COMMENT CULTURES

May 29, 1988

Blogs are not going to save the world.  No.  That’s the bad news, I suppose.  With any luck, they also won’t destroy it, so that’s something.  But, yes, they are definitely not going to save it.

I would imagine that this is a fairly upsetting notion to the hippie hacker types who were around when usenet was doing well.  Following on from the idea of cyberspace mooted by William Gibson in his 1984 novel “Necromancer”, the web was imagined by its ‘pioneers’ as a place for the free and unfettered back and forth of ideas man, (and it seems generally to have been men) the chance to finally break the shackles of this workaday world, to transcend the earth’s physical limits, and like, really, communicate, baby.  Noted drug aficionado Tim Leary even went so far as to say that the Internet would be the LSD of the 90s.

Which is of course not at all how it turned out.  Whereas the idea of cyberspace seemed to be all sort of brilliant flashing lights and good vibes, anyone looking at the web today would conclude that its closest ‘real world’ equivalent would probably be a bunch of men in overcoats muttering darkly in the fetid corner of a pub, all furiously agreeing with the fatuous nonsense coming out of each others’ corpulent mouths.

Okay, that is taking it too far.  But, not that much too far.  As Geert Lovink points out:

“Blogs create communities of like-minded people. Debates happen within homogeneous webclouds … Most bloggers would admit that it is not their aim to foster public debate. If you disagree with a fellow blogger, it is even unwise to write a comment. Instead, it is much safer to post the remark on your own blog. “I blogged you”. The chance that someone will respond to it is almost zero. Herein is the limit of blogging”

Bang on, it seems to me.  One almost never sees anything approaching broadminded debate encompassing a wide spectrum of political beliefs on blogs.

Instead, it would appear that blog aficionados tend to “cocoon” themselves amongst others with whom they share ideological affiliations. This cocooning, as described by the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, has the unfortunate tendency of pushing people towards more and more extreme ideological positions.

EXHIBIT 1: The “Birther” Movement.  What started off as run of the mill racist paranoia morphed into an immensely popular conspiracy movement claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore ineligible to be its President.  Although it’s difficult to ‘trackback’ the gestation of this theory, it seems that it gained momentum and popularity through discussion on right wing discussion boards such as Free Republic. The theory went on to be so widely held that the Democrats ended up setting up a website called ‘Fight the Smears’ specifically devoted to rebutting this sort of insane guff.

A man with an insane grievance

Blogging's logical outcome

EXHIBIT 2:  This insane blogpost by “dday” and its attendant comment thread on DailyKos regarding a post by my ‘blog hero’ (jesus…) Harry Hutton.  Hutton’s post was making fun of an earlier post on DailyKos, wherein one “ct” of the DailyKos community literally thanked DailyKos for having saved his and his baby daughter’s life, on account of how “ct” was at the YearlyKos convention when some drunk drove his car through “ct”‘s front living room, which is where “ct” and child might have been at the time, if they had not been at YearlyKos.

Got that?  Now, Hutton’s post basically made fun of  how “ct” was drawing a false correlation by suggesting that DailyKos was  responsible for saving his life, when in reality it was just dumb luck.  But that was not how ‘dday’ saw it.  Rather, he interpreted the post as an example of the “rising tide of eliminationist language” coming out of the Far-Right Blogosphere, and that Hutton (who is in fact generally quite left-wing in his politics) was clearly suggesting it would have been better for “ct” and his child to have been killed, because obviously all he cares about is the murder and destruction of liberals by any and all means necessary.

Which is obviously an insane interpretation of Hutton’s post.  But it was an interpretation readily accepted by many DailyKos readers,  hundreds of whom posted comments in support of dday’s ridiculous jabber.  So, just as the ‘cocooned’ community on the right wing FreeRepublic.com came up with the insane Birther Movement idea, so it is that the ‘cocooned’ community on the left wing DailyKos came up with the insane ‘Conservatives want to kill everyone who is a member of DailyKos’ idea.

‘Almost Plausible’ seems to have so far avoided this kind of insanity, thank God.  If I ever did provoke some sort of crazy fellow onto my site I could of course just block his comments, but such an eventuality seems fairly unlikely at this stage of the game.  Who is likely to argue with me?  If someone did get riled up enough to point out that Christopher Marlowe never had anything to do with plums, my only reasonable response would of course be to say, “Prove it, you swine.  Show me the proof.”  Nah, jk, lol.  I wouldn’t care.  Because I’m a blogger.  And bloggers are not in it for the reasoned debate, no they are not.

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