Monday, June 02, 2008

Blogging and Self-Contradiction

Our very own Duck runs a poem by our very own Brit about blogging. Brit captures the self-tortured, obsessive absurdity of the enterprise.  I'd add one further oddity - it makes me aware of how often I change one's mind. Years ago, Nige - not a scoffer by nature - scoffed at my fondness for the Whitman quote, 'Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.' (I wonder if he'd scoff now. I like Whitman more and more. Since our ancient friendship exists now almost entirely online, I'll just wait for him to respond.)  I'm not sure about containing multitudes but I certainly contradict myself and blogging repeatedly draws this to my attention. Being moody and impressionable, self-contradiction comes naturally and, as usual, I feel it is important to defend this character flaw as a universal virtue. Self-contradiction is an entirely reasonable response to a word under-determined by generalisation.  Opinions, as I have said before, are both over-rated and transitory; they also, I might add, lie behind much of the strife in the world. I regard opinions, mine included, as of great anthropological interest but of little ultimate value in themselves. Blogging has brought me to this meta-opinion (actually, I regard it as a fact) and so, in one limited sense, it has set me free. Now I just need to work on containing multitudes.


  1. I found that blogging became quite easy once I stopped trying to be cogent or pretend that I’m some stable entity. This might be a different point entirely, but I find it quite reassuring. Blogs shift with the writer’s mood, which is so different to, say, most novels. I’ve just finished reading James Wood's book on fiction and he makes the point that the more interesting novels have less consistency; they tend to be open to a range of voices. I think this is true of the more interesting blogs. It’s why I find political blogs to be so tiresome. They rarely, if ever, question themselves. Their voices never change.

  2. Two real years is about 20 blog-years, so that ditty feels like a blast from the past.

    Glad you enjoyed it, though it was actually inspired by one particular right-wing US blogger, the accidental father of the Daily Duck and various other blogs, who laboured (and labours still, it seems) under the misapprehension that prolific, repetitious blogging can change the real world.

    He is a blogger who manages to have opinions which are fixed but nonetheless self-contradictory, which is probably very common but a difficult trick to pull off in the long run.

  3. yes, I have thought that about opinions before, and I may think it again.
    self-tortured? isn't blogging a bit of a busman's holiday for a writer? I know you only do it for your fans and that's as good a purpose as I can think of. anyway, you're in the business to change our minds and changing yours frequently is an excellent method in sustainability.

  4. How odd - the way I remember it is you scoffing at me for the Whitman quote. Perhaps we just scoffed at each other, it would have passed the time agreeably enough. Anyway, now, all these years later, I entirely agree with you about opinions and consistency and the whole boiling. Blogging, it seems to me, positively demands self-contradiction, bad moods and good moods, dark and light, different voices, radical uncertainty. Blogs are writ on water.

  5. No, no, no. You are violating both the letter and spirit of the rules of first division competitive blogging. A casual amateur may watch you contradict yourself outrageously and just say: "Wow, is that bloke multitudinal or what?", but a true pro will spend hours searching your archives with a maniacical grin for the post he remembers from three years and two months ago where you said the opposite of what you are saying now. He will then preen in front of the monitor and take the rest of the day off savouring the triumph of having bested you, or at least having bested the pixils he thinks are you.

  6. The poem is very good.

    On its theme, I would like to contribute a link to this cartoon.

    Back to the issue of opinion being over-rated and transitory, the world (nevertheless) actually runs on it. I don't think it's that bad, as opinion can be well-founded. Consider decision theory and in particular decision making under uncertainty, where one tries to optimise 'expected value', as is commonly used by insurance actuaries. This is opinion with a rational basis, with the differences in decision (eg insurance premium) arising from different detailed judgements on the uncertain aspects, which are usually probabilities or values (gain or loss) assigned to the different possible outcomes. There might be a vast amount of detail supported by evidence and some small part supported by probabilistic opinion, or the balance of evidence to judgement might be the other way round. When it actually comes down to detailed analysis, there is (I think) nearly always some aspect of judgement. Thus there is an infinity of shades between (deduced) fact and opinion.

    Best regards

  7. Thanks for the plug, Bryan. Brit was the poetic soul of the Daily Duck, and his absence is sorely missed. He's written some other good stuff, this one on commission for which I've yet to pay.

    Consistency is overrated.

  8. I wouldn't worry about contradicting yourself if I was you. Well, unless you're engaged in an argument you cannot afford to lose, in which case your opponent, in lawlerly fashion, may exploit that expansiveness that not being tunnel-visioned involves.

    Regarding the attempt to reflect via occasional contradiction on a reality that preceded and exceeds (without asking permission - why should it have?) the logical categories and procedures our intellectual heritage have bestowed on us, Im not sure there's anything wrong with that - well, unless you dont want to reflect on reality accurately.

    In the meantime, if opinions are held, I see no difficulty in both holding firmly and doubting an opinion simultaneously.