salon After a month in the small, safe world of Salon blogs, my curiosity got the better of me. I had already discovered some excellent non-Salon blogs, thanks to the posts and blogrolls of fellow Sloggers: K. at Different Strings , Charly Z at Driver 8 , Mark at Fried Green , xian at RFB/Salonika , the inimitable Raven , pomo Rayne , Blasphemous Jan, Emphatic Rob, Scott Rosenberg , Tom Tomorrow and eloquant essayist Toby .

Sloggers Raven and Tom were prolific enough to keep me busy, but once I added non-Sloggers Alas , Kos and Atrios to my daily reading I felt I would never be able to keep up. Now I’m up to 36 blogs and 20 e-zines, most of which listed are in my blogroll. I wade through them all almost every evening.

I had some unanswered questions: Why could I find no other Canadian bloggers of note? Were there any eloquent right-wingers (other than Volokh) in the blogosphere? Why was my blogroll predominently male writers when I’d read that the majority of bloggers were female? When I discovered some tools to search for blogs by subject, I decided to dig for some answers. Over the past week I’ve read or at least scanned over 300 blogs. This is what I learned:

  1. There are many visually stunning blogs, enough to make my Userland template look unseemingly staid, linear and unimaginative. Take a look at this one for example. Blogs by women, and by younger writers, generally seem to be more artistic in design.
  2. Alas, there seems to be something of an inverse correlation between physical attractiveness and quality of content (One very notable exception is Jeff Gates’ Life Outtacontext blog). Many, many pretty blogs contain sentences like: omigod i am sooooo not wanting to be studying for next week’s history test. These blogs generally seem to be written by bloggers with names like [See Note Below]. Capital letters, punctuation and spell-checkers are all used sparingly in this part of the blogosphere.
  3. This negative correlation turns out to be something of a blessing in disguise, because much of the more inane content is, I swear, written in four-point type on a textured background. See the link in point 1 above for example. Clearly meant to be undecipherable and unintelligible to anyone over 17.
  4. The tone of many blogs is so self-effacing and negative that I am convinced that blogging is now, next to Prozac, the leading therapy for people with moderate to severe depression. Initially I found this darkly amusing, but now I find it very disturbing. There are many people, young and old, quietly and desperately screaming into cyberspace.
  5. The vast majority of blogs of all political stripes evidence a complete lack of critical thinking. Most commentary is superficial, unoriginal and uninformed. Two remarkable exceptions are the erudite and prolific Wood’s Lot (at last! a great Canadian blog, and one with a huge hit count per Blogdex, but which strangely appears on few blogrolls, though his blogroll is massive ) and the melancholy but perceptive Texting . Wood has a lovely quote from Heidegger on his who? page and a thread that some of my fellow Sloggers (you know who you are) should read, suggesting that the Web is now infected with thought viruses – memes that could destroy the blogosphere.
  6. To the extent my modest grasp of French allows, in my sample of Canadian blogs I read a few that were penned by Quebecois, but discerned no significant cultural differences from English language blogs. There is even a French counterpart to Friday Five called Sept Instants.

In other words, the blogosphere outside our cloistered Salon world is a microcosm of the world it articulates. It is all interesting to those that have the energy and the voyeuristic streak needed to explore it, and who are not too jaundiced by the naivete, frivolity and noise that consumes most of blog space, just as it consumes most of the bandwidth of human discourse. But I’m glad to be home.
AFTERWORD: I had originally listed some blog names where it says “[See Note Below]” above. Turns out these were quite eloquent blogs with whimsical names. I apologize to the owners of these blogs. I should have known you can’t judge a blog by its name.

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  1. Rayne says:

    Hint taken. BTW, I now believe ALL knowledge — good or bad — is memetic. It’s all viral. Some is symbiotic with humanity, some not. Viruses of a more aggressive nature may attack their hosts. Nature has a backdoor, though; rarely ever will an aggressive virus kill 100% of its victims. At least 10% will gain immunity. That’s why the Blog Power Curve will not be vertical: 10% of us at a minimum will be immune to what ever virulence is unleashed.Wishing you immunity when it counts.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    As long as you don’t tell me you’re a Dawkins fan ;-) I actually think memetics makes a lot more sense as a ‘philosophy of idea dissemination’ than it does as a behavioral model. What did you think of Mr. Wood’s site?

  3. Rayne says:

    I can’t say I’m a Dawkins fan, but then I can’t say I’m a Darwin fan, either. It’s just incredibly difficult to argue away the concept that information can be reduced to meme/gene and it’s delivered in highly predictable (scriptable) fashion.In defense, what to do? employ infection control techniques: wash your hands and harddrive thoroughly and often after contact; question everything; take nothing for granted; assume everyone has an agenda or a cold unless proven otherwise; stay well away from the obviously ill. <g>

  4. Rayne says:

    p.s. Wood’s site: very juicy. Would like to return with increasing frequency, but it will be at someother blog’s expense I’m sorry to say.

  5. HI says:


  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Rayne: Reading Full House made me a Gouldian for life, and being a Darwin fan and a Dawkins-hater kind of comes with the territory. One argument against Dawkins is his inability to explain the ‘wild child’ cases: linguists claim that the behaviour of these ‘unsocialized’ children is so utterly different from ‘civilized’ behaviour, and so completely unpredictable for those of our cultural mindset, that it proves learning actual creates neuron patterns in the brain (and that language physically cannot be learned if it isn’t learned by puberty).

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    c: Thank you. Your links have my mind expanding, ‘tho I had already discovered SZ. Your blog is lovely, extraordinary. I have to start writing poetry again.But you forgot to say ‘oulipo’.

  8. Rayne says:

    Ah, the “wild child”. Have a seat, this might be lengthy. A broken personality or one that’s pre-socialized; may also be a regressive state due to extremes of stress or illness. Acts according to a highly predictable script if I read Graves and Beck/Cowan properly. Actually, we’d also have to look to Czikszentmihalyi (The Evolving Self); he said memes are created ‘when the human nervous system reacts to an experience’. In the strictest sense, the “wild child” does just that, but has only the most primitive level of memetics to respond to stimuli.Beck/Cowan label this level of development “beige” (Graves label: level A-N); it’s typified by use of instinctive and habitual actions to survive; an identity of self is primitive or tenuous; basic security and safety needs are primary motivators; persons in this level may band together to support each other. Language may not be acquired because it’s an investment of effort which does not directly and immediately result in improved security and safety. (You have the capacity to see the potential rewards in the investment of learning language, but Beige does not; they’re concerned only with immediacy of survival.)A “wild child” is not the only manifestation of this state; look at mentally ill street people, persons affected by grave and traumatic disaster, children who’ve been abandoned in early childhood, primitive tribes (ex. San Bushmen). Perhaps it’s not Dawkins responsibility to explain this, but others like Graves-Beck/Cowan; Beck/Cowan recognize the meme concept in their work. To be candid, Dawkins may not be operating at a level where he could “see” the beige memetic and understand where it fits into the entire human development model. One of the greatest threats to persons at Beige level are those in Orange level, according to Graves: ‘From his lofty position of relative worldly success and occupational superiority…he looks down in in sneering condemnation on man at the first level…If he had any gumption he’d take himself in hand and get out of his condition, says materialistic [Orange] man in haughty condescension. I did it. Look at me. I made it up here on my own. If he had anything on the ball he would do it too.’(Sound familiar, like you’ve heard this before from conservatives talking about the working poor or destitute?) Dawkins could be at a high level Orange and simply unable to *see* the Beige meme, although he may be high enough not to condemn it altogether.You’ll see Beige in pre-verbal children — infants, early toddlers. They are highly reactive, still have not an awareness that they are separate from their parents. We grow out of this if we have proper nurturing and all our safety/security needs are met. The “wild child” may either not have had this, or may be damaged in some way that they cannot assimilate nurturing. One of the biggest challenges to this planet is the increasing number of persons in Beige level of development; think of the millions of orphans created by AIDS globally, or the number of people who may regress under the threat or direct impact of war and terrorism. We run the risk of an immense tide of “wild children”.Maybe Dawkins was simply in denial; that’s a big chunk to bite off. I can’t blame him, it hurts like hell to look at the impact of Beige growth on this planet.

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Although I haven’t read them, from your description I would say that Graves and Beck/Cowan are unable to see beyond their own suffocating mental models of culture and learning. To describe a ‘wild child’ in Maslovian terms as ‘primitive’ or ‘pre-socialized’ or ‘beige’ is condescending and would seem to borrow heavily from the standard blind mythologies of modern salvationist religions. ‘Leaver’ cultures (both human and ‘animal’) see the individual and tribe as inextricably part of the whole Earth organism, and appreciate instinctively that evolution (both over one’s life and over a species’ millennium) is not ‘up’ or ‘forward’. To me, Dawkins and the other ‘modern culture’ chauvinists are merely the 21st century counterparts of the Cartesians, who believed, belligerently, and despite all evidence to the contrary, that there was nothing wrong with torturing animals because clearly animals were unable to reason and hence ‘obviously’ could not meaningfully feel pain or emotion.But despite the fact this stuff really and unreasonably gets me riled up, I really like some of the work you do on your blog, and the quality of your writing. Can we still be friends? -/- Dave

  10. Charly Z says:

    Points 2 to 4 of your weblog survey are the most interesting to me. It brings to mind that old saying about an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of keyboards: maybe someone will someday produce a Shakespearian play, but in the meantime, all we get is a lot of gibberish.Which, in the end, is quite fine. A meritocratic way of publishing like weblogs allows anyone to take a crack at writing. That means those with something to say and those with nothing to say but don’t want to be left behind. They’ll write their brains out, and it’s up to the reader to separate the chaff from the grain.That seems to restore relevance to editors, that species so despised these days. But on the blogsphere, the editors we can trust come in the shape of blogrolls and links. Not too different from ol’ word of mouth between acquaintances.

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks Charly. As I describe in my post today, I think the blogroll is more analogous to a rolodex than an editor, but I get your point. Is the blogosphere a meritocracy? I guess as much as ‘real’ publishing and broadcasting are: trash, pandering and sensationalism get lots of fickle hits and eyeballs, but real quality will eventually draw in at least enough faithful readers/viewers to pay the rent. I’m really interested in what motivates bloggers to write, and post, besides the promise of fleeting fame, and I’m thinking of doing an e-mail survey of Salon Bloggers to get their POV.

  12. chutney says:

    For some good work on moral development theory check out <href=”>James Fowler (my boss). It’s based on Erikson and Kohlberg.

  13. erin says:

    i believe it’s been about 15 years since i have uttered the words “omigod i am sooooo not wanting to be studying for next week’s history test. ” thanks for really delving into my blog…

  14. Kamin says:

    From toronto:www.shespeaksgoodenglish.comI think you might have been overly harsh on Canadian blogs, and i especially don’t like your comment on handles. If someone wants to call themselves ‘Big Pink Cookie’ instead of their real name, who are you to judge?

  15. Dave Pollard says:

    Erin/Kamin: You are absolutely right. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. For my full apology please see Erin’s site.

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