A few months ago, an esteemed member of the federal judiciary and noted author, Richard Posner, undertook a new project to explore issues relating to society, politics, and economics. The venture was not undertaken alone, but with a co-scholar, the Nobel-prize-winning laureate Gary Becker. Together, Posner and Becker began pooling, publishing, and distributing their ideas in a dialogic format about once every seven days, primarily on Mondays. This exciting new intellectual venture was not accomplished by traditional, ordinary, or typical publishing routes, but by a unique form of “Internet” publishing called a “weblog.” The Becker-Posner Blog is one of the early examples of this original, timely, and innovatory publishing technique. Many have already pointed out, in fact, that The Becker-Posner Blog is one of the most strikingly notable examples of the nascent weblog format.
In an introductory explanation of The Becker-Posner Blog weblog, the term “weblog” was ably, though perhaps not aptly, defined by Posner. In the ensuing days, Posner’s definition of the term “weblog,” which I shall call the “Posner Definition,” was electronically affirmed, disseminated, and distributed all over the world as various “webloggers” republished the Posner Definition on their “blogs.”
Together, it is said, these webloggers make up the “blogosphere." The term “blogosphere,” which is yet another term unqualifiedly in need of a definition by a professional thinker, exemplifies the way that the community of webloggers, even if nondescript, unimpressive, and intellectually-challenged when considered individually, can effectively assemble, cast, and recast information in a way that mimics a giant machine or market, even creating new words where no others would suitably do. Thus the term "blogosphere." First and foremost, the blogosphere should be understood, then, as the worldwide network of weblogs that has responded, seemingly in tandem and overnight, to the first postings of The Becker-Posner Blog.
As mentioned above, The Becker-Posner Blog began in a rather striking manner with an introductory post containing the Posner Definition of the term “weblog.” The reason for the present post, which should be considered a response to the Posner Definition, is to reconsider, reanalyze, and possibly reformulate the Posner Definition in light of discoveries about the blogosphere that have been made in recent days. The Posner Definition posited, in part, that weblogs are “a fresh and striking exemplification of Friedrich Hayek’s thesis that knowledge is widely distributed among people and that the challenge to society is to create mechanisms for pooling that knowledge.” That Hayek’s thesis was said to focus on knowledge among people, it is thought, was in order to prevent confusion in the minds of readers more accustomed to reading about knowledge distributed among insects, barnyard animals, and professional athletes.
In this post, I will challenge the Posner Definition and disagree on two counts. First, it is not entirely clear that the quoted material is in fact a definition at all, instead being more in the way of an exemplification of a thesis. If the thing to be defined is A, and it is said to be most aptly described as the exemplification (B) of a thesis (C), it is difficult to argue that the new definition, that is, B + C, carries much meaning, but rather merely begs the question of what is C. In other words, the Posner Definition depends, first and foremost, on a presumed understanding of the Friedrich Hayek thesis. The fact that the Posner Definition was, in fact, transmitted around the blogosphere without any dissent does not mean that any particular individual, especially if nondescript, unimpressive, or intellectually-challenged, really understood it. Let us assume, in fact, that they did not.
My second objection to the Posner Definition, which is really more fundamental, is that it serves merely to describe some, but not all, weblogs, and in this way contains a normative assessment of what a blog should be, rather than a descriptive definition of what a blog is. Do all weblogs, in fact, pool knowledge? Were all weblogs, in fact, designed to pool knowledge? Certainly, the answer to these questions depends, in part, on how one defines the term “knowledge.” For purposes of the present investigation, let us define knowledge as that worth knowing. A large segment of society, then, would consider the Posner Definition fitting if applied to one randomly-encountered weblog, that is, TwiddlyBits’ Sex Blog, which is an Internet amusement described on its title page as the “ramblings of a very horny woman” with “regular guest submissions from her cross dressing husband.” While this is not, perhaps, the sort of thing that Hayek had in mind when he formulated his famous thesis, let us assume, for the moment, that it does, in fact, constitute knowledge. But what of a new weblog, titled Preshrunk, which is concerned with the pooling of knowledge about "cool t-shirts you can buy online"? This, too, may constitute Hayek-style knowledge, as a little known fact about Hayek was that he was exceedingly fond of t-shirts, especially those portraying the images of Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin. (Author's note: footnotes, which are still being compiled, will follow in the print edition of this post.) So in the case of Preshrunk, again, a randomly-encountered weblog would seem to fit the Posner Definition "to a tee."
At this point, however, the Posner Definition, in the paragraphs that follow, will be seen to weaken, yield, and ultimately break down. There is a type of weblog that is really nothing more than the personal, unimportant ramblings of the common person. In one such weblog, again randomly chosen, we encounter this description of one person's day:
Today was some what uneventful. I did sleep in until about 10 this morning which is the latest all break. But I'm sure that's only b/c I was up until 1 last night talking to people. New Year's Eve is going to be fun this year. I'm having friends over and what better way to bring in the new year than with friends. Again today, I ate a breakfast/lunch combo of Rice Krispies. At 1:30 I picked Jessica up to go to the mall. We went to Spencer's to find a dirty birthday card for Ross.
The quote is from a weblog entitled "For What It's Worth," to which the mind of the professional thinker is apt to respond, in its exceedingly witty way, "Not much." Other weblogs that betray the inaptness of the Posner Definition are those containing lists of blonde jokes. (It should be recalled, however, that Hayek, if viewed from a distance in a certain late-evening light, often appeared to be a blonde.) And how are we to consider weblogs used as neighborhood newsletters, or used to promote the products of particular companies, or used to foil the binary robots that search the Internet for knowledge into thinking that knowledge resides therein? As to this latter form, consider the weblogs titled free big xxx movies, How to Give a Blowjob, anal-teens, teen-hookers, and reality-tv.
Certainly, such examples would make all but the most serious thinkers blush. Even so, such examples are examples of weblogs, the things under consideration. To turn a blind eye on such examples, thereby making it impossible to construct a definition finely-honed enough to contain them, is shoddy thinking and a gross failure of scholarship. This is why, in this writer's opinion, the Posner Definition of the term weblog is either too narrow, aptly describing some weblogs but not describing them all, or too amorphous, failing to take into account either the technique of the weblog or the technology that makes it possible. Back to the drawing board, I submit.
Related Posts: The Becker-Posner Blog and My Own Shitty Writing Style