Friday, May 30, 2008

Why I Blog

Assistant Village Idiot, whose blog I read daily, explains his impetus:
While I hope to persuade, I mostly blog for the permanent record and the I-told-you-so's later.

And also, two of my four sons read my blog, so it gives me a chance to keep influencing -- uh, keeping in touch with them.
With no children to sway, here's why I blog:
  • Practice: Good writing is the accomplishment I'm most proud of--because I largely learned it on my own. Incredibly, despite 12 years of public schooling and three years each as an undergrad and in law school, I almost never wrote and never learned how. After my first year as a professional, poor writing skills nearly got me fired. A friend who knew me at the time remembers I was terrible--I couldn't write clearly because I couldn't think clearly.

    Daily practice -- for one three-month period in 1985, I wrote 20 pages a day -- helped. But beginning again to read helped more. I started to imitate better writers, and before long began understanding points of grammar and sentence construction I had slept through in elementary school.

    I'll never write fiction, but I was surprised at how easy analytical writing, and syllogistic thinking, was. I also discovered that good writing demands insight into what the audience needs; partly by virtue of my incomplete training in economics and engineering, I could anticipate this better than most.

    I started my blog when my job began to demand more editing and less original drafting. So the primary reason I blog is to practice. I still can't spell. Fortunately, Bill Gates can.

  • Storage: I don't fully deploy audience sensitivity when blogging; ├╝ber-citation is off-putting to many. And it's why my posts often require 5 hours to finish.

    But, like AVI, I intend NOfP to double as my database for political debates. It does this, nicely.

  • Preacher: I admit to a need to debate and persuade. AVI shares this passion, but has--good naturedly--mocked my motivation:
    Carl, like many reasonable people, keeps hoping he can shame progressives into actual discourse. He thinks that will give some advantage to his crafted arguments that take observable facts into account.
    He's right that I deeply resent a common attitude of the other side: "dictating outcomes without bothering to persuade or put it to a vote."

    So I don't fool myself that NOfP persuades. That won't stop me preaching from the pulpit of logical and linked policy debates. And saying "I-told-you-so."

    And--oh yeah--discourse both supplies insights to me and has persuaded me to change my mind. For example, I now believe the earth has warmed--though not necessarily by the acts of man, nor not necessarily dangerously. Does the other side alter their views?
Conclusion: Blogging's not forever; I don't know how long I'll last. But, for the moment, I blog when I have the time--and I reason, write and publish because I can.


Anonymous said...

Does blogging diminish the total real money income of professional writers?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

About as much as personal singing deprives professional musicians.

Anonymous said...

So you believe that reading on the internet does not affect sales of newspapers, for example, assistant village idiot? Perhaps you are well-named.

Iowa_John said...

I'll hope that you stay-I really enjoy the blog.

Anonymous said...

It is a wonderful blog, but I am concerned about the ability of professional writers to earn enough money income to stay alive.

Maybe that's why they started the National Writers Union and all those other writers unions.

It is interesting that this male designed and male dominated society has figured out ways to provide stable money income to people willing to carry guns and kill strangers, while simultaneously allowing creative people such as writers to struggle in poverty, insecurity and general hardship.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

No, anonymous, I understood what you were driving at quite well. Rather than just running by, you might pause and think. I provided you with the opportunity.

The internet is absolutely affecting the newspapers, and I couldn't be happier. As the free content is as good or better than the paid content - see, for example, our host's entries over the months - that is as it should be. I see no need to artificially encourage a caste of professional writers who provide no better service than the people can do for themselves. For those who can, there is not only a remaining market, but an expanded one.

More people make a living now in music than during the days when each town had its own fiddler for the Saturday-night dance - because that fiddler only made the occasional dollar on his skills. It is true that a change in markets hurts some people badly. There are concert-level pianists who are just short of the top rung in talent or style who scrape by, or sell their wares for a pittance compared to those who are only slightly better but have recording contracts. So too with writers. But this was always the case. How many novelists supported themselves only by writing in the 20's or the 50's?

As online learning becomes more common, so too with academics. As supermarkets came into being, so too with candy stores.

As to NOfP, Carl, when you get beaten down, you can update older posts, many of which are worth rereading. You likely have a 50% turnover in readership over a year, and the rest of us could use the reminder.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anon - again. I was a theater major in an earlier incarnation and am fully familiar with the whine of the Arts & Humanities Tribe, so deeply resentful that other, inferior people get more money and status than they do for the services they provide. The first response is usually to denigrate the worth of what those others do. I will guess you look down on business as well.

OBloodyHell said...

> It is interesting that this male designed and male dominated society has figured out ways to provide stable money income to people willing to carry guns and kill strangers, while simultaneously allowing creative people such as writers to struggle in poverty, insecurity and general hardship.


Oh, my. Never learned critical thinking skills, have we?

a) If you need so many loaded, objective-driven terms to START your thoughts to people, then you likely don't have any actual CONTENT to offer in them, much less actual factual basis to argue them from.

b) When you feel the need to START your thoughts with such off-putting crap (since it clearly marks your entire agenda up-front rather than taking the time to convince us that your AGENDA has any rational basis) you essentially write yourself off from the start -- no one who doesn't already swallow your agenda completely will bother to take you seriously, and anyone who does swallow your agenda has nothing to "learn" from you. While no doubt this helps support your fragile ego greatly, it's a false support. You get to simply write off anyone who disagrees with you as a "male chauvinist pig" (or worse) and it means you never have to actually defend your views, which, if you actually learn to do it, is a much more robust support for your ego. Yeah, as a concept, that's "male designed and male dominated". But it's got centuries of real-world testing to mark its effectiveness in relating to and solving Real World problems. The goal isn't to make anyone feel better about themselves, it's to actually produce workable solutions to actual problems. Making someone feel better (by providing a sense of real accomplishment when the solution actually works in the objective Real World) is incidental to the techniques involved.

Regarding your treatise, however (for my own reasons):

1) Real writers don't need a "union", especially in modern times. There is a vast array of outlets for writing of all sorts, via the internet, as well as specialty magazines and papers. This neutralizes the centralized control of systems like Hearst, Time/Life and the NYT, etc., over the mechanisms of distribution, which were the original reason behind writers' unions. The biggest trick nowadays is the same one it's always been in "inventing" -- how to get people to take the time to look at YOUR "mousetrap" long enough to see how much better it is (the old saw about building a better mousetrap is a crock -- getting people to know your mousetrap is the best is the biggest hurdle, and where marketing talent comes in -- look how well Microsoft, with an inarguably lame excuse for an Operating System, has done -- by marketing it far better than any other company)

2) Making a living doing this isn't trivial, yet, for the simple reason that we have not switched away from the older, now-idiotic historical "package control" system of copyright. This system needs to become
a) more inherent(rewards based on general social interest in one's creations, not as a result of gaining access to one's creations -- a simplistically trivial concept of this would be to be paid a penny for a search engine hit on your works -- develop that concept extensively)


b) to abandon the notion of control (copyright=reward, not copyright=control) over one's works. This system cannot be maintained in the internet environment, nor is it desirable in an IP and Services based economic system. The real value of an idea comes not just from what YOU did with it, but also from what OTHERS can do with it. Currently this is limited to the vision of the creator and their assigned decisionmakers by copyright-as-control. There is far more value, for example, in Harry Potter than the current system has taken out of it -- because there are a lot of good, interesting stories out there which someone could write in a "shared universe" context... and which the public might be receptive to -- but which the vision of those decisionmakers is too limited to realize. The original creators certainly deserve a "piece of the action" -- but when you give them go/nogo powers, they miss a lot that society might deem fully workable. So value -- wealth -- does not occur because the system is too rigid to let the society decide what it likes and doesn't like. Instead it instills the creators with -- yeah, at its heart -- censorship powers over its own creation. And while this does not actually stop the ideas from being created and distributed (unauthorized fanfic is everywhere to be found), it does stop society from taking the wealth out of it, for little sense. Because the current system does not allow for the creators to "get their cut", it does do an effective job of making sure that anyone with scruples can't add any wealth to the system (commercial pirates, lacking any scruples, can always manage)

The basis for the above comments can be argued but I'd suggest you first read J.P. Barlow's long but excellent article
The Economy of Ideas: A framework for patents and copyrights in the Digital Age. (Everything you know about intellectual property is wrong.)
Barlow doesn't talk through his hat -- the notions he promotes, as a band member of The Grateful Dead, made him millions as an IP creator. So he does not talk pie-in-the-sky, he speaks from working experience

Anyone who wants to see the future of IP in the world needs to read that and understand it, along with one other brief, supporting concept:

Censorship is about governmental control of access to an idea: "This we deem dangerous, therefore you may not have access to it".

Copyright is about creator control of access to an idea: "This you have not paid me for, therefore you may not have access to it".

Both are about controlling access.

So: If it is a truism that "The internet treats censorship as noise, and routes around it", then what does this say about copyright-as-control?

Right -- the internet treats copyright-as-control as noise and routes around it.

-- All the efforts of the RIAA and the MPAA have done is to create mechanisms -- new technniques for distributing, methods of avoidance of detection, and general minor headaches -- for people who don't wish to pay the exhorbitant add-on charges which the RIAA and MPAA middlemen want to tack onto accessing ideas -- books, music, and movies (Most creators themselves have found that people will generally pay THEM for access to their creations -- and this is in a society with NO real background encouraging such as a civic obligation).

In shorts, they have done little to stunt piracy while making it far more subtle and difficult to catch. Trust me, the same thing happened to the software industry back in the 80s -- they went through this crap 20+ years before -- and the pirates basically won. The middlemen lost the most, because you can't run a centralized software ownership, successfully -- there is no real equivalent to the RIAA and MPAA because power never gravitated upward. The creators lost, too, mostly because the system did not change to a reward-inherent system, but that time is passing, since what is really required is a complete overhaul of the copyright system itself. Eventually, the RIAA dn MPAA will get new blood in who grasp that the current system does not work for anyone, and that will open them up to new ideas.

I do predict that there will be few that get obscenely rich in an IP&Services economy (there will still be the Oprahs, The Rowlings, the Gates, and the Buffets, mind you). I'd also predict that you will find yourself less able to rest on your merits ("what have you done for us lately?") in the IP&S Economy. But there will be plenty of wealth. And freedom is inherent in an IP&SE -- true creativity is a direct product of freedom, so to maximize creativity (and thus wealth creation) you must maximize freedom within the bounds of the smooth operation of a society.

OBloodyHell said...

> It is interesting that this male designed and male dominated society has figured out ways to provide stable money income to people willing to carry guns and kill strangers, while simultaneously allowing creative people such as writers to struggle in poverty, insecurity and general hardship.

BTW, for the fun of it, let's deconstruct this:

a) "Male Designed" -- since you obviously have not figured it out, females are the primary beneficiary of modern society -- While males can walk into a restroom and take a pee without worrying overmuch of being jumped from behind by a tiger or a tribal enemy, that pales behind the benefits received by women, which include a massively reduced chance of dying in childbirth, a far greater chance of said children surviving to adulthood, far less mindless drudgery, a much greater lifespan, and a wide swath of women whose greatest question in life is to shop at Bloomies or Macy's. Women also have far more control over their lives, such as what career to take, what husband to marry, and how to spend money they've earned. So it seems rather strange that most of the benefits of this "male designed" society tremendously benefit women. You apparently are either absurdly wrong or need to be incredibly grateful that men have been so astoundingly charitable towards women's needs and interests over their own.

The femino-centric myth of a frontier town with no men, only women, is exactly that. Pre-industrial societies are muscle based -- and women, pretty reliably, cannot begin to compete with men in this category -- Cory Everson could not hope to Match Arnold Schwartzenegger. The average American male in his 20s or 30s could, with decent effort, best Everson inside of a year or two. Most women stop building muscle at fourteen. Men continue to build muscle into their 20s. Any society which is highly dependent on physical might, women will fail at without men.

This is not to say that women are less than men by any means -- only that the feminist notion of women not needing men is a fantasy which can only be attained with men to build the underlying structure in the first place.

Society is not designed to have males dominant -- it is designed so that women have roles and men have roles. That our modern technological construct renders many of these roles no longer critical or important is beside the point. Changing the roles to match the current and future needs, while not ignoring those needs, is neither simple nor trivial.

You do not alter a social structure which has been developed over thousands of years by fiat -- not the least of which is by a fiat unbounded by a critical understanding of the purposes of those roles -- that way lies danger, since you are liable to throw out important roles without grasping how or why they are important (as an example, it's becoming increasingly visible the problems of a culture which has radically denigrated the value and significance of the father -- the paternal influence -- in the psycho-social development of children). The baby gets thrown out with the bathwater.

b) "Male Dominated" -- Oh, boy. I'm certain you drink the absurdist Koolaid about women earning 70 cents for every dollar men earn, etc., never asking yourself obvious questions, like, "If this is true, then some WOMAN should be able to create a company of all women, and, with an inherent cost advantage of 30%, kick the ass of any other company out there doing the same work." Since this doesn't seem to have happened, either it's a complete crock, or, as happens to be the case, there are other complex factors at work -- such as the fact that men as a group work longer hours (give up more of their family time), take less desirable jobs (more dangerous jobs, take jobs in distant, less desirable places, etc.), and so on.

A casual review of the Jobs Rated Almanac shows that the bottom 25% of jobs tend to be "male-dominated". For more on this, I'd strongly recommend you read
Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap -- and What Women Can Do About It by Warren Farrell.
Dr. Farrell is, yes, a male, but he is also a former member of the board of directors for the NYC chapter of NOW -- so he's not exactly without feminist chops. His wife is an independent business woman, and in the introduction he discusses some of the hidden issues behind pay disparity from her point of view, as well as how he reached his own position on it.

Another related matter on "male domination" is that the vast majority of money men make is not spent by them on their things, but by their wives and children. The question Farrell asks, in another book of his: "Is money you earn which others spend really power?"

As a final challenge to this notion, I'd point out that, as is readily verifiable by statistics -- well over 50% of the wealth of this nation is in the hands of elderly matriarchs -- that is, women who have inherited the wealth that their husbands built in businesses. If this is so (and you can go hunt up stats to refute it, if you choose, since you obviously would not trust any I provide), then one has to ask:
Why are men still "dominating"? Why aren't more women running these companies, if women have so much control over them via their stock ownership, etc.? Do these women somehow think that men do a better job? If so: Why?

c) "stable money income to people willing to carry guns and kill strangers while simultaneously allowing creative people such as writers to struggle in poverty, insecurity and general hardship".

Geez. In case you hadn't figured it out, "people willing to carry guns and kill strangers" are generally getting shot at by those same strangers. This means there is a strong element of risk involved.

What's the greatest risk a writer encounters in the pursuit of their profession? Writers' cramp? Carpal-tunnel syndrome? Writers' block? Not my idea of life-threatening.

And this is what's relevant: if the job is more dangerous, more difficult to perform, it usually pays better.

More subtly: The more difficult it is to get someone to DO that job, the more it pays.

If everyone CAN do it, and there is no shortage of people willing TO do it, it pays crap.

If either of those things gets restricted, the price hikes up:
a) If there are fewer people able to do it (it requires special training, or a special ability, or experience), then the price goes UP.
b) If fewer people are willing TO do it (it means living in Alaska, or means risking your life patrolling Mosul, or is disgusting and onerous, like cleaning septic tanks) then the price goes UP.

Writing does not pay particularly well (but sometimes pays spectacularly well -- see J.K. Rowling) because it fails both those tests:
1) It's not particularly onerous
2) At a basic level, almost anyone can learn to do it

The reason it sometimes does pay well is because doing it WELL involves:
1) special training (to write on a particular topic)
2) special ability (see Rowling, again)
3) experience (to learn what people like to read both in subject and format)

In short, while everyone can write, not everyone does so WELL, which is why incomes vary so widely. Being a "struggling writer" is no different than anything else. If you wanted a steady job, you should have picked another thing, that you were better at in the first place. If you're struggling, more than likely you aren't yet that good at it, if you ever will be.

Either you're picking topics
1) that no one else is interested in (hence no one wants to read)
2) that you don't know anything about (and people can tell this, hence no one wants to read what you're writing)

or you're writing badly because
1) You just can't write well, period, because you don't think very clearly
2) You haven't learned to frame those thoughts in such a way that others can see their appeal.

Both of these tie to ability and experience. Hence the fact that there are lots of "struggling" writers. Until you get that ability and experience (if you ever do) you aren't going to have any success.

Robert Heinlein, probably the most popular, influential SF author of all time, had this to say:

Five rules for success in writing:
. First: You must WRITE.
. Second: You must FINISH what you write.
. Third: You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial edict.
. Fourth: You must place it on the market.
. Fifth: You must KEEP it on the market until it is sold.

He said these things despite the fact that he was someone whose name gave him the ability to publish a grocery list, if he chose. A key event in his life was when one of his novels (Starship Troopers) was rejected by Scribner & Sons, which broke a contract he had with them and freed him up to spend more time writing mature, adult-oriented novels. One result was Stranger In A Strange Land, one of the best SF novels of all time.

OBloodyHell said...

Carl, AVI:

I'd also argue that, by writing down your arguments, and by doing so publicly (thus exposing them to "assault" by others), you also perform the all-important function of the "Reality Check", in two ways:

1) You are forced to structure your reasoning to produce your viewpoint. That structure is thus checked by you as well as other readers

2) Your various points are validated for continued relevance and veracity. This can have an effect not only on the specific idea, but also may tie into other, wholly unrelated ideas. The usage of Stranger in a Strange Land as a reference above led me on a contorted tramp royale through Wiki to this wholly unrelated piece about Eskimos and Snow.

In general, basis ideas for a concept can, and do, change in validity with time, either through new information or simply the expiry of old information. Your constructions, however, do not have an inherent mechanism for backdating such invalidations, so, on occasion, it pays to re-examine them, and to have others re-examine them, for validity. By citing them out for all to see, you get an opportunity to verify the basics on which you've constructed your viewpoint.

Both provide an always useful Reality Check as to your ideas, viewpoints, positions and concepts.