To fight or not to fight. That was the question Budhy posed last week in regards to the more venal elements at Daily Kos. To be honest, even posing the question reminds me of a Monty Python script. The city is under siege and the elders are sitting around debating whether to defend it or not. But I understand the dilemma. And there were some good points on both sides. But I believe all questions are answered best by tackling them rationally. So let me address the issue in the most rational way I know how: scientifically.
Much of my educational background is in physics and philosophy. And I want to share with you a really cool way to see human interactions, and specifically politics, through the eyes of physics. If you’re physics averse, don’t worry. There’s nothing technical here. And as you will see, it is with this understanding of the laws of nature that we can draw some light on whether or not to engage the opposition.
The first thing to understand is that there can be no change without force. This is evident in Newton’s first law of motion:
Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.
In other words, absent an outside force, things tend to want to stay the same. Sound familiar?
Now it may seem a mere curiosity to apply the laws of physics to human behavior. But I assure it is far more important than that. For the underlying principle that governs how things change, and are changed, applies to all things – big and small, alive or inanimate. It even governs politics.
So when you notice that people, like trains, have their own intellectual inertia and will resist changing their minds or behavior unless pressure is applied, it’s not a coincidence. This is a fundamental truth of nature. In almost all cases, whether its atomic physics or molecular biology, dramatic changes almost always occur from an outside force. Maybe that sounds familiar too.
Now, here’s another concept that is important to understand. The measure of force between two objects is proportional to the difference between the properties of those objects. In other words, the bigger the difference, the greater the force. For example, if the two cars are traveling in the same direction (not much difference), their collision wont have much force at all. But if they are traveling in opposite directions (maximum difference), their collision will have a lot of force. This shows that force, and energy itself, is relative.
In political terms, the political force between two parties depends how much their views differ. This website, for example, has very little, internal, political force compared to some place where say, socialists are put in the same arena as tea baggers. As a result, Docudharma generates relatively little change. Mostly, we are all here agreeing with each other and confirming and refining each other’s views.
Understand, I am not implying that this is not valuable. It is, especially to those out fighting on the front lines every day. It’s a nice place to come home to.
But you are not going to have much impact here. That’s just a fact. If you want to have an impact, and cause more change, you have to increase the force. And that means jumping in to the rough waters, embracing the conflict, creating pressure and friction. It means going where the action is. And guess where that could be.
Daily Kos has some serious potential for force. The reason is, in their limitless attempts to accommodate Obama’s dramatic betrayal of almost everything he appeared to stand for in the campaign, our once dedicated allies have actually embraced pretty much everything many of us (and many of them) had been fighting against for years.
Daily Kos, if you’ll remember, used to be hostile territory for the DLC, Republican-lite segment of the Democratic party. Kos himself frequently took on the Bob Shrums of the world and a consensus emerged that rejected the idea that we had to tolerate selling out the interests of ordinary Americans to achieve electoral victory.
It was a hard fought consensus that involved much conflict, and much political force. I remember back in the early days a commenter accused me of waging “class warfare” by mentioning wealth inequality. Not a “troll”. Not a plant. Just another Democrats who had been brainwashed by the corporate media.
But over time, one argument at a time, we chipped away and Daily Kos, which was quite centrist really when I arrived, slowly became pretty damn progressive. That consensus is gone now.
I can barely even recognize the place. I don’t go there often, but some of the things I have seen there horrify me. And even when the recommended list isn’t filled with cult worship and the intelligentsia’s defense of everything they despised about Bush, it is almost devoid of progressive activism. Rare are the diaries really speaking truth to power now because that power often includes the administration.
If I frame what’s happened at Daily Kos and across the progressive netroots in general as a battle in the war between the Plutocrats and the The People, I would have no choice but to call it a coup. I mean, the formally, pretty progressive Daily Kos recommended list has gone from a place where a lot of positive, progressive change took place to a propaganda front for the corporatist movement. I’m not exaggerating.
A classic example of this is the insipid diary, Let’s thank our lucky stars for big corporate law firms. Suddenly, because Obama was being criticized for appointing a corporate lawyer who represented the terrorist sponsoring Chiquita banana company, hundreds of Daily Kos members voted up this piece of propaganda.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I have observed a mass abandoning of long held beliefs, all for the sake of realignment with Obama’s corporatist policies.
Lastly, does Daily Kos even matter? Some would argue that it is slipping into irrelevancy anyway and we should just ignore it. On this point I respectfully disagree. Daily Kos, for better or worse (worse I think) is like a hub for the progressive netroots. Not only does it have the most readers (among community blogs), it has the most powerful readers and contributors. A lot of power players drop by to urinate on the Daily Kos lawn. It is true Kos is slipping. But Daily Kos is the face of the Democratic netroots. And until that changes, it is the theater of operations for the fight to reform the Democratic party – or destroy it if need be.
But remember, this isn’t really about Daily Kos the website anyway. Nor is it about Docudharma. It is about the people there. Many are still good progressives. And there are a lot of people who have been mislead. Some sense that they’ve been betrayed. Some are hurt. Others are lashing out. Some are just volunteers or paid operatives who have ulterior motives. They live to attack critics. They sit there sometimes 18 hours a day waiting to attack anyone who is perceived as a threat. Some of them form email lists so they can tag team opponents and exaggerate their numbers. I caught on to that when I was there.
Throughout this essay, as I’ve described the principle of political force, I have only referred to differences of opinion. But what we’re dealing with is far more nefarious. We’re dealing with people who will lie and distort to protect political power. They must be challenged.
I implore you to get back in the fight. Retake the rec’d list of Daily Kos. Stop letting yourselves get bullied and discouraged from participating. Daily Kos used to be the home of People Power. Now it’s just an extension of the PR arm of the Obama campaign and those who benefit from his presidency.
There can be NO CHANGE without force. Without conflict. Without resistance. Without some pain. It’s as much a law of nature as gravity.