This morning the Cat got mentioned in despatches – well, actually the Australian. Former editor in chief Chris Mitchell was writing about the social media pile on, good journalism, free speech, and academic freedom. He raised the issue of Clive Hamilton and Chinese investment into Australia.
The right-wing Catallaxy Files blog has criticised such concerns as conspiracy theories, proving the shouty culture of social media is not limited to the left. Indeed, media consumers often seem to want no more than confirmation bias from their news sources.
Well, yes. I am underwhelmed by arguments that I should sacrifice freedoms and money because I am about to be murdered in my bed and/or overrun by communists. In my youth the propaganda was so much better – try phrases like “total onslaught” or even better “the total psychological onslaught”. Nowadays the commies want to buy housing stock, invest in local businesses, and grow the economy. Mind you, not the homegrown commies, just those ones from China.
The more important point, however, is that Chris Mitchell is quite wrong to conflate the shoutyness of the Cat with left-wing social media. We shout at each other more than we shout at the outside world. As I wrote at Quadrant a few years ago:
Blogging is very much an intellectual adventure. If the conversation is Oakeshottian, the adventure is Hayekian. Friedrich von Hayek has gained a certain notoriety in Australia – being Kevin Rudd’s neo-liberal whipping boy. Hayek suggests that knowledge is not concentrated or integrated but rather exists ‘as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all individuals possess’. Prices and markets serve to coordinate those bits of dispersed knowledge in our economic lives, but it is conversation that ‘distinguishes the human being from the animal and the civilised man from the barbarian’ (Oakeshott).
Some readers might baulk at my lofty descriptions of blogging vis-à-vis the rudeness, sarcasm and indecency that they may observe in the blogosphere. Indeed Catallaxyfiles where I blog is often singled out as being particularly nasty. Many of those making that claim, however, are social democrats who are simply not used to being challenged by articulate, educated and intelligent individuals. They live in world where disagreement with their ideals can only be due to corruption or stupidity.
To be fair, that isn’t the entire explanation. Blogging may be a conversation but it is not genteel. It is robust; it is frank. Just as markets can be a bazaar so a conversation can be a cacophony. It is well documented that individuals can be more aggressive online than in real life; but, on the flip side, they can also be more considered, more eloquent – and, with the ability to link to other sites on the web, they can back up their arguments with evidence.
So to reject the legitimacy of conversation on the basis of tone is to place form above substance.
That aside, let me recommend Chris Mitchell’s articles to you – he has a Monday column in The Australian – which remains one of the best newspapers in the world so get a subscription if you don’t already have one (it comes bundled with a subscription to the Wall Street Journal).