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Progressive Blogosphere 2.0: A dialogue?

davkolb's picture

Here are some further questions, taking off from the quotations that were presented.

1) In Plato's dialogue "Gorgias" Socrates says that he would be happy to be refuted, if that led the discussion towards the truth. Is this a common attitude in the blogosphere? What kind of arrangement of comments and process of deliberation would make it possible to have this attitude be more effective? Or is such an attitude the wrong one for an advocacy blog set?

2) When it is important not just to share your opinion, but to give others a reason to share your opinion, how do you marshall arguments and evidence? Short blog posts do not seem to be the best way. Longer posts slow down dialogue, but this might be a good thing. A net, not a thread, of linked posts, would demand more careful reading, but this might be a good thing too.

3) Does the pattern of comment threads encourage back and forth postings on narrow issues, when what would be more useful would be a net of posts linked in 2 dimensions, across topics, so that one could contextualize another? My own work has involved seeing if complexly linked writing is possible. For an example, see here. But this, and some other pieces, were written by a single author in control of the link patterns. Is there a way for multiple authors to contribute to a discussion that is not regimented by the tree structure of blog post+comment threads? And that produces a result that may take some effort to comprehend, rather than a quick opinion plus vote.

4) Progressive blogging has followed the usual pattern where a few sites with strong voices gather the most traffic and often link to one another. Would other patterns be perhaps better? For example, could there be a central site that was not the possession of a single voice? Or that created complexly linked discussions?

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Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

I'm known here as Truth Partisan and I wrote the other questions on your work (please let me know of any problems.)

This discussion session we'd like to run as concentrating on one question at a time (at least starting that way--we'll see how it works out.)

Let's start with the first question we've asked everyone to read:

1. What can philosophy do for me? Why do we need to discuss philosophy?

Kolb says: “Philosophy discusses alternative first principles and disputes definitions and modes of argument. It tries to find a rigorous—or probable, or persuasive—way of disclosing the conditions that make rigorous argument possible.”

This is what we have been discussing.

What would make rigorous argument possible? How could others act that would make you more likely to engage with them—and persist in talking to them to get through to a reasoned conclusion?!

Dr. Kolb, I don't know exactly how we'll incorporate your extended questions so please throw them in wherever they apply.

What do you say everyone?

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

In my naive younger days I wrote a barely coherent article (no wonder it didn't get published) about the future of progressivism without Bush as the bogeyman. I think philosophy is important to the discussion but is not often seen in the progressive blogosphere. (In my days at The Stanford Dems Blog I would harp about the lack of philosophical discussions from time to time.)

What I saw during the primaries this year was that there was a transfer of anger toward Bush to anger toward Hillary. It seemed that PB1.0 was defined almost explicitly as a reaction against Gingrich/DeLay/Norquist (why aren't we talking about him anymore)/Rove/etc. Would discussing philosophical principles minimize the anger, hate and vitriol?

Submitted by lambert on

[rimshot. laughter. "Thanks! I'll be here all week!" Here are my answers, though I realize that each is worth a post or even a book...]

1. After this campaign, I think that the attitude that one "would be happy to be refuted, if that led the discussion towards the truth" is less pervasive than I thought it was in the progressive blogosphere. The reason for my misperception, or the change in the reality, is still under debate. I would like to think that here we are, if not happy -- I hate to lose anything, let alone an argument -- then satisfied, and able to move forward with a new understanding. Everything is not instrumental. Some things about writing are worth more than the effect sought by the writing. ("Is the good orator also a good man?")

2. It depends on what "the reason to share your opinion" might be. For example, some forms of words are so virulent that people believe them regardless of reason. (For example, VastLeft and I propagated "Unity Pony" as a shorthand for childish hopes placed in a presidential candidate; I'm convinced part of the reason it propagated was that it let to funny riffs that are easy to write. Does snark, when successful, give a reason to believe? I think yes... But for a sustained argument, the only way is a long post by an individual. There seems to be no way to develop the interlinking discussed in the question, so that the community as a whole can reason, I would argue because the categorization/relating tools available on this and all platforms operate at the level of the post, and not at the level of the text. The granularity is insufficient, even granting that users could be brought to add the value (it's work).

3. My answer is the same as 2's. The distinction between comment and post is artificial, I think.

4. Yes. But I don't know how. Is there an example of a network of sites where readership does not follow a power law?

Thanks also for entering the fray at Corrente!

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

Hi doc. In your answer you wrote "Short blog posts do not seem to be the best way. Longer posts slow down dialogue, but this might be a good thing." I cross post here from Pruning Shears, and I limit myself to a single 750-800 essay per week, plus an irregularly appearing weekend capsule. Part of it has to do with my schedule, but I also deliberately try to avoid doing lots of short posts because 1) I would feel the need to comment on everything and 2) I think for me less is more - it's better to really work on one thing throughout the week and try to put my best foot forward on that instead of giving scattered attention to frequent "quick hits". Obviously I can't speak for anyone else but my experience has been that short posts aren't the way to go either.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

The practice of philosophy can define and clarify "every day" words like "being civil."
It can show us what we are doing.

As far as what encourages me when I'm blogging, I find it helpful if other bloggers are fairly civil. The name-calling thing, although I try to ignore it, is cluttering.

I like it when people describe at length and in depth what they are saying...because that process often takes us to the heart of the matter.

I also find it helpful if other bloggers show me they have listened to what I'm saying and are clearly responsive, versus defensive. It's the idea that they are open...to persuasion, to argument, to making their own work better, or my work. I try to do this with others myself, imperfectly. I want to know what people mean.

Submitted by lambert on

On the other hand, some people see argument as discourteous, angry by definition, even "personal." Very odd.

NOTE TP, check your mail.

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

davkolb's picture
Submitted by davkolb on

Thanks for the invitation to participate today. I'm pleased that some people find some of what I've written might be useful to them.

One of the complaints about philosophy is that it never seems to reach conclusions. (This is good for philosophers' job security . . .) Philosophical argument is carried out in a seemingly endless time frame where options get examined and reexamined under one aspect and then another and another.

But practical and political decisions have deadlines, and we often have to make the decisions without rigorously supported principles behind them. Aristotle said that in practical situations it's not rigorous principles that count as much as a skilled perception of what are the morally and politically relevant aspects of the issue being decided, plus some very general principles.

This may be a reason that in political debate we often see/hear rival perceptions being announced, rather than arguments for shared principles.

But when perceptions clash, we need forums to let them be seen together and tested for their limits and implications. How do we make the blogosphere better at this? Should the discussion provide space for backing off from one's perception to test it against others? There seems to be a kind of disengagement needed that is very different from the search by the firmly engaged for the right rhetorical tools. Or, rather, there are two kinds of discussion, which perhaps need different kinds of blog patterns?

Submitted by lambert on

Thanks very much for joining us!

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

I find that an interesting suggestion. Somewhat inline with what I've been suggesting about becoming less partisan. I've mentioned two tiers (at least) for PB2.0: one a "principles/issues" level, and another that is more partisan. But even in such a two tiered system, how do you limit the seepage of passions from a partisan level to the more fundamental level. (Assuming different levels/tiers is even a worthwhile effort.)

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

How do you handle "rigorous argument" with other bloggers within your usual framework?

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

I leave comments at a number of different sites during the week. Sometimes (but not often) a dialog will break out in the comment thread, but more typically there will be no response, or maybe just one, to a given commnet. On the other hand, if you go to the same sites consistently you get to know the other folks who comment and a sort of extended dialog occurs as you become familiar with them over weeks and months.

On my site I usually get a handful of comments, sometimes spread out over several days. Not ideal for dialog. But it can lead to email exchanges (a much better forum when you don't have a chunk of time to spend at a comment thread) and I've had some especially rigorous arguments that way. I hope I'm not taking liberties when I write that I had a particularly pungent series of emails with lambert a month or two ago.

davkolb's picture
Submitted by davkolb on

Argument is discourteous if courtesy means letting the other person be undisturbed. But at times that kind of courtesy is a way not to take the other person and their opinions seriously.

Also there's a difference between saying, in effect, "here we are in this together and let's explore together what might be right; I think you're mistaken but I admit I may be too" and, on the other hand, saying, in effect, "I am so right and you are so wrong and I'm going to make you admit it."

There are kinds of snark that can do the first, but usually snark does the second.

davkolb's picture
Submitted by davkolb on

By "disengagement" I meant having enough distance between one's opinions and one's identity so that one can look at those opinions and see their shape and limits, but also their strength and foundations. It doesn't mean adopting an attitude above the fray. One is in the fight, but isn't too shaken by the possibility that one might be mistaken. There's a recognition of our shared finitude. This can lead to being open and flexible, but also to being more convinced than ever that one's opinions are correct and need to be put forward vigorously.

I'm not sure how to limit seepage of passions, but then perhaps passions seen for what they are can be ok on any level?

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

To me passions in partisanship/politics is a much different beast than wanting to be "right" (winning arguments). In electoral politics it's about winning elections, not about winning arguments. When you try to win elections, it becomes permissible to stretch the truth or to be deliberately misleading. Also, people develop affinities toward candidates that corrupt objectivity. That's the sort of passion I'm weary of.

Submitted by lambert on

... is that you get mobs, like at Daily Kos from which many of our readers were purged. That led to a lot of anger and reaction -- and in fact to the feeling that we did need a 2.0 version, so it didn't happen again.

But the event was painful, led to a lot of broken friendships, and it would be nice if we didn't endlessly cycle the pain. It's hard to take a detached view of it.

But maybe I'm not understanding passion, here. (And passion conveyed by keystrokes...)

I should also say that I think there was a good deal of manipulation of that passion by much more cool-minded people, though I can't prove it.

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

Thanks for showing.

Badger, you out there?

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

Kolb: "By “disengagement” I meant having enough distance between one’s opinions and one’s identity so that one can look at those opinions and see their shape and limits, but also their strength and foundations."

I think this is often lost on the internet--by the bloggers and also by people responding to the bloggers (i.e., ad hominem name calling.)

See, everyone, how great philosophy is (and especially Dr. Kolb!) for thinking about things?

danps, so you feel that the longer format really meets the back-and-forth better?

Submitted by lambert on

I mean, tagging George W. Bush with "aWol" was one small step for mankind....

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

I think certain memes/name-calling works well (as in Unity Pony) because they encapsulate a factual truth that has been documented and so, people immediately understand what you are referring to.

Name-calling (and we kinda discuss that already) and snark are powerful ways, I think, to talk back to power because they have a bigger mic than you do and more media space to make their case. When the powerless have less media space, they need short formulas to clearly and quickly convey their message.

What I would always object to is name-calling that dehumanizes (stuff said about Hillary and her supporters, for instance) or is done by the powerful against those powerless to respond (stigmatized categories, immigrants, gays and other disadvantaged categories) or makes fun of attributes over which a person has no / limited control (age, gender, disability, or see the comments to Shakes' post on Fat Princess video game).

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

you feel that the longer format really meets the back-and-forth better?

I think it can and in my case does. I like how some magazines open the letters page for responses by the subjects of previous articles, followed by rebuttals from the authors. In most cases there's plenty of time for a response, and that kind of forced pause can keep you (me anyway) from shooting off at the mouth right away. If it makes people cool off a little before answering and construct a rebuttal instead of responding off the cuff it can be a very, very good thing.

davkolb's picture
Submitted by davkolb on

There's always interpretation. But that doesn't mean some readings of Hamlet aren't better than others, or some interpretations of social situations. And from time to time there are questions that can be settled pretty definitively (what is the projected cost of program x, how many people were affected by policy y, is z injurious to health, and so on).

Or take a harder but still basically factual issue: I'd be willing to assert that the opponents of evolution are just wrong on the facts, but it would be a long discussion to get across those facts and clear away prejudices and bad definitions and the like.

The harder cases are when you and I agree on the facts and numbers but draw different conclusions from them or see them against different background assumptions. Then it's about those backgrounds and principles.

Some would say it's a matter of different values, but I think there are few cases where we agree on everything except values. Usually there are differences of principle too. There could be cases where we agree that policy x will have good effects y and bad effects z, but I value the good more than the bad and you think the bad outweighs the good. Though I bet that even in most of these cases (about health care policy, say, or foreign intervention) it's not a pure value question but involves divergent predictions about further consequences and effects.

(Is this a short post or a long one? One blog I keep an eye on, crookedtimber.org, often has very long posts about economic or political or sometimes philosophical matters; by those standards this one is brief. Posts at daily kos are often very long, but I should admit that I've stopped reading it because the site got repetitious and wasn't looking to examine opinions. It's an example of another kind of discussion, about assembling rhetorical tropes and weapons.)

Submitted by lambert on

Take OFB (Obama Fan Base). I developed that during the Kos wars as a shorthand for those who were doing the purging (which also seemed like Ground Zero for the Hillary Hate and the misogyny and the false charges of racism). I'll insist to my dying day that it was analytically accurate, and in fact Obama's social networking technology grows out of fan sites.

OTOH, some Obama supporters (for example, Xan) found it deeply offensive.

Now, maybe the damage was already done by that point, given the purge, but a truthful trope, I'm guessing by its very sharpness, meant that we could never distribute some analytical tools to some.

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

davkolb's picture
Submitted by davkolb on

When I said "passions seen for what they are" I was implying that while there could be passions on the "second level" that looks at opinions and passions, they would be themselves seen with a certain internal distance.

Actually I think that the metaphor of "levels" is dangerous. It invites escalation of meta-discussions into the fog. The "distance" or "disengagement" or lack of rigid identity that I'm talking about isn't arrived at by some arbitrary raising of levels; it's always at the heart of who we are as beings aimed at the future, always prevented from perfectly coming together in a fully formed self because we are stretched out in time and language.

Sorry for the generalities, but I do think that "internal distance" isn't an add-on; it defines us. There's always some play in any system of ideas or values, or any identity. Fundamentalists and true believers (political, religious, and other types) try to run from it.

admin_lambert's picture
Submitted by admin_lambert on

It's true that being purged from Kos was the reverse of playful, and for both sides, I think.

OTOH, developing invective is fun, if the joy of battle comes under the heading of play.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

at Kos? "assembling rhetorical tropes and weapons"--Lambert calls them a 527 for Obama.

Isn't that what a lot of blogs are doing now? Crossing the line from commentary into activism--which is debatable in itself and a new development--I remember the days when news photographers wouldn't intervene in the scenes they were photographing because it was unethical.

There's things like what Glenn Greenwald is doing at Salon--starting an actual group to do off-line (and on-line)activities AND factually reporting and commenting on
Can blogs really do both? And what about blogs where they decide to combine the two--making the facts fit the new "cause" (which I would argue is a lot of blogs now, even those that were "reporters.") It's even seen as a sort of "new ethics"--I'm so involved, I'm going to go out and change the world.

(On TV and other print media we've seen the same recently--poor Tony Snow; Chris Matthews talking of running as a Senator, etc. Certainly former advisors have often appeared as TV experts but that's a little different--Kissinger doing both aside.)

Submitted by lambert on

Great question.

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

I didn't come to that assumption based on any first principles. Rather, it was a fit to the data.

I am where I am in my disaffection with the Democratic Party not because of Hillary vs Obama, but because, to me, the system has become fundamentally flawed and that strategy (abandoning rural, working class folk, and the fundamental shift in framing that Obama represents in addition to race-baiting, RFK, RBC, etc.). I saw Dem primary 2008 to be about the future of progressivism and Obama doesn't represent a real step in the right direction at a point in history where it definitely should.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

--it's important as short-hand and agreement among a group--but do you think it decreases discussion?

Should we think about balancing that? (I know we discussed this before, thanks, but this seems a slightly different take to me.)

I was surprised at the differing responses to certain nicknames for Obama partisans I have encountered--some people introduced themselves as "Obots" and others said using that term precluded them feeling free to talk.

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

is a good way to put it.

(First, TP, thanks for leading the discussion tonight, it's great, lots of things to think about!)

I think the use of certain snarky short-hands or names (like OFB, or Unity Pony) can also be a way to move the argument forward without having to reinvent the wheel every time. So, you're correct to say that it states the common agreement within a community.

Does it decrease discussion? Yes, if people have not followed the reasoning and discussions that led to the crafting of the short-hands... but demanding an explanation for them is also a way of stalling the movement forward... like Creationists constantly demanding evidence of transitional fossils when that evidence has been provided time and time again. You still have Obama supporters at TL demanding evidence of misogyny on the part of the Obama campaign when that has been presented time and time again.

Also, especially here at Corrente, I think people are free to come and write a post/comment deconstructing the short-hands like OFB or Unity Pony. They just have to be ready to argue their position... that's hard work... maybe that's what they call "being precluded from feeling free to talk."

davkolb's picture
Submitted by davkolb on

I would think that electoral action can't be disengaged -- either you're voting for X or you're not, or campaigning or contributing.

But in another sense it can be disengaged, say in someone "very tepidly voting".

Electoral process has to limit the alternatives, while people's opinions and preferences can be a lot more complex than what's available. The awareness of that complexity can keep you from simply being at one with the choice, even if you're at peace with the thought that it's the best among the available options.

Submitted by lambert on

Besides being a tribute to another blogger, BTD, it's a vehement rejection of the bullying triumphalism of one of the campaigns.

I wonder if we had more than two parties we might be more disengaged? I'm guessing no, based on Franch between the wars, Italy, Israel... The coalition building is just as ghastly as our primary process.

Maybe it's all sausage making, all the time, why complain?

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

like attorneys have to keep working together so often there's a need to stay professional; some disengagement must occur to let people do that.

Submitted by lambert on

Perceptive comment, TP. It's like Matalin and Carville being married; what was that about two parties again?

But at places like DK, we've got a lot of wannabe professionals playing the political equivalent of rotisserie baseball -- exactly because they've got no skin in the game, they don't disengage.

Re "disengage," I think AA would say "detach."

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

davkolb's picture
Submitted by davkolb on

Awareness of complexities and interests being ignored in the given alternatives should lead to efforts to change the party, but there are so many interests and groups that get invested in its current way of presenting the alternatives.

William James says somewhere that philosophy is about always seeing another alternative and making conventionalities fluid again.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

French Doc: "...but demanding an explanation for them is also a way of stalling the movement forward… like Creationists constantly demanding evidence of transitional fossils when that evidence has been provided time and time again."
Refusing to recognize the very facts rather than an engagement, rather than arguing against them--a huge problem right now on the blogs and in some particular groups, as Dr. K says...
(and thanks for the thanks.)

Dr. Kolb: William James, yes! And very true...

davkolb's picture
Submitted by davkolb on

Don't most specialized discourses develop nicknames for views or partisans of views? Think of the names physics comes up with: Big Bang, Black Hole, Quark, and so on. Philosophers do it to avoid having to repeat analyses; there is a whole "philosophers' lexicon" of snarky plays on philosophers' names to designate views. So perhaps the issue is more to what extent such names get used as instruments of exclusion, or as upping the price of being included in the discussion.

Submitted by lambert on

Do you have any examples of the snarky plays?

For example, Bob Somerby invented WKJM (Whoever Kidnapped Josh Marshall) as a plausible explanation for the deterioration in quality at Marshall's site.

But only a faction uses WKJM, and Marshall himself doesn't (of course).

Do all sides in philosophy use the snarky plays? Or is it factional?

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

I think, is a crucial dynamic here... as in identifying who speaks the "vernacular" of a particular community, and therefore is "in" as opposed to being left on the outside. That is one of the functions of shorthands.

Another function is indeed the same as the conceptual stock of any discipline that encapsulates "what we all know".

As usual, the boundaries between the two can be blurry (just like GQ's distinction between issues and electoral politics).

Which is why, as TP noted above, outsiders can feel excluded when they read a short-hand as being used in the first sense and insiders use it in the second.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

I've helped candidates I didn't agree with--compromise is inherent in politics. But, again, what I see happening in PB1.0 is a shift from pushing philosophy to pushing a candidate. The candidates are who they are and there is not always a lot that can be done about that. But too many were too willing to allow the candidate to back away from issues candidate X espoused even if the initial reason for supporting Candidate X were what was backed away from. Further, justification for backing away was pushed to help candidate X. In other words, there was no consistent philosophy.

I'm wondering if that's the natural state or if that can be combated in a blog setting. I'm happy to admit my candidate compromised to win, but I don't attempt to justify philosophically the compromise (is that disengagement?). That's not what I see happening.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

We're having two hours tonight so please post ASAP to talk with him...if you couldn't make it, please comment later.

I will try to stuff some of these answers back into the boxes of the questions later--or maybe just summarize what we've come up with here. Excellent discussion!

Submitted by lambert on

Professor Kolb, what's the vision here? Do you have an example? That "net" seems to be a thread running through the original questions.

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

davkolb's picture
Submitted by davkolb on

The philosophical lexicon is at
http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/lexicon/

Yes it's mostly laughed at, but sometimes used by philosophers of the "analytic" or "anglo-american" persuasion, and it's unfair to many of the Europeans satirized. But it is an equal-opportunity offender within analytic philosophy too.

I hadn't seen WKJM.

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