You may have noticed that this blog has been pretty spare lately. It’s not that I haven’t had a lot to say. It’s just that I’ve had a lot of trouble concentrating. I thought the problem was environmental. There’s a lot going on in the world, life at UND is pretty stressful, right now, and I’m knee deep in many different projects. I just haven’t been in the right headspace to sit down and write.
In fact, though, I don’t think that’s the problem at all. Instead, I have come to realize that I simply don’t know what this blog is for anymore. It was originally designed to be a standalone project for The Institute for Philosophy in Public Life. Then, after the success of Why? Radio, I started advertising it as a supplement to the show. But now, I realize that both of these descriptions are too limiting. They require a more formal, more professionalized project that only represents a small portion of what I think about at any given time. Despite my often personal writing style, I limit myself when I choose topics. This also limits my motivation.
This understanding came to me after watching Life Itself, a spectacular documentary about the late great movie critic Roger Ebert. (It's on Netflix.) I just finished it and I’m still processing my thoughts, so I won’t say much about it, but Ebert ended-up writing his blog because he lost his jaw and neck to cancer and couldn’t speak anymore. As a result, his blog became much more than film reviews and criticism, it turned into a powerful vehicle for personal reflection and cultural commentary. Thankfully, I’m not facing a crisis anything remotely similar to his, and I hesitate to even compare our situations, but in the end, he made me realize that what I think I want is a blog that is more…mine.
And thus we have the quandary. Can I simply regard PQED as having been mine all along and take it in whatever direction I want or must I always write as the Director of IPPL? Can this be a more personal project with shorter entries, links to my own interests, and more subtle connections to philosophical analysis, or would I need to start a new blog, that is just mine, under a different name? These are very modern philosophical questions because they really ask about the boundaries of identity in a “branded” world.
Gilbert Gottfried was the voice of the AFLEC duck until he made an offensive joke and the company decided he couldn’t represent them anymore. Analogous things happened to Paula Deen and Tiger Woods. Do the same rules apply to me (albeit adjusted for the academic context)? Students read this regularly. How much do I need to censor my opinions on the assumption that I am always a teacher. It is clearly inappropriate for me to wear a partisan political button while I teach my class, but I can still write a letter to the editor. Yet, when I do write one, I can’t sign it as Director of IPPL. I just have to use my name and hope readers can see the difference.
So, we have two big questions so far: “what is a blog for?” and “where does my professional identity end and my personal one begin?” But there is a third: "what does it mean to be a public intellectual in the 21st century?" Paul Krugman is quite partisan but he is a political commentator. I am not he. How much latitude do I really have?
One might suggest that it would be easiest to avoid these questions and start a new blog under a new name. But that might be a self-defeating strategy. I would be giving up the audience I have spent years building and I would be asking people to go back and forth between two sites. Do I advertise each of the blogs’ new entries on both or do I keep them explicitly distinct and hope that readers find the writing I'm being circumspect about? Surely, dividing my time between the two similar projects will compromise quality in both and I don’t know that this blog can handle much more neglect.
So, I am asking you as an audience—and I am genuinely asking, because I need some advice—can I just rebrand this blog as “the official blog of the HOST of Why? Radio” as opposed to “the official blog of Why? Radio” or is that just playing semantics? Has this blog really just been mine all along and I should get over my trepidation or has it been as I think it is, a narrowly defined project that needs to remain true to its original mission? What do you expect from a blog and how much do you distinguish between its purpose and its author?
I’d really like your help on this. I’m stuck in neutral and I need to move forward.
Follow the author on Twitter: @jackrweinstein