Would I do better with an editor?

Maybe you’re thinking: well, now Jochen must have lost it… I mean, at first, this question does seem a little like I am taking myself way too seriously here, right? It’s “just a blog”, it’s not a professional project, and so what the heck would I need an editor for anyway.

Well, yesterday I had two experiences that at least made me think there are benefits to having an editor. One was a long conversation I had with Marck, my boyfriend of more than three years now, in which he pointed out how, each time I had blogged in the middle of the night, literally burning my midnight oil, I might have been putting less scrutiny into my thoughts and, inadvertently of course, could have written something I wouldn’t have under other circumstances. And while I assured him that I have made it a rule to reread each and every blog post at least twice, in full, before hitting the little “Publish” button that WordPress offers, I cannot make the claim that I would never write something, particularly if it is written in “the heat of the moment”, that I might put differently at another time or in another mindset. The fact that typos and some other flaws remain is proof enough for me that I’m not perfect!

The second experience was that shortly after publishing my previous post about how accepting one’s mortality might be beneficial for the quality of our lives, a somewhat nagging feeling overcame me, and I wanted to “double-check” with Hedy Kober, the lead author of the soon-to-be-published study I am mentioning, whether I had overstepped any limits. And while I felt fairly confident, at the time of writing the blog post, that I hadn’t, I also couldn’t shake off the feeling that maybe I still had…

So that, in short, is why I think an editor might be beneficial: to provide a reality check on my assessment of values, and to work as a sounding board for my, uhm, admittedly present vanity, assuming that is the right term to describe my predicament. And I sincerely hope that I am only suffering from a relatively mild and harmless amount of it…

And again you might think: “What on earth is he talking about??”

Yeah, well, I think it is a confession which I must make sooner or later anyway… You see, as much as I can say that I enjoy a philosophical debate (which I do!), there is also a small but significant part of me that felt and feels having those debates in private with friends wasn’t and isn’t quite enough. This part “inspired” me to register this domain name and, in a way, has “driven” me to posting more or less regularly since this blog’s inception less than two weeks ago. Is it something I have a problem with? Not yet, or at least I hope so. And neither I hope is it a problem for my readers. But…

A couple of days ago I read a Facebook post in which a friend and former colleague of mine mentioned an article in Slate Magazine covering “Jonah Lehrer’s Journalistic Misdeeds at Wired.com”. So far I haven’t yet “self-plagiarized” my blog posts, at least to the best of my knowledge. I have just been hacking away at the keyboard every time I post, not using some sort of copy-and-pasting, with the exception of the Facebook comment I paraphrased for my post the other day–something I expressly noted there. But I think that every “misdeed” is, to some extent, a misjudgment in values and in some kind of moral code that people who want their published works to be taken seriously better adhere to.

The deeper issue this very article’s author, Charles Seife, raises is that people reading any kind of material that is published have an expectation about what they’re consuming. In the case of Jonah Lehrer, Seife argues that people had the reasonable expectation that every time a new article was written by Lehrer, each of these articles had to be “brand new”, at least to a great extent, and not simply “recycled” from prior work. As to whether or not that is a reasonable expectation and assumption, I must admit that I have a somewhat more nuanced opinion about.

Equally as in music, I believe that creative work always is a recombination of already existing material. To what extent this should be achievable by merely paraphrasing, if not copying parts of existing work–written by the same author previously, mind!–I cannot say, but at least in the realm of music remixes are among the most popular works published. And I tend to agree with wikipedia’s quote of Mr. Lehrer’s publisher, hoping the quote is correct, as I currently don’t feel like putting in an hour of “fact checking”, that you shouldn’t have to ask for permission to reuse your own works, and that Mr. Lehrer simply didn’t correctly state whenever he did so. Next to the re-use of his own material, there are claims of fabrication and misrepresentation of quotes and facts, which is something entirely different, and I currently don’t want to comment on, as I know by far too little about the whole background or Mr. Lehrer’s writing in general…

The initial question I had, however, remains interesting to me. Why? Well, as much as this blog is not a professional project–quoting from my very first post: “Given that I lack (complete and/or certified) academic, scientific training, I would never consider myself aprofessional philosopher“–I want my readers to enjoy consuming this blog and, while I prefer not to think of life as trying to meet expectations, I still want to allow readers to have at least some reasonable expectations about it. In that sense, I might at best approach this issue by asking: are their any “standards” I want my blog to meet?

Essentially I want to present my thoughts and opinions, as truthfully as possible, in a way that is, if anyhow achievable, entertaining but at the same time not at the expense of others. In short, I generally feel very opposed to the idea of inflicting pain or serious harm, which leads me back to my original conclusion: having an editor might very well work as a kind of sounding board. I try, very hard, to look at what I’m writing from different perspectives–does what I have written have the potential to cause pain?

Under certain circumstances, it seems inevitable to cause pain if I want to express my thoughts truthfully. Someone reading my blog might, for instance, already be “hurt” by encountering a thought that contradicts a vital aspect of this person’s worldview or way of life, such as in my post about abortion after rape. I would still feel saddened but, again, not sorry. Still I want to extend every effort possible to avoid publishing thoughts that, if I were to put myself into the position of someone not sharing my views, were construable as a personal insult or as hurting someone on purpose.

Equally, I want to and when it comes to my work as a research assistant at Columbia am even legally required to ensure that I do not publish anything that can be considered as a breach of confidentiality. When friends are concerned, I do not wish for them to feel less inclined to share their views with me in private because they fear being named in my next blog post. And equally I want the people I work for and with to have the faith that I will not publish anything that would affect their work or reputation negatively in any way.

How will I go about this practically? Well, I am not sure whether I can find someone willing to be an actual “editor”, someone who wants to perform the probably tedious and not necessarily altogether enjoyable task of having to “fact-check”, or rather “value-check” my posts. In case you are among the people I trust and feel inclined to apply for the “job”, let me know! In the meantime, I will send new posts to a small number of friends, probably two or three at most, and wait… If I hear back from them with comments, I at least know where to put some more effort into. And if I do not hear back from them, I will have to concede to rereading the post, after cooling down a little from that “heat of the moment”. Hopefully that can improve the quality and enjoyability of my posts. As always, comments are welcome!