Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Tuesday, September 10, 2002
Diane E. thinks she's a victim of sexism:

Now back to sexism, I can't prove this, but I make the following charge.

Sexism doesn't lie in the fact that there are more male bloggers, and more linked male bloggers, but the fact that there is a huge double standard: whatever certain male bloggers say is accepted and worthy of the blogosphere richochet; whereas if a woman were to say it, it would have been dismissed or ignored. And--when a woman speaks with knowledge on a subject, using logic and evidence, she is ignored.

Well, I can't prove that Diane is wrong, but I think she is, and I think she definitely needs to provide some anecdotal evidence more suggestive of her charge. The only thing Diane offers is a comparison between her influence and that of Den Beste. She says that she knows (and I don't doubt that she's right) "tons" more about the middle east than he does, but doesn't get linked to nearly as often as he does. If this example supports her charge, it must be because the following two premises are true: 1) An expectation that links will be strongly correllated with one's level of knowledge about the subject one is posting on; and 2) an absence of factors other than sexism to explain the deviation from this rule in the case of DE and SDB. Stated like that, I doubt Diane would seriously defend either premise. There are obviously lots of factors that go into a site's popularity besides the writer's knowledge (even assuming most readers are in a position to judge the writer's knowledge, which is a big assumption.) And it's pretty easy to speculate why SDB became so popular. For one thing, he's pretty unique in terms of the consistent length and thoughtfulness of his posts. I don't buy everything he argues, I don't impute any superior wisdom or (apart from engineering and military history) knowledge to him--I just regard him as an intelligent, largely self-educated guy who shares many of my basic values, has a hell of a lot more time than I do to sit and develop trains of thought on issues that are of interest to me, tends to do so with more thoroughness than one generally finds elsewhere, and is usually a profitable read. There are a gazillion blogs out there written by smart, well-informed people, but his stands out--not because he's necessarily smarter or better-informed, but just because he provides a different reading experience than most of what's out there. When you go to his site you often get a single long piece on a single coherent topic rather than a deluge of random thoughts as on most sites. Random thoughts, of course, are the joy of blogging, but they're also a dime a dozen and can get numbing after a while. Sometimes the mind wants to grapple with something a little more fleshed out, and I'd bet that explains much of SDB's relative popularity. Nor is it really the case that he's getting a free ride because of that thing between his legs--in fact he's attracted a virtual cottage industry of people dedicated to cutting his influence down to size because, like Diane, they think he's acquired a voice more authoritative than his credentials warrant. (In fact, I'd say Demosthenes treats the illustrious Ms. McArdle--who I currently read, by the way, more often than I do SDB--with rather more deference than he does his "friend" Steven.) Now Meryl asserts that Diane's stuff is better quality than SDB's. And maybe it is. I haven't read enough of it to judge, though I shall now try to, given that I regard an endorsement like that from Meryl as at least worth looking into (even though she's just a girl...go figure.) But on a totally superficial level, I can say that Diane's site looks very much like a million others out there. And that alone might explain the difference between her and SDB's influence without recourse to sexism. In a packed market like this, product differentiation, branding, and even a smidgeon of path dependency are all factors in market share. (One of the reasons everyone reads Instapundit, after all, is that everyone reads Instapundit.) Much of it is random chance--what site did I happen to click on for some random reason that led me to something else? But there obviously is a spontaneous order out there, and for what it's worth Diane, even though I haven't spent much time at your site yet, I've seen enough complimentary references to it in various places that it was probably only a matter of time before I did. And as one of those benighted male surfers, I will make a confession to you. Yes, the knowledge that you are a woman, despite my best pretenses at disembodied intellectual objectivity, probably will have a subliminal effect on the way I react to your writing. But it won't make me take you less seriously. Quite the opposite. When I agree with and admire it, that agreement and admiration will be tinged with something extra, a certain thrill of attraction that isn't there when I read Lileks no matter how much I love his stuff. If I read something by you that disparages or repudiates things I hold dear, the cut will be incrementally unkinder. If I ever get a message from you in response to anything I write, it will affect my ego just a little bit more. There's no good reason for this. You might even term it a form of sexism. And since we're dealing in unsubstantiable conjectures, I'll offer one of my own: I suspect I'm not the only male to suffer from this form of prejudice.

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