Why Bloggers Are Irritating

I’ve been thinking about how I cringe whenever I read myself making an aesthetic judgment, and I think the reason is pretty clear — unless you’re Daniel Mendelsohn, it’s hard not to see all “criticism” as Hansonian signaling. John Tierney’s column on the work of Geoffrey Miller is instructive in this regard.

The grand edifice of brand-name consumerism rests on the narcissistic fantasy that everyone else cares about what we buy. (It’s no accident that narcissistic teenagers are the most brand-obsessed consumers.) But who else even notices? Can you remember what your partner or your best friend was wearing the day before yesterday? Or what kind of watch your boss has?

Commenters who feel moved to write cutting remarks about bloggers make a lot of sense to me — the self-disclosure of the blogger is powerfully revolting, as it rests on the narcissistic fantasy. Or that’s how it comes across, at least.

I like to think of certain kinds of blogging as essentially personal, but volunteered to a slightly wider circle than one’s email or Twitter circle in the spirit of sharing and mutual exchange. Very few of my close friends read the things that I write for publication, and hardly any of them read The American Scene. As we all know, the tribe of blog readers is small and peculiar in a lot of ways. And so blogging has allowed me to meet a different set of characters, many of whom have become friends. This strikes me as tremendously fun and worthwhile. The signaling really is the point: the idea is to send out a beacon into the world to like-minded readers and listeners, some small number of whom will become friends. Of course, this is pretty different from the reproductive signaling that Hanson and Miller describe. If that’s your agenda, you’re probably best served by reaching out to a different audience. My sense is that our readership is hilariously, lopsidedly male. At the same time, I very much value having a large army of friends, and that could be some indirect signal. Now I see why Hanson is so taken with this idea …

Other kinds of blogging have a narrower journalistic focus — I’m going to start a policy-focused blog in June, for example, and my hope is that it will be signaling-free, or signaling-light.

P.S. This post, by the way, is prompted by my earlier post on a series on The WB. The post really annoyed reader paul h. And then my post really annoyed me. And then I thought, “What’s going on here?”

He wrote:

Okay, really, is it just me? It must just be me. But every single thing that Reihan Salam has written makes me roll my eyes wondering how anyone can be this precious and pretentious

Then I wrote:

paul h., I think you’re right. But before I put the gun to my temple, I think I’m going to have some french toast.

The french toast was delicious!