My "big fundamental" is that being _left_ means working for a more egalitarian, democratic society, but also for fairness, not ethnic or other kinds of favoritism. Because the left has turned away from fairness it is lost and unpopular. I'm a small voice hoping to push the left back toward its basics and its natural popularity.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Shut up! (Cuban Heel edition).

Shut up! (Cuban Heel edition).

Sun Dec 04, 2005 at 07:32:18 AM PST

Blogs, in many ways, are contentious versions of the larger world, so it probably shouldn't be a suprise that so-called "community" blogs reflect the tendency that we humans, as a herd species, have of demanding a common conformity and uniform direction of "rogues" who don't follow the direction of the herd.

Many of us didn't want this to be so, myself included. There was something exciting about large "communities" like Daily Kos when I first found it, and the addition of diaries served to make it seem more like a real community, but without all that pressure to dress like everyone else or go to the same restaurant, like we have to deal with in the meat world.

Of course, without superficial things for people to build cliques around, they found other things, and as that blog (and others of the big boy bloggers) became more closely alligned as a "netroots" army aimed at helping the Democratic Party, those cliques began to enforce a MESSAGE conformity. The latest version of this went up last night at DK, with the usual bullying and use of the silly rating system to try to use community shunning to reinforce group behavior.

There are some topics that are targeted for particular bullying, downrating and "banning" (how far we've come from the days when people were led to the edge of the village and cast into the wilderness). We're supposed to accept, I guess, that those topics are the very same ones that the feckless Democratic Leadership in Washington LEAST wants to deal with: vote tampering in the 2004 (and 2000!) election; abortion; the outsized influence that the Israeli right and AIPAC have on our government; questions about September 11 and whether there was complicity on the part of the Bush Administration.

This is dangerous, especially on the part of a blog that has become, THANKS TO ITS READERS, one of the biggest destinations on the internet for politics. It is especially dangerous when the "opposition" party is seemingly unwilling or unable to actually oppose a criminal regime that is destroying the very underpinnings of our government and our society. As the party toward the left abandons women to the vagaries of patriarchical religious nuts; as it abandons black Americans to vote suppression & the floodwaters of neglect; as it kow-tows to Likud and AIPAC along with the Republicans; as it continues to refuse to confront the very real fact that the Republicans failed badly on 9/11 and it's aftermath ... the need to confront these questions has never been higher.

There has been crowing over the last year, since Kerry punted the run, that sites like daily Kos participate on conference calls with party leaders. They tell us that the site can have an influence, that the netroots can be a power, but there are certain ways that are acceptable to exert that power. We can send money ... always more money ... piles and bats and rising thermometers of money. We can pepper the media and DC offices with emails, faxes and phone calls, preferably with a general script designed after those conference calls.

Phone calls with ELECTED officials should not be sources of talking points to be vomited out in pixels hours later. They should be used to question those officials, and press them to be more responsive to the needs of the people. Of course, if that happened, there is a chance there wouldn't be anymore calls. One could argue that the heady feeling of having that brief connection, that access, might lead some to avoid hard questions, and to put pressure on others to avoid hard questions too, again in the fear of losing that "insider" connection. Nagging doubts that the calls may serve only to manufacture consent are pushed out of mind:

In totalitarian societies where there's a Ministry of Truth, propaganda doesn't really try to control your thoughts. It just gives you the party line. It says, "Here's the official doctrine; don't disobey and you won't get in trouble. What you think is not of great importance to anyone. If you get out of line we'll do something to you because we have force." Democratic societies can't work like that, because the state is much more limited in its capacity to control behavior by force. Since the voice of the people is allowed to speak out, those in power better control what that voice says--in other words, control what people think. One of the ways to do this is to create political debate that appears to embrace many opinions, but actually stays within very narrow margins. You have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions--and that those assumptions are the basis of the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, the debate is permissible.

Oh, wait, I just quoted Chomsky. That will get me labeled as a nut or conspiracy theorist or some kind of purist. See how it works? As I presumably want people to listen to what I say, I might be better served to quote someone approved by the party and the mainstream media, say a consultant or pundit or pollster. In fact, if I were to do so, I might get some "mojo" and other digital pats-on-the-head, and the feeling of belonging will doubtless fill my heart with glee. "They like me, they really, really like me!"

Well, that's not what motivates my blogging, and I think it's not what motivates the blogging of a lot of people disturbed by what our herd has become, frightened by the cliff we are heading toward. However, the increasing willingness on the part of some to try to meet the expectations of the poobahs in DC, the self-censorship and imposition of virtual speech codes will bleed the blogs of the very thing that makes them exciting, that makes them the descendents of the pamphleteers:

And yet, for all this...the pamphlets of the American Revolution that seek artistic effects are not great documents.

First and foremost, the American pamphleteers, though participants in a great tradition, were amateurs next to such polemicists as Swift and Defoe. Nowhere [were there writers who were]... capable, that is, of earning their living by their pens... [The closest were some of the printers, but other than Franklin they weren't principles in what was going on.]

The American pamphleteers were almost to a man lawyers, ministers, merchants, or planters heavily engaged in their regular occupations.

...it is this amateurism, this lack of practiced technique, that explains much of the crudeness of the Revolutionary pamphlets considered simply as literature.

But there is more than amateurism behind the relative crudeness of the artistic efforts in the American pamphlets. For if writers like Adams and Jefferson were amateur pamphleteers, their writings in other ways display formidable literary talents...The more deliberately artful writings were in a significant way -- for reasons that reach into the heart of the Revolutionary movement -- peripheral to the main lines of intellectual force developing through the period.

The American writers were profoundly reasonable people. Their pamphlets convey scorn, anger, and indignation; but rarely blind hate, rarely public fear. They sought to convince their opponents, not like the English pamphleteers of the eighteenth century, to annihilate them.

The Americans had allies in the Parliament in England. Suppose these allies had been able to convince the passionate writers who fed the fertile soil for change to be less confrontational. What if they had been convinced by those allies to be more "moderate", to only print pre-approved "facts" (and leaving the definition of 'fact' to those with a vested interest in the status quo)? Would there have BEEN a Revolution? Would we have the government the Republicans are now destroying if hadn't been for tracts of sometimes intemperate language?

It is true that there are plenty of other outlets than the big community blogs. It's true that the master of the site has a right to set the rules in his own house, but is it wise when one claims to be operating an open forum with the goal of creating a movement for reform? Especially when such a site becomes shorthand in the mainstream media for "liberal blogs"? There is little "liberal" about the front page of dailyKos, and it certainly doesn't speak to any liberal values that I hold. It is a center-right party organ, with a little ghetto of sometimes liberal diaries that are tolerated AS LONG AS THEY STAY WITHIN THE RULES. Sounds like just what Chomsky described, doesn't it?

Speech codes seek to pummel people into conformity, and conformity is a poor soil for the growing of freedom.

Liberal Street Fighter: Putting out fire with gasoline