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July 10, 2005

A Theory of Idea Circulation

It occured to me as I was reading P6 this the other morning tangential to the Memin Pinguin kerfuffle. (I'm going to use that word because it's just right for that level of nonsense masquerading as a serious issue.) The idea is that despite the fact that black blogs are not media powerhouses, that at this point in their maturity, they do in fact capture the vast expanse of black opinion.

I wrote:

I mean I agree entirely that Jackson is just the type to suck oxygen away from sites like P6, but you also have to consider the probability that everything that needs to be said is actually being said and there basically *is* no greater political interactivity in black communities. I mean even if you go to Wyatt Tee Walker's church in Harlem, Sunday is a one way discussion, and the mumbling after church isn't captured because there's no need to. What's captured in black political sites like P6 is the entirety of black opinion.

My biggest gripe with this site is that the discussion threads are so haphazardly named that it makes it almost impossible for me to tell what subjects are being handled. But I don't doubt they are being handled at some respectable level.

Everything else is just advocacy. And that means the same thing everywhere. Money and pressing the flesh. But there are no more ideas that need expression 'from the community' - those would just be exemplary details.

Leave my gripe aside for the moment. What exactly is it that we expect from the community but a assent to ideas we want to attribute to them? Either 'the community' wants school vouchers or they don't. But the arguments pro and con are going to be spinning endlessly. How much do people need to think about it.

I think we in the intellectual elite have been cowed by the notion that there is some extraordinary 'grass roots' phenomena that is not essentially captured in our debates. If there is, I would submit that it is nothing more than chaos, solopsism or force of personality. Let me stress as clearly as I can that what we pundits do is control the publicity of rationale. All the logic in the world is pretty much out there, but the reasons those charged with making the final decision is are different from our own and everyone elses. Right now, there doesn't seem to be a way to change or deal with that.

We are not changing what people can think, we are influencing how they think by giving them paths of rationality towards our opinions and away from the opinions of our opponents. I think this is (heh) an interesting way to think about the business of all punditry, whether it be MSM or New Media. In other words we are not owners of the ideas, we are facilitators between people's emotions and their decisions. We offer a publically referenceable decision making augmentation process. This is a great value add, especially if and when people can accept and vibe with our existentials.

I need to say that I think is one of the more profound insights I have come upon. The reason that I'm here is because of the confluence of events that have transpired for me in the past few weeks with regard to my acknowledgement of the value of progressive politics in African America, my broadcast TV debut as Cobb and my recognition of the value of porch conversations.

Speaking of porch conversations, I may as well reference 'Rize' while I'm at it. The other thing I neglected to mention about the film is how much it works as an almost transparent proxy for the 'voices' of those 'inner city kids' with a very solid parallel to Gwaltney. This underscores my decision not to second-guess blackfolks. These krumpers know very well the value of their lives. One doesnt' need to be a social scientist to understand all that. They don't need 'leaders', and in many ways don't seem to need politics at all. I'm saying is that this is not exceptional. It wasn't so surprising for me to find the truth and beauty of their youthful energy as it was surprising for me to find how well the film captured it without editorializing into the context of a white liberal monologue on the significance.

So let me come back up to the top and capturing the vast expanse of black or public opinion by those of us in the chatting classes. What is very valuable, as was quite well explained by Dubner to Charlie Rose last week when describing his role in the book 'Freakonomics', is the skill of a writer making ideas accessible. Yes there are some specialists who can do it - Carl Sagan could do the science and he could also explain the science - but such individuals are rare. Some politicians can are stars as well. Bill Clinton could walk the wonk walk and talk the public talk. We blog-pundits offer the same service but our audience isn't quite as well-defined yet. I believe that we are offering something to our large literate public what it has long needed, an order of magnitude more lines of rationale and existential models into the big ideas that shape our society. But let us not make the mistake about whose ideas those are or in which direction the power flows.

In due time, there will be a new kind of arrangement of discourse with the public and the New Media which will improve on our system of press conferences, gucci shoe lobbiests, etc. I think the lowered cost of communications, the distributed nature of the future power structures and the greater diversity of the American polity make this inevitable.

Posted by mbowen at July 10, 2005 03:43 PM

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We are not changing what people can think, we are influencing how they think


A few of your brotherhood mates are now describing me as a "contrarian."

I like that label vs. "conservate", or "moderate" or "progressive" or "liberal" for a good reason: conclusions based on logic I don't agree with I can deal with; conclusions based on lame/weak/illogic I can't deal with.

I think I've been spending most of my "comment" time dealing with the latter. I'm trying to determine how much of the blogging I do, is about pointing out illogic vs. "did you notice this" vs. "think about this situation, THIS way" vs. "if a = b and a = c, then why doesn't b = c?".


It's all mental masturbation.

Posted by: DarkStar [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 10, 2005 04:11 PM

contrarian. ed that's you all over. I never know which direction you're going, but I always know sloppy things will be ripped up in your wake.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 10, 2005 06:43 PM

You've made me think more about the media.

I'm formulating something that should provide further data points for some of what I think. I'm going to do an experiment and she what happens.

It's based on ideas and how to get them out there better.

Posted by: DarkStar [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 10, 2005 07:27 PM