When I remarked in a comment on another blog that blogs are not an important development in human communication, one of those pretentious semi-sentients with which South Dakota seems overburdened, snarked that I should read Marshall McLuhan.
I have read Marshall McLuhan. In fact, I covered him in classes on mass communications and the criticism of culture. There are such classes. I doubt that many bloggers would have heard of them, especially those who can't think beyond the petty and diminishing stereotypes that are the vehicles of their thoughts.
First of all, I blog. I think blogs have a potential. But that potential has been taken over by the base, the malevolent, the devotees of self-fellation, and those who cannot get their words registered in the more sentient and literate forums. Blogs provide anyone who can click a mouse and manipulate a keyboard a place to express their attitudes and thoughts. And by the same token, they provide evidence of how many people lead lives of ignorance, resentment, and petty malevolence. People who value the best that is thought and said by humans necessarily avoid blogs.
This is not to say that some blogs and some posts do not contribute to discourse that informs and elevates. But few people have time to sort through the mean and petty and scurrilous to engage human discourse on an elevating plane. While it may be instructive for everyone to be reminded that malicious bigotry is a large force that threatens our democracy, it is more efficacious to frequent those published words that people of knowledge and discernment have edited for us.
Back to McLuhan. For those who do not know who he is, he was a professor of English who concentrated on the media that transmits human communication. He was born and educated in Canada, received degrees at Cambridge, and taught in both the U.S. and Canada with most of his career at the University of Toronto. He was a convert to Roman Catholicism and remained so throughout his life. He died in 1980.
McLuhan liked wordplay and often summarized his ideas in aphorisms. Many people who claim to know McLuhan's ideas really know only a few of the aphorisms, such as "The medium is the massage." They are not aware that while McLuhan reported observations on how technology was shaping humankind, he did maintain a critical perspective that suggested that such forming of the human intellect by its technologies was not necessarily in the best interest of humankind.
A couple other of his aphorisms are:
At the speed of light, policies and political parties yield place to charismatic images.
Politics offers yesterday’s answers to today’s questions.
At the same time McLuhan loomed on the scene as a commentator on cultural development, the book by Arthur Clarke and the film by Stanley Kubrick of 2001: A Space Odyssey took the world by storm. McLuhan wrote about how mankind became the tool of its own technology, being directed and determined by it. In science fiction Clarke and Kubrick presented a story of the computer Hal who developed a sentience and self-will and turned against the people who had created him. McLuhan's suggestion that mankind could lose self-determination and become the creature of his own technology lay behind much of the cultural criticism being created in the 1960s and 1970s.
The self-consuming aspects of humanity's technology became apparent in recent weeks. I spent a long weekend in Winnipeg where I hoped to escape the interminable gossip and speculation on Anna Nicole Smith. CNN was particularly grotesque in its obsessive coverage. The dementia that infests tabloids and cable news was not escapable in Canada. We Americans tend to forget how our culture pervades the world. In fact, a Baptist church service that originates in Aberdeen was broadcast in Winnipeg on Sunday morning. But Winnipeg (which has a population as big as South Dakota's) is a cosmopolitan city and offers many cultural alternatives to the stuff of technology.
People spin webs of malevolence and get caught up in them. On CNN, people started making judgments about Anna Nicole and making the most scurrilous speculations about the cause of her death. The chicken flock syndrome set in. People found someone of prominence that they could start pecking on and they soon were pecking away in a malevolent fury.
We note that some South Dakota blogs joined in on the pecking and tail-biting, obviously getting great pleasure from their indulgences in depravity.
But that is nothing new. The posts and comments on blogs about the Sen. Dan Sutton matter and Sen. Tim Johnson's health showed a species of human that has surrendered its intellectual apparatus to the exercise of its technology for debased and regressive purposes. Some folks prefer the chicken flock and dog pack to a life of knowledge and constructive enterprise.
Marshall McLuhan had some important things to observe about technology. Willa Cather also did so brilliantly in her long short story "Neighbor Rosicky." She described a people whose humane values were not corrupted by technology and greed. And she described those whose values were so corrupted. Cultural criticism is a long tradition in American literature.
I have nothing against blogging. I do have a revulsion toward willful ignorance and human malice. Blogging permits people who are driven by those qualities to assert themselves. I prefer to avoid such assertions. And so do many people who want humankind to stay in control of its technology, not be controlled by it.
While we hear and see day after day the use of technology in Iraq being the instrument of hatred and mindless malevolence, we can hear and see in our own time and place the use of blogs being used for the same purposes on the verbal level. Words generally precede the acts.
And so, excuse me, if I pay less and less attention to blogs. There are more positive and constructive ways to spend what little time is allotted to one on earth.