Revive The Benefit of the Doubt
by Chris Bowers, Mon Sep 19, 2005 at 03:29:52 PM EDT
The second question was the one I really struggled with, because everything original I tried to add to Peter's piece was critical. In fact, at first, my commentary was lengthier than it currently is, but I edited it down because I thought it was too critical. This tendency on my part didn't make any sense, because I was basically in 99% agreement with Peter, yet I somehow felt compelled to spend 95% of my writing critiquing him. What was my problem? Could I only attach myself to Peter's excellent commentary by pointing out something that he missed, or offering at least a subtle disagreement with some small aspect of the overall piece? Why couldn't I just say, "that's damn right Peter," or something similar? In fact, I bet that if I did write something like that, I could only do so with a qualifier like "it's too bad person or group x doesn't get this as well." What's worse, I may have noticed this tendency on my part today, but I know that I do it all the time. I always have to butt in and tell people why they are wrong, even people with whom I agree.
Somehow, I have turned into a blogger who can only disagree with others, and who rarely, if ever, offers others the benefit of the doubt. I mean, there wasn't a single thing I said in my comments about Peter's piece that he didn't already know, but I still had to say them because I seemingly have lost my ability to give others the benefit of the doubt online. I know that I am not alone on this. Last week when I was in D.C., I had a drink with DavidNYC, and we talked about the ways that progressive blogopshere has changed over the past two or three years. At first I disagreed (go figure) with his assertion that the Dailykos community had really changed all that much since its inception, except in terms of size. Now, as before, Dailykos is a place where there are flame wars. Now, as before, Dailykos is a place where new blogging superstars are found. Now, as before, there are dominant points of view on certain subjects that tend to crowd out dissension. However (btw--I think "however" is one of my most commonly used words on MyDD), David made a coutner argument with which I had to agree. While he agreed with all of the points I made, he said that there was a basic change in terms of people giving others the benefit of the doubt. I know he is right about this, because I have both experienced it from others and experienced a personal change on my part.
At any rate, so long as blogs skew male, wealthy, and young, we need at the very least to take what goes on here with a grain of salt. Without fighting old battles, I think we've all seen the effects of these demographic biases in the progressive blogosphere, from pie fights, to Langevin cheering, to a relative lack of interest in labor and welfare rights issues. That Bowers and Stoller don't see this as a more important challenge to be addressed disturbs but does not entirely surprise me.This was really offensive to me because, as I pointed out in response, I am very concerned with these issues, and my past writing shows this: I ignore them do I?
Thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt and being so familiar with my writing on these issues before you accused me of ignoring them.The commenter wasn't wrong to point out that the report did not take up those issues at any length. However, because I didn't discuss them at length in that report, the assumption was made that I never addressed those concerns anywhere in my writing. Then again, why would they know that I wrote all of those things? Even though I have been a regular contributor to the Dailykos community for well over two years now and have a fairly popular blog, there are literally tens of thousands of other regular contributors, not to mention hundreds of other popular blogs. How could everyone possibly keep up with all of that?
Instead, I was anonymous. In this circumstance, I wasn't a well-known member of the community, as I am to some people. Rather, I was pretty much only what I wrote in the report. Thus, since the report didn't have all of the disclaimers some would like, or spend a significant amount of time on all the subjects everyone would like, I myself did not have the disclaimers some would like, or address all of the topics some would like.
And this is really a large part of the problem, isn't it? With greater size, the progressive blogosphere has become far, far more anonymous than it once was. However, it has not lost any of its confrontational nature. Thus, as we operate in a generally blind and enormous space where confrontation is the order of the day, strangers are bumping into one another more often and with greater ferocity. As a result, the benefit of the doubt and community support has all but been erased. Worse, any confrontational environment without the benefit of the doubt is going to become violent, and fast. Over time, such violence becomes the norm, and needlessly critical writing styles become dominant.
This has been going on for sometime. Shortly after the election, when "mainstream" bloggers were portrayed as a secretive and tightly-organized cabal by some, I tried to re-humanize us and the debate surrounding election fraud in a lengthy Dailykos diary entitled A Mainstream Blogger Responds. I should have heeded my own warnings in that diary to remember who bloggers are and how they produce their work before becoming overly critical of what they produce. Instead, I slowly turned into exactly the sort of person who I urged people not to become in that diary, and now if I can't criticize something, I hardly ever bother to write about it.
Well, hopefully it is not too late. Maybe we can still reverse these trends, if we just, for crying out loud, start to give people the benefit of the doubt. We need to stop assuming instantly when people disagree with us that they are trolls. We need stop spending such huge portions of our links to other progressive blogs explaining why they are wrong. We need to stop accusing people of being on the payrolls of people we dislike, or cavorting with folks we do not like. We need to assume that even though someone did not say every little tiny thing we would have liked in something they wrote, that there is a good chance they have said that or disclosed that somewhere else, but that we just haven't seen yet.
It may be an oxymoron in a world operated almost entirely by electronics and advanced technology, but we need a more human blogosphere. That is perhaps the best thing I remember about Blog for America during the Dean campaign--it was a very human place. No way I'd say that about pretty much every progressive blog now, even though there is about 99% more similarity among the two million people who read the progressive blogosphere as there is dissimilarity.
We just gotta remember that we are sisters and brothers here. For that reason alone, we should assume that others here agree with us, rather than disagree, and start treating each other like we are on the same team. If there should be any assumption between strangers in the progressive blogosphere, it should be that they agree with each other, are working together and that they will become friends. If we don't do this, then as we continue to grow exponentially, this is going to become an even more disturbing place as time goes on. I'm not going anywhere no matter what happens, but if things do get worse, I worry about what the blogosphere may do to me as a person. I would really like to retain my humanity in order to maintain my position within the netroots. I imagine most people reading this would like to do the same. It may be cheesy, but I'd like to give humanity a shot.