This isn’t really goodbye. It’s more like a new chapter. If you can stick with me, I’ll explain.
In October of last year, the election campaigns were in full swing, and I was beyond irritated. I was tired of sound bites and talking points without context or data or any kind of reasonable discourse. The media cycle had become, in many ways, a toxic echo chamber. The partisan barbs – thrown by politicians, pundits, and voters alike – were not helping us make informed decisions. They were pulling us down into the muck.
This may come as a shock to some, but I was pretty vocal on social media during the election (sarcasm, in case that’s not translating…), posting content almost daily about what was at stake, what was being said, and what it all meant. I started getting comments from friends and former acquaintances who said they’d been using my newsfeed to keep up with the world. Don’t get me wrong – it was flattering – but also disheartening. It was symptomatic of a larger problem: mainstream coverage was failing us.
And I wasn’t alone in my frustration. My friends in academia were getting similar feedback on both the conservative and liberal sides of the spectrum. As we talked, we noticed one thing connecting our comments; all of us were trying to break down complex issues in an easy-to-understand manner. And people were responding.
This is where the idea sparked. What if, we wondered, we could centralize this commentary? What if we could get a group of smart, thoughtful people together, all of whom wanted to better communicate important ideas to the public, and present a collection of commentary from various ideologies? What if we could get away from the sound bite news cycle, and get a meaningful, civil, productive conversation going on things that matter?
A group of around 20 of some of the strongest communicators I’ve ever met expressed interest in participating. This was not a financial proposition. It was about doing something important. And they were on board.
But as is often the case, life intervened. Launching such a project was time-intensive. From site design to static content development to initial propagation of the commentary categories, there was a lot of work involved. Everyone participating (including me) had a day job. And it was election season. And the holidays were around the corner. And for the academics in the world of speech and debate, there were big tournaments on the horizon. The project faded into the background – a decent idea that never got legs.
Enter March of this year. I loved my job, but had grown in a different direction than my company. I was exhausted, and felt like I wasn’t really living up to my potential. If you know me, you know that’s a recipe for utter misery. As the saying goes, we’re all our own worst critics, and I tend to take that to an extreme. With a heavy heart, and after some difficult conversations, I made the decision to leave my position on the 18th. I wasn’t sure what would come next, but I knew it was time for a change.
Up until this point, Rant Against the Random had been an outlet – a place where I could go to discuss the ideas that had driven me through much of my academic career, but didn’t really have an application to my career in finance. I didn’t realize it then, but that was about to change in a big way. On the day I announced my departure from work, I came home and was poking around online while catching up with a few friends. I stumbled across a random article about Steubenville, and the story seemed so absurd, I started reading more on it. And more and more and more.
It was just too much, and I was livid over the way the situation had played out. So I started writing. It was not riddled with aspirations; it was just something I needed to get off my chest. I clicked publish on, “So You’re Tired of Hearing About Rape Culture?” and went to bed.
The next day, the post had taken off, with thousands of shares on social media, and over 80,000 views on the post itself. I was still working, but looking at the traffic now and then, and totally befuddled by the surge. The next day, there were over 300,000 views and hundreds of comments. People had connected. And in the midst of being suddenly thrust into a position to advocate widely on behalf of sexual violence survivors, the news broke that one of my mentors had just been arrested on charges of sexual assault of a minor.
Let’s recap. Monday – I quit my job. Tuesday – my blog exploded. Wednesday – my mentor was in jail for the very reasons my blog had taken off. My entire world was spiraling.
It felt like a moment. You know what I mean – one of those snapshots in time where the decisions you make will determine where you’re going, who you are, and what you stand for. I could rise to the challenge, or shirk back. I had a captive audience. And I had time and opportunity. And the conversations that were taking place on the blog were meaningful. In many ways, it was the beginning of what I’d been envisioning when I’d gotten so excited in October. I had a choice. I could decide to go the (marginally) easier route, let the moment go, and seek out another full-time position immediately, or I could roll the dice, and do something that could make a difference.
I’m rolling the dice.
Starting tomorrow, Rant Against the Random will no longer exist. All of its content, and even more, will now be found on Cogent Comment. Why the change? Well, I’m not sure “ranting” is the best way to describe what we’re doing here anymore. Plus, Wordpress.com comes with inherent limitations. And there are a lot of things I want to do, so limitations are not an option. It’s time to make October’s visions a reality.
Cogent Comment will be a news and commentary site dedicated to fostering effective communication on some of the most important issues of the hour. Our mission is to encourage people to think critically about the way they consume information and communicate ideas. We live in a world where the tools to make things better are at our fingertips, if we’ll only reach out and grasp them. The first step towards doing so is to change the way we engage in conversations about what that world should look like. Language shapes our reality, and we should be conscious architects of the reality in which we live.
The site will feature articles, essays, and narratives related to public policy, politics, cultural commentary, economics and finance, and more. What sets Cogent Comment aside from the rest is its dedication to participating in civil, measured, productive conversations, which is manifested in both its contributor standards and comment moderation policies.
Cogent Comment contributors are asked to demand more of themselves. Over the next few weeks, my content will be joined by posts from professors, graduate students, professionals, and artists. Some posts will be argumentative in nature, relying on evidence and data to make a point. Others will attempt to analyze current political climates to project what could come next, and what that would mean. Don’t expect regurgitation of the AP wires. We’ll also be featuring deep dive posts on topics you may have never heard about, and pieces that explicitly analyze rhetorical action, pushing us to think critically about our language and choices.
Don’t expect an echo chamber, either. Contributors are being solicited from every corner of the political spectrum. Odds are, you’re going to start seeing posts that present perspectives wildly different than my own. That’s ok. As I’ve written before, it’s important to expose yourself to different ideas and points of view as you consume information. One thing will be consistent, though; all content will be written in an accessible manner. We want to include people in the conversation, not exclude them. The only way that happens is if the information is presented in a way that the bulk of people can digest the message, contextualize the information, and respond.
And when I say respond, I mean it. Contributors won’t just be posting their content and walking away. All Cogent Comment contributors will be asked to actively participate in the comment threads on their content. It is, at the end of the day, about engagement. If all we’re doing is throwing out comments without interacting, we’re no better than any other media site.
That being said, we recognize that there are different kinds of engagement, and each has its own merits. For instance, sometimes wide open discussion – due to the variety of the kinds of comments provided – offers a meaningful juxtaposition of ideas and approaches. Sometimes, that juxtaposition can be damaging to the type of conversation being attempted. Sometimes a topic is best discussed with data and evidence to keep the dialogue focused. In other instances, narrative and supportive discussion are key.
In recognition of these different means of discourse and all they offer, and in light of our goal of changing the way we approach discourse on important topics as a society, our posts are put into different comment moderation categories: Open Comment, Closed Comment, Substance Only and Support Only. Each type of comment section comes with its own rules, which you can read about here. The general idea is that we need to be talking to different people in different ways about different ideas. It’s about opening our minds in a civil and useful manner.
Are you subscribed to this blog? You’ll start receiving Daily Digests from Cogent Comment tomorrow. If you don’t want to receive these digests, I don’t want to burden your inbox. You can unsubscribe by clicking the link below.
That’s not the only thing that will be happening on the site, though. The past few months has redoubled my passion in being an ally to sexual violence survivors. The posts on this blog have fostered some excellent conversations, but I know we can do more. To this end, the site will also be home to the newly launched Rape Culture Project. This will include:
- All the current rape culture posts (and comment threads!) from this blog. Don’t worry; the links will be redirected, so you won’t need to change anything if you’ve reblogged the content or linked to it.
- The Rape Culture Files, a living document of examples of the ways rape culture manifests in our society. This will be continuously updated with new instances. The idea is to create a tapestry which illustrates rape culture’s prevalence, making it more and more difficult for people to deny its existence. Over time, each example will be given a separate post, explaining why it qualifies as representative of rape culture. While I’ll be adding to the Files myself, I’ll be accepting submissions for inclusion as well. This is a collective project. It’s not about me, and it won’t just succeed because of me. We’re in it together.
- A Rape Culture Resources page, including sites for more information, media to share via your social profiles to increase awareness, a guide to solutions you can implement and encourage, and a place to brainstorm effective means of combating rape culture every day.
- A section dedicated to Survivor Stories, which will feature testimonials from survivors of sexual violence who want to share their experiences. The focus here will not be the attacks themselves, but the circumstances in which they took place, and the experiences that took place in the aftermath. The goal here is to demonstrate that the behaviors and attitudes which contribute to rape culture are not isolated incidents or hyperbole; they happen with a stunning amount of frequency.
The comment sections here will have their own comment moderation policies. The project will include posts on some more difficult topics, as well, such as false allegations (though my prior stance on comments will remain for most other content) and the treatment of male survivors. The purpose will be to foster, over time, a wide-reaching, comprehensive conversation about rape culture and its impacts. It’s far from complete as it stands, but will be growing daily.
Out of respect for the triggering nature of the content, new additions will not be featured in the Daily Digests. There will be a link to the project in the template, and you’ll be able to access it on the site, but the information and images will not confront you when you open your inbox.
For now, the site is self-funded. Contributors are participating because the conversation is important. There are no ads on the site. Eventually, we’ll have to find a way to make Cogent Comment financially sustainable, and when that happens, it will be in consultation with the readers and contributors. It would be foolish to create something you want to be significant, only to diminish it for a couple bucks. That’s not the point here. Ideas in discussion include a Kickstarter campaign, selective advertising, or a donations-based approach. We’ve probably got a couple of months before that decision needs to be made. If you have insight, my ears are open.
But for now, my focus is on pushing this to the next level. That’s sort of the exciting part about starting to follow now. You’re not just going to be reading interesting content; you get to watch the project evolve and grow.
Does all these ideas resonate with you? Do you want to do some posting of your own? Consider contributing. You folks are brilliant and insightful; I know many of you have a lot to add to the conversation.
I’m really excited about this project, and I hope you will be, too. Regardless, I want to thank those of you who have read Rant Against the Random and engaged in the conversations taking place here. In a couple of hours, I’ll set the redirect to Cogent Comment for good. But know this – you inspire me, and I am grateful for each of your voices.
All the best,