Back to previous post: Coda

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: All of my opinions about the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

January 9, 2011

I’ll change your heart into green grass, and all you love into a sheep
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:45 PM * 160 comments

I was struck by a thought today, while reading yet another Internet Conservative defending rant radio and the ethics of hatemongering.

Our political conversation is a shared resource, which none of us owns and all of us benefit from. It’s how we decide where to bestow our votes, our source of information about the world and how we as a nation fit into it, our debating-ground for how our lives are led.

There are people who get money and power from this shared resource: politicians and pundits work the ground of our discourse for profit. But though there is some money and power to be obtained from working it honestly and sustainably, there’s more to be made by exploiting it. Lies and vitriol, hate and hysteria, populism and tribalism all pollute the political atmosphere even as they allow the people who use them to profit. They take the benefit, but we all pay the cost.

Sound familiar? It’s the Tragedy of the Commons.

The issue I’m talking about isn’t really yesterday’s shootings in Arizona. That, and the subsequent explosion all over the internet, weren’t even our political Love Canal or Three Mile Island. They’re but a single bald patch on our common grazing grounds. What I’m getting at is different. It’s a bigger, systemic problem.

And I don’t have a solution. The usual result of the Tragedy of the Commons seems to be privatizing the common resource, which always sounds to me like fixing crumpled origami with a blowtorch.

On a dark day like this, I think there is no solution. A political system critically dependent on a resource vulnerable to this failure mode is doomed. You can finesse a few centuries out of it, exploiting inefficiencies of communication and historical sub-legal norms to restrict the exploiters and polluters for a time. But in the end, greed finds its level. Selfishness wins out again.

Counterpoints welcome.

Comments on I'll change your heart into green grass, and all you love into a sheep:
#1 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 03:06 PM:

I think some of the hateful stuff requires secrecy, and that transparency is key to fighting back. The metaphor that works for me is the immune system: if the T and B cells did not communicate with each other, or with other parts of the system, the body would become overwhelmed by invaders or turn against itself, and die. We need to be able to remember how evil feels, looks, and works; then we need to act against it appropriately.

Sadly, evil might only make itself known at the time of attack. Background noise hides the pending evil, and we cannot punish the innocent for something that might happen.

#2 ::: Kyndra ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 03:16 PM:

And the problem is that no matter how much you and I might be civil in our disagreements our civility isn't much of a news story. I often wondered how much real vitriol there is and how much is just what gets noticed and reported on.

How many people really are worked up about the politics of the people they actually know?

Example: over the years I have introduced a number of my counter-cultural and/or gay friends to my conservative Christian friends. Now when I tell either group about the other I get the predictable push-back (Oh, we can't have anything to do with X because they're Y). Yet when they meet each other and even work together (our house raising was done by friends from both groups) they realize that they actually have quite a bit in common (starting with humanity) and even form ties across former perceived lines. Now they still have big areas of disagreement and places where they will probably never agree, but they don't hate (or think that they hate) as much. And even if they never really meet each other again, they probably won't interact with other members of the opposite group again.

I'm not saying that there aren't some real schmucks out there, just that they're rarer than we think. But how to make that clear to John Q. Public?

#3 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 03:21 PM:

"Common" is a good starting point-- because more and more, there is no common starting point. There seems to be quite literally no common point we can all coalesce behind, up to and including simple facts of science like whether the moon affects the tides, let alone common ideals.

Moreoever, there are millions of bad actors who go out of their way to refudiate [sic] any number of simple facts, and due to a quirk of the human mind, the minute someone says "A does not equal A", a percentage of the population will doubt their own lying eyes-- at the very least, they think they should be taught the controversy.

I'm not sure where to start, but confronting contradictions and calling bullshit on them always seems to be a place to start.

#4 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 03:37 PM:

Ginger (and I've been pondering this for a long time) the problem seems to be the definition of evil. and the use of it by those who are (I think) cynically defining it in ways which line their pockets.

Limbaugh, et al., are saying that anyone who doesn't want to cut taxes and pledge to strip gov't of power (I say pledge because the "small gov't" types have done the most, in my lifetime, to make the gov't more powerful/intrusive) is Evil, with a capital E and rymes with P and that stands for Porn; or what have you.

Obama isn't a socialist. Hell, Edwards wasn't a socialist, and he was a hell of a lot more, "liberal" than Obama ever pretended to be.

But put a (D) behind your name and the ilk of Coulter, Savage, Reagan, Palin, Tancredo, Santorum, Armey, and a host of others will paint you as wanting to make Stalin the President for Life.

Then the fellow travellers, the Broders of the world, touted as liberals, will say the actual Liberals need to be, "bi-partisan" and "centrist" and "meet the Republicans halfway".

Which hasn't worked at all. When the Republicans are out of power they are obstructionist; claiming they have to answer to their constituents. When they are in power they say the Dems have to be accommodating; and answer to, "the will of the people."

The pundit class never call them on this. The background radiation is that only Conservatives have real values. Only Conservatives are entitled to have their philosophic ideas listened to.

Scalia says women aren't really citizens; no one (at the headline level) calls him on it. Feminists say women are entitled to all the rights of any other citizen, and get called shrill.

Sadly, I don't see a way to fix it. The people with the money, who own the "presses" are, at best conservative, and more commonly seem reactionary. They skew polls and slant facts.

They have managed to co-opt enough of the system that they are in place to have control of the flow of ideas, in ways which they didn't before. I can print broadsheets at home.

I can put them on the signposts and posting boards of my neighborhood. If I don't have a neutral net, I may not be able to make them more widespread than that.

I'm worried.

#5 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 03:44 PM:

I agree that the basic problem is not hate or intolerance, it's the gaming of the system by people who use other people's hate and intolerance to poison political discourse so as to create a zero-sum game and force a win in it, where before there was a positive-sum game. Historically, the solution to this sort of gaming is to explicitly recognize it and add checks and balances to the system to neutralize it. Unfortunately, that requires enough political will to fix the problem, and the political power to overcome the gamers, who will naturally resist any fix that reduces their power.

Right now it's clear that none of the branches of the US government have that will, and not enough of the populace recognizes the problem that a grass-roots movement can affect the same kind of change. I hope that the shootings in Arizona can change this by forcing some public recognition of the problem, but I fear it's going to take a lot more than that. I'm not sure if I'm being optimistic in saying that I think a much worse event could actually cause change.

#6 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 03:57 PM:

Along with what Terry said above, Lance Mannion wrote a post this morning about the Right and its desire to move back to a time when "America was all that was bright and beautiful in the world" and its struggles against progress.

#7 ::: James Davis Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 03:59 PM:

The usual result of the Tragedy of the Commons seems to be privatizing the common resource, which always sounds to me like fixing crumpled origami with a blowtorch.

Reading Hardin's essay may explain why it turns out that way:

The purpose of the essay and the sort of people who invoke it having actually read it first is justify control of previously unregulated resources, particularly reproductive capabilities.

Note, for example, that when Hardin wrote

"The rebuttal to the invisible hand in population control is to be found in a scenario first sketched in a little-known pamphlet (6) in 1833 by a mathematical amateur named William Forster Lloyd (1794-1852)"

in his run up to

"The most important aspect of necessity that we must now recognize, is the necessity of abandoning the commons in breeding. No technical solution can rescue us from the misery of overpopulation. Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all."

Warren Thompson's work had been in print for three decades. I will not insult you by explaining who Warren Thompson was.

#8 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 04:07 PM:

Arizona will, I am afraid, lead to more security theater and a greater distancing of the most responsive aspect of the federal gov't from the body politic it is supposed to serve.

#9 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 04:15 PM:

Sorry. I think you're dead wrong. Since the repeal of the fairness doctrine, our airwaves aren't "the commons" anymore. It's more like, "No Dogs or Liberals On The Grass." When the fairness doctrine was in force we didn't have hate radio because someone with the opposite point of view would show up the next day and explain why the hater was/is a jerk. Now that the fairness doctrine is gone, every media outlet has a rightwing blowtard on staff who gets a couple hours every day to spew the latest corporate pro-feudal vitriol and is never contradicted. It's not a commons because the commoner is never allowed to comment.

#10 ::: Andrew Shellshear ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 04:19 PM:

Perhaps education is the most useful resource here.

Most hatred and distortion is easy to refute. Ethics and logic classes from primary school to university can give people the tools and curiosity necessary.

In Australia, ethics classes were recently introduced (as an alternative to religious education, but that's another story). They're quite popular with students, I think.

#11 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 04:23 PM:

Actually the policy to solve the problem is fairly straightforward, though like all actual solutions faces almost insuperable political barriers to passage by those who benefit from the way things are.

The problem with the media is not a problem with the commons, but a problem that we already privatized. The most profitable media are on public airwaves and over wireless spectrumm and on cable that runs over public rights of way. We could consitutionally impose not only net neutrality but the old fairness doctrine and even stronger access and freedom of speech requirements. Even when it comes to print media, the deductibility of advertising and public relations as expenses only came about in the 20th century. Until then they were considered capital investments and had to be amortized.

Advertising supported media is horribly destructive of the commons. With advertising the reader, viewer, listener, audience whatever are not customers. We are the product. The advertisers are the customers. And the content? That's just bait.

Now advertising is supposed to be a great benefit in access. We get media for free! or at least cheaper than otherwise. But it is really not cheap or free. The cost of advertising is built into the cost of the products that advertise. (All of them). If you buy a product that advertises on the Fox News you are paying the costs of running Fox News whether you ever watch it or not. And when we enjoy "free" advertiser supported media, we are just enjoying media that has already been paid for - by ourselves or perhaps by others.

So the solution: put a tax on advertising and public relations, the proceeds of which can be used to purchases non-advertising supported media. I would add that NPR and PBS style "enhanced sponsorship" would count as advertising for these purposes.

A more sophisticated take on this: Robert McChesney and John Nichols have proposed a whole series of comparable reforms in their 2010 book "The Death and Life of American Journalism: the Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again. "

History of how media in the U.S. has always received large public subsidies, and more sophisticated policy proposals than the above.

#12 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 04:24 PM:

Alex R @9:

But radio is not the entirety of our political discourse. This, here, right now, is a piece of the commons. So are a newspaper article; a conversation in a grocery store; the entire published works of Barack Obama, Ann Coulter and Paul Krugman; The West Wing; 24, Wag the Dog; and Team America: World Police.

#13 ::: EldonHughes ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 04:26 PM:

The hatemongering and the shredded level of what passes for political discussion these days is, imo, just a side effect of our civil and societal discussions. We've got to demand better of ourselves, and let it be known that we expect better from our institutions -- education, local govt. et al.

#14 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 04:26 PM:

Keep in mind that what most modern people are talking about when they say "the tragedy of the commons" is an essay written in 1968, by an ecologist. He was using an inaccurate description of medieval land tenure as a metaphor for human overpopulation. The metaphor has since been picked up by free-market advocates to argue in favor of market-based solutions to various problems, and by capitalists (pretending to be free-market advocates) to argue in favor of private market enclosure (which they pretend is a market-based solution).

Actually existing historical commons were regulated by local rules and customs to prevent over-grazing: "...and if any tenant on the west side of the Waver do keep more cattle on the common than his stint he payeth agistment...".

#16 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 04:34 PM:

I really like Kyndra's comment @2. The Commons is not static. It is a manifestation of what we do together and how we do it. (See Community.) It always can be revitalized.

#17 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 04:43 PM:

Abi @ 12

But radio is not the entirety of our political discourse.

First, hate radio and Fox News are the root of the problem.

Second, try going onto Red State or Daily Kos with a contradictory point of view - both are essentially "walled gardens," as is "Making Light."

#18 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 04:47 PM:

Avram, ecologists are ignorant of Hobdens.

#19 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 04:58 PM:

Alex R @17, what do you mean by "walled garden"? Do you mean something negative by it? What are the implications of calling something a "walled garden" in a context where someone is already using the unregulated use of a common pasture as a metaphor?

#20 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 05:00 PM:

Dave Bell @18, so am I.

#21 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 05:11 PM:

Alex R #17: Making Light is anything but a "walled garden". If anything it is more like a mediæval common (where all in the village could share in the pasturage as long as they abided by the rules that they all too part in enforcing) than like the lord's demesne walled off and guarded. An even better analogy is the Tribunal de les Aigües, the Water Court, which has been sitting in Valencia for the past thousand years and which uses common sense and sound peasant judgment to decide on the allocation of irrigation water in the Vega de Valencia.

#22 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 05:14 PM:

I think the fundamental "walling of the commons" is not Fox news - only a late manifestation. It is the move to advertiser supported media facilitated by our tax code. And it is the giving away of new media commons to large corporations in the form of electronic spectrum and rights of way which began with radio, continued with TV, cable and wireless spectrum. Our current almost non-existent net neutrality rules continue that.

Also cheap postal rates for periodicals and government printing contracts once provided subsidies to media that no longer exist - other than continued cheap postal rates for very very large periodicals. So it is not a tragedy of the commons, which is correctly being dismissed as historically inaccurate in any case. It is a tragedy of the privatization of the commons, which in the case of media began in the early 20th century.

We had a commons. It was stolen a bit at a time over the course of a century or a bit more. It can be reclaimed.

#23 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 05:14 PM:

Paradoxically, your use of the fraudulent “Tragedy of the Commons” is an accurate metaphor.
The institution of the commons functioned well for a millenium. Then technologic and economic change made it profitable for the powerful few to exterminate the institution, which they did.
Similarly, the eradication of decency, respect, and sanity has not “just happened”, but has been engineered for the short-term gain of the few.

In conclusion, this is a potential throw of the dice that could bring the media on our heads, and cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half.
-- Pat Buchanan, then a White House staffer for Richard Nixon, 1972, on 'positive polarization'
Time of Illusion, Jonathan Schell, p. 185

#24 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 05:25 PM:

There's always a way to game the system, and that's what seems to me to be going on. And the change that will make a long-term difference is to build a community that points to the gaming and discourages it. It has to start locally. And not supporting those who have "gotten ahead" through gaming is one part of the approach.

I think we'd benefit, culturally, from paying attention to ethics (and morals) more than rules for a while.

#25 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 05:30 PM:

By "walled garden" I mean that certain people are discouraged from posting. On Daily Kos and Red State people from the opposite political view are made very, very unwelcome. On "Making Light" there is also a form of selection at work, though it is a bit more subtle. Making Light polarizes towards sophisticated science fiction readers with college (or college equivalent) educations, very strong web-style social skills, knowledge of the classics and a political outlook that (at the very, very least) accepts as a strong possibility that J. Random Liberal could be right.

The only right-winger I can think of who might be a good fit here is Tom Kratman, who for all of his completely Neanderthal viewpoint appears to be a major mensch.

#26 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 05:58 PM:

Incitement as such is a major problem for the Internet, not just for the right. People need to think hard about the extent to which they encourage people to do something they would not like to be caught at themselves.

#27 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 06:00 PM:

Alex R @25: such selection can be a good thing, rather like those rules that actually kept the Commons working. "A political outlook that accepts the possibility that J. Random Participant might be right" probably reflects the outlook here better, though: a well-argued conservative viewpoint gets quite a lot of consideration here. And poorly-argued liberal points get shot down regularly, usually with better arguments in favor of the same point.

#28 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 06:04 PM:

Alex R. @ 25:
Making Light polarizes towards sophisticated science fiction readers
(My emphasis).

Your use of the word "polarizes" is risible here. Making Light is a community of people with some common interests, that's not "polarization" or anything remotely like it. Is Popular Photography polarized because it publishes articles about photography? Is Engadget polarized because the discussions of its posts center around consumer electronic products?

#29 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 06:10 PM:

By expecting a certain level of civility in comments, we're apparently shutting out non-liberal thought, which cannot exist without rudeness and personal attacks, eh?

The walls I see here are requirements not to make such attacks, and the injunction is applied across the spectrum.

#30 ::: jame ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 06:11 PM:

Despair. Not much hope for positive change. Not enough money to buy a voice loud enough to be heard. Life in this country for those who make $50,000 and way under is about to get a lot harder.

#31 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 06:25 PM:

Limbaugh and crew couldn't have gotten any traction if they didn't have large audiences.

How do you discourage low-quality but popular discourse without serious infringements on liberty?

#32 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 06:27 PM:

Alex R @25, are you saying this is a problem?

To extend the commons metaphor a bit, what you seem to want (or at least, the opposite of what you seem to be describing) is a Hardin-style commons, the anything-goes, no-rules pasture of myth, doomed to end in a war of all-against-all. Making Light is, instead, a managed pasture, like the actually-existing historical commons that lasted until they were gobbled up by wealthy interests.

#33 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 06:29 PM:

Nancy @31, also ask: How do you allow low-quality but popular discourse without serious infringements on liberty?

#34 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 06:42 PM:

Just as a general rule of thumb, I view any attempt at limiting speech as something to ward off. Provocative, inflammatory discourse is ugly; trying to prevent it is uglier still.

If we try to bring back a Fairness Doctrine or something similar, it's an admission that our rhetoric is weaker and less effective than theirs. No matter how noble the intention, its a road we shouldn't go down.

#35 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 06:49 PM:

Steve C @34: I think there are many unexamined and unwanted consequences of your stance in favor of unfettered speech. Among other things, it favors bullying.

I believe that no idea should be unspeakable, but that certain styles of speech should be roundly discouraged and even condemned. Any point may be made; any point should be heard. And not all styles of presentation are equally acceptable. And that it's appropriate for different venues to encourage different styles, particularly if they allow all ideas to get a fair viewing under their own rules of what type of discourse is okay.

#36 ::: Alex R ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 06:50 PM:

I don't object to the "walled garden" aspect of Making Light. All the rules that make it a "walled garden" also make it a good place to read and post. I check this blog daily for new content and take what I read here very seriously, in large part due to the rules both written and unwritten. Patrick and Teresa have created a very nice place and I like it a lot.

What I am trying to point out affirmatively is that the Internet has very few places where Greens, Libertarians, Republicans, Birchers, etc., are all comfortable posting their points of view and all expect a polite response to the substance of their ideas. Thus calling the Internet as a whole "a commons" is not appropriate. Even places that are fairly open, like Making Light tend to self-select for a particular sort of people, so it is not a "commons" either.

As I said, I do know one right-winger who would probably be very welcome here, but he is an unusual kind of bird.

#37 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 06:56 PM:

For me, the aftermath in "The Commons" on the Arizona shootings (as reported by Digby) just reinforces a gut feeling that U.S. evolution into plutocracy (which some others here may feel bears strongly on the "tragedy"), is not going to be reversed in my lifetime.

I'm finding my lost optimism, today, over at Ken MacLeod's place. I've always been a closet socialist who lacks the stamina and dedication to put my money where my typing fingers are.

So, a possible question for discussion (I might learn something from discussion of it, anyway): are there citable instances of degeneration of the "Commons" in socialist societies that seriously match what we're now seeing in the United States?

#38 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 07:18 PM:

"On "Making Light" there is also a form of selection at work, though it is a bit more subtle."

Absolutely. I haven't read a political thread here since a memorable thread a few years back on whether it was a good idea to warn somebody of a conservative political persuasion of a publishing scam; opinions varied but the general tone, which worked from the assumption "since they're jerks" turned me off to the point where I've avoided them ever since.

There is a decided anti-conservative streak among the posters here. Most don't let it get too bad, but life's too short to read vitriol.

Aaaand there's always the thought that pops to mind when I post something like this, which is that people will assume I'm defending conservatives because I am one. Which is kind of a disturbing thing to worry about--if I were conservative, why should I have to be ashamed of it?--so just assume I'm whatever political group you hate most. It'll save time.

I hate it when people say, "Sorry that I'm a [group member]" or "I disagree, but I'm still [group member]!" It's usually not germane to the discussion at hand.

#39 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 07:19 PM:

Most of the people here are known to each other. They're old friends. Some may have nicknames, but ML isn't an anonymous community. It's anonymity in blogs and forums that spawns some of the most hateful stuff that I have read on the Internet.

The ease of electronic publishing lends a superficial credibility to ideas that would otherwise have been scrawled in purple crayon on ruled paper, typed in single-space type to the extreme margins,* or spraypainted on walls.

Anonymity invites people to post things they would never say to people in face-to-face situations.

How this anonymity relates to the celebrity professional haters such as Coulter, Limbaugh, and Beck, I'm not sure, but the two groups seem to reflect and legitimate each other (legitimate to each other, not the rest of us).

*I have worked as a librarian and archival assistant. In the archive of a famous civil rights lawyer, I came across a number of letters written by schizophrenic mentally ill people who believed they were being persecuted and begged him to defend them. These letters from the 1950s and 60s were invariably in single space type with zero margins.

#40 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 07:23 PM:

Alex R: I am not sure quite what I think is going on in your examples.

There are any number of places the "right" feel comfortable espousing their opinions. I see them doing it in all sorts of "liberal" venues.

HuffPo has a large contingent of non-liberal, and non-left commenters. A fair number of them are moderators. Moderators on HuffPo are selected from active participants who have shown a level of discernment about what makes for unnacceptable discourse on HuffPo.

Mediaite is a fairly liberal site. Comments there are decidely not "left-wing" I've pretty much given up on posting in the comment threads there because it's (by my lights) toxic. It's not toxic to the level of LGF, or Free Republic, but to be in support of anything left of the present center is to be scorned and abused by a significant number of the regulars.

I am told Kos, and Firedoglake (which I used to take part in, but can't keep up with, and so have stopped) are places where being a Conserative is impossible. Maybe. I know that any number of conservatives are (or were) regulars on Hullabaloo.

So I'm not seeing the lack of outlet for right of center believers to take part in the discussion.

As to ML: Yes, I do think it self-selects. It's primary self selection is for reasoned argument. We have a number of regulars who are to the right of the general consensus. We have a few who are quite far to the right.

We also have some who are a fair bit to the left, which says a lot because yes, the mean here is a bit left of the present center.

But is is, as Avram said, more a case of this being a commons than of it being a walled garden. Anyone can come in. Anyone may take part. They get just as much soapbox as anyone else (i.e. as much as they want to type until they win us over, decide they can't, wear out their welcome through rudeness or inability to let things which ought to be left alone alone (the last is almost never without warning, nor discussion).

I've been on the winning side of some arguments, and on the losing side. Most importantly, I've rarely felt it was a "fight" but rather an argument. Attempts to persuade through reason.

Do conservatives have a tough row to hoe? Yes. But it's because the bar for argument is high. A lot of the people here are well read. We know the tricks of rhetoric; cards are hard to palm, and it's rare that someone will let faulty logic, or poor argument slide; even when the person palming the card is on their side.

If I had to sum up the principal principle of debate here, it's "Say what you mean. Bear Witness. Iterate."

If that makes someone uncomfortable, so be it.

#41 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 07:34 PM:

Glenn Hauman @ 3: ""Common" is a good starting point-- because more and more, there is no common starting point. There seems to be quite literally no common point we can all coalesce behind, up to and including simple facts of science like whether the moon affects the tides, let alone common ideals."

The problem of how to create a common set of ideas among a population is one of the great unsolved problems of human society. The historical attempts to do it--positivism, science, nationalism, etc.--have all foundered in one way or another, not the least because people are increasingly doubtful that universal values are a goal we ought to be pursuing at all. Another question might be, how can we create systems by which we can all coexist while sharing as little common ground as possible?

Fragano Ledgister @ 21: "Making Light is anything but a "walled garden". If anything it is more like a mediæval common (where all in the village could share in the pasturage as long as they abided by the rules that they all too part in enforcing) than like the lord's demesne walled off and guarded."

Making Light is a walled garden--or someone's living room, to employ the metaphor that's more often used around here. The point is that this place is owned, and the owners have an absolute right and power to limit what goes on here. That sounds a lot more like a lord's demesne than a medieval common, administered by the community as a whole.

I have no problem with that--I for one welcome our benevolent Nielsen Hayden overlords--but ML is not an example of a social system whose virtues emerge purely from self-regulation. The exact same system, run by petty, venal people, would be wholly intolerable to reside in.

#42 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 07:46 PM:

#39 ::: sara:

I don't think it's a matter of people being known to each other so much as what the policies are.

Less Wrong seems to have a high proportion of people who've only met each other on the blog, but courtesy is pushed hard, and maintained quite well.

The same applies to Steve Barnes' venues (previously at Dar Kush, but now most of the conversation is at facebook.

#43 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 08:09 PM:

Alex R. at #25: My libertarian opinions don't fit into the prevailing liberal trend here at Making Light, but I don't see this as any sort of walled garden. If you want to know what a walled garden looks like, check out Free Republic—I was banned as soon as I spoke favorably of the ACLU.

#44 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 08:09 PM:

Heresiarch #41: In a mediæval English manorial village, the entire village would be subject to the lord of the manor (indeed, it would be all owned by him), but the village common was used by the villagers in common and regulated by them in common. That's what I meant.

The enclosure movement which turned large numbers of English (and later on Scottish) peasants into proletarians by fencing off common lands and turning them into pasturage into the lords' sheep was a matter of the owners of the land taking their own and putting it to their use rather than allowing the villagers to continue to put it to common use. Thus the famous metaphor of England being a country where the sheep ate the people.

#45 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 08:28 PM:

On the historic commons, reputedly from a 17th century English protest rhyme:

"The law doth punish man or woman
That steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
That steals the common from the goose."

People at the time had a perfectly good idea what was going on.

#46 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 08:47 PM:

Like many others, I believe the key lies in reclaiming the media (and all the other bits of your culture-generating apparatus you've handed over) from the corporate machines. This will mean (in the beginning) more government regulation. But consider this - where do the numbers which "prove" the popularity of things like Rush Limbaugh's radio show come from? Are they measured by the radio stations (which need to prove high listener numbers in order to sell advertising space) or are they measured by an impartial third party? Where do circulation figures for newspapers come from? How about viewer number figures for television? How many people sit through the film previews and ads?

Even changing the system just enough to provide accurate information to advertisers about how many people consume which media might be enough to start the change. Particularly if this information starts measuring how many people don't actually consume various media - how many people have switched off their radios, how many people have stopped watching television, how many people don't get the newspapers any more, how many people avoid the cinemas. Sometimes, showing a negative demand can be just as useful as showing a positive one.

Yes, it might be harder to do - proving a lack of something isn't easy. But even things like polling people for wish lists of what they might like to see in the media that isn't there now, or similar, would be a good place to start.

It's worth noting the Australian media is almost totally controlled by a handful of people, all of them our super-rich. I gave up on the majority of it when I realised I wasn't interested in the stuff it had to offer, regardless of how much I (in my demographic form) "wanted" to see it. Among the things I'd like to see would be a newspaper or television show seriously critiquing the various federal and state governments, regardless of political orientation; links to original papers in online science journalism; further reading lists for written journalism; a lot more "just the facts" reporting; a lot less "reality television"; and a lot less of the various talking heads telling me what I should think all the time.

#47 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 08:59 PM:

Kos and FDL have never claimed to be anything but liberal, and most conservatives who show up are clearly not interested in anything but trouble-making. Those that can actually post reasonable comments are, if not welcome, then tolerated.
(At FDL, the Lurking Mods come down on anyone suggesting violence against anyone - they'll edit comments, and leave a note that they did. At Kos, there are rules about what can and can't be done; some things are bannable offenses, like conspiracy theories.)

#48 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 09:20 PM:

I've long thought that'd we had a problem with our political/media ecology, but comparing it to the Commons never occurred to me. Interesting point.

* * *

I've noticed that the broadcast networks have pretty much given up on journalism.

They still have nightly news broadcasts, and morning "news" shows (which have largely devolved into a form of women's programming*), and Sunday talking head shows . . . but they really don't do journalism. The weekly magazine shows seem to be devoted to sensational crime stories. 60 Minutes shows celebrity profiles, an occasional tepid investigative piece, and polite interviews with politicians.

The seem to strive to be inoffensive, and broadly and blandly appealing. A corner of the commons covered with thriving grass with no nutritional value.

#49 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 09:32 PM:

#48: Whoops, forgot to account for the asterisk:

"Women's programming," as in "what we think women want to see." Wedding porn, ultra-lightweight celebrity interviews, trivial stories about health and fitness.

You've probably seen it.

#50 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 09:48 PM:

Because women aren't supposed to be interested in anything serious, I take it.

#51 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 09:58 PM:

>"if we try to bring back a Fairness Doctrine or something similar, it's an admission that our rhetoric is weaker and less effective than theirs"

The fairness doctrine never banned speech. It simply forced networks who presented a point of view to give time to an alternative point of view. That was never requirement for facts. But if they presented an opinion they had to give time to an alternative opinion. That was a fair requirement in return for use of public airwaves with capacity for a small number of channels and was never applied to cable because of the larger amount of capacity available.

Net neutrality also bans nothing. All it does is require carriers like comcast not to descriminate against various of traffic based on viewpoint or commercial relationship. Net neutrality would even allow carriers to treat different *types* of traffic differently so long as they did not discriminate within a type. So they could not discriminate between different types of 2-way hi-def video so long as they treated all 2-way hi-def video alike - i.e. did not discriminate between Skype and other video chat services. But they could treat hi-def video chat differently from one way streaming. In all cases these promote free speech they do not suppress it. They just recognize that a major corporate media giant is different from Making Light, and has obligations not suppress free speech. Making Light is too small to suppress speech even if they wanted to. It is not free speech if one side has a major TV channel and the other has a soap box on the corner. Soapbox owners who share the use of their soapbox have different affects on free speech and thus different obligations that Television channel owners.

As to working more on attitudes than rules I think it is possible to do both. But I think things like an advertising tax are essential. The idea that all rules can be 100% gamed is an argument against politics, an argument for change through personal transformation and nothing else. I will say that I doubt we would see corporate billions directed towards securing rule changes in their favor if the corporados did not believe that rules do in fact constrain them. I can't see how proposal like an advertising tax directed towards vouchers that could buy non-advertised could NOT affect the media environment if it passed.

Here is a way to look at it. Shakespeare's Globe theater had to compete against bear baiting pits! And he succeeded because even if more people like the bear baiting, enough like plays (at least sometimes) to pay to see them. And the atmosphere in the globe was tough. Peddlars strode among the audience selling sausages and what have you. Orange girls sometimes sold oranges, sometimes themselves. But I doubt the Globe could have survived if the rule at that time was that audience entered the play or bear baiting for free, and the players or bear baiters made their money by payments from the sausage sellers and orange girls!

#52 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 09:59 PM:

This is as good a place as any to mention that at one of my current jobs, I have to access AOL for e-mail. Setting aside how much I hate AOL's e-mail system, the sheer inanity of the "news" items that pop up on the front page is depressing. I'm constantly asking myself whether I care about any of the stuff they highlight.

MSN and Yahoo are no better.

These are the homepages for millions of people, including some of considerable intelligence, and they're distracted by celebrity weight-loss tips.

Imagine if these websites had news on their news pages.

#53 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 10:13 PM:

Megan Thornton@46: The systems for measuring magazine, newspaper, TV, and radio audience largely are independent, or at least have an independent third-party component. For magazines, it was always the "Audit Bureau of Circulation" (ABC). For TV, of course, it's the Nielsen ratings (no relation?).

The reason for this, of course, is that the advertisers are very well aware of the incentive for the media companies to over-state their audience size, because it directly affects their advertising rates.

#54 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 10:48 PM:

#52: Yeah, tell me about it. Here are the top stories on the AOL webmail front page:

* Intern hailed as hero in Arizona shooting
* The Must-See movies of 2011
* Can't Sleep? Blame your bedroom
* "We're all still quite overwhelmed" (Ellen DeGeneres helps out struggling family)
* Mad Men actress can protect you
* 10 Home heating mistakes to avoid
* What to ask yourself before you buy ("They're red. They're gorgeous. And they're on sale. But do they really belong in your closet?")
* Michael Vick's Rally Falls short

#55 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 10:55 PM:

Terry Karney @ 40:

Alex R: I am not sure quite what I think is going on in your examples.

Terry, I'm continuing my disagreement with Avi, more or less as follows:

1.) The Internet is not a commons. It is a series of privately-owned places, much like the "living room" one of the other posters mentioned.

2.) The ability to speak your mind on any single place on the Internet doesn't give nearly the "volume" of being able to speak your mind on talk radio, particularly on a syndicated show.

3.) Without the fairness doctrine, we have lost whatever aspect of "commonality" may have been available from the major media.

If I were to take my idea to its ultimate end, I'd note that without the fairness doctrine we have lost the ability to control our society by putting negative feedback into the control loop, such that we have a society that is controlled only by positive feedback. At the moment we are providing positive feedback to rightwing insanity at an amazing rate, and I suspect that the problem will go exponential very, very soon.

I'm not trying to get in anyone's face or attack a particular website. I simply feel that the analogy of the "commons" doesn't hold. For the most part our media, even that media we agree with, is privately owned and there is no obligation on anyone's part to permit speech which contradicts their point of view.

#56 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 11:27 PM:

You know, speaking of the topic at hand - protecting the Commons [public discourse] from being privatized and/or poisoned -

Warren Thompson's work had been in print for three decades. I will not insult you by explaining who Warren Thompson was.

...says James Davis Nicoll, who by this communicates his absolute intention to insult anyone who doesn't know who Warren Thompson is. Such people should be ashamed of their ignorance, and should not consider themselves welcome in any ensuing discussion. Further, Mr. Nicoll seems to assume that his audience, or at least those he's willing to converse with (i.e. those not so contemptible as to need Warren Thompson explained), share his contempt for those who need an explanation, because he supposes they share with him the belief that such an explanation would be an insult.

Which assumption makes me feel insulted twice over, let me tell you.

I can't adequately explain how much I loath that construction and its clear intent to silence.

I also can't adequately express how much I appreciate how an atmosphere of mutual respect makes me feel unashamed of innocent ignorance and thus able to alleviate it by asking questions which this community will genially answer. Or, in a pinch, I have many times inadvertently revealed my ignorance by speaking from it; the folks here have gently corrected me without any perceivable intent to cause me shame. That doesn't stop me from being embarrassed, of course, but knowing that no one here wishes me shame for my ignorance, that's balm for any embarrassment.

Well, Mr. Nicoll wishes me to feel ashamed, but he wishes it so obviously and with such arrogance that I find it hard to respect his opinion enough to comply.

Y'know, I've got Google. I can look up a lot of things I don't know. But if Mr. Nicoll had just left that last sentence out, it would never have occurred to me that needing to Google Warren Thompson were considered shameful by anyone.

Arrgh and gah and suchlike.

Also: abi, I dearly love it when you quote Beagle. "I'll make you a bad poet with dreams, you mess with me."

#57 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 11:36 PM:

By the way, there are enough notable Warren Thompsons for Wikipedia to have a disambiguation page for the name.

#58 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 11:55 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @ 56


#59 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2011, 11:56 PM:

Gar Lipow @ 51:
The fairness doctrine never banned speech. It simply forced networks who presented a point of view to give time to an alternative point of view.

This required them to do something even more basic that's not done anymore: they had to label what was a point of view and what was a recital of facts. Not that they were always completely honest about this, but most so-called journalism propagated by the mass media today is opinion, whether that of the medium or of the sources they get their "facts" from.

That's the first thing we need to do: make it illegal to state an opinion in any public medium without labeling it so (and estab lish a regulatory agency that does fact- and source-checking as required to enforce that). That doesn't affect the content of anyone's speech because they can say whatever they like, they just can't claim it as fact if it isn't, so it can't become a First Amendment issue.

#60 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 12:06 AM:

#56: Ah, so I wasn't the only one.

#61 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 12:28 AM:

Warren Thompson, the guy who owns Shoney's Restaurants? I didn't know he wrote a book, but wow! I bet he has some interesting things to say about the hospitality industry.

#62 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 12:39 AM:

If one actually succeeds in imposing a new Fairness Doctrine on AM talk radio (and that's ALL you can aim at, because Fox News is a cable network, and broadcast licenses don't apply), the end result will not be fairness in political discourse with balanced viewpoints. You don't get three hours of Rush or Hannity followed by three hours of Keith Olbermann. You don't get political commentary at all, because you won't get the audience, and if you don't get the audience, the radio stations don't get the money.

You'll get endless sports chatter and inane robo-stations playing whatever flavor of music, and 20 minutes of commercials per hour.

#63 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 01:17 AM:

The media already has the problem (which I think I've seen decried here, and I know I've seen decried elsewhere) where they give equal time to people on either side of a matter of fact, thereby giving credence to people who believe completely ridiculous and easily falsifiable things. I worry that a new fairness doctrine would just make that tendency more pronounced.

An article under the headline "Heated argument at meeting over sky color controversy", to pick an almost completely ridiculous example, will almost always contain "'It's obvious for anyone to see that the sky is blue,' said Crowthers, who was present at the meeting as the head of the scientists' group. 'All they have to do is go outside and look up.' 'It's clear that supporters of the so-called blue sky have done no such thing,' counters Bob Sanderson, founder of the International Mauve Sky Movement. 'Anyone who actually looks can see that the sky is a delicate shade of mauve.'" More seriously, I read a CNN piece on the manufactured controversy over vaccines recently that left me in serious doubt as to whether the lead investigator on the paper which supposedly showed a link between MMR and autism had actually taken tens of thousands of pounds from a lawyer working on a lawsuit over vaccines, which is a matter of public record, because they kept quoting the guy denying it. (Turns out he did take the money, but I had to dig through the original source to figure that out.)

This is further complicated in areas of scientific enquiry, where there are facts and there are theories and there are beliefs, and the popular understanding seems to equate all three of those things when they're in fact quite distinct. I'm afraid that anyone labeling opinions as Bruce Cohen @59 suggests would be forced to label the theory of evolution as such. It seems like people don't deal with uncertainty (or, more accurately, conditional probability) well.

The problem, as this post lays it out, is that the Right likes its hate radio. I'm not sure how you make someone not like something any more. Progressives, over the past fifty years, have managed to persuade the Right that racism is bad, but we couldn't by so doing make them not be racists -- as evidenced by them falling all over themselves to claim that they're not racists every time they make a racist remark. On some level hatred and racism fill very real underlying needs they have, and we need to figure out how to help them fill those needs in ways less destructive of society. For example, though I don't personally follow sports much, I'm glad they exist, because I think they provide some relatively harmless outlet for some of these tendencies. I don't know what the equivalent to sports is in the political arena (pun intended).

I'm worried that just calling the Right on their violent rhetoric isn't going to make the Right less likely to want to engage in violent rhetoric on its own -- they've shown themselves pretty unresponsive to shame. Which is not to say that we shouldn't call the Right on their violent rhetoric -- I think it's long-overdue, in fact! -- but that we need to supplement that with something else. We need to give them an alternative to violent rhetoric that lets them feel good about themselves, and not at our expense.

Meg Thornton @46: This will mean (in the beginning) more government regulation.

I think if you're waiting for more government regulation to fix this, you're going to be waiting for a long time, judging by the current political climate and the amount of control the powerful people who profit from the status quo have over the political climate. Any real change is going to have to come from the grassroots, which is why I'm cautiously optimistic about things like Wikileaks having the power to improve journalism, and why I get so much of my news these days from blogs, including, of course, Making Light. I'm not sure what change the grassroots can effect to improve the political climate in the US, but I'd sure like to generate some ideas.

#64 ::: Dave Luckett doesn't see spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 02:05 AM:

Kevin, for thoughtful discussion on the social effects of sports, see Pratchett's "Unseen Academicals". The treatise on supermodels is lagniappe.

#65 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 02:41 AM:

In re the environment of Making Light:

I love Making Light as a community and if I had to name one site or newsgroup that I thought of as my online home, this would be it. With that said, I feel the need to point out that this is a place where expressions of naked hatred for the Bush Administration and even the Republican Party in general are tolerated. They don't get a big chorus of agreement, but they don't get much in the way of disagreement either.

#66 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 02:50 AM:

Returning finally to the OP...

And I don’t have a solution. The usual result of the Tragedy of the Commons seems to be privatizing the common resource, which always sounds to me like fixing crumpled origami with a blowtorch.

The result of the Tragedy of the Commons is not always privatizing the common resource. In the world of open-source software, or, pace Richard Stallman, Free software or software libre -- the context in which I first heard about the Tragedy -- the result has been to use private-property law to build legal structures that protect the commonality of the commons.

For people not as obsessed with this as I've been, basically the source code of a piece of software is a creative work, like a novel, and is, under current US law, automatically copyrighted to its author. The copyright holder can make the source code publicly available and grant (license) others the legal right to create and release modifications to the software (the term of art is "create a derivative work") under various terms and conditions. There have developed a whole host of different sets of terms and conditions (licenses), some of which stipulate that the source code to the modifications must also be released publicly, thereby maintaining the commons. In fact, companies which modify software released under such an open-source license can be sued under copyright law to force them to release the source code to their modifications. Copyright law, in other contexts a tool by which the commons is destroyed, in this context acts to preserve it.

The true, functioning Commons is always reliant on some mechanism of control for its functioning. Just as freedom of speech doesn't mean the right to say anything anywhere to anyone under any circumstance, one is never actually completely free to do whatever one wishes with a commons, because that results in the Tragedy. Some extrinsic factor needs to raise the costs of irresponsible use to make responsible use the better deal, and property is often used to implement that. A commons controlled by the government (as Alex R seems to suggest @55 with the fairness doctrine) is no more of a commons than a commons controlled by private individuals or corporations. That the commons relies for its existence on private ownership of property doesn't make it any less of a commons, and this is as true of Making Light or the Internet as a whole as it is of free software. Something is a commons independent of who owns it (or whether it is owned at all), and, as heresiarch @41 says, entirely dependent on how it is run.

I don't know what the equivalent of an open-source license for our political discourse is. I don't know that there are structures comparable to copyright law which apply, though there might be, or they might be able to be built. We certainly see countries whose governments have much better control of their political discourse, but I very much don't want us to become more like them. That knife cuts both ways.

When open-source-licensed software wins, it does so by achieving better outcomes than closed-source software, and it requires constant vigilance from people like the EFF and the FSF to protect software released under open-source licenses. By analogy, I think building a new political discourse in our blogs, where violent rhetoric isn't tolerated and by which we manage to get people like Obama elected who believe in that vision of political discourse, is a big part of it, and to my knowledge we haven't yet but we may in the future need organizations to protect blog owners' right to build that discourse.

Dave Luckett @64: Interesting, thank you! I'll have to check it out. I've tired of my to-read shelf full of "improving" books and have been looking for something fun but thoughtful, and of course Pratchett is just the ticket!

#67 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 02:54 AM:

Alex R: The problem is, the commons never was what we think it used to be (largely because of that paper).

The commons was a piece of property the lord of the manor ceded to the populace to make use of; in some very specified ways. It was custom and tradition, but it wasn't "free for all". It was privately owned, and used in common.

Violate the commons, and one got fined, or imprisoned. Here one loses vowels, or gets banned.

I don't argue that talk radio isn't the same as the net; for one thing it's one way, or at most filtered. This is the model for the big right of center websites. If you don't agree, you get banned.

But the differences are vast. If Patrick, Teresa, Jim, abi or Avram, says something we patently (as a community) disagree with, we can. so long as we aren't rude. They can't pull the passive/aggressive shit that Limbaugh perfected of cutting off the mike and finishing our sentences to "explain" what we were saying (i.e. to push a strawman).

But the net isn't the same as the radio. It's not a limited resource. A fairness doctrine (which radio and television need) won't help it.

What the net needs is education in the principles of logic and argument. If reality favors my point of view, then the facts, and reason, are all I need if a logical presentation of them is performed; for those who have eyes to see, and ears to hear.

Why do the people who spout the nonsense of, "The dollar is fiat money and has no value" get away with the appeals to emotion, tautologies, equivocations, question begging, ad hominem, etc.? Because they can. Because we have accepted the nonsense that a liberal arts education (meant to free [i.e. liberate one from manual labor by making one able to use one's mind)is a waste of time and a simple understanding basic grammer, arithmetic and patriotic fables are all one needs.

Absent such skills, the net will not make the situation better, because those who are not able to distinguish fact from rhetoric will continue to fall prey to those who use rhetoric to exploit them.

#68 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 06:18 AM:

Whether it be dollars or euros, you can indeed buy a Fiat with them.

#69 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 07:11 AM:

Avram @20

Here's the source.

It used to be a term used on the newsgroup as well. Might still be so.

#70 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 07:45 AM:

With that said, I feel the need to point out that this is a place where expressions of naked hatred for the Bush Administration and even the Republican Party in general are tolerated.

ISTM that in light of recent events, a phrase like "naked hatred" ought to be used with full realization of the extent of what it can mean, or not at all. It's one thing to say that George W. Bush is a liar and a warmonger, quite another to suggest shooting him, and another thing again to actually do it or attempt to do it. The left rarely passes step 1 on that scale (and I doubt it would be tolerated here if it did), and (AFAIK) has not passed step 2 in living memory.

I have no power to not-tolerate things here, which may be just as well, because I'm about sick enough of false equivalence to start lashing out at it, and it is probably better to just respond with argument.

#71 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 08:30 AM:

With that said, I feel the need to point out that this is a place where expressions of naked hatred for the Bush Administration and even the Republican Party in general are tolerated.

ISTM that, while some, even many commenters here express disapproval of the Bush Administration and the Republican Party, and these expressions are often strongly or even passionately worded, that the moderators are generally quick to express disapproval of wishes of violence directed towards the same, and any commenter who persists in that tends to defend the wishes by bringing out specific examples of violence perpetrated by the administration or party or individual, and casting their wish in terms of "may they experience what they have done to others" -- and that the few commenters who are in the habit of using derogatory names for Bush and the Republican Party have been asked to avoid this practice, not only by moderators but by other commenters, on the grounds that name-calling tends to make them ignore the substance of a post, just because it tends to make the entire post look foolish.

I find this to be rather more measured, on the whole, than the tone of discourse on many right-leaning sites, and also more measured than even certain other left-leaning sites. This is a place where words matter.

#72 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 10:13 AM:


We all find ML more rewarding than most other sites on the internet, as you can see by the fact that we're here and not in one of those other places. I'm not sure how much that, by itself, says about the quality of discussion here. After all, you can say the same about the folks who spend all their time on LGF, or for that matter reading TMZ.

#73 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 10:19 AM:

Terry Karney @ 67

The problem is, the commons never was what we think it used to be (largely because of that paper).

Terry, I'm not worried about the historical commons or misinterpretations thereof. I'm disagreeing with "the commons" as Abi used the word.

"The Tragedy of the Commons" may be contra-factual, but Abi's point is worth discussing in its own terms, so I will hold that "Making Light" and the Internet are not commons as Abi used the word, and are commons as the word was originally used.

#74 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 10:32 AM:

I think the commons abi's talking about is not the broadcast spectrum, or the internet, but rather the whole of our political and social discourse. That's a commons, even if every individual discussion and argument takes place in one of the millions of individually-owned spaces.

Bruce Cohen (and many others) has raised the idea of tasking some government agency with trying to address this, or some part of it. There are a lot of reasons I find that idea wrongheaded, but the most obvious one comes from noticing that right now, in many areas, the mainstream media are *extremely* deferential to government claims and positions w.r.t. national security, terrorism, official secrets, etc. (My sense is that when the Democrats and Republicans are pushing the same direction, the MSM generally falls in line.) It's hard to see how adding some level of government regulation applied to those MSM sources will *decrease* the level of deference.

It's January 2003, and there's a federal agency whose job is to determine what media sources may refer to as fact, and what they must refer to as opinion. A Bush appointee is running that agency. Is the claim of WMDs in Iraq labeled as fact, or as opinion? How about the claim that human CO2 emissions are changing the climate? How about the claim that life on earth arose by evolution? After Obama comes to power, won't a lot of those "opinions" and "facts" change labels?

More broadly, nobody is in control of the nation's or world's political discussions. Nobody owns it, nobody gets to decide which ideas or debating tactics will or won't be permitted. That's the underlying problem. While we can (and need to) come up with ways of addressing the tragedy-of-the-commons problems here, the broad solution of putting someone in charge of policing it seems guaranteed to lead us to disaster.

#75 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 10:43 AM:

chris #70:

You certainly have the power to disagree with wrong things you see. You don't have the power to disemvowel or delete posts, or to ban people from ML. But the moderators here also don't have that power in other places, in general. The whole ML community can be entirely united in thinking that the latest post by Tyler Cowan or Andrew Sullivan is utter garbage, but they can't make them shut up. There is, in general, nobody that can make people they don't like on the internet shut up. The world will become a far worse place when someone can.

I'm convinced that a great deal of the media show surrounding Wikileaks is driven by the desire of many powerful people, for reasons that seem good to them, to become able to tell people they find sufficiently upsetting or offensive on the internet to shut up, and to make that stick. I expect to see serious proposals to do that, using this tragedy, the whole Wikileaks stuff, and whichever the next dozen tragedies and disasters are to justify it. I predict that the push to do that will be bipartisan, and broadly supported by the respectable media.

#76 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 10:50 AM:

There was a time when I had a fair number of Republican friends. At that time, there was such a thing as a Rockefeller Republican (or even a Javits Republican). Around the time that Goldwater Republicans started to dominate the scene, such friendships became harder. Now that Goldwater (who repudiated the John Birch society, who helped to ease Nixon out of office, and who had no brief against gays) represents the far left of Republicanism, it's just about impossible. And if anything, I've drifted a bit to the right over the years myself.

There is simply no equivalent on the left (or what passes for left these days) of the rabid eliminationist rhetoric coming from the right side of the aisle.

#77 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 11:15 AM:

Well, I'm someone who doesn't fit the current D-R division very well: socially somewhat conservative, economically pretty liberal, foreign policy I-don't-know-where. I'm never going to be very happy at the polls, especially now that I've been gerrymandered into a district that's going to vote for the Democrat no matter what.

Partly what bothers me is the anger, which is disproportionate. What disturbs me, though, is the increasingly delusional character of the rhetoric. The hatred of Shrub always seemed over the top to me, but at least people mostly had coherent reasons for their negative reactions. The vitriol against Obama is just crazy, seemingly issuing forth from that woo-woo place where people still pore over the Protocols and worry over fluoridation. (In retrospect, though, the Stalinist-style poster was perhaps a mistake.)

#78 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 11:35 AM:

@71, Rikibeth:

Yes. ISTM that we (practically everyone on ML, even lurkers like me) are aware that Words have Power, and that we have some power over words. We're also rather verbose. For the most part, we don't settle for general condemnation -- of G.W.Bush, Republicans, Conservatives, &cet. -- we attack their specific actions or words, and explain why we dislike these, trying to do this logically (and sometimes at considerable length).

The right-wing media & blogs I've seen tend to go in much more for connotation-laden CodeWords and an emotional approach. I think it's unfortunate that this latter technique works effectively on such a large proportion of the American people, but don't see any practical way to change this.

#79 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 11:38 AM:

The hatred of Shrub always seemed over the top to me

Ah, the de rigueur defense of George W Bush...

#80 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 11:42 AM:

Back it off, Serge. That wasn't a defense of Bush, it was an evaluation of the discourse here, and a perfectly legitimate opinion.

And even if it were a defense of Bush, so what? That's a legitimate part of the discourse, albeit somewhat off-topic for this thread right now.

Tolerate dissent.

#81 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 11:59 AM:

Abi @ 80... Tolerate dissent.


#82 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 12:03 PM:

For the most part, we don't settle for general condemnation -- of G.W.Bush, Republicans, Conservatives, &cet. -- we attack their specific actions or words, and explain why we dislike these, trying to do this logically

Yes, but "for the most part" is important here. For example, in the "Tour of Flammable Topics"--accelerated by the SamChevre.EpicFail interaction--the opinions expressed on "Social Conservatives" ranged from 'demons' to 'merely disastrously maladapted to the modern world and thus dangerous to the world as a whole.'

I can't recall any similarly harsh statement about social liberalism going unchallenged, in the time I've been reading MakingLight.

But I like it that way; I really think that a large group of independently regulated commons will produce better communities, and better societies, than any attempt at a centrally-regulated "commons" would. But that's pretty much going to ensure that there are some "commons" that I find very unpleasant, and some that I think are dangerously wrong.

#83 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 12:25 PM:

I don't entirely buy the analogy between our national political conversation and the commons, but I don't buy it for reasons that give me some hope. Our political conversation, in the broadest sense, is not a finite resource in the way a commons is. (commons are?) The conversation is certainly subject to damage and to poisoning. But it does not get used up. And therefore, to improve it, we do not have to remove the competition. We just have to go around them.

Activists in countries long hostile to political discourse have managed to use the internet to open communication. I was going to say that we have managed to use it to close off communication, but that's not entirely true. It's compartmentalized. I am, of course, not the first one to say so. It makes me think of the xkcd gravity well diagram People who are deep in one of the more poisonous wells of discourse have a great deal of difficulty climbing out, even if there are other, less toxic conversations going on elsewhere.

I seem to be agreeing with SamChevre @82 in that regard.

The problem comes when you have to come back from the compartmentalized conversation to actual decision making, when you do, in fact, have a finite resource - one Congress, one Senate. We are not yet, thank goodness, in the position of competing popes.

Don Fitch @78 talked about CodeWords and emotional appeals. I know I've suggested this book on here before but I'm going to suggest it again. See Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath. See particularly the analogy of the rider and the elephant, where the rider is the logical and reasoned part of us and the elephant is the passion and emotion. The rider provides direction, but the elephant provides the motive power. One of the ways you reach the elephant is with appeals to identity.

#84 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 12:30 PM:

The problem with over-the-top rhetoric is that it sticks out. If one considers a conversation as a pattern of lights, the loud, nasty voices are a lot like a glaring spotlight. Suddenly it's a lot harder to see than the overall glow of the quieter voices.

And sometimes one is tempted to ramp of the candlepower in return. It's like two drivers heading towards each other on a dark night: "If he won't dim his damned high beams, I'll be damned if I dim mine!"

#85 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 01:27 PM:

#63 Kevin
The hatemongers and hateradio lovers sometimes the only approach that work to get a start point for deprogramming, is the Mongo approach.

(Mongo was the big bully terrorizing the town in Blazing Saddles. Mongo was big, Mongo was strong, Mongo was a moron. Trying to reason with Mongo got you trampled and beaten up. The Sheriff then went to drastic measures and did a remote physical attack on Mongo that bruised Mongo without harming a hair on the Sheriff's head. This impressed Mongo, the Sheriff beating up Mongo, got through to Mongo where nothing else ever had....

That was MY experience with schoolyard bullies, so long as it didn't hurt -them- they enjoyed bullying and nothing anyone said could make them stop it. Only if they suddenly either emotionally matured out of bullying=as=gratification states or -their- hides got damaged enough for "pain! I need to avoid doing what causes this pain!" would they stop.

And that is part of why I lack civility towards certain people--because left to their own volition they're not going to stop hurting other people, and be damned if I'm going to waste beign polite to the sorts of people who nearly drove me to suicide through their abusiveness and enjoyment of destroying other people. If I'd called the pieces of shit pieces of shit to their faces outright in public school, there probably would have been less abuse from them, believe or not... they don't respect civility or politeness, and forfeit any rights or consideration for it. They regard it as weakness and only respect, as with Mongo, those who are willing to get as vicious as they are.

Consider it Crazypeople logic--they aren't governed by the rules of "polite society.'

#86 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 01:41 PM:

Boston Common is public land, originally designated as common paturage. Partially for historical legal reasons once a year arrangements bring in cattle to graze on Boston Common....

Avoiding tragedies of the common involves protocols and rules and enforcement of them preventing exploitative use, that destroys access and utility generally for the many.

#87 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 02:01 PM:

Steve C. @62:

I don't like "talk" radio -- I'd much prefer the station* I used listen to go back to playing music, weather reports, news, and that 20 minutes worth of ads, rather than the spew of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity that Clear Channel seems to find so wonderful.

I followed my favorite DJ from WCOL to WTVN way back in the 1970s...but abandoned WTVN once the right wing plague took hold. I rarely listen to radio at all any more -- and then it's WCBE or WOSU. All the hosts I liked have retired, the ones that remain seem to be striving to be clones of the national hosts I loathe.

I was one of those listeners that used to have my radio on all day. No more...


#88 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 02:06 PM:

One of my primary objections to shouting back at the Right is not to do with what it does to the Right—it's to do with what it does to the Left.

It doesn't make us good citizens. It doesn't allow us to listen, to understand our opposition, to find grounds for compromise where it's possible and articulate why it's not when it isn't.

And it gets our aggression up. I think people get addicted to anger, the way they get addicted to any stimulant. There's nothing quite like that rush of righteous fury. But the pleasure pales after a time, and then you have to get angrier to get the same rush. It's a spiral, and not a good one.

(Paula, have you noticed how people react to your diatribes here? How few actually read them, or engage with them? How many will say straight up that your anger and namecalling put them off engaging with your perspectives? And these are the people on your side.)

I also think it gives the Right ammunition to say The Left Does It Too, So Why Should We Stop? And frankly, unless we're willing to cut loose from our moral compass the way the worst of the worst of the Right have done, I don't think we'll win the race to the bottom. And then there we will be at the bottom anyway.

One of the lessons of many years of marriage is that there are no win-lose solutions, not in the long term. If one partner "loses", in the end, the whole thing founders. And the American Right and Left are wedded to each other by history and geography. We have to make this work.

I don't think we can do that by grinding our fellow Americans' faces in the dust.

#89 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 02:11 PM:

Shorter me: If that's the choice, then I will diminish, and go into the west, and remain Galadriel.

But I don't want to believe that we're there yet.

#90 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 02:37 PM:

re 79: It seems to me that disproportionate anger makes one susceptible to buying into craziness, but be that as it may, my intent was not to defend Bush but to defend, to a point, Bush's detractors, even when I don't entirely agree with them. The common note I see in anti-Obama rhetoric, by contrast, is its attachment to a whole series of more or less lunatic claims. It's not just that it's disproportionately angry, but that it has taken leave of reality. It's one thing to say "I don't like this guy's policies" and argue about whether those policies are good are bad, but it's really hard to have a cogent argument when one has to argue over whether those are even the guy's policies.

#91 ::: SR Chalup ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 02:52 PM:

abi@89: +1

Re the anger death spiral and levelling-down of political discourse @88: "This is why we can't have nice things."

#92 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 03:15 PM:

abi #88:

Yeah, that.

The big danger here is getting yourself into an us/them mode of thinking, because that mode of thinking tends to make you both stupid and evil.

It makes you stupid because you start perceiving more and more of the world in the context of your us/them conflict; when most of the world isn't really fundamentally *about* that conflict, you're fitting your understanding of the world into a wildly inappropriate model. If you've ever talked with people who are deeply racist (not in the casual sense, but in the sense of an ideology of race), you'll see this--stuff that simply doesn't make any sense viewed through the lens of racial conflict somehow gets hammered into fitting that model, because that's the tool they use to understand the world. Similarly, the folks who are freaked out about the Muslims imposing Sharia law in the US any day now have been captured by this wildly inappropriate model[1].

Confirmation bias ensures that people captured by this model tune out conflicting evidence. The evils of your own side are forgivable missteps, if they're not some kind of distortion on the part of the other side; the evils of the other side are magnified in importance. Every source of information, every claim of fact, is evaluated based on how it effects the tribal conflict, whose side it's on[1].

And yet, the us/them mode of thinking is much, much worse w.r.t. morality. Getting people into the us/them mode of thinking is how you get people to beat, spy on, terrorize, rob, rape, imprison, torture, and murder their neighbors wholesale. The comment B Dubin pointed out a few years ago is a really small sample of that. The extreme end of it leads you all the way across the moral event horizon and into Godwin-land[2].

[1] My favorite example of this in the big wide world is the Lancet study describing the number of excess deaths attributable to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Suddenly, people who couldn't define the difference between a median and a mode were opining on the validity of cluster sampling.

[2] A wonderful illustration of this was that horrible scene in _Do The Right Thing_. Until the woman screamed, I was caught up in the us/them conflict of it. And then, the rest of my brain caught up with me and landed on my nuts like a cinderblock. *Oof*.

#93 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 03:42 PM:

C. Wingate@77: The vitriol against Obama is just crazy, seemingly issuing forth from that woo-woo place where people still pore over the Protocols and worry over fluoridation.

There's never any shortage of inhabitants for that woo-woo place. Today's birthers would fit right in with the folks back in 1688 who insisted that the son of James II and Mary of Modena was actually a changeling who'd been smuggled into the palace in a warming-pan.

#94 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 03:43 PM:

Debra Doyle @ 93... A warming pan? Why the heck a warming pan?

#95 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 03:44 PM:

Alex R: I think Making Light is part of a commons, as abi defined it: Our political conversation is a shared resource, which none of us owns and all of us benefit from. It’s how we decide where to bestow our votes, our source of information about the world and how we as a nation fit into it, our debating-ground for how our lives are led.

The problem is the commons were never free for all, they were a piece of land the lord of the manor let out to common use, in keeping with custom and tradition. It just happened to become more profitable for those lords to enclose the commons and make a more direct profit from them.

Which is what has happened to the airwaves. I am not harking back to a non-existent golden age when all political discourse was high-minded. Never happened. But somewhere in the past few years the people in power decided there was "money" to be made in coarsening the conversation.

I don't think the intent was to do that specifically; rather there were two things at work. The time required to give the other side time was time which couldn't be spent making money. Once that hurdle was removed, the money to be made came from the blowhards and rabble-rousers.

Which has backfired. The blowhards and rabble-rousers are now driving the bus. If Rush says something, the Republicans listen. If they disagree, they are punished. Over at a Free Republic thread about Sherrif Dupnik comments that the background of vitriol shapes the ways in which the disturbed act out, the response was, "Right now, I would be interested to see the smart response from Republicans. If I was John Boehner, I would be in Arizona. As a speaker of the house, he needs to be there and meet the family before Obama goes to Arizona and gives a big speech to change the topic of the nations. Next 24 hrs is crucial till Glenn Beck and Rush come to air on Monday"

The crucial thing isn't how to stop another such attack. It's not why this attack took place, it's waiting until Rush and Glenn can come on the air and explain why it's all happened.

Which is to say, find a way to blame the liberals. It's already started. Dupnik has been painted as a liberal.

How deep is the corruption of discourse? How small a target is large enough to show up on the radar? Pretty small. I've been the target of some pretty creepy responses to things I've written. Been told I had no right to use the net to say such things. The people who said those things, weren't looking to engage with me. They were upset that I wasn't making the correct sorts of political comment. I was being intimidated. I ran WHOIS checks to see where the threats were (supposedly) coming from, just in case someone decided to lie in wait for me. Yes, it has been that bad.

And I'm, at best, a AA blogger. On my good days I rise to short stretches in AAA, but I'll never be in the Big Leagues.

Even at that I am blessed with people who make me their bête noir and write about me, villify me, etc.

That's the sort of thing I think abi was talking about. The loss, by a sort of enclosure, of the ability to take an active part in the political discourse. I see it on the net, I see in the classrooms (where I have had an instructor, classed as liberal, tell me to not talk about things, because I was being shouted down) and I see it on the streets.

#96 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 03:47 PM:

abi #88: It doesn't allow us to listen, to understand our opposition, to find grounds for compromise where it's possible and articulate why it's not when it isn't.

When the Left seeks understanding and compromise, the Right mocks this as weakness and works in bad faith to "compromise" our ability to effect change.

#97 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 03:56 PM:

Serge@94: Why the heck a warming pan?

They would have been talking about a covered metal pan with a long handle, filled (under normal circumstances) with hot coals, which in the days before electric blankets would be passed underneath the sheet and blankets to warm up a cold bed. Some of the fancier models would at least in theory have been large enough to conceal instead a newborn infant. The conspiracy theory of the day was that such an infant was smuggled into the palace -- and later into the bed itself -- during Mary of Modena's labor, in order to be substituted for her actual stillborn child.

#98 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 03:59 PM:

Debra Doyle @ 97... Thanks. It sounds like someone should write a fantasy story about that. Probably already has.

#99 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 04:06 PM:


Because nobody would have understood the term "Indonesian madrassa" back then.

#100 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 04:07 PM:

Serge: Because it could come into the palace closed be slipped under the covers, and discretely opened.

Lunacy, but not quite idiocy.

#101 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 04:13 PM:

To bring up another aspect of false equivalence issues and difficulties in changing rhetorical paradigms: there is the problem of asymmetric social interference.

The example I like to use to illustrate the issue is the "conversational overlap" factor in everyday communication. As noted in all manner of professional discussions of different conversational styles (e.g., by Deborah Tannen), the objective way of viewing contrasting styles such as "high overlap/short pause" (i.e., people expect to be talking at the same time during coversational "trade-offs") versus "low overlap/long pause" (i.e., people wait to begin talking until the other person has paused for a certain length of time) is to consider both (or rather, all) conversational styles to be equally appropriate and acceptable and simply to be neutral local/regional/cultural variations.

The problem being that in a conversation involving people with different styles, there is an asymmetric effect on participation in the conversation. A high-overlap speaker can, effectively, require a low-overlap speaker to chose between changing styles or not participating. But a low-overlap speaker does not have the same power.

A similar type of effect has been occurring in the style of social/political "debate" in media. Even apart from the programming that is designed and intended to be the verbal equivalent of a barroom brawl, we see a creeping prevalence of verbal interactions where the participant most willing to talk over and shout down the other participants ends up getting the most air time. This phenomenon can't be addressed simply by passively taking the high road and declining to talk over and shout down the other party -- all that gets you is being silenced.

In the Before Times (which may exist only in my rosy imagination) the hosts, moderators, and interviewers who mediated the presence of People With Opinions in the news media served the role of creating and maintaining standards of behavior that corrected this asymmetry. People who behaved badly in on-air discussions seriously risked being denied access to participate in those discussions in the future.

One of the cultural shifts that had degraded public discourse has been a declining willingness for media gate-keepers to actually close the gate on some people -- either in real-time as the discussion occurs or as a preventive measure for the future. Instead, the guests who most violate the norms of civil discourse seem to be the most sought-after.

Even at the level of national candidate "debates" the gate-keepers are content to let speakers trade time speechifying (and interrupting, and mike-hogging) rather than making any significant effort to require interactive discussion and accountability.

But to get back to the point of asymmetric behavioral impacts, one of the fundamentals in the creation of false equivalences is to make paired lists of supposedly matching events falling into two categories, but to ignore the asymmetric nature and effects of those events. So, for example, if one claims that individuals on both the Right and the Left are using the language of violence and therefore both sides are equivalent, but one ignores that only one of the relevant groups includes official candidates for elected national office, there is an asymmetry that belies the equivalence.

I had a much more eloquent point when I started writing this, but I've lost track of it somewhere along the way. (I think partly because I have a hard time composing long essays when I can only view a dozen lines at a time.)

#102 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 04:15 PM:

albatross@99: Because nobody would have understood the term "Indonesian madrassa" back then.

I think the emotionally-equivalent term in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at least in England, was "Douai seminary."

#103 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 04:21 PM:

Terry Karney @ 100... Lunacy, but not quite idiocy

There's got to be a t-shirt with those words.

#104 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 04:27 PM:

Also, more detailed made-up stories feel more plausible than less-detailed stories, even though that's the opposite of the way probability theory works. If you said "That kid's not the king; someone slipped in a different kid," that wouldn't be nearly as good a story as "The true heir to the throne was stillborn, so they slipped in a different baby in a warming pan that night."

This is closely related to a known bug in the human brain. It's also a pretty common feature in conspiracy theories. I like Tyler Cowan's suggestion: be wary of claims that make a good story.

I also think this is iterative. Once you've bought conspiracy theory X, adding detail to it makes it more plausible, more real-seeming, *to you*. So over time, you can construct incredibly elaborate fantasies of the conspiracy, including "patches" to deal with apparent problems with the conspiracy theory.

Another weird feature of propaganda and bullshit I've noticed, which I think draws on confirmation bias and the whole set of us/them mental mechanisms, is the use of multiple different, mutually-incompatible stories running in parallel. Obama is simultaneously a secret Muslim, an extremist black Christian, and a communist, and an anti-colonialist African, and probably a couple more I'm forgetting.

I think this works because listeners who are inclined to dislike Obama will latch onto the one of these stories that's easiest for them to latch onto, and then will tune out the others. Sometimes, they'll even dismiss the others as bullshit for the rubes, while latching onto the story they find most comfortable or convincing.

#105 ::: Terry Karney (has a comment in moderation on this thread) ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 04:36 PM:

Heather Rose Jones: I use an outside tool to write my longer comments... but sometimes that backfires. It seems to not like to load clipped text from some websites, and crashes.

My comment in moderation had to be rewritten after just such an event.

I don't think it anywhere near as good; it being completely different in tone and structure.

#106 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 04:39 PM:

Terry, it's out of moderation, alive and well at number 95. Close your <a> tags, willya? And your <i> tags too, while you're at it.

(I deleted the former, which had no href in it, and closed the latter at the right place.)

#107 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 04:47 PM:

Heather #101:

I think that's a really nice point. In fact, I think you get a kind of prisoners dilemma here--even if all sides of some issue would really benefit from having more civilized, sensible debates, there's an advantage during each debate to being the guy who interrupts, screams, calls names, etc. Going a bit deeper, that means the people who are more focused on winning the short-term debate regardless of rightness or honesty of their arguments gain in status relative to the people who care more about being right. Although I may be us/themming myself into believing it, it seems to me that this process has happened and gone much further among the right than among the left[1].

Another side of this is that the people holding those debates on TV are more like boxing promoters than like impartial judges and enforcers of rules. Boxing promoters are probably more concerned with filling up the stadium and making lots of money than with ensuring a fair, clean fight. Similarly, the hosts of most political arguing-flacks shows are more interested in getting a big audience than in ensuring a fair, clean argument[2]. Lies, rhetorical tricks, name-calling, interruptions, etc., are all okay, if they get the audience to tune in. And honestly, I think most people watching these shows are more interested in seeing their guy score some points than in anything like an impartial search for the truth.

My sense is, watching political talking head shows to learn how to think about serious issues is like watching professional wrestling to learn about self-defense techniques.

[1] Andrew Sullivan and Connor Friesdorf have made this point a lot lately.

[2] This is related to the odd phenomenon of memoryless journalists. Journalist seem quite willing to interview someone as though they were a trustworthy, worthwhile source of information, even when the interviewee is saying exactly the opposite of what he said last time, even when the interviewee was obviously lying last time, even when it's obvious that the interviewee is a shill for someone and is simply saying what they're paid to say. This isn't what you do when you want to know more about the world, it's what you do when you want to fill a half-hour "news" show with interesting talk.

#108 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 04:52 PM:

I guess conspiracies can be quite attractive, and in a way reassuring, because it tells us that there is some hidden order and logic to the world, instead of its being run by people who've reached their Peter Principle's top level.

#109 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 05:01 PM:

But consider this - where do the numbers which "prove" the popularity of things like Rush Limbaugh's radio show come from?

I actually know this one, seeing as I work at a radio station. Anyone ever gotten tagged by Arbitron? It used to be that you filled out a log of the shows and stations you watched and listened to. Now they have a device which tracks you automatically for the time period.

They then extrapolate this sampling out to get the numbers of watchers or listeners. And those numbers are then used to sell advertising.

So now you know. (And knowing is half the battle!)

#110 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 05:11 PM:

meta for Terry #95 via abi #106:

The best way I've found to make sure you don't forget to close a tag is to first write out the complete tag pair, and then insert your text inside it. Old coding trick; it applies just as well to matching parens and quote marks as to html stuff.

#111 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 05:11 PM:

B.Durbin@109: I've often wondered how Arbitron would deal with eg. my listening mostly to the car radio, and a little bit to streaming radio over the Internet (some live, some archived), and a tiny bit on my phone. I mean, the automated version.

Anyway, you're confirming, for radio, what I said earlier in general, that there are third parties measuring or auditing these numbers; it's at least not a completely wide-open lie-fest for the media outlets. And providing the name of the group that does it for radio, which I'd known but forgotten and hence did not include previously.

#112 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 05:18 PM:

Debra Doyle #102: Not to mention "recusant".

#113 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 05:32 PM:

I had eleven years of non-stop abuse--namecalling, other verbal abuse, assault and battery, other types of harassment, on public property, day in/day out, with the authorities uninterested/unwilling to intervene and stop tolerating and providing the environment fostering the abuse. Since, again, the only things that effected the harassers to terminate the abused individually permanently was either suddenly becoming less of an asshole of their own volition though apparently emotional growth, or deciding that the retaliation was more painful their the joy they derived from being abusive bullies, my view is that until and unless someone makes it clear and unmistakeble to them that they the pain exceeds the gain and -applies- pain (this can include e.g losing funding....) they're not going to stop...

I've had friends who have no real conscience who nonetheless did not harass other people etc., because they considered that the the balance sheet of cost/benefit make abusive behavior not worthwhile for them.

That is, while they didn't have an internal value system of "this is wrong and I try to not do things which are wrong," they did have value systems of, "people who I want to respect me won't respect me/won't associate with me if I do things the consider wrong and/or consequences of doing those things society says are wrong, will have results and consequences and outcomes which look more costly to me than they are worth to me."

Those who dish harassment out on a chronic basis, usually deserve it thrown back in their face if there are no other sanctions put on them to stop their offensive behavior...

Those who are polite to me, I try to be polite and respectful to them. Those who aren't, forfeit the right to expect civility from me. The actions and words of Srh Pln, Grg W Bsh, etc., show them as incivil vituperative louts who keep beig incivil vituperative louts who keep being REWARDED with money and accolades and press conferences and media fawning.... It frustrates me, and particularly their deprecation of classes I belong to and dismissal of those classes as dismissable infuriates me--and the fawning on them infuriates me. I'm powerless except to express outrage, in strong terms.... I object to being powerless.... but at least nobody has physically assaulted me in years due to the perception of "small female, let's have some fun and beat her up, since nobody's going to interfere with our fun!"

#114 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 05:53 PM:

In a way I'm sorry I brought up the fairness doctrine. It only applies to very limited media - broadcast radio and TV. But that is still substantial enough that it is a worthwhile secondary goal. We don't have to speculate on the effect. It actually existed, did not make debate blander or nor did it really give equal access to marginal viewpoints. But it did provide cracks where excludes views could occasionally get heard. It was a modest net good, and until everything is wireless or internet based would still do that.

However the main shift historically was the dominance of advertising that began in the early 20th century. Until then because journal competed on the basis of subscribers different points of view competed on their ability to attract interest. So there were paper equivalents of Fox News (like the Washington Times today) but there were also left wing equivalents. And there were honest left wind and right wing and moderate papers as well. You had real diversity of opinion, competing on equal terms. Once papers and journals started getting half their revenues from advertising, that changed. If two periodicals had equal audiences, but one was more appealing to business, that would be the winner. Los Angeles had liberal papers competing with the times right through the late 40s or early 50s. But the liberal Mirror which had equal circulation could not compete with the Times for ad revenue. So the Times won and today the corporation is the "Times-Mirror".

And a tax on advertising, so long as it did not discriminate between types of ads, is not a violation of free speech. And my proposal to distribute the revenue as vouchers means no government control on the other end as to where to money goes either. It is changing the media environment so that media whose customers are advertiser no longer has an advantage over media whose customers are readers, viewers, listeners, or audiences. No reduction in formal free speech rights unless you think the taxes media pay now violate those rights. A vast improvement in actual free speech rights, extending those rights to more people.

In terms of civility and respect. A lot of that has to do with not having a level playing field. During the run-up to the Iraq war anti-war voices were overwhelmingly marginalize not only on Fox News, but on CNN, and on NPR and in the NY Times and Washington Post. It is a lot easier to rant and shout if those you are ranting and shouting about can't reply anyplace your audience is likely to hear or hear about. More diversity and less monopoly by a narrow set of viewpoints would not produce media paradise. But I think it would reduce some of the horrible stuff that goes on. And by diversity I mean access to all media by a large spectrum viewpoints, not a narrow range get mainstream TV, and others get a website.

#115 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 06:14 PM:

albatross @107 watching political talking head shows to learn how to think about serious issues is like watching professional wrestling to learn about self-defense techniques.

Just admiring this phrase. Not, alas, the situation it so aptly describes.

#116 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 06:15 PM:

Paula, I regret not supporting you more vocally online, since we agree on so many things. If ML had a Facebook "like" button, I'd use it for lots of comments here.

#117 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 06:19 PM:

Heather Rose Jones @101 I find this idea of asymmetry helpful in thinking about this, and about why just "taking the high road" doesn't work.

#118 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 06:32 PM:

#107 albatross
One of the losing Republican candidates for Senate is a woman who is a co-owner of WWE. Her participation in the "entertainment" of videgrabs such as a (mosty stage display I expect) kick in the crotch to someone male, were among the materials which persuaded the voters to not vote for her.

Bck has been steadily losing advertisers and advertiser support.

Meanwhile, there are situations such as Mr Birnbaum of the Washington Times. CBS radio stations put him on the air as a "political commentator" from the Washington Times, without ever specifying he is mouthpiece of Rev Moon's politically biased Unification Church. They never mention that the Washington Times is a sectarian, biased, and highly subsidized, by the Unification Church, publication. The Washington Times does not exist as a publisher which pays it own way based on public commercial support: it's a sectarian-with-agenda operation, of an evangelizing religious organization which does not have a high reputation for ecumenicalism.

I want to know how/why/who arranged for him to be the "political analyst" trotted out as Expert Authoritative Speaker and I want him, and them, gone from the airwaves unless he is identified as a speaker for a politically partisan sectarian organizatio with proselyzing agenda AND other for every millisecond of air time he get, the Fairness Doctine gets reapplied requiring equal time for sectarian opinions from non-Christian publications and from political opponents.

#119 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 06:32 PM:

108: Serge, I suggested what strikes me as obvious real conspiracy in #37: the rich in the U.S. have become increasingly adept at multiplying their wealth with increasingly less concern about the impact of their actions on the common good.

I heard what was, to me, a very convincing formulation of the way this impacts our media, last night in a "Virtually Speaking" dialog between Digby and Glen Greenwald.

My summation of their precis:

"Plutocrats control the media now in ways they were never able to achieve thirty years ago. Many reporters now strive to become (or already are) *members* of the plutocracy -- they are much less likely, now, to be outsiders interested in taking down iniquity. This is why the arrival of Wikileaks is so significant. The Wikileaks people, like U.S. journalists of an earlier era, are outsiders, with little or no interest in joining or pleasing corporate masters."

I guess I've been successfully brainwashed by Digby, Greenwald, Avedon, and a few other conspiracy theorists into believing that this, rather than the Peter Principle, is an explanation for the corrupt media journalism in our country. But my brain was already 90% washed by myself.

#120 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 06:36 PM:

Also -- I thought the chief benefit of the Fairness Doctrine was that it leveled the playing field for political campaign time on TV. Elections were less about who could build the biggest financial war chest to broadcast platform propaganda.

#121 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 06:38 PM:

OtterB @ 115... Now I'm imagining Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck as Mexican wrestlers. I need a brain shower.

#123 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 06:41 PM:

Lenny Bailes @ 119... I was really referring to crazy conspiracies. Fox Mulder was wrong, of course. I think.

#124 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 07:56 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @ 56

Thank you. I never could figure out why that type of construction rubbed me the wrong way. Thank you. I'm saving your rebuttal for future use.

#125 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 08:22 PM:

#121 Serge

However brainbleach-requisite that sight would be, it's infinitely preferable to the status quo!


Boldly walk the strident mouths
Loudly utter speech prepared.
Wide the spread of marketing
In every medium they be.

Who made them such iconic things
Who paid and paved their forward ways
Who shoved aside all other news
To promulgate their darlings?

What qualities or lack thereof
Effected fortune, perks, and fame?
What devils' bargains and disdain
Made few the rich and powerful?

Who make the choices, make the beggars,
Disempower masses' lives,
Take the profits hold them tightly
Cut the wages cut the jobs.

Send the work across the oceans
Yell of taxes far too high,
Claims the country spends their money
They care not when others die.

Seeing the willing catspaws eager
See them spew hatemongered words
Hear the poison, lies, and spitings
Hear them claim no harm occurs.

Watch they lies and watch them weasel
Watch them claim they've morals high,
Watch them extend their patrons' privilege
Watch them smirk as others die.

#126 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 09:53 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 44: "In a mediæval English manorial village, the entire village would be subject to the lord of the manor (indeed, it would be all owned by him), but the village common was used by the villagers in common and regulated by them in common."

I would say that the extent to which villagers had rights to work the common was a matter of some debate during the enclosure period. The way in which a lord owned land, and the way the peasant who worked land owned land were complicated and often contradictory. The villagers had centuries of precedent on their side, the landholders force and money; that the latter won doesn't say much about the law other than rich and powerful people can typically get it to say what they want it to.

Regardless, it seems to me that the popular understanding of the Tragedy of the Commons has diverged considerably from its historical roots, to the point where conflating them is more confusion than illumination. Instead I propose a new go-to example of the TotC: the collapse of the North Atlantic fisheries. Though if that turns out to invite heat rather than light, nominations remain open.

albatross @ 74: "I think the commons abi's talking about is not the broadcast spectrum, or the internet, but rather the whole of our political and social discourse. That's a commons, even if every individual discussion and argument takes place in one of the millions of individually-owned spaces."

Yes--what's at stake here is our consensual national reality, our shared norms of discourse and expression.

abi @ 80: "Tolerate dissent."

I can has bumpersticker?

Terry Karney @ 105: "I use an outside tool to write my longer comments... but sometimes that backfires."

One thing I've noticed is that some text editors will convert " into “ or ”, which html can't digest, and ML will just throw up its hands and remove the whole href string. That might be what's happening to your link.

#127 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 10:18 PM:

A sidenote on how commons get regulated between sovereign entities.

Water rights in conflict a summation of argument before the Supreme Court on water use changes between Wyoming and Montana.

Wyoming, IMO is being a jerk.

#128 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 10:19 PM:

I'm currently trying to figure out if I've modulated my discourse here; certainly most right-wing opinions I've read here have been met swiftly and in numbers.

I don't know if I'd want to go up against y'all; that doesn't mean I wouldn't, if I thought I was right, but now I'm doubting myself.

Moving back to the original-ish topic: A lot of acquaintances on Facebook have been saying "Both sides are to blame in the rhetoric" without actually, in any way, backing that up.

Confirmation bias moment: Have there been a lot of left-wing assaults, massacres, terrorist acts in the last decade and I'm just much better at remembering an IRS suicide plane attack, a propane line cut, the shirts that say "Liberal hunting permit"?

#129 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 11:10 PM:

Old Crooked Timber post re: Elinor Ostrom co-winning the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics for, according to the Nobel committee, having "challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized. Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, Ostrom concludes that the outcomes are, more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories." - but ~requiring certain characteristics

#130 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 11:10 PM:

re 118: Well, speaking as someone whose main paper is the Wash. Times's competitor, the situation is not so simple. At least until Julia Duin was let go, for instance, there was no question but that the Times had much better religion coverage as long the subject of same wasn't the Moonies. Their political coverage was and is terrible, I would agree, but that doesn't improve that of the Post and it has its own share of blind spots. They are less obvious because they arise out of the newsroom's shared prejudices rather than out of Command From On High, but as someone who has been reading it since before Watergate I don't have any difficulty seeing them.

When you rag on Palin earlier, there's a great degree to which I agree with you. But I don't see the use of taking it personally. Life is hard enough, what with all the people who are specifically snarked at me for disagreeing with them, I do not need to go looking for people who have never heard of me and assume that they too would hold me in contempt.

#131 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2011, 11:17 PM:

Paula @113, I sympathize a LOT about the bullying, and about not being polite to those who don't deserve it. I was one of the people in the bullying threads advocating to hit back, and hit back HARD, a la Ender Wiggin, because that was the only method I'd ever discovered to get bullies to stop.

But, could I point something out? George W. Bush and Sarah Palin aren't commenting at Making Light. They're not here being directly rude to you, whatever dreadful things they may have done to the nation as a whole. And they won't hear you being rude to them here.

The only people who can be directly affected by your deliberate rudeness here are the other commenters, some of whom have said directly that they find it disturbing. The only people who are direct targets of your word choices here are any Making Light commenters who may have (for whatever reason) voted Republican. You're a longtime Massachusetts resident; I grew up there. For the very first election in which I was eligible to vote there, I was a registered Republican, so I could vote in the Republican primary for William Weld, so I'd have a good choice on the Republican side to oppose John Silber. Okay, immediately after the primary, I filled out that little form that switched you back to "Unaffiliated." But, however briefly, I was a Republican. I suspect that whoever among the Making Light crowd is registered as/has voted as a Republican has reasons they consider equally valid. And, if they're hanging around Making Light, they'd probably be willing to discuss them. But having you constantly refer to the party as "Rethuglican," no matter how apropos it may be for some or even most of the elected Republicans on a national level, is only directly affecting the ones who post and read here. And, within the limited confines of this space, I'm not seeing any Republicans here acting like bullies.

So is your choice of language doing what you want it to do?

#132 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 12:10 AM:

#126 heresiarch

The collapse of the fisheries in the northeatern USA and southeastern Canadian coasts, involved "factory fishing" by Soviet fish trawlers, sucking up fish in dragnets indiscriminately. Eventually the USA and Canada enacted 200 mile limits for the continental shelf, but it was too late, the cod and haddock fisheries in particular had collapsed and have never recovered to what they had been. The haddock started reproducing at a younger age than historically--the smaller fish able to get out of the nets and surviving where the larger ones didn't and reproducing at younger ages meant that the ones that escaped the nets were reproducing before they were caught. The cod stock, though, hasn't done that.

Now the herring stocks have crashed, suspects include not only water warming in the ocean, but trawlers loading up with schools of herring to make into pet food and to feed farmed salmon, leaving hardly any to return to spawn in fresh water....

Thinking about it, people with LOCAL focus and an interest in preservation of way of life, until things get dire, tend to protect resources. It tends to be exploiters from outside (these days mostly big corporations), that dive in for maximum short term profits, exploit a resource to exhaustion, and leave, leaving behind a mess for anyone still around to have to deal with.

When the local resources start drying up, is when the locals go into competition for what's left and drive the declining resource inot extinction, if they don't see more viable alternatives to earning living/survival than exhausting the resource.

#133 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 12:16 AM:

Sandy B:

Animal rights terrorists have been pretty nasty at their worst, and if we're assigning terrorists to teams, I guess they're more left than right. I'd put the Unabomber in the same category.

But honestly, the main reason to assign extreme outliers to a team is to smear that team. Calling people out for violent rhetoric, or for the more common smarmy and dishonest kind makes lots of sense. Pointing out the actual evil policies and actions of the Republicans is similarly worthwhile. But using this obvious nut's horrible mass shooting to smear Republicans as murderous thugs is on a par, IMO, with using the Fort Hood mass shooting to smear all Muslims as terrorists.

#134 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 01:12 AM:


ISTM that in light of recent events, a phrase like "naked hatred" ought to be used with full realization of the extent of what it can mean, or not at all. It's one thing to say that George W. Bush is a liar and a warmonger, quite another to suggest shooting him, and another thing again to actually do it or attempt to do it.
And where on that scale does saying in so many words, "I hate George W. Bush and I wish he were dead" fall? At least the first half of that has been posted more than once, by someone who is valued and respected by everyone here, including me. (This poster may even have included that second part -- I haven't gone back to check.)

I mean, I find the comment very understandable: "hate" is only slightly too strong to describe my own feelings about the man, and I think his tenure as President was a very nearly unmitigated disaster. At the same time I think we should try to avoid congratulating ourselves more than we deserve on our openmindedness and diversity.

Abi's point about addiction to anger at comment 88 has been made here before, but it's one I like and wish would be repeated more often, by more people, and in more places.

#135 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 01:23 AM:

albatross @ 74:

Bruce Cohen (and many others) has raised the idea of tasking some government agency with trying to address this, or some part of it. There are a lot of reasons I find that idea wrongheaded, but the most obvious one comes from noticing that right now, in many areas, the mainstream media are *extremely* deferential to government claims and positions w.r.t. national security, terrorism, official secrets, etc.

I think you equated what I said about labeling opinion with the Fairness Doctrine, and I don't think they are equivalent. I mentioned the F.D. because I believe that labeling opinion is a necessary precursor to enforcing "fair and balanced" :-( presentation, not because I believe strongly in the F.D. It may be that it would be difficult to enforce any labeling, but I do not think that's the same problem as the current tendency of news media to get their "facts" from official handouts.

#136 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 02:25 AM:

albatross @ 133: "But using this obvious nut's horrible mass shooting to smear Republicans as murderous thugs is on a par, IMO, with using the Fort Hood mass shooting to smear all Muslims as terrorists."

On the other hand, I don't think many people would take issue with the observation that imams preaching existential conflict and violence are legitimating and encouraging violence even if they never assist or take part in any violent acts themselves, even if they are shocked by the actual violence. Equating an act of violence with violent rhetoric is false; so too is denying that they have any connection.

Also, I'm not sure that someone's being mentally ill (assuming for the moment that Laughner was mentally ill) precludes the importance of inflammatory rhetoric in shaping his illness. The tinfoil hat crowd didn't all pick tinfoil as the headcovering of choice independently; even the paranoia of genuinely crazy people is shaped by the social construction of what people ought to be paranoid about. Crazy people are a lot more likely to take the angry man on the radio's advice to extremes, but it doesn't mean they're hearing something that isn't there.

#137 ::: Michael Bloom ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 07:56 AM:

The discussion of the Washington Times reminds me once again that the left needs a newspaper-- and the Weekly Worker doesn't cut it.

Basically, if the Reverend Moon can shoehorn his spokesbot onto talking heads "news" shows because he has a newspaper in his deep pockets, the home team needs to be able to compete on that level.

Moreover, many of the features we decry about the current media landscape (moonscape? pun intended) could be ameliorated by showing counterexamples. For instance, where the papers now say "Senator Blowhard delivered a major speech today in which he insisted that the deficit is unsustainable and will result in the destruction of the American way of life," the one I envision would go on to report: "Senator Blowhard campaigned on tax cuts, voted for every tax cut bill in the 106th thru 111th congresses, put an anonymous hold on a bill to repeal the carried-interest deduction, and was best man at Grover Norquist's wedding." Reporters that say such things will be considered weirdos, but will ultimately get invited to participate on the talking-heads "news" shows, which do try to claim they represent "both" sides, and which do benefit from controversy. And really because the Overton Window is wallpapered in broadsheet (to badly mix a metaphor).

Of course it's gonna have to be subsidized somehow, because of the bias large well-funded advertisers have toward promoting the status quo. But I think it could become self-sustaining way earlier than the Washington Times ever will-- or even the Washington Post, which is kept afloat largely by revenue from its Kaplan for-profit test-prep and "career development" school subsidiary.

Also too, Making Light isn't a commons. It works as well as it does because in many ways it's an uncommons.

#138 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 12:31 PM:

Serge #98 - the bedpan incident crops up in the last book of the Baroque Cycle. Daniel Waterhouse, er, mentions it. Ahem, spoliers.

#139 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 12:40 PM:

David @ 138... And there I was, wondering if it had shown up in the Baroque Cycle.

#140 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 02:00 PM:

The main practical problem with the Fairness Doctrine would, as far as I can see, be: Between which positions would the fairness be enforced? Between, say, Sharron Angle's and Joe Lieberman's view of an issue? After all, by the standards of many in the Beltway, they apparently represent "the two sides" of the political debate, or at least of the "Serious" political debate. And from what I've heard (I don't get to watch that channel over here), Fox seems to be pretty good at teaming up screaming lunatic wingnuts with ConservaDems, or with Liberals in the "too polite to take one's own side in a debate" sense. So, to comply with a potential reinstated Fairness Doctrine, they'd just have to separate them into adjacent timeslots. Or, if they want to drop all remaining pretensions to shame, they could regularly "balance" a Cheneyite view of a matter with a Paulite view of the same matter.

And then there's the matter that people who watch or listen to outlets that tell them what they want to hear often won't listen to stuff they don't want to hear, so during times when, under a hypothetical reinstated Fairness Doctrine, their favorite station or channel has someone from "the other side" (see above) on, they could still simply switch the channel for the time being, and most of them probably would.

Gar Lipow @11,

"We could consitutionally impose not only net neutrality but the old fairness doctrine"

I know that the conveniently self-misinforming kind of right-winger often talks as if Net Neutrality and the Fairness Doctrine would be the same or almost the same thing, but since you're apparently not a conveniently self-misinforming right-winger, why do you talk in a way that leaves that impression?

#141 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 03:57 PM:


I think it's inevitable that the fairness doctrine as I've seen it described here would only involve what are considered by the regulators as mainstream positions. However, I'd say that a debate between the Cheney and Paul positions on, say, foreign policy would be much more informative and interesting than a debate between the Cheney and Obama positions.

#142 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 04:18 PM:

heresiarch #136:

I don't think we're in fundamental disagreement here. Violent political rhetoric is ugly and scary and adds nothing good to the debate, and using it should get your own side p-ssed off at you. (It's not all that convincing when the other side gets p-ssed off, since they'll be p-ssed off whenever your rhetoric is effective.)

I'm not sure how much the common political rhetoric in your society drives willingness to carry out mass shootings or terrorist attacks or whatever. I'm not even sure how you'd go about trying to figure out the answer to that. One problem is, in the world of 200+ channels and the internet, we substantially self-select our media. That means that even if the mainstream dialog is healthier, it seems likely that people inclined in that direction will be able to find extreme rhetoric of whatever flavor makes them feel good.

Fixing *that* means taking away a huge amount of choices from everyone, in hopes of keeping the one person per N million inclined to carry out some violent attack from ever seeing violent rhetoric. (I suspect most mass-shooters are more influenced by violent entertainment, but who knows?) In a world where our political discussions were sanitized enough that such rhetoric was impossible to find (or that reading it got you added to a watchlist), I rather suspect we'd find the range of interesting and worthwhile views available to be extremely restricted.

The Fort Hood shooting and this one have plausible political motives. That has two effects:

a. It makes us wonder whether the sources of the political rhetoric most plausibly to blame for the attack should somehow be held responsible.

b. It provides a lovely club for people looking to bash the broad group from which the attackers or the political rhetoric comes.

I'm inclined to want very much to untangle these two, to try think of ways to improve the quality of our common political dialog without joining in a calculated, strategic bashing of the right from folks on the left, using a convenient club this week.

#143 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 04:53 PM:

This post by Connor Friesdorf is pretty close to how I feel on this whole issue. (I followed a link from Andrew Sullivan's blog.)

#144 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 06:08 PM:

albatross@143: thanks for the link to the Friesdorf post. That relates to the right to ones own opinions vs. ones own facts, among other things.

Generally speaking, it's a good bet that substance is more important than tone. And focusing on tone is a frequent derailing tactic. (It's also a frequent reason for people to actually feel attacked.)

#145 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 11:27 PM:

Raphael. I thought I made it clear that they were two seperate things. Net Neutrality is the more important of the two. I'm sorry if my mentioning them in the same sentence gave you the impression I was saying they were the same thing. But the fairness doctrine is often slandered by the extreme right, which does not change the fact that is was a modest benefit to free speech. Not huge, but a net plus.

#146 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2011, 03:53 AM:

Gar Lipow @145, ok, thank you for clearing that up. Sorry if I overreacted; it's just that seeing these two things mentioned so close to each other set up some alerts for me.

#147 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2011, 08:47 AM:


Yeah. It seems to me that net neutrality is a lot easier to do with the government and peoPle we have now, as it can be boiled down to rules that don't rely on interpreting content in a neutral way. It also seems far more important long term.

#148 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2011, 08:56 AM:

I wonder how much could (and should) be done with antitrust law to push back on media consolidation. It just can't be healthy to have everyone get their news from one of three huge companies, which together own more or less all media outlets, Internet providers, broadcast stations, etc. But news operations are not financially viable now, so forbidding their being bought might just mean shutting them down.

#149 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2011, 04:00 PM:

abi @88

Damn, she's good.

#150 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2011, 07:56 PM:

there is something that seems to think that if something is worth something, bringing it down is worth something, and takes less effort than being the one who built it. that's the reason for all the politics of spite.

#151 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 12:45 AM:

#134 David

Wishing someone were dead, and wishing someone would kill the person, are two different things. And it is yet another different thing, to put someoe on an assassination list one publishes urging actively that people go out and murder the people listed--that's happened to MDs. (For that matter, the USA published that card deck of Ba'athists after the invasion of Iraq... 0

#152 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 01:32 AM:

#131 Rikibeth
I remain registered as not enrolled in any political parties. Over the years I had voted for people based on their words and the policies they claimed to comply with, not on party lines, until...

Robert Glaub quit the Republican Party over moral and ethical issues, which include the same issues which cause me to view the Republican Party with such ferocious scorn. Basically my feeling is that the Republican Party with its litmus tests and official policies regarding waterboarding and such, women's health, religiosity, civil rights, suspension of the writt of habeas corpus, and other such issues, has defined itself into an ethical [or unethical] and moral [or rather, immorl] space which is nothing excepti heinous abomation and utterly repellant to me.

I was not a US Air Force Academy cadet, however, they had a code which included "~I will not lie, cheat or steal, and I also will not to;erate those who do.~"

It seems to be that the Republican Party as a entity the past ecade plus has been an organization fostering, sponsoring, protecting, rewarding, succoring, and forward the objections of those who pernicious lie, cheat, and steal--consider the rumors about Mr Boehner and Mr Blunt, the hypocrisy and flipfloppig of ohn Mc Cain, etc. The Republican Party for its official intolerance of diversity, promoting of what feels to me like State Religion, its rejection of rights of women to have sovereignty over their own bodies and reproductive lives, their official embrasure of cruel and unusual punishment as appropriate and proper, their continuing obstruction of justice regarding shielding oathbreakers who swore to uphold the Constitution and Bill of Rights and instead outed an entire undercover CIA operation and covered up torture up to and including rape and murder, etc., forfeited any legitimacy in my eyes as an organization deserving respect and honoring. It's a dishonorable organization and deserves being called dishonorably and an organization of louts promoting offensive, unethical, immoral, and abominble misdeeds and atrocities. The Abu Ghraib atrocities were far from the only ones which occurred. Officials of the Republican Party also facilitated and protected from investigation the slave labor conditions in the Marianas, atrocities in Afghanistan included at least one verified CIA murder by torture of an innocent man, alleged mass murders of prisons capture with the destruction of Tora Bora (atrocities reported by the Red Cross), alleged atrocities committed by US military outfits holding "detainees" at other locations in Iraq than Abu Ghraib, the conditions and torture at Guantanamo, the "extraordinary renditions and alleged atrocities committed upon those whisked to facilities in the easten hemisphere...

What I am supposed to do, repeat the entirety of that damning litany every time, to specify why I consider the Republican Party evil??!! The Republican Party has not only been tolerating people responsible for the abominations above, but keeping them in leadership positions and protecting them from investigation and being held responsible for atrocities and illegalities and punished. Instead, they've been and they're being rewarded with continued pre-eminent positions n and when they retire, fat penions on the public doles--with no justice for their victims.

#153 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 09:58 AM:

Paula @152

I can't imagine why you would need to repeat the entire litany of evil every time you want to talk about a specifc Republican evil. I'd think that the sheer frequency of specific evils would carry its own message, without paragraph upon paragraph of supporting evidence, AND without name-calling.

Of course, just as your history makes you unwilling to accord outward marks of respect to people and institutions you don't respect, mine makes me oversensitive to name-calling, especially name-calling based on a play on the proper name. My maiden name was Weiner. If I never hear the Oscar Meyer Wiener song again, it will still be too soon. No matter how much I disapprove of someone's actions, I try to call them by their proper name even as I criticize them. It's about on the level of abi's reaction to the phrase "die in a fire." Pre-emptive disemvowelling doesn't make me nearly as upset.

BTW, thread-skipping, are you coming to Arisia? Are you planning to bring your zombie filk on Jet Plane to the open filking? I admired it a lot and it made me crack up laughing!

#154 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 11:50 AM:

#153 Rikibeth
Eleven years of chronic namecalling at -me- left me with "you insult me, I'll insult you back." The penchant of the Republican leadership and their unslapped-down cheerleaders (Bck, Lmbgh, Cltr, Mlkn, etc.)for incivility designates the Republican Party to me as having earned every offensive sobriquet anyone in this form has ever labelled them.
"Republithug" is a sobriquet I've not that I recall frequented, it's one that others here have been more wont to use than I.

And again, it -is- personal. I was just as subject to the probability of e.g. rape and impregnation involutarily as any other woman, and with the party of women-are-public-baby-production-appliance values demanding no woman have sovereignty over her internal reproducive anatomy and no self-determination... those who regard death from toxemic pregnancy the only legitimate option allowable, why should I be polite to? Basically, that equates them to first degree murders of women. I should respect and honor a political party demanding, had I had a toxemic pregnancy, my death rather than the abortion the religious tradition I grew up in, specifies to save the woman's life?!

#155 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 12:18 PM:

(Somewhat bleary with a lingering cold, so this is my third attempt to post this and have it stick!)

Aside from a few early comments on the thread above this one, I haven't seen much from the angle of someone living in or closely connected with Arizona, so I'm offering up one transplant's opinions.

It's quite easy to see this state as a den of gun-toting yahoos, rogues and fools -- I felt that way myself after my votes in the latest election went for naught -- but the truth is more complicated. (Sidenote: Gaby Griffiths herself is complex, as a former Republican turned centrist Democrat with some unorthodox ideas. And her back story! Especially the astronaut husband whose twin brother is currently serving on the Space Station. But I digress.)

Did anyone else watch the ceremony held at the U in Tucson last night? Since Obama spoke, I would think it would be nationally televised. Although the whole thing *was* contrived by clever people, it struck me as remarkably appealing, from the music -- orchestral Copeland "Fanfare for the Common Man" at the beginning, and large choir doing his "Simple Gifts" to end it -- to speeches that emphasized the good in victims, survivors and heroes of the disaster rather than descending into blame.

Obama himself was particularly eloquent, and taking a look at some reactions today I was pleased not to see much sneering from any political spectrum. Even if hope for this country has become an illusion by now, I'd still like to indulge in it occasionally -- while managing to feel less embarassed about the state I now call home.

#156 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:12 PM:

Heather Rose Jones @101: The problem being that in a conversation involving people with different styles, there is an asymmetric effect on participation in the conversation. A high-overlap speaker can, effectively, require a low-overlap speaker to chose between changing styles or not participating. But a low-overlap speaker does not have the same power.

This low-overlap speaker thanks you very, very much for putting both that dichotomy and its resulting asymmetry into words I had not had at my disposal before.

(We seem to do that a lot for each other in this community. I'm glad my previous post in this thread ultimately came out as helpful in that regard; I was afraid I was skirting the edge of Needlessly Inflammatory Land, so, y'all's responses came as a relief.)

On a similar note...

Rikibeth @131: The only people who can be directly affected by [one's] deliberate rudeness here are the other commenters....

Yes. This. +100. Calling out this particular conversational dynamic rings a strong chord with me.

I just got back from an extended family visit, and while in many ways I get along with my parents much better now as a grown-up than I did as a teen, there are some things which I do not appreciate having "escaped" from until I'm back in their household being steeped in it again.

One of those is Mom's tendency to shout angrily at anyone else in traffic whose driving bothers her. It's loud, it's emotionally violent, and it isn't even heard by the people she's yelling at. It's heard by me, who cringes. Worse, she will interrupt any ongoing conversations to do it. So I get to feel both A) under attack, and B) as though I just ceased to exist. All at the same time.

I keep telling her, "The only person who can hear you do that is me, and I don't deserve it." But she doesn't believe that it's as distressing as I make it out to be, because obviously it's not me she's yelling at so why should I feel attacked?

At this point the anecdote has probably sped way outside the fields of relevance to the conversation and is passing through the land of This Blog Isn't Your Therapist, so I'll stop there and cap it with a tl;dl summary:

Aggressive Modes Of Speech Affect One's Audience, Despite One's Audience Not Being The Intended Target Of One's Aggression.

Too long for a bumper sticker, alas.

#157 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 05:21 PM:

Nicole @156:

I should have said something earlier about your comment at 56; I apologize if you felt you were being left hanging there.

I thought it was a really good example of the common maintenance of a shared conversation. Nicely meta. And I appreciated you making it; I was going through a pretty bad patch at the time (see the OP) and not up to untangling why the referenced comment made me feel so low.

Your anecdote about your mother is also fair and on point for the discussion.

I'm sorry to see you so discouraged right now (here and on Slacktivist). I hope that now that the stresses of the holiday season are past you'll be able to grow back.

#158 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 08:23 PM:

Paula @154, I'm just as disturbed by anti-choice politicians as you are. It's pretty much my dealbreaker issue for voting, and I've been among the people making contributions to Planned Parenthood "in the name of" various anti-choice politicians, whether GWB or people who sponsored particularly odious legislation.

I guess all I have to say is that, if you think that calling political figures and parties that you oppose by their established names counts as a level of "respect and honor" accorded to them that you find too distasteful to manage, we have fundamentally different ideas about the minimum standards of civil discourse.

#159 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 10:39 PM:

abi, I seem to have committed communication fail here. I didn't at all feel left hanging by anyone's non-response to my 56, yours or anyone's. I simply suffered my usual insecurities in making it, and was relieved by those who felt moved to make positive responses. Frankly, even *no* responses would have been a relief, because my insecurities said to me, "Niki, that's a damn inflammatory post you made and you're gonna get your ass handed to you."

"Thank you for not handing me my ass, Fluorosphere! You're the best!" Hee.

I'd forgotten there was so much overlap between here and Slacktivist. My discomfort with how a certain thread went down there is a very specific discomfort with a very specific context; I'm not feeling unusually uncomfortable anywhere else on the internet that I'm aware of, least of all here. I mean, I could see the potential similarity in situation, but Mr. Nicoll's view-all-by argued against taking him as a serious indicator of the community gestalt, and a lack of others rebuking him just meant there were plenty other things in the conversation for people to focus on. I didn't mean to come across as "Wow, is ML not as safe as I thought?" but just "Wow, son, you've made some damn fool assumptions about how harmless ignorance is received here, haven't you? I suppose someone needs to show you the heavy side of the household +1 Smacking Stick, and it may as well be me."

(At which point, aforementioned insecurities about whether I'd chosen a justified moment to pick up the +1 Smacking Stick, and so forth.)

And, aside from the usual distressed responses to tragedy in the news, meatspace life has actually been remarkably stress free.

I'm really sorry to have given anyone the impression of being in a bad place (though I appreciate the reminder that I've got friends who care whether it's the case!). I've just been more quiet lately because A) train trips and family vacations often mean internet time is limited, and B) sometimes I don't have much to contribute.

It probably doesn't help that my 56 was so very snarky but came in the middle of sort of a posting drought.

Anyway, I didn't mean to distress anyone, and I'm sorry that I seem to have done so.

And now I seem to have made this the All About Me show. Er. Sorry?

/emote wuvs u awl

#160 ::: Brett Paul Dunbar ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2011, 08:40 AM:

The tragedy of the commons describes what tends to happen with what a technically called common goods. Goods can be classified by whether or not they are rivalrous (does one person consuming it prevents another consuming) and by whether or not they are excludable (can the owner of the good prevent others from consuming it).

Private goods are rivalrous and excludable
Club goods are non-rivalrous and excludable
Public goods are non-rivalrous and non-excludable
Common goods are rivalrous and non-excludable

Common land is a private good, the grazing rights of the commoners are either individually or collectively held and exclusive.

Actual examples of common goods are rare, sea fish are about the only significant extant example. Historically fur trapping in early colonial north America was a common good, until the populations of were hunted to near -or in the case of the Sea Mink actual- extinction.

The market is good at private and club goods, fairly bad at public goods, (which are chronically under supplied) and tends to destroy common goods.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.