Friday, March 12, 2004

A Year of Blogging Enviously

My very first blog post appeared on March 18, 2003 (scroll down to read it here; thanks to the maddening complications of Blogger--which I complain about but which also, I admit, aren't quite enough to impel me to do the work necessary to switch over to something better--my permalinks for March don't work, and indeed, most of the first six months can't be accessed through the archives at all, though occasionally specific posts might be recovered if you have the link saved somewhere). So I'm jumping the gun a little in making this an anniversary post. But I'll be out of town all next week: it's ASU's spring break, and my younger sister is getting married on the 17th in Salt Lake City (indeed, she planned the wedding around our availability), so we're going to spend the next several days out West, visiting old friends in Utah and showing off Alison to relatives. Alison has gotten a lot better over the last few weeks--naps still elude us, but she's sleeping at night now, isn't backed up, and thus is a happier baby. I hope she and we survive the plane ride. Anyway, by the time we return it'll officially be spring, and this blog's one-year anniversary will have officially passed. Since I'm a calendar-conscious kind of guy, I decided this was a good time to take care of old business, and have everything ready for a fresh start for when we get back.

I could go into some detail about how my blog posts have evolved over the last twelve months, but I don't think there's much to say there. If this blog's content has had any real theme at all, it's been one of ideological and philosophical clarification: it's been a place for me to argue, with myself and others, about what I really believe, how those beliefs relate to current events and the history of thought, and whether those beliefs stand up to intellectual scrutiny. In short, I've mostly spent the last twelve months trying to figure out where I stand on this, that, or some other issue. In the beginning I mostly wrote about Iraq and imperialism and what kind "liberal" I am (a moderately nationalist, interventionist one); lately I've been writing more about the family and relationships and what kind of "communitarian" I am (a socially conservative yet egalitarian one). But fundamentally, it's all been about self-understanding, I suppose.

The thing is, such arguments, aiming for self-understanding, don't require a blog. For several months prior to beginning to blog, I'd had a pretty active e-mail discussion group going with a lot of old friends; we'd search the web and send links to each other every day, and argue about this and that. I treasure that list, and still do. Unfortunately, it's sometimes been difficult to maintain both those connections and this blog. So why do I do it? Well, there are lots of reasons....but the one which comes most readily to mind is, I'm sorry to say, envy.

By late 2002 and early 2003 I noticed more and more academics--people who are my peers--blogging. Jacob T. Levy, whose old site I got addicted to. Ditto for John Holbo. And many more: Kieran Healy, Chris Bertram...most of the Crooked Timber crowd, now that I think about it. Of course, many of these people started their blogs months before I'd ever even heard of such a thing, but given that I came to the internet quite late (I'm still not entirely clear on what "Usenet" was), I suppose I should be happy I discovered them at all. But I wasn't happy--or at least, not entirely. I'd love to say that I read their blogs wholly because I was stimulated by their ideas, and wanted to engage them in discussion, and it's true that I did. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that a good deal of my motivation for going back again and again was raw, self-interested anxiousness, something along the lines of: "Look at this! I've heard of that guy! I've read her articles! And now, everyone's reading what they say! I could have said that! Wait, I had that idea once! I studied that for years; you need my input! Dammit, I'm getting left behind!" And so forth. I was jealous, in other words. And not only jealous; some rather ugly Nietzschean ressentiment rumbled around in there as well: "Look at them. They're younger than me. They went to better graduate schools than I did. They have jobs at better universities than me. More people know them. They've got book deals. They're better writers, better scholars, better educated, more disciplined, more knowing, less distracted, wiser, hard-working. I hate them." Well, maybe it didn't get that far; at least I hope not. But perhaps I'm in denial.

Everyone knows that envy is an essential ingredient in the academy; indeed, on the publish-or-perish level, one might say that envy is built into the system, a feature inculcated into graduate students in order to get them to adhere to the economy of the place. It's something I've struggled with plenty over the years, especially in connection with my (seemingly never-ending) job search. In all honesty, I really don't think it's ever affected me very deeply, certainly not to the point of driving the life choices I make. But in the blogosphere, I must admit that the contrary is true: I have often been driven at least in part by envy. This blog and a great many of the posts I've written over the last year are significantly (if not, thankfully, entirely) the product of seeing some other blog, or some other post, and frustratingly feeling that it ought to have been said or done by me.

So there you go. Judge me accordingly. I'll be back in a week.