Why Write for a Public?


There’s a question that I’ve been putting off, and I can’t really get around it any longer. I’ve been confused about the problem for a while now, and now that a friend’s recently pointed it out again I can’t ignore it any longer with a clear conscience. I feel that my question – and the accompanying feeling – is one that many people share, so I’d like to share my train of thought on this and see if we can get somewhere by following it for a while.

“Why write for a public?”, they said[1]. “Sure, I’d like to submit an article, David, but part of me just doesn’t see a convincing reason why I would broadcast my thoughts in the first place. My voice is neither new nor fresh, and whatever it could express many other people could express a lot better in the space that I use for it. And the same goes for you! You’re a perfectly okay dude, and your flowery shirts are just swell, but isn’t it somewhat self-indulgent to inspect your navel as deep as you can and to display the dusty, vague findings for all to see? You and I would be pretty much wasting public space that would be better used otherwise by other people.”

I had no real answer. I started debating myself.

[D1] “Hey David, does self-expression need legitimizing?”

[D2] “Hey David, how about no. How about freedom of speech and the universal right to have a voice and to have it heard?”

[D1] “Right, good point, I should reframe the question. Does public self-expression need legitimizing?”

[D2] “Still freedom of speech, pal.”

[D1] “Another fair point, so I suppose we move again. Why do many people, including you and I, often feel so iffy about expressing themselves in public? Do you remember when we did that school stage performance thing? It went pretty well, and it was nice eating pizza with the rest of class beforehand, but I remember us having to flip off our humility-switch somewhat to put ourselves out there on stage. Here’s the thing though: flipping off the switch felt, for lack of a better word, irrational somehow. Or brash. Something in that general direction. A certain feeling that part of me just feels really uncomfortable with.”

[D2] “As if putting yourself in the spotlight inevitably came with the risk of wasting the valuable time and space of other people, who perhaps had better things to do that fateful night than attend whatever you think you called that performance?”

[D1] “Yes!”

[D2] “You’re being silly, David. You’ve been born, you’re here now, you’re not going away anytime soon, and whatever you have to express has an inimitable identity, and an irreplaceable value simply because it’s you expressing it and not that other person over there. Nobody can expect you to humble yourself out of existence.”

[D1] “There’s a long way to go from expressing oneself and “humbling oneself out of existence”. Does your having something expressible mean that it should be expressed?”

[D2] “I don’t know.”

[D3] “Guys, the both of you are being complete asses. You are not going to solve the problem of freedom of speech in under seven hundred words, and certainly not by discussing in such a lazy and ridiculously unfocused manner.”

[D1,D2] “What do you suggest we do then?”

[D3] “For now, acknowledge that this question nevertheless remains a very real and urgent problem for us and many others, accept this internal debate for the honest train of thought that it is, and go drink some hot coco!”

[D1, D2, D3] “Yaaaaay!”

[1] I note that, apart from “why write for a public?” this is not an actual quote, and that I’m actually just riffing on their basic argument.


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