Swimming Against the Stream

Rules of Engagement

No, this isn’t going to be a discussion of military tactics. Rather, the need for real human engagement is pressing down on me. And if these disembodied words floating through the ether are going to have any effect we need to do something to prevent them from being trampled in the dust. So it occurs to me before I start writing on whatever subjects call to my attention that I need to set forth some guidelines as to what this is and is not.

First of all, I am not writing the kinds of things I could write on Facebook, Myspace, etc. I won’t be commenting on what I had for breakfast, whether it’s a sunny day, diary entries, why I can’t find work or whom you should vote for in the coming (or passing) elections. The social networking sites live and breathe this stuff. While it’s nice to keep, perhaps, a digital finger in someone else’s pie I don’t find a need to do that over and over in every format.

What I do find a need for, desperately so, is a place to share thoughts that have some measure of substance. And to receive feedback in a like manner. I’ve often been asked, reminded, cajoled, commanded to get some of my observations down in some form other than passing conversations. I guess I’m finally listening. Of course, that assumes that I have something worth hearing. If I do, and I’m gambling that something I have is worth reading, that this isn’t a waste of time… And if I do, then I have to find a way to get past the limitations of this medium, which are manifold.

The first problem I encounter is that either we often only exchange positive platitudes or enraged polarization. On the platitudinal level see Facebook. I’ve got 300-ish “friends” from all manner of my past and a few I’ve never met. So I have friends from my days living in Christian communes in the 70’s and also from my days submerged in the countercultural worlds of New York City in the 80’s and 90’s. All of these are mingled with various stripes of erstwhile and permanent Alaskans. Apart from their basic humanity what do all these people share in common? Not a whole lot. I’ve got Tea Party folk and performance artists, Christian scholars and fishermen. I’ve got the politically correct, both left and right variations, and politically incorrect, again across the spectrum. So what do I write as headlines that will actually communicate something?

But that’s another problem in itself: Headlines and Captions. It is clear to me that more and more people spend more and more time within their virtual social districts. I know I’ve had people reject invitations for physical human interaction that probably went home and spent time with their “friends”. How many times have you had real life human conversations interrupted by cellphones, text messages, even that strange squirming anxiety, which comes from the suspicion that someone somewhere out there might be trying locate you? I’ve felt it myself. It seems sometimes that our lives have been reduced to headlines and captions and no content. Are people still seriously writing diaries? Or does online time eat up the individual self?

The Loss of the Creature (with apologies to Walker Percy)

Next issue: So who is going to even read this? I’ve already broken the first rule of Internet writing by making my paragraphs too long. And I’m sure I’m going to break several more. The second one is to convey a sense of what my perspective is, knowing that it is best classified as “none of the above”. First of all I am a Christian. Second of all I am deeply suspicious of the Right Wing and commercialized variants of contemporary Christianity. Third, the Left Wing styles leave me just as cold. What does all of that mean? Well that’s a lot longer of a discussion than I should indulge in at this moment.

Add to that the following: I am deeply involved with many of the countercultural movements of the last 100 years: Expressionism, Surrealism, Hippies, Punks, Alternative Culture, etc, etc. And at the same time I mourn the loss of the old classic Western Culture. How do I reconcile these two opposing directions? You’ll have to keep come back for more to find out. And there are many other seeming contradictions to contend with: city/country, American/European, rules/freedom, faith/science, etc. All of which give me ample subjects to opine upon.

So, my rules? Subject-wise, the road might go anywhere. But it will never be the kinds of things best expressed in social networking. I have no political ax to grind. But I do have opinions that range from left to right, from monarchy to anarchy, from conservative to radical. But I don’t believe in rants, another Internet specialty. I do believe in reasoned, measured and passionate discussion.

Who am I writing this for? People who are thoughtful and are still willing to read. And it is quite clear that this number is being thinned daily. I don’t actually care whether they are Christian or not, as long as they find the subject interesting. And I will be allowing myself to discuss films, music, social events and conditioning, technology, philosophy, theology, comedy, fashion, puppetry and anything else that I feel like, with personal asides when relevant.

As far as comments go? Well that would be wonderful. But be warned this is a real problem area! I will delete any comments, that seem to be uncivil, trollish, flame-like. Ranters take heed. Likewise I’m not too interested in pointless agreement, ala Facebook “likes”. I will be pointing back to this moment, when comments frustrate me. BUT!! Disagreement, even sharp disagreement, is fine and needed. As long as there is a willingness to discuss, debate, expose, repudiate and the like in a civil manner. And likewise agreement should be thoughtful. (Talk about swimming against the current!)

As far as why I am writing this… read Welcome to the Anadrome.

Thanks for your Time, a resource of ever increasing value.

Byrne Power
Haines, Alaska

5 responses

  1. eastofmina

    As my own blog has gone through various stages, I’ve wondered about the definition of substance.

    Is substance synonymous with length? Does a blog post need long paragraphs and many of them to make a substantive argument or raise a deep question?

    Curious as to your thoughts,


    November 30, 2010 at 9:10 AM

  2. Hey R.

    Well first of all I’d like to point out that your concise comment contains quite a bit of substance in itself. Having said that I would point out that it is a question and not an answer to a question. Questions can often be posed simply. Answers are a different issue entirely.

    Some questions can be answered briefly and be quite full in meaning. Jesus was great at that. Consider “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Concision in extremis. But doesn’t that then provoke a whole host of further discussions? And wasn’t that the point? Interestingly there are a few very short books in the Bible. But just how much treasure is there to dig from Jude or II John as opposed to Romans or Genesis?

    We live in a time where the temptation to boil everything down to the sound byte, the one sentence paragraph, to the fragment of a quote, is epidemic. I’m sure you’ve wrestled with this as you have tried to write. It seems like we are confronted with a dilemma. We can write the way people seem currently conditioned to respond. Or we can write at length to try to really unravel our thoughts and be certain that a lot of folks we know no longer have the patience to make it to the end of our essay. It’s frustrating.

    In the publishing world it’s called “white space”. Long paragraphs are not white space they are too dense. The Internet has had a strong effect upon this. They know we have become skimmers, not readers. The problem is that this issue is not only to be found on the web page, but increasingly in magazines, books, and in general conversation. I do believe that substantial ideas can be expressed in a sentence as well as a long paragraph. But often in order to truly answer a question we have to have subtlety. And one sentence has to have far less subtlety than ten. In order to turn an observation over to show it’s various facets it takes time. Look at it this way. I know you are married. What if your discussions with C. were restricted to short easily digestible conversations? What if you or he weren’t allowed to really express yourselves in depth? In the beginning of this new mode of dialogue you wouldn’t feel it too much. You would still be able to communicate. But as more and more time passes you would feel like something was radically wrong. I think that the present generation is starting to feel a societal version of this dreadful imbalance.

    So yes substance can be communicated with brevity. But if that’s mostly all we can do something real gets lost in the process.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking question. How are you seeing it these days?


    November 30, 2010 at 9:12 PM

  3. Patt Tucker King

    Byrne, I realize you wrote this quite some time ago but find myself now struggling with the issue of “enraged polarization and/or the positive platitudes” that are becoming ever more common comments to even my more innocuous postings on FB. My “friend” list is not large – mostly family, people I have known well at one time or another, and coworkers who would feel offended by my non response. I try to keep my postings focused on mostly short, personal comments about current events or interests in my life. Many formal friends are now struggling with loneliness, isolation, and life situations beyond their abilities to change. What to do when my FB posting gets highjacked by verbosity or religiousity or righteous Indignation? Do I delete the comment, the whole conversation, send a personal message stating my concerns, or just ignore knowing that soon I will inundated with cute pictures, useless information, or silly quotes? Am very much interested in your thoughts on this matter as I am getting somewhat bored (and, yes, annoyed as well) yet feel stymied at this point. I need feedback and am turning to you to provide it. Am thinking about ignoring all, have deleted some comments, did send one personal message, and yet the comments continue to go on and on. Would like to hear another perspective. Thanks.

    June 12, 2015 at 3:57 PM

  4. Thanks for writing Patt. I’m always glad when someone reads one of the older posts. And this was written so that I could always refer to it if someone was violating my ground rules.

    Fortunately through WordPress I can set the filter to allow me to approve of the post before it gets published. That is crucial to vetting the letters coming in. I really don’t mind disagreement. I do not tolerate rudeness or off topic remarks. Consequently my comments have always been pretty good. Occasionally a friend will push the line. In those few case I summarize if it is at all cogent.

    My advice is to erase all of the dreck or pointlessness and set a filter for your approval. (Once someone is approved the can then post without approval so read the comments carefully.) Good comments beget good comments. But allow a few assholes, trolls and spammers in and it’s painful for all.
    Good luck! Thanks for reading some of my ideas. And even disagreeing on occasion!

    June 12, 2015 at 6:25 PM

    • Patt Tucker King

      Appreciate your prompt response. Am thinking the crux of the matter is considering what constitutes a good response. As you so often point out, it can disagree, but there needs to be an element of thought to the disagreement rather than the immediate rebuttal to an idea simply because it’s contrary to one’s beliefs. As I observe, I cannot help but see how much easier it is to tend to one’s crystallized viewpoints and how much harder it becomes to consider, or even listen to, contrary ones. I find myself ever more vigilant ( yes, even paranoid) as I am convinced no one sets out to live such a constricted and confined life yet the evidence all around me. That old adage, with age comes wisdom, seems rather factious.

      June 18, 2015 at 7:42 AM

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