Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Does the Internet Let Lying Liars Lie?

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I'm a big fan of "Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them)" just for the title alone. And if Al Franken were running for president instead of senator of Minnesota, I'd be right there handing out buttons and twisting every arm in reach. Mostly to bother national-level Democrats.

I can't believe that in an election year that should have gone down in history as "Truth (And the Truth-telling Democrats Who Let It Sweep Them Into the White House)" we're watching the two Democratic candidates sideline the catastrophic Republican presidency whose unilateral military action, the deregulation of the banking industry, and obsession with Saddam Hussein led directly to a tanking global economy, and disastrous war.

Their preferred discussion: a preacher's missteps on race. Or this week, one more thing about Clinton's husband Bill. And don't forget questions of bitterness, religion, and gun control in the heartland. That's thanks to Obama's comments that small-town voters, bitter over their economic circumstances, "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them" as a way to explain their frustrations.

As far as I remember, he said much the same thing in his famous race speech, only with more compassion. The only real note of interest in this is the proportion the comment took on, and that it was Mayhill Fowler, a pro-Obama "citizen journalist" blogger who reported it because she "was taken aback" at his elitist sneer, and didn't think it was ethical to let it slide by in silence.

Me, I'm glad she opened her mouth. Not because Obama's remarks should tip any election scale, but because Fowler redeemed my faith in the internet. As a writer and activist, I had high hopes for it as a conduit of truth. With something as accessible and "democratic" as the internet, it seemed like tons of people would uncover the smoking guns of politics, blow the whistle on hypocrites and evil-doers, speak out, dissent, Act-up.

But what seemed an amazing tool for providing alternative views has given precedence to the same handful of voices we were faced with before. The difference is that they are now amplified (and distorted) by hundreds of thousands of mouths all shouting the same thing. The comments on online articles, all seem written by the same two or three people taking the same hard lines on politics. They adamantly agree or disagree, but rarely shake their heads in skepticism, and wonder if any of it is true, even their own impulses. If there are more perspectives out there, they're buried in silence.

By contrast, there's the constant stream of information, the rattle of the blogosphere, disasters instantly brought home on our miniscule screens that confront us with every starving peasant, every corpse there to see. In essence, the internet brings details and news instead of knowledge, and where's the revolution in that?

Activists haven't figured out the medium either. I remember how the internet was supposed to help us connect, let us learn from each other. And in the brief twenty minutes of protest in New York prior to the Iraq War, it was an important organizing tool. Now what? The bickering that used to take place in community centers and church basements happens in chatrooms. Those with the quickest fingers, and a facility with language still impose their will. Beyond that, the internet is a glorified phone tree that we use to set dates for meetings.

I don't see better ideas, or analysis that carefully makes its way towards the complicated truth. I feel more and more like a dinosaur. Drop me in a tar pit and leave me be. I could use the quiet. Imagine it, silence. Sometimes I consider the drastic step of turning off my computer, but my girlfriend is clicking away across the room. It's too late. We have laptops growing from our thighs. A wave of information pounds into the room. And like greedy consumers, we drink every drop there is, and swell up like toads on the verge of bursting.

I think of sending her a message. "How about a date?" I get it typed out, but then I'm worried that if she accepts I might miss an email, a development. Something could blow-up. Or fall down. She might not recognize me. I might not know myself.

We get caught up in the Net Stream, forget what we were looking for, or get intoxicated by the sound of our own voices when they join the agreeing mob. Which is why I congratulate Mayhill Fowler. She began blogging to get the truth out about a candidate she believed in, but when he showed a private face different from his public one, she stuck to her guns and reported that truth, too. It's a small step, but in the right direction.

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