Monday, July 26, 2010

some reflections from Netroots Nation 2010 -- the progressive blogosphere is a living, growing, learning organism

Here is what conservatives have going for them:


The entire conservative worldview and the structure of their political machine (messages, think tanks, and organizational structure) is built on hierarchy.  The benefits that come from hierarchy are unity, message discipline, and focus. 

Here is what progressive have going for us:


As James Surowiecki shows in The Wisdom of Crowds, the benefits of diversity are extraordinary.  The more diverse, decentralized, and independent the group is, the more likely it is to come to the correct answer.  Hierarchical groups all move in the same direction (which is nice) but they tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over.  All of the diversity within the progressive movement leads to conflict within the group -- but over time, by engaging in the constant battle of ideas, progressives tend to arrive at the correct answer to the various challenges facing society.  So for example, in the last two hundred years, progressives have figured out abolitionism, universal suffrage, and how to win two world wars, while conservatives have figured out some greeting card platitudes about personal responsibility. 

The internet in general, and blogging is particular, is really built for a progressive way of thinking.  It's diverse, decentralized, and wildly independent.  Progressive blogs -- most notably sites like DailyKos, Pam's House Blend, Calitics -- have figured out how to create smart groups that harness the wisdom of the crowd.  These sites solicit diversity by allowing diaries so that anyone can participate.  But then these site harvest the wisdom of the crowd by moving the best diaries (based on the reaction of the crowd in the comments) up to the recommended list or onto the front page.  As a result, the progressive blogosphere has become an ideas factory that is consistently spitting out the best answers on the major issues of the day.  Through intense debate over the course of many months, the progressive blogosphere came up with the best answer for health care (Medicare for all), process (end the filibuster), and financial regulatory reform (consumer financial protection agency, regulate derivatives, relief for homeowners instead of Wall Street). 

What really impressed me about Netroots Nation 2010 (that I just returned from) is that the progressive blogosphere continues to grow and learn and change in pretty profound ways. It seems to me that the progressive blogosphere is like a single living organism (with a million little individuals cells) that is developing increasing complexity and sophistication. So for example, lots of progressive bloggers are now making connections between race and class and economics and labor and the environment -- really starting to see their single issues within the large systemic frameworks that create oppression. Martin Luther King, Jr., late in his career, started making the connections between race and class and the Vietnam war. So too, progressive bloggers are starting to get that racism, laissez-faire capitalism, militarism, homophobia, and sexism, all stem from the same system of domination.

To see what I'm talking about, check out the following videos from the conference:

Van Jones' keynote

Tim Wise on the links between racism and economic crisis -- starts at the 26:30 mark (you can just move the video slider to cue it up to that spot)

Rev. Lennox Yearwood (starts at 36:50)

Majora Carter (starts at 41:45)

As people start to connect the dots, it also creates the possibilities for lasting systemic change.  In spite of the daily challenges, it seems to me that this is a really exciting time to be a progressive.

Update #1:  Ian Welsh has a great post up on his site about the tensions in the room at Netroots Nation 2010. I think this is the best summary I've seen of the mood of, and divisions in, the audience at the event.  Where I differ with Welsh's analysis is that I think that the programming at NN was kinda genius.  Van Jones, Tim Wise, Lennox Yearwood, and Majora Carter all connected the dots in really profound ways that I think set the stage for a much deeper systemic shift in the movement in the years to come.  At least that's my hope.

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