THE POWER OF THESE WORDS
by Rick Salutin
Aug 17 2007
Essence of blogging. The challenge of the blogosphere leapt out in one
line of David Rees’s response to Michael Ignatieff’s recent recantation
of support for the Iraq war. Blogger Rees cited an Ignatieff passage on
how the noble expectations of war boosters failed to materialize, which
ended by saying war opponents "avoided all these mistakes." "Yeah,"
Rees blogged, "you’re right, they did.
Do you know why? Because they’re not retarded."
That’s it. The blogosphere is the schoolyard at recess-in the best
sense. The great equalizer, where kids who play the game and get ahead
in class, are cut down to size. A figure like Michael Ignatieff could
spend his life without hearing anyone blow him a raspberry-as opposed
to respectfully disagreeing, thereby affirming his gravitas.
It’s anti-respect for authority, the court jester, the kid in The
King’s New Clothes. It’s not telling truth to power: It’s telling
power to screw itself. This is the radical democratic element in
blogging: that possessors of power, including the power of opinion,
don’t necessarily merit their status at all. You cut them no slack
and what you say, or hiss, gets out there. The wielders of power are
not used to this treatment.
Suppose the anti-respect movement succeeded. Then what would replace
respectability? Is this a zero-sum game in which new opinionators
would just move into the positions from which the pompous asses and
"retards" were turfed? I find it distressing the extent to which this
kind of prestige seems on bloggers’ minds. You can see Daily Kos’s
founder Markos Moulitsas Zúniga practically pee himself when he’s on
The Colbert Report. Perhaps he’s aware that people still spend far
more media time with TV and radio (70 per cent) than the Internet
(5 per cent). Sometimes the blogosphere feels like a reality show
called Who Wants To Be the Next Super Pundit?
I imagine a Kos-like response would be: Everybody gets to be the next
super pundit, we are about the democratic right of all to express
their views. I think this is less rebellious than it seems because
in the end it would merely replace the opinions of a few with the
opinions of many. The biggest problem, it seems to me, isn’t elitism
(which is a problem); it’s individualism.
IMHO, as they say, what’s missing from the discussion is the issue
of common sense versus individual opinion. A revolutionary change
would not replace a few opinions with more and different individual
views; it would arrive at opinions in a new, non-egocentric way, where
people could meet without previously developed, hard positions, and
work together on an issue. Such things happen, and they are usually
practically oriented: Should we go on strike? Should we change the
way things are done at the school?
So the key myth isn’t elitism, it’s individualism, the idea that some
lone genius will come up with the answers.
Cleansing the term: A U.S. general let the cat out of the bag this
week when he called massacres in Kurdish Iraq, ethnic cleansing and
"almost" genocide, as if the two are much the same. But ethnic
cleansing is far more widespread and ancient. In the sense of
transfer of identifiable populations, it’s almost coterminous with
modern history. Why move people if you want to kill them rather than
just rob them? (Unless you lack the death technology, in which case,
forced marches, as in the Armenian genocide, will accomplish both.)
Most partitions involve ethnic cleansing, as the UN knew when it
partitioned Palestine in 1947 and Britain did when it divided India
exactly 60 years ago. Iraq is being ethnically cleansed with two
million internal and two million external refugees; as Yugoslavia
was ethnically cleansed in the 1990s, with the collusion of NATO,
in the holy name of whatever it was called at the time. Maybe eliding
the two categories helps cover up the nature of these more ostensibly
respectable cases. They don’t deserve the fig leaf.
Originally published in The Globe and Mail, Rick Salutin’s column
appears every Friday.