend inordinate lengths of time reading in the toilet, delaying every other resident not currently using a colostomy bag and glorying in their own pungent stench; a series of unnecessarily graphic limericks featuring my best friend, a busty wench and zombies. Before 1994 and my first experience with electronic mail I’d fax (yes, fax), post or hand these missives to my friends and see what reactions I’d get. They ranged from “meh” to humouring me, the occasional laugh, occasional indignant defensiveness and – more often than not – sideways looks and quiet voicings of concern for my mental stability (especially when my letters were illustrated). I didn’t know it then, but with my unsolicited opinionated ranting, arguments for or against things noone was actually discussing in the real world and blatant & ridiculous attention-seeking behaviour, I was in Gilbert & Sullivan’s parlance the very model of a modern major pain the arse. In today’s terms: a blogger.

So, no, it’s not a new thing for me and certainly not a new phenomenon for humanity either, this public sharing of opinion with people who don’t care. Celebrated Protestant Original Gangster, Martin Luther, is famous for publicly posting his disagreements with Catholic dogma (except for the parts dealing with hating the shit out of the Jews, he was sweet with that). I shall distill his arguments thusly: “OMFG ppl teh p0pe is GHEY, Jezuz dont wan’t U 2 b @church!1! Jus spk 2 Him IRL! WWJD LOL ^_^”. Understandably, the Vatican was well shat with such blatant protest-trolling and, once the Pope had written wrote “FIRST!” and been flamed for being a n00b, the ensuing comment thread took off and still rages today (putting some of PZ Myers’ threads-that-will-not-die to shame).

Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park is another great example: any munter with a half-baked opinion can stand up and voicecast it to the passing masses, as long as he’s prepared to be transported to Australia should he criticise the Queen’s hats or to be pelted, just for a lark, with empty Newcastle Brown Ale bottles or full Foster’s Lager cans (usually by expat Aussies working in London bars who know well enough to not drink that swill except in dire emergencies, such as being far, far away from a pub – fortunately not a likely occurrence in England, hence the reason for the stong Aussie presence in that small nation).

Of course, as we know, the interweb “changed everything” (much the same as those Biggest Loser surprises would, if they didn’t happen so often and so regularly that noone has any chance to get used to how things are meant to be normally before more surprises yet again crop up and “change the game forever”, yet again). Now, thanks to the anonymity of the wuhwuhwuh, you don’t have to run the risk of getting pelted with sub-par alcohol containers or rendered extraordinarily to a Delfin estate in Melbourne’s outer-outer-outer suburbs for saying something wrong, stupid, treasonous or contrary to Buffy mythology. You just get pelted with textual abuse by people who are generally as anonymously smug and full of shit and semi-literate as you are. Unless of course they actually agree with you, in which case they link to your post at their own blog because they don’t have any profundities of their own to share that day (woohooooo trackbacks! WIN!) or because they can’t be arsed linking to the latest xkcd comic because their favourite blog already did that.

So what it is about us humans that makes us want to ejaculate our opinions onto all & sundry, like so many stars of adult films, regardless of any possibility that neither all or sundry will even give the tiniest smidgen of one thin damn? Are we all just attention whores who think we’re completely absolutely freaking right most of the time and crave either adulation or arguments? What possible evolutionary benefit could this opinion-spewing possibly bestow? The answers, of course, are: “because STFU, that’s why”, “yes” and “who cares?”

It certainly goes back a long way, long before papyrus, long before Mayan relief sculpture, long before writing your name in the snow. Aboriginal cave paintings in Australia, for example, have been dated at tens of thousands of years old. In other parts of the world, much older. They are quite often depictions of ancient theology; daily life; everyday objects; legends; favourite foods or even current events (wife from tribe A married man from tribe B; tribe B leader died; new wife cooked mullet for the wake; mullet was the deceased’s totem animal and off-limits; tribe B got mad at wife and punished her; wife’s tribe, A, got even madder as the law said they should be doing the punishing; tribe A punished the living shit out of tribe B and nobody won the Great Mullet Wars except the mullet, who didn’t get eaten for a couple of months). It seems that as soon as our ancestors gained some sort of self-awareness, they developed in parallel a need to share with everyone the insights that awareness gave them, regardless of whether anyone asked them to. Fair enough. Got something to say? Say it! Hell, noone asks a dog to bark, right? But there he goes, “woof woof, and furthermore: woof.” Until another dog pipes up and says “Barkin: ur doin it rong!”, his neighbours chime in and there goes a good night’s sleep. Damn dogosphere.

So, what about the actual benefits of doing such a thing? Would it have been a mark of stature that you were able to draw on a wall and share knowledge? I suppose, with the transition from a nomadic & subsistence lifestyle to a more sedentary and reflective one with less time required for food-gathering and more time for making stuff up, individuals with intelligence who were able to impart knowledge and offer explanations were prized and respected. I think this gels with and goes some way to explain the honour bestowed on elders in many cultures – they’ve been around long enough to know what to do, what to eat, how to get it, where to go when it’s cold, how to avoid being eaten, exactly what to say in a letter to the Herald, etc., so they’ve earned an elevated position. They’ve earned the right to teach us about the world and tell us stories that explain the unknown. They’ve earned the right to tell you to get off their lawn because they fought the bloody Japanese so you could have a bloody lawn to run around on and get kicked off of, so go and finish mowing the lawn before you get your ears boxed.

Perhaps that’s it – we crave the respect of elderhood. We bloggers, we unbidden nailers of opinion to the doors of the internet, we sharers of wisdom of dubious value – we think we’re the elders of this online tribe. We think people should look upon the walls of the enormous foetid cave that is the internet, squint through the clouds of barely-legal teens and cheap Mexican non-prescription V1agr4 and see our stories, our favourite foods, our explanations, our silhouetted handprints, our Star Trek/Robocop crossover erotic fan-fiction. We want people to see for themselves the proof that we existed; the proof that we were individuals with unique qualities, unique thoughts, unique insights, unique reactions to “2 Girls 1 Cup” (link – language warning); proof that we were here and made an impact on someone else’s life or mind, even if it were only once or just long enough to make them write “lol u dumbass” in the comments thread and never return. We know things and think things and invent things that cry out to be shared because someone out there may find them useful, interesting or, hopefully, disagreeable in the extreme, sparking off a healthy exchange of insults and links to Wikipedia and World Net Daily articles. We may seem a little self-centred, even a little narcissistic in wishing for internet immortality in this way but really, it’s very natural & very human. It’s as natural as a hairy Cro-Magnon smearing his handprint on the wall of his dining cave with a mixture of blood, faeces & clay as if to say ” … um, so, that’s my wall”. Natural as laying your eggs into the brain of your host organism and flying away, leaving your offspring to burrow through its cherished memories. Natural as those bonobo chimps who have sex with each other, all day and all night, all riiiiiight…

What I’m trying to say is: blog on, my brethren! Share your knowledge! Share your Illuminati breakthrough! Share your link farms! Bombard your readers with your favourite lolcats! May the walls drip with our wisdom! One of us will eventually be so right about something that noone will dare question us again.

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Category: Communication, Community, computers, Cultural Evolution, Culture, Human animals, Humor, Internet, Language, Uncategorized, Writing

About the Author ()

Hank was born of bird-watching bushwalking music-loving parents from whom he gained his love of nature, the universe & bicycles. Today he's a musician, non-profit aid worker, beagle keeper and fair & balanced internet commentator - but that just means he has a chip on each shoulder.

Comments (14)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    May blog bless your memes, as we who write share the cry of "Me, me, me" into the eternal abyss. Should a mutant echo return, we are validated.

  2. Mindy Carney says:

    Hank, if you weren't married, I think I'd fly to Australia and propose right here and now. This is priceless, and I'm going to link it and share it and comment on it and if I knew how to Twitter (Tweet?), I'd do that with it, too.

    Wonderful post.

  3. Hank says:

    Why, Miss Carney, so fresh! *blush*

    Thanks, that was my first e-proposal that wasn't from a Russian spambot. Woo!

  4. Mindy Carney says:

    Well, I do have a soft spot for a man whose multisyllabic writing makes me laugh out loud. Almost gave me a case of the vapors, kind sir –

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Hank:

    I do love your ode to blogging!

    I think Frederick Nietzsche sums up my gut feeling for why we write. It's often a compulsion, if not a need.

    But why do you write?-

    A: I am not one of those who think with an inky pen in their hand, much less one of those who in front of an open inkwell abandon themselves to their passions while they sit in a chair and stare at the paper. I am annoyed by and ashamed of my writing; writing is for me a pressing and embarrassing need, and to speak of it even in a parable disgusts me.

    B: But why, then, do you write?

    A: We, my friend, to be quite frank: so far, I have not discovered any other way of getting rid of my thoughts.

    B: And why do you want to get rid of them?–

    B: Enough! Enough!

    –GS 93

    According to evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, writing is also an opportunity to display, to woo (hence, Mindy's recent episode with the vapors).

    I've often wondered why I feel compelled to write so often at this site. Various "reasons" occurred to me. First of all, this site serves as a repository of ideas that I would like to have handy for other purposes on other days. In other words, it's my scrapbook (albeit a scrapbook that I share with others). Even if the audience were to shrink to only a few people, I would think that I would still write seriously and often, because writing helps me know what I think, and it helps clarify my thoughts so that I can express them better orally or in other writings.

    But it would be disingenuous to ignore the fact that there is a significant audience here. In fact, for the month of June, this site averaged 6,000 visitors per day. It is exciting to think that others might read my thoughts and find something of value in them. Most people don't comment, so we are left with an impression that most people think like those who do comment (do most people think like Karl?). I will not pretend as though the size of the audience is irrelevant. I love it when more people visit this blog. It makes me feel like our group of writers is producing ideas that don't simply die here. In fact, on days when no one else is posting and I really don't have anything prepared, I force myself to search through the Internet (I visit various social sites or some of my favorites) and publish something; I want to let people know that we're still "here," meaning "please don't give up on us even though there's nothing much new today . . . after all, tomorrow we might weigh-in with a piece of writing that is substantial and original. But why is that important? After all, as long as somebody is saying X on the Internet, must this site become part of that vast echo chamber, or is my compulsion to publish so often a not very well disguised exercise in narcissism?

    This blog was established as a multi-author blog for yet another reason. The multi-author design allows the many people who contribute here to have a place to ask questions, tell a story or vent 24/7. There is great value in having a community for the types of ideas that we toss around at this site. Not everybody in the world is interested in these sorts of topics or this sort of treatment of these topics. No, knowing that others might feel similarly about similar topics doesn't make them any more true, but it does allow us to push off of each other in pursuit of what makes the most sense. I must admit, though, it's a funny sort of community where most of the authors have never met most of the other authors in person. Incidentally, next week several of the writers here will be meeting over pizza for the first time. It should prove interesting. Maybe after meeting each other in person, we'll decide that we don't like each other!

    Why do we blog? Maybe the best answer is that we don't know why we feel compelled to write, or to write so often, or to write in the way that we write, employing the terminology that we use, and bolstering our thoughts with citations to original sources. Perhaps it's deep in our bones that we must connect up with other people and to share bits and pieces of who we are, as well as sharing ideas that are sometimes bigger.

    Now that I've rambled on, I'm wondering whether this comment the world's longest version of "I don't know"?

  6. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Back in the 1980's, before the world wide web, I was a regular on the computer bulletin board scene (also known as BBS ). There were many styles of BBSes, but the ones I liked were discussion boards using the Citadel BBS software. The weblogs of today have a very similar feel to the Citadel boards.

    BBSes differed from the Internet in very few ways. Most board only allowed one user at a time, Each connection required a phone call with any necessary charges. Connection speeds were very slow I started with a 300 baud modem and a surplus teletype machine, by the time Internet service providers became affordable, I had worked my way up to a 9600 baud modem and a PC.

    What drew me to this culture was the fact that it was a great equalizer. The only way to assess a BBSer was by what they wrote. There was little chance of prejudice based on their appearance. You would decide for yourself what a person was about by their views and ideas. You could select a topic, Read all the posts or just those that had been updated since your last visit, add you opinions and move on the next thread.

    BBSes were similar to the Internet in most ways. They held a vast amount of information and most of it was from not reputable sources. A large sampling of this information can be found through the <a>TextFiles website.

    A couple of the BBSes in my area would occasionally have gatherings where some of the BBSers could meet face to face. It was always interesting to meet in person, as often the BBSers would project an online persona that was completely different from the reality.Two guys who acted very childish and immature on the BBS turned out to be graduate students. One fellow, wrote with a clear eloquent style on the boards, in person had a thick Finnish accent that made him difficult to understand. To top it off, one particularly intelligent writer was a fifteen year old boy.

    The there was one guy whose online persona mimicked that of a Hell Fire and Brimstone evangelist. In person he was a quiet shy fellow.

  7. Danny says:

    Hank, this article has ticked over into the category of prose. It's clear to me why YOU write… you have an artistic flair and are truly a wordsmith, your "voice" comes through.

    I wanted to praise you a bit because it's deserved, and of all the voices on this blog I most enjoy reading yours (yours is a close 2nd, Erich). As I mentioned previously, you've helped a bit in my come-to-terms with some personal wrongheadedness over gay marriage. I oscillate between reading and commenting because I want to be validated and want to be challenged/exposed in my errors. So far, this blog has been one of the better outlets I've seen for that. I've always thought the idea of a perpetually selfish echo-chamber of one's own thoughts and ideas as the height of pitiful (have you read "Flatland?" Pointland is sort of what I'm referring to).

    In terms of interpretation, I took this post as an almost Jerry McGuire-like mission statement/manifesto/stream-of-conciousness/written-in-a-fever query into human nature.

    Kudos.

  8. Mindy Carney says:

    Ah, I love your analysis of this, Danny! You are exactly right – Hank is a superb wordsmith. Which is why I almost flew to Australia when I read this.

  9. Hank says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful analysis and kind words Danny. I'm glad you get something positive out of coming to Dangerous Intersection – that's sort of the mission here. I'm also very glad you enjoy what I write. It's a great fringe benefit to something I enjoy doing for its (my) own sake. Another benefit is responding to comments and expanding the original discussion – the threads here often get really, really good (even the ones that annoy me)!

    I would add this – sometimes I HAVE to write or I think my brain will become so cluttered that I'll have a migraine (I do get nasty migraines and with no idea what causes them, I'm free to blame anything). Even if it's just an email to a friend or a short comment, it feels like something has to leave my brain via my fingers at least once a day.

    So, that's my quota for today – no energy left to inform Mindy that Mrs H has Scots blood and that staying in the States was a very wise decision :)

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    Hank: Your post has me thinking some more. Do I blog because I'm not-so-subtly writing my own extended eulogy?

    I joke with my wife that when I die, instead of a wake, just bring in some wifi. If people want to know what I thought about things, just tell them to log onto DI.

  11. Tony Coyle says:

    Unfortunately I write too damned much!

    Equally unfortunately the majority of that writing is 'paid' and not of my choosing – so blogging (and commenting) is my opportunity to say whatever the hell I want in whatever way pleases me at that moment.

    It pleases me greatly that Hank is here writing – his style validates my everyday non-writing behavior – stream-of-consciousness. With Hank writing, I feel less need to do so.

    I have an idea for invention that will be of great utility to myself and to others similarly afflicted: a stream of consciousness recorder. This simply, microscopic device will also collate, annotate, organize, cross-reference, and catalog, and will then post the gem like nuggets of thought (or boulders or mountains depending on the day) to the intertubes for the edification of the great unwashed.

    I offer this idea free to the world — in the hopes that someone will create this device and set me free from the constraints of time and the keyboard.

    I speak volumes – but my fingers cannot keep up. They need to be typing for my day job :(

  12. Mindy Carney says:

    But Tony, we miss you. You'll just have to find a way to give DI one smidgen more attention – it/we need you. So there.

    And Hank, tell Mrs. H she has nothing to worry about – I'm a big chicken at heart, and probably old enough to be your mother. A cougar, I'm not.

  13. Tony Coyle says:

    Thanks Mindy — you are every bit as *nice* as Erich says you are – a truly difficult feat but one that you accomplish with aplomb.

    60+ hour weeks plus international travel plus family commitments leave little time for anything personal, beyond the absolutes: family first, fitness second, foibles last.

    It's lucky I get energized by meetings (and martinis) and talking and work – else I would be a shambling wreck* by now…

    I suppose I'll just need to find some way to squeeze another couple of hours out of each day! (writing this in a Delta Sky team lounge, awaiting yet another international flight… if only flying were glamorous)

    ———————-

    According to my wife I am very close to being a shambling wreck, were it not for her stalwart support and undying love! I'm tempted to agree!

  14. Erich Vieth says:

    Gene Lyons discusses what the blogosphere offers to the national conversation:

    Long under siege for "liberal bias," media careerists now find themselves confronted with people they see as passionate amateurs. True, fearless scrappers like my friend Joe Conason have always been around, and somebody like Paul Krugman — a world-class economist who doesn't care what, say, MSNBC's Chris Matthews thinks of him — can be very annoying.

    But what's really driving these jokers up the wall is economic and intellectual competition from the Internet: people with first-class minds and a passion for truth that some of them can barely remember.

    http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2009/08/27/l

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