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Aug 20 2012

Internet notoriety and the blogosphere

I did promise to finish my thought process from last Friday’s post, so I will. After this though, I think I’m going to intentionally avoid blogging about blogging for a while – after all that’s really not what you’re here for and there are more important things to do.

Since joining Freethought blogs (and particularly since the whole #FTBullies nonsense started on Twitter), I have occasionally been accused of trying to gin up controversy in order to gain attention*, and/or expressing opinions for the primary purpose of winning the favour of PZ Watson (because let’s be honest – as far as most of the ‘critics’ are concerned, they might as well be the same fiendish mastermind of a person). My position has been dismissed as being irredeemably biased because of my assumed obligation to defend the FTB network at all costs. I have, in short, been accused of trying to ‘climb the ladder’ in order to sit at the cool kids’ table in the high school cafeteria that is the freethinking movement.

I can’t do anything except roll my eyes at these kinds of aspersions, for reasons I will attempt to flesh out in this post.

How I see myself

This is going to sound like the most rank and arrogant bragging ever posted on a blog, but oh well. I live in a city that repeatedly ranks among the best in the world in terms of livability. My balcony overlooks the Pacific Ocean and the mountains. I work at a job I love for a salary that allows me to live very comfortably. I have an incredibly supportive social circle, made up of people who impress the hell out of me with the things they’re doing with their lives. One aspect of that social circle allows me to engage my creative side, and makes me a little bit of spending money to boot. I am about to start an academic program that means lots of opportunities for professional growth in the not-too-distant future. To top that all off, for the first time in a very long time I am in what (to all appearances) is a very promising romantic relationship with someone I deeply respect and whose company I enjoy immensely.

And also I have a blog.

I would encourage those who think that I am trying to position myself to get big in the online atheism community, please disabuse yourself of the illusion that I have the time, energy, or inclination to get worked up over some internet shit. Y’all (and the ‘critics’) know me as a guy with a blog – this is not my life. While I like doing this, and while I plan to continue doing this, I could walk away from the whole enterprise tomorrow with nothing but some extra free time to show for it.

How I see this blog

When I started The Crommunist Manifesto back in early 2010, I tried to make it as clear as possible what my mission statement was:

I have a lot of ideas. I think my ideas make sense. I think that if more people think, the world will be a better place. I am going to do my best to show you, through my writing; through links; through whatever means I can think of, how I arrived at my conclusions in the hope that I will persuade you. However, I think that debate is crucial to refining ideas and making them better.

All that said, here are my two hopes for this blog.

  1. That people will actually read the thing, and
  2. That people will comment, disagree, argue, contribute, discuss.

That was the purpose of this blog then, and it remains so to this day. I think I’ve consistently described this blog as a place I go to flesh out my ideas, and see if there are rough edges that need smoothing, or holes that need to be patched, in my worldview. Insofar as I think my ideas are good ideas, I am gratified whenever people tell me they’ve read something I wrote and found some value in it. Insofar as this blog is helpful to other people, it makes me feel good to know that I’m making a positive contribution to someone else’s life. However, from the very beginning I have tried to make it clear that I am writing this for me. As harsh as that sounds, it means that I have exactly zero fucks to give if I get cookies from Skepchick or from PZ Myers or from whoever else is on ‘my side’, and the same number of fucks if the howling herd of anti-FTB internet wildebeests don’t think I’m any good.

There are things I care about. Blog popularity ain’t one of them.

How I see “the ladder”

I can certainly appreciate how being involved in organized atheism is a big deal for a lot of people. Many atheists live in places where they’ve been afraid to speak out about their disbelief for reasons of social punishment or familial estrangement. For some, the atheist movement is the first time/place where they’ve ever felt like their voices were being listened to, and where there were like-minded people with whom they could share those topics and thoughts that had up until then only been errant cognitions, never to be vocalized.

In that same token, I can understand why someone would be desirous of the notoriety that comes with being a ‘leader’ in the atheist movement (which seems to mean anyone whose opinion carries enough weight to get others to write blog posts about it). If they, like me, think that their ideas are worth carrying forward, it can be tempting to want to see your contribution stamped permanently on the edifice of the movement’s progress. There is also the simple human vice of being attracted to power and celebrity to contend with.

While these things aren’t necessarily bad (although I find the idea of being desirous of the appellation ‘leader’ to be narcissistic in the extreme), they are also not things that appeal to me in the slightest. As I mention above, I have enough other stuff going on in my life that I don’t see the value in putting a lot of emphasis on making a name for myself. I am  by no means upset that being on FTB has given me a bit of reflected celebrity, but even a cursory stroll through my archived posts will tell you that I haven’t changed much since migrating to the new site (except that I post more often, mostly because I was getting tired of deleting interesting news stories for lack of time).

What all this means

I’m a happy guy. I like my life the way it is, including this blog. Being active in the online atheist movement has introduced me to some people who I think are pretty interesting, and who I like talking to. It has, amazingly, afforded me the opportunity to interact with people who I had otherwise only admired from afar – Greta Christina, Sikivu Hutchison, Matt Dillahunty, PZ Myers, and many others who actually had read my stuff. And liked it! I certainly won’t shy away from admitting that it’s pretty nifty to get e-mails from people who like my writing, who think I’m an interesting guy, who think I have valuable things to say.

All that being said though, there’s nothing there that I can’t happily live without. If push came to shove and I had to choose between losing the opportunity to “climb the ladder” and saying what I meant, the glittering prizes of internet fame are simply not nearly as appealing to me as some have assumed. And if I got kicked off of Freethought Blogs today, I’d wake up tomorrow, have breakfast on my balcony, and go to my job without having lost a moment’s worth of sleep.

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*To be fair, most of this is in the form of the blanket criticism of all the people who blog here. Comparatively little (but certainly not none) has been directed at me personally for reasons I attribute to my relative obscurity.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    RW Ahrens

    Good for you.

    Balance in one’s life is important, and even more important is liking what you do. If you end up loving it?

    Bonus!

    Keep on keepin’ on. Sounds like you’re doing fine to me!

  2. 2
    Cuttlefish

    I like your writing, I think you are an interesting guy, and I think you have valuable things to say.

    And yeah, it’s weird to see the blanket criticism and apply it to oneself; I can’t imagine that’s actually how I am seen, so I am forced to think I am mostly unseen. Which, for a cuttlefish, is not entirely a bad thing most of the time. But if we have a hive-mind agenda, I don’t see how doggerel (or risotto recipes) contributes to it.

    I can leave that sort of vision to the real thinkers out there.

  3. 3
    rempetis

    I don’t know why you care so much about other people who’re thinking that you’re doing it to climb the ladder. You know that you’re not doing it for that, and that should be enough.

  4. 4
    Crommunist

    “so much’ = one blog post.

  5. 5
    picklefactory

    I started following your blog after reading the “Thunderf00t is a shitty writer” post and have stayed around since then — lately I spent about five minutes laughing at the “SHOES AND PURSES” thing, and the guy you nuked so beautifully on “Quitting”. Seriously I am grinning involuntarily just thinking about it.

    I really enjoy the diversity of folks here at FTB both in terms of their identities and their voices. I like reading Zinnia (for example) because of her “I will now present a water-tight arguments in five beautifully written paragraphs” approach, and I like reading you because you’re informal yet still thought-provoking. Oh, and because of the “Idi Amin chortling” GIF.

    So thanks, and keep it up.

  6. 6
    Enkidum

    Well, technically two.

    LIAR! I caught you out! You’re obsessed etc etc etc.

    I’ve mentioned before that I admire your ability to deal with critics and rampaging assholes* in the comments here and on other blogs, and to almost always maintain a sense of humor and perspective about the whole thing. Clearly, the fact that this isn’t that much of a big deal for you is why you’re able to do that.

    And yeah, Vancouver’s pretty nice. I like it here. Congrats on the romance thing too.

    *Not meant to imply that rempetis is a rampaging asshole, but certainly a critic, at least in this comment.

  7. 7
    Enkidum

    A propos of nothing at all, your new profile pic makes it look like you’re witnessing the aliens/Jesus coming to Earth, or something like that. Or maybe just trying to suppress a fart.

  8. 8
    cuervocuero

    Nice as it is to read the other ftblogians based in the US, there’s still something basically refreshing about hearing Canadian voices speaking from the muskeg of Canadian circumstances. Especially Western Canadian voices.

    Which is why I’m glad you’re out there rumbling about your stuff and why I’m helplessly angered that Natalie Reed has been run over by the exclusionary lowlife brigade’s threats.

  9. 9
    Hunt

    However, from the very beginning I have tried to make it clear that I am writing this for me. As harsh as that sounds, it means that I have exactly zero fucks to give if I get cookies from Skepchick or from PZ Myers or from whoever else is on ‘my side’, and the same number of fucks if the howling herd of anti-FTB internet wildebeests don’t think I’m any good.

    Everyone who tries to erect a psychological wall around themselves to shield themselves from unwanted criticism say this or something very similar. This blog may factor less into your self-concept than for some who blog, and you may be able to drop it tomorrow without great discomfort, but that is a far cry from saying that neither approbation nor ridicule will penetrate your armor. That doesn’t accurately reflect what it means to be a human being, much less anyone who takes the time to write things meant to be read.

  10. 10
    Alyson Miers

    I live in a city that repeatedly ranks among the best in the world in terms of livability. My balcony overlooks the Pacific Ocean and the mountains. I work at a job I love for a salary that allows me to live very comfortably. I have an incredibly supportive social circle…

    Dude, can I sit at your lunch table?

  11. 11
    John Horstman

    Or, perhaps not everyone on the planet is actually as invested in the opinions of anonymous strangers on the internet as you seem to think they must be. Clearly humans are social creatures and we care what other people thing about us to varying extents, but that’s a far cry from concluding that anyone must necessarily care what a given group thinks. I, for example, really don’t give a flying fuck what Republican politicians think of me: they could wish me a painful death followed by an eternity of torture and it wouldn’t phase me in the least because I truly don’t value their opinions in the slightest (to throw in a Godwin for the hell of it, I also don’t care in the slightest what Nazis think of me). My social validation comes from my group of friends, and I feel no need for validation through other vectors (that’s my understanding of Ian’s perspective as well, based on this post).

    While I don’t doubt that there are plenty of people who posture with a careless demeanor as a mask for their actual insecurities, some people really are secure/happy enough with their senses of self and lives that they truly don’t care what, for example, any/all of the bloggers at FtB think of them, or what the anti-FtB trolls think of them.

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