Today is the third anniversary of Barataria. I have written at least three times a week, MWF, without a single miss, and with a few extras have over 500 posts. This is as good of a time as any to stop and mark what we’ve accomplished over the last year and answer the eternal question: What is this blog about? Please allow me a little indulgence as I look back at the last few years to find some coherence.
Barataria is about politics, based on a simple two-fold definition. The first definition is “The art and science of human interaction”, which is to say things like “office politics” or “domestic politics”. The second definition is “The operating system of a Democratic Republic”. What commonly passes for “politics” is a kind of spectator sport that I’ve never really understood, to be honest. All I’ve done is to go back to a very basic dictionary definition of the term.
You may say, “That’s cheating! A definition like that allows you to write about nearly anything!” Fair enough. But useful, relevant politics comes from something very different than the sound and fury told by talking heads on teevee. It starts with people’s lives and how they interact as a culture, an economy, or however they see fit. I happen to think that my Merriam-Webster definition is essential to a politics, to quote Eleanor Roosevelt by way of Paul Wellstone, that is about improving people’s lives.
The Barataria approach to politics is one of connections. I find it much more useful to look at how people, ideas, and things are connected than how they stand on their own for many reasons. The first definition of politics frankly demands it. More than that, the stress of changing times is often propagated in strange ways along connections from one person or institution to another – which then moves it along in a different way to someone else. Understanding the links that hold everything together is a much better way to not only get a handle on today but to make predictions about the future.
It’s also very consistent with my basic philosophy of life – to live “a strong half-step back”. That is, to be back from the messy part of the world just far enough to have perspective but deep enough in the work that your hands get dirty.
To be more academic about it, we live in a world that has been defined for a good 2500 years as “Western Civilization”. The core values dating back to ancient Greece include a belief in “Reductionism”, or that a complicated thing can be understood by breaking it down to the sum of its parts. The Eastern world tends to take a more holistic approach, stressing the nature of a system or person or thing as an entity. Looking at connections is a hybrid between the two that allows for a much more dynamic view of the world.
Think of the world as something like Ikea furniture that has arrived without instructions. Some people will eagerly dump all the pieces onto the floor to catalog and sort them. Others will want to stare at the picture on the box to figure out what it’s going to be. Barataria is about sitting down and writing the instructions. That, and periodically pointing out that some of the parts appear to be made from compressed industrial waste.
This view has gotten me into a little bit of hot water lately. I’ve written several times about the dangers of a world based on “experts”, an idea too central to our way of life to be easily questioned. Our mass media often relies on “experts” to give perspective without taking into account that every expert has their own agenda. At the very least they will want to preserve or expand the value of their narrow expertise. At worst, some of them are like the helpful neighbor that shows up to assemble the furniture with a hammer, loudly proclaiming that all the bits of metal and plastic are really just kinds of nails.
Over this last year Barataria has been picked up several times by other blogs and now runs often on the Twin Cities Daily Planet. Readership has stabilized and the comments have gotten much more numerous and rich. The average comment count is up over 5 per post as you have all helped refine and develop what may be a different way of seeing the world than the ordinary. I have to thank you all very much for not just being readers but to tell me when something doesn’t work or is just plain wrong.
I am considering having a “Pledge Drive” because, frankly, I could use the financial help. The button on the right that says “Donate” takes you directly to PayPal, and I’d appreciate whatever you can give. I would hope that $15 is not a lot to ask for 156 posts per year, some portion of them something you would never see anywhere else.
To close it all out, what is Barataria about? I think I said it well last year:
The name Barataria suggests that I am a kind of Don Quixote, mentally poisoned by reading too many fantasies. In truth, I find the world itself rather quixotic. I write to you more as a dutiful Sancho Panza, keeping track of things until the madness stops; I am not a rockstar. Cervantes gave us a deep sense of melancholy when the madness finally did stop, but at least loyal Sancho was given Barataria, the swampy “cheap lands”. In the end, Barataria is all I hope to achieve as well.
I hope this humble blog is a respite from a world that often seems crazy, with other forms of media old and new often making it seem crazier yet. Together, I think that we have contributed to a deeper understanding of how our world is put together. Thank you. Without you, there is no Barataria at all!