Sunday, July 10, 2005

Thoughts on the Anti-Blogging Movement

A recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed brought a specifically academic voice to the nascent anti-blogging movement. The piece, a pseudonymously-written airing of a search committee’s dirty laundry, is a warning against the airing of a workplace’s dirty laundry.

So there’s that.

The AP had a lengthy story this morning making many of the same points, although not just in an academic context. The argument, such as it was, boiled down to “blogs can be used for bad things, so best to avoid them altogether.”

Following that logic, of course, job seekers (and holders) should also avoid use of the telephone, the word processor, email, and their own voice, since these could also be used for nefarious purposes. Indeed, best not to form any human attachments whatsoever, since, in the logic of the piece in the Chronicle, they might lead to non-peer-reviewed activities.

Leave aside the breathtaking lack of logic or history in the argument. From a legal perspective, we’re being told that free speech is a luxury available only to the tenured. Which, from a legal perspective, is a lie.

Public institutions, such as state universities, state colleges, and community colleges, are bound by the first and fourteenth amendments. For hiring committees in any of these settings to use extracurricular speech against anybody is a violation of federal law. Blogging is covered by freedom of the press. It’s as simple as that.

The anti-blogging argument is so absurd on its face that the only reasonable response is something close to psychoanalysis. Given that the argument has no merit whatsoever on its own terms, why is it so prevalent? What felt need does it meet?

I think the gist of the anti-blogging anxiety comes from the displacement of the gatekeepers. What makes blogging different from, say, publishing a pseudonymous airing of dirty laundry in the Chronicle is that the Chronicle has editors. It has people to say ‘no,’ people to make sure that the only speech that gets through is speech that doesn’t threaten anybody important. In that sense, the best analogy for bloggers might be the pamphleteers of the Revolutionary era. Just as King George wanted to shut down the seditious pamphleteers, the folks who control the means of (dissemination of) intellectual production want to shut down the seditious bloggers. After all, given free access to an audience, unfiltered, people might say objectionable things! We can’t have that! (Maybe I should change my nom de web from ‘Dean Dad’ to ‘Publius,’ or ‘Federal Farmer.’ Nah.)

Free speech is under enough assault from the Patriot Act as it is; we certainly don’t need to give the movement the intellectual cover of academia. In fact, if academia loses free speech, it loses its uniqueness and becomes simply a really low-paid P.R. firm for the existing order. No thanks.

I blog anonymously to protect the innocent, not out of guilt or shame. Around family, I brag about blogging a great deal. It has allowed me to develop (in bite-size chunks) a more nuanced sense of the academy and my own position in it, and has put me in touch with some extraordinary people. (I'd hire Bitch, Ph.D. in a minute, if I knew who she was...) If some nobody who doesn’t understand the Constitution objects to that, well, that’s really their problem.

Blog On!