Ben Franklin: Father of Blogging

19 01 2009

Dana has been blogging about blogging, wondering if it kills communication, worrying that it seems by its very structure to exaggerate differences and polarize us, making us less rather than more likely to understand the important issues of the day, or each other.

But then how could Benjamin Franklin have been a few hundred years ahead of us on how to prevent such problems and make blogging work, centuries before Al Gore invented the Internet?? 😉

Here’s my latest comment in that conversation:

This morning I was re-reading Daniel Pink’s “Free Agent Nation” ideas about homeschooling and self-learning, and I came across Benjamin Franklin’s mutual learning society, his Junto. DH and I both noticed how much it sounds like what blogging can offer today, at least when it’s done in the right spirit, of “inquiry after truth” while “preventing warmth!” Seems our blog issues about how to stay reasonable and civil, and look for higher agreements rather than lower disputes, aren’t new at ALL!

The Junto was a club established in 1727 by Benjamin Franklin for mutual improvement in Philadelphia. Also known as the Leather Apron Club, its purpose was to debate questions of morals, politics, and natural philosophy. . .

[Franklin in his autobiography]: “The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased.

Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory — and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.”

Franklin listed 24 questions to guide the Junto discussions and reading through them, I can fit them to almost everything we thinking parents blog about. Better yet, he gives the four qualifying questions for participation in the Junto’s discussions, and they’d make a quite serviceable screening checklist before commenting and forum participation imo:

Any person to be qualified as a member was to stand up, lay his hand upon his breast, and be asked the following questions, viz.

1. Have you any particular disrespect to any present members? Answer. I have not.
2. Do you sincerely declare that you love mankind in general, of what profession or religion soever? Answer. I do.
3. Do you think any person ought to be harmed in his body, name, or goods, for mere speculative opinions, or his external way of worship? Answer. No.
4. Do you love truth for truth’s sake, and will you endeavor impartially to find and receive it yourself, and communicate it to others? Answer. Yes.

We could all do with more commitment to numbers Three and Four imo, both online and IRL. . .

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3 responses

19 01 2009
A. Woz

I read recently a book that discussed at length Mr. Franklin. From the perspective of his Founding MOthers (that is …his wife….) he wasn’t as good of a guy as one might think- IF measured against today’s standards. He was gone for years at a time from his wife, reportedly had a mistress, even missed the birth of a daughter, etc. I am wondering if his interests conflicted so greatly with his goals to be a thinker that he forgot his obligations to his family. Had he been a woman, then or today, what would the value be of his opinions today?

19 01 2009
JJ

I’ve read the same reports about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as a man (today being his day of remembrance) and it’s funny you mention this just as the news about Dr. Biden (the wife) is breaking, how she wanted her husband home nights so she pushed for the VP job rather than him becoming Secretary of State and traveling all the time . . .

19 01 2009
JJ

And hmmm, Colin Powell was a cable news topic today, whether he could have been elected if his wife Alma hadn’t refused to go along with a presidential campaign. Felt he’d already been too public for too long. I guess the opposite is equally true, too, because it seems to me our new president’s wife as a full partner has been a key factor in who Barack Obama is as a leader, why his family and campaigning have been successful and why we’re so optimistic about his administration turning things around for all of us.

(Now remembering that Lincoln’s wife was a real drain on him during his presidency, wonder if Franklin’s wife was more like Mary Lincoln or Michelle Obama? — maybe she had a part in her own unhappinesses?)

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