I usually manage to avoid newspaper and magazine articles purporting to explain the blogging phenomenon, but I made an exception for this piece from Sunday’s Washington Post. I’m glad I did.
For one thing the author, David von Drehle, avoids the usual sneers about pyjamas, and instead seems genuinely interested in understanding bloggers and how blogging fits into the history of American political discourse.
He does this in part by bringing together two intensely partisan political bloggers, both middle-aged women, one an anti-Iraq-war liberal (Barbara O’Brien) and the other a pro-war conservative (Betsy Newmark).
They are… excellent representatives of the paired mental ecosystems that they call — in a rare moment of agreement — the “right blogosphere” and the “left blogosphere.” Each one pours several hours each day into her Internet diary, reading, analyzing, criticizing, praising and echoing the political events and commentary of the moment. They link their diaries electronically to dozens of other blogs, and those blogs are linked, in turn, to still other blogs, ultimately forming a blogosphere — a word that obviously did not come from a marketing department.
…Bloggers scan for bits of evidence that fit into their existing views and then generalize from there. For example, supporters of the Iraq war will notice an article that seems to suggest some progress — an insurgent leader captured, a new school opened — and infer a universe of good news from that piece. Elsewhere on the same day, opponents of the war might find a piece of discouraging news — an interview with a gloomy Iraqi leader, another suicide bombing — and infer a mirror-image universe.
The supply of raw material for these creations is virtually infinite. The Internet contains billions — trillions? — of discrete tiles of information, from which a diligent network of bloggers can create any mosaic they choose. Somewhere, there’s sure to be a quotation from Goebbels or Goering to cast a dark tinge over the latest from Bush. And you can count on the left blogosphere to find it. Just as surely, there will be an equally apposite quote from Lincoln or Churchill with which the right bloggers can respond.
Professional columnists have always been choosing tiles and creating pictures of the world. The Internet has opened that process to everyone — and with an intriguing twist: Now we can all watch as the process unfolds.
Political blogs, in particular, are intended for public consumption. Their gene pool traces back to the printers and pamphleteers of the 18th and 19th centuries, people like wry Benjamin Franklin and fiery Thomas Paine. In a sense, bloggers take us back to a time long before the birth of the mainstream media. It was a time when America was a Babel of contending political voices. Every cause and party and ambitious upstart launched a little newspaper — there were Tory papers and revolutionary papers, Federalist papers and Democratic papers, Free Soil papers and pro-slavery papers.
The fact is, Americans have always loved to argue. For every adventurer and striver who settled the New World there was a disputant and a critic. The entire expanse of Europe was not large enough to contain the dissenting spirit of William Bradford and his band of Mayflower pilgrims. Better to crowd into a leaky wooden boat, brave the Atlantic and scratch a living from the frozen, rocky wilderness than to stifle their disagreements with the Church of England. And no sooner had they built Plymouth Plantation but they were arguing among themselves. By 1624, just four years after stepping onto its famous rock, the little colony was riven by “private meetings and whisperings” and “a spirit of great malignancy,” according to Bradford’s history of those years.
They might have enjoyed blogging.
I find myself in an all-too-familiar position when it comes to O’Brien and Newmark– agreeing with the former on virtually everything but Iraq (workers’ rights, Social Security, health care, etc.) and agreeing with the latter on vitually nothing but Iraq. Such is the life of a liberal hawk.
And I appreciated what Newmark wrote on her blog about her encounter with O’Brien:
There is also a certain jargon of partisanship that just doesn’t seem appropriate when faced with someone of the opposite tribe in person, particularly while wired for recording. It just doesn’t seem the thing to call the other person a moonbat whack job in person. Perhaps if more bloggers of differing ideologies knew each other, the level of mutual disdain and biting sarcasm would be lowered. Or perhaps not. It is hard to be gracious when you so deeply disagree with everything the other side believes, but we can but try…