01 May 2007

Post mortem for a political blogosphere

1. Technological essentialism

The argument comes back in vogue every few decades: new inventions will fundamentally change human behaviour, reconfigure power structures, show us new ways to think and see the world.

Fireworks. The moveable type. Ocean-sailing ships. The telegraph. These are inventions that changed the world the second time round. Or perhaps you could say they intensified patterns of behaviour that were already there, like how the steam engine merely made global colonialism easier.

2. Relative autonomy

The illusion that the internet, the political blogosphere, seems to operate under different rules, with a different culture and mindset, ties in neatly with the technological essentialism argument. Yet technological essentialism provides no explantatory value when the political blogosphere goes the way of Sammyboy, soc.culture.singapore, singabloodypore...

That the blogosphere could, for a while, be seen to operate under unique internal rules, can be explained by sole virtue of the miniscule population of political bloggers and commentors on their blogs, hence its relative autonomy with regards to institutional politics, the market.

What destroyed the blogosphere's power to create an idealised platform to comment and collaborate on measured criticisms of the larger polity, was simply the loss of its relative autonomy. The elections of 2006 provided the onslaught of commentors, who had their own ideas of discourse (one liners, mudslinging, ranting), and the attention of the institutional political players (both parties supplying their own anonymouses, setting up groupblogs, helping party members to set up their own blogs, creating and coordinating their own stables of bloggers).

3. Exit and silence

The exit of various bloggers is a deliberate resignation, not forced, and certainly not all that dire. The proxies of various political parties may now find conquering the blogosphere far easier, as is swamping readers with more pliant bloggers who can always be counted to rouse the troops. They will find, in time, that the blogosphere's credibility and respectability a halo created by the practices and discursive rigour and ethics of the ex-bloggers, and that this credibility and respectability will never be in their hands, ever, by the black ops virtue of their operations.

A fair warning: yes, some of us may be disillusioned or weary. There will be some of us, who are like the Magician.

We have read deeply into the rules that govern our blogging enterprise, the changing relations that govern us in the current situation created by the entrance of the anonymouses and the functionaries of the Whiteshirts and Redshirts. And we see one, and only one true exit, only one path of action that is morally and spiritually satisfying.

And then, we leave.

And yet, our magic (the halo of credibility!) was never in the microchips, the fibre optics, the blogging software that lie on the internet. Some of us may be silent. Others will simply do what we've always done, and start talking and convincing people around us, in this flesh-and-blood world, of our arguments, to invite them into our analytical projects. While you play your game of turning the blogosphere into your echo chamber.

The magic lies with the Magician's ability to understand and read the game, it is an inalienable part of the Magician. The magician remains the magician, even without the staff.

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