Cargo Cult Commentary

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In “Cargo Cult Blogging,” I discussed some passing thoughts about blogging controversy from the lens of what Richard Feynman called “cargo cult science.” My call/appeal/free advice, echoing Feynman, is for bloggers and “new media practicioners” (whatever people want to call themselves these days) to “bend over backwards,” in the sense that even blog entries should be responsible and well-researched.  Today, I’d like to share some passing thoughts on one aspect of cargo cult blogging, the pink elephant in the room: political commentary.

Cargo cultists do not build a working airplane and place it on a proper runway.  Instead, they build a dummy plane (with tree trunks for a fuselage and branches for propellers) on a runway made from a jungle clearing lit with torches.  The same is true, at least in a metaphorical sense, about “cargo cult commentary:” instead of emulating the commentary, it imitates it.  You have all the elements of imitation in what seems to be a complete package, and the result will still be imitation.  The plane will not take off, the planes will not land, and the prophecy of cargo (in this case social change) will not be fulfilled.

On the road/race/journey to 2010, even the most “apolitical” people start to share their political opinions.  Moreso for the politically-inclined, who begin to become even more political in their discussions.  In the realm of blogging (or citizen journalism, whatever you want to call it), blog posts or even entire blogs can become dedicated entirely to political discussions.

While I think that’s a great service to the public regardless of how many readers you have, it can be a great disservice if you do it haphazardly.  Do we emulate the commentary, or do we imitate it?  Do we engage in punditry, or do we engage in pedantry?  Do we write, or do we rant?

To invoke Feynman, this brings me to a very important feature of “cargo cult commentary:” it says nothing.  It gives the appearance of a resolution or the appeal of intelligence and wisdom, and it can definitely land an impression to those who read it.  Yet the real problem lies in whether or not such an opinion translates to real action, and whether such a real action results in an actual, discernible effect in society.

While it’s easy to allow an issue in the blogosphere to snowball, it will remain an imitation of an attempt to social change if it does not translate to the real world.  Rather than take an active role in engaging issues from the front line, cargo cult commentary is heckling from the sidelines.  Those on the race on the road to 2010 can merely shut off their responses to cargo cult commentary and go on along the way, with a message or rant not making a landing at all.

Yet these are passing thoughts: “free advice” from a guy who has written his own fair share of cargo cult commentaries over the past few years.  On the road/race/journey/whatchamacallit to 2010, the call, again, is to bend over backwards.  It’s one thing to stand by what you write, but it’s also very important to exercise care and judgment on the topic when you’re writing it.  It’s not about credentials or names, nor is it an exercise in provocation, but it’s about simple things like reading the paper, watching the news, and critically engaging social issues by being an active participant in society.  To move out of the sidelines, and into the front lines.  To cease becoming a stereotypical commentator, and be an active citizen.

After all, the world doesn’t end or begin with blogs.

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