Why this blog?
I read an interesting op-ed today that pointed out the narcissism inherent in today’s social media. Any good writing, however, requires a certain confidence-of-convictions that I, as a professor who is tasked with presenting subject matter “objectively,” sometimes shy away from in the classroom. Blogging my views online, however, provides me with the opportunity to offer a more pointed analysis of events that I see happening in the political world.
There are instrumental reasons why want to undertake this project, of course. The “press release” guy on campus always asks me for my two cents when some major international event occurs. Now there is a web address I can point him toward. Furthermore, my contributions as a “scholar” are somewhat limited now that, due to my physical disability, I won’t be traveling to academic conferences for the foreseeable future. While not quite the same experience as debating academic papers, this technology allows me to share my insights and discuss the with an audience without having to leave my couch.
In the weeks to come, I will seek to hold myself to several standards. More to the point, I hope to largely avoid some of the pathologies I read and hear on a daily basis in other discussions and editorial on politics.
Foremost, I wish to avoid the extreme “cognitive dissonance” issues that are endemic to much political discourse these days. That’s a fancy way of saying I want to avoid “knee-jerkism.” Many bloggers and columnists bend all matter of facts to suit their dominant world view, and then repackage and regurgitate the same conservative or liberal talking points for public consumption. My goal is to take an open-minded, searching approach to the issues I discuss.
Of course, those who know me, know that the George W. Bush years sent me fleeing into the arms of the Democratic Party, and there is no doubt that my views on foreign and, particularly, domestic policy tend to accord more with the progressive wing of American politics. Nevertheless, it will never be my goal to “shill” for the Democrat party, and I hope that some of the views I express strike an occasional jarring nerve with my Democrat-minded readers.
The other major goal is to avoid the use of simplistic analogies as a substitute for reasoned, evidence-based arguments. Phony analogies are the bread-and-butter of policy-makers and talking heads when pushing certain policies or criticizing political opponents. Beware any commentator or politician who fancies him or herself an “amateur historian” — or, sometimes even worse — someone with a background in history who believes in hamfistedly applying the lessons of the past to the present and the future.
Don’t get me wrong, I will use historical analogies in my blogs. Analogies have a place in illustrating arguments, but when used as a basis for drawing conclusions, analogical reason is a recipe for lazy and slipshod arguments. No two policies, people, or events are alike, and when this fact is neglected, political opponents all-to-often become “Hitlers” or “Marxists” (or both) and all foreign policies are justified based on the “lessons of Munich” or the “lessons of Vietnam.”
If I can avoid some of the silliest pitfalls of other commentators in the months to come, I’ll have succeeded in some part. Of course, I also hope to inform and entertain in some measure. In the end, though, it’s hard to argue that this blog is not, in some ways, an exercise in narcissism. As such, I also hope to persuade. I hope to persuade my readers to occasionally reconsider their own views, break through their own cognitive dissonance, and maybe, just maybe, to think about the political world a little bit more like me.