Sunday, 23 September 2007

This is why barriers to entry are sometimes a good thing

OK, so I am a bit naive, but I thought that swimming around in the blogosphere might be reasonably informative for someone looking to turn some of their basic values into a firm political allegiance. But this somewhat echoes an earlier attempt (1999-2001) to learn about the fundamentals of the stockmarket through reading message boards on the Motley Fool*; you get nowhere nearer the facts of investment, save for a couple of useful links, but instead learn plenty about the pond-life that makes up the lowest common denominator. Which, in the end, is more useful; no amount of MBA theory could have taught me why Freeserve was at one point valued at more than Dixons, but just reading what some of the more pumped up investors "thought" solves all sorts of mysteries.

So it is with the political blogosphere. This is not Hayek debating with Marx, Keynes disputing a point with Friedman, or even Ken Clarke versus Gordon Brown. Above all, it is not academic. Issues are not proven, peer-reviewed, re-examined in a deliberately sceptical light. Proponents of new theories don't go asking: how could I be wrong? Instead, the major method is assertion. You know - like a drunk who can't understand why you disagree so yells louder, exaggerates his position, swears his loyalties with ever-more pumped up emotion, no doubt believing himself ever more. And this world works perfectly to such temperaments, because the challenges come fast, and the drunk gets more and more belligerent. No-one, in the blogosphere, confronted with the counter-examples, says "Oh, well, given that, thesis-antithesis-synthesis". No, it's a combination of:

"look, what I said just now, but louder. You clearly can't read you scumbag"

"clearly some people disagree with me, but this is because they are enemy activists/convinced anti-patriots/aristocrat-fascists/etc"

So, yeah, I've learnt plenty about policy in the last month but only through downloading about 40 think-tank and policy pieces. And I've learnt plenty about what the zero-entry-barrier bloggers think make for a convincing argument. The two are barely related. And it reminds me why, even with such extreme examples as wikipedia, there is always going to be a suspicion for me about any Internet-only content, the sort where you're published as soon as you can remember a password. There is no reward to research or even-handedness. See the Iain Dale post and thread about the PCSO's allegedly standing by to watch a kid drown because 'NuLab' dictates such supine, procedure-driven behaviour. That's it - that's all the thinking you need to write the post or cheer it. A horribly spun version of a story breeding a trite meta-political view, with pauses for nauseous boasts about the hypothetical bravery the chubby poster would have displayed in the scarcely-understood situation. An edited programme or column might at least have asked whether the cartoon-image of what happened was actually correct, but not here in the blogosphere. So two community volunteers who arrived up to half an hour after a boy has started to drown without being able to see him or even know for sure which lake to arrive at have, on top of this, their names casually blackened by some armchair hero, preaching to a converted audience of similarly evidentially-challenged people. before he moves on to another ten posts of pointless gossip.

Welcome to the blogosphere. I've learned nothing about what should have occurred at this somewhere lake in this situation few people could really describe, but all about how a particular political wing thinks. The question is: are these types 20% of 50% of the opposition?


PS Of course, I write all this and then find an intelligent writer, Cicero, pointed out by Iain Dale

*Hey, look: my bearish post on ARM holdings is still the most popular post it ever got. How sad.

1 comment:

purplepangolin said...

But there is also a lot of journalism around. Not to the same extent as on the motley fool forums perhaps, but still largely uncritical acceptance of government press releases, particularly with NHS spending and how the funding problems are all due to greedy GPs.

If you buy a newspaper and they have a bad health correspondent then you're stuffed as far as health coverage goes from that source. If you find a poor blog, just find a better one to add to your reader.