Mike Cernovich is hanging out at my house for a week. He comes out to Connecticut from the left coast every so often to help with briefing. But the real purpose of his visit is to talk. Mike, of Crime and Federalism fame, is a young guy, but he is precocious. One might even say wise. In any case, I enjoy his company; perhaps we are simply a couple of fools, one young, one not.
Of course, we talk about the state of legal blogging. Mike was a pioneer when he created Crime and Federalism. He introduced me to the very concept of blogging. We blogged together for a while, and then drifted digitally apart. I like to think we are still fellow travelers intellectually. We're loners basically.
We had dinner the other night with the pseudonymous author of A Public Defender. Our talk there turned briefly to blogging as well. So what do bloggers talk about when they meet face to face?
First, just how odd it is to see the person behind the keyboard. There is an Oz-like quality to meeting. We can strut, preen and posture all we like from behind the screen. In real life, we stammer, stumble and show ourselves to be something less than the stylized version of reality we present to the world. Is there a lesson in this?
Probably not. The presentation of oneself is never an act of purity. Each of us plays roles in the lives of others. Each of us strives to be seen as one thing rather than another in these roles. Some seek to be seen as wise, others as intelligent, some as kind, others as bombastic. No one is merely the sum of their roles, just as no defendant in a criminal case is merely the sum of his worst moments. We are all far more complex than our stated roles. Sadly, the Internet deprives us of the benefit of complexity. Caricature, it seems, governs. Thus the toughest posture on the block is really the prelude to a kiss, and the bold exhortation to follow is really the cowering fear that the exhorter might be left behind.
I've concluded that Odysseus' command to his men to put wax in their ears as they sailed past the Sirens is apt advice even for the blawgosphere, that warren of lawyers with enough time on their hands to blog about the law. The Siren's song can enchant, but it cannot ennoble. It can only entrap and enslave.
There is a discussion of sorts filtering through the legal blogs now about young lawyers, perhaps not so playfully referred to as the slackoisie. Those older and presumably wiser cast their stones from palaces of wisdom and experience. Yet examined closely, the stones are mere pebbles, and the palaces are mere holding pens for the self-satisfied; those who might, with a parallel sense of justice, be called the smugoisie. Apparently this discussion has been going on for some time. I was snared by the rhetoric and recently looked at it. It was a trap, a Siren song of claptrap masking the oldest and most tedious game of all: a play for power in a newly formed group, this one composed of folks not gathering face to face, but pretending to share space in a virtual world in which real people rarely meet.
Everyone wants to belong. The urge is as ancient as the cave. On line we want to belong to communities of those of like minds. But every community struggles to organize itself; that is a rhythm as old as the first hunter-gatherers. As we know, every group has leaders and followers. In the online world, just as in the physical world, the struggle for dominance in part defines the behavior of the group. Settled norms make routines out of what was once the dangerous thrill of unbounded confrontation.
Group dynamics are an odd thing. I am persuaded that if ten people sit together for more than an hour, they will inevitably turn on the eleventh person to walk in. Knowing what a group opposes is sometimes as powerful, and is often more powerful, than knowing what devotion it shares to something positive. Orthodoxy is the silent catechism of the group. Orthodoxy, however, drives me crazy. I am always drawn to the eleventh man, and would rather defend the outlier than write the catechism.
Hence, the wax in my ears just now.
I signed up on Twitter a few months ago. Twitter was a revelation. I got a better look at the various Oz-figures behind the various blog pages. I didn't like what I saw. There is a meanness to some of it that stunned me. Here I thought we were people at play, flinging ideas into the void, screeching bytes into chaos, to see what would happen. Instead, there is a play for power. Folks want to be king of the electronic hill. They threaten dissidents with ridicule and electronic ostracism for breaking ranks. The Internet, it turns out, is just another school yard where the cool kids prey upon those who want to belong.
I've got my ball of wax out again, and I am plugging my ears. I don't need someone to tell me what the "real" issues are in blawging. They aren't my issues. Don't pretend to be a humble servant of genius by day and then behave like a sandlot bully by night. Be the king of your own goddamn hill, and enjoy the view. I'm just not interested in reading your agenda and calling it mine.
The Sirens are squealing on line. I miss a more innocent time, when it was enough merely to speak. Now the secret code of speech is the pursuit of recognition. It's the same old game just set in a new forum. That I could be surprised by how petty even the blawgosphere can become is a sad testament to my own need to believe and to belong. I am, perhaps, as big or bigger a fool than the fools from whom I seek to distance myself. But if you are reading this, you already knew that.