"Are bloggers parasites"? teases Swaraaj Chauhan of The Moderate Voice [via Pajamas Media], citing "In praise of the parasitic blogger," a post by Nicholas Carr of roughtype in support of the argument that we who blog are indeed parasites. We checked out Carr's post and realized he's got the right argument -- big time, a must read -- re how bloggers ingest and recycle MSM droppings, but the wrong word. Carr appears to use parasite and scavenger interchangeably, and that's where he goes wrong. First a couple of definitions [via answers.com], and then on to a comparison -- with thanks to Glenn Reynolds, who answered the question even before there was a blogosphere way back when in his scholarly legal essay “Is democracy like sex?” Definitions first:
Parasite [Latin parasītus, a person who lives by amusing the rich, from Greek parasītos, person who eats at someone else's table, parasite : para-, beside; see para–1 + sītos, grain, food.]:
1. Biology. An organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host.
2. a. One who habitually takes advantage of the generosity of others without making any useful return. b. One who lives off and flatters the rich; a sycophant.
3. A professional dinner guest, especially in ancient Greece.
Parasites, who may have been charming dinner guests in antiquity, nevertheless deplete the living, while organisms that scavenge, recycling the energy of dead things, "extract useful materials from garbage or waste," which is really what we bloggers do and what Nicholas Carr of roughtype is talking about when he says "Blogging is, at its essence, a critical form, a means of recycling other writings to ensure that every molecule of sense, whether real or imagined, is distilled and consumed":
I've been reading Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map, about the great London cholera epidemic of 1854. The book opens with a richly scatalogical survey of the city's teeming underclass economy, which was built almost entirely on scavenging. The poor were parasites [See definitions above] who sustained themselves by collecting the leavings of other Londoners - rags, bones, bits of coal and wood, feces - and, with remarkable enterprise, transforming them into cash. There was even, Johnson tells us, a booming market in dog shit -- lovingly known as "pure" -- which tanners purchased to rub on their leathers to neutralize the lime they used to remove hair from hides.
"We're naturally inclined to consider these scavengers tragic figures, and to fulminate against a system that allowed so many thousands to eke out a living by foraging through human waste," writes Johnson. "But such social outrage should be accompanied by a measure of wonder and respect: . . . this itinerant underclass managed to conjure up an entire system for processing and sorting the waste generated by two million people . . . Far from being unproductive vagabonds . . . these people were actually performing an essential function for their community."
Taking Carr's argument one step further, we would add that bloggers are not only scavengers of dead and cast-off things but equally importantly we are parasite slayers, our activities analogous to the evolutionary function of sex itself in the Glenn Reynolds sense, as explained in his seminal essay twelve years back, "Is democracy like sex," blogged here:
I have chosen as an analogy or metaphor another widely criticized and misunderstood institution -- sex. In short, some discoveries resulting from the application of complexity theory to the question of evolutionary fitness among biological systems have important implications for our discussion of the fitness of the body politic. Both kinds of systems face a similar problem -- maintaining a balance between adaptability and stability on the one hand, while resisting parasitism on the other. In essence, democracy can be viewed as serving the same function in political systems that sex serves for biological systems -- enhancing resistance to parasites.
Relatedly, as we wrote awhile back in one of our all-time favorite posts, "Bloggers are 'cracking, popping, drilling and peeling their victims open'":
Leftists have become soft and flabby in their thinking over the last 20, 30 or more years because their fellow travelers in the mainstream media -- supposed to be keeping them honest -- have been giving them a free ride, even as thinkers of the right, not enjoying such reflexive support, have been honing our debating and intellectual survival skills. That leaves the left soft and lazy and the right battle ready. Enter the bloggers, stage right. As paleontologist Dr. Vermeij might say, "It isn't going to be pretty." Googling the good doctor, we were thrilled to see his field studies of animal evolution had led him to very much the same place Thomas Sowell has come to in his studies of economics.
"From humans to hermit crabs to deep water plankton, all living things compete for locally limiting resources," wrote Dr. Vermeij:
This universal truth unites three bodies of thought -- economics, evolution and history -- that have developed largely in mutual isolation. Here, Geerat Vermeij undertakes a groundbreaking and provocative exploration of the facts and theories of biology, economics and geology to show how processes common to all economic systems -- competition, cooperation, adaptation and feedback -- govern evolution as surely as they do the human economy, and how historical patterns in both human and nonhuman evolution follow from this principle.
As we commented back then:
The leftist utopian dream was doomed from the start because it denied the economic logic of nature and human nature. The long-repressed voices of opposition in a free society, now ringing loud and clear through talk radio, cable TV and -- of course -- the blogosphere, will force the left to rethink its arguments or go extinct.
Let us pray. And don't get us started on mycorrhizal associations.