Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What democracy requires is public debate, not information

This is the 1,000th post on Grits for Breakfast.

This blog started as an experiment, grew quickly into a compulsive habit and ultimately an integral part of my activism.
Why "Grits for Breakfast"?, I'm frequently asked. Because I wanted a name that sounded like a column title, not something wonky or pretentious. Why not "Grits for Breakfast?" I figured - it's southern, daily, and good for you. What else are you looking for in a friggin blog title, after all?

Blogging has been a fun and useful diversion, plus an outlet for opinions that occasionally I fear a few of my colleagues might think were better left unshared. Grits has also been a way to record events and information important to issues I work on as an activist, a way to piece together big, long-term investigative stories (e.g., monitoring drug task forces) chunk by chunk.

More than that, to me blogs provide a platform to practice what Christopher Lasch called "the Lost Art of Argument" - a way to subject one's ideas and arguments to scrutiny by publishing them and engaging with critics. The comment section changes everything in that regard, plus debates with other bloggers who are more numerous every day. Lasch died prior to the rise of the web and blogs, but I think he would have approved. Before the internet, email, and long before blogging, he saw the need for a new type of media. In the opening lines to a 1989 essay from Harpers
(not online) titled "Journalism, Publicity and the Lost Art of Argument" that strongly influenced how I approach Grits for Breakfast, Lasch declared:
Let us begin with a simple proposition: What democracy requires is public debate, not information. Of course it needs information, too, but the kind of information it needs can be generated only by vigorous popular debate. We do not know what we need to know until we ask the right questions, and we can identify the right questions only by subjecting our own ideas about the world to the test of public controversy. Information, usually seen as the precondition of debate, is better understood as its by-product. When we get into arguments that focus and fully engage our attention, we become avid seekers of relevant information. Otherwise we take in information passively -- if we take it in at all.
That's exactly what blogs do - they encourage debate among information seekers, at their best moments tapping into what James Suroweicki called the "wisdom of crowds" -- not always, but often enough to be valuable. Sometimes it doesn't become clear what the critical issues are until you flesh out complex subjects in the public arena with opponents. So while I've taken to deleting certain purely trollish, venomous comments when they contain insults but no arguments, I'm actually thankful when critics disagree substantively in the comments. Critics help further the debate and weed out wrong approaches. Plus when other commenters devise convincing counterarguments, or when I do, it helps build the lexicon necessary to craft convincing messages and ultimately policies that address critics' most significant concerns.

Blogs are a less formal place to trot out arguments and messages for a test drive, putting "our own ideas about the world to the test of public controversy" - somewhere to think through an issue rather than report "just the facts." I ain't the AP, though I respect what they do, but blogs play a different role. My goal isn't just to provide information, it's to argue for new approaches and solutions as part of a larger reform movement. In the process, as Lasch predicted, I think more, better and more accurate information is generated as a byproduct.


So that's what I'm doing here, if you ever wondered. (Some days I do.) Thanks for reading, to Grits' commenters thanks for contributing, to fellow bloggers thanks for linking, and we'll see how long it takes to churn out 1,000 more.

3 comments:

OSAPian said...

Congrats on 1000! Looking forward to the next thousand.

sweetnsassy said...

I was arrested in Allen, TX for a public intox. Interestingly, I was not given a breath test or a urine test that night, just a field sobriety test. And they had no video tape of me as it turns out. And they reached in and used a painful technique to get me out of the car. But enough about that, during the booking, the found ONE, count it, ONE xanax pill (unprescribed). I was booked for a Class A Misdemeanor and transferred to Collin County. Part of my deferred adjudication said no alcohol in any form. Well, being a diabetic, with systemic yeast, I am thinking the urine test is inconclusive. I think this because my probation officer, in DENTON county (cuz of my address), stated my drug test was positive...until he called the drug testing company who then said it was negative. He still charged the higher price of $28 for a positive drug test even tho it was negative. Negative drug test is $8.00 Anyway, I was tested again and last week he stated it was positive. I am thinking he just didnt call them back. Anyway, he tested me again and I am thinking it will come back positive again...because I produce a type of ethanol in my body due to the diabetes. Anyway, he was a d*ck about the test before this last one and said he was just going to send the "positive" result to Collin County and let them deal with it. He gave me another test last Wednesday and I am due in the Denton County office next Thursday 3/6/08. My question is: What are the chances of me being arrested if the second test is "positive"? Would the P.O. arrest me or would he call a cop? Feedback and ideas are welcome. INformation is always helpful and any media contacts would be welcome as well. Thanks!

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