Some have noticed it's been a little quieter here than usual. I am grateful to commenters who keep the dialogue going during these down-times. I wish I could say that I've been polishing posts and more posts that will soon appear, but this is only barely true. I've worked for a while on a post for Speculative Heresy's upcoming Science and Metaphysics cross-blog event, and on some other things that will be up eventually, but mostly I've been distracted by the beginning of school and other real-time affairs.
When I began posting, going on a year ago now, it was after a long internal debate. Who the hell, I asked myself, really needs to have all of My Correct Opinions on Everything? The temptation to shout out into the void and glean the little ego-strokes of "someone agrees!" or even "someone thinks I'm an idiot but Ha Ha! Made them look!" could only be bad for me. I opted in after a while because I could see a real exchange -- an exchange I deeply needed, to hone my thinking -- taking place on a few blogs, and decided it was worth the price of self-vigilance to make sure I didn't fall into just "standing up and waving my beliefs," as Adrian recently put it on Immanence. I am sure I have not succeeded 100% of the time, and some may think the percentage is low indeed.
In general, the pace of blogging is too quick for me. I am not just referring to the fact that tempests can swarm up over a very few days and then blow over,leaving in their wake a moniker like "The Derrida Wars," as if something truly momentous had occurred instead of a few well-spoken hotheads typing loud at each other. It's that there's a pressure to put things out there or feel like one is somehow "not participating;" a blog that isn't updated every few days starts to emit the sounds of crickets chirping. One fears that people will acquire the habit turning their attention elsewhere. This generates a tension between keeping the quality of posts high, and keeping things moving so that it doesn't look like I'm asleep at the controls.
There is something attractive about this pressure, too; anyone who's ever written knows that a deadline can be mightily inspirational. So it's not as if a blog is a recipe for inauthenticity. It is an illusion that one has "all the time in the world," and one of the reasons I started blogging was to infuse my writing with a degree of salutary responsibility-to-readers.
At the same time, however, I know from the inside that my attention-span has, if not atrophied, then certainly shrunk as I have spent more and more time online. This is a complaint I read often, and it might be easy to say that there's a groundless blame-the-internet meme making the rounds, but my gut feeling is that there's more to it than this. My itch to post frequently is matched by an inability to read everything I find others posting. Yes, this is "just" information overload, not a very exciting topic, but what I want to suggest is specifically that it's antithetical to the work of philosophy, which necessarily involves being willing to sit with perplexity for as long as it takes. Adrian's post cited above contrasts the opinion-waving of blogging with the willingness to sit still and notice exhibited by a group of Buddhist meditators in New York, sitting silently between groups pro- and contra-Cordoba House on the anniversary of 9/11. Patience and silence are not the whole story for philosophy, which does entail articulation, but they are indispensable and not readily cultivated in the blogosphere.
I also just chanced upon a review of Czech theologian Tomáš Halík's book Patience with God, over at Benjamin Myers' blog Faith & Theology. Myers writes,
the real difference between faith and atheism is patience. Atheists are not wrong, only impatient. They want to resolve doubt instead of enduring it. Their insistence that the natural world doesn't point to God (or to any necessary meaning) is correct. Their experience of God's absence is a truthful experience, shared also by believers. Faith is not a denial of all this: it is a patient endurance of the ambiguity of the world and the experience of God's absence. Faith is patience with God.Now in fact I'm skeptical of any sweeping characterizations like this of of Myers' (and I have to acknowledge here that I have not yet read Halík's book), but there's something in it that sounds right to me and that I want to salvage from my knee-jerk skepticism.
There is an "impatience" I know well, perhaps akin to that which Halík speaks of; a desire to skip steps, to wrest into explicitness what needs to remain implicit. Wittgenstein says somewhere in his notebooks that one important characteristic of a thinker is the tempo of their sentences and thought. (All of his own sentences, Wittgenstein says, are meant to be read slowly). For every question there is an appropriate measure, and a desire to know the answer is not always just an intellectual curiosity but an appetite. William Desmond would perhaps call this appetite an eros for univocality, an impetus towards nailing down every detail. There is something to be said for this ferocious passion for the explicit, for leaving no vague cloud in which the obscurantist urge can find refuge. But as Desmond also notes, there simply is more to our habitation of being than the univocal. At some point I'll devote a post or three to Desmond's philosophy, in which he details four senses of Being: the univocal, the equivocal, the dialectical, and the metaxological. For now I will simply say that the univocal seems to me to be the realm of the problem, in the sense I've borrowed from Gabriel Marcel: the question with a specific and delimitable answer.
One occasionally meets the observation--it is a staple of popular psychology of men and women--that someone (usually male) has "jumped" to solving a problem before they have given real evidence of having heard the dissatisfaction. The problem-solving is viewed as a defense against the dissatisfaction. Like many bits of pop-psych, this one has its ground in reality. I'm not referring here to the statistics about male and female approached; but there is an approach that tries to start somewhere other than where one is. It tries to appropriate as a premise what can only be a conclusion.
In this sense, I recognize the kind of impatience Halík names. My hesitation regarding this as a characterization of atheism is that this, too, works best (if at all), as a conclusion. It is very little use as a premise. It's no good to start by saying, "as an atheist you are essentially impatient." In fact, it's a bit impatient to do so.
In fact, this notion of positions or formulations that work as conclusions but not as premises is--despite being pretty hard to make work in a rigorously logical way--close to the essence of thinking for me. There's an experiential component to wrestling with the hard problems that makes them akin to a sort of initiation; one needs to undergo these problems, not merely appropriate another's final line as one's own starting point. This is why Kant was right to speak of a scandalous lack of progress in philosophy, and why, for instance, Kant did not definitively refute "dogmatic" metaphysics once and for all, but only provided us with a model for how to wrestle with those issues. Anyone who does philosophy in the western mode after Kant recapitulates that struggle in their own way--and this regardless of whether they accept or reject Kant.
This isn't to say that if it's quiet here I'm always busy wrestling the giants (though you should see some of the 5th-graders I tussle with); but it's a reason for taking one's time. I want to keep the lights on, so to speak, but not at the cost of posting mere filler. But no matter how infrequent the posts here, I assure you they will all be the Correct and Final Word.