Saturday, October 29, 2011

Politically correct games: Even a draw sees both sides lose

The blogosphere is the tiniest of rebellions. My favourite blog title - and a daily mine of erudite nuggets - is Samizdata. Samizdat was the Russian word for the practice among Soviet citizens of distributing, passing on and exchanging illicit, anti-governmental literature. A man who would know about the value of illicit, dissident writing was Vladimir Bukovsky, and he defined Samizdat as follows:

"I myself create it,
edit it,
censor it,
publish it,
distribute it, and ...
get imprisoned for it."

With regards to the last line in the context of the blogosphere, not yet. But this is not the Soviet Bloc of the 1960s and 1970s. Not yet. Except, perhaps, in an increasingly pronounced difference between two tribes of, in informational terms, hunter-gatherers. The disapora is summed up by Richard North:

"Political society is splitting two ways – those who read the blogs, and the little lambs who suck the pap."

EU Referendum's sketch for an epitaph sums up something known for years by those who only read the MSM for fun. But why is it that the bloggers have consistently trumped the MSM when it comes to accurate and predictive commentary, particularly over the Eurozone? How has Samizdat been proven, again and again, to be right where the Fourth Estate has been consistently behind the curve?
On a related subject, although Douglas Carswell may not find himself hanging in poster form on the walls of EU Referendum's war cabinet room, he thickens the plot:

"The internet has started to democratise comment and opinion. Thanks to blogs like ConservativeHome, Guido Fawkes, Left Foot Forward and Coffee House, the old aristocracy of opinion formers is being displaced. Bloggers - who have to be re-elected by thousands of mouse clicks every day [my italics] - tend to be accountable for their analysis in the way that many columnists writing for a newspapers, or TV pundits, often never seem to be.

For accurate political analysis, go online."

The internet has much in common with President Barack Obama in that politicians who once used to queue up to sing its praises and bask in its glow are keeping rather quiet now that reality has done its usual audit. With Obama, now the fairy dust has all but been shaken off his wings, the political class see no furtherance of their careers in jostling for photo-op proximity. With the internet, politicians of every stripe are doubtless horrified by the democratising effect of, in particular, weblogging. You can tell, because politicians never, ever mention blogging. Unless, of course, they have their own blog. How I miss racing across the lawn of the internet years ago to visit The Rt Hon David Miliband at his faux-personable, bland, widely-travelled blog. Mr Miliband - or his BlogBot - was a little off-putting in his insistence on referring to 'doing a blog' when he meant writing a post, and it all seemed worryingly fecal. But he won me back by answering every single facetious question I ever asked in the comments section, with one exception. I asked whether, in the case of a repatriated British inmate of Guantanamo Bay committing a fatal terrorist attack in Britain, the families of any victims would be able to sue the British government. Answer came there none... But politicians keep very anodyne blogs nowadays. The king is elsewhere; we must turn to the court.
The political temperature concerning the blogosphere can be taken by examining the handmaidens to the political classes, the journalists, Peter Oborne's courtiers.
While blogging seems acceptable to the political right of the media - such as it is - the left-inclining arm of the press immediately took the weapons from the wall. Here, from 2008, Madeleine Bunting voices her fears of a voice for the journalistically untutored:

"Aggression, abuse and contempt are now the normal currency of debate among strangers on blogs. Last week two prominent columnists, David Aaronovitch and Linda Grant, added their bewilderment to the growing chorus of those arguing that public debate on the internet is being strangled at birth by the quantity of personal abuse and bullying."

As was, I believe, pointed out at the time, Ms Bunting was confusing blogging with comments left on blogs. But she was not a lone operative in the blogger witch-trials [in which Guido Fawkes, appropriately enough, featured prominently].
Inevitably, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown - a sort of MSM bargain-basement Ghandi - shrieks out her opinions here and, in the wake of the media outrage over phone hacking, those opinions may require re-reading:

"Newspaper telephone hackers are big babies when compared to those who practice the dark arts in the blogosphere."

It should be stated that she wrote this in September 2010, long before the News of the World scandal, but it exemplifies a comfortable, familiar lack of ability in Brown when it comes to feeling the collar of the zeitgeist.
Jackie Ashley, another of the left's attack harpies, finds the blogosphere a family with the wrong members in control:

"Again, I am speaking impressionistically, not scientifically: but has not the rise of the internet coincided with a rise of the men’s magazine culture? Blogworld is the future, and it will not be resisted; but at this stage in its development, it seems dominated by rightwing [sic] male individualists and libertarians."

Batting for the chaps, Jackie's wayward spouse Andrew Marr also got very cross indeed about those impertinent bloggers and their unkempt, rustic ways. 'Superinjunction' Marr informs a grateful readership that:

"A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people... OK – the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk."

A word of warning concerning Marr's comments on the physiognomy of bloggers. I have linked to the piece, but it is accompanied by a picture of Marr's milk-curdling, clock-stopping, mirror-imperilling face.
No critique from the left would be complete without the Maharani of Islington, Polly Toynbee. Here, from 2008, the redoubtable Dizzy reminds Toynbee that opinionated political writing is not always done in exchange for an unrealistic paycheck:

"Have just been watching Sky News, and, besides them showing a screenshot of this blog which was taken just at the moment when the top post had a typo in the title (typical of me really), Polly Toynbee has just been saying that the Tory blogs are all funded by the Tories and awash with money.

Polly, I'm not paid to do this. I'm paid to work elsewhere (not in politics) and this blog gets done in between that. No one is funding me, I'm skint. I have an overdraft, a huge credit card bill, and am facing possible negative equity very shortly as the house prices collapse."

It's an engrossing debate for those of us engrossed by politics which is not spoon-fed but actively obtained from a variety of sources. Those whose intellectual willingness allows them to pluck memes like fruit from different orchards are now forming a distinct sub-blogosphere. Whether you are left or right will soon be about as relevant as whether you are a Platonist or an Aristotelean. The battle is now between the political/media class and the rest of us, the excluded, los desaparecidos. Bloggers of all political stripes should forget sniping at one another and their best minds should train their sights elsewhere.
I'll leave the last word to Juan Williams. Juan was a journalist fired by NPR for failing to adhere to politically correct orthodoxies [the same thing is happening in Germany, incidentally. Hat tip to Gates of Vienna] and has an excellent, must-read piece on the tyranny of false political sectarianism. A sample:

"The biggest lesson for me has come from the endless stream of Americans, Democrats and Republicans, who tell me they can’t believe the constant pressure in politics these days to keep quiet, shut up and bite their tongue for fear of being called a bigot, a crazy right-winger or a socialist lefty... Americans across all political, social and racial lines tell me they resent this political straitjacket. They know that if they speak their mind, admit their fears, hopes, feelings, they risk being told they are not a good Republican or not a good Democrat. They fear being told they are not a good Christian for their views on abortion; not a good Jew for their views on Israel; not a good black man if they question President Obama; not a good Muslim if they condemn Islamic terrorism without any qualification. At every turn, people fear being told they are lacking in principle for simply avoiding political boxes and opening themselves to listen to the other side of an issue and engage in honest debate."

Whatever the independent political blogosphere is, it must not be politically conformist. Left and right has become us and them. Williams gives his reasons for being fired. He is responding to a question from a fellow journalist as to whether the latter was right to have been outspoken concerning 9/11. Williams replied:

"I told him I was not going to play politically correct games."


  1. Carswell's idea of blogs ... ConservativeHome, Guido Fawkes, Left Foot Forward and Coffee House.


  2. But Carswell is a journalist. He's hardly going to say he reads the EDL blog or Gates of Vienna or even the stuff in our part of the forest. The point, I think, is that there is freer debate online than in the controlled, sterile environment of the MSM, and he is at least an MP who has the chops to champion blogs.

  3. Excuse me. Freudian slip. Carswell is a politician, I meant to write. I suppose that just shows how the two have become confused in my mind.

  4. Until the inevitable control of blogging happens it will continue to grow, inform and act as a brake on those who would control over us. Government should be about management, it is now just about power and control.