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Oliver’s Twist

I well understand why Oliver Kamm is so frustrated with the chaotic nature of the blogosphere. You work all day, read countless books to bolster your case for a neoconservative foreign policy, and in swoops some ignoramous with a TypePad … Read More

By / April 9, 2007

I well understand why Oliver Kamm is so frustrated with the chaotic nature of the blogosphere. You work all day, read countless books to bolster your case for a neoconservative foreign policy, and in swoops some ignoramous with a TypePad account to challenge your assertions and waste everybody's time. Why let the untutored masses graze in such rarefied slopes as political punditry? Why even allow blogs at all?

In its paucity of coverage and predictability of conclusions, the blogosphere provides a parody of democratic deliberation. But it gets worse. Politics, wrote the philosopher Michael Oakeshott, is a conversation, not an argument. The conversation bloggers have with their readers is more like an echo chamber, in which conclusions are pre-specified and targets selected. The outcome is horrifying. The intention of drawing readers into the conversation by means of a facility for adding comments results in an immense volume of abusive material directed – and recorded for posterity – at public figures.

The blogosphere, in short, is a reliable vehicle for the coagulation of opinion and the poisoning of debate. It is a fact of civic life that is changing how politics is conducted – overwhelmingly for the worse, and with no one accountable for the decline.

The easy shot here is to suggest you read three lines down from the above to find: "His blog is at oliverkamm.typepad.com." I'll refrain from comment on that because I've never found hypocrisy to be one of the deadlier vices, and also because it's clear that Oliver's gripe is not with blogging per se but the sorts of riffraff who constitute the blogging multitude. More should be like him, presumably.

However, I don't quite gel to his implied definition of democracy: "The great innovation of web-based commentary is that readers may select minutely the material they are exposed to. The corollary is that they may filter out views they find uncongenial. This is a problem for a healthy democracy, which depends on a forum for competing views."

Oh, yes, and off-monitor I routinely encounter arch-conservatives versed in the latest issue of New Left Review, or a DailyKos contributor versed in anything other than the Howard Dean mailing list.

What's going on here? If I didn't respect and admire Kamm's writing, I might say that he's become a parody of neoconservative idealism, where "freedom" necessarily means "progress." 

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