January 28, 2006
Since the American Revolution, and particularly in the past 100 years, we’ve seen a ceaseless growth of the scope and size of government. In discussions with other LLP’ers, I often find that there is a latent air of futility. Many of my fellow libertarian bloggers see our role as a brake on that growth, rather than see the possibility of reversing it.
To some extent, I understand where they’re coming from. To affect a change that will reduce the scope of government will demand the support of a large swath of the voting public. This is a tall order, as much of the public has become hooked on the bread and circuses doled out by our federal government. In addition, it will require convincing legislators that bold action is required to keep their power. Our current system rewards politicians who spout meaningless platitudes, while actively punishing those who pursue bold action. In short, it will require that all of our culture as has been developed over the last hundred years be completely upended.
Those who feel they’re fighting a rear-guard action, I understand. But I don’t think it’s a futile endeavor. Perhaps I’m still young, dumb, and full of– bravado, but I think real change is possible. I see a fundamental change already occurring in our culture. This fundamental change is one that will wholly transform culture in this country in a way more widely felt than the invention of the television. In addition, it will be a change which empowers individuals, rather than turns them into mindless drones, as the television accomplished. The internet, my friends, is the answer.
I’ve made the point before, but since the time radio and television took over American media dominance from the newspaper, we have seen a slow– but steady– consolidation of media power. This consolidation has ensured that to have a voice in the national political debate, you needed money. Lots and lots of money. Large amounts of money have their own way of accumulating, whether it be in corporations, special-interest groups, or political parties. But when the only voices in the debate are those of the powerful, citizens have only one recourse– our votes. Despite what you might hear from P. Diddy, your vote doesn’t carry as much weight as the voices of the powerful.
The powerful care about only one thing: continuing their power. When Eric and I both discussed Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, we discussed the idea that inducing fear is a very simple way to control the populace, and that control perpetuates the powerful’s grasp on society. Fear can only be defeated by information. In a world where media and the control of information is dominated by the powerful, the foxes guards the henhouse. The powerful are the ones perpetuating a state of fear, and have no desire to allow the spread of information that may damage their position.
But the consolidation of the media has been breached. The playing field has been leveled. No longer does it take millions of dollars to get a message out to the public. The internet in general, and blogging in particular, will restore the flow of information that the current media inhibits. It has created a whole new forum, and widely expanded the popular media. At the same time, it has already had some effect on the legacy media, as we’ve seen in the Rathergate mess. The effect of the internet on our culture has barely been felt. But the internet has barely seen 10 years as a mainstream communications medium, and is still in a stage of infancy. Yet, we are already seeing its power. Blogs, also still in their infancy, have acheived enough prominence that the major media are paying attention, and in several cases, blogs have changed the debate. Some have claimed, and a case can be made, that George W. Bush would not have been reelected without bloggers shaping the debate.
The internet is a medium with little or no cost of entry. It requires nothing more than a will and a message to get your voice out there. Of course, unlike the current television media, finding people to listen to that voice is not easy. On the bright side, however, compelling information has a way of ensuring that it is heard. The terms “meme” and “blog-swarm” express just how quickly and widely information can stretch their legs. Last year, when I was (I still am, of course!) a small-time blogger, I started a meme, and checked back on it every month or so using technorati. The meme was going strong for months, finding its way to corners of the blogosphere that I would never have known to exist. And blog-swarms are feared by those in power. A couple of bloggers uncovering problems with documents ignited a blog-swarm which destroyed the credibility of Dan Rather and seriously injured that of CBS. It eventually grew large enough to force the major media outlets to cover the story.
Heretofore unexplored, of course, is how the growth of the internet and blogs as a medium will affect liberty. Here, it comes down to a matter of core beliefs. I’ve always believed that those who are conditioned to follow, will follow. Those who are conditioned to make up their own mind, will make up their own mind. This is all about changing people’s conditioning. As I said initially, this is a tall order, because years of television have given our nation the wrong conditioning. But the internet empowers people. Those of us who are trying to make our voices heard can do so. Those in the world who are looking for information outside that provided by the major media outlets can find it. When individuals become empowered, it is contagious.
What do we need to do to restore lost liberty and return to smaller government? We need to empower people and let them see– for themselves– that they don’t need government to provide for them. They need to see that by controlling the reality of the world around them, that they can do so much more efficiently than the government. They’re already getting this on their own; all they need are guides to find their way. In the run-up to the American Revolution, people weren’t striking out against England because they “all of a sudden” started believing in independence. The world was changing, and the old power structures were no longer viable. Our Founding Fathers were guides along the path, setting up a nation which they believed was suited to the new environment.
Our world is changing, and the old power structures are no longer viable. Whether or not your or my view of how the new structures should fit are correct, what we are doing is not futile. I honestly believe that liberty is not dead, and that big government can be defeated, and will do all that is in my power to achieve that end.
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