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Sunday, May 12, 2019


In the flurry of heated comments on this blog in the past several days, one stuck in my mind and piqued my curiosity.  Two days ago, in what I am pretty sure was meant as a devastating criticism of me and my blog, Talha wrote:  “If one were to seek a definitive "jump the shark" moment for this blog, this would be it.”  I thought to myself. “Now what exactly does that mean?”  I knew it had something to do with Happy Days, Fonzie, and water skiing, but pretty clearly the expression had taken on a larger life.  So, as I always do when I am puzzled, I Googled.  Here is what I found:

“Jumping the shark is the moment when something that was once popular that no longer warrants the attention it previously received makes an attempt at publicity, which only serves to highlight its irrelevance.”

Huh.  That was odd.  Was I once popular but now no longer warrant the attention I previously received?  It was pretty clear that Talha did not intend to pay me a compliment – I got that.  But the rest of it puzzled me.

Once popular.  This blog occupies a tiny backwater off a trickle of a stream that never quite makes it as far as even a secondary waterway.  For some years now, if Google metrics are accurate, it has been attracting between 1000 and 1500 views a day.  Allowing for the faithful who click multiple times and the occasional visitors who nod in from time to time, there might be as many as 2000 folks worldwide who come to visit, among whom maybe a dozen comment with any frequency [that last may be a bit generous.]  Every so often, Brian Leiter links to something I have said, and for a day the views soar to 3000, but then things settle down and putter along.

Now, 1000-1500 a day is fabulous if you are standing in front of a classroom, but in the Blogosphere it is pathetic.  The serious blogs record daily visits in the scores of thousands or even millions.  My total viewership would be within the margin of error of a real blog.  However – and on this I take my stand – it is constant, neither growing nor dwindling. 

I am afraid that expression is like many that once had a precise meaning but now simply convey a generalized scorn.  Sort of like gaslighting.


s. wallerstein said...

I had to google the expression myself.

We all have our good days and our bad days, but I don't get the impression that your blog is in decline.

However, you will be away from blogging for a long time this year and during that time you might lose some regular readers. Wouldn't it be possible for you to write short, pertinent comments on the politic scene from time to time and for someone whom you trust with your password to post them in the blog?

Anonymous said...

Merriam Webster’s online has a somewhat different definition of the term. But you’ll find it under “jump” as the headword. The first I remember seeing the term was actually on Brian Leiter’s website back in 2008 or 2009, in connection with Thomas Nagel’s praise of some stupid pro-intelligent design book. Leiter used it again on Nagel when the latter published a book Mind and Cosmos (or something like that) a few years ago. –Fritz Poebel

Howie said...

More attention should be paid to how many drachmae you harvest for your blog- Prodicus, I hear, could charge up to 4 drachmae per blog post- of course he appeared in a Socratic dialogue

Unknown said...

I'm new to the blog and enjoying it very much, even if I don't engage that often especially with the political debates ( mostly as I'm Australian living in Japan and find out quite far from me). I'm here more as a fan of the kind philosopher who finally helped me into reading Kant, something that words find hard to express gratitude for.
For the lady's comment I have no idea and also didn't know of this phrase at all?
Happy days also came to mind lol.


Jerry Brown said...

My understanding of the phrase is that it is similar to 'over the top' or maybe similar to melodramatic. But I didn't google it. Anyways- love reading your blog and commenting and arguing on occasion.

Matt said...

To my mind, using the phrase "jump the shark" jumped the shark maybe 10 or more years ago.

More substantively, though, inspired in part by a recent re-reading of (semi-frequent blog commenter) Charles Pidgen's contribution to the Cambridge Companion to Russell, I've been reading Bertrand Russell's little book, Proposed Roads to Freedom, on socialism, anarchism, and syndicalism. It's pretty interesting - not least as a historical document of a particular time, given that it was written a bit before the end of WW I, and just at the very start of the Russian revolution, before it was at all clear what would happen there. I suspect that many who frequent this blog wouldn't be especially sympathetic to Russell's account, but I am finding it very interesting.

More immediately relevant to current discussions, I think, is this bit from the intro, where Russell is talking about the dedicated socialist (which he took to typically be a Marxist, at the time), anarchist, or syndicalist:

"The impatient idealist - and without some impatience a man will hardly prove effective - is almost sure to be led into hatred by the oppositions and disappointments which he encounters in his endeavors to bring happiness to the world. The more certain he is of the purity of his motives and the truth of his gospel, the more indignant he will become when his teaching is rejected. Often he will successfully achieve an attitude of philosophic tolerance as regards the apathy of the masses, and even as regards the whole-hearted opposition of professed defenders of the status quo. But the man whom he finds it impossible to forgive are those who profess the same desire for the amelioration of society as he feels himself, but who do not accept his method of achieving this end. The intense faith which enables him to withstand persecution for the sake of his beliefs makes him consider these beliefs so luminously obvious that any thinking man who rejects them must be dishonest, and must be actuated by some sinister motive of treachery to the cause. Hence arises the spirit of the sect, that bitter, narrow orthodoxy which is the bane of those who hold strongly to an unpopular opinion."

Of course, the readers of this blog cannot be properly called "persecuted" like the subjects of Russell's study could. And yet, a more petty version of the sort of infighting that, say, lead Marx to repeatedly try to get Bakunin proclaimed a spy for the police comes up all too often here. It's unfortunate, and makes real and useful discussion less common and less useful than it could be. I can't help but think it would be useful for the readers of the blog to keep in mind that, at least in broad outline, we have much the same goal, and are working honestly towards what we see as best.

David Palmeter said...

I too first ran across the expression in Leiter's blog in reference to Nagel. It wasn't, though, in reference to a book he reviewed by a book he wrote: Mind and Cosmos.

s. wallerstein said...

Russell's book, Theory and Practice of Bolshevism, is also worth reading.

Russell visited the Soviet Union in the very early days of the revolution, long before Stalin, and unlike most progressive Western observers, saw through everything. Russell is so perceptive and insightful that it hurts to read him.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, both Proposed Roads to Freedom (1918) and The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (1920) are available for free on-line.

Sonic said...

You could do better! Seriously, I think it's criminal that your blog only gets 1000 views. Just shows you how much visibility counts more than content.

Your ideas are brilliant. Your insights are detailed. You're a great teacher.

I think you mentioned you know Richard Wolff. His youtube channel has 50,000 subscribers. That's nothin. You could get twice as many, easily. There's a growing community of leftists that are getting radicalized through youtube. They love social commentary and political philosophy. They eat that shit up. If you care about viewership, you could teach a lot to us young anarchists.

That's how I found your blog, through your youtube channel. But I didn't find your youtube channel through the youtube algorithm. I had to specifically search for lectures on Kant. If you managed to tap into the algorithm though, I bet you could get 100,000 views before the primaries.

Matt said...

Thanks for the info on Theory and Practice of Bolshevism, wallerstein and anon. (I usually don't enjoy reading books on a computer, but am glad they are available for people who do.) Until recently I probably would have thought the Bolshevism book would be of _merely_ historical interest, but lately some of the best younger political philosophers (such as Lea Ypi of the London School of Economics) have become interested in the "vanguard party" idea, and many people interested in so-called "political realism" claim an interest in Lenin and his ideas, so perhaps it is of some contemporary theoretical value, too. I will see if I can find a copy that will work for me. (With books like this, I often like to read them when I'm walking to or waiting for the tram, so small, cheap copies are the desired form.)

s. wallerstein said...

It's been a few years since I read Theory and Practice, but as I recall, it contains some stuff of merely historical interest, for example, far from flattering impressions of Lenin and Trotsky and lots of brilliant and insightful observations of political psychology and behavior such as the one you (Matt) sent us above yesterday.

Russell's ability to take a step back and observe mass political behavior rationally and clearly, without ranting about it as Nietzsche does, is impressive. Not only was he the first (or one of the first) to see through the Russian Revolution, while retaining his socialist convictions, but also he realized how horrible World War 1 was going to be from day one, unlike most of his contemporaries.

Matt said...

...far from flattering impressions of Lenin and Trotsky

Lenin is an interesting figure. (I mean, that sounds pretty silly as a way to put things, but it's also true.) I'm no Hegelian, but it is very hard to understand, in many senses, "world-historic" figures. The bits of his theoretical writing I've read (mostly his book on imperialism and nationalism) is less clear than ideal, but there are important ideas in it, and his other thought. I have pretty mixed feelings about Alasdair MacIntyre, but this bit from his short essay, "How not to write about Lenin" I have long at least mostly agreed with:
"For those who intend to write about Lenin there are at least two prerequisites. The first is a sense of scale. One dares not approach greatness of a certain dimension (and what holds of Lenin would hold equally of Robspierre or of Napoleon) without a sense of one's own limitations. A Lilliputian who sets out to write Gulliver's biography had best take care. Above all he dare not be patronizing....The second prerequisite is a sense of tragedy which will enable the historian to feel both the greatness and the failure of the October Revolution...."

But on the topic, yes, Russell's cool vision is striking, and often useful, and it's always worth remembering that he paid a significant price for his political views - not just going to jail during WWI, but also after that he spent a good time where he wasn't able to keep a regular position and was financially fairly insecure because of his moral and political views. I believe it was only after the publication of his History of Western Philosophy (with some associated legal issues there, too) that he was again financially secure.

s. wallerstein said...

Russell can be patronizing and while he easily sees the "failure of the October Revolution", he has no sense of its greatness nor of that of Lenin. After all, he was Lord Russell.