Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why I Blog

Andrew Sullivan, the former New Republic editor-turned blogger, once wrote an essay entitled "Why I Blog." I read it in The Atlantic Monthly a year or so ago.

Tonight, those three words - why I blog - popped into my head in a rather unexpected setting: deep in the prolix text of Hermann Hesse's strange novel The Glass Bead Game, first published in 1943.

The protagonist, Joseph Knecht, who has risen to be the head of a quasi-monastic order of cultural elites, is concerned about the tendency of many in the order to avoid engagement with the messy, conflict-prone realities of history. He offers the following statement as a counterweight to those who would retreat from the world in order to keep themselves pure.

"No noble and exalted life exists without knowledge of devils and demons, and without continual struggle against them."

Plenty of devils and demons have populated the pages of this blog during its 21-month existence. And they will likely continue to do so. Just today, I heard tell of a 2-year-old toddler killed by an 11-year-old babysitter in Georgia; a woman whose intelligence bordered on mental retardation executed in Virginia; documented cases of prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa; and on down the line.

Angels and demons was a Dan Brown novel - a voyeuristic fantasy. The devils and demons above are all too real, and they are only the tip of the iceberg in a world crying out in pain.

My struggle against such demons is not of the flesh, but of the spirit. I'm not a police officer, a corrections officer, a probation officer, or any of the other first-line reponders. I'm merely a commentator. But I strive, in my own way, to reorient the intellectual structure of the debate in America about what criminal justice policies we should employ.

More specifically, I aim to make not solely a religious case, but also a practical one, for America to free itself from the ideological blinders that have warped our policies in recent years. Of course, this will not be easy. Yet one must try. To quote Spinoza, beautiful things are as difficult as they are rare.

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