Over 4100 people subscribe to this blog. As the author, I find that number quite humbling. I know that not all 4100 people will read every post I write. When they receive my post in their inbox, many people will simply delete it without opening it, some will let it sit for a few days only to delete it later, while others may choose to unsubscribe if they don’t like what I have to say. But most will read it over the course of the week. Many will share it on social media. Some will leave comments. Others will PM me and start a private conversation and some of those conversations will blossom into e-friendships. That’s how this blog has worked since day one.
Despite the numeric success of Translator’s Digest, a few months ago, I was convinced that it was time to pull the plug on it. Why? Well, back then, I could have written a book with all my well thought-out and perfectly articulated reasons. Yet today, I can barely remember any of them.
Quite some time ago, a friend I deeply respect and admire was about to start a blog of her own. Naturally, she had some doubts, mainly because her blog was going to be in a language other than English, and given the predominance of the English language over the blogosphere, she was concerned about whether or not anyone would read it. At the time, she said bloggers sort of reminded her of 19th century soapbox orators desperately yelling into idle and indifferent crowds.
At a time when the translation world was flooded with dishonest gurus, veiled attempts to monetize the intellectual graveyard that has recently reinvented itself as the next wannabe translation workplace, and aggressive and petty attacks on colleagues who have been fighting the good fight against commoditization and deprofessionalization, I was ready to get off the soapbox and go home.
In the two years and half since I started this blog, I’ve had many chances to monetize Translator’s Digest. From companies contacting me to advertise on my blog to sponsored content “opportunities.” All of which I politely turned down. (For those who are wondering, the ads you see at the end of my posts have nothing to do with me. Apparently, it’s the price I pay for using a free WordPress plan.)
With 4100 readers, why not jump at the opportunity to monetize? Well, for many reasons. Because words matter and nobody’s going to put words in my mouth for a couple of bucks. Because I earn enough as a translator so that I don’t need to mooch off my colleagues to make ends meet. But, mainly, because I firmly believe in the power of rational thought and deliberation to reshape our world, and a small part of me believes (or wishes) this blog serves as a tiny and humble attempt at a habermassian public square, which is, naturally, not for sale.
As someone who measures time not in terms of money but in terms of life, I told myself I prefer to invest what little free time I have in things that are edifying, that make some sort of difference, or that, at least, make me happy. So, I stopped writing, stopped participating in social media groups, stopped trying to reason with people, and focused my attention elsewhere. But the only true constant in life is change and, in the words of the [cool-turned-corporate-sell out] punk band I loved in my youth, “dammit, I changed again!”
Something happened recently in my personal life that forced me to rethink my priorities, something that reminded me of why I used to like writing this blog in the first place. I remembered that, although I often feel like a soapbox orator, every now and then there are good days when someone stops to listen. On great days, someone answers back. And on even greater days, we engage in stimulating conversations about our profession. Sometimes our words float across the internet and start new conversations elsewhere. Sometimes those conversations challenge today’s dominant and destructive narrative, and translators are reminded that translation is not a commodity but a valuable intellectual service that, among other things, helps businesses grow, advances human rights, and serves several critical social purposes.
In Human Rights, Rationality and Sentimentality (what is arguably one of his most thought-provoking and controversial essays), American philosopher Richard Rorty postulates that the classic human nature debate initiated by Plato and still unresolved to this date is moot.
“We are much less inclined to pose the ontological question “What are we?” because we have come to see that the main lesson of both history and anthropology is our extraordinary malleability. We are coming to think of ourselves as the flexible, protean, self-shaping animal rather than the rational animal or the cruel animal.
One of the shapes we have recently assumed is that of the human rights culture.”
He then goes on to analyze how the human rights culture, so installed in our minds today, is a post-war construct that was made possible by our inherent malleability. We can build worlds, he claims, just like we can build bridges. We can shape our own sociopolitical systems, making our reality not a product of an uncontrollable inherent nature, but of our own self-shaping, collective desires. In other words, things don’t just happen to us. We have a say in the world around us because we’ve crafted the systems and networks that make our existence possible.
In that same vein, one could argue that the issues affecting our profession aren’t fully beyond our control either. Misuse of CAT tools by the knights of low-end translation may or may not be leading to the commoditization of translation. Machine Translation may or may not be posing a real threat to our jobs. Professional organizations may or may not be doing enough to voice our concerns. Old platforms may or may not have contributed to driving down prices while their copycats may or may not be making professional translators look like babbling baboons. Regardless of where we stand, individually, on each of these issues (even if our stance is that of indifference), they shape our world. So, we need to continue to talk about them. And as a good friend recently pointed out, I need to write about stuff I actually care about, and there are few things I care about more than the future of our profession.
However, despite my firm belief in the power of deliberation, I tend to lose hope whenever I visit any forum where translators are discussing any of these issues. Why? Basically because of the way we treat each other when we hold dissenting views. In light of recent events, I can’t help but wonder: Can we discuss the issues calmly, rationally, and constructively enough to have a positive impact on our own future? Or will all attempts at habermassian public squares be doomed either by the idleness and indifference of those who are only looking out for “yours truly” or the tomato-tossing rage of those who confuse aggressiveness with strength, sarcasm with intelligence, and meanness with wit? For the sake of our profession, I hope Rorty and Habermas were right. I hope we can do better before we condescendingly and aggressively argue ourselves into irrelevance.