Monday, 23 September 2013

Priest or Street Preacher? The writer and his audience


When I write I have in mind some kind of audience - and to be bothered to write I have to have some kind of audience in mind.

The ideal for a writer is to have an audience who wants to read him and who will - on the whole, on average - benefit from reading him (it would be horrible for a writer to know that he was damaging his audience - feeding parasitically upon their attention - although this is in fact the situation for most mainstream writers).

So there is first the matter of finding someone, enough someones, to make writing worthwhile.

This is not easy - but the number of people need not be very great for this to be the case.

What is much harder is that the non-fiction writer needs (I think) to feel some kind of priestly vocation - that he is speaking on behalf of an audience - so that the writer in a sense serves the readership.

In Christian and religious Right wing writing, this can be seen as the sense of speaking on behalf of a community; articulating, clarifying, encouraging that community.

But what if the writer does not have a community, or realizes that the community he supposed he was speaking on behalf of is a figment of his imagination?

Well, that has been my situation, incrementally, over a period of about 25 years of writing this kind of 'journalism' - a process of this imagined community shrinking stepwise until it has altogether disappeared.

Shrinking from a time when I wrote on behalf of The Medical Profession (in big circulation medical magazines), and Scientists (ditto for scientific mags), and Sensible British People (writing for national newspapers) - and then recognizing the illusory nature of what I was doing, and trying to focus on smaller and smaller but real audiences.

For instance there was a brief phase when I wrote articles in Church of England newspapers - with the notion I might speak for an audience there, before realizing that there was - essentially - none.

I also had a notion of being a Mere Christian voice, speaking for a common interest among Christians (at least, among the kind of Christians I respected) but that turned out to be another illusions since such people don't exist (don't exist, that is, from my perspective).

Blogging, by comparison, is like being a crazy street preacher - standing up and shouting personal opinions into a crowd of passing shoppers who are variously annoyed, pitying or - at best - mildly curious.

The relationship between writer and audience has not so much broken down (because it never was there) but stands revealed as one individual trying to harangue other individuals in a noisy marketplace.



The Crow said...

Yes. That's about right.
It takes a keen eye to recognize it.
Does your humility good, though, doesn't it :)

Anti-Democracy Activist said...

To quote from a recent column by the indispensable Fred Reed:

"No paper on the planet would publish Fred on Everything, which means that it has no organized competition. Yet I have far more circulation than I did in what I once thought of as serious journalism. And this is why you can find better, more expert, and more thoughtful commentary online than in the (as we say) Major Media.

And of course micropublications can afford to be as specialized as they choose in point of view, subject matter, and level of intelligence. A micropub doesn't have to sacrifice quality of content to maximization of circulation to keep advertisers happy.

And so the bright drift to the web, leaving newspapers to clippers of grocery coupons and television to the semiliterate and below. It isn't universal, but it is the trend line. The majors have a product with all the flavor of wallpaper paste and, now, a busted monopoly. Any mutt in Mexico with a computer and time on his hands can play Clark Kent, and it really is the Daily Planet since that's where people can read his outflow. My oh my."

Back when the leftmedia had a stranglehold on essentially all of the available means of communicating with a larger group of people than one could communicate with by standing on a stepstool in a public park, ideas and opinions that they didn't deem to be within the realm of acceptable discourse simply didn't get out there. And that realm was very, very narrow indeed - especially if one was on the right.

Without the internet, I would almost certainly never know about the existence of, much less have had the chance to hear the ideas of, people of all sorts of views outside of the narrow mainstream - people like Fred Reed, John Derbyshire, Lew Rockwell, William S. Lind, Vox Day, Dan Carlin, Jim Kunstler, Scott Horton, Gary Brecher, Steve Sailer, Pepe Escobar, Lawrence Vance, or even one Bruce Charlton. The internet, which acts as a globalized delivery service for samizdat of every kind, has made their thoughts available to me.

Does that mean that the internet gets crowded and chaotic sometimes? That one often has to avoid crazies, and to convince the world that one is not one of the crazies oneself? Yes. But that's a far better option than what what existed before. Claiming a position as gatekeeper and then using it to shut out opposition (either entirely, or outside of a narrow approved range) is the oldest trick in the left's book - see the state of academia and Hollywood for that. Yes, the gatekeepers kept the crazies out, but they also kept out a lot of people who weren't crazy but who just had views that the gatekeepers didn't like.

We can't be such "conservatives" that we fall into the trap of glamorizing everything about the "good old days". Neither should we compare what we've got to an ideal, instead of to the alternatives actually available. There's not much in the world that's better now than it was 25 years ago, but this is one of the exceptions. When speaking of changes to the media landscape over that time, the good has definitely outweighed the bad.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ADA - There is no doubt at all that the internet is very strongly secular Leftist hedonic in its overall effect - the world has gone a *long* way further left since the internet.

All you are talking about is tiny and diminishing counter-currents (and most of those you mention are secular hedonic - hence pro-modern - and anti-Christian).

Not talking about glamourizing the old days (they don't seem very long ago to me!) - just being realistic: political correctness/ new Leftism is a child of the mass media (including the internet) - every increase in the mass media strengthens the Left (overall) - and if the mass media dwindles, so will the secular hedonic Left.

(Losing a few favourite blogs would be a very small price to pay!)

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

Diogenes is still remembered.

Jonathan C said...

Me! In my solipsistic imagination, you are writing the blog for my benefit. And you are doing a very good job of writing on my behalf, albeit a much better job of writing on behalf of me-after-reading-Charlton than me-before-reading-Charlton, so often do you reorient the way I see reality. So, thanks.

But what are you saying when you say "such people [mere Christians] don't exist"?

Also, what made you realize that Sensible British People don't exist? They may not be in the media themselves, but couldn't they still be reading?

Bruce Charlton said...

@TDT - yes, nihilistic cynics can do this - Diogenes, Nietzsche, Mencken... but I don't want to be like them!

@JC - "But what are you saying when you say "such people [mere Christians] don't exist"?"

Not from my perspective they don't - I require that an mC regard Mormonism as probably the premier Christian denomination of our age. That seems to put me in a minority of one.

There aren't any sensible British people - at best there are a small number of 'maybe-potentially-sensible' Brits.

Alex said...

Institutionalized Leftism by definition penetrates and and dominates almost all intellectual activity. Dissident bloggers ("street preachers" is a good description of them) are fairly plentiful, but of course they attract only a small number of readers and an even smaller number of correspondents. They inflict very little if any damage on Leviathan. In terms of fighting a rearguard action against Leftism, they are quite useless, I believe.

My reason for saying dissident blogs are useless is because I suspect that most readers of them (like myself) expect to have their prejudices confirmed rather than their understandings enlarged by blog owners - no matter how clever. Nor do I feel any sense of "community" with the other clients of the blogs that I "visit".

As a collector of insights - if they can be found - I live in hope at this and at other commentaries on the insolence of political correctness and the moral decay of our age.

syz said...

"but there were a few, a very few, which were actually important; or perhaps a better word is significant. They might have been very useful to certain people at certain points in their lives, if only they had known about them, if only they had been interested enough to find them…"

What if Scribble had not written down his notes?

Are you trying to quit again? As a good lurker, I supported your work via comment a while back (a year?) when this happened. I can't even find the link now, alas.

Maybe there are too few others who do support Miscellany, to your reckoning, to keep it going day by day. But that seems hard to believe. I do hope you'll continue. It is solely due to Miscellany that I have been re-exposed to Christianity in my adult life. Add to that discussions of Radical free will, benefit-of-the-doubt Mormonism, the separation of monotheism from Christianity...

That I rely on Miscellany as a starting point for much of my philosophical and religious exploration may prove nothing except that I am a product of my ignorant and anti-Christian times, but I hope that it is also an argument for you continuing your sometimes-lonely work.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alex - I think you are saying, in a roundabout way, that you want to be on the winning side; and are not interested in wasting time on losers.

But in stating that there is no 'audience' for this blog, but instead a collection of widely flung and disparate individuals with a wide range of agendas different from my own - I'm not saying that I want to be a winner (I know what I would do if I wanted to be a winner - and it wouldn't involve being either a Leftist or a Christian) - I am saying something a lot *less* than that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@syz - No, I'm not trying to quit. Blog readership (or, at least, views) is higher than it has ever been. This posting is an example of me thinking aloud, taking stock, trying to make a realistic appraisal of the current state of play, and what to do next. Fact is, I have no idea about strategy - I don't even know what I will do tomorrow morning at 05.30 when I will (if spared) sit down to write the day's post...

Wm Jas said...

I know what I would do if I wanted to be a winner - and it wouldn't involve being either a Leftist or a Christian

Now I'm curious. Why wouldn't it involve being a Leftist? They're the ones that always win these days, aren't they?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I was assuming a long term international perspective on winning:

The Crow said...

"Fact is, I have no idea about strategy - I don't even know what I will do tomorrow morning at 05.30..."

That is a state I know well. In fact, I know of no other.
I was feeding my rabbit, this morning, and noticing how it is unable, ever, to plan, plot, or manipulate to obtain a specific result. It just is what it is, and does what it does.
Many would see such behaviour as unsophisticated or stupid, but perhaps it is closer to being wisdom, the most effective way of living, in an unlikely package.

Adam G. said...

I am probably not a mere Christian in your sense, but I get a lot of value out of your writing.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - See my comment @JC above - presumably that means you?

BTW thanks to JG, syz, and AG for saying nice things about the blog (hangs head, shuffles feet...)

Anti-Democracy Activist said...


"There is no doubt at all that the internet is very strongly secular Leftist hedonic in its overall effect - the world has gone a *long* way further left since the internet."

Correlation, yes. But I don't see causation. The world has gone a long way further left since GPS became available, since plastics became commonly used, and since the invention of the automotive airbag, too.

Causation would imply that we wouldn't be basically right where we are anyway if the tools of media had remained what they were in 1990 - television, movies, newspapers, magazines, radio, and traditional publishing (we might even include classrooms on this list). The left had then - and still has now - a near-absolute veto power on what appears in these media. The idea that the left would somehow be hindered if things had continued that way is something that I simply don't buy.

In an environment in which evil has a monopoly on something, anything which breaks up that monopoly aids the cause of good. If it's chaotic, well, then that's the price you pay. When you knock down the temple of Baal, it makes a big messy pile of rubble.

If you'd like to say that mass media in general is a negative thing for tradition and faith, then I wholeheartedly agree with you. But to single out the internet seems wrongheaded. In terms of the media scene, things may be worse than they were in 1840, but they're better than they were in 1990.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ADA - I've argued this in the past - for example in the sections on the mass media in the book Thought Prison (see link in sidebar on the left) - you may not be convinced by these arguments of causality, but they do exist.

Nick D. said...

Mr. Charlton,

Your blog is precious to me. It's got a sacred place in my bookmarks. Mustard seeds mustard seeds! I remember following one of your links to Seraphim Rose and reading "Nihilism"... You're not a street preacher... You're Bruce Charlton, greatly respected, much beloved. Thank you for all the hard and good and steady work.

Wm Jas said...

Well, yes, but you can't really help being a Westerner, can you? It would be difficult or impossible to become a fully naturalized member of any of those demographically ascendant civilizations. And anyway, surrendering to an enemy is not what most people mean by "winning."

By the way, I suppose it should go without saying, but I, too, find your blog extremely valuable despite not being a "mere Christian" (more of a mere non-nihilist -- "aliquidist"?). Perhaps your role is to be a teacher, not a mere spokesman for people who already share your ideas. Not a priest or a street preacher, but a missionary.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Interesting points - but the role of teacher or missionary is usually an 'on behalf of' role - a teacher in the context of an institution and educational system; a missionary on behalf of a specific church (of which the missionary is a member).

If I am anything coherent (and that is debatable) it would have to be some kind of 'mere' Christian missionary, on behalf not of an institution but a few simple ideas; and myself stuck in that phase, but hoping and intending that others will go-on to join a denomination and progress further in their faith than I have.

Alex said...

In reply to Bruce - about my wanting to be on the "winning side".

If this were the case, I would be a dyed-in-the-wool Lefty. They're winning the battle for hearts and minds - if I may resort to cliché.

I think I can honestly say I've been on the "right" of the political spectrum all my adult life. And I still entertain the futile hope that the moral decline of our society might be reversed; but I don't know how.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alex - Obviously, I was poking you with a sharp stick to try and make you re-examine some of your assumptions!

Leftism is not winning, unless you accept that re-labelling long-term decline and multiple defeats and U-turns and chaos as victory is legitimate.

'Opposition' is winning, evil is winning; Leftist victory is not real victory but merely destruction relabelled.