Monday, June 24, 2002

Oddly enough, for some reason my comments about right-wing dominance have prompted a fair bit more discussion in the comments section than they usually do... I suppose because of the link from Den Beste, or possibly because "Dean" seems to spend as much time in comments sections as Instapundit does linking. Dean wonders why I should care about whether there's an "echo chamber" or not... after all, Glenn (and others) do link to left-wing sites, don't they? Sure, it's critical, but who doesn't? It doesn't affect my pocketbook, does it?

Well, for starters, my original post on the subject was actually my first post, which can be found here. I imagine most of my readers won't have read it yet, but it does a fairly good job of explaining the themes I cover, although I've naturally drifted a bit since I first started writing this. The term "Echo Chamber" for example, isn't my own, and it either wasn't around or I didn't know about it when I wrote this first post on the subject. Still, it's a useful guide to my POV on this subject, and I'd recommend it for anybody who wants to know my position and why I started the blog in the first place.


There is, of course, another purpose to bloggers and blogging (just as there is to any political debate) besides promulgating your opinion, possibly making a bit of pocket change (although, lacking a Paypal button, I don't yet benefit from that) and easing boredom... and that is to sway the opinions of those who read your site. That is the fundamental goal of any political writing, whether scholarly, newspaper "Op-Ed", talk show hosting, or blogging. This doesn't necessarily carry over to "diary" style blogs (although many online journals don't follow the weblog format.. Diaryland being one of the better examples), but definitely applies to the political arm of the "blogosphere" as I understand it.

The problem, as I mentioned earlier, is that the "crowding out" of other views can and does take place simply due to numbers and sources. That's why I don't argue that it's simply a case of the blogosphere ignoring left-wing views (which is not true in-and-of-itself), but that there tends to be a reinforcement effect, with links and articles being chosen depending on whether they support the argument being made. Glenn, for example, does link to left-wing sites, but usually only picks and chooses those that reinforce the points he's making (and often the stereotypes he's seeking to attribute to his political opponents), and if an audience member reads Glenns site, what reason does he have to disagree or dispute what Glenn's saying, especially considering that many other sites are saying the same thing, making the same arguments, and using the same links?

One of the earliest examples I noticed, and one I keep returning to, is Paul Krugman. There seems to be a subculture in Blogdom that is dedicated to word-for-word attacks on each and every article that Krugman writes, and there is a constant hue and cry from those who believe that he's "sold out", or is "incorrigably partisan" or even (amazingly) that he has a conflict of interest with Enron, or any other bit of nonsense that is demonstrably untrue (or at least debatable) . So why do people buy it? Because it's repeated over, and over, and over again, uncritically, by people using sources and making arguments that can be countered, but largely aren't... because who's going to link to a page that dispels one's own argument, even if the linker knows that such a page exists?

More than that, though, there's also a question of not just what answers are being argued, but what questions are being asked. Anybody who has spent any time on the Internet has noticed that it's neither conservatism or liberalism that drives debate here, but libertarianism (whether big or little "L"). Even if one isn't a liberatarian, it's libertarian ideas and libertarian interpretations that tend to form the basis for the topics of discussion, and nobody can get away with espousing any political opinion online without being able to either deal with or explain away the inevitable libertarian responses to any political discussion. It's said that in American politics "it's the conservatives with all the ideas", but I don't think that's because liberalism is empty of ideas- it's just that conservatism has managed to do an excellent job of pushing its ideas, far better than liberalism has- but online, it is libertarianism and the libertarians that play the 400lb gorillas. Instead of discussions about how to best govern, the discussions are about whether government is necessary or moral at all. Instead of discussions of different economic systems, at best there's usually a debate over whether the free market is always right or just right the vast majority of the time. Instead of discussions of how identity affects personality and politics, there's questions about whether identity even exists at all, or whether it's merely a bugaboo of the left. Even what would normally be fairly extremist ideologies (such as Objectivism) in "the real world" are so ultra-common that extremely right-wing economic commentators like Jane Galt gets away with being considered a fairly unquestionable sources of economic wisdom, despite (as far as I can see) ascribing to about the most extremely right-wing conception of economics you'll find outside of the Austrian school. (No, Jane, that isn't intended as an attack, just an example. Put the charts down.) Instead of discussions about whether academe is too left-wing, the assumption is that it is indeed far too leftist and the discussion is instead whether it's even salvagable, or simply incorrigably evil. (Which is ironic, because attitudes online are practically the mirror reverse of academia from what I've seen.) The basic assumptions in debate on the Internet are so wildly different from those in any other discussion forum that I imagine it seems to many to be practically incomprehensible; certainly it would practically impossible for a true leftist to be able to engage the political community as it exists online without being crushed under the weight of begged questions, antagonistic assumptions, and either benign contempt or outright hostility.

This is, of course, why those who disagree with this consensus tend to stick to their own communities, why people have been saying for years that debate is "too hostile" online (which isn't true, unless you're coming at it from the wrong direction), why the left is so woefully underrepresented in debate, why Usenet has been steadily dying despite having a better interface than any webboard, and why the mainstream media believes that everybody with a political opinion online is a cyber-libertarian. And, yes, why Cass Sunstein was right, even if those who are already living in a segregated community by default haven't the faintest clue that others exist or, if they do, usually dismiss them as "a bunch of loonies".

This didn't start with the Blogosphere. The Blogosphere is just the most recent manifestation of it. The only reason why it's different in any way is because blogs are by pieces starting to supplement and compliment mainstream media, and the conventional wisdom that Internet debate is inherently meaningless is beginning to break down in the face of reality. Look at the bloggers who are either coming from or going to the mainstream media... blogs have been a big thing for, what, a year and a half? Two years? And this is happening already? The right side of the Blogosphere is smoothly integrating into the already integrated political landscape that exists on the right side of the political spectrum in the United States (the integration between the right-wing scholarship, magazines, radio, newspapers and other media in the United States that the left only wishes it could harness), and it is gaining all the friendly scholarly and media resources that the "vast right-wing conspiracy" takes for granted. This integration means not only that the right will continue to drive the policy debate in the United States, but that online libertarianism will likely break out into the "real world", if it hasn't already. (Were it not for the overt religiosity of American culture, it would have happened long ago, but those two branches of the right are far friendlier than the different parts of the left have ever been).

Being a liberal, of course, I find this alarming, and would prefer that the left makes its voice heard. Not to drown out the right (who make valid points and have valid ideas), but to ensure that we don't end up like a penguin trying to swim with only a right wing: spinning in circles, never really getting anywhere.

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