One of the characteristics of blogging is that reader interest waxes and wanes in interesting ways. For all the requests I get from some quarters to ignore some people, I notice that many of those same folks who make that request (including fellow professional academic historians) comment only when the exchanges grow fast and furious in various blog wars. Next they’ll tell me that the only read certain magazines for the articles.
This is not to say that some folks don’t miss the exchanges. Take Connie Chastain, who observed at the end of last month on her new Facebook group:
Perfesser Simpson is not only studiously ignoring moi and this group, but also ignoring “the gift that keeps on giving” — the Southern Heritage Preservation Group. Why the sudden disinterest, do you s’pose?
First, someone tell Connie what “disinterest” means. Some would say that her mangling of the language is reason enough to ignore her.
But the answer is simple: I don’t find those groups interesting or useful. This was not always the case, for such groups once yielded occasional gems worth mentioning and discussing. Now one goes to Connie’s group to see a lot of mudslinging, name-calling, and so on, with folks making comments about people’s sexuality to boot. Sounds like a now-moribund usenet group to me. The SHPG is simply boring, repeating the same old same old. It’s ceased giving.
Besides, the value of engaging certain parties is limited. Take Richard Williams’s Old Virginia Blog, which broadcasts the same old themes to a slim readership (I was surprised to see how few hits Richard has gotten over the years; I suspect the number would be even lower had it not been for some other bloggers noticing his commentary). Richard likes to rant about academic historians, although he has no problem with academic historians who reinforce his prejudices and perspective, which in itself calls into question his ranting about academic historians. What amuses me about Richard is that he doesn’t understand how he contradicts himself.
Not long ago Richard decided to note that I had commented on what he had posted about a proposal in the Virginia legislature to proclaim a Lincoln Day in the Old Dominion. Richard had offered several historical assertions about Lincoln, and I assessed each one. I also questioned his premise about why some people had not commented on the proposal: the reason was simply that other than a handful of blogs, it had gone unnoticed, which is often the case (I would not have heard about it had Kevin Levin not offered a series of posts on the matter; no one mentioned it to me at last week’s meeting of the Abraham Lincoln Association, which suggests the lack of interest in the issue).
As to what I had said about his observations on Lincoln, Richard asserted that “the good Professor’s remarks do a fair job of simply confirming what I originally wrote. Read it for yourself and see if you disagree.” Yet Richard also claimed that my “remarks offer up the same tired defenses of Lincoln’s attitudes and public record on race.” Does Richard mean that I was “simply confirming” Richard’s “same tired defenses”? I don’t think he meant that, but he can’t very well say that we agreed on much while objecting to what I said as “the same tired defenses” without indicting himself. Is he denying that there were areas of agreement? Then he didn’t read the post very carefully. Later he terms my response “a spirited, but hypocritical, hair-splitting, defense,” which strikes me as odd, given that he’s already claimed that there are areas of agreement. He fails to support his assertion, but that’s par for the course, as you can see if you read the entire entry.
Watch him issue all sorts of denials and evasions. I’ve fed the monster!
The truth is that Richard doesn’t want to take what people say at face value in his rush to create a debate where even he suggests there isn’t much of one. That wouldn’t serve his agenda of attacking academic historians, his favorite strawman (even as his own posts undermine that strawman).
Richard attempts to press what he believes to be an effective attack. Noting that I had observed that perhaps he hadn’t read my blog, he responds:
In the past Richard Williams has apologized for misrepresenting what I have said. However, it appears he learned nothing from that experience. Why other bloggers engage him is beyond me. It’s like wrestling with a pig: both of you get dirty and the pig enjoys it.
And that brings me back to my point … that engaging some people is a waste of time. I admit to doing exactly that in this case in order to suggest why I will not be doing it except when it serves my interests. As for those of you who enjoy that sort of thing, read Richard’s blog, peruse the continuing repetition of the same perspective at the SHPG site, or watch the fur fly at Connie’s Facebook group (as well as her sagging blog). I recall Connie’s claims as to the ineffectiveness of both her endeavors and those of the SHPG, and I now see that while they are entertaining, they are also insignificant. My mistake for ever considering otherwise. And if I never see anyone mention Richard’s collection of rants again, I won’t miss it.