Elusive Trope's picture

    Reinventing the (Discourse) Wheel

    As I read the comments over the blogosphere regarding the unfolding events in Libya and the US involvement in those events, as well as the Republican chase for the nomination, I am reminded that in spite of the advantages of the web, we are still reinventing the wheel just about every time we blog.

    One of the foundational principles of education (as practiced in Western cultures primarily) is the slow but steady build up of knowledge.  One passes from the 101 to the 201 to the 301 class.  When one reaches the 301 level, and this is the key point, the "teacher" can assume the "students" enter the class the first day with a certain amount of fundamental knowledge regarding the subject at hand (as well as a certain level of articulation of that knowledge).

    In other words, the teacher can cut to the chase and go to the heart of the matter.  A quick example would be that at the 301 plus level in American literature, the teacher can quickly reference Twain and then move on, not having to think twice that the students do not know who Twain is, let alone the particular work of Twain referenced.

    But in the blogosphere, we stuck in the 101 world.  Even with multiple links to Wikipedia, we basically have to start with the notion that the reader does not possess the basic facts of the topic.  When we make the assumption that we are dealing with a 201 crowd (or gawd forbid a 301 group), the comments will quickly bring us down to earth (i.e. reality).

    So we are left blogging the same wheel over and over again.

    Are we getting different results?


    I don't find dagblog as a 101 level discussion. I like the challenge of thinking out of the box. I end up a lot of time in a dictionary just looking up new words. It gives me something more to think about at night when I can't sleep. As far as politics go right now, it doesn't hurt to work on the wheel design. Bloggers are very interesting here and so are the readers.

    First let me say that if I thought Dagblog was a 101 discussion, I would have left a long time ago never to return. ( I can understand how my blog my give the impression that I thought it was.)  In fact in my journeys over the blogosphere I haven't a site yet which has a consistent responding readership with the depth that I have found here.

    I stick around because of the very reasons you give.

    Yet even here we are fighting over the same territory we were fighting over six months ago, a year ago, two years ago. 

    As a post-structuralist, I can't just jump in and start riffing on a topic.  I have to first lay the ground work.

    If I want to discuss something that has to do with the liberal-moderate-conservative spectrum, I have to spend most of the blog it seems defiining what i mean by this spectum.

    This isn't a knock on Dagblog, which has some of the most intelligent and thoughtful readers and responders.

    It has to do with the nature of the form, which is related to the fact that is open to the public.  If it is open to the public, and one makes an assumption about the level of understanding of the public, then one must blog based on that.

    For example, using science, I would blog with the assumption everyone here agrees that the earth revolves around the sun. But I wouldn't make the assumption that people understood the fundamentals of chaos theory.  So if I was writing a blog that was dependent upon the notion of "sensitive dependence upon initial conditions," I would be compelled to first explain that notion before I went into the ideas that I thought were derived from it.

    Trope, who the fuck do you think is referenced when the need to look up words rears its ugly head, my post-structuralist amigo?  (Not that there's anything wrong, etc, etc,...)

    How is this different from any other kind of democratic political discourse in the public sphere?

    well, in one sense, it is no different.  which is why in the year 2011 we're still debating pretty much the same things in the same way we always have been.  the web has given us the sense of increased political discourse, but in the end it is basically just an increase in volume, not substance. 

    i know this isn't some grand insight.  it is more of just a moment to reground oneself (myself) in just what one is participating in.  it doesn't mean one should stop participating in the discourse.  but at the same time not to have any delusions about the progress that is being made collectively.

    but there is the democratic institution of public education, which does have the goal of building knowledge collectively so one is not just going over the same territory each year.  a average ninth grader should have a historical foundation that is more broad and deep than the average third grader.  And even more so for the freshman in college.  That is the theory at least. 

    in the end it is a frustration that somehow we cannot apply this to the public sphere.  we shouldn't be still debating global warming/climate change.  we should have already come to terms as a society regarding affirmative action.  And on and on and on. 


    Personally, I'm not debating the things I have always been debating.  From about 2003 to 2009, I must discussed foreign affairs policy on the blogs.  However, I have switched almost completely to economic policy, with a heavy emphasis on domestic policy.  In both areas, it seems to me, the average level of blogospheric discussion has improved very substantially.

    Three years ago, much of the economic policy discussion on the left blogosphere preceded in utter ignorance of elementary economics and even the basics of how banks worked and how the government carried out its monetary and fiscal policies.  The average level of discussion these days, it seems to me, is at a much higher level, with people constantly debating the ins and outs of Keynesian vs. Monetarist approaches to recessions, the difference between balance sheet recessions and other kinds of business cycle dips, the distinctions among various different ways of measuring unemployment, different theories of the nature of money and credit, etc.

    The same evolution occurred during the Iraq War debate.  In early online discussions in the post-9/11 environment, a lot of people were groping around in ignorance of even where to locate the relevant countries on the map, not to say ignorance of the strategic, historical and cultural dimensions of the US relationship with Middle East countries.  Within a few years, even the most routine conversations were filled with relatively well-informed background knowledge of modern Middle East history and culture and US Middle East politics.

    I also think that the emotional tone and maturity level of blogospheric discussion has greatly improved on the whole.  One of the initial impacts of the blogs was that people had a difficult time adapting their emotional repertoires to the new freedom of online discussion.  Back in about 2005, it seemed to me that just about every conversation I tried to participate in degenerated rapidly into savage verbal warfare - driven by a few disturbed, voluble and ungovernable individuals who used every topic as an invitation to flame, vent, insult and generally lose control of themselves and act like children in the midst of a running temper tantrum.  It seems to me that online community on average has gotten better with both self-regulation and structured moderation.

    So, I'm fairly optimistic about the role the blogosphere is having in building an informed and engaged citizenry.

    Thanks for the response and the optimism.  As I mentioned elsewhere, my mood at the time I wrote this blog was in a negative place and I chose to go with an momentary impression.  I agree there has been progress in the ways you mentioned above.  All is not dire and doom.

    One of the foundational principles of education (as practiced in Western cultures primarily) is the slow but steady build up of knowledg


    Stab me and sink me, Trope, but you might be just the fellow to assist me with a slightly embarassing problem.  I appear to have written a paper in my misspent youth, and I am currently totally mystified by the title.  I don't know what the fuck it means....Help me out here: (I mention it 'cause I think it had something to do with the steady build up of knowledge and all...but what's a logoi, and how can you tell if it's proven or unproven??  Don't tell me to go and read the paper, it's in french...)

    : Condorcet's theory of progress : a rational system based upon unproven logoi.

    Marquis de Condorcet was one of those fellows that Malthus was debating in his famous paper. Condorcet thought the world was getting really great - Malthus thought it was same old, same old.

    Logoi is the plural of logos. Apparently it derives from legō, which used to mean "to count, tell, say, speak" and now means "to build with interlocking blocks" or as an exclamative to release one's breakfast pastry.

    That is all true...but candor requires me to adduce the embarassing bit of data that this paper was written so long ago, they didn't have the interlocking blocks or the waffle--I think they had toasters, but whether they were energized by electricity or some form of carbon based combustion is lost in the mists of memory...

    bad server, bad!

    Well, it's always going to be this way for a number of reasons.  First, don't forget that your 301 class will always graduate and be replaced by another class next year.  The internet however lets people come in, audit, take what they need and leave and later come back for more when they feel they need it.  I think of blogging more like storytelling than lecturing.  You can't tell a good story without a beginning, middle and end, and without including a certain amount of exposition.  I'd use the old metaphor "You can't build a house without first building the foundation", but you get my drift.  

    The most important reason  it will remain the same is the same reason newspapers are written at a junior high school reading level; they want to reach the greatest number of individuals in order to sell more papers.  You can write a blog that can be read and understood by only a handful of people, and that's fine and even laudable, but if you want reach the greatest number of people in order to persuade them with your ideas, you better put it in words they can understand and appreciate.

    I was about to write pretty much the same thing.  Whenever we write for an audience we don't know, we need to write as a reporter would, explaining background as we present our points.  There's nothing more annoying than to have to slog through the work of someone who assumes you're in their head and get what they're saying without some further explanation. 

    In among this group, I am clearly in the 101 category.  Pretend you're writing for my level and you'll pretty much cover it.  If that's too boring, then yes, climb to the 201 and I'll try and keep up.  When you get to the 301 you've lost me, but no fear.  I was long gone anyway.  ;>)


    I wonder if you are conflating education and political discourse, Trope.

    Political discourse is, and likely always will be, driven by agendas that are based on individual and group perceptions of self-interest. Those perceptions are only occasionally knowledge-based.

    Reminds me of the plaint of my father, who often repeated the popular observation of the Christian middle class in the '50s, that knowledge has progressed by leaps and bounds since the beginning of civilization, but man has progressed not at all.

    His complaint had nothing to do with the blogosphere, of course. Which is the point.

    The educational model — 101, 201, 301 — is a tightly structured and controlled method for imparting knowledge. Your 301 level students, Trope, operate within a knowledge frame that is reasonably reliable and predictable, and valuable.

    Blogs break the frame, which is the source of their endless delight and frustration. They are only loosely structured, non-authoritarian (some more "non" than others), and open to anyone who can get a library card and reserve time on a computer.

    I'm with Dan (see his comment above). I think the evolution of this form of discourse has been rapid and pretty amazing. Remember the long, brutally personal arguments of the early days of TPM?

    My interest in participating in this kind of discussion has motivated me to read, study, think and try to understand what I write about. No, I don't believe my thinking is world class, but it's better than it once was, in large part because through these blogs I am able to discuss matters of interest with a much wider group of diverse individuals than would be available to me locally.


    Blogs break the frame, which is the source of their endless delight and frustration.

    Nicely put.  It was late and I wasn't able to sleep, and thus focused on a particular facet of the frustration facet of the situation.  Breaking the frame can be and is a positive feature of the blogosphere. 

    Blogging is as much an art form as anything else (although some might argue with giving it the tag of "art"), it as such provides the value art provides to both the artists in engage in creating process (both the blog and the comments to the blogs), as well as to those who just engage it as the reader.

    My interest in participating in this kind of discussion has motivated me to read, study, think and try to understand what I write about. No, I don't believe my thinking is world class, but it's better than it once was, in large part because through these blogs I am able to discuss matters of interest with a much wider group of diverse individuals than would be available to me locally.

    Camus made the point that civilization does not need any one particular piece of art work.  If neither the Mona Lisa nor Hamlet were produced we could still make it just fine. But what civilization does need is the artist engaging in the artistic process.  And I would add the engagers of the art to engage that process. 

    Eat your heart out, Camus!


    "...what civilization does need is the artist engaging in the artistic process."

    My grandfather, CW, a serial entrepreneur, not a genial fellow, had 12 children who survived infancy, enough for a family band. He gave each an instrument, dressed them in white uniforms, stood them up in the small town squares of depression Arkansas Sunday afternoons and John Phillip Sousa'd the mothers thereof, who brought little Billy and Sue Anne forward afterwards to sign up for rental instruments and lessons, which were conducted always by one of CW's children, under strict orders to bring the money straight home.

    Every one of his children, male and female, grew up to be a band director. It was a family engaged in the process of art—commercial at first, later for the love of it.

    I have watched with regret as music, art, literature, drama and most every creative endeavor other than science and technology have been systematically drummed out of the educational experience of our children. Devalued. Derided. Defunded. 

    But now they have online video games. Anime. Graphic novels. Apple computers. Garage Band. Photoshop. Social media. Fan fiction. And the blogosphere. Subversive, these kids. 

    Who knows, maybe the the 21st century version of The American Mercury will be a blog!

    What a wonderful story.

    I'm happy to say that in a Mayberry town in Missouri my many grandchildren have each been in choir and band for their entire Jr. high and High school years. And my daughter physically sewed most of the band uniforms and held benefits to raise money. So it's still out there, but scarce. And for that I can even excuse my daughter for being a culture voter.

    Good on you and your daughter, Oxy Mora.

    Feeling that I am stuck, in most subjects, at 101...

    I find this discussion fascinating. I really do.

    The problem with politics is that we are really stuck--at least that is where I find myself--in the 8th grade!

    Think about it. Except for this Huntsman guy from China, there is no one candidate from the repub party who knows what the Theory of Evolution involves.

    Hell, I just read that Paul does not even 'believe' in it! Of course he would have everyone home-schooled like Michele my belle!

    Another example:

    DEM: Because of the irrefutable evidence of global warming since adequate figures have been compiled over the decades and centuries, there comes the 'findings' through deduction and such that human beings through their manufacturing plants and their concrete/tar surfacing and their waste processes and......

    REP: There is no global warming and Nobel Prize winners have said so.

    DEM: The lack of proper regulation of our banks due to removal of many regulations, through the revolving door nature of our appointed regulators, through the merger of banks and mortgage companies and......have led to the single greatest depression since 1929...

    REP: There is too much banking regulation. Our markets work better without so many regulations.



    Now I can have an argument with Donal concerning the environmental effects of wind turbines. But we both realize that alternative energy is necessary. We know there is not enough oil to go round if we simply look at America's oil resources.

    But repubs? They say drill baby drill like our teeth are falling out and we need the immediate attention of a dentist. The figures, the stats, the geological surveys, the oil drilling mishaps....all go for naught with regard to repub politicians; excepting our rep from China.

    I think the possible debates that should be had in the political sphere cannot be had because the corporate oligarchy DOES NOT WISH TO SEE THOSE REAL ARGUMENTS DEBATED!

    But I recall as a kid in the 50's that the elite noted that the American Public could not receive and understand an argument that reached intellectual and educational levels above the 8th grade.

    Nothing has changed really. The repubs might have put us back to the 6th grade however.

    And Bachmann and Perry and Paul and Palin and the rest would take us all back to the 3rd grade.


    for now



     I just read that Paul does not even 'believe' in it! 

    Shit, that's gonna put a real hurt on my Ron Paul for president program, being as I am on record as supporting the  absolute exclusion of evolution doubters from voting, let alone the white house...

    Scholarship takes a lot of work. Work takes time. When someone has actually gone to the trouble of looking very closely at a subject, their view of others who have not gone to that trouble tends to be remote, as seen through an intervening screen.

    Many negative descriptions of academia depict the remote quality of the scholar as a disconnection from what is actually going on: "The scholars can only see things through the use of these funny models that conveniently reflect their presumptions."

    I am not equipped to counter such skepticism but it may not be too presumptuous to note that the repetition of some rhetorical forms in the blogosphere is a part of a balancing act between rejecting and benefiting from the fruits of scholars worthy of listening to.

    Or, at the least, I hope that is the case.

    If only it were so.

    In 1970 I was freshly out of the U.S. Army and anxious to return to a more, ahem, intelligent discourse. A friend of mine who was pursuing his masters in Philosophy invited me to sit in on a seminar he was attending on the Philosophy of Education. They were scheduled to discuss Veblen’s “Theory of the Leisured Class” which I hungrily devoured in anticipation of the seminar. The professor began the discussion by saying he hadn’t had time to review the book and asked if one of the graduate student’s could summarize it for the group. It turned out that no one had read the book. I politely kept my silence. My friend offered that he had read the introduction and the professor asked him to summarize that. The class then proceeded to discuss the book for the next hour – a book none of them had read.

    It was about then that I decided to pursue 300 level discussions in locations other than academe.

    Yeah, that's why the sciences rule. We never make stuff up.

    OK.  OK.  I'll go along with Michelson and Morley on the aether stuff but phlogiston?  Come on.  I saw an informercial on that.  I think it was for the George Forman grill or something but it is definitely real.

    You don't know nothing 'til you've studied semantics.

    Philosophy Sucks and Blows. 

    Philosophy Sucks and Blows.

    And the disease of anti-intellectualism weaves itself deeper into the fabric of society.  Just when I starting to feel a bit of optimism.

    One won't get an argument from me that the theory into practice has broken down not only in our colleges and universities but the K-12 level as well.

    Great story, though.

    the K-12 level as well.

    As if you know anything about it.

    Todays early learners have much higher expectations then you did. With reason. It's a problem not easily dealt with using 20 or 200-year-old knowledge. These ain't your grandpa's K-12 learners.

    First, i was speaking of the educational system, not the kids themselves.

    Second, as if you know anything about what my expectations were as a kid.

    Third, knowledge does not gain validity simply because it is old, nor should one disregard knowledge simply because it is old.  Buddha has some pretty good insights that today's kids would benefit from, and they're like 1500 years old.

    And fourth, my job puts me in working conditions with educators and others working with the K-12 crowd to develop innovations and support systems to help kids not just succeed academically, but navigate and deal with the demands that life throws at them both inside and outside the classroom.  So, while just like everybody else (including you), I don't know everything, but I do know something. 

    Twain? They're teaching her in American lit now?

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