Saturday, September 5, 2009

Blogging, the Difference Between Talking and Writing, and How Blogging as Writing Supports Scholarship

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

One of the reasons I like blogging is that it forces me to write my thoughts instead of speaking my thoughts.  I worry about e-mail, and instant messaging, and Tweet, because they all blur the distinction between what is meant to be read and what is meant to be heard.  Many years ago, I argued a case in the Michigan Supreme Court, and not to put too fine a point on it, the appellee's brief was moderately incoherent.  I thought then the reason was it clearly had been dictated and transcribed, and not written.  That was talking when it should have been writing.

On the other hand, blogging as though you're writing can be boring.  There's certainly a lighter and more conversation style.  I'm using it right now.  But there is something about seeing the letters appear magically in the text box that imposes (on me, at least) a certain discipline.  Unlike my spoken words, which evaporate as they are spoken (be quiet!), the written ones, even in cyberspace, live on. 

That gray area between talking and writing has an analog in the production of scholarly thinking.  I'm not sure if it's passe now, but only a couple years ago there was a whole day colloquium at Harvard on whether blogging counted as scholarship (I remember sitting in my home office in Indianapolis, which means it was early 2006, listening to a web cast and hearing Kate Litvak dis it, and Larry Solum promote it).  Not that I would ever go out of my way to do an ego-search on Westlaw (cough, cough), but as long as I was there, I noticed that the last several citations to my work have been blog posts, not articles!

Over at The Conglomerate, Darian Ibrahim scribed some interesting thoughts on rational actor economics and behavioral economics as the theoretical bases of regulation, particularly comparing entrepreneurial markets and public markets.  I wrote a comment, and when I got done, I realized that I had capsuled a point better there than I had in my paper to which I referred.  It was, I am sure, the discipline of writing, even if ephemerally.   This morning I just got done modifying it into the concluding paragraph of the introductory section of The Epistemology of the Financial Crisis:  Complexity, Causation, Law, and Judgment (happily soon to appear in a prestigious law review near you!).  For what it's worth, here's the paragraph:

The overriding theme is that regulation needs to have an epistemological modesty about it, a certain lack of presumptuousness, all of which is belied by disciplines that think that critical causes can be reduced to (a) simple utility functions (rational actor economics), (b) complex functions that can actually model the world's almost infinite contingency (behavioral economics), or (c) an after-the-fact ascription of blame (law). The right answer, I suggest, is that broad policy requires relatively simple models, the necessary downside being there is only so much regulation of a complex world can accomplish. The crisis of epistemology in 1755 was that even after Newton's accomplishments in physical science, an earthquake still destroyed Lisbon, and the crisis of epistemology in 2009 is that all the algorithms in the world are not going to stop financial bubbles. The problem is endemic to all forward-looking judgments. Nobody knows until after the fact whether the entrepreneur is a peerless visionary or a self-deluded wacko, any more than I really know until after the fact that today is the day I should jump ship from the public securities markets because today they became a bubble.
Hmm. I wonder if the law review editors are going to want to take out "wacko"?

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