Richard on Bloggers

Richard replies to my clarification of an earlier comment by myself.

What I originally said was that at the Wesley Clark town meeting I did not know if there were any other bloggers and I said that that it was “hard to us apart from the rest of the people.” Richard wrote something very briefly that seemed to indicate I was being unclear. So, I wrote back and said I meant that bloggers are regular people, not really a subclass. I used the analogy that you don’t think of people who read the newspaper as a subclass.

This is actually a terrible way to look at it an I much prefer Richard’s interpretation. My model seems to compare bloggers back to the consumer model of the world–where they are no long writers and producers, as if those things stops once they get up from a desk.

But, Richard writes that because anyone can be a blogger, people will no longer be able to “play to the camera” because the camera is potentially everywhere and each person you talk to may be a reporter.

[The] technology in terms of recording will probably be too small anyway and the people taking notes and then blogging will look like regular people. (Regular as in not professional journalists, who, if you’re pedantic enough, you might assume I think are somehow irregular.)

My interpretation of what he initially wrote was that in the future, whether or not bloggers should be an identifiable subclass, they will be—bloggers will divide people into subclasses just as the mainstream media does, just you watch. The point I thought Jay was trying to make was that you wouldn’t know they were bloggers by looking at them. That has implications for how people comport themselves in public, since everything is blogworthy.

There’s two sides of this coin: The side that says we will be able to better understand and experience public events and public figures, because chances are likely that there was a blogger somewhere when something happened; but, there is also the side where it becomes even harder to control information about yourself.

Controlling information about yourself is how Lawrence Lessig defines privacy in his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. He talks about how before computers and the Internet, you did not have complete control because people could always gossip. In a small town everyone knows when you go on a trip, or when your flowers die, but people in the next town don’t–strangers don’t.

What is different about the Internet, computers, and other pieces of technology (constant video surveillance for example) is that suddenly the number of things that people can monitor (instantly taking a picture with the camphone!) has increased as well as their power to distribute that information.

Will bloggers use their power for good or for evil? Blackmail bloggers? Tabloid bloggers?

Love Politics, by Glenn Parton

Dave Pollard posted an essay by Glenn Parton titled Love Politics about monogamy and why it is Bad.

Let’s shift the focus from the question, what is to be done? to the question, Why can’t people see the obvious? If people could see what is self-evident to the rational mind, then appropriate action would soon follow. That Americans do not see the obvious truth is amply demonstrated by the popularity of George W. Bush.

[...]

The old relationship — namely, monogamy (whose first historical form was patriarchy, but which is now co-dependency or co-ownership) is unnecessarily restrictive, a bedrock value, an unquestioned premise, the ideological basis of State Monopoly Capitalism which is destroying this planet.

The Essay

Fisking this essay would be too hilarious, so I will just highlight some interesting and absurd moments. First, I’ll basically describe the gist: The socialist revolution is not moving as quickly as we’d like, so it must be sped up by destroying as much as possible of the liberal world view. Since the end result is a destruction of private property, private relationships are a good place to start.

Glenn describes the American mind as he sees it:

Americans have a defensive ego-structure — a system of self-deceptions, projections and prejudices that distort our perception of the world — the cost of survival in this harsh and grossly unfair society. This makes us, “as we are”, incapable of forming enduring political communities for social transformation, which is precisely what we must do in order to avoid eco-catastrophe. We cannot get along well enough with one another for long enough to do the things that must be done. All our sincere and noble efforts self-destruct, but we can no longer afford to fail, for now the planet as a whole is in jeopardy. What will bring us and hold us together for world transformation? Erotic love is the last remaining force in the modern world capable of mobilizing, sustaining, and perfecting us for this long and difficult task. [My emphasis.]

What makes this social engineering experiment different than others? No answer.

Like other things that Dave Pollard has linked to, this essay is very anti-technology and would like to see a world of hunter-gathering tribes:

Monogamous marriage, characteristic of modern people, imposes too heavy a weight on human beings. It is not the natural form of human association that corresponds best to human nature; it was a wrong turn, a historical mistake, perhaps facilitated by natural selfishness, but the important point is that it is not irreversible. We need to recapture the freedom and happiness of pre-monogamous tribal love relationships. L. Morgan, after studying the American Indians, came to the conclusion in his book, Ancient Society, that the advanced forms of civilization “will be a repetition, but on a higher level of the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity which characterized the ancient gens.”

Love Politics is the idea that sex, the oldest force in the world for building community, when linked throughout to emancipatory consciousness, is still the basis for building a political community that puts us on the path towards a good society. The way to make us strong enough, wide enough, and deep enough to carry out the required socio-economic changes is to make the entire process an erotic adventure. A group of monogamous couples is a boring place, dead spirit, because you cannot stifle the erotic basis of community and hope to keep it alive and well. Gatherings and meetings of any kind do not work. Politics is bleak in America; we have come down to the primal energy of Eros as the source for a genuine political revival. Only by allowing sexual energy to flow more openly, as in aboriginal societies, can aware people create and sustain enough human cohesiveness and solidarity to make a true beginning…

I am reminded of Don Boudreaux’s discussion of how poverty is the natural state of people, rather than wealth, and because of this there are not causes of poverty in the same way there are of wealth.

It seems to me that Glenn Parton would like to see a destruction of progress and would to like to ensure that it can never happen again by destroying the ideas of individual achievement and action themself.

The Response

Richard, last of the Gwai Los, responds to it and points to some of its weaknesses.

First the weaknesses of the essay, and they are debilitating ones. The last sentence of first paragraph (“That Americans do not see the obvious truth is amply demonstrated by the popularity of George W. Bush.”) effectively dates the article, making it a 2004 polemic rather than a timeless critique. This error—and it is my intention not to defend George W. Bush or Americans by supporting the man and people being criticized but rather to dismiss the device of criticizing a contemporary (and temporary) figure to make a larger point—is not the most eggregious, however. If Parton’s intention was to engage the people’s whose behaviour he wants to change, he could not have picked a worse way to write the following paragraph:

Education is not the primary path for social change because the biggest obstacle we moderns face is not widespread ignorance, but manufactured stupidity, the arresting and distortion of human nature by culture.Americans are arguably the stupidest people on earth, informed and entertained by the infantile and adolescent nonsense of TV and Hollywood. We have forgotten what our tribal ancestors knew, and not (yet?) broken through to high/integral reason that surpasses but also preserves old knowledge. Our knowledge is more and more manipulation of nature and each other, in terms of which we are the very best, the number one country in the world.

Instead of making an excellent point about so-called “education” that treats teaches the same information in the same way over and over, which he does in the first sentence, Parton loses everything he could have gained from pursuing a nuanced argument and calls the people he is trying to convert to his point of view idiots.

Richard curiously writes, “Parton, in short, makes an interesting argument worth considering seriously. He just does it badly.” It seems to me that the argument about loving multiple people is a good argument, or at least an interesting thought. But not Parton’s vision of communist world order he thinks it will make possible.

I deeply enjoyed Dave Pollard’s thoughts on the essay, minus points three through five.

Several respondents have complained about the essay, with the loudest criticism being about his overromanticizing of the ‘free love’ movement of the 1960s (which Glenn and I both grew up during), his apparent misogynism and homophobia, and his preoccupation with the sexual aspects of relationships over the emotional ones. I will confess that I share readers’ concerns on all these scores. At the same time, I believe the underlying message of Glenn’s essay is fundamentally valid, and extremely important. Rather than debate the concerns, I’d prefer to try to restate what I learned from the essay, hopefully in a less provocative way than Glenn’s, and focus the debate on the core ideas and their implications:

  1. Our society, our civilization, morally permits each of us to love, passionately and without limit, only one other person. If we violate this moral rule, we are called ‘unfaithful’, and this is considered a sin, fully justifying jealousy by the first person we loved. If this love manifests itself sexually, it is called ‘adultery’ and is illegal as well as immoral. People who do love more than one person, passionately and without limit, are demonized and shunned in our society.

And this is very apt:

I don’t believe we need this kind of emotional liberation to save the world, but I don’t think it would hurt.

If you didn’t get this from Glenn’s essay, this may be due more to my imagining of what he meant than your misunderstanding. As Daniel Dennett says “On any important topic, we tend to have a rough idea of what we believe to be true, and when an author writes the words we want to read, we tend to fall for it, no matter how shoddy the arguments.” And I expect that Glenn will weigh in himself on what he really meant. But now that I’ve delineated what I got out of his essay, and why I think his basic idea is very sensible and very important, I’d be interested in your thoughts. Naive? Idealistic? Wrong-headed? Insensitive? Or is there something here that bears closer scrutiny, and maybe a real-world trial?

My Response

The thing that I am primarily opposed to in this essay is the statement that there is something wrong in essence with private property or monogamy, and the implication that everyone should (be made) to live in Glenn’s Love Politics.

I think that a liberal society should permit its members to live their lives in any means they choose, provided natural rights are protected and contracts are enforced. For this reason, I do not think that monogamy is a central part of a liberal society and fully support efforts to free up access to the marriage contract. However, monogamy is central part of my life and I surprised at the intellect that reduces all these problems (“anger, violence, hatred, neglect of others, depression, withdrawal, lack of emotional resilience, self-loathing”, “passivity”, etc) to monogamy.

So, go for it brothers! But don’t force me to or force my future children to have to be indoctrinated in your system if I don’t want them to.