Marqui Morality

Here’s more of what I’m thinking about the blogging-for-dollars brouhaha:

If we don’t start from the presupposition that bloggers represent some idyllic zone of innocence — and I recognize that some of us do think of Blogaria as that kind of nexus, but I don’t have the brainpower to argue that case just now, so I’m bracketing that consideration — the pivotal question relative to Marqui seems to me to be, Are the paid-bloggers ethically compromised simply via having accepted money for a Marqui ad on their page, and a weekly mention of the fact that Marqui is sponsoring them? And it’s hard for me to see how Marqui constitutes a different kind of moral challenge than BlogAds, Blogspot ads (where’d they go?), GoogleAds, or even (now that we mention it) Amazon Associates.

Moreover, when Chris Locke landed a gig actively promoting an online service — and God bless them and him — were we worried that HighBeam would corrupt his blogging integrity?

The argument that intrigues me most is the suggestion that the subsidy creates a questionable “temptation to transgress” — that’s a beautiful point, and I’m attracted to it for heavy theological reasons. Still, what kind of commercial relationship doesn’t entail such a temptation? What relationship of trust doesn’t involve a potential temptation? And what online relationship doesn’t entail potentially corruptive elements? Am I working on this topic, perhaps, thinking that I can win some hot links out of the discussion, or out of the hope that Marc Canter will recommend my twenty readers as a sound investment for Marqui’s next round of subsidies?

And that gets back to what looks like the paramount consideration, the Aristotelian “ultimate particular,” to me. If that which the payment endangers is trust, then isn’t there a sense in which “trust” is precisely the variable in play regardless of the payments? If David Weinberger accepted a Marqui ad, would I trust him less? By no means (as the Apostle says)! My trust in David means that I wouldn’t expect him to be swayed by financial interests. Indeed, among the bloggers whom I trust most confidently number both prominent refusers (David, Shelley), Doc (who doesn’t seem to have taken an aye-or-nay stand), three subsidized bloggers (Mitch, Allen, and Jon), and one chief blogging officer (Chris). Of these, I can give fairly thorough and (I hope) persuasive accounts of why I trust some, and more intuitive, thinner accounts of why I trust others. And as for Chris, well, there’s no reasonable explanation, but I trust him anyway. Mostly. On the other hand, I can think of bloggers whose word I wouldn’t trust even if they could show absolutely no connection to Marqui or other source of subsidies; they haven’t shown the kind of reliability that would warrant my trusting them, subsidy or none.

Trust is vital and fragile, and one is foolish to treat it roughly; but I don’t think accepting a financial subsidy constitutes an ipso facto rough treatment. Trust proves itself through reasoned risk, and everything I’ve seen suggests that Mitch and Allen and Jon aren’t just snapping up quick and easy money, but have careful reasons for their willingness to participate in this experiment. They may be wrong, or self-deceived — but this is how we find out.

9 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I’m interested in your framing of blogging-for-dollars in terms of trust, AKMA. I applaud your extending trust to those who surely deserve it — and presume that you’ve met those in whom you vest it out in the meatosphere at some point. But that’s another discussion, maybe.

    My objections to the idea — not so much my attacks on individuals concerned, which, I hope, are clearly just over-the-top screeds intended as much to entertain as anything else — are rooted in anger and contempt at the continuing Monetarization of Nearly Everything (with apologies to Tom Coates).

    I am aware of the tightrope to be walked when talking about this kind of thing: it has become common received wisdom (which I trust less and less in these times) that those who argue that applying monetary value to something has the consequence of immediately robbing it of all real value are foolish hippies and incompetent idealists. It is de rigeur to ridicule them — of course they are laughable loons! How counter to the deepest streams of our culture the idea that money is anything but the highest measure of worth, or that adding value is not necessary the same as adding worth.

    But I’m a great one for lost causes and tilting at ethical windmills.

    It doesn’t bother me if someone makes the decision to use their web space to sell crap. They want to hawk Amway out of their apartment, that’s fine. They go and slap vinyl ads on their car, or tattoo the McDonalds logo on their childrens’ foreheads, well that’s their prerogative. Go nuts, I say.

    But in the process of doing so, they haven’t lost my trust (which I may or may not have had reason to extend, at some earlier point) so much as diminished the possibility that we may ever agree in any significant way about the fundamental questions of value and of the good which dominate the way I attempt to live my life.

    Which, in effect, may mean that the possibility of me respecting them for what they do (as well as, possibly, what they say) has leaked away. Not that they should really give a damn, but there it is.

    Of course, all that is pretty much the extremity of the matter, which is where I tend to hang out, it must be said. In the case of Chris Locke, for example, I know that he’s been to the edge of the abyss, financially, and I don’t begrudge him his naked grab for a few shillings from whatever corporate scum he can shake down, and more power to him.

    Less well do I know the circumstances of anyone else who deliberately whores out their personality for dollars — because, when in comes down to it, most of the currency of the blogoblogland minted until recently has issued from the forges of personality and talent, which has been fine and right — and I don’t begrudge them doing so, honestly.

    [Hell, I put up a tip jar 6 months back or so, begging for a few bucks to pay for my next year’s hosting. Almost entirely killed my desire to keep doing this, though, that did, much as I appreciated the generosity of so many.]

    But I do think that what money touches, money turns to shit. That may not operate on the level of individuals, or it may. I don’t know, and it’s almost certainly the case that no-one does. But I do think that to monetarize something is to lose sight of the true value of that thing.

    So I’m waiting for the next Great Leap Forward I guess, me and Billy Bragg, marching off into obscurity, secure in the knowledge as we become irrelevant that at least we stuck to our guns.

    On the other hand, I may just start blogging for dollars next week. I need the damned money.

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  3. Well, there are manifestly more fine arguments about this topic than I’m ready to claim mastery of. I hadn’t thought for a moment about the monetarization aspect of the gesture, and I appreciate your dropping by to remind me, Stavros.

    I don’t know if this point changes my mind — I’ll have to allow some time for it to blossom. I, too, am fervently anti-commercial; I come by it theologically. If after I’ve tried this angle on for size, I don’t finally adopt it, please accept my honest thanks for a very sound rejoinder, on which I’ll be chewing for several days.

  4. Professor,

    I see no real trouble with it. Does money perhaps jeopardize a fundamental relationship of trust? Sure it can. So too can fame and popularity. Why do we weigh money so heavily when it comes to “fundamental values” and trust? This is an interesting conversation in light of the recent US Presidential election. Are we framing in values?

    I guess the blogiverse is no more or less intrinsically different from any other community. Why should we expect it to be? I realize that the incredible potential of the blogiverse to be something different is always there. The same can be said of the Church…and yet.

    With all due respect to you and others who may have strong opinions to the contrary, I think money is money. If we want to protect some imagined purity in Blogaria, then screen the people. We can have a lovely “gated” online community if we wish. (end: absurdity)

    That being said, Bono (of course) was quoted in Spin magazine this month as saying that there is nothing wrong with corporations and that those who have accused U2 of selling out in the past may wish to reassess.

    There is this cliche that artists [read: bloggists?] are pure and business people can’t be trusted. But these things aren’t true.

    Now, I certainly wish to push Bono around in some of his thinking, but he is essentially correct. The band’s relationship with Steve Jobs is an interesting paradigm for that. Heck, Mac is out to make money as much as Microsoft is and I seen no-one questioning them. What is the true issue at hand?

    Stavros is right. It is about values and not money. Somehow the two are connected…possibly because money is a fiscal and relational currence in this day and age.

    Okay…I will stop my blathering now.

  5. Do not misunderstand me, AngloBaptist. I wasn’t speaking of ‘values,’ I was playing with the swirling corporation-speak colonized word soup that includes tasty floaters like ‘shareholder value’ and ‘value added’ and deliberately trying to hold such meaningless hijacks of meaning up in the light, in opposition to ideas of ‘worth’ and ‘good’.

    I dismiss talk of ‘values’ as ultimately pointless, political, and manipulative. All humans share the same values.

    I fear that I failed to make myself clear in this comment as in the last, as usual.

  6. But in the process of doing so, they haven’t lost my trust (which I may or may not have had reason to extend, at some earlier point) so much as diminished the possibility that we may ever agree in any significant way about the fundamental questions of value and of the good which dominate the way I attempt to live my life.

    This is the paragraph that got my attention. For what its worth, I often reveal that English is my second language and gibberish is my first. It is a gift I am sure…to whom I am unsure.

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