Bloggers try to invite in portions of their personal lives to make their voices more authentic and more credible. They deliberately soften the line between what is and isn't too personal to share publicly. There's an element of trust there between blogger and reader; between bloggers and other bloggers. There is trust that the elements of one's personal life that aren't shared through the blog won't be researched and made public by others. Part of that idealism and trust comes from being a young community - that shared sense of common cause, of looking out for each other.
What can cause this to break down? Spiteful personal relationships. Political interests. Community breakdowns (the blogging community isn't so young anymore... being connected as a "fellow blogger" isn't such a powerful idea anymore...).
I'm amazed it hasn't happened more often. Welcome to 2008. It's all too easy to practice the "politics of personal destruction" (sharing embarrassing personal details) on bloggers, since they don't have the protection of celebrity or power. All you need is a few opening salvos. Then you'll experience some true blogwars, that will potentially have a chilling effect on the voice of blogging itself.
Looks like I got quoted in the Daily Journal of Commerce - my basic point was that having a multi-disciplinary understanding helps one to create better solutions, since there are more points of connection to draw upon. It's a fact that is relevant to all spheres, from politics to software engineering (my firm). The interview was part of an article by Peter Wright, an expert on education and technology that directs new media for University of Phoenix.
For those who have been trying to comment, there was a misconfiguration that was keeping comments from successfully posting. That's fixed now.
Over on Daily Kos, there's been a many-diaried argument and discussion about a certain ad for the Gilligan's Island television show. I won't link to it, you can easily find it. Actually, I think it's gone now because the show already aired. But it was pretty stupid. The ad is two strippers dressed as Mary Ann and Ginger having a food fight and acting like they're turned on while they are fighting. For those that are into that sort of thing, be warned that the production values aren't anywhere near as good as the Paris Hilton ad, the girls aren't as good-looking as the ones in that one Budweiser ad (power-suited women fighting in the fountain), and it's not really even funny - the jokes fall flat. Even its badness isn't any good.
So there's not really even much reason for our baser sides to like the ad. And of course there are the other reasons for our more evolved sides to not like it. I noticed the ad a few times but never really even felt tempted to click on it and watch the video.
Until the outcry, which made me (and others) curious enough to actually watch it. A couple of diaries had been posted, written by women who were mad about it.
Now if you're reading along and are already rolling your eyes at these offended women, you are part of the problem. "Oh, here we go again," goes the reaction, mentally replaying old arguments with the militant feminists of one's imagination. That's not to say that there aren't a few college sophomore women out there that are a bit hopped up on hostility and haven't yet balanced their new understanding of womanhood with any significant understanding or respect for manhood. But this is where the problem starts - the generalizations.
Let's briefly review the problems with generalization and discrimination. It is not bad to recognize a grouping of people and identify patterns within that group of people. It is not really even bad to attempt to apply those patterns to groups of people in an attempt to understand those groups further. The main responsibility there is just to be careful not to confuse correlation with causation. (No small feat.)
The problem with generalizations is when you take these patterns of groups and try to apply them to an individual. It never works and it is always stupid. It's the problem with racial profiling, racism, sexism, and many other variations of stupid arguments that are a waste of time since they can so easily be avoided by actually listening to the person who's right in front of you.
This is what started happening on Daily Kos. Someone would post their own personal feelings in being upset by an ad. Someone else would react, complaining about generic feminist hostility. First person would (rightly) feel unreceived, and would then feel like their suspicions of sexism were being confirmed, leading to more accusations that the other person would roll their eyes at since they've heard it all before. And it would escalate.
The escalation culminated with Kos choosing to address the mini-controversy on the front page. It's important to recognize that at this point, the argument transformed from being about the ad, to being about the reaction to the ad. The ad was far less important than the discussion. The ad never had much power, but it immediately became a symbol, touchstone, and catalyst for all the later discussions and opinions.
Kos addressed it by venting aggressively about how stupid an issue the ad was. Now, that's true, in a way. The ad is stupid, and these kind of controversies only contribute to the success of an ad campaign. So I had a funny experience reading his response because I could feel a bit of a cackle in myself at the beginning: "Oh man, now they're gonna get it." By "them", I certainly didn't mean the women offended by the ad, I mostly meant the hand-wringing of an online community that sometimes gets too carried away with its own self-importance. I can imagine a website host that takes his site seriously, but has to deal with a bunch of people that turn it into a cause and take everything more seriously than he does. So I could definitely understand the impatience, and even enjoy the expression of that impatience. I probably got some satisfaction because of my own frustration with the site, which I believe has been going subtly downhill (in discussion quality) for quite a while - I think it could be better than it is at generating wisdom, and I can get frustrated that it doesn't meet my own judgments of its potential (understanding the irrelevance of them being my judgments), so I probably liked Kos' frustration in hopes it would lead to constructive changes.
So, for that variety of reasons, I wanted to eat popcorn when I started to read Kos' response, but that ended really quickly as I saw what he was actually writing. I think my reaction went something like "heh heh... hunh.... uhhhhh.... geez. ... holy crap."
Kos' theme was "sanctimony". The basic point is that the only reason to express a negative reaction to the ad on his site is out of a hypocritical urge to display oneself as morally superior to others.
If you're skimming, now's a good time to stop and let that sink in.
It discounted emotion-based motivation. It mocked vulnerability. It denied the existence of constructive intent. It basically ran over the sincere feelings of anyone who felt hurt.
Over the next several days, the community was littered with some of the stupidest logic flaws I've seen in a long time - the kind of logic that would have been torn apart by any of the argument proponents had that logic been applied to any other subject. It was basically the mixture of straw men and fantastical extrapolation that litters debates worldwide, here used to prove that those who were upset about the ad were hypocritical or sanctimonious in some way.
What's interesting is how easily these arguments spring unbidden to the minds of otherwise intelligent fellows. It's like some bizarre kind of mind control, all these men reacting to the same stimuli and making the same unthinking, unbending points. I would see some hardy souls (including myself a couple of times) try to meet these points on their merit, challenging them methodically. They'd be met with no response, and the points would just be repeated again elsewhere, by the same person. Again, these are Democratic men that seem pretty darn cool in other arenas.
And it all started because of one failure.
Folks are tempted to misidentify the failure. The failure isn't that someone sought a confrontation. I believe in confrontation. I believe that in order to evolve, confrontation is required. The problems with our society - bubbles, delusions, and denial - are because of a lack of confrontation. Confrontation yields balance. Bubbles pop. Delusions lift. Denials are forced into the open. It happens when the delirium is forced to confront reality, and reality wins. For greater balance in our world, this confrontation needs to happen more often.
But in most cases, confrontation requires an agreement. Oftentimes, one party can seek to confront, and the other is able to weasel away. It merely serves to postpone the confrontation to a more painful time, but it happens all the time. In order to receive the confrontation, you have to listen.
So that's what the failure was here. The failure to listen. This debate was never about the ad. It was about people not feeling received - it was about them believing they might be received, enough to air their grievances, and then having their hopes dashed.
Political weblogging is starting to bore me.
People blog because they feel they have something to say. That feeling is driven by two things - a desire to explore their opinions, and a belief that what they have to say is new.
Political blogging was thrilling a couple of years ago, when it was full of discovery of the other communities. Many of us had a hunger to develop our fledgling opinions. The first time I wrote about Iraq, opinions like "reducing our dependence on foreign oil" felt fresh and a bit politically dangerous. We were talking about Congressional amendments and liberals were actually arguing about whether Bush was on the level. Each time we found someone else that agreed with us, or a community that did, it was thrilling. Now we know that Bush had firmed up his Iraq plans three months before that point and was just trying to cynically use Congress and the U.N. to manipulate a justification. Now we have our places to go and reinforce our opinions.
So... the center-left political weblogging group has arrived. It's not so much a matter of firming up opinions anymore. It's more about getting them represented in the popular press.
It's a worthy cause, but I find it tiring. I really don't enjoy writing letters to editors and sending off angry email missives to columnists. I don't enjoy calling customer service departments to complain about things, either. I also don't see it as my calling.
Here's another thing - the rise of large community sites like Daily Kos can serve as a discouragement. You can go over there and find just about any center-left political opinion, repeated infinitely. There's so much reinforcement going on that it can often sound like dogma or rote.
I really hate dogma and rote. In personal situations, I can usually sense when someone says something mindlessly. It usually points to a blind spot.
That's the penalty of too much reinforcement - it actually creates blind spots. It helps people get radicalized.
Occasionally, I'll get drawn into challenging viewpoints that are commonly held on the left. My most recent argument was about how the living wage isn't all it's cracked up to be, and how expanding an EITC-like policy is often a more effective and efficient way to go. Other times I've argued strongly about the results of the 2004 elections, and how Bush was actually the democratic winner. I've debunked more than a couple stupid statistical studies that "prove" 2004 fraud. I regularly oppose the more extreme abuses of the Peak Oil arguments. And I'm regularly opposed to isolationism (both in foreign policy and in trade), and that's a conversation that is too-long ignored among the left.
But how worthwhile is it to invest energy in shoring up the base? That's not where change really happens, and it's not where the potential conversions are. It's something I can get wrapped up in when I feel like having a fight, but it isn't productive.
So it ends up begging the question, what is productive at this point? We're at the very early stages of Bush's second term. Weblogging continuing on its past trajectory won't be very interesting, not if it's just more people posting thoughts, commenting, complaining to each other, and occasionally mailbombing some hapless columnist.
The next few steps are different than the last few steps, and attract a different sort of person. The next few steps are very activist-heavy. More blog-based PACs with press releases, pundits, protests, ads, and fundraising. What's next is hit squads. I was drawn to the community-building aspects, opinion development, and engineering truth-based consensus. There doesn't seem to be much appetite for that lately.
Excuse a "meta" post before we get back to the bankruptcy action. It's been a pretty active day - this weblog didn't exist a few days ago, and today it was mentioned live on two cable tv shows and a radio show (that I know of). I don't even have blogads up yet.
There's been an odd pulse to this bankruptcy issue. There's been a bit of swagger and confidence lately in the blogosphere because of all the coverage of Rather, Guckert, and Eason. I don't exactly think it was about overconfidence, but realizing that the blogosphere kind of missed the boat on the Senate bankruptcy vote elicited a collective feeling that ran counter to that swagger. It didn't jibe.
And I think it just bugged a lot of us. Others have written about why we didn't affect the process as much as we think we could have. My own theory is that thus far, the blogosphere has a lot of the same qualities as the open source community. It's the sexy things that get the attention. Programmers will write fancy desktop software for free no problem. But they haven't come up with open source tax software.
The bankruptcy bill just wasn't sexy. It took us a while to look at it voluntarily. It was civic duty alone that revved us up, and it took us a while to get around to it.
I think there's some collective realizations to be made here. First is that the blogosphere is, in a sense, representatives of the public. We are the citizens that somehow, as a group, can get Congress's ear without having to go through a PAC. We're elected by our readers, and the elected positions we hold change all the time as our popularity rises and ebbs. It's very much the kind of "emergent democracy" that Joi Ito writes about all the time.
And, the second - again, just my opinion - is that this isn't as free a game as it first seems. It's not as simple as just choosing to focus on what we want to focus on. Make fun of me for alluding to Spider-Man, but we manage to gain a bit of power, and with that power comes responsibility. There's a civic duty we have to keep tabs and do research, on behalf of others. We have some responsibility to protect the public's interest, and in cases like the bankruptcy bill, we're more trusted than Congress. I think knowing this helps explain why there's been such appetite to form a coalition, even while we hurl so much poison at each other on other days.
It's of course impossible to force or create a direction towards which the entire blogosphere will flow, but I wonder if we'll be seeing more of a push to identify more blogs that are guardians of the public trust for particular issues, or more blog-funded nonpartisan research. There's a lot of different possible forms, but the point is that if there is a growing recognition that: Congress isn't there for the public, that someone has to be, and that blogs can be... then, that demand will be met somehow. I imagine we'll be seeing cross-blogosphere coalitions more often.
This weblog will continue to be about the intersection of politics and technology, which will often involve nonpartisan subjects, of interest to both (all) sides of the political blogosphere. I invite you to check in regularly.
First, an apology is in order to language purists. "Politology" is actually a word simply meaning the study of policy - other countries use the word to mean the same thing that we mean by "political science".
But this weblog is specifically about both politics and technology, including (but not limited to) the intersection between the two subjects. Politics is where some of the most exciting web development is happening, and we only scratched the surface with the Dean campaign. This site will very much be about politics and technology in the United States. The word fits.
I'll be your host, and we'll also have regular and semi-regular guest authors to weigh in on subjects they care about.
In addition, we'll be using this site specifically to launch new political technology media. Whether it is animations, interactive web applications, graphics, offline publications, or even games, it's likely to pop up on these pages at one time or another.
If you are a skilled writer that is passionate about politics and also experienced in a technology field such as graphic design, information architecture, programming, database design, or flash development, please enquire within. The aim for this site is to become a full-on political media group, not just a blog.