The Importance Of Wax In Your Ears: The Blawgosphere

Mike Cernovich is hanging out at my house for a week. He comes out to Connecticut from the left coast every so often to help with briefing. But the real purpose of his visit is to talk. Mike, of Crime and Federalism fame, is a young guy, but he is precocious. One might even say wise. In any case, I enjoy his company; perhaps we are simply a couple of fools, one young, one not.

Of course, we talk about the state of legal blogging. Mike was a pioneer when he created Crime and Federalism. He introduced me to the very concept of blogging. We blogged together for a while, and then drifted digitally apart. I like to think we are still fellow travelers intellectually. We're loners basically.

We had dinner the other night with the pseudonymous author of A Public Defender. Our talk there turned briefly to blogging as well. So what do bloggers talk about when they meet face to face?

First, just how odd it is to see the person behind the keyboard. There is an Oz-like quality to meeting. We can strut, preen and posture all we like from behind the screen. In real life, we stammer, stumble and show ourselves to be something less than the stylized version of reality we present to the world. Is there a lesson in this?

Probably not. The presentation of oneself is never an act of purity. Each of us plays roles in the lives of others. Each of us strives to be seen as one thing rather than another in these roles. Some seek to be seen as wise, others as intelligent, some as kind, others as bombastic. No one is merely the sum of their roles, just as no defendant in a criminal case is merely the sum of his worst moments. We are all far more complex than our stated roles. Sadly, the Internet deprives us of the benefit of complexity. Caricature, it seems, governs. Thus the toughest posture on the block is really the prelude to a kiss, and the bold exhortation to follow is really the cowering fear that the exhorter might be left behind.

I've concluded that Odysseus' command to his men to put wax in their ears as they sailed past the Sirens is apt advice even for the blawgosphere, that warren of lawyers with enough time on their hands to blog about the law. The Siren's song can enchant, but it cannot ennoble. It can only entrap and enslave.

There is a discussion of sorts filtering through the legal blogs now about young lawyers, perhaps not so playfully referred to as the slackoisie. Those older and presumably wiser cast their stones from palaces of wisdom and experience. Yet examined closely, the stones are mere pebbles, and the palaces are mere holding pens for the self-satisfied; those who might, with a parallel sense of justice, be called the smugoisie. Apparently this discussion has been going on for some time. I was snared by the rhetoric and recently looked at it. It was a trap, a Siren song of claptrap masking the oldest and most tedious game of all: a play for power in a newly formed group, this one composed of folks not gathering face to face, but pretending to share space in a virtual world in which real people rarely meet.

Everyone wants to belong. The urge is as ancient as the cave. On line we want to belong to communities of those of like minds. But every community struggles to organize itself; that is a rhythm as old as the first hunter-gatherers. As we know, every group has leaders and followers. In the online world, just as in the physical world, the struggle for dominance in part defines the behavior of the group. Settled norms make routines out of what was once the dangerous thrill of unbounded confrontation.

Group dynamics are an odd thing. I am persuaded that if ten people sit together for more than an hour, they will inevitably turn on the eleventh person to walk in. Knowing what a group opposes is sometimes as powerful, and is often more powerful, than knowing what devotion it shares to something positive. Orthodoxy is the silent catechism of the group. Orthodoxy, however, drives me crazy. I am always drawn to the eleventh man, and would rather defend the outlier than write the catechism.

Hence, the wax in my ears just now.

I signed up on Twitter a few months ago. Twitter was a revelation. I got a better look at the various Oz-figures behind the various blog pages. I didn't like what I saw. There is a meanness to some of it that stunned me. Here I thought we were people at play, flinging ideas into the void, screeching bytes into chaos, to see what would happen. Instead, there is a play for power. Folks want to be king of the electronic hill. They threaten dissidents with ridicule and electronic ostracism for breaking ranks. The Internet, it turns out, is just another school yard where the cool kids prey upon those who want to belong.

I've got my ball of wax out again, and I am plugging my ears. I don't need someone to tell me what the "real" issues are in blawging. They aren't my issues. Don't pretend to be a humble servant of genius by day and then behave like a sandlot bully by night. Be the king of your own goddamn hill, and enjoy the view. I'm just not interested in reading your agenda and calling it mine.

The Sirens are squealing on line. I miss a more innocent time, when it was enough merely to speak. Now the secret code of speech is the pursuit of recognition. It's the same old game just set in a new forum. That I could be surprised by how petty even the blawgosphere can become is a sad testament to my own need to believe and to belong. I am, perhaps, as big or bigger a fool than the fools from whom I seek to distance myself. But if you are reading this, you already knew that.

Comments: (10)

  • It appears as if I, as a newbie, have been prematu...
    It appears as if I, as a newbie, have been prematurely presumptuous and dismissive of SHG. Comments in the form of 140-character tweets have been throwing me off. They add nothing and they are distractive in my opinion. This is what Norm has been complaining about, and I believe he is correct. The essays, the blawgs themselves, can be excellent. I'm referring to his [SHG's] Can You Hear Me Now?, today, and and a link to a related essay last Jan. The discussions are lively and informative. SHG's responses are appropriate.
    So I apologize and look forward to more good work. SHG writes, "...will inevitably be the end of society's tolerance for lawyers." I say, the inevitable has arrived already. If I can see it, why cannot others? The legal profession as we know it is scarcely relevant in today's brave new world. The Supreme Court is a supreme example of how irrelevant and how out-of-step the profession can be. Stodgy and ossified, it refuses to see the handwriting on the wall, but chooses to worship a so-called golden era of the law which may never have existed and certainly does not exist today.
    That is a summation of all the previous comments I have posted here to date,... I think. I have overpersonalized my comments, I'm sorry. Forgive me as a layman not trained in the 'law'!?!
    Posted on June 15, 2010 at 6:45 am by William Doriss
  • I just lifted this off S.J yesterday: "Wouldn't a ...
    I just lifted this off S.J yesterday: "Wouldn't a true curmudgeon opt for the word that sounds like barfing and gives no clue at all as to its meaning?" This one from Good grief, we send them to Harvard and this is the best they can do?
    That Was one of about seventeen tweets on Too Cute for Words. This tweeting must indeed be infectious. These people have too much time on their hands. Don't they have something better to do, like read or write a book? I'm reading George Tenet's memoir. Not bad. He may not have a mind like a steel trap, like you wise-a$$ attorney bLAWgers, but he's not stew-pid.
    It appears as if Mirriam is now a full-fledged member of the club, after taking a drubbing on June 3. I AM paying attention. And I agree with a comment she made on or about the 3rd. ScottLaw--rhymes with scofflaw--can be (not always) 'borrr-iing'.
    This is crazy. I think some of you people are seriously unhinged. I already know you're arrrr-o-gant and conn-dee-scendd-ing! What's a sop anyway? Is that a legalism? Go sop your head in the Gulf Coast. Tell em I sent ya.
    The only conclusion I can draw is that the law business is slow these days, so you choose to amuse yourselves playing psss-eudo-mind games and strutting your psss-eudo-intellectual stuff. For the most part, I'm not imp-resssed. Why don't you slaughter your own hog, Baaad Yogi?
    Thanks Norm, for suffering me on your bLAWg.
    Posted on June 15, 2010 at 12:04 am by William Doriss
  • I have no idea why Scott Greenfield actually block...
    I have no idea why Scott Greenfield actually blocked Mr. Doriss, but I can tell you why I would have blocked him if I were SHG: His comment was composed of off topic and personal issues first, then a sop to the topic at hand, followed by more personal and off-topic stuff. Mr. Greenfield has demonstrated multiple times that he has no patience for people who wish to use his blawg as a forum for their own needs.
    Why not use your own blog, Mr Doriss?
    Posted on June 14, 2010 at 4:31 pm by The Bad Yogi
  • I am apparently blocked at Simple Justice, after j...
    I am apparently blocked at Simple Justice, after just two measeley attempts. Boy, that was fast! Talk about injustice? Whew! That was fast. Thanks ScotLaw? Ha! Wish I never knew ya.
    Don't think I'll be using your services or making any referrals any time soon. Scott may be traveling, but not far from his hi-tech gadgets.
    Not to worry. I already got a good contact off of him this afternoon: Commenter dab2, whom I have already contacted regarding a gross miscarriage of injustice in Florida against a Cape Cod man, whose case I am familiar with. Remember, the 'law' is way too important to be left in the hands of the lawyers, attorneys, state's attorneys and judges. That is where people like me enter the picture. Ha!
    Do not misunderestimate the poweer of the pen, and I'm not talkin 'maximum security'. Ha!
    Posted on June 14, 2010 at 10:50 am by William Doriss
  • SHG is currently traveling, according to his tweet...
    SHG is currently traveling, according to his tweets. There's room in the pool for all the lawyers, young and old. The ones who work hard for their clients and build their reputations day by day, who accept referrals one at a time from colleagues familiar with their work, who get referrals from satisfied clients, who exercise patience and self-discipline, who interact with and serve their peers in various associations, and who share wisdom with those who come after, will steadily rise to the top.
    Posted on June 13, 2010 at 7:04 am by Marilou
  • N:
    Well said, and of course, right. I don't find ...
    Well said, and of course, right. I don't find it repetitive. What's one more post about the "cool kids" (what is that, two now?) in the endless sea of posts about the "slackoisie" bugaboo? From my vantage point, the "cool kids" phenomenon seems far more real and detrimental to the blawgosphere than the so-called "slackoisie" phenomenon.
    Posted on June 13, 2010 at 5:52 am by John Kindley
  • I hope SHG posts Mr Doris's comment.
    I hope SHG posts Mr Doris's comment.
    Posted on June 13, 2010 at 5:09 am by Rumpole
  • Ah yes, but the State, a 'necessary fiction', is i...
    Ah yes, but the State, a 'necessary fiction', is indeed the sum of its 'worst moments', just as a chain is as strong as its weakest link. We've all heard that before, but how often do we think of it?
    And that is why the State, by Constitutional law, is not permitted to harm or deprive any citizen, unless shown to be a danger to the public-at-large 'beyond a reasonable doubt'.
    Alas, federal, state and municipal players are normally and routinely immune from accountability, liability and prosecution for errors and misdeeds by the judicial fiat of 'qualified immunity', as outlined by Norm somewhere below.
    Something is wrong with this picture. It is NOT a pretty picture!?! Now tend to your guest, your garden and family. Points well-made and understood. Settled Norms,... not for Norm.
    P.S., I submitted a medium-length comment on Simple Justice early this morning, perhaps my second so far. Apparently, I was passed over. Hey, I know where I'm not wanted. No laymen, no non-attorneys in this sandbox. Judging by the debate of June 3 on the same site, women attorneys not particularly welcome either. One lady in particular just got off the 'mommy track'. Ha! I wish I thought of that?
    Hey, maybe Scott GreenHorn is doing me a favor. One hopes for the best and prepares for the worst. No oil spills where I am; that's the good news for today. Otherwise, overcast and drizzling. We say here, the sky is leaking.
    Posted on June 13, 2010 at 4:14 am by William Doriss
  • B:
    I may well be wrong, but you can win the debat...
    I may well be wrong, but you can win the debate without my participation, either as a reader or debater. It strikes me as beneath the talents you possess as a lawyer.
    Posted on June 13, 2010 at 3:59 am by Norm Pattis
  • Ah, another post about me, Greenfield, Bennett, et...
    Ah, another post about me, Greenfield, Bennett, et. al. Norm, you're a fantastic writer-wrong-but nonetheless a great writer
    Posted on June 13, 2010 at 3:56 am by Brian Tannebaum

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