Opiate of the masses?

No, not religion. Blogging. Tom Shugart raises a point in this post that’s been nagging at the back of my brain for a while. He asks:
I wonder–had the internet been available in the ’60’s–would the power of the protest have been deflected by people taking out their outrage in a flurry of blogposts? Would they have had the illusion–and only the illusion–of empowering themselves and changing history through the act of cross-blogging, when, in actuality, the only force that could have changed anything was the years of dogged determination, blood in the streets and campuses, defections to Canada, banishments from the family, willingness to spend time in the slammer?
Most of us use weblogging to create conversations with others who have similar inclinations and opinions. And these conversations give us personal encouragement and sustenance. In some cases, they even give us the support we need to make changes in our personal lives. But I don’t see them making a big difference in the larger political world.
I wonder–if insightful, energetic, and vocal bloggers like b!X didn’t have the Net, would they be actively working with Ralph Nader or with environmental action groups or some similar change-oriented organziations? Like Shugart, I’m wondering if blogging just gives us the illusion of being engaged in changing the world — just a new version of opiate dreaming.

7 thoughts on “Opiate of the masses?

  1. Well said, Elaine.
    There’s nothing wrong with an illusion.
    I can’t get through the day without one.
    All great changes were orchestrated by and attempted by Master Illusionists–and followed by ‘fools’ that didn’t know any better.
    The right illusion, at the right time–and you just never know.
    But it’s gotta start somewhere. We’ve been jaded for some time now.

  2. Thanks for the quote, Elaine, from my blog. Unfortunately, the @#$%!@# Blogger has messed up my permalinks, so if anyone wants to read the post, they’ll have to use the link on my name below this comment.
    Glad you share my concern. Blogging’s a great tool for generating conversation, but as we always say in the advertising biz, you gotta have a call to action.

  3. Elaine, I thought you had some wise words on this subject on Tom Bolton’s blog, even though the subject wasn’t overtly political. “Why not blog?” you said. “Be where you are. When the time comes to move beyond this, you will know.” I think blogging is a tremendous empowering tool, and once empowered, people are capable of so much more — including important actions. No one, I hope, thinks blogs by themselves are going to have any effect on the political landscape. But people who feel their voice DOES matter might. To not engage in these matters through blogging is, to me, to miss a great opportunity. In the end, it’s an important conversation; whether it takes place here or on a college campus is a moot point. I also believe personal changes are what lead to political changes — otherwise it is definitely an illusion.

  4. The majority of people aren’t activists, in the sense of going out in the streets. Blogging would have allowed them to add their voices to the protests against injustice, just as they do now. Maybe a few potential activists might have been diverted into passivity, but most activists are, by their nature, active. Differences in temperament probably count more than the presence of possible distractions. And maybe blogvoices reach some of those who might not have heard the call otherwise.

  5. I think that George makes a good point about blogging allowing people to feel that their voice matters. All over the world we’ve seen instances of the increased ability to communicate across borders (physical, political, or cultural) result in change and, hopefully, improvement in the quality of living. If anything, I think blogging allows us to make our voices more powerful, because we practice them and share them. And besides, enough people saying something becomes activism. If word spreads quickly in opposition to a misguided policy, the bad PR is going to be insurmountable.

  6. My hope is that you’re right, Steve. That’s always been the promise of the web — that it would give us a way to join our voices so that they would be strong enough to be heard in the highest places. But I don’t know if that’s really happening or if we just continue to preach to the choir. Of course, even aside from that, I am in absolute agreement about the ability to communicate so freely being instrumental in stimulating changes for the good in all of our lives. And that’s no small thing.

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