Secular Blogging Religions and Healthy Skepticism

 

The blogosphere is a world full of people with answers.

Want to make money fast? I’ve got some marketing tips to throw your way.

Want to pick up women? Don’t worry, with this e-product, you’ll be irresistible.

Want to be a better person and live a better life? Fear not, Minimalism/lifestyle design/location independence/entrepreneurship will save you and all will be well with all things, always and forever. Amen.

The thing is that none of the answers given is THE answer. I know this because there IS no one, true answer. There’s no sure-fire money-making model, path to happiness or moral absolute.

But in the blogging world, you’ve got to streamline and emphasize your messages so that they are easily-understood and digested by the largest number of people possible (if you want to be a professional blogger, anyway). Otherwise, the notoriously finicky and A.D.D. population of the Internet will browse right past you, leaving your manifesto unread, your egoods unbought and your rallying cry unheard.

The end result is what you see available now; smart folks with lots of good ideas talking about one thing as if it’s the be-all end-all of philosophical thought. It seems like there aren’t any idea people left…just revolutionaries. Everything is a movement instead of just a good idea, because people don’t listen to good ideas but they like insurrection.

After all, if it bleeds, it leads.

Take Minimalism, for example (something I write about and am well-acquainted with). The Internet has exploded with Minimalist bloggers; all reducing their number of possessions, talking about Tyler Durden (that’s actually a common theme for just about every category of blog…do a search and tell me I’m wrong) and expressing the benefits of their newly-chosen lifestyle to the world.

And this is great, don’t get me wrong! I consider myself a Minimalist, and though I may take a slightly different approach to the philosophy than some other adherents, I think the enthusiasm I’ve been seeing for the ideas and ideals of Minimalism is great…it’s nice to see people get excited about something that I consider to be a good approach to life.

What we all need to keep in mind, however, is the danger of assuming that because a blogger focuses on and writes about one topic all the time that what they are discussing is THAT important.

I see Minimalism as a challenge and a philosophy that fits with how I wanted to live my life anyway, but it’s not a religion. If you were to ask me if it’s important I would answer ‘To me, it’s very important!’

If you were to ask me if it’s the most important thing in the world, however, I would say ‘Of course not. It’s just one of many good ideas that works for some people. I like it, and you might too, but maybe not. Let’s get a drink.’

Viva la revolution.

Blogs, by their very nature, are marketing tools. Anyone who tells you they know all the answers is trying to sell you something, and many of the people who don’t make this claim are as well.

Most bloggers mean well – myself included – and aren’t intentionally trying to deceive, but we all must necessarily leave out potentially pertinent information in order to convey an idea clearly.

Remember that – and the fact that you’re being sold to – and take in ideas a la carte rather than wholesale, constructing your own philosophy as you go along rather than submitting to the secular blogging religion of an e-guru (or any guru, for that matter).

Good ideas are only good until they become dogmatic, and Minimalism, location independence, lifestyle design, internet marketing, entrepreneurship, blogging and every other idea (read: product) that’s being pitched by a choir of adherents are great so long as you approach them the same way you’d approach a box of chocolates: take a few pieces that you especially like and that suit your palette, then leave the rest for other people to munch on.

Eating the whole box can be satisfying, of course, but the consequences can be a real bitch.

An open mind is important to growing as a human being, but a skeptical nature keeps us from swimming in a sea of meaningless prattle and false revolutions.

30 comments

  1. Good post. Good to see more length in this one (and a solid message).

    We agree: minimalism is a means to an end, that end being a meaningful, happy, fulfilled, free life. There are obviously other ways to achieve these things, but minimalism is just a tool to assist with your journey.

    Funny you mentioned Tyler Durden. Palahniuk created a very compelling character in Durden, one who is obviously anti-consumerism. Plus we (westerners specifically) tend to like the morally ambiguous—and sometimes reprehensible—bad guys (e.g., Durden, Tony Soprano, Patrick Bateman, et al.). Durden just happens to share many of the anti-consumer philosophies that are somewhat a synecdoche for minimalism.

    And yes, while Durden is ultimately a despicable person (or, more accurately, a despicable figment of the narrator’s imagination), he is undoubtably appealing (e.g., “All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me: I look like you want to look. I fuck how you want to fuck. I am smart, I am capable, and, most of all, I am free in all of the ways you are not.”

    Oh, and to prove your point, you’re right: even we wrote about Tyler Durden’s minimalist quotes on our site: http://themins.com/fc

  2. Some people enjoy dogma and swimming in a sea of meaningless prattle and false revolutions…As with eating chocolate until you are sick, they do it until they don’t want to do it anymore. Let them have their fun.

  3. Great post, Colin.

    Reminds me of something that I read’s in Tim’s new book- 4HB. He says that you should always ask the following questions when being sold a bill of goods, “If this method/product didn’t work as advertised, what might their other incentives for selling it be.”

    Tim uses the example of aerobics classes: they tell you that they are selling it because it’s better than other exercise alternatives, but in reality, it’s the most profitable per square foot and per human resource use of their capital.

    This applies equally to any blogging niche. Someone promoting a minimalist philosophy can tell you that, “This is better than a life of rampant consumerism, because of X, Y and Z.” But is this actually, relating to my statement above, the niche with the lowest barrier to entry and the most profitable per hour spent working and in depth knowledge required. Example: I can sell all my stuff and tell people about it, or I can teach myself the ins and outs of some complex subject. I’d take the first scenario every day.

    Please note – I’m just relaying some advice on meeting every concept with a healthy dose of skepticism. On a personal note, I agree with your take and think you promote it in a tasteful way (instead of a jam-it-down-your-throat, way).

  4. Great article, and well written.

    I often fall for the trap of really liking a few blogs, agreeing with all their ideas, then when the box of chocolates is done (ie when their blog starts to just repeat everything I already heard before) I take a step back and use my brain.

    I’m trying to stop reading so many blogs on minimalism, but they’re like a box of chocolates and I keep coming back to them.

  5. Oh no! You pulled back the curtain. Ignore the man behind the curtain. One of the things I don’t like about my chosen niche is holding things back that I know will confuse people if I put them in. I dole out information in smaller bites. Even then, I feel I’m cutting too much out.

    Since my show/blog is about building and growing an online business, I’ve taken to showing people how I’m selling to them as I’m selling to them. It cuts down on my conversions a bit, but I’m trying to teach how it’s done so I pull back the curtain every now and then.

    Great article, Colin.

  6. 1. I’ve never seen/read Fight Club and have no desire to ever. So you won’t find Durden on my blog. That’s a money back guarantee!

    2. This is something I struggle with on my new blog. I don’t ever want to be that obnoxious guy who promises to fix your life. I just want to write stuff that makes people think and that yes, that makes them want to buy longer pieces I might sell one day. I think there are really intelligent people in the minimalist community who understand we’re just sharing ideas not dogma, but there are always going to be sheep in every community who forget how to think for themselves. Like you said we have to be laser-focused and I think we have to focus on the people with common sense to pick and choose what works for them and not take our word as holy scriptures from on high.

  7. I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking this way. This is why I like to read your blog Colin –>

    “I see Minimalism as a challenge and a philosophy that fits with how I wanted to live my life anyway, but it’s not a religion. If you were to ask me if it’s important I would answer ‘To me, it’s very important!’

    If you were to ask me if it’s the most important thing in the world, however, I would say ‘Of course not. It’s just one of many good ideas that works for some people. I like it, and you might too, but maybe not. Let’s get a drink.’

    Keep it up =)

  8. I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking this way. This is why I like to read your blog Colin –>

    “I see Minimalism as a challenge and a philosophy that fits with how I wanted to live my life anyway, but it’s not a religion. If you were to ask me if it’s important I would answer ‘To me, it’s very important!’

    If you were to ask me if it’s the most important thing in the world, however, I would say ‘Of course not. It’s just one of many good ideas that works for some people. I like it, and you might too, but maybe not. Let’s get a drink.’

    Keep it up =)

  9. This time I totally agree with you ;-) I love how the internet opens you up to many, many new ideas and ways of thinking that you can select or not to incorporate into your life. All the diversity is wonderful and I love that there is no one answer, but by reading you learn and you better understand others and grow!

  10. Great write up and absolutely spot on with the overwhelming marketing effort that we deal with on a daily basis.

    I had a VERY similar conversation last night with a good friend, discussing the ins and outs of the blogosphere, the constant marketing, the idea that everyone is telling you how to do one thing or another, because it worked for them.

    The fact of the matter is like you said, there is not one silver bullet solution for any problem, let alone one to rework our lives. Everyone is different and has different needs/wants/desires, and it is to cater to those needs/wants/desires that all these blogs exist.

    Rule of thumb, read everything with a touch of skepticism and try to understand how you can take the blog writer’s stories and apply them to your life, not how you can follow them blindly.

  11. Hey Colin! I just want to say that I’m really liking your deeper, philosophical post of the past times. Keep up the great work!

  12. I was asked by my friend once if I thought minimalism was the end-all be-all (he was reading my blog and seen the revolutionary messages intertwined in the throw-your-junk-away posts) because it sure sounded like it. As if there was some sort of destination I was aiming at through the art and practice of minimalism as a lifestyle choice.

    I said, “No, of course not. I care very much about many other choices, topics and ideas. Minimalism just happens to be what I’m passionate writing about, amongst a few select topics.”

    What I mean to say is, the reader will never fully know the writer’s intrinsic intention/motive/purpose/whatever purely by the writing itself. It’s two dimensional in nature (writing), though it paints a multi-dimensional message when certain words blended together creates those vivid pictures we so desperately want. Perhaps that’s why the Seduction post was so dramatically wild and crazy (for Castles, anyway). Few words blended together ever so carefully created a provocative, intoxicating combination, not to be confused with I’m using descriptive sensual examples as a sex-sells approach. On the contrary. But of course, how will readers know this? Unless they ask? Or I tell them explicitly?

    Sometimes, one must leave the message as is. There needs no justification or reasoning. Art is art, let the person interpret it for him/herself. :)

  13. This is a really important touchstone. Giving “buy-in” in moderation is a key part of staying sane and focused on what you really care about. It applies not just to ideas, but to institutions – I’ve seen friends really believe in a company, or a politician, only to be heartbroken when they make a decision that isn’t for the common good. Loyalty or buy-in is a currency we should invest carefully.

  14. This is very interesting. I have never thought of myself as selling a product.I didn’t think I even had a product yet.

    I like the post all in all. I should be more selective in my voracious reading. But there is so much interesting stuff out there.

    Also I have not looked at blogging as a form of secular preaching on a par with a priest’s homily. Again a very interesting perspective.

    Thank you for sharing it with the world.

  15. Chase Night, fight club is great. Check it out.

    Great point in your post here. Truth is an inner quality, that can only be applied to the world through actions and words that exist for a moment, then have nothing to do with truth any more… that’s how I conceptualise it.

    The blogosphere is young, people are very excited. Things will change, become more in line with our nature and selves… and truth perhaps.

  16. My thoughts on this issue, which I’ve been commenting with people like Chase for example down here, are that every day I get this feeling that most blogs are becoming more, and more alike. Or at least the content and style is anyway. Of course not everyone is a face in the crowd and there are amazing talents out there, but it’s like every day my twitter is more and more full of people saying the exact same words, maybe in different combinations. As if everyone is writing about the same stuff. And while I celebrate the diversity of different points of view in the same matter, I still think it’s becoming a liiiittle repetitive.

    I don’t know… I feel like saying “Alright guys, we understood how to attract more traffic to ourwebsites, and how marketing will save us all, and why I should live my dream. I get it. Can we blog about something else now?”

    Maybe this doesn’t even matter in the end, as long as we all keep using these tools to develop ourselves and our souls to become better human beings, live fullest lives and be happier, so we can inspire others to do the same.

  17. Pingback: How to Employ Minimalist Transparency: Naked Truth and Full Disclosure | The Art of Minimalism

  18. Just to play devil’s advocate: why does it always have to be a change the audience/consumer/innocent-bystander has to make? Do we say the same when other industries that SOME consider dangerous/nocive/pick-nasty-term do or say something that they don’t like, or do we ask them to change their message? I want to make sure that we’re being consistent…

    I agree with your point, but you are only pointing to one side of the coin. The measurement game should be played by both sides. Otherwise, we are accepting that the end justifies the means.

    • I hear ya on this one. I’m a big “we really CAN change the world” type of person and even I wonder if sometimes it’s all futile. Americans EAT UP reality tv. And so networks produce more of it. And so Americans watch even more of it. And so networks produce more of it. And you know what, most of it is really crappy, the quality stuff eventually goes sour (Real World), it is erroding narrative-based television, and lots of folks don’t really enjoy it they watch it because it’s on. But that’s the cycle we’re in.

      When I did programming for a national television, I had to find the balance between “push the audience to accept quality over the crap they think they want” and “give the audience what they want or they’ll go elsewhere, with their money and your job.” It’s a compromise almost everyone makes: businesspeople, artists, religious leaders…

      The key is finding the right balance to keep the audience engaged while gently nudging them to something better.

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  20. I think part of the reason bloggers are full of answers is because that’s one of the main goals of any article; solve a problem for your readers. If a visitor is interested in a topic they stay. Maybe sales will follow, but many enthusiastic bloggers aren’t selling anything.

    If a type of blog seems to be saying the same thing over and over, maybe it’s time for you to read something different. That’s how learning works. You can only read so much about a subject before you start to become an “expert” yourself.

  21. Well said! I’m always amused when people jump on the next good idea as “THIS IS THE MEANING OF LIFE”.

    I’ve been a minimalist for years. Except I didn’t know I was being a minimalist. I just thought I was a cheap bastard! :)

  22. “Eating the whole box can be satisfying, of course, but the consequences can be a real bitch.”

    - I second that one after reading this article right off a recent Chocolate Truffle binge from which I am still hurting.

  23. Great post and love this quote – “secular blogging religion of an e-guru.” Critical thinking skills are some of the most important skills out there, but unfortunately it seems like they are valued less in our educational system and are taught less. These skills give people the tools to look at information, analyse it, ask important questions and then figure out what part of that information is relevant for his/her situation. This applies to the blogosphere or to filtering data from TV or other media.

    In our world of travel, there are people who want to have the “easy answer” to how to travel the world. Trust me, there are a lot of difficult and uncomfortable decisions to get to that point of departure. And, once you’ve embarked on your journey, don’t you want it to be your own experience created for yourself instead of following in someone’s footsteps?

  24. This is true for most things in life. Take a bit from column A, and a bit from column B.

    Its kind of ironic though that in the case of minimalism you have the situation where people are spending so much money on programs and eBooks – despite wanting a minimalist lifestyle some people end up over-consuming anyway.

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