Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The New Tractarians?

(Tip to Serge)

Over on A View From the Sacristy has a post which suggests:
And in that wondering, I can’t help but think on the world of blogging as a new witness and perhaps a new, “Tracts for Our Times.” And within this I don’t speak to Anglicanism at all. I speak to the wonderful web of folks, mainly traditional ‘Anglo-Catholics’ or Anglicans, feisty traditional Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox folks (in no particular order) who have banded together to form an appeal to Holy Tradition and a witness to something ancient and in our modern day, something new that does speak to people’s lives….or least those willing to listen.

I would love to believe this, but alas I think it isn't so and won't really happen. Blogging about controversy seems to create communities of those who reckon agreement unto righteousness, where posturing is more important than taking opposition seriously. Well, perhaps the original tractarians shared the same fault.

But there's also the The Law of the Stupidest Argument and the priciples of Jerks For Jesus, Bullhorns For Everyone, and The Standard Arguments. It's extremely hard to sustain worthwhile discussion in a medium that rewards people who make biting, conventional, and simplistic comebacks over those who make longer, calmer, and more considered responses. Time and again I find myself refraining from commenting because I've spent enough time thinking about something to ensure that the post has rolled off the page and that nobody is going to read what I wrote. Time and again I don't respond because a wave of standard argument quick comebacks have swamped the comments of a post. Time and again I cut my responses off because it's clear that the person on the other end doesn't read what I wrote, but only what one of the stereotypical participants would have said. The same lack of psychological presence that allows flaming also allows the more subtle fault of reducing opponents to cardboard-thin stock characters rather than real, changeable people who hold their own, changeable opinions.

What tends to happen, as a result, is that forums and blogs tend to get locked into a circle of like-minded people who tend to reinforce their common prejudices and opinions, but who are cut off from other communities with dissenting opinions. I think that's one of the biggest differences I see between blogs and the tractarians. The Tracts were written to convince the rest of the church; blog articles tend to be written to reinforce membership in the blogger's subculture. Traditionalists write to other traditionalists; liberals write to other liberals. The communities are disjoint and often as not contemptuous to each other. Therefore I tend to find the writing on both sides disappointing, because it never risks the one thing that would make it a real, living argument: refutation.