I once asked a friend of mine, a novelist, why so many writers have drinking problems. “A better question is why so many drinkers have writing problems,” he replied.
His response came to mind recently, when I began to toy with the idea of starting a blog. Although the contrarian in me is attracted to the prospect of being the last law professor in America without one, the advantages of the form are obvious.
A blog allows one to dash off a brilliant riposte to some flawed argument or rhetorical atrocity, without having to deal with publishing schedules or, worse, editors who insist that factual assertions be true, and who place other tiresome demands on creative genius, even as it pours forth from a metaphorical pen.
These same features also represent the disadvantages of a blog. Every time I hear the Blog Siren singing its Celine Dionesque song, I end up thinking of a certain type of legal academic blogger — the sort who has a habit of concocting (intentionally?) preposterous posts, which then elicit a predictable stream of insults from various precincts of the blogosphere.
Our brave blogger then sallies forth in a state of high dudgeon, demanding apologies from those who have insulted her, while at the same time exacerbating the situation by engaging in the most incredibly juvenile banter (for example, she has been known to joke about the supposedly diminutive genitalia of her male critics).
In truth, I find it difficult to believe that such witticisms aren’t composed with one hand, while the other clutches a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon the size of Lake Tahoe.
Indeed, among writers in general, and bloggers in particular, alcohol and narcissism go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Psychologists define narcissistic personality disorder as involving a grandiose sense of self-importance, and an overwhelming need for the constant attention and admiration of others.
What better example of this can there be than bloggers obsessed with how many “hits” their posts are eliciting on their site meters, or how often they’re mentioned on the Internet, and who take pride in drawing attention to themselves by being aggressively obnoxious? (This is a trick most people learn by the age of 4, and begin to become embarrassed about employing shortly thereafter.)
Blogs pose special dangers for academics. The whole point of academic life is that it’s supposed to offer those who live it the time to spend months and years becoming expert about, and reflecting upon, complex issues, before committing their thoughts regarding such matters to print.
Journalists, of course, can rarely afford that luxury — yet bloggers face even more intense temptations to make fools of themselves. The scholarly monograph mulled over for a decade before appearing in print may be wrong-headed, or dull, or both, but it runs comparatively little risk of making its author look like a narcissistic idiot.
The same can’t be said for the Chardonnay-fueled rant posted at 3 in the morning, which may inadvertently tell your readers far more than they wish to know about your living-room decor, your psycho-sexual neuroses and your views on the latest episode of “American Idol.”
None of which is to deny that many bloggers, including many academic bloggers, do excellent work. For example, just a few of the lawyers and law professors who regularly write first-rate things in the genre include Glenn Greenwald, Jack Balkin, Eugene Volokh and Sandy Levinson.
I could list many more. These writers represent a variety of perspectives, but they all write fluent, accessible prose, they mostly avoid shooting from the hip and their analyses of various topics are, if I may say, generally quite sober.
(Paul F. Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)Colorado.edu.)