It sure makes a noticeable difference to wake up in the morning when you know that from now on, you are going to be a good person, and all that cynicism and biting sarcasm and automatically fixating into finding weaknesses in things is gone. This feeling is probably the secular version of what the religious people feel like after their conversion. ~Ilkka Kokkarinen, Sixteen Volts
I had earlier noticed this part of Dr. Kokkarinen’s final post, but had wanted to say something about another aspect of his explanation for giving up blogging. On behalf of sarcastic cynics and critics everywhere, I have to say: give me a break! Sarcasm, especially bitter sarcasm, is sometimes just the needed antidote for the pretensions of public intellectuals–such people thrive on the air of seriousness and self-importance they bring to their work, and nothing punctures that overinflated balloon faster than a shot of sarcastic wit. Who are we bloggers to puncture that balloon? Well, if not us, who? Who will hold up the claims of these people to scrutiny? The regular media? That’s a good one. Their colleagues? Unlikely.
Critique serves a vital function in any discussion, and must perforce be rather negative, though that does not have to make it purely destructive. There is something rather tiresome in the assumption that by giving up writing blog entries in a sarcastic, cynical vein you have thereby become a better person. If you were a bad person for doing these things before, you have not significantly reformed–you have simply stopped broadcasting your views to the world–and if you were not a bad person for doing these things there is no sudden “conversion” from being a bad, cynical blogger to a good, positive non-blogger. Some people are more prone to see flaws than others; you cannot turn this off with a snap of the fingers. If you have a knack for withering criticism, it is part of who you are and not something that you can simply shut off; it will simply be expressed in a new form.
Dr. Kokkarinen is, of course, free to do as he pleases and doesn’t need to justify ending his blog with some appeal to moral reform–he could simply say that he wants to focus all his energies on teaching, which would be admirable enough and would have exposed him to less scorn from those sarcastic cynics who remain. But it doesn’t say much in his favour that he has chosen silence and the least path of resistance when he came in for some heavy criticism because of things he wrote; even if he was wrong in what he said or how he said it, there is a certain principle that ought to make him insist that his writing does not hinge on the approval of the people he criticises.
It says even less that he thinks that by shutting down his blog and silencing himself he has therefore become a better person. If an academic wants to be done with polemic, criticism and even sarcastic negativity, he may as well go into another line of work–these things are part and parcel of the competitive atmosphere of the academic world, as it should be in a world that ought to thrive on vigorous, serious and, yes, respectful debate. These aspects of academia can sometimes become excessive and degenerate into fruitless vendettas between scholars and researchers, but this kind of rivalry has existed for a very long time. Anyone engaged in inquiry and active in “the life of the mind,” whether in a professional capacity or in his free time, will sooner or later find himself confronted with critics and those who would just as soon see him silenced. The odds are that if they wrap themselves up in the mantle of the injured victim, the less merit their objections have. How mistaken it is, then, to yield to the complaints of such people, who, in all likelihood, have no good retorts to his criticisms and have had to resort to this kind of PC harrassment.