Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It's About Linking and Money

I don't have as much time or ability to comment on The Blindspot, by Freddie deBoer, as I would like. I've already praised it; it doesn't need more, and I'll have to limit my comments to two short points.

First, the comments saying "Klein has beliefs! Yglesias has beliefs! They just focus on the policies that are possible!" are a bit wrongheaded.  Those things are undoubtedly true. Where the problem lies is that neoliberals like Klein and Yglesias only really pay attention to arguments coming from the center-left and the right. They don't link to anybody who's really to their left, they don't discuss anybody to their left, and therefore they don't acknowledge the existence of anybody to their left. This has been a constant problem online that has everything to do with the sheer multitude of voices. You can't read it all, and you can't even read most of it; so it becomes too easy to focus on a few quick, convenient sources.

That isn't even necessarily a problem. If those sources are doing a good job of being curators of opinion—which is the ultimate role of the vast majority of political bloggers—then they'll be exposed to a variety of opinions simply because of the nature of the network. The problem comes when all the big voices are all paying attention to the same voices, and rarely (if ever) venture outside of that reservation to see what everybody else is saying. This is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, it's the oldest problem with blogging, and has only been exacerbated by the rise of social networking tools as blogging substitutes. Echo chambers are a constant menace.

Secondly, you can't understand this issue without having also read The Rise of the New Global Elite. Money is speech. The Supreme Court ruled it so, it has reaffirmed it over and over again, and it's almost certainly going to keep doing so. In a country—and on a planet—hurtling headlong towards a plutonomy where the vast majority of wealth and income are in the hands of an ever-shrinking minority of the ultra-wealthy, that is naturally going to mean that speech is in the hands of that tiny minority as well.

deBoer hits on this when he talks about market fundamentalist libertarians and their outsized influence, but it isn't the thrust of the article and I think that misses the point. People who sell their ability to write and speak as their stock in trade—people like Klein and Yglesias, to get back to them—are almost inevitably going to have to sell that ability to the beneficiaries of the plutonomy because there's nobody else to sell it to. Speech is money, and we all know who has the money.

That sharply curtails their flexibility. Sure, they can advocate for progressive social policy and maybe even slightly progressive economic and taxation policy. But an out-and-out assault on the economic foundations of America? Hell no. Even acknowledging that such a thing is advocated could dry up the money spigots, and get you replaced by people whose morals, ethics, or lack of such more perfectly serve the interests of the guy who's ponying up the dough.  Sure, deBoers points out the outsized influence of outlets like Reason has to do with the money behind them, but he never brings up the fact that the money behind them is in the hands of self-interested, self-serving billionaires.

This isn't "libertarians" buying speech; this is the plutonomy perpetuating its interests by showering convenient people with money. And, yes, that is harmful to the American public discourse. But since the American members of that "global elite" demonstrated that they couldn't give a rat's ass about their fellow Americans at gunpoint, I doubt that matters much to them. Money is speech no matter where you're from.

deBoer did a follow-up entry that said he was being deliberately provocative. Fine. That's the OTHER, non-curatorial job of the blogger. But there's one thing that I did want to actually quote and response to.

I am sorry, though, for the Twitter ugliness. To put it succinctly, some conservatives were taking gratuitous swipes at the post on public Twitter feeds. I responded in an update to the post. Some people felt, for some odd reason, that this was out of bounds. But, look-- people were talking trash on public Twitter feeds. So I talked back. If you don't protect your tweets, they're public. Twitter is a public forum. It's not passing notes in biology class. I understand why people get bent out of shape about this, and it's why I fucking hate Twitter: it turns everybody cliquey. It's public, but gated through the following system, and it encourages a situation where people look to their in group to back them up in a kind of weird public/private fusion.
I wholeheartedly agree. Twittering is a form of blogging. It's public. You can dial up anybody's Twitter page and read the lot of it. The fact that's short-form blogging doesn't change that.  That's one of the reasons I get a bit annoyed with all that "death of blogging" nonsense. Blogging never went away. It's just that, for many, it got shorter and faster.
For many people, that's an improvement. But sometimes you need something beefier, and I still believe that Freddie deBoer's work demonstrates just how important it is.


  1. Are you, by chance, the same Demosthenes who posts at Best Of The Fray? I'm thinking 50/50 chance here but was curious.

  2. No, that's not me. I get that question a lot about various "Demosthenes" pseuds around the net.

    I'm quite likely the first blogger to use the pseudonym Demosthenes, but I know I'm hardly the only one. So 99% of the time, I just post here; and if I am posting somewhere else, I make a point of linking BACK here.

  3. Ahh..ok. Well in any case, from perusing your work I can say that I share your views and admire your skill at articulating them.