A tool, not a hand
Posted by aogWednesday, 19 July 2006 at 11:09 TrackBack Ping URL

David Cohen ponders the burning question, “Political blogs: Are they dead?”.

Asking whether political blogs are dead is kind of silly. If the question is whether political blogs have lost their influence, the answer is that they never had much influence. The on-line population is too different from the real world population. Try to imagine people voting based upon a blog’s endorsement; once you get past Kos, it’s almost impossible — and Kos always loses.


What a political blog can do is facilitate conversation between those who inhabit a more narrow ideological spectrum. Right libertarians can talk to theocons who can talk to neocons. Sometimes, Darwinists can talk to aDarwinists who can talk to anti-Darwinists. But for this discourse to work, there must be limits. For example, no one can talk to those who are anti-car.

I think that’s basically right but misses some of real power of the blogosphere.

The first issue is that I am writing about the “blogosphere” and not weblogs (especially not any particular one). Like voting, weblogs are influential only in aggregate. Any specific weblog matters only infinitesimally, but taken as a whole they do have quite a bit of influence.

This brings to another issue, which is the very definition of “influence”. I agree that direct influence from the blogosphere is rare and when it does occur is of a negative form, in not letting somebody spin the facts as they would like. As is said, you can’t beat something with nothing and while the blogosphere can point out that one side has nothing, the blogosphere can’t create something on the other side.

Yet the blogosphere can have quite a bit of indirect influence, by forming a matrix in which ideas can thrive until they’re big enough to survive out in the real world. Or you could think of the blogosphere as an armory that produces ideological weapons for the people who do the actual fighting. In this way, they can act as did the coffee houses and pamplets of the 18th and 19th centuries1. You didn’t see anyone come out of that mileu to power, but you certainly saw those of power using it both to acquire ideas and to spread them. So I expect future politicians to use the blogosphere.

The key thing to keep in mind is the ancillary nature of the blogosphere and the miniscule importance of any particular weblogger or weblog. It’s when a weblog or its author takes itself seriously that you get the kind of silliness represented by the Daily Kos.

P.S. The original article also misses the point that most webloggers write just because they can. Audiences and influence are nice but hardly essential. You’d definitely see a drop in the total population but the view that weblogs would disappear if no one read them shows a deep lack of understanding of how these things work.

1 Just consider the provenance of the Federalist Papers, which could easily have been weblog posts. I was also struck when I read Fatal Purity of the heavy use pamplets by all of the revolutionaries. This is one thing the American and French Revolutions have in common.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Jeff Guinn Friday, 21 July 2006 at 01:18

As for me, I am a lot more widely read, and have had the benefit of many other points of view than I would have otherwise.

Which is great at a party when some coterie of MALists gets going. It is fun rolling grenades into their nonsense, and marvel at their complete inability to muster anything like a well grounded response.

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