The web and political philosophy

by Russ Roberts on June 18, 2007

in Podcast, Politics

The latest EconTalk podcast is with David Weinberger talking about the ideas in his book, Everything is Miscellaneous.

I found the book very interesting. He explores the implications of some of the latest web developments such as tagging, social sites, and wikipedia for how we consume and think about information. I found his discussion of tagging particularly interesting. By tagging stuff (pictures, websites, blogs) with keywords, we organize stuff in a totally different way than if we simply bookmarked stuff and put it in folders.

One question I asked him about was the implication of the evolution of the web for one’s political philosophy. Weinberger was Howard Dean’s internet advisor. So I thought he might be
uncomfortable being involved with a more top-down set of policy
positions. He didn’t really bite. But on his blog, he talks about how a hyper-linked world is a post-modern world, which is more conducive to left-leaning policies. Seems to me the essence of the web is a decentralized world, a world whether information and power and ideas and solutions don’t have to be top-down but are more likely to be bottom-up. It would seem to me that if you’re a fan of tagging and social web sites and wikipedia, it’s hard to embrace centralized solutions to social problems. But maybe not.

Check out the podcast. He has a lot of insights into the web and information and how we look at the world.

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Brad June 18, 2007 at 5:18 pm

Funny posting about the podcast! I have eagerly been awaiting this one since you announced it, for precisely the reason that I wanted to hear why the Internet implies progressive thought and lefty politics. I have always been as turned off by that thesis as I could imagine being if Pat Robertson had stood up and said that the Internet was God's gift to the true believers. I.e. complete total BS, but probably a useful thing for a cheerleader or ringleader to use to rally the masses. However, I have been a fan of David Weinberger's since the old Cluetrain mailing list days. If I hold my nose while wading through why the Internet hates George Bush, demands net neutrality, and thinks Paul Krugman should be Pope, there are plenty of great insights in his blog. The obvious current counterpoint is immigration. What does "the Internet" think about immigration policy? What do progressive bloggers think about it? It's not pretty and decidedly "right wing" on the traditional scale. One of my favorite progressive bloggers (and former neighbor), Mitchell Freedman argues that Mexican immigrants ought to be unionized as any condition of immigration reform and a wall should keep the free agents out. A legitimate POV I guess, but wrapped in the same interest group politics that Lou Dobbs espouses in his opposition in the traditional meat-space media.

One point of discussion I thought was very interesting in the podcast that I don't think either of you nailed… The role of the Internet in political campaigns. DW is a fan of the community aspects of it and Russ seemed to like that too. It's really about fundraising. It is less expensive to solicit donations on the net and easier for people to make them. I noticed this when I contributed to Rudy Giuliani this year (and if the Dems could put up a version of him that was pro-market and liberal on social issues, I'd be all in there because I wouldn't have to take *&^% from all my Dem friends about supporting a Republican). It was easy. I also noticed it on Mike Munger's campaign page. This Internet fundraising is routine for national candidates this election cycle. Perhaps next cycle, candidates like Munger will figure out how to turn a dispersed funding constituency from outside their district into a victory inside of it. I kinda suspect it's already been done, but maybe we don't about it, e.g. Tom Tancredo's House seat.

Anyway, very interesting!

Carl Marks June 18, 2007 at 7:40 pm

Russ, it seems that a possibly good explanation for David Weinberger's belief that the internet will bring about more left thinking people is that David is a Fabian.

The internet results in a more educated population and progress in the level of knowledge. The result will be the discovery of more thorough theories on why the government can in fact do a better job. We may in the future discover just how the government can guarantee superior outcomes, at which time the internet will be replaced by its superior.

The founders of the LSE thought along similar lines: they privately funded an organization which they believed would discover why and how government can do a better job at everything.

The Dirty Mac June 18, 2007 at 10:29 pm

Certainly the internet delivers a substantially greater amount of information than could have been accessed a few years ago. OTOH, if the end result of all that information is the conclusion that "them there rich people make too much money" and "the yellow devils are stealing our jobs", then the internet will have served mainly to reinforce fallacies derived from certain base instincts. Quantity does not imply quality.

Hans Luftner June 19, 2007 at 12:21 am

I can't back this hypothesis up, but I suspect most people think that a totally organic, decentralized medium like the web will ultimately be more conducive to the truth. I know I think that. If you believe modern progressivism is the truth, then you'll think it'll win out. If you think market anarchism is the truth, then you might believe that will win out. And so forth. If you know your political ideology is based on lies, even subconsiously, then you will fear the internet & call for regulation.

Just a thought. Again, I can't back it up.

writeups June 19, 2007 at 2:36 am

Look at how Ron Paul is leveraging the internet. It's pretty much his main campaign thrust. I don't like the talk about post-modernism though, post-modernism will continue to destroy Western society if we keep going on about it.

Mickey Klein June 19, 2007 at 11:09 am

postmodern? wow, that just blows my @#$%#@ mind!!

Dont worry about postmodernism destroying western society, it is a meaningless buzzword that illustrates the utter lack of ideas in modern academia.

After finding out that Marx was a lie the Jurrasic creatures of the academy decided to reject truth altogether. They just could not accept that better thought was developed outside the intellect guild.

It is time to wake up to a world where decentralization and liberty, not socialism and tyrranny, will become the dominant strain of thought. It is anti-leftist, anti-socialist and as the Ron Paul campaign demonstrates, strongly Libertarian.

Isaac Crawford June 20, 2007 at 8:58 am

Did you notice that when you asked about a bottom up type of thing he immediately assumed it was a democrat/republican thing. He, along with most people it seems, can't get out of the party way of seeing things. There is a real dearth of awareness of the top down vs. bottom up way of looking at things..


Mark July 1, 2007 at 11:03 pm

The internet gives us a way to see the world without the blinders on. We can get info from nearly every news source in the world. I think we need the web. It can give us some of the old fashioned standards we are looking for. Sometimes we get caught up in our own rhetoric. It's not about the party affiliation, it should be about the people affiliation.

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