Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Testing complete. Blog systems go!

Ok, enough cheese.

My name, at least for the purposes of this site, is Demosthenes. It comes from two different people: a fictional character, and a real historical figure. The real one is a Greek orator by the same name, who is considered by some to be the best orator who ever lived. Although I haven’t read that many of his speeches yet, what I’ve read I liked. The second and more important “Demosthenes”, however, is from Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”. Demosthenes is the demogogic network pseudonym of one of the main characters, Valentine Wiggin. Together with her brother Peter’s more reasonable “Locke” pseudonym, they manage to have a decisive effect on world events and world politics. They were barely teenagers.

I read this book around the same time that the public became aware of the Internet. It had a profound effect. Breathless and optimistic articles in Wired magazine proclaimed that the Internet would change political discourse forever. The Internet would bring everybody together, there would be consensus, or at least agreement on the positions of the people on either side. The cliché about “brave new worlds” was in full flower, and the possibility of a teenager changing the world by talking on the Internet seemed not just possible, but inevitable. So I took on the name “Demosthenes” to show my belief in the power of debate to change the world.

Indeed, times have changed, although not in the way I would have preferred.

Internet debate has become little more than a joke in some sectors. It’s commonly thought of as nothing more than obnoxious partisan namecalling. Nobody pays attention to it; the Simpsons summarized the situation pretty accurately when one character, suggesting that they publish salacious material on the Internet, got the response “I’ve got a better idea… let’s put it somewhere where people will actually pay attention!” The Internet is a sideshow, right? The thing is, that isn’t quite true anymore either. People are starting to get attention on the Internet. Bloggers and Blogs, thanks to the ease and visibility of publishing and the simplicity of interconnection between them, have become increasingly visible and influential in a way almost impossible on Usenet or on the thousands of fractured web boards out there. It makes sense; after all, obnoxiousness and namecalling are pretty endemic to political discussion a lot of the time. It’s the partisanship that’s a problem.

Conservativism dominate discussion nowadays, and liberalism lives in its shadow. They have a commanding presence on talk radio, as TV commentators, many political magazines are conservative to a degree that would be impossible for liberalism, and the major newspapers, despite being called “liberal” by the far right, are hardly bastions of leftist thinking; they’re barely even centrist, only being called “liberal” because they’re to the right of the commentators. Look at Crossfire: the remarkable negative reaction by a Republican administration to a show where the left-wing hosts are barely as aggressive as the typical conservative commentator. Look at Fox News: a station that can get away with far-right commentary and editorial bias simply because of the assumption that centrist news is “liberal” in some fashion. Look at think tanks: conservative industry front groups and apologists become widely quoted by the media and believed implicitly, despite the flaws of many of their arguments, whereas centrist and leftist groups are ignored. This leads to a seeming uniformity of opinion and thought; those who attempt to speak up for their non-conservative beliefs can be shouted down by the horde, or inundated with so many contradicting arguments that they cannot hope to respond. This is, of course, assuming that they even get a voice at all, and considering who owns the media and who gets funding it perhaps isn’t surprising that those who defend disproportionate wealth and power receive wealth and power in turn.

The Internet is no different. In fact, here it’s worse: here, somehow, demographics and chance have elevated a relatively minor and marginal philosophy, Libertarianism, to an utterly dominant ideology. Even those who disagree with it (including true conservatism of various stripes) are forced to use its terms and engage its basic assumptions in any discussion. Libertarians and Libertarian arguments invade and shape every discussion, every debate, every meeting of people with different points of view. This is not due to any intrinsic strength to their arguments (as much as their proponents would like to think so), nor is it due to the sort of financial backing that keeps think tanks and many other forms of media leaning rightward. It is because the sheer numbers, repetition and forcefulness of the proponents of that belief system lend it enormous credibility and strength. That is why I decided to borrow the title of Mr. Card’s latest book, as it seems remarkably appropriate. Liberals are marginalized, isolated, and dominated by Libertarian and Conservative thought online. They live in the Shadow of the Hegemon.

Several bloggers have written about how Liberal bloggers are hard to find, and they certainly lack the sense of community, sense of identity and famous proponents that Libertarian or Conservative bloggers take for granted. The Liberals have no one with the cachet of Instapundit or Sullivan (although Josh Marshall comes close.) It was those writings that prompted me to start this site, so that I could in my own small way attempt to respond to this dominant ideology and make a contribution to Liberal thought online. This does not mean that I intend to spend all my time talking about such things, nor that I will unthinkingly dismiss right-wing arguments or unthinkingly accept left-wing arguments. I’m actually a political centrist, although describing centrist nowadays is practically impossible. There is an imbalance out there, however, and I would be remiss if, in noticing it and lamenting it, I didn’t do what I could to respond to it.

One other thing… don’t worry, most of my blog entries will not be this long. I may eventually set this up as a linked document, in order to keep straight what I’m doing and why I’m here.

Well, without any further adieu…

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:43 AM

    I find your posts' intriguing. I to am a fan of Orson Scott Card and I note that you have beat me, as to the use of the name Demosthenes.

    So to the so called 'Republican Party" I present a quote that applies to the Congress the party promotes.

    "You would, I expect, men of Athens, accept it as the equivalent of a large amount of money, if it could be made clear to you what will prove our best policy in the matters now under discussion. This then being so, you are bound to give an eager hearing to all who offer advice. For not only if someone comes forward with a well-considered plan, could you hear and accept it, but also I count it part of your good fortune that more than one speaker may be inspired with suitable suggestions on the spur of the moment, so that out of the multitude of proposals the choice of the best should not be difficult."

    Demosthenes. Demosthenes with an English translation by J. H. Vince, M.A. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1930.

    There shall be more. Locke