Bee Season: The Triumph of the Swarm

I don't get out much -- and I for  sure don't pay too much attention to the incessant navel-gazing that seems endemic to the blogosphere. ("Blogs! Do We Rule, or What?" "Blogs: New Paradigm for a Transformative Age!" "Blogs! Are We Important Yet?"). At the same time, I have no interest in the blog-bashing you see among some of the big beasts in both corporate journalism and even in some "progressive" or "dissident" quarters. Blogs are just another means of delivering information, and like all other such means devised by mind of humankind, they can in each individual instance be either very good or very bad, very effective or a load of waffle, or somewhere in between. I'm interested more in the information -- facts, insights -- than in its delivery vehicle. (This is not to deny that different vehicles have different ramifications, or to say that these differences aren't important. But one can't be vitally interested in every subject under the sun, and this particular subject doesn't happen to engage me very deeply.)

But recently a friend pointed out to me the hoo-rah being raised about a "great triumph" of the "progressive blogosphere," which I guess is where this blog belongs, if one must slice and dice reality in the kind of hackneyed terms that, say, an editor at Time Magazine might understand. I'd seen passing headlines relating to this victory, but I'd not paid much attention until he sent me the link to a Media Matters story that, Bruce Catton-like, relates the history of this momentous battle: The blog swarm Chris Matthews never saw coming.

This , I learned, was the triumph that showed "how the Beltway press is increasingly susceptible to pressure applied by the netroots": it seems that a "blogswarm" forced a fatuous gasbag to demur slightly and temporarily from his verbal attacks on a poor, defenseless, immensely wealthy, well-connected United States senator who with the full and eager backing of the nation's military-industrial establishment is one step away from the presidency. Er, that's it.

But don't let's be cynical, as Kruhulik the janitor might say. After all, this gasbag-archon imbroglio is obviously the central issue of our time -- and we blogospherians had a definite if infinitesimal effect on it for almost three whole hours or something! Doesn't that mean that all our efforts in the past years have not been in vain? Doesn't that make you feel empowered?

To riot in cliché, one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. Getting a complete and utter non-entity like Chris Matthews to feel wiggly for a minute before he goes right on collecting his fat checks for bloviating in front a miniscule portion of the population? If this is victory, I'd hate to see defeat.

I'm also a bit shocked by the analysis of the New Hampshire results that sparked the "blogswarm;" i.e., that the large gap between polling and actual vote count was the result of women getting mad at the misogyny of a little-watched putz on TV. What's the actual upshot of this take? "My, the little dears are just so flighty, aren't they?" That seems almost on a par with Matthews' own juvenile cretinosity. For my part, I much prefer the analysis offered by Mark Crispin Miller in his remarkable interview with Scott Horton (of which more later, I hope):

There is no doubt that the op-scans were manipulated in the New Hampshire primary, as Hillary won by six points where the votes were counted by those gadgets, while Obama won by six points where the ballots were hand-counted–and, contrary to a lot of comfy punditry, there was actually no demographic factor that explains the difference. (I suspect that Republicans manipulated the machines, to ensure that Hillary will be the candidate they run against.)

One interesting point that came out in the Media Matters article was that this "blogswarm" was essentially created by -- a TV talking head. According to the MM chronology, as the surprising New Hampshire returns were coming in, Rachel Maddow, who was appearing on MSNBC, read some angry comments about media Hillary-bashing on Josh Marshall's blog, then brought up the point on the air. In other words, the swarm was not originated by the blogosphere at all; instead, it was set off by someone on an old-fashioned, mainstream broadcast media outlet.

What's also fascinating is how this concept of a "blogswarm" is evidently regarded as something positive  by "progressive" bloggers, of all people. Surely this phenomenon was once known by another name: "groupthink." It doesn't quite sound so positive like that, does it? And the description of the swarm's creation is likewise less than inspiring. Broken down to its essentials, it goes something like this: "R said it on the TeeVee, then J put it on a blog, then P saw that and put it on another blog, and then P was watching the TeeVee again and heard them talking about the 'Bradley effect' so P made up this phrase, 'the Tweety Effect,' and put that on a blog -- and then D saw it and put it on a really big blog, and that sent it through the roof. Why, a day or two later, P was even invited to talk about the whole thing on -- yes! -- the TeeVee!"

Pam Spaulding, the originator of the phrase, was even proud of how this "blogswarm" and its catchy tag aped the way that Republicans operate:

"It was a shorthand that people became comfortable with and that's [what] Republicans are usually good at," says Spaulding. "They're good at 'cut and run' and 'flip flopper.' They know how to use the language and press it over and over again."

Hey, we can catapult the propaganda, too!

But maybe it's just me. Maybe I just don't get it. As I say, I don't get out much -- and I never step into the echo chamber of the American broadcast media, unless I'm stuck in an airport somewhere with inescapable CNN screens hanging down at every turn. But I'm afraid I've never understood the libprogblog obsession with these blowhards on TV. Oh, I enjoy rubber-necking at a good slap-down every now and then like anyone else, I'm not denying that. (Falafels, anyone?) And sure, it's useful to track whatever new lie is issuing forth from the bowels of power, passing through the mouths of their servitors and sycophants. But I'm continually surprised at the tremendous amount of energy and passion that goes into these routine waste management activities.

I tend to suspect that the talking heads are not as powerful and influential as many libprogbloggers seem to think. Anyone who would actually be "influenced" by the likes of Chris Matthews is already an idiot. It's not like these talk-show cretins are somehow magically converting active, informed citizens of Madisonian hue and Jeffersonian rigor into bovine chewers of conventional wisdom cud; Matthews' fans are already chomping that cud, and they simply look to him and his ilk for a fresh regurgitation of the same old slop. People who have a lick of sense -- people who might actually be moved and swayed by genuine facts and penetrating insights about the grim realities of our time -- are not paying attention to the Chris Matthewses of this world anyway.

Thus it seems more productive to me (and again, this is just my opinion) to concentrate your passion and energy and time on digging up more facts, producing more insights into, say, the slaughter of a million innocent people in a vast war crime being committed in your name -- or the torture being committed in your name -- or the evisceration of your Republic with the eager collusion of the very party that you are rooting so hard for -- than stinging Chris Matthews' butt with a rubber-band as he's walking to his locker.

But hell, what do I know? I've never even been to a swarm. Maybe everything looks different from inside the groupmind.