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October 16, 2004

On the role of blogs in a political community

The perceptive Matt Yglesias has some interesting things to say about the role of blogs as political community organizing tools:

Looked at demographically, though, what keeps the Democrats in play is the fact that while union families have declined as a proportion of the electorate, what you might call "postmodern" white people -- Judis and Teixeira's professionals, Zogby's unmarrieds, Brooks' seculars -- have increased their share and come to be a larger and larger slice of the base of progressive politics. The problem with these people -- people like me -- is that we tend to be radically unconnected from large, formal, social networks. And not in a coincidental way, this characteristic is pretty fundamental to the essence of the sort of person we're talking about. We're younger, more transient, start families later, don't go to church and are generally without strong roots in anything more substantive than an "urban tribe".

This is all fine, as far as it goes, but it doesn't work very well for the purposes of politics. Political life in all its manifestations -- voting, volunteering, donating, boycotting, letter-writing, petition-signing, calling up advertisers and hassling them, etc. -- is beset with collective action problems. There's almost nothing anyone who's not super-rich can do to influence the political process that, on its own, will make a whit of difference. All of these activities depend on the notion that if lots of people followed your lead, then something important would happen. But in order to get any of this to happen you need to get a large number of people to behave in a not-especially-rational way, hence the collective action problem. Such problems normally get solved through appeals to group solidarity, but that presupposes the existence of a group. Hence the value of a union hall, a church, or VFW outpost, a Rotary Club, or what have you. The knowledge that there's a group of people out there you identify with and who identify with you can be a powerful force above and beyond the ways in which such groups simply aid communications.

This, I think, is one of the more important contributions blogs -- particularly the amateur blogs -- may make to American society in the years to come. They create a sense of virtual community. You feel that you know the people you read regularly, and the people who participate in comments threads on blogs you read. You're aware of a wider network of people you may read occassionally, or only see on the blogrolls of others. You exchange emails with readers, writers, and commenters. And because the network is merely virtual, it's remarkably robust and stable, staying in place as you move.

Perhaps this is all bullshit and will come to nothing, but I don't think so. Rather, the Dean campaign, despite it's very real limitations, was the start of something important. It showed a bunch of people that there are other people out there who are basically like them and that if they work together they can make a difference. And more important that if they want to work together with other people to make a difference, it's easy enough to find the people to work with. The number of people involved (as the Dean campaign also showed) isn't a majority, isn't big enough to dominate the country, but it is enough people to combine with other progressive constituencies to form a majority. And it should get bigger over time.

The ensuing discussion on Matt's blog is a good read, too.

Posted by Jon Stahl on October 16, 2004 at 12:29 PM in About Evergreen Politics | Permalink


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I started at BlueOregon

[I have an office in North Portland and lived in Oregon for 30+ years]

They had a post about something like that starting up in WA, I contacted Jon, he saved my e-mail addy, sent me a notice Evergreen is up today and here I am.

I know Seattle is the state's epicenter of progressive folk; my perception of Vancouver is its pretty conservative [but then, I don't read the Columbian and am just reflecting my Oregon-developed perceptions of the 'Couv].

"We're younger, more transient, start families later, don't go to church and are generally without strong roots in anything more substantive than an "urban tribe"."

Actually, I'm in my mid-50s, have a second family (step-daughter), periodically go to a church (primarily because I have good friends who go there) and other than my second family, don't have strong roots in any tribe.

I've done Rotary, Optimist (even JayCees years ago), trade associations, Chamber, etc. etc.

Last year at this time when the primaries were just starting to catch my attention I characterized myself as a drop-out Democrat. I'd served on a City Council, various budget committees and had just burned out. Didn't vote for more than 2 years (broke that streak today).

I get more intelligent Oregon political information from BlueOregon than I do from the Oregonian.

I hope to get more Washington political information from this new addition to my "Favorites" list.

Thanks, Jon.

Posted by: Randy | Oct 20, 2004 6:33:56 PM

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