Thursday, December 09, 2004


Brief blogging

On tap for today: many hours in front of a microfilming machine, and grading final exams. I also plan later this afternoon or evening to elaborate a bit on the questions I raised about Frederick Douglass in my post on teaching, in response to a reader request for more information.

For now, though, I've been putting off linking to some very good posts because I have not had time to comment on them at length. I'll leave you to comment on your own. You should definitely read Timothy Burke's post on academic groupthink and Jason Kuznicki's recent post on Posner's cost-benefit justification for war. I also liked and learned from Rachel's recent post at Velveteen Rabbi on Chanukah, which links to her related post from last year.

Tuesday night, I found myself in a Wal-Mart, the "corporate behemoth that everyone loves to hate." It had been a long while since I had braved the aisles, and my expectations were already pretty low. Imagine my surprise, then, when I managed to be surprised by something I saw. I was strolling through the toy section, looking for a particular gift for what Rachel calls the Christmas "potlatch extravaganza." Yes, there I was, perusing Dr. Seuss books and toddler toys with blinking lights, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a wall of hunting rifles for shooting deer. That's right, our friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart has placed its "Guns and Ammo" (the sign actually says "ammo") department directly adjacent to the toy section. There were some kids pleading with their dad for a toy while standing in front of some camo hunting jackets and .22s.

Whatever one's position on gun control, and however much one may believe in the unfettered market that Wal-Mart epitomizes, can we at least agree that guns and toys should not be displayed side by side? Might that confuse some impressionable youngsters? Can we at least call on the new Goliath of Christian retail to rethink that particular layout decision? Okay, that's enough shrill disbelief ... for now.

UPDATE, 7:12 P.M.
The last two paragraphs of this post are examples of what I don't like about brief blogging, and why I try not to do it often. Even now, as I read them only about twelve hours after writing them, they strike me as instances of knee-jerk outrage. There's nothing wrong with knee-jerk outrage in and of itself: sometimes it can be a good test of one's mental or emotional reflexes. Perhaps it is not wrong to see guns next to toys and reflexively think: bad.

But outrage devoid of context does little good. I find it useful to listen to my reflexes, but I also think it is important to reflect on them. Sometimes that reflection reveals that I am outraged by things without even really knowing why -- either because it conforms to some societal expectation or because it comes from some deeply rooted conviction that I am barely aware of. In these cases, if not even I can give an explanation for the outrage, then I should think twice about voicing it.

Other times, reflection reveals that I do understand my outrage, but that it is connected to very particular beliefs of mine, without which the outrage is free-floating and inexplicable. In these cases, too, I should think twice about voicing the outrage without a fuller explanation of what I mean. It is the worst kind of condescension to take for granted that someone else will be outraged by something just because I am.

In this case, I think my outrage at Wal-Mart is more of the second variety: it coheres with larger networks of personal belief. But that's why brief blogging is not a good way to express outrage of this kind -- it begs for further explanation. And if I don't have time to give that kind of explanation (which I still don't right now), then I should reserve my outrage for a later time.

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