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Monday, June 09, 2003  

Dialogue and the Right blogosphere:
Why that dog won't hunt

Rick Heller of Smart Genes is thinking about The Map from the perspective of a centrist.

Why is opinion in the blogosphere distributed bimodally, while political opinion among voters at large, as shown in exit polls, is distributed normally with more moderates than either liberals or conservatives?

1. The two party system

The most obvious source of bimodality. But are blogs in Great Britain, where there are three significant parties, distributed trimodally? I don't think so.

2. Conflict is news, and requires two sides

Deborah Tannen in The Argument Culture reports:

I also heard from the head of a public institution who spent hours talking to a journalist preparing a story on one of their programs-a story that never ran because no one could be found who opposed the program: no fight, no story.

How conflict is organized in the blogosphere has been brought home to me recently. I've learned what longer term liberal bloggers already knew: One cannot reason with many of people in the Right blogosphere. I used to wonder about the paucity of links between bloggers on the two sides of the divide. I made an effort to interact with some conservatives. Now, I understand why most bloggers on the Left don't bother.

Here's an example of my path to enlightenment. I posted a comment at Silflay Hraka in regard to these remarks by the person who calls himself Bigwig, a perfect description of his attitude.

Clubbeaux sticks his neck out on the Klan.

"I'd guess there's an equal number of genuine racists in both the KKK and the Rainbow Coalition, and the rest of them are members because, "Well, they're the ones who stick up for what matters to my daily life, forget the rest of the crap."

A Klansman once pulled a shotgun on my father while we were playing catch in the front yard of our house. I was about 4. I'll blog about it one day, if I can find his notes from that occasion. It had something something to do with a Vietnam protest his students had organized. He was the "commie preacher who spit on the American flag" if my memory of the quote is correct. When dad ran for town council 12 years or so after that the same guy bought a tape machine and recorded a two-minute phone message about how horrible my father was. We spent most of August dialing it up and playing it for our friends at the pool.

I found out later who he was. His daughter and I had been in the same class since first grade. She was thin, quiet, nervous, and picked last for every team sport. I don't recall her ever having a friend. She was part of the rejected troika; the fat clumsy guy who came out in college, the poor incest victim, who never bathed as a result, and her. She wasn't marked on the outside like the other two, but she was rejected out of hand just the same.

I expect she was just as much a victim of the Klan as any black person with a burning cross in the front yard, but she wasn't as lucky.

When you're black, the Klan eventually leaves you alone.

In my remarks, I said comparing the Klan to the Rainbow Coalition was ludicrous because the Klan murdered thousands of people. (The coalition on the other hand is just a loose-knit circle of liberal activists as far as I know. I doubt they've terrorized or killed anyone.) I could have said a whole lot more to distinguish the two groups. BigWig's response was to begin attack my blog and me personally, including joining the pathetic little movement to try to get me disqualified from the New Weblog Showcase. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, his friend Doc Searls showed up and called me an 'asshole."

What were they defending? The 'right' to present the Ku Klux Klan as a civic organization that speaks on behalf of working-class white people instead of the terrorist group it is, without interference. Their viewpoint, that of Right Wing Southern white males, was to be the only one heard or else. So far, Andrea Harris has been the only other blogger to stand up to them. I hope she doesn't mind being called an "asshole." (You can read the rest of that discourse, including the comments, here and here. Warning: Reading this material may make you feel like you are at a Klan meeting.)

Whatever compassion I have left for the politically misguided will not be expended on people like them. Put another pin on the Left side of The Map.

This episode makes me wonder about Rick's second reason for Left-Right dichotomies above: Conflict is news, and requires two sides. As a reporter, I often found that to be true despite the fact an issue can have many sides, or sometimes, just one. However, in the blogosphere, it seems to me something inapposite occurs. The Right blogosphere's rigidity tranfers any conflict from between Left and Right to within the Right hemisphere, to the extent they allow any disagreement. (Their enforcers, guys like BigWig and Searls, are pretty quick on the draw.) That leaves liberals and moderates talking mainly to each other, not the Right. A few Right Wingers who read this entry might speak up against the rehabiliation of the image of the Klan Clubbeax and BigWig are engaged in (despite the disclaimers they issue at least once per entry) in addition to Andrea. Their criticism may even be tolerated. However, there is no way my effort, or that of say Atrios or Calpundit, would be. So, I believe conflicting views must occur within the Right blogosphere to be heard by the whole blogosphere, not between Left and Right. It is too easy for most of the predominantly conservative blogosphere to shut its ears or shout down someone making even the most reasonable of statements: the Ku Klux Klan is neither the Salvation Army nor the Rotary Club.

Rick Heller presents several reasons why bimodality occurs in many contexts. The rest of his entry is worth a read.

These are the views of a novice blogger, but I think I may be on to something about life in Bloggersville.

5:42 AM