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Once before in 2007 when I took on the responsibility of representing the Republican Party of Virginia as their communications director under happier times with Ed Gillespie as chairman and the inestimable Charlie Judd as executive director, and once again as I merged my own writing into other projects.
The list of projects thus far is not a very long one, and almost all of them have been digital publications in a way that I felt I could get thoughts off of my chest and into public consumption. Bearing Drift was the first and longest lasting of these experiments, followed by the revival of The Jeffersoniad before moving to The Republican Standard.
Other publications kind enough to take my scribbling have been digital journals such as Ethika Politika and The Wanderer — the oldest Catholic publication in the country and a mainstay of Catholic traditional thought. In truth, writing for Der Wanderer has become one of the most pleasurable experiences, allowing me to express my faith to fellow travelers — and it helped me discover what I missed about my own writing today.
The word “blog” has the connotation of trope nowadays. In the heady days of the old Virginia political blogosphere (and in an era before truly social media) we discussed policy, ideas, culture, and thought — and did so freely, that is, until the political provocateurs and social media experts (sic) monetized and ruined everything.
One of the sad things about today’s environment is that the Virginia blogosphere hasn’t only shrunk, it truly is bought and paid for by outsiders. Even with TRS, the very notion of taking sponsorships and advertising was viewed as “bought opinion” precisely for the reason that most opinions today are indeed purchased. Doesn’t even have to be cash anymore… Redskins tickets, Nationals tickets, nice dinners, and the all important “to be a considered person” in political circles.
Dopamine and serotonin soothes many a conscience, so it seems.
I am proud to say that I have mostly resisted this disease, even as I have watched friends and former friends succumb to it almost wholesale. There is nothing more grating than watching someone who is openly taking a paycheck slander someone else whom you know to be on the level… and yet be accused of being that most nefarious and low of scumbags in the world — the paid blogger.
Yet to a certain degree, as I took on professional writing gigs either in communications or in fundraising, I too found my own writing somewhat adulterated. Writing for one’s self among others who were writing for themselves was an exhilarating virtue with all of the thrill of a vice. Writing as a hired gun or “riding for the brand” can be fun at times… but something erodes over time.
Which was the beauty of the pre-2006 Virginia blogosphere. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no metrics (other than sock puppets — the act of one person talking to themselves in a comments section so as to appear to be popular which nabbed many a gullible reporter), none of that. Just ideas that stood on their own two feet.
Fun fact: I own a typewriter. No, not the hipster variety that you see some half-bearded man wearing flannel in June hunched over at a bound-to-close-in-18-months coffee shop attempting to become the next Bukowski in skinny jeans. An old 1911 Royal typewriter which commands deliberation with every word.
She is a brutally unforgiving monster, with every error standing black and clean against a virgin cotton. There is no one to blame other than yourself; the reality cannot be altered.
Mistakes on this piece of equipment remind me of my grandfather writing drafts in ink on paper, then rewriting papers until he achieved the all-powerful final draft… which was then transcribed painstakingly on a typewriter far more accommodating than my own. Two typographical errors, and the whole sheet had to be thrown away and retyped.
One wonders why our grandparents were far more superior in their writing than us lowly postmoderns today. One suspects that it has a lot to do with the expense of the written word. Three drafts — rough, final, and finished — stood before the mind and the printing press — a self-editing process that forced the author to be editor, proofreader, and literary critic all at once.
Yet it does a lot more than just clean up momentary errors. Backspace is a cheap way of self-editing and self-censoring. Speed rather than erudition is prized. Deliberation is a thing of the past in an era of big data and apps that help you write your paper, do your citations, and practically edit on the fly.
It is said that culture is incremental while technology is exponential. As the ability to say and do and express our thoughts is as quick as a return button, backspace is a sort of instant yet half-baked confessional. Go forth, sin no more… but don’t worry about introspection — let the fingers fly!
And thus we do.
As for myself, I have watched as the conservative movement passes between the Scylla of socialism and the Charybdis of nationalism. Though I have little sympathy for either, the tribalism of the political religions doesn’t exactly reward independence of thought, or at the very least, if it cannot control it then it seeks to purchase it outright.
I have little hope that this essay will be well read, though I am reminded of times where my essays have been written and speak to today’s ills rather pointedly. Yet in that lies a lesson: good writers don’t write for the mob, they write for themselves. One day our scribbles might become fashionable.
Until that time? We are merely sharpening our tools and offering thoughts in a format larger than
140 280 characters, and without a mere emoji to signal what we truly think and feel.
Maybe I’ll find like-minded allies in the Old Dominion? I know they’re out there.