Friday, February 23, 2007

Rescuing from the Memory Hole

Haloscan has a way of making things disappear, so I figured I'd respond to a comment Skippy made on the blog itself.

Here's what he said in response to this entry:

well, demosthenes (and thx for the link, and the support, btw), i'd further suggest that if you spend time (in my case, 5 years) participating in a community, only to be told that the community no longer supports you, but you are expected to keep supporting the community, it becomes emotionally masochistic to continue to do so.

to be really, really honest, on a personal level, if kos had just sent me an email explaining his change in policy vis-a-vis the blog's newly focused direction, with a small apology and and a "thanks for your support in the past i hope i can count on it in the future," i, on a personal level, would not be so bent out of shape.

but on a macro level, i am infuriated that kos especially spent the last 5 years garnering progressive support (not to mention writing talent and traffic), only to suddenly switch directions into a dnc blog w/o so much as a by your leave (plus, suddenly all the munchkins in the land of kos are spouting the party line that it's "his blog" and he can "do what he wants" with it, when his previous proclamations were all about citizens taking back government).

he pretty much used the populous approach to get himself a chair at the table. huey long would be proud.

I don't disagree. Hell, I got purged too, albeit from a different site, remember? I'd always been kind of arms length, largely because of other commitments and the needs imposed by pseudonymity, but I like to consider myself part of the progressive community too.

(I'm not sure, but I believe I coined "conservatarian", so I'm even down with that whole Yes I Coined That Phrase thing.)

What Kos doesn't get is that he's a member of a community, not a leader of one. He (among others) have been seduced into to thinking that since their websites are sub-communities in their own right, they don't need to worry about the broader progressive community as a whole. Why worry about some guy with some random blog named "skippy" when you're creating this great big beautiful community? When you've got people falling all over themselves to provide content for your site in the form of those "diaries"?

Yet it is precisely that kind of community-building that the right seems to understand better nowadays. The point of blogroll linking is not merely creating a portable favorites list, but creating a shared community and shared sense of identity. If you share a link with someone, on some level you state "I am like them". Even when you link to conservatives, you inherently give them some degree of respect and shared identity; you state "yes, I think you're a putz, but I also think you're a peer. You can be both."

As we've seen, the shared progressive/liberal identity desperately needs this kind of reinforcement. because it is that lack of shared perceived identity that allows for self-proclaimed "centrists" to attack everybody to their left. If they thought "they are like me", they wouldn't do that, because they'd believe that every attack boomerangs back in some respect. They might privately say "shut up, putz", or might respectfully say "I disagree" in public, but wouldn't try to freeze them out.
Because they don't have that perception of shared identity, though, they keep on trying to score points on everybody to the left of them.

So, shared identity is at the core of a community. Here's the problem. By building and presiding over these communities, Kos (and Atrios, and Josh Marshall, and MyDD, and Arianna, and a lot of other "top-tier" folks) is reinforcing a division of identities and communities.

As I'd mentioned earlier, there is a fundamental distinction between a "diary" on a website like Kos and an independent blog. The former exists at the whim and will of the website's administrators; if somebody at Kos doesn't like a diary, they can take it down or even ban them. That power irretrievably prevents a shared identity between Kos and his diarists. He will always be more powerful than them, will always carry that identity of "community administrator/website owner", and they won't.

Yet, it goes both ways. Kos can never, ever be a Kossack. He can never engage them in a free and clear fashion. I'm sure he'd like to, but he cannot, because he owns that space. He can never be "one of the guys", no matter how much he'd like to. The same goes for Atrios and the Atriettes, Arianna and her various diarists and commentators, etc. Even if they can become administrators, that distinction will never go away; and if they become administrators, they too will become distinct from the userbase itself.

The situation is entirely different for, say, me and skippy. Even if Kos and Atrios and Glenn Greenwald no longer link to us, the fact remains that we are peers. I have a blog. Atrios has a blog. skippy has a blog. Kos has a blog. There is no proprietary relationship there; Kos can't kick me off his site, because this isn't his site. He can do whatever he pleases to my diary over there (which still exists simply as a funnel and introduction) and molest my comments over there to his heart's content. Were he to post a response here, I could log into Haloscan and do the same damned thing to HIS posts. And you know what? It wouldn't matter, because he has his own site too.

As much as Kos and Atrios might not want to, if they want to engage me and skippy, they must do it as peers, rather than as superiors. That's what a shared identity is built on, and that shared identity is what a community is built on, and that community is what progressivism and liberalism is based on.

And that, clearly, isn't what Kos and the top-tiers want anymore. For whatever reason, they've decided that they'd prefer to build their own little communities that they can preside over. They want Kossacks, and Atriettes, and whateverthehell people who post on TPMCafe and the Huffington Post call themselves. They want mutually exclusive communities of subjects, instead of a community of peers.

If they do link to other sites, they (apparently) want the power to pull that link at any time, for whatever reason, and to receive "amnesty" for it, no matter what it means to the community. They want to be able to extend and retract their favor, like Renaissance Princes, to whomever pleases or displeases them. Why do you think Atrios kept on going on and on about "helping out smaller blogs" They, bizarrely, appear to want to be patrons, not peers.

(And, yes, I'm aware that Kos wants his blog to be more "campaign focused". More the fool is he, if he thinks such a beast is even possible, let alone desirable. Retracting your favor for writing about the wrong thing is as much the game of a Prince as anything else.)

Say what you will about Instapundit. I probably have. He, at least, gets it. Every time he links to someone, he says:

"I'm a peer with this person. We're all part of the great conservative project together. Is he someone worth listening to, like myself?


No, I don't know where this comes from. Maybe Kos et al spent a bit too much time hobnobbing with the Powers That Be. Maybe they're a little embarrassed about being lumped in with the lowly bloggers, and want to place himself above them. Maybe, with Kos, he wants to be able to tell Dean that he has an army of people who'll do what he says, so as to get the DNC's extended favor.

It doesn't matter.

What matters is that it's like cutting off your arms so that your legs seem more useful. It's foolish, it's silly, and it's the finest news the Republicans could ask for.

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