Friday, June 23, 2006

Blogs as Communities

My earlier post on the way lefty blogs are discussed in the mainstream media referred to the idea of blog communities, but I now think this idea deserves a post of its own.

The feeling of belonging to a community, of being its member, of being accepted even when you are grumpy and sad or in the wrong is very important for many human beings. Communities are not the same as the circle of our immediate families and friends, but they are also necessary for pack animals such as Homo sapiens, and I believe that we have not appreciated this importance enough in politics. Think about the idea of America-on-the-road, about how people move across a continent at the drop of a hat, in search for a better job or a better life. This can be good and exciting but it also has its costs in terms of lost ties to people and places, losses of community. And what takes its place for many? Watching the box or surfing the internet. These are not replacements of real communities.

The religious believers, including the fundamentalists, have their own solution to our thirst for communities: churches and other religious institutions. They serve to bring people together and to give them the kind of community feeling people need. The new megachurches thrive because of this. People cut adrift from their familiar and geographic ties can hookup immediately to something larger than themselves. This is important, not to be underestimated. I have even heard abused women tell that they stayed in the faith-based community that did the abusing because of this community feeling.

But that communities can be exploited for nepharious agendas does not mean that we who are not nepharious should not build our own communities. Communities of people who have at least some of the same beliefs let us feel that we are not alone, not weird. They give us a place where we can relax, where it's not necessary to always be in armor and ready to attack, where it's possible to discuss and plan and to take the risk of being in the wrong without getting your head bashed in as a consequence.

Internet communities are not quite the same thing as real world communities, but they are communities, and I believe that we should support them because of the psychological and political and common-sense advantages. And whenever possible, we should encourage the next step: to make these communities into real-world communities. Programs such as Drinking Liberally already do this.

So I find blog communities at Eschaton, Kos, Firedoglake and Pandagon, to pick just a few examples, a good thing for us liberals and progressives and feminists.

And how do you build such a community? Well, you need to have comments and you need to let people talk about stuff that is not directly related to the topic of the comments thread. You need to give the readers a voice. - You also need to solve the problem of trolling and of unstable commenters and of spamming, but a lot of this is not that different from the kinds of things that happen in flesh-based communities.

All this is a long answer to this criticism of blogs I linked to earlier:

Even beyond the thuggishness, what I despise about so many blogurus, is the frivolity of their "readers." DailyKos might have hundreds of responses to his posts, but after five or six of them the interminable thread meanders into trivial subjects that have nothing to do with the subject that briefly provoked it. The blogosphere's lack of concentration is even more dangerous than all its rage.

Anyone who has organized a church social knows about the lack of concentration thing. It's nothing specific to blogs or lefty blogs. Indeed, anyone who has taught a class knows about the lack of concentration thing. The trick is to bring people's attention back by suddenly yelling like an angry bear, say. Worked for me.

Communities are not totally good things. For one thing, anything that makes some people into "insiders" turns others into "outsiders", and all sorts of nastiness can grow from that, and the self-policing of communities can also get vicious. For that reason (and for other reasons) we also need political commons, places, where people of different political views can interact. In a POLITE way. Right now these commons don't exist, because the wingnuts have killed them - I'm willing to defend this argument for pages and pages, so don't even think of starting a debate on it - and some of the criticisms aimed at blogs should be properly addressed to those wingnuts responsible for the lack of such commons.

Did you notice that I'm practising using dashes recently? This kind of thing is the reason why my blog will never become a community.