Saturday, 17 November 2007

What Are We Blogging For?

What does Paulie of Never Trust a Hippy have in common with Neil Clark? Both have expounded this week on the perceived failings of the 'blogosphere' as it stands.

Clark calls for a "blogging revolution" in his latest article at Guardian Comment is Free. He complains that there aren't enough 'working class' bloggers. He claims that those who did not share his view that Iraqis who aided US and British forces should be abandoned to their fate rather than given asylum1 were following a "party line" and subject to a "three-line whip". And he proclaims that the blogosphere will only have 'come of age' "When there are ten times more blog posts on the way working people are being screwed by privatised utility companies, on the decline of NHS dentistry and the scandalous level of state pensions as there are on Israel/Palestine and the need for an "interventionist" foreign policy".

In a series of posts at his own blog and at group blog Drink Soaked Trotskyite Popinjays for War (DSTPfW)2, Paulie expresses his disdain for a subset of bloggers he refers to as 'bloggertarians', his main criticisms of whom are that they are too uncompromisingly critical of politicians, don't know enough about history, swear too much, and are generally "negativist"3. 'Negativist' is Paulie's preferred term of abuse for people he doesn't agree with. In Paulie's view it is "a sin" to be a 'negativist'4. This being a debate that is taking place on a lefty blog, a request for clarification on what it is that is so bad about "negativism" produces a link to an argument from nine months ago that when read doesn't actually bear much comparison to the subjects of the current excoriations!

To both of these arguments, I have this response. Both Clark and Paulie have, it seems to me, missed the point of blogging. Overlooked what it is that makes the 'blogosphere' so wonderfully different from other forms of media, political or otherwise. That is, anyone can do it.

To be a blogger, you don't have to pass a test or get through an interview. You aren't bound by an editorial policy or a party line*. Different people have different motivations for putting fingers to keyboard - Some blogs are intended to promulgate gossip, some to agitate for social change, some to showcase a writer's abilities, some as a substitute for writing angry missives to the newspaper.

So to complain that the demographic make-up of the blogosphere isn't how you would like it (Clark), or that free individuals aren't following your particular rules for conducting a debate in their own space (Paulie) by way of some arbitrary 'code of conduct' or 'voluntary code'5 which precisely because of the nature of the internet (Google 'Streisand effect' sometime) could never work, is rather fatuous.

The idea that we are all in this blogging thing together with a common purpose and a shared aim is, to be blunt, something so daft that only a socialist (and a puffed-up one at that) could come up with it. Of course, you are just as free to say what you want about other people's blogs as I am about what you have posted on yours this week. The difference is, Paulie, you are evidently7 uncomfortable with that freedom. I, and the ones you call 'bloggertarians', are not.


* The concept of non-party political continues to elude Paulie in his latest post8, in which he claims that "the Tories must be starting to get worried about it's bloggertarians" despite it having repeatedly been pointed out that those he applies the term to typically do not associate with the Conservative party and in fact often regard them just as much a part of the hated 'political classes' as New Labour9,10.

1 comment:

QT said...

Thanks for the comprehensive response. I didn't exactly write the original post in a spirit of conciliation, but there maybe isn't as much distance between our viewpoints as regards blogging as it first seemed.

Having said that, I'm still in the dark about certain aspects of your argument.

Firstly, what do you mean by a credible understanding of power-relations? I'm reasonably confident in saying that this must have a specific and concrete meaning to you - But how do you decide whether someone's 'understanding of power-relations' is credible or not? I suppose people could include it in their profiles, but failing that you're going to have to figure it out from their posts.

Which brings me on to the 'code of conduct' discussion. Here's where I confess I may have misinterpreted what it is that you are advocating, conflating it with this 'call for a blogging code of conduct' (Tim O'Reilly) which was (rightfully in my view) rejected by most bloggers. A declaration, blog preamble, "something to outline your own approach" like you suggest in the above comment is a different kettle of fish and not something I'd have a problem with being advocated.

Now the points about bloggertarians and Tories. I dispute that the people you call 'bloggertarians' are "objective allies of the Tories" for reasons I thought I'd made clear in the original post, but again I'm not sure how you're defining 'objective' and your particular viewing angle (so to speak).

I've left aside the third last paragraph because that will take longer to craft a response to and I'll save it for another time when I have more time.

Finally, the 'links in footnotes' thing isn't something I put on specifically for you, it is my own stylistic convention I use to link to what I'm talking about without my posts getting full of hyperlinks, which I dislike the appearance of.