|Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent|
In this bar everyone gets a shout
Jack's archive is here
I’ve been writing in cyberspace for five years, most of it as a contributor to Webdiary.
Like every technical advance in its history – cave wall, papyrus, paper, ink, printing press, typewriter, ballpoint, PC – the internet has been heralded as an ‘evolution in writing’, but whenever words do drive an evolution, or a revolution, or even just modest progress, it’s always because of what they say, not how they are delivered.
This is important to remember whenever the battle of ideas is joined, and especially in what is now a saturated and cacophonous blogosphere. At this stage by sheer weight of numbers most bloggers are repetitive, derivative and preaching only to their own niche audiences. Good luck to them all - but with most blogs now you've figured out what ideas you’re going to encounter when you click on them by about the second or third visit. While the blogsite platform may have been briefly evolutionary, as usual it's the words alone that will determine whether any given species survives or dies out. Sadly, it appears that what most internet writers contribute to humanity's ‘battle of ideas’ these days is nasty, brutish and short.
Webdiary has always taken a different approach, since Margo Kingston has never seen the interplay of competing ideas as a battle at all, more an ongoing exercise in collective construction in which opposing views build on each other’s complimentary strengths instead of bashing against one another, winner take all.
This constructive approach demands that those complimentary strengths be sought out by opposing sides in the first place, of course, and here is where Webdiary defines itself. Call it intellectual masochism, but since she set out on the Hanson Trip MK has strived to engage with opinions which her instinct would normally have her avoid. Yet more: she’s been enormously generous with her media space in airing those views too, including the bile of her nastiest personal critics. No other writer in Australia has given their obsessed enemies more room to shout in their face from up close.
Can you imagine Andrew Bolt routinely granting Green Left Weekly unedited elbow room in his chatroom? Janet Albrechtsen giving half her Oz column to David Marr every week? Those towering super-egos Rupert and Kerry wouldn’t even let their editors review Margo’s best-seller Not Happy John!, presumably because it criticised them – compellingly.
And here lies a key to understanding the nature of the battle of ideas today. Tilting the battlefield is no longer a matter of outright censorship or blatant bias in mainstream coverage of issues - the ubiquity and speed of internet critique is quickly putting paid to those traditional blunt-axe mogul tactics.
Shaping the Information Age in favour of the powerful is increasingly a matter of the mainstream media controlling debate far more deftly, by choosing not if, but which, opposing views will be engaged with in their pages and broadcasts. In the battle of ideas the media players so love to pretend to champion fearlessly, rest assured it won't ever be a winning opposing view they deign to air.
Instead, everybody who is anybody in the Information Age has long recognised that maintaining your information supremacy is now more easily achieved by arguing your opponents’ ideas into a losing position than by arguing your own into a winning one. Most public debate now consists of distorting the view of the enemy as a priority - in order to tear it down more easily - rather than concentrating on presenting your own.
In the post-9/11, reactionary opening years of the third millennium, the strawman fallacy reigns supreme; together we dumb our human aspirations down, relentlessly ramping up the flaws in each other’s bold visions rather than applauding, or at least conceding, their strengths. Hence the mainstream battle of ideas gives us losers and non-losers only; there can be no real winners on a terminally sinking battlefield.
Margo Kingston’s Webdiary has never been like this.
Here everyone speaks only for themselves. Here only you get to say what your ideas and opinions are. Only you describe your grandest beliefs, dreams, aspirations and fears. There are no pigeon-holes at Webdiary - unless you let yourself be pigeonholed. There are no 'biases’ – unless you let biases go unbalanced. If someone’s being illogical in Club Chaos you are free to point it out. If someone’s dropped a smelly little orthodoxy on the beige carpet, you’re free to clean it up. When someone builds a strawman out of your ideas – and they will try – you can have all the space you need to tear it down and set them straight - before they do, not after.
You don’t have to be a professional writer to have your say here with dignity, clarity and brevity (and if needed, length and depth and complexity, too). You don’t have to be a loyal lieutenant to Kerry or sleeping with a Murdoch or sucking up to a potential Fairfax buyer; nor a ‘Sydney mate’ or a Riverside alumni or a paid-up ABC Trot or a Baby Boomer ‘usual suspect’ or any other part of the little gang that constitutes the mainstream Op Ed in-crowd - and who seem to me at least to have dominated Australia's battle of ideas for about five hundred thousand years, now.
You just have to have an opinion and a desire to contribute its complimentary strengths to the constructive Webdiary mix. Nobody else on this planet can express the unique ideas in your head - claiming to know what you think, or aspire to, or mean, or believe, or hate, or are frightened by - except you. So long as you follow Margo’s house rules you are warmly welcome to do so. Share your ideas with the front bar crowd and you’ll soon learn why those who have been returning to drink here again and again for years are so loyal to the generous, tenacious, optimistic and bighearted publican leaning on the counter behind the bar.
Welcome to your temporary digs, Margo and fellow Webdiarists. Good luck in the new millennium non-battle of ideas.