Blog: A freedom worth fighting for

Posted: January 06, 2005

When a word is new, it is rich with meaning, capable of helping your mind gravitate toward something real. But meanings also decay.

The thinking that a word occasions is the meaning of that word. So meanings are messy, shifting, volatile, pointed or dull, gathering or dissolving. Let's think along these lines about one of our most fashionable words ("blog") and one of our most venerable ("freedom").

People still occasionally ask me what a blog is, meaning that they want a simple definition of the word, which was apparently the most looked-up term of 2004. It means Web log, which, in turn, is nothing but a frequently updated Web site in diary form.

Though blogs are used for many purposes, they are, among other things, a transformation of the business of political commentary.

First of all, a blog is unedited. Hence, it frees the voice to find itself.

A newspaper, for example, is a series of layers or checks. That makes the writing in it more authoritative and responsible, but also less pointed or interesting, though different people can get away with different things in a newspaper, depending on their prestige. But to be placed in a position to write for an institution, you must already have learned to write in the way the institution demands. And the more you write, the more its standards and yours merge.

In other words, in the long run, the words you read in a newspaper merge toward homogeneity.

There are exactly two political orientations available on CNN: that of "Republican consultants" and "Democratic consultants." Through the blogosphere swirl thousands of points of view.

A blog is much rawer, faster, rougher, truer (sometimes) and more interesting than the more traditional forms of commentary. It is also more problematic and less responsible. It is, in its essence, unchecked.

That's why the blogs produced by various mainstream newspapers or magazines are mere simulations. The New York Times, by definition, cannot publish a blog.

The second essential feature of the blog is that it is a node in a more or less infinite network. The blog is extremely linked; at its best, every assertion is clickable to take you somewhere else, and there is hence a route from every entry to any other site anywhere on the Web.

Anyway, the blog revives an institutionalized and hence dying culture of commentary. In a small but significant way, it frees the act of writing and of reading.

"Freedom" is, of course, the term on which the founding fathers of this republic staked their lives and sacred honors. But it has degenerated first to the status of a dogma, then to a nonsense term - like baby talk or the squawk of a starling - and then into a hideous leering parody of truth and meaning.

In the mouth of George Bush, "freedom" is a religious category, given by the Christian God and denied by the Muslim, something that we will visit upon your cities in a rain of fire. To the technocratic wing of the party, "freedom" is corporate tax breaks and no-bid contracts, or immediate transition from official to lobbyist and vice versa.

At any rate, I used to think freedom was the only thing real in the political realm, the only thing worth fighting for. Now it's just a mental illness.

The point is to seize it back from the theocrats, the bureaucrats and the totalitarians, from Bush, from Vice President Cheney, from White House legal counsel and Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales and, what the hell, from Sens. John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, for whom it is also a mere place holder for a (slightly different) agenda of oppression.

A blog is a flimsy, ephemeral thing with which to do that; it's not a Molotov cocktail or a militia. But it's something.

Crispin Sartwell teaches political science at Dickinson College in Carlisle.

Contact Crispin Sartwell at

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