32 Theses (and several more words) on Podcasting

Alan Jacobs has not been shy about his dislike of podcasts—but recently posted an apology, along with a comment and a request. The comment:

I like podcasts that are professionally edited, scripted, festooned with appropriate music, crafted into some kind of coherent presentation. Podcasts like that seem respectful to the listener, wanting to engage my attention and reward it.

And the request:

Does anyone know of similarly well-crafted, artful podcasts made by conservatives or Christians? I have not yet found a single one. Podcasts by conservatives and Christians tend to be either bare-bones — two dudes talking, or one dude talking with maybe a brief musical intro and outro — or schmaltzily over-produced. (Just Christians in that second category.) Anyone know of any exceptions to this judgment? I suspect that there’s an unbridgeable gulf of style here, but I’d like to be proved wrong.

As a Christian in the world of podcasting—I have both a “two dudes talking” show (Winning Slowly) and also a “one dude talking with maybe a brief musical intro and outro” show (New Rustacean)—I found much to agree with, but also much to clarify and a few things to disagree with.

To be clear, this isn’t a plea for you to listen to either of those shows. Rather, it is an explanation of what podcasting entails and why the kinds of things Jacobs is looking for are rare. (That being said: we did time this piece to coincide with the start of Winning Slowly Season 5, which kicked off today with an introduction to our take on the ever-challenging problem of systemic pressures and individual agency, and I think it would be right up the alley of many Mere O readers.)

1. Theses on Podcasting

First, a set of theses on podcasting as a medium. Some of these are obvious; none are intended to be tendentious. Some of them warrant further explanation—for which, see below.

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On the Quirky Author Bio

If you’ve spent any amount of time online then you have come across a weird genre of online writing that we’re going to call the Quirky Author Bio. You’ll find them at the end of blog posts all over the internet. It goes like this: “So-and-so is a writer from (city, state) whose hobbies include cooking, reading, and poking badgers with spoons. He has a pet porcupine named Mr. Prickles and loves making home-brewed kombucha. His favorite word is ‘onomatopoeia.'” (NOTE: If the subject of said biography is a Christian male, the odds of the bio also including awkward or creepy references to the man’s wife and her physical attractiveness are ~60% with that figure rising to ~85% if the man in question is reformed.)

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Housekeeping News

Hey all, here are a few brief housekeeping things I wanted to draw to your attention.

Secure Browsing

First, if you at the URL bar, you’ll see a padlock next to the URL for the website.

mere-o-secure

This is a sign that Mere O now has an SSL certificate, which is another way of saying the site is now secure. This has some benefit for us with ranking in Google, but the larger reason for that is so that we are able to receive online donations to help with our costs. Continue reading

Moral Sentimentalism and Mechanized Society

Recently Alastair Roberts and I had the chance to do an email back and forth over an issue I’ve noticed increasingly often in the way that many are reasoning about issues of public ethics. Unsurprisingly, the discussion sprawled out a bit from there and brought in everything from the work of Jonathan Haidt to the bureaucratic state to the way that the internet shapes and constrains our reasoning. It’s a bit long, but hopefully enjoyable. My emails are in bold. Thanks for reading!

Alastair, here’s my basic observation. You tell me if I’m crazy.

In discussions of public policy it is very rare to find the online discussion beginning from a place of inquiry or a felt need to investigate further. There is a kind of instinctive assumption that we just know the good and so the main priority is then advocating for that good, shaming those who are opposed to it, etc. The name I’ve given this so far is “moral positivism.”

It seems like there are a number of things that likely feed into this. One of them is the assumption behind a lot of left-wing writing these days that most public problems aren’t necessarily moral problems, but administrative ones. Find the right public policy to realize the good and we’re sorted. That’s my biggest critique of the Vox.com set. (This is, of course, a quintessentially modern way of approaching social problems and is precisely the sort of thing CS Lewis is attacking in That Hideous Strength.)

Another point is that I think the Overton window on certain issues has become incredibly small. If something can plausibly be framed as being the position in favor of equality or the compassionate position, then it’s almost impossible to make arguments against it. Continue reading

A Note on Mere O Notes

Hey all, so I’m still sorting through some of the things I want to do with Mere O as the lead writer. One thing I’ve been thinking about, and reading this book has pushed me further along in this thinking, is the role that Mere O Notes will play on the site. When Matt and I launched that part of the site the vision was to have a kind of Daily Dish-style curation hub that we used to share interesting essays and articles we came across online.

Since that time, a few things have happened: Continue reading

On Tinder and Why It’s OK to Commodify Sex

In the aftermath of last week’s Vanity Fair story on Tinder and the end of dating there was no shortage of hand-wringing by many readers who were, rightly, appalled at what they found in the story. But upon reflection it seems odd that it would be this particular story that elicits such strong reactions from readers. In many ways the story being told is not new. We have had dating apocalypse stories for far longer than we’ve had Tinder, after all. And when you shift from the anecdotal approach used by Nancy Jo Sales, the author of the original piece, and toward more comprehensive data sets the resulting picture is much more complex than Sales’s story would suggest. Continue reading

Twitter Is Like Elizabeth Bennet’s Meryton

I’m quite pleased to feature this piece from Mere Fidelity contributor Alastair Roberts today. You can follow him on Twitter here or read his personal blog here

‘A Truth Universally Acknowledged…’

In a 1997 article on communal judgment in Pride and Prejudice, William Deresiewicz observed that Pride and Prejudice is, at first glance, an apparent exception to Austen’s practice of opening her novels by introducing a central character.(1) Indeed, Elizabeth Bennet’s character doesn’t truly come to the foreground until around the sixth chapter. Closer examination, however, reveals that there is a central character introduced at the beginning of the novel: the community, with its values, expectations, conventions, and practices. The opening sentence of the book—‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’—is a ‘mock aphorism’, which is swiftly exposed to be nothing but a judgment that is ‘well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families’ of the neighbourhood. The earlier episodes of the story focus upon the neighbourhood of Meryton and its collective consciousness, which emerges as Mr Bingley and his friends move to Netherfield and become known to the community of the local gentry, most particularly in the opening ball. Deresiewicz remarks: ‘Elizabeth cannot appear until well into this initial story because it is that story—the story of how a community thinks, talks, exerts influence—that produces her plot, that produces her’ (504). Continue reading

The Evolution of Blogs and the Future of Mere O

If the conventional blog wasn’t dead before The Dish’s demise, the shuttering of Andrew Sullivan’s iconic internet publishing venture surely signaled the end of traditional blogging. Once an intriguing new publishing form that shunned the norms of traditional journalism for a more personal and—wretched word—”edgy” tone, the blog has now basically died with only a few odd examples that are holding on. These days many classic traits we associate with blogs are simply normal parts of more conventional online publishing. Continue reading

A Resignation Letter

Let me get this out of the way, so no one else has to say it:  “Farewell, Matthew Lee Anderson.” Effective immediately, I am stepping down as Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy and handing full control of the site over to Jake Meador. He will assume responsibility for all aspects of the site. If he makes me “Emeritus Writer,” well, I won’t turn him down. I am also indefinitely departing from Twitter, though I will be carrying on with Mere Fidelity.  Whenever we get off our summer holiday, that is (which should be next week).

Eleven years ago, a friend and advisor told me that I should begin a ‘blog,’ a new medium that was democratizing discourse and opening up career paths for people who knew nothing about the traditional means of rising the ranks in publishing. I gathered a few close friends, took my inspiration from C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, and Mere Orthodoxy was born. It’s impossible for me to sum up everything this site has meant to my life since that day: we have never been famous or had a large audience. But our small size was one of our greatest strengths, especially in those early years. I was so young, and a barely adequate writer and thinker then, but somehow a small and extremely intelligent community formed and we argued and argued and argued together. Those years were crucial for my formation as a writer and as a person. And now that I am a decade older and still a barely adequate but much more verbose writer, I still don’t have the skills to say how much this ‘place’ means to me. Deciding to step down was the single most difficult decision I have made in a long time. Continue reading