December 1, 2008 - November 24, 2008
Monday, December 01, 2008
The Folly of Internet Armies
ghost in the machine? Yes and no.
BOOK OF WHO
. I decided to wait till after the Thanksgiving holiday
before addressing a couple of provocative comments on the Bill Quick
post, which you can read here
if you're not familiar with it. I'd have let the whole matter end there
if it hadn't been for some interesting reader responses.
For example, Fred D. asked a very good question:
Stumbled here quite awhile ago but this
is my first comment - I echo
what Lake said: ". . . it would require so much of that, what do you
call it, consciousness and thought." And that's the challenge, as I
kept encountering at work during this election, discussing politics
even though it's not allowed.
But, I think you're spot
on - I've decided that simply marking
a presidential ballot every fours
years isn't enough participation any longer - so how to get started?
And JTD also posed a challenge:
your ideas for a new party IP, perhaps we could have a new post
just dedicated to that? I do not want to mix my comments on a
creative, endeavor with a post dealing with the smallest of people.
The larger question is, of course, "What to Do?" Given that we know
we're somehow losing a vital contest for the heart and soul of our
nation, what can and should those of us who care deeply about the
outcome be doing? The good news is that there are many right answers
and a few very wrong ones. My intention is to explore the right answers
in a series of future posts and refute the wrong ones right here and now. But
not even this post will be entirely negative. If I do it right, it
should point in the direction of all the positive things we can do.
Starting a new party ain't it. Not even the party I idealistically
described in my two brief attempts to participate in Quick's American
Conservative Party project. As a philosophical exercise, it can be
therapeutic for those involved, but that's all. I enjoyed writing down
some of my ideas, but the only benefit accrued to me. I got the chance
to remind myself about the things I regarded as most important. If some
of you agree, fine, but that doesn't buy us a single cent's worth of
poilitical clout. It only identifies us as kindred spirits in
the vast body politic. Most of us are not politicians, which is what it
takes to build effective political organizations. In real terms, the
ambition to build a new party and use it to achieve an electoral
majority is akin to turning your local model airplane club into a
corporation that can beat out Boeing for commercial airline and
military contracts. It's just not going to happen.
The delusion that such a rank absurdity is a possible and worthwhile
goal betrays the fundamental misconception about the internet which
carries so many people into egotistical folly. They believe the chief
attribute of the worldwide web is as an instrument for centrally
controlled, purpose-driven, broadcast communications, the unification
of mass distributed resources, the recruitment of gigantic armies who
can change the world. This is completely false.
The internet is not a pipeline of any kind. It's a bulletin board. The
biggest one ever conceived and maintained, but a bulletin board
nonetheless. And no one has ever been converted to anything by a
bulletin board. Even more dauntingly, this is a bulletin board whose
scope encompasses every aspect of the mind of the whole world. It's not
the whole mind of the world, just a layer or two -- a topic list, an
events calendar, an almanac, an encyclopedia, a sexy tease, an analog,
an invitation to experience rather than an actual experience of life as
it is lived in its infinite variety around the globe. At its best, it's
a compelling and attractive trailer, but it's never the complete movie,
good or bad. However big it gets, it can never reach out and grab the
heart of anyone in a viselike grip and compel them to think, do, or be
anything they don't want to. Which is good. Its most successful
mechanisms are those of attraction, not intimidation, compulsion,
extortion, or control.
To put it in the simplest possible terms, it's the audience that's in
charge. To be influenced by you, they must be looking for you first.
They must seek you out and make their own decisions about whether you
are to be part of their lives or a rapidly discarded irrelevancy.
Sometimes this process of attracting interest can appear to be an
active rather than passive phenomenon. Glenn Reynolds's "Army of
Davids" conception is a good illustration of the fallacy at work here. "RatherGate" and the blogger
rebuttal of his idiotic reporting superficially resembled an attack
that succeeded in bringing down its quarry. But that's not what really
happened, meaning that's not the best analogy for what transpired on
the internet during the Rather-Bush TANG fiasco. The precipitating
event occurred outside the internet, on television, when a corrupt news
organization perpetrated an obvious fraud on the American public.
Everything which happened after that was a kind of physiological
reaction, an autonomic response from the virtual body the internet
represents. The swarms of subject matter experts who surfaced to
identify and shoot down all the falsities in the story were not an army
of any kind, but a flood of antibodies fighting a sudden infection. No
one recruited them personally, organized them, aimed them, or directed them. They
were individuals, each reacting independently to an easily perceived
outrage. The only organization lay in the reporting. A few internet
sources became the funnel -- or hypodermic needle -- by which the cure
was administered to those who believed there was an infection in the
first place. That's not an "Army of Davids"; it's the normal
functioning of a healthy immune system.
But metaphors carry their own momentum until they prove insuffiicient,
and there's been a tendency ever since among conservatives to believe
that the internet can be some kind of unifying, organizing route to
power in the way that so many people believe Moveon.org, Democratic
Underground, and other vicious lefty sites have been.
The right analogy for the internet activities of the left is not
military, either; it's infection. There's no effective, conscious,
organizing principle at work other than destruction. Have they
generated storms of angry, obscene abuse? Yes. Have they managed to focus
obsessive attention on a handful of endlessly repeated charges? Yes.
Have they raised money? Yes. These are all nothing but the signposts of
disease -- the fever, pus, and swelling that bring doctors running.
Have they articulated anything like a coherent vision of the liberal
utopia they seek? No. Have they succeeded in altering the course of
what Democrat politicians will do now that they are safely in office?
No. Are they a true political power? No. They are merely a dramatic
symptom of the fact that some ideas, if left untreated, can become
chronic and ultimately fatal.
It's frightening indeed to think that some conservatives believe they
should organize their presence on the internet along the lines of
disastrous models of this sort. Moveon, DU, and Markos Moulitsas may
see themselves as the storm troopers of the new left. What they are is
the AIDS of the internet.
America is a two-party system. It's a system that has its weaknesses,
but it's better than everyone else's. We don't have weak coalition
governments that fall apart every time there's a major crisis or a
tantrum about that one pivotal issue. If you want to capture or remake
a party, you can't do it by amassing umpty-thousand identically
vituperative comments about the bete-noire of the moment. You do it by
an accumulation of concentrated local
T'was ever so. The internet doesn't change that. But it can
be used to facilitate and
magnify the impact of local efforts. If you care enough.
Friday, November 28, 2008
. Just a dream I had. I wouldn't call it a hope or even a
prayer. It wasn't a thought-out thing like those. Simply a feeling made
visual, the way we all do evey night, whether we remember or not. I
suppose it was prompted by the odd juxtaposition of a day of friendly
family warmth pierced by strobes of gunfire and murder half a world
away. That and a half-conscious awareness of how it must feel to be
Obama right now, the unbelievable, impossible new reality slowly being
nailed to the inescapable ten-penny reality of deciding, choosing,
acting, taking real
responsibility, counting costs, and coming to terms with a million brand new potential
points of pain.
Doors are opening and doors are closing, too. The impossibly long, dark
corridor is just an anteroom one stride long. Everything must look so
different, so suddenly. Everything. When the lights come on, there is
an acre of hats to wear, and every one of them feels completely
different. You are no longer the projectile devouring the hallway en
route to the target. The speed of the journey is amputated, and the
past with it, by the black hole gravity of the destination. You are
there. The path to there is suddenly an unremarkable ray in an
infiinity that radiates from and to one head. You are the head and eyes
and ears under the hats, at the center, looking, listening, thinking in
How it feels. The lustful lover become a father in a moment. All the
knife-edged spurs of desire dulled by the sharper scream of birth.
Anger, vengeance, the need to prove, to bleed resentment, bled white by
a brighter light.
Just a dream. I can feel Cain suspending his blow at Abel, Jacob
embracing Esau. The frightening and liberating humility of realizing I
am merely human, loving everything that made me, forgiving the strop
that keened the razor. Hat, hat, hat, hat, hat, hat. The proliferating
oath that binds everyone, them to me and me to them. All of them.
Because we are but one body coursing with the same blood. Their hands
and feet and guts are not mine to command but to comprehend. Not
mine to punish but to protect. My soul is now striped with white as well
as red, and I feel our shared field growing with stars. I love them.
All of them. And I am afraid, suddenly and jaggedly, of failing my
oath. The fear is new. The love is new. I am new. New made and newly
resolved to wear all the hats, every one, at once, forever, for all my
countrymen. No matter how much it costs me.
As I said. Just a dream I had.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Today, what's old is new again, every
MOMENT OF YOUR TIME
. This is to wish you all a beautiful
Thanksgiving Day. And to offer one modest suggestion. Whatever you're
, take just one
moment to ask yourself whom or what you're thankful to
. Everyone's allowed his own
answer, of course, but thinking your way to that answer can be a