Whither Progressive Blogosphere 2.0?
[Many, many wonderful, creative thoughts from readers. I encourage everyone to take some time, read them all, and add your own thoughts. -- lambert]
This isn't going to be the definitive Progressive Blogosphere 2.0 post, for the very good reason that PB 2.0 is still ours to define. What I can say is that I came to this discussion with an agenda -- heck, a manifesto -- in mind, but last week's discussion -- hat tip, Big Tent Democrat -- was so creative and thought-provoking that I'm glad I didn't get to, er, manifest.
Why are we even talking about a Progressive Blogosphere 2.0?
There are my thoughts. I've been blogging since about 2003, when some of us (including Leah and Tom) were guest posters over at Atrios's place. And for a long time, I've been an old-school blogger: Pseudononymous, snarky, critical in the best sense of the word--as were many of us, and are many of us to this day. (Also, unfunded, which either destroyed or enriched my life, depending on how you look at it; my life has arced from poverty to a corporate salary to poverty in the span of my blogging career.)
The essence of the old school is critique; in those happy days, when we thought the only problem was the Republicans, that took the form of the media critique of which Atrios was a master; and which is practiced in pure form by the great Bob Somerby even today. How well I remember playing whack-a-mole with the lies justifying Iraq! The aluminum tubes! The uranium! The mobile labs! And on and on and on! As soon as we'd whack one mole, another would take its place. Why, it almost seemed orchestrated -- as indeed it was.
Well, primary season 2008 rolls around -- remember how, after the famous victory of 2006, this was finally going to be our year? -- and as soon as Edwards was out of the race, a lot of the blogosphere, and, I have to say it, especially that portion of the A list that endorsed Obama, abandoned any pretense of a critique. Quality control vanished. The 2008 equivalent of the aluminum tubes, the RFK smear, was propagated without shame (and, to this day, without any remorse or self-criticism [with, so far as I know, a single honorable exception. Readers are invited to submit others]. And, needless to say, the most vile forms of misogyny became the order of the day. In short, in much of Progressive Blogosphere 1.0*, the discourse became just as toxic as it has been in the Village; indeed, one might almost think that the blogosphere had been assimilated by the Village. The failure was massive and systemic, just as when mildew destroys an entire garden.
Now -- and this may come as a surprise to some readers -- I know what snark is, what polemic is, and how to do harm with words. But I don't think I'm clutching my pearls to say that the toxicity in PB 1.0 was different in quality and quantity from anything I've ever experienced in my life, let alone sought to inflict on others. I'm sure that others felt the same; that's why many left the old sites and set up new ones. One could dismiss this as a typical blogospheric cycle, were it not for the effects: As we see the Democratic Party retreat from Constitutional government with the FISA fiasco, and from its commitment to the base in a thousand small ways, but especially by crawfishing on universal health care, the toxic discourse that PB 1.0 created really didn't help progressive programs or values move forward at all. In fact, during the primaries, the Democrat's Overton Window shifted right, not left (which is not surprising; much of the toxicity came as PB 1.0 adopted right wing frames, which are designed -- have been funded -- to disempower progressives. They're doing their job).
So, what to do? If we need a new, non-toxic discourse, then -- it seems to me -- we need to create a new system or framework in which the discourse is created. Last week, BTD rightly stressed that ethos, character, is important in maintaining editorial integrity in the face of political assault; however, it's also clear, from the Stanford Prison experiments (FrenchDoc will correct me on the cites) that "good" people can and will turn to evil if placed in a system that creates and sustains evil; see Abu Ghraib. As Krugman says: Bad systems, bad choices. For example, the site/traffic model of "It's my blog" is hard to argue with; by the same token, if the "my blog" that's in reality a community serving many thousands of diverse voices suddenly becomes so toxic that it starts purging people, there's a lot of pain and suffering, at the least, involved -- and damage to progressive goals, too. Or if the person running "my blog" decides they want become David Broder, instead of critiquing him.
As the photo shows: We've outgrown the old framework; but where's the new one?
So here are a few of the questions and ideas for PB 2.0 systems people came up with:
1. How best can PB 2.0 protect itself from assault by partisans and corporate astroturfing disinformation campaigns? Assuming those are different things. [Hat tip: Goldberry]
2. Should PB 2.0 be a legal entity along the lines of CPB? [Hat tip: Goldberry] Or -- thinking outside the box here -- along the lines of a megachurch?
3. Should PB 2.0 have a business model? Servers cost money. Ads? Subscriptions? Passing the hat? [Hat tip: TnJen]
4. How do we flatten the power curve? Typically for the Internet, as PB 1.0 shook out, there were a very, very few high traffic blogs, with a steep shoulder of lower traffic blogs, and then a "long tail" of very low traffic blogs. Not only are the few high traffic blogs more vulnerable to assault by corporate and partisan forces (assuming those to be different) than a more evenly balanced system would be, having an "A,"- "B"-, and "The Rest" List smacks altogether too much of the two-tier, authoritarian model so prevalent elsewhere under the Conservative ascendancy. [Hat tip: Lambert and FrenchDoc]
5. How do we create a system where seeking truth, and not selling truthiness, is the highest value? [Hat tip: BTD and VastLeft]
6. How can PB 2.0 create face-to-face activism, "instead of this Intertubes stuff"? [Big tip of the ol' chapeau to Bruce Dixon; our problems are not, primarily, technical in nature!]
7. Is AA a good organizational model? [Hat tip: Caro] Like old school bloggers, not only is AA anonymous ("spiritual foundation of our tradtions") it hasn't been captured by partisans or corporations. Indeed, AA might be said to be the epitome of the decentralized and mutually accountable network. [Hat tip: FrencDoc]
8. Should PB 2.0 be "party invariant"? [Hat tip: gqmartinez] Strange bedfellows are bad why?]
9. Is ruthless moderation necessary? [Hat tip: Nadal]
10. Do we need to make shared principles and purposes explicit? [Hat tip: Truth Partisan]
NOTE * Of course, YMMV by individual bloggers; some remained intact, while others totally lost it. I'm talking about PB 1.0 as a system, as a network of interconnected blogs. Taken as a system, the discourse produced by PB 1.0 was toxic.
UPDATE I forgot to say that one way to connect te "intertubes" with "face-to-face" is through project software, especially if the project teams are not geographically dispersed.