Mike the Mad Biologist

And Who Elected These Guys Anyway?

One of the interesting things about blogging is that it has undermined the importance of the punditocracy. In the pre-interenet, and certainly pre-blog era, you had a very different relationship to politics, even if you were aware and relatively active: you were a consumer.

By consumer, I mean that you used to have to wait around and hope that some columnist or editorial board would speak for you. There were some alternatives, such as writing letters to the editor, or in the early days of the internet, posting at electronic bulletin boards (remember those?). But now with blogging, it is possible to speak for yourself. That completely undermines the role of the punditocracy. There are a lot of smart people out there who never had a voice before, and now they do. Why listen to a pundit about the Middle East, when there are serious scholars who are quite familiar with the region who can offer commentary? Why listen to Gregg Easterbrook about science when you have these here ScienceBlogs with real, live, professional scientists?

But what’s really healthy about all of the online commentary is that it makes being a pundit far less profitable. If you don’t need people to speak for you, then professional pundits become irrelevant. This is a good thing, as pundits often seem to drive the political and cultural debate, even though no one elected them. Essentially, there is an elite that influences policy and is unaccountable to anyone. As Bob Bauer notes, politicians in both parties have always detested the ‘intermediary’ role that the punditocracy plays. However, the press can only see this effect via the camera obscura of the ‘unaccountable’ blogs. Hunter, at DailyKos, makes another good point about the pundit class–it is fundamentally corrupting for any political system (italics mine):

But punditry ain’t press. Punditry ain’t reporting, it shouldn’t be treated as such, and it is, as a “class”, deeply and profoundly broken. I’m not sure that it could ever not be broken, if it is designed as a mere outcropping of the political landscape itself, a place for political figures to winter over between government or partisan jobs. The notion of a pundit class, separate from the people but attached at the hip to the very class of power brokers that they cover — it is unsettling. It is corruptive from the get-go. I simply don’t see that as something even slightly worthy of the respect that we should give bona fide reporting…

I’m not an internet triumphalist by any stretch of the imagination, but I think blogging has been a good thing. You might agree or disagree with what I blog about, but I don’t pretend to be anything another than a guy with a blog. To the extent that I actually influence anyone, it’s by argument, not some weird parasitic relationship to the political system.

Comments

  1. #1 Edward
    March 29, 2007

    A cynical counter-point:

    Blogs give people the illusion that their views are being heard, and consequently cause them not to take other actions that might be more productive in getting their views to a wide audience.

    I found this blog because I was looking for pro-evolution arguments. I was looking for information that validated my own views. I think that most people only read blogs that validate their own views, and I sometimes worry that activieies like blogging only encourage the fracturing of our society into segments that do not communicate with each other.

  2. #2 Roy
    March 29, 2007

    Who elected them? They were picked for their on-air appeal to the advertisers.

    Now think who network TV advertisers are. There are NO small businesses, NO medium, and NO large companies — only huge corporations, including some multinationals that are not even American.

  3. #3 llewelly
    March 29, 2007

    DLC? Democratic Loser Commitee?

  4. #4 Kevin
    March 29, 2007

    For more on this issue check out

    http://www.dailyhowler.com/

    he goes on and on about this….and of course media matters.

  5. #5 bigTom
    March 29, 2007

    I think I detect a bit on envy. To be a pundit what a life:

    Opinion, Opinion, Blah Blah Blah.. laughing on the way to the bank

    Opinion, Opinion, Blah Blah Blah.. laughing on the way to the bank

    Opinion, Opinion, Blah Blah Blah.. laughing on the way to the bank

    How does one apply for the position?

  6. #6 llewelly
    March 30, 2007

    Give it up bigTom. Yoo’re insufficiently ignorant.

  7. #7 llewelly
    March 30, 2007

    My apologies – my comment about the DLC was intended for the thread about the DLC.

  8. #8 Nathan
    March 30, 2007

    “I think that most people only read blogs that validate their own views…”

    As they watch the news networks that validate their views, read the papers that do so and probably mostly hang out with folks who share their views – yada yada. That train left the station before blogs. The problem I do see is that on the ‘net, whatever modicum of sanity and civility that remains in the ‘real world’ (Ann Coulter typed excepted) is often absent. People rant and rave and it often seems to be the most extreme positions that are posted. That I think exacerbates the divide more than the media or personal interactions.

  9. #9 the_leper
    March 31, 2007

    Actually, I sometimes read things like Vox Daily (which makes me cry or vomit, depending on the day), despite the fact that I am literally everything he hates (ie female, liberal, college educated, non-religious, etc.)

    It is quite painful, though, and I can only take stupid in limited doses before I need to go find intelligent conversation. However, I find that in limited doses, it tends to inspire me to write in response. I have no idea if this is normal, but sometimes exposure to pundits and blogging actually results in something productive.

    So that’s something positive associated with blogging.

  10. #10 Edward
    April 3, 2007

    Nathan – case and point about civility:

    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/03/29/MNGT3OTVAO1.DTL&type=tech

    I’m in two minds about this: One the one hand, some people feel free to spew hate behind a mask of anonymity. On the other hand, it may offer a window into what people are really thinking. If so, we have a long way to go.

    While it’s true that people always selected media to validate their own views, I think the problem is greater with the net. The filters and degree of selection in views you see can be greater on the net, and it allows people with fringe views to find their pack and run with it. That’s not always bad, but it can remove some moderating influences on people’s views.

    Like the_leper, I also look at sites that express views different from my own, and I suspect many readers of this blog do likewise. Many of us are scientists and we are trained to explore ideas and analyze them. I’m not afraid to have my views changed because of someone else’s better view. However, I think those of us who actively seek different views are in the minority. Most people seem to be interested in being right and “winning.” If a politician changes their views, for example, they get castigated for “flip-floping.” The electorate seems to care more about whether politicians “stick to their guns” rather than whether they analyze the situation carefully, look at it from all sides, and try to come to a balanced descision.

  11. #11 Ken C.
    April 4, 2007

    Anything that reduces the groupthink, scripting, and influence of the “Gang of 500″ has to be a good thing. For me, blogs do the work of finding the top story buried on page 17, the kind of work that I.F. Stone did. They also give expression to opinions that aren’t part of the script: it was such a pleasure and, uh, affirmation, to read Digby and find the my half-formed ideas and opinions already articulated with amazing clarity and force.

    They also expose the shoddy reasoning and evidence of the pundits: I’m a summer acquaintance of a couple “high-ranking” pundits, and I was always reluctant to discuss politics with them; it seemed like it would be analogous to them discussing my specialized scientific work with me. But after seeing their words put under a microscope in the blogosphere, I’m much less afraid to engage.

    As to the polarizing effect of blogs, I agree it’s a problem: some blogs are a closed ecosystem of a blogger and a flock of “me-too” attack commenters, who meet disagreement with immediate dismissal and personal attack. On the other hand, sometimes I see a conversation between people that would be unlikely to have any “real life” discussion. It was bracing, on Majikthise, for example, to discuss with some people why they believe that gunning down thieves on the spot is morally OK.

  12. #12 bitkisel ürünler
    May 12, 2009

    Actually, I sometimes read things like Vox Daily (which makes me cry or vomit, depending on the day), despite the fact that I am literally everything he hates (ie female, liberal, college educated, non-religious, etc.)

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