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Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Not a Total Eclipse of the Heart

I'm back with Frans again. Somehow I get the feeling he may never leave me. The topic of the day is my post on the uses and abuses of English. The real problem arises for bloggers whose first language isn't English. I think this has to be a real dilemna. Frans writes to me:

In relation to your posts on language I must admit that my “Sorry-page” (for not writing in English) was one of the first I wrote for my website: more than a year before I discovered the phenomenon of web logs altogether and written while I had some hope that maybe later I could maintain a website in both English and Dutch. The last few months I have been searching for Dutch blogs on economy and/or politics of sufficient quality. In vain. So I was thinking already of switching to English for my site. Partly thanks to your site I discovered the “realm” of English blogs of quality. Your posts make me give more serious consideration to the idea of switching. I might lose some of the already small number of visitors and now wonder if I should worry about losing readers who would be deterred by my (inevitably simple) English.This question refers to a dilemma that is closely related to a second core element of my thinking and (intended) writings; on the decline of political parties, dominance (-still-!) of ideologies in politics, democracy, television and populism. My way out of this dilemma is a proposal for more independent politicians (emphasis on more or independent) and indirect elections.

What Frans is explaining here is the increasing returns, power-law structure problem. If he switches to English he'll lose the small number of Dutch visitors, and gain some English ones. But the big loser will be dutch web-logging, since there will be one less voice there, Henry would probably call this a classic polya-urn process, one less red ball. I don't know what to tell him. I have to let you all in on a little secret, I would really like to maintain a Catalan weblog, but where would I find the time (does this man never sleep!). My, pragmatic, solution is to hope one day that I can persuade a friend to start one and let me post. (I suppose that's really what I will suggest to Frans, that he keeps the Dutch one going, one day there will be more readers in Holland(!!!), and send me over some 'un-smooth' material to post for him).

But why do I call Frans my European-conscience alter-ego? Because, as must be obvious, I have taken a strong stand in favour of some things we Europeans can learn from our US neighbours across the Atlantic. In particular I like the attitude to change, to IT, to the small guy or gal getting a chance, to the 'free' dimension of the internet (oh, I know this is under threat, but we aren't there yet, by any means), to openness of information, to the Fed over the ECB, to Amazon over Bertellsman, to Yahoo over Terra Lycos etc etc etc. In particular, I think we Europeans are far too ensconced in our 'nationalities' and not sufficiently open to the problem of adapting our identities. This issue becomes especially sharp in the area of immigration, and in this sense the American identity - with its appreciation of the strength of diversity - must be far better adapted to the realities of the modern global world: in particular the global world in which some societies are ageing rapidly while others have a superabundance of children. We need to read our Axelrod, and understand the strategic benefits of cooperation and sharing.

I think it is no accident that Paul Krugman spends most of his time criticising contemporary American society and lauding the benefits of being Mario Monte, or being French, while I rail against the ECB and the French, and laud the land of Jefferson. It is a question of perspective. It is always easier to defend home and criticise abroad, so those who seek the more rugged paths criticise home and defend abroad. This is where I need people like Frans, to remind me of who I am, and to remind me that we can, all of us, stretch an argument too far.

One last point about Frans. His remarks about ideology. Here I am in 100% with him. Blogging is about diversity. Truths in blogging are not one but many. This is our selection advantage. This is why, among other reasons, I have a soft spot for the Farrell's of this world, not because I agree with them (in some ways we couldn't be farther apart) but because the Blogosphere is richer for their presence.

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