Posted by: Jim | December 5, 2006

The Hectic Dialectic

Long ago, I wrote a post I called “Porchlight Politics,” proclaiming the internet to be the revival of dialog. Though I posted this three years ago, I originally wrote it in the mid-90s. I predicted that broadcast media would fall by the wayside, making way for what I called “narrowcasting.” A few years ago, music became the first casualty, as the advent of Napster wrested control from the music giants. Frankly, I was glad, as it was my opinion that most of the “broadcast” music was tripe, and becoming tripier by the day. Napster, and since mp3.com, and iTunes, has allowed actual talent to make their mark outside of the control of the giants who previously ruled the land.I’ve been predicting that the movie and TV industry would be next, but I will admit that I did not expect to see this any time soon. Allegedly however, we are seeing the demise of the broadcast video media right now. And who is the usurper? YouTube.com. WIRED magazine has an interesting article about them in this month’s issue. To quote it: “Without being overly simplistic or melodramatic, the state of the Old Commercial Broadcasting Model can be summarized like this: a spiraling vortex of ruin.”

Surprise. The new paradigm is here.

But the point of this post is to say that my original premise was totally and obliteratingly wrong. The internet has not brought about a renaissance of dialog–not in any Hegelian sense, which presupposes an upward direction toward synthesis and higher truth. My old beef with the broadcast paradigm was that you could never talk back to the TV. One can participate in the internet conversation, but unfortunately there is no dialog when everyone is talking at once. What’s more, we can instantly find out the truth about any one thing, but forget about trying to make sense of it all. That isn’t going to happen.

So I’m wondering: is Hegel obsolete? Do we need to find a new way of discovering truth? Whereas before we simply compared the status quo to its equal opposite, today, I’m starting to think, there is no status quo. What we have instead is a bathtub full of ideas, and some of them don’t smell right.

I know to fight against this trend is futile, because the trend is too powerful. If all of my optimism about the human race is correct, then there is a way to extract truth and sense from the soup in the bathtub. The human race, as a collective mind, will somehow modify its old ways of thinking into new ways, and higher truth will prevail.

I hope.

The internet is fertile ground, but spectacularly immature. Perhaps it will eventually find a way of pushing its gems to the surface.

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Responses

  1. jim

    i think you should go back to your stuff about ants to alleviate some of the doubts you express, because a lot of the most useful stuff on the internet relates to the marking of content by users, sites like digg, dailykos, slashdot, technorati, and youtube, where number of user views, thumbs ups and downs, etc, decide what rises to the top, what sinks. fact is, the dialog question is more vexed, because no doubt a lot of dialog goes on privately through IMs and email, “check this out, check that out” and that falls outside of the internet’s historical record (god, i don’t know what else to call it).

    there’s an everything at once quality to the internet that you don’t get in other mediums. i think it has been good for trust, for example, not because the internet has provided more trusted sources, but because it has made people realise how untrustworthy the official sources can be. the army of fact-checkers are also great, it’s great that people with disorders previously fairly localised can now perform the free public service of helping to counter factual errors, whether they are committed by design or by accident.

    this leads me to what i would ponder about this post, as another question:

    Given the years you have been using the internet, do you think it is true that: 1) you now are better informed than when you didn’t use the internet (if you can remember such a time), and 2) is the quality of information and the way it is organized on the internet getting better.

    for me, the answer to both has to be a definite yes. on this issue, i am an optimist. as for the hegelian thing, the dialectic is always going to form a useful means of analysing events, but the nature of dialog does perhaps need to change. some better ways of presenting comments would help, i think they should be presented perhaps more in a spatial way than in a linear way. it would also be good if analysis tools could be brought to bear on the consistency or otherwise of individual contributions, so you could kind of develop ideological profiles (that you then reflect on yourself, others can view). wouldn’t it be great to watch your own political viewpoints evolving over time? it would be something useful, an amped-up version of the appalling Ideological Compass thing.

    a few thoughts, sorry they took so long.

  2. If Hegel were obsolete, wouldn’t there be no point in asking the question?

    * * *

  3. Sure, you can ask, but the answer might be “I like trampolines!”

    😉

    I’m overstating this, I realize, and Jason’s response says there is hope, but the hope is not in a true “dialectic” in the classic sense. It’s a new method of synthesizing truth.

  4. I think some truths will not become evident until we meet our maker (or in the case of you weak athieists, wherever we go when we’re done here on earth). Dennis Miller was on Leno last night, and he illustrated a beautiful point. He brought along a copy of Newsweek from 1975, where the science community was convinced that the planet was going through a phase of ‘global cooling.’ Their solution was to partially melt the ice caps in order to maintain the temperature of the earth for years to come. Of course, this now seems like science of the caveman, but who is to say in the year 2036 that we as a people swing back to global cooling as opposed to global warming?

    There are some things we will never know. Science may show us one thing, but nature finds a way to make us look stupid. We can read all the reports and all the journals, be it from the internet or other types of media, and the answer will remain elusive.

    By the way, Al Gore? Holy cow, can you say global eating?

  5. I agree that nature has a way of making us look stupid. Well said! However, I would like to add that Dennis Miller is one bat wing away from completely being looney tunes. He is becoming anti-status quo, which isn’t necessarily bad, but when he said that George Bush MUST be good BECAUSE he is so hated (like Abe and Harry were), I knew his powers of reasoning were cooling as well.

    However, his point about the 1975 newsweek article is not lost on me. I’ve been a skeptic of Global Warming for a long time. I haven’t seen Al Gore’s movie yet, but I intend to. Even so, a compelling documentary does not equal truth. Case in point, many VERY compelling documentaries have been made that make it look obvious that the US Goverment was behind the WTC attack. Does that make it true?

    But here is where the internet allows the masses to create a frenzy around things that might not be true. Let’s face it, if we find out that global warming was never true, then it will prove how the internet is only magnifying our stupidity.

  6. You may not like Dennis Miller because he is articulate and switched sides ;-), but his point is still valid.

    And facts make a documentary compelling. This is why the History channel is so cool and Michael Moore is not. Dennis Miller brought his evidence with him and added his own reasoning. It made sense to me.

    People choose to worry about things beyond their control, contributing to the collective an unneccessary anxiety of humanity. I also plan to see Al’s flick, but will not take it for fact simply because film critics deem it ‘compelling.’ Let scientists do so, and on that I will base my opinion…

  7. Here’s another hopeful example: http://theserrach.typepad.com/mirada/2006/11/thanks_to_the_i.html


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