Just like conventional wisdom has credited the Right Wing's disciplined rise to power to the topdown control of message through AM Talk Radio and the politicization of the evangelical pulpit, so will cultural observers try to explain the shift in support to new methods of addressing the public effectively.
In today's San Francisco Chronicle there is an illuminating exchange between two "sharp thinkers" debating opposite viewpoints on the role of new technology on culture in general, with clear extrapolation for the future of politics. It is fascinating to read through their conversation and hear again the themes that we ourselves often engage on this site. It's as easy to imagine the discussion is taking place between Joe Trippi and Rahm Emmanuel as the men actually quoted in the article.
Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and author of the paradigm-shifting bestseller "The Long Tail," espouses what most Kossacks believe, that inclusion and participation leads to the most progressive and humane outcomes:
I broadly believe in democratic principles. I broadly believe in market principles. I think that the three most powerful forces of our time are evolution, democracy and capitalism, all three of which are very much individualistic, sort of enlightened self-interest and individual agents working autonomously.
History suggests that they are the least bad of the available models. They tend to reach more optimal, but not perfect, solutions. So, if you believe in democracy and if you believe in markets, then you believe in technologies that help them work more efficiently. That's very much what we are seeing today.
His "opponent" in the debate, Andrew Keen, a political philosopher and author of "The Cult of the Amateur," laments the cheapening of public discourse now that virtually anyone can attract an audience, and how difficult it is to know what voices one can trust out of the emerging cacophony:
I think perhaps the more pertinent issue is one of direct democracy versus representative democracy. What I think you are seeing in this "flattened" world that (New York Times columnist) Tom Friedman writes about, along with so many other pro-technology writers, is the idealization of direct democracy.
I still think that the wisdom that I value -- the scarcity, to put it in economic terms -- is not in the crowd, but in people with talent and experience, whether they exist in political life, in economic life or cultural life.
Rather than fetishizing this idealized crowd -- it seems tremendously abstract -- one can pick up so many examples from history where the crowd has not behaved in a very wise or gentlemanly way. I would rather focus on the value of expertise and the wisdom of people who are trained.
Anderson puts his faith in new, broader and more inclusive structures to solve the problem of "information overload" and the superiority of the resulting product to the 20th century "stovepiping" of information upward though narrow channels. Essentially endorsing platforms like Daily Kos and Wikipedia, Anderson puts his hope for the future in something not far removed from John Stuart Mill's Utilitarian "that the good is whatever brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people."
When you say I can filter a million voices myself, I am filtering a million voices, but not doing it myself. What I have is layers of filters. There are people out there who have more time than me, have more expertise than me or just find things that I haven't found. I have maybe 200 voices out there that I listen to, but collectively I'm filtering a million voices through all those layers. As a result, I get a richer, higher-quality diet of information better suited to me to pull from a wider pool and wider variety of sources. It's not that much trouble. It's much easier than it's ever been before.
However, Keen sees disintermediation and decentralization as a threat to modern civilization, potentially undermining the very institutions responsible for progress. His is a bleak warning that we stand to lose what we value most as it all unravels without a central unifying force to counter the entropy.
I think we are seeing more fragmentation. I think we are seeing more anger. I think we are seeing this radicalization of culture and life. I think that technology seems to be almost coincidental and has exploded around this at the same time that Americans are very angry about many different things.
It has nothing to do with blogs or technology, but all these things are coming together in a way that concerns me and I think that if our traditional institutions of politics or culture or economics continue to be undermined by this personalization and radical individualization of things, then I think we will be in trouble.
I think that if the Internet becomes more and more of a soapbox to trash elected politicians and mainstream media figures and to conduct these witch hunts on anyone who ever makes a mistake, then I think that eventually we are going to find ourselves in a world where we're just going to be staring at a mirror.
It's going to result in what I call cultural and economic anarchy, and I don't think that is a good thing. I think it will result in less community, which is ironic given the fact that this thing is supposed to be about community.
With the coming election and massive shift in power seemingly the result of the publication of private Instant Messages and emails, and the pervasive distribution of YouTube videos, the question for us Kossacks is this: is the vehicle of the new technologies so inherently progressive and consistent with our values that we will "own" it for the foreseeable future?
Or because these new methods are so without any way to validate the worth their message, that they will be seized, like Talk Radio was, by the forces of corporate fascism and perverted, like Powerline or RedState to be used to secure the anti-democratic agenda? Just like Stephen Colbert was able to change a Wikipedia entry to falsely assert to the flourishing of elephants in Africa, will the powerful interests "astroturf" America into complacency or apathy?
And if that is what we believe is inevitable, what can we do to counter it or prevent that from happening?