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Research topic: New Heathers and Villagers in the Age of Obama?

vastleft's picture

Hi, y'all!

These days I'm blogging at the ol' homestead: vastleft.com.

I'm popping my head in here in hopes you'll help shed some light on a topic that just might overarch the ability for America to have better progressive advocacy and activism.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up this wacky theory that power corrupts.

One wonders if the top echelon of online progressives might be somewhat less-than-immune to this putative phenomenon.

If power, indeed, corrupts might this not be a formula that could tempt corruption...?

A clutch of people:

* Achieves a rarefied status, where they're highly praised and rarely meaningfully criticized -- both within and without a small circle -- for their exceptional moral, intellectual, and social fiber
* Increasingly gains access to political and media inner circles

Under such circumstances, it does not take an ill-inclined person to start inhaling his or her own fumes and to become addicted to insider conventional wisdom. To become dismissively and abusively defensive toward challengers of their perfection and the ways of their elite tribe.

So, here's my question: can you point to examples (e.g., blog posts, comments) that might prove or disprove this theory, signs that A-list bloggers have or haven't resisted the temptation to become the New Heathers, the New Villagers in the Age of Obama?

If you're convinced that such corruption has happened or is in progress, what's the best evidence for it? If you're convinced that it hasn't and won't, what's the best evidence for that?

Thank you in advance for any insight you might provide.

Now, why should this matter? Why should we consider whether the finest among us might succumb to unwholesome behaviors that many fine people have before them?

Because they substantially control the progressive debate in America. If they are growing groupthinky and/or too cozy with those we've entrusted them to speak truth to and about, we're in for a world of hurt.

Who knows, it might even cost us the open and transparent process that considered all options on health care that so many Americans voted for in November. Sorry for invoking such a nightmare scenario, but you never know.

(see also)

UPDATE:

In retrospect quite understandably, there's been much discussion here about the word "corruption."

The tail (the loaded word "corruption") is wagging what I'd intended to be the dog (the same-as-the-old-boss behavior, where the gate-crashers have become more like a gated community).

To me, the key words were "Heathers" and "Village," hence they appear in both the title and the body.

But "corruption" is the grabber, and it is what famously befalls the powerful.

FWIW, what most interests me isn't so much that there are some career climbers in the bunch, but that those who seem less-motivated that way are no less-inclined to promote and defend the dumbest and most anti-progressive agendas ratified by the clique, and often in thoughtless and punishing ways.

It seemed physically impossible for virtually any of them to openly say "hey, 'public option' might be the wrong rallying point," in spite of overwhelming evidence that it was a snow job.

Just as it was well-nigh impossible for them to call bullshit on the likes of George Lakoff when he pronounced Obama "deeply progressive" or to speak up about RFK-gate. (To be fair, some made the occasional effort to tamp down expectations about Obama, but standing up to the aggressors in the Blog War was wholly off the table, as learning anything from it stands today).

This behavior fascinates me, because I think many of these folks are genuine idealists. How the tribal orthodoxies get the best of them is both impressive from a social psychology perspective but more importantly perhaps essential to reclaiming the blogosphere and major online activist groups as useful institutions, rather than a roach motel for progressive energies.

Sadly, I can't think of a single reason to expect it's going to get any better. Made men and women are made men and women, and in our culture they don't fuck with the tribe what made them. They'll do almost anything but.

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gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

I don't so much follow the details of the pibbersphere, but I personally know people (friends) who are in office or are running and you can see the effect that have zero criticism has. (I'm not shy about criticism, having been a scientist and a generally sarcastic person.) I won't go into details here for obvious reasons, but this is a very real observation. Its also sad.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

... facing occasional flak (both substantive and trollish in comments and on C-list blogs, and from their right-wing detractors) means that they are facing their share of the music.

But in real terms, their agendas -- most notably the wafty "public option" one -- are freed from the slightest bit of meaningful scrutiny or accountability.

jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

But I hope it's not entirely true, because if it is it seems to doom any hope of meaningful change. Enacting change requires power, corruption prevents change or makes that change for the worse, and anyone who achieves power is corrupted by it. How do we move forward out of a trap like that?

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Transparency and accountability.

While policy decisions are handed down from an elite few and the role of the rest of us is to carry it out (or be a belittled few), transparency and accountability are the opposite of what we're getting.

Our cultural norm is to positively blanch if someone roundly criticizes blogosphere saints, and -- especially, curiously enough -- their collective wisdom and the processes by which they derive and cement it.

S Brennan's picture
Submitted by S Brennan on

Uhmmm...do you really believe these oppurtunists chose Obama for some high-minded reason? Isn't it far more likely that these [mostly young] manipulators saw a section of empty seats in Obama's circle, where other candidates, with experience had already filled their concentric seating sections. Obama was a vehicle for people who had lacked the talent to make earlier cuts and for people who were in a hurry to get in on America's only growth industry...political corruption. To pretend these people were hapless naives is to ignore all of human history.

[S]igns that A-list bloggers have or haven't resisted the temptation to become the New Heathers, the New Villagers in the Age of Obama?

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

Maybe it's my years in Washington, but I'm surprised that this is even an issue. Here's what we know - many bloggers supported Obama in the primary and most supported him in the general election. A lot of Obama's staff both on the campaign and now know these same bloggers, many are friends or have worked on various progressive issues together. It only makes sense from the Obama Administration's perspective to try to leverage those relationships. And, I think in many areas such as healthcare, it's pretty clear the Administration has been successful in getting the bloggers to sing its tune. I would be stunned if that's a coincidence and not the result of coordination, formally or informally, between the WH and the bloggers. It would contradict everything I've ever learned about how D.C. works.

Whether that makes those bloggers "corrupt" depends on what their intent was in the first place. It seems to me many of them always aspired to insiderism and so I don't think what we've seen is a corruption of them so much as perhaps people misunderstanding what the bloggers' agendas were. I don't think they're sellinig out their values, I think they're simply acting in accordance with them and by doing so revealing them to folks who may have thought they had the same values because the focus had been on how much Bush and the GOP sucks. I'm not sure, for example, that the bloggers were much open to criticism a few years ago. It may be, they just didn't get much of it and so it wasn't an issue because the "left" was so unified in its opposition to Bush.

See he really was a uniter and not a divider.

Submitted by lambert on

Of course, there are various forms of corruption. "It's my nature" isn't really a guarantee of a pure heart or intentions....

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

When I read this post, I took it to mean these people were once of noble virtue and have now been "corrupted". As opposed to simply being corrupt, in the sense of being bad, I read it as implying some sort change in them brought on by temptation. A sort of fall from grace.

When I'm not convinced some of these people were ever filled with grace to begin with. They just hated George Bush. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Now there may be some who did start out relatively pure of heart and have been corrupted, but since we don't ever really know anyone's heart, I think that's a hard line to draw.

Instead, I would suiggest that it seems to me completely obvious that some sort of coordination exists between Obama/Democrats and many A-list bloggers and read their writing with that in mind. That doesn't mean everything they say is worthless, just that whatever they say, you have to consider the source and the motivation. But that's a good rule generally, IMO.

I will say on a personal level that since I came to the blog world during the 2008 primary wars, I may not share the same sense of betrayal and loss that others do because I was never invested in the progressive blogosphere during what sounds like its golden days.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

but I'd phrase it a little differently. My sense is that people started blogging because they're interested in politics and wanted things to go differently. Some, particularly the younger people starting their work lives, probably dreamed of political careers. Others didn't. There was some surprise and a lot of triumphalism when it seemed that bloggers could influence events.

Then you get into some real questions of approach. In health care, for example, single-payer is as far right as I'm willing to go. I do not, however, doubt the motives of most of the public option A-listers. It's their political savvy that has lost credibility rather than their motives. Once you think that you can influence events, you also think that you have a responsibility to use that influence to get the best outcome. I think the best use of blogging influence is to hammer the case for genuinely good policy, but I can understand people concluding that the influence can be used to get some immediate marginal policy improvement. They can think they're compromising for the common good.

Unfortunately, the dynamic of argumentation takes over -- the "I'm right and you're wrong" child in everybody. And the "these are my allies against those unreasonable people" that human beings seem to be hardwired for. I think a lot of that has happened. When it passes over into "this position will benefit me personally, even though it's not the best position", you have sellout. And it's hard to identify that point. As Upton Sinclair noted, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it." It's not necessarily conscious, even when the job is unpaid.

I've found the A-listers to be uneven as I think generally you'd expect from those who attempt to work out whether what they consider a more moderate position might be more effectively influential. FDL, for example, has been completely hornswaggled on the health bill, but is still good on legal issues. It's only the real Obama fans and apologists for virtually all of his imperial and corporatist enablings that I really think are corrupt.

Submitted by lambert on

That's how I phrased the issue over at "Open" "Left".

A presumption of good faith may be deserved and warranted for some (for example. FDL on legal issues). However, I don't think that a presumption of good faith is compatible with censorship, silencing, and exclusion -- and that's exactly what the A list, as a collective entity, did with single payer. People like Bowers get hot under the collar at being called for the public option bait and switch; but if they don't want people to build models of their behavior that include the possibility -- or, indeed, the presumption -- of bad faith, then there needs to be transparency in their policy choices (not decisions silently made on Town House in mid-2008), and glasnost on their content. They can't simultaneously claim the good faith presumption that comes from being an independent voice as a blogger, and at the same time function as covert Democratic operatives. That wears thin very rapidly.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

Some, like Bowers IMO, have always been tools. For fuck's sake, look at his PBR post. But there are others, and I'm thinking mostly in real life, who start out with noble motives and strong principles. But over time, if their friends and family don't provide any counter, the Village vultures will pick away at them and they will soon start viewing the Village ideas as sacrosanct. Personally, I'm more concerned with this phenomenon as applied to potential office holders. To be sure, money to win elections is relevant, but I don't think its the only problem*. Not "keeping it real" is as big, or bigger, problem.

* There are two issues with money, IMO. One is the obvious quid pro quo. The other is that office holders, particularly federal, spend the majority of their time fundraising. Fundraisers attract a certain type of people, namely the sycophants. Add to this the fact that pols are constantly bombarded by lobbyists and you get very little pushback against the Village mindset. Less time for town halls and meet and greet with constituents. In addition to getting rid of quid pro quo concerns, I think public fiinancing will free up a lot of time for pols to actually visit with their families, friends and constituents in non-sycophantic settings. In other words, it will help idealists keep it real.

NOTE: I experienced this first hand with a friend recently so it strikes a particular nerve for me.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

In retrospect quite understandably, there's been much discussion here about the word "corruption."

The tail (the loaded word "corruption") is wagging what I'd intended to be the dog (the same-as-the-old-boss behavior, where the gate-crashers have become more like a gated community).

To me, the key words were "Heathers" and "Village," hence they appear in both the title and the body.

But "corruption" is the grabber, and it is what famously befalls the powerful.

FWIW, what most interests me isn't so much that there are some career climbers in the bunch, but that those who seem less-motivated that way are no less-inclined to promote and defend the dumbest and most anti-progressive agendas ratified by the clique, and often in thoughtless and punishing ways.

It seemed physically impossible for virtually any of them to openly say "hey, 'public option' might be the wrong rallying point," in spite of overwhelming evidence that it was a snow job.

Just as it was well-nigh impossible for them to call bullshit on the likes of George Lakoff when he pronounced Obama "deeply progressive" or to speak up about RFK-gate. (To be fair, some made the occasional effort to tamp down expectations about Obama, but standing up to the aggressors in the Blog War was wholly off the table, as learning anything from it stands today).

This behavior fascinates me, because I think many of these folks are genuine idealists. How the tribal orthodoxies get the best of them is both impressive from a social psychology perspective but more importantly perhaps essential to reclaiming the blogosphere and major online activist groups as useful institutions, rather than a roach motel for progressive energies.

Sadly, I can't think of a single reason to expect it's going to get any better. Made men and women are made men and women, and in our culture they don't fuck with the tribe what made them. They'll do almost anything but.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

that many bloggers are idiots about policy. I think that explains how easily some of the non-climbers are co-opted. They're also idiots about process, which is intimately connected to policy, something I hope to write more about this weekend if all goes well.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

The one that sticks in my craw is how even people who, to all appearances, actually care about being truthful and well-informed simply can't help themselves once the bullshit is handed down.

And once ratified by the big boys and girls, the truthiness is contagious.

There seem to be about four people in the country who can hang onto the idea that "public option" means no fixed thing, so don't f***ing treat it like it does.

How many times have you read a post that's properly skeptical... and then the blogger suddenly says "So, the Dems better deliver that public option!"

Or someone will kinda admit that the bill in Congress isn't that good... and then start gushing about Howard Dean's or Jane Hamsher's inspiring work in whipping up enthusiasm for it. (As UCLA coach John Wooden said, "Never mistake activity for achievement.")

That's why it's so devastating that our opinion leaders won't bust each others' bullshit.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Is failing to see what a fume-inhaling system they have created for themselves, where a few well-placed career-climbers or other asshats merely have to win a single discussion, and it becomes the fucking law in Progressive Town.

Money is raised; MoveOn launches a million glib, moronic posts; and some pathetic goal is imprinted on every well-meaning progressive rank-and-filer's head. Like I said, a roach motel for progressive energies.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

http://www.dailyhowler.com/dh112509.html

Can we talk? At present, you’re watching a joke acted out in the Congress, in large part because your career liberal world is populated by a gang of Heathers. We like to shriek and play the shrink. We like to teach ourselves how to hate. But we aren’t very smart—and we aren’t very serious. In all candor, we don’t try to build a real politics.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

The current cliche that "doing the same thing over expecting different results is insanity" hides the fact that you do it because it works for something, just not what you proclaim to be the purpose. Versailles has its reasons. As BDBlue notes, bloggers are idiots about policy and process. But then they move from what they want (like a decent health care system) to wanting to write about the policy and process (what intermediary actions are good, vote counting, whipping). They observe, learn a little, and then get seduced by Versailles. They think they're moving from an uninformed position to a more comprehensive ability to analyze politics and discuss policy. And it's not that they're wrong -- Versailles does work. Just not for the things you start out wanting. So yes, meet the new boss.

And they piss me off big time. I react to insults the same way most people do. However, I am also worried by the history of the left fracturing. To build a real left, we have to be able to work with other people even the ones that in our darkest hearts we think are sellouts. I have admired Lambert's and others' heroic work pushing single-payer through the A-listers' comment sections, and certainly feel for the frustrations of the censorship. Venting on it is therapeutic. But at the end of the day, I think we need to go as far as political convictions allow to remind them of why they started blogging and to point out the insidiously corrupting nature of insider knowledge without insisting too much that they should admit to having become lying bullshit artists.

Submitted by hipparchia on

... without insisting too much that they should admit to having become lying bullshit artists.

if you want to win people over to your side, you do usually have to let them save face if they were wrong before. bullying anybody into submission to get them to join you is really stupid.

Submitted by lambert on

Being polite didn't and wasn't going to do a damn thing. Remember, we were blogging on single payer for a good long time without any effect on the access blogs at all. I can't think of a single link that was thrown, to us, or to anyone else (for example, PNHP, who are entirely respectable as an organization and an obvious candidate for a strategic alliance).

Only open assault -- which I'd prefer, as a label, to "bullying," let alone "venting," thanks very much -- achieved any response or notice at all (and created the possibility of accountability by establishing a record, I might add). If that makes the people doing the assault expendable in terms of seriousness, or a reputation for being nice people, then so be it. Dulce et decorum est -- or, in the vulgate, "Politics ain't beanbag."

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

The trendy "positive humanism" movement is a reflection of it -- we need a new version of atheism because the Richard Dawkinses made people feel bad about their fictions.

People either "get right" or they don't, and there is no limit to how much pushback they'll give on the most constructive criticism. For example, Digby calls herself "chickenshit," and when I praise her for the self-criticism, she acts like I'm the one who applied that label to her, and she starts claiming (and is of course widely believed) that I'm calling her a "douchebag" and such.

Me, I try to be a fair cop, fat lot of good it does me.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

... eschews cliquish, tribal, and easily corrupted goal-and-message setting and control.

However we might get there.

The first step, as they say, is acknowledging the problem. That or a paradigm-shift-ex-machina.

Submitted by lambert on

"destroy their business" models to your list. Ha ha only serious. I mean, they haven't helped my friend who's bleeding into her shoes a bit. Not theoretical at all.

Anyhow, I'm happy to see that "progressives," in quotes, seems to be quietly propagating. Haw.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

I'm not looking for Nuremberg trials.

A truth and reconciliation commission would be fine by me.

S Brennan's picture
Submitted by S Brennan on

"to remind them of why they started blogging"

You are clearly projecting your own thoughts on to others, that doesn't work.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

Well, not really, I hope. It felt as though the discussion moved to personal reactions rather quickly. And I think it usually does, for everybody. And I don't want to be personally rejected by those with whom I share goals and whose heroic efforts I admire. Hmmm, I wonder if my reaction might enlighten me a little about the appearance of pulling punches and tribal behavior.

Submitted by lambert on

Why do you say that? I'm saying I did what I did for reasons that seemed good to me, and I think the results were beneficial.

I may not be the person to take advantage of those results, but that's OK. Others can. That is good.

That's what I meant to say.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

Actually, looking back I see that while I meant to say that I think most people can find emotional support in unrestrained speaking in friendly venues --"Venting is therapeutic"-- meaning "no need to waste a second on tact on your own blog", in context it probably came across as, "what you're doing in the A-list comments is just venting". It's not what I meant. But yeah, your justified reaction to the word made me feel defensive until I looked back and saw that it was justified.

And not wanting to antagonize vastleft, with whom I disagree mainly in that I do want blood and think the Nuremburg trials sound great, I think the interchange with Digby is an example. I think Digby is very good on most issues. Health care reform was not one of her topics. When it became the hot issue, she started writing about it not from her strength, which has been the spreading of the paranoid style of the old South through the American public, but as a political analyst. I was totally pissed off when she wrote how the ground hadn't been tilled in preparation for single-payer. It was ill-informed and Versailles-centric. On the other hand, she's an A-list blogger, and as I understand it, people were demanding that she write about health care. She tried using the available model. The results were not good. She admitted to being chickenshit during the campaign -- but it takes more control than I could muster if I wrote frequent posts to appreciate the confirmation. And note that you're still angry about the response.

Those kinds of little personal rubs do have a normalizing effect. I was trying to say that in a weakly funny way.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

I'm going to take this step by step, in order to be precise.

And not wanting to antagonize vastleft,

Why should I be antagonized... if you, in fact, have something cogent to say about all this?

with whom I disagree mainly in that I do want blood and think the Nuremburg trials sound great, I think the interchange with Digby is an example.

An example of what? An example of how one had better not treat the likes of Digby as if she were capable of being rigorous in her thinking and concerned about bad processes and bad policy outcomes?

An example of rudeness on my part? If so, where?

I think Digby is very good on most issues. Health care reform was not one of her topics. When it became the hot issue, she started writing about it not from her strength, which has been the spreading of the paranoid style of the old South through the American public, but as a political analyst. I was totally pissed off when she wrote how the ground hadn't been tilled in preparation for single-payer. It was ill-informed and Versailles-centric. On the other hand, she's an A-list blogger, and as I understand it, people were demanding that she write about health care.

I'm not familiar with the history of her being "demanded" to write about health care, nor if that did happen why she didn't just ask some questions, say she hasn't made up her mind, etc.?

She tried using the available model. The results were not good.

I saw, from links Lambert posted, that she was -- on this topic -- suddenly comfortable using the "Serious people" trope, which was a sad and curious development for the one who (IIRC) coined the "Village" meme.

She also seemed to be saying that the sausage may taste like shit but we should sit back with our knife and fork at the ready while the big bloggers and our elected Dems made us a batch. So, yeah, from what I'd seen, I'd say the results were indeed "not good."

She admitted to being chickenshit during the campaign -- but it takes more control than I could muster if I wrote frequent posts to appreciate the confirmation.

I'm told that she took umbrage at the very first post I wrote in reference to her "admission," so "frequent" doesn't enter into it. Upon writing the first post, I wrote her a conciliatory message explaining my rationale and intent, and I have approached her since (publicly and through e-mail) to offer a public or private forum to see if we could clear the air. Evidently, she has much less control or courtesy than you can muster, as she has rebuffed me at every turn.

And note that you're still angry about the response.

I'm not angry. Just disappointed and wishing (with decreasing optimism) that she'd use that big brain of hers to see how the Village has come to her, and how she's squinting away from the kind of realizations she has -- in other contexts -- proven talents for comprehending quite thoughtfully.

Those kinds of little personal rubs do have a normalizing effect. I was trying to say that in a weakly funny way.

I can only guess at what you mean here. And my guess is it's that unpleasantness is something we recoil from. And it is -- that's why opinion leaders are so inclined to paint substantive disagreements as pie fights, insults, anger, etc. It's a very effective tool in marginalizing out-classes. The negroes are so angry! The atheists are so uncivil! The feminists are so bitchy!

And each time out-class parties' questions are ignored, we sympathize more and more with the poor, beleaguered in-class opinion-leaders. After all, they're "frequently" asked those (what must obviously be rude) questions by "angry" people, to the point where anyone's "control" would be tested. To quote Paul McCartney, it's the sweetest little show in town.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

I was using Digby as an example of the process I described in my earlier comment, a blogger's movement from having good policy to trying to write about policy and process, and getting seduced by a new faux sense of expertise, and pissing me off in the process.

I think it is a good thing to go after another's errors and to point out to them where their argument is mistaken. But the absolutely unwinnable argument is "You're stupid and evil." The almost absolutely unwinnable argument is "You acted stupidly and evilly," even if both arguments are true. I don't think praising someone for admitting to acting like chickenshit is rude, but I kind of doubt that the outcome will very often be cordial. Whether that matters or not depends on the people and external circumstances. If the person acts like chickenshit most of the time, hell, screw'em. If not, I'd argue for just saying "you're wrong here for the following reasons."

The A-listers don't form a coherent group. The reasons for trying to figure out how and why many of them seem to slip into Democratic-Party-apologist mode are to innoculate ourselves against tribalism and to develop a strategy to keep the high-hit sites working for good policy. Whether power corrupts is an interesting question, but I don't want it to lead us to categorize people as an end in itself. The end is a solid left that can effect good policy.

Submitted by lambert on

... what we saw from the access bloggers was, in fact, completely coherent: Exclusion and outright censorship of single payer policies and posters. Single payer advocates didn't create that situation, we reacted to it. Exclusion and censorship was the access bloggers's move, and it was the first move.

You seem to imply that there's an equality in terms of power dynamics, and that "cordiality" would somehow have avoided that first move. I don't see any argument in favor of that position. We made plenty of solidly based policy arguments, and were roundly ignored. So, some of us raised the ante by assaulting their credibility and business models. Only after that there was any opening at all, and then not from everyone.

NOTE Sure, there are "high traffic" blogs that I regard as much more trustworthy than others, some that can be rolled, some that can't, etc. That doesn't take away from the fact that on single payer, and health care generally, their actions were all of a piece. Some of us, particularly those of us unterbussen who are going to be forced to buy junk insurance, and who are also going to have to do the heavy lifting for incremental change, take that rather personally.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

There was some moment where, if you'd only bowed a little lower and scraped a little harder, single-payer advocacy would have gotten its due.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

The out-class should never to challenge its betters. There's always a reason why it's gauche. Always.

Digby is free to misrepresent me as "eviscerating" her and calling her a "douchebag." I don't think I've seen a single person call her out on that incivility, let alone for her profound lack of interest in any form of humanizing side communication or public debate.

Funny how that works.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

quit claiming I said things I didn't!!!

Is that effective?

I meant to make general comments on a general "power corrupts" topic, using the relatively few blogs I read as examples. Not having followed the interactions on A-list blogs and when what statement led to what concessions, I am no doubt missing evidence of what's been effective. To the extent that I seem to be saying "bow low and scrape hard to our betters", gee, I sure hope you ignore me.

Submitted by lambert on

Well, the heading is "Research topic". So...

Nothing in the behavior of access bloggers shows me that there was the slightest chance of influencing them through reasoned argument. That's why the censorshop and exclusion, exactly because they had no case to make. I mean, heck. if they won't cover the Baucus 8, what would they have covered?

So I'm really not sure where this "Listen, you douchebags" argument is coming from, or what, exactly, the lesson is that you wish to be learned.

If you're making the point that civility and "cordiality" are always appropriate, the evidence is against you.

If you're making the point that if only single payer advocates had been more polite, the access bloggers would given single payer some oxygen, the evidence is against you there, too.

If you're making the point that tactical adjustments in rhetoric should always be considered, then that's a truism. Sure, I agree. And so what?

What point are you trying to make? What lesson are you drawing?

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Nor put words in your mouth.

I'm not sure what word you'd choose for it, but you're fundamentally raising a concern about civility, aren't you?

Upthread, I think I did a pretty good job of demonstrating how power uses our innate qualms about conflict to set in motion thoughts about (and roles for) out-class people that are delegitimizing.

Digby doesn't get criticized for falsely crying "douchebag" and refusing an honest debate, nor for framing it that only unserious people fuss about the shit-sausage health-reform process her peers are helping cook up.

She'd rather bash me than stand by her words when she belatedly criticized RFK-gate, by which she had acknowledged that the blog / Obama Movement culture had intimidated her out of her familiar role of inconvenient truthteller.

But I'm under scrutiny or in the doghouse or a non-person (depends on whom you ask) because I breach some or other protocols with her. I'm an "angry" person who might be "antagonized," and whose "venting" she needs extraordinary "control" to deal with it.

Your language here is full of disapproval, and also exaggeration of my own language choices: "insisting too much that they should admit to having become lying bullshit artists."

The (or at least a) problem, then, becomes not being sufficiently charming about delivering the message.

But as Lambert correctly described, there was no form of the message, no way, no time, no nothing that could work. This would seem to be the central problem -- that there is no known way to cure the stultifying tribalism and tribal elder culture that is railroading progressive reform -- but inevitably the topic turns to civility.

I think that's a mistake, and I highlight it with the absurdism of "bowing and scraping," because we all know that there is no depth of same that would make one whit of difference.

The blogosphere used to be full of talk about "fainting couches" and DFHs and shrillness and whatnot. But our own tribal opinion leaders are sacred. And, ironically, it makes them less than what they are capable of.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

What am I denying? Where?

And what are your links demonstrating? That 100% of coverage isn't flattering to Obama and company and of the health-care bill. Even the Digby post I cite where she says the "reform" might taste like shit demonstrates that. That's not my point.

Do you have any links where leading bloggers have criticized their tribal conventional wisdom, and the process by which it's created and defended?

Ian Welsh, who has A-list experience and access, is about the only person I've seen push that envelope.

Digby did, narrowly and belatedly, in Boehlert's book (re: RFK-gate) and doesn't like to be reminded of it, to say the least. Glenn has made modest allusions to some excesses (acknowledging that "public option" was designed to placate progressives and with qualifiers like "whatever you think of public option"), but in the same breath he ratifies "public option" as the goal and celebrates Jane's advocacy for it. Some bloggers acknowledged that claims for Obama were somewhat out of hand (and very, very rarely suggested that Hillary might be getting slammed a little too hard), but none that I know of have dropped a dime on the culture and process that support big-blog groupthink.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Why so defensive?

"Just because you deny it" was meant towards Jane Hamsher herself in writing what was a denial of participation in the groupthink (whether enforced externally, or internally) that I also agree strongly exists, and of which she discusses [one of] the mechanism[s] of operation. In fact, I submit it would be difficult to distinquish much of what is written by the major posters at FDL from what are the clear marching orders she disparages. The marching orders which clearly come from Team Obama and FKDP enablers, directed towards what she calls "the veal pen" to keep them from getting all "wobbly". Just because she denies it, doesn't mean it isn't true.

My point being that one of the strongest dynamics in the world is believing you are somehow special, somehow immune. The dark side of the force is strong, and seductive. It comes wrapped in all those special meetings and phone calls with "the players" and the high blog traffic, and the links, and the chance to get on the teebee, and all the other perks that come with being a "bonafide", Serious, "approved" blogger.

So I would say that the posts that she wrote actually do drop a dime on the culture and process that support big-blog groupthink. I'm sure Judith Miller said she maintained an absolutely 'fair and balanced' viewpoint in the selling of Iraq WMD as well. Doesn't mean it's believable given the evidence.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

getting you to listen and maintaining a search for solidarity. The reason isn't civility, nor do I believe that being "nicer" would have changed a single high-traffic blogger's view. The high-traffic bloggers who thought they had political influence trotted into the veal pen pretty quickly, and nothing you said would get them out. What I admire about both of you fighting the good fight in the comments sections was spreading the word to the readers. Brothers and sisters, preach it!

I do worry about the fracturing of the left. I've read about it in Evans Coming of the Third Reich. I've seen it in the movements of the 60's and 70's, on who's pure enough, who's shown a personal weakness that demonstrates they're really sellouts. I think the people who are successful do make compromises, many of which I find disturbing. I don't believe in backing down an inch on political convictions. But where possible, I think there's a value to keeping open the possibility of cooperation with those who are likely to be allies in important future battles.

And on our communications, vastleft. I get angry about things, because a lot of things are worth getting angry about. I do not consider myself an "angry person". I thought from what you said, that you were angry at Digby's response and for me the issue was whether it was worth getting angry about. I did not label you "an angry person". In any disagreement, there's always the possibility that I might inadvertently antagonize another. You've lifted "venting" and "control" out of context to declare that my language choices are "full of disapproval" (sounds to me like I did antagonize you). Your language choices, on the other hand, simply "highlight with absurdism"; how lighthearted!

And all of this is on a topic where we're on the same side!!! And where I've said and repeated that I admire what you've done. Holy moly, we have to be able to accept each other's apparent failures, differences of emphasis, and language of disagreement to build a solid movement.

Submitted by lambert on

... mechanism is hyper-vigilance. And during the primaries, which really seem not to have ended, any more than the Dreyfus affair did, we got a good deal of generalized expressions of concern like "Well, you guys should really be more _____ ," but whenever we'd ask for specific actions to relieve the discomfort, nothing would ever be forthcoming. So it was just another form of STFU.

So, I'm sure you can see that why, when I read generalized claims about civility and cordiality -- especially when I've been doing trench warfare on the threads, as you see and support, for months -- I will tend to interpret generalized expressions of concern through the STFU frame. And slap the argument away.

What's the concrete scenario, here? That's what would transform a generalized claim into something useful. I tend to think that the access blogging system is broken. And so what if the access bloggers replace Pravda and Izvestia? If it's not broken, where's the scenario for making it "better" -- where better is actually being able to consider rational -- or perhaps "solidarity-driven" would be better -- policy alternatives like single payer?

I've read Evans, too, and with great trepidation. If anybody wants to read a history where every single institution, down to stamp clubs, disintegrated completely, read that book. Yes, it can happen here. In one generation...

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

I think I've gotten my points across, and I think you've gotten yours across.

The only thing I think isn't good is if we place a premium on solidarity and "civility," because very bad things can happen when we do. YMMV.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

The PTSD/"coping" frame doesn't strike me as either relevant and helpful. (Much like the "stages of grief" trope.)

When one is being railroaded and bullied, there are pretty good reasons to be vigilant (assuming one chooses not to switch to docile).

Also the "primaries haven't ended" frame doesn't quite convey to me the real situation, which is that the process and culture issues from the primaries have never been resolved, and have rarely been properly aired in high-status blogs. I'm not sure if there's a handy short-hand for that, but I'm chary of anything smacking of the corrosive "dead-ender" and "denialist" memes.

I am, though, on-board with your various comments about STFU and the fact that no approach would ever gotten results or satisfied everybody's "civility" itch.

Submitted by lambert on

... is that the forehand of a genuine qualification can be hard to distinguish from the backhand of irony (which I use a lot). The reason I said that I didn't speak for you, VastLeft, was that I wasn't doing so. So, no "call me" involved.

My experience, as I have described it, is the result of some of my many character flaws, and they are flaws. Along with numbing and avoidance, as CCB describes. That's why hyper-vigilant instead of merely "vigilant." A person describing their own inner state is not the same as imputing an inner state to somebody else, especially as a means of social control (as the stages of grief trope clearly was).

Incidentally, given the original topic of the post, I'd like to hear more about (a) Evans and (b) what's the way forward from generalities here...

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

I acknowledged your caveat and took it as earnest, but since "hypervigilance" was in the air, I claimed it (before someone else sent it my way, since I can be pretty defensive...).

Nonetheless, as I would expect you to be aware (if not hyperaware), putting certain tropes in the context of heated topics tends to have a rub-off effect. I imagine it's why you made the point of the caveat.

So please consider my comment about the potential unintended effects of the trope in context of my caveat of appreciating your caveat. Etc., respectfully, and so forth.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Since I wrote the original post, "you" would seem to mean moi.

Your comment didn't offer a lot of context, and a scan at the linked items (without much clue to what they represented) suggested they were perhaps examples of bloggers criticizing Dem policies, so that seemed to confirm my interpretation of who "you" was.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

I just thought the irony was self-evident.

Apropos of nothing, I've known more than one vegan busted red-handed [so to speak] downing a nice big, fat, juicy Whopper (or similar) when they didn't think anyone would see them.

Submitted by lambert on

See comment above. Irony is often not self-evident online.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

What is even more interesting about FDL's "veal pen" denials, is that they follow the same pattern that Silber notes in Seductions of Proximity to Power. Namely that Hamsher doesn't name names.

Is that not strange? Wouldn't you think that someone concerned about ending this practice would call out those who are following along? Those individuals who are promoting it? Succumbing to it? Shouldn't people be warned that if they support those groups they may as well just send their support to the Committee to Reelect?

Perhaps, like the econ bloggers who agreed not to name names in order to ensure access, others are making the same quid pro quo? So this would be the case of being just a little bit corrupted, yes? Surely not the Whole Enchilada! (and insert irony tag there because Lambert is right, on the internets, no one can hear you snark).

Submitted by lambert on

So obvious that it was very hard to see. And with obvious implications for the civility and cordiality discussions....

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Perhaps that is how it is meant.

Can't go so far as "out" members of your tribe, since that would certainly damage future access relationships [maybe even the business model? Gasp!]. But making up a name to mock an amorphous "group" is certainly acceptable. Plus, it has a long history in blogland [need we go there?], yet still does not cross over into "incivility" since you aren't saying who you are mocking. For putative targets, "I don't agree with Obama on everything" = Plausible Deniability!

In fact, her tack was the easiest of easies. Instead of writing, "this is what is happening, this is who is doing it, and this is what I can't go along with", she writes a sternly-worded letter aimed at Rahm Emmanuel, and/or unknown "handlers" or other Blue Dog stand-ins, on the phone calls and access opportunities she doesn't want to see end [or she would have, y'know, named names!] So in every single way, this promotes her agenda and actually enhances her access, since it increases her perceived bona fides as a staunch anti-Rahm and Blue Dog "fighter" (the old "Dems are weak, need more, better Dems" rope-a-dope).

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

RL is calling, but I'll check through them when time permits!

Defensively yours,
VL