The Scientific Basis for Taking On the Obamabots

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.


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  1. Wow Tocque, you never fail to disappoint.

    Just wanted to throw you a happy hello before I read through this. I’m sure I’ll be educated, you work always is.


    • sharon on December 15, 2009 at 23:54

    as i said last week, count me in after the 18th.  i’ve tried to keep up with reccing comments and have corresponded a bit with meteor blades, but until the 18th, i can’t do anything substantive.

    i am wondering if markos just threw down the gauntlet today with “kill the bill”.  don’t have time to read what i am sure is a cesspool of comments in his diary or tomp’s.  hopefully later.

  2. I don’t think the Rec List on Daily Kos is necessarily the best barometer for tracking the pulse of Democratic enthusiasm or lack thereof.  Case in point — even with the Rec-listed diaries that defend just about everything Obama has done so far — Democratic enthusiasm is still much, much worse than Republican enthusiasm right now, if the polls that Steve Singiser has been posting are accurate.

    I think the Rec List primarily measures which diarists are most likely to be read and which of their diaries are likely to receive the most feedback (both positive and negative).

  3. Since I’m banned from DKos, I have been maximizing conflict on other sites. Mainly, I have been winning over wingnuts to anti corporatism. It’s very rewarding.

  4. I can’t do it right now. Too much bullshit.

    Goddamn, so many people hate me there that you just know they’re monitoring this motherfucking comment. It’s really fucking stupid.

    My point: I gotta lick my wounds for a bit. Then we’ll see.

    Why can’t you do it? 😛 (Hee hee, just playin’.)

  5. In political terms, the political force between two parties depends how how much their views differ

    Just thought you’d like to know and edit appropriately

  6. A MEN!!!!

    I think I might have to change my sig for this one and switch the one I have here over to Orangeville

  7. Damn straight Tocque! That is the best way to frame the Prorgressive cause against the rest.

    Do you stand for Corporations, or for people?

    Nail meet head

    • Edger on December 16, 2009 at 00:18

    a mass abandoning of long held beliefs over there. I really don’t think that people abandon long held honest and real beliefs that easily. Rather I think that anyone who appears to do so never really honestly held the beliefs they professed or appeared to hold in the first place.

    I agree pretty much with your premise that force applied is what creates change, but I think I’d interpret that where people are concerned to be that people don’t change without social force and/or force of self interest driving them to change.

    Newton’s first law of motion applies to physical objects of course, but I don’t know if it can be said to apply to psychology in the same way. I doubt it.

    But I do like the metaphor.

  8. “Crossposting” this at the Great Orange Satan? It’s certainly “reclist worthy.”

  9. You allude to this in your acknowledgement that Daily Kos has become less of a place to fight for change and more of a place to defend the status quo.

    After the election, the argument I wanted to make was the exact opposite of the Obamabots.  Indeed, the time for the most vicious astringent criticism is after the people we worked so hard to put into office actually got there.  I wanted Daily Kos to shift rapidly from a “more and better Democrats” mode to a “speaking truth to power” mode.

    After that, I made some allowance for a honeymoon period.  But it never changed from that honeymoon period.

    Now there’s a phrase that is more in the world of computer science: Incompatibility.

    Don’t get me wrong.  I like your diary.  I am considering it.  But I wonder about the fundamental problem with doing what it is would need to be done to retake Daily Kos.

    And I would argue that the site mission is now and forever after fundamentally incompatible with progressive goals in an environment where Democrats have the majority and continue to play almost exclusively to corporate interests.  Daily Kos isn’t a progressive website by default, it’s a Democratic website.  It’s privately owned.  Without the leadership of Daily Kos shifting direction and clarifying a site mission that is more compatible with real change in the present environment, all the talking in the world can do nothing, where you will simply be hide rated out of existence or banned.

    And the problem is certain things you would have to say there you cannot say.  You cannot be honest with regards to the current political climate if you think the wrong thing.  You can try to say that the Democrats have completely lost their way (false) but if you go with a balls-out attack on the Democratic Party and the anti-little-people attitude that has infested it at the highest levels of Congress, you will not survive there, even if it is true.

    And that is why I left.  The site owners there have no interest in what I have to say as of now.

  10. And they know how to astroturf: they have their own bots populating the membership, causing it to escalate. That is why diaries worshipful of Obama rise quickly to the rec list: the astros know when their name is called.

    But that makes it even more important to preserve the voice of sanity there, even though that voice seldom makes it to the rec list, IMHO.

  11. About the original Maxwell equations.  Then Tesla and Heaviside.

    “All the power you would ever need from a thing running in your basement forever”.

    Richard Hoagland.

    • jamess on December 16, 2009 at 05:04

    Let the Games Begin !

    Or is that, End?


    Maybe, Let the “Change” Begin …

  12. Im so impressed with the way you were able to grab a lot of loose ends, loose comments & sentiments here over the past week+, and put it all together into a coherent and princely sum. I think you’ve framed it really well.

    I think we, the left of left, are (have been) the ‘canary in the coal mine’. Some more sensitive than others to the toxic fumes. Some with more experience and more finely tuned Bullshit Detectors. And many just with a lot of heart.

    But all recognizing clusterfuck when we smell it.

    This is a tipping point, all this Health Insurance Reform Handout mess. And it came so quick on the heels of the Afghan escalation. Stunning.

    If Bush/Cheney was the Titanic, this encore is the … well… its epic. Cue Jaws music: Just when you thought it was safe…

    Remember the amazing coincidence, timing wise, of Captain Sully and the plane crash landing in the Hudson in January?

    Brace for impact.

    Little did we know.

  13. 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.

    What do you claim to be doing that the rest of us are not?

  14. thanks.



  15. knowledge about the key issues we face, I’ve seen that there are millions of people out there with the same overall viewpoints expressed on this blog.  DK is nothing in the scheme of things, absolutely nothing, except a tool now used by the political system to keep the activists busy with bullshit that doesn’t matter.  I have disregarded that site, and I think it would be wise for this blog to disregard it as well, in the assumption of working on issues rather than democratic party goals.  

  16. Dean & Markos were a wake up call. Tell the truth. For some losing Obama to the other side is going to be a bad motherfucking pill to swallow.

    Great Diary Toc

    • banger on December 16, 2009 at 17:21

    anyway … it is very limited in the micro and (I believe) the macro world.

    Complex systems also fall under different “laws” or I should say patterns in observable phenomena can be fairly “strange” and chaotic (in both senses of the word).

    Still, what you say is appropriate. Better would be to go to the great political writers like Machiavelli and that would help us understand what is going on now.

    DKOS is a very political place and they are, or have been, playing for high stakes. There’s a lot more riding on what gets recommended there that what gets recommended here. The operatives have to steer the dialogue at DKOS because the site is a Democratic Party site and KOS is a politician and all that implies.

    Yes, go over there and fight. I agree. I will even try, distasteful though it is.

  17. Hello… its here and within that D, also here (esp consider the poster, a long time supporter of BHO but not a “bot”). And this one too.

    (NOTE I dont really like to link D’s and comments from orange to here like this, but Im saying to look at it in the larger context that Toque’s essay here addresses.)

  18. You don’t mess around when you post an essay do you?

  19. We are Independent.

    We fight for what we believe to be right, regardless of which Party says it.

    I didn’t believe a fight would be productive when buhdy asked it then, I don’t believe it now.

    We don’t NEED a fight because we are right, only to win the fights that come to us BECAUSE we are right.

  20. pushback against botism on GOS as I have today.  It is won-der-ful.

    After a long hiatus, I put up a diary at GOS in April, focused on pushing back against the Afghan ramp-up.  The Dem warhawks descended on me like vultures.  Some anti-war folks jumped in and helped me fend ’em off, but we were outnumbered two to one.

    Things are much better now.  Anti-occupation/escalation diaries are hitting the rec list.  The war hawks come out, but are repelled at nearly every turn.  THEY are the  ones outnumbered, now.  It’s way overdue, but good to see.  

    BWD put up a non-photo adulation diary today.  He went ballistic on slink, got HRed for it, and ran away from his own diary, which never got close to the rec list.


  21. but to mix it up and provide information that, hopefully, some will learn from.

    In the long run, however, so much of what happens on the net is white noise.  People take themselves too seriously, as if writing diaries and comments has some magic quality.

    In fact, I am starting to see the internet as a negative thing when it comes to people power.  In the past, people had no choice other than associating on a personal basis, to meet and take to the streets.  Now, we can be so lazy, and we believe that an email to Congressman X, or signing an online petition, will work wonders.  I think, overall, this impersonal approach takes us farther from the participation needed for a healthy democracy, and that is why, to a large extent, democracy in America and elsewhere is stale and on the verge of failure.

    The internet is a great tool to obtain information, but as a means to bring real change, it gets a D from this grader.

  22. results of the poll in this diary?

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