don’t like all the negativity in the blogosphere? there’s a cure for that

don’t like all the negativity in the blogosphere? there’s a cure for that April 4, 2017

Beyond the kick I get out of witty insults and salacious gossip, I’m typically not very interested in disputes between bloggers, even if I am a blogger, because when I write I hope to produce something that might be marginally relevant, at this time next year. And, according to the complaints of everyone on the internet, disputes between bloggers are not very interesting or important. Indeed, bloggers themselves are not interesting or important, since internal disputations are all we, apparently, write about. We’re basically just a waste of space.

But wait. There’s a conundrum here. The reality is that Patheos Catholic alone hosts many writers who are more interested in addressing spirituality, theology, art, literature, and culture than in the latest inanity from Hollywood or our tweeter-in-chief. And there are many others who look at the inane in the light of the eternal, or in relation to pre-existing ideas or problems of enduring relevancy. Fellow Patheosi Scott Eric Alt, and Mary and Michael Pezzulo, may write on more polemic political topics, but they also write on faith, books, the spirituality of everyday life. David Russell Mosley writes thoughtfully on theologiy and literature. Henry Karlson writes on spirituality. The Sick Pilgrims, Jessica Mesman Griffith and Jonathan Ryan write about – well, some weird and wonderful stuff.

The problem is not that there are no bloggers writing about things that endure beyond the five-minute gasp of outrage; the problem is that the public – that is, everyone on the internet complaining about bloggers – isn’t doing much to give the more enduring topics a listen. If our internecine bickering is really so insignificant, why is everyone talking about it? Why aren’t you talking about the lives of the Metaphysical Poets, or the Catacombs of France, or earthworm sex (they’re hermaphrodites, in case you were wondering. Many organisms are).

It’s not as though these topics aren’t out there.

As a feminist scholar, I come at a lot of themes from a lot of angles. Sometimes I respond to an event, because this is a great way to generate traffic, and because, well, most events are connected with larger cultural patterns and preconceptions. For instance, I don’t personally care who Mike Pence will or will not dine with, but the widespread assumption that refusing to dine alone with women is some kind of moral high ground is tied to a preconception about women, and men, and relationships, and the workplace, that I find morally and personally troubling.

But the pieces I most enjoy writing are more speculative, allowing me to use my expensive, useless education to explore a facet of culture, its complex history, its implications for religious practice, and personal identity. Unfortunately, these are not the pieces that get me the clicks that get me the $$ – and as an adjunct and a farmer, I need every penny I can get.

For instance: a few days ago I wrote a piece for April Fool’s, on the tradition of the trickster figure in folk tradition, and its value for oppressed demographics. This could have sparked a conversation about different Tricksters in different folk traditions, why Tricksters tend to be male, the role of the Trickster in Jungian psychology – but it didn’t travel far. That one got 31 shares. Mike Pence, on the other hand, got 431 shares. Beauty fetishism in religious circles got 42 shares, but Justice Gorsuch’s remarks on abortion got 437.  Anything on abortion, especially if related to Trump’s policies, is far more likely to go viral than a reflection on a writer or a literary tradition or saint. I suppose there’s a market for superficial pieties, where one could do a mushy sort of inspirational thing, and get the shares, but one could as easily, and with less dishonesty, just post a cute meme.

The popularity of political posts shows that people care about our political sphere, and also shows that (contrary to what some say) life issues are still pressing. But it doesn’t exactly serve the supposed need we have for more thoughtful, less polemical discourse on things that endure.

Of course, it’s possible that those who criticize polemical bloggers are missing the point: that politics is important, because we are political animals, and – buzzkill though it may be to contemplate – the policies that outrage the few today may have serious repercussions for the many, tomorrow. Pretending stupid things aren’t happening won’t make stupid things go away.

Or it’s possible that those complaining don’t like our political posts because our politics challenge their easy preconceptions. There’s a widespread prejudice that Patheos bloggers are “liberal” (a classically inaccurate misapplication of the term, of course), and in certain circles, this looks like an easy way simply to brush aside differing views. Those who think we are “liberal” are clearly not reading anything we write on topics other than politics, or they’d see how deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition we remain – if they’re aware that there is such a thing as a Catholic tradition, that is. Unfortunately most people who call themselves “conservative,” in America, are not actually conservative, and have very little to conserve.

Or maybe the critics aren’t so much incensed about political differences as they are incensed about people talking about stuff at all, especially from a position of having done research – because anti-intellectualism is at a special height right now. There’s a personality type that just can’t handle being in the room with an opinion.

In which case, go back to sharing pictures of puppies. No one is stopping you.

If, however, you’re serious about wanting more substantive, less negative material coming through your Facebook feed there’s an easy solution. Take time to read pieces, from whatever sources, that contribute to the shared body of cultural knowledge and provoke thoughtful conversation. Then share them. I’m not just talking about blog pieces; there’s a lot of fascinating material shared online, on topics ranging from insect reproduction to the history of fashion to the lives of obscure saints. Share material from your own experience and expertise, too.

And keep this in mind: your friendly neighborhood blogger probably would rather be writing a piece that reflects the mood enjoyed when gathered for drinks with literate friends, not the anxiety experienced when opening up the latest student loan bill. But the rhetoric of shares doesn’t serve this.

Want to see more on culture, more on ideas, more on the challenges of the religious life? Want to see less of Trump and Milo, less on which blogger said which nasty thing, or which rad-trad thinks Pope Francis is the anti-Christ, today?

Share accordingly.

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