That's what Armando argued last week in a diary at My Left Wing titled "Community Owned Blogging Is a Fantasy." The diary was based on a comment I made at Booman Tribune in a diary titled "Banned from MyDD."
Let's see, counting Armando, frontpager at Dkos, that's four major liberal blogs mixed together in this. All play valuable roles, but none of them functions as a democracy. And Armando argued that none could be. Needless to say, it boggled my mind that a citizen of democracy could say such a thing. And it delights me no end that here we are, in a so-called impossible place. It reminds me of one of my favorite slogans from the 1960s, from the Paris Uprising of 1968: "Be realistic. Demand the impossible!"
[W]hile the blogosphere is far more democratic than the old media, it is hardly a world apart, and it is hardly free from the hierarchical structures that impede a truly democratic discourse.
This isn't anything new. The ultimate absurdity came for me when I was the chief contributor to the LA Indymedia site. Indymedia's politics are expressly anarchist, supposedly non-hierarchical. But that just means that the hierarchies are informal. The rich kids who can afford to spend days on end hanging out together, jetting around to the demonstration hot spots worked and networked for months on end on getting the rules they wanted, while I, like a poor peon, actually spent my time putting up content on the front page--my own and other peoples--starting a media criticism project and trying to recruit new participants. I wanted to radically democratize the site governance and presentation, so that there wasn't just one front page, but people could customize it to fit their primary interest(s). I finally gave up when I realized I no longer believed it was a good thing to be trying to recruit others to join. Instead, I left myself.
The main problem was the people. But the main issue was site design structure and who it served to empower in what ways. I have nothing against the idea of highlighting certain stories for special attention. I think that's a very valuable option.
What bothers me is the lack of flexibility in providing for alternate views, which should include the options of (1) letting people create their own parameters for selecting highlighted content and (2) providing means for people to do this collectively, both intentionally and algorithmically (as Soapblox does--see My Left Wing for how this works--by letting you check out other diaries recommended by those who recommend a particular diary.)
This is a much more fundamental problem, IMHO. It's not just about DKos and MyDD, it's about the entire blogosphere and then some. We need to be engaged in a serious ongoing project of finding ways to reshape our discussion spaces to make them more democratic, more immediately responsive to our needs and desires--and, of course, to make them more directly relevant to taking effective action in the real world.
The discussion unfolded in a few other comments in the original Booman diary, the diary Armando posted at My Left Wing, and in a diary I posted in response, "Community-Owned Blogging & Beyond." In it, I wrote:
There are four major points I have to make in response to the discussionWell, seeing who's involved in this first attempt, it's already a pleasant surprise.
* The Issue is Community Control, Not Ownership.
* The Problems Armando Cites Are Not Dramatically Difficult In Themselves
* We Have Models From Centuries of Democratic Struggle
* There's An Underlying Issue of Liberal vs. Radical Vision-And Both Have Value
And there are two additional subjects that I'd like to expand on:
* The Significance of Heterarchical Structure And Phil Agre's Concept of "Issue Entrepreneurship"
* Community Control, Scaling And Mobilization
Bottom line: I don't think Armando has any real reason to reject the notion of community-controlled blogging. It's simply something that's not been seriously attempted yet. It would be a pleasant surprise if it succeeded wildly on the first attempt. And it would be really a pity if it people didn't work on brining it about, just because it hasn't been done before.
Most of the issues I discussed were somewhat tangential to what Politcal Cortex is about, at least initially. (Click the links and go read about it, if you're so inclined.) And that's a good thing. I was talking about a grand vision of a democratically-run megasite. I see a profound need for that if progressive politics is truly to achieve its goals.
But to get there, we need to cultivate a more democratic culture. We need to nurture and spread the norms and values that will make a democratic megasite work. We can't build cathedrals until we know how to build foundations.
Whether Political Cortex becomes such a megasite in the future, or whether it simply helps to develop the community foundations on which such a site is built, I believe that what is happening here is profoundly important. It is building the foundations of a democratic blogosphere. It is building the foundations by learning how to build the foundations.
The objections that Armando raised had primarily to do with control:
With all due respect to Paul, whose comment is very intelligent, and to Pyrrho, who has expressed similar thoughts, it simply won't work.Well, now it seems that someone is trying. And I, of course, say, "Count me in!"
The problem is who gets to determine citizenship in the community. The problem is who gets to decide what's appropriate. The problem is control....
No single blog can hold the consensus Paul seems to believe it can....
But Paul's idea strikes me as not to the point and not workable. Just won't.
But I could be wrong. Love to see someone try it and see how it turns out.
To my mind, Armando's focus was on boundary-drawing, which is perhaps the whole reason why he thought that community-controlled blogging could not exist. While boundary-drawing is certainly important, it is really a secondary concern. The primary concern is with building the core of the community. By building the core, you create the context in which boundary-drawing needs to be understood. It's the core that defines the community, not its boundaries. The boundaries make sense in terms of the core, not the other way around. And it seems that the founders of Political Cortex have given a lot of thought to the core. Everything else follows from that.
The impossible is now the self-evident. The American Revolution continues to unfold.
KEYWORDS: blogosphere, Democracy, meta, Political Cortex
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