Cargo Cult Blogging
But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school -we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty – a kind of leaning over backwards.
There’s a certain group of people in Vanuatu who worship an avatar called “John Frum.” When the Americans occupied the islands during World War II, they bought with them unexplainable amounts of material wealth never before seen in the islands. Some of the people surmised that the wealth is supposed to be theirs, and the cargo could be theirs if they followed the way of the Americans.
After shedding their colonial pasts and embracing their roots and customs, the tribespeople then equated the massive amounts of cargo with airstrips, towers, and US Army uniforms. So they cleared jungles to make airstrips, made towers out of trees, and even went so far as to wear “headsets” made from vine and branches.
“We wait for you, John Frum,” they pray. “We wait for you and the cargo you promised us!”
Yet no airplanes land on the “airstrips,” no responses are heard from the “headsets.” There’s something wrong here: the cargo does not arrive.
I use this anthropological study – and Richard Feynman’s reading of it – to illustrate “what’s wrong” with the Filipino blogosphere today. Borrowing from Feynman, let’s call it “cargo cult blogging.”
Writing about controversial issues is part and parcel of blogging. There was the Pangandaman-dela Paz feud, the Quezon City Science High School students who almost got suspended for blogging, and now there’s this issue of an National Telecommunications Commission circular that seems to require licenses for content developers, and may probably include Friendster users and bloggers. When it comes to issues, we have to admit that bloggers today are at the forefront and the front line; this is a blogosphere that has the ability to be a political and social force to impeach a President.
That is admirable.
Yet we also have to admit; there’s a tendency among bloggers (including myself) to take an issue, ride on it, take the consciousness of a collective (a “hive-mind,” so to speak), and then write about issues with passion, eloquence, and strong feelings. Many times, bloggers are quite successful at advocacy and resistance, and may lead to a “See, I told you, but you just won’t listen” attitude. Yet there are times that bloggers take a few steps back – perhaps even retreat – because of a few yet serious errors in judgment here and there.
That is deplorable.
The “instantaneous” transmission and dissemination of information may be the “strength” of blogging, but it can also be a very serious “weakness.” Yet no matter how delayed or how instantaneous information may be, that always comes with the demand for responsibility and research.
It’s not that bloggers should be scientists, but I believe bloggers should practice some measure of scientific judgment whenever writing, dissecting, or butchering issues. Like in cargo cults, the facts may seem to be there, but there’s something wrong if the planes did not land. Take that one step further: there’s something wrong if the planes do not land.
Which brings me to this: it’s not merely about getting facts, but getting these facts straight. It’s only fair to react to an issue because it hits home, or because you feel very strongly about it. It’s fair to question issues, but whining and moaning – and yes, even bitching – about it should only take place when everything settles, and you can write a blog post that you can stand by no matter what without the benefit of editing posts. Let me put it this way: the backbone of your opinion is made up of facts, and this backbone is arranged in such a way. Not only do you question the facts as they are, but you also question the way these facts stand.
I myself am guilty of jumping the gun every once in a while, which gets me into trouble every now and then… which brings me to the third and final point of this long rant: standing by what you write. It’s a kind of bending over backwards; standing by what you write when you’re proven right is easy, but standing by what you write when you’re proven wrong is much more difficult. It’s not as much a Fidel Castro-eque “History will absolve me” attitude, but the kind of humble attitude where you say, “Hey, I was wrong, I’m sorry.” That is not a high and mighty expectation you should only expect from journalists or scientists, but a kind of expectation that comes with being humans who live in society. What makes it an act of bending over backwards is that not a lot of people will admit to an error, yet a lot are quick to accept praise and attention.
I don’t want to descend into the level of “mainstream media vs. blogging” debate, because that is pointless; let us focus on what we do, and that’s blogging. This is not a question of editorial policy or rules that should apply to blogging, but an issue of getting facts first, and coming to opinions second. It means to take a step back from the passion and emotion of blogging, and try one’s best to view things objectively before being subjective.
That, in a nutshell, are my thoughts on “cargo cult blogging.” Whether you’re a diarist or a new media journalist, or if you’re a lyrics translator, it may be time to ditch the cleared runways and the bamboo headphones, and at the very least, practice some responsibility in blogging.
And of course, fun.