FLORIDA, April 15, 2013 — In just a single decade, America’s political scene has been changed fundamentally by the rise of blogging. Today, the left-wing and right-wing blogospheres are formidable opponents for even the most seasoned of politicians.
Online activism has led to the primary defeats of many centrist candidates, a great many of whom were incumbent office holders. This might lead one to wonder about whether or not the blogosphere is a positive development.
Of course, not all blogs are created equal.
Jeff Goldstein is the founder and operator of Protein Wisdom, which is among the foremost of conservative-to-libertarian blogs. While his views are likely no surprise to many, the story of how he became the man behind Protein Wisdom might very well be.
In this first part of our discussion, Goldstein explains about how being an academic and fiction writer prepared him for blogging, if his views were always what might be described as “right-of-center,” his ideas on perceived political discrimination in academia, why he thinks that the political blogosphere has found strong success over the last ten years, and what he believes is the greatest difference between the left-leaning and right-leaning blogospheres.
Joseph F. Cotto: Not so long ago, you were an academic and fiction writer. Did this prepare you for blogging?
Jeff Goldstein: I’d have to say yes on both accounts, though in the last few years my site has been too preoccupied with what has become a national political horror show to engage in some of the more fanciful efforts Protein Wisdom was early on known for. So I guess I’m using the fiction writing a great deal less these days. Though I suspect if pressed, some of my critics on both the left and right would tell you that I continue to engage in fiction writing, just, you know, unwittingly.
Cotto: Were your views always what might be described as “right-of-center”?
Goldstein: I think a lot of people who enter into academics almost by default classify themselves as liberal. I was the same way, back before I really paid much attention to national politics. I guess the first inkling I had that maybe I had what I’ve come to call classical liberal leanings — which today is very often lumped in with conservatism, libertarianism, or constitutionalism — was when some grad student friends and I were watching some of the 1996 debates, and I shocked the room by declaring support for Steve Forbes, a position I took based almost entirely on the idea of a flat tax.
Even back then, in the days before my more official political awakening, the idea of a progressive tax system struck me as inherently at odds with the lessons I’d taken from my study of the founders and framers. To borrow from contemporary political language, it didn’t seem “fair” or “equal” in a sense that comported with the ideas — which had not always been historically realized, granted — that informed our founding.
Beyond that, it was my study of language, and in particular my immersion in interpretation theory, that came to inform my political views most dramatically, albeit accidentally. As I began resisting what I found to be linguistically incoherent assertions woven into the very fabric of what informed much of the fashionable hermeneutics of the time, I realized that what I was resisting as a basis for how interpretation works was a form of collectivism, of democratic tyranny, of consensus-based “truth” and the very real ascension of power gained through identity politics and policed through political correctness.
And in my subsequent studies, it became clear to me that it was the institutionalization of many of these faulty linguistic assertions that was driving politics and political thinking, particularly in the courts.
Cotto: Academia is embroiled in controversy these days, from rising tuition costs to perceived political discrimination. From your standpoint, is the latter really a big issue?
Goldstein: I can’t really speak first hand to perceived political discrimination today; it’s been a decade since I left the academy. However, I will say that I witnessed hiring committees in our English Department press potential hires for their political views without asking specifically about them. In fact, when I hear of “dog whistles” and “code words” I think not of the political right, with its supposed secret feints to racism and nativism, but rather to the academic left, who could reasonably assess a candidate’s politics from the theoretical positions he or she held with respect to their pedagogy.
For example, those who were adherents of reader-response theory, to use one example, were likely to lean left, because the impetus behind such a theory is to “democratize” a text, stripping the author of his ownership over his signs and giving that ownership over to interpretive communities who then determine what it means. This is a form of mob rule, and it works by trying to kill off the author and proclaiming his text, which presumably was intended (this is, after all, what makes language language), a public document.
And to circle back around, though I can’t say with any certainty that there exists now political discrimination in the academy, organizations like FIRE certainly detail enough instances of mandated academic orthodoxy, nearly all of it attributable to a “progressivist” world view, to be suggestive of just such a climate, which in turn is suggestive of the kind of anti-intellectualism one would think was anathema to a place of higher learning.
Cotto: The political blogosphere has found great success over the last decade. Why, in your opinion, has this happened?
Goldstein: Several reasons: from the proliferation of personal computers and high-speed connectivity to the growing distrust many people have in the more mainstream news outlets to the oftentimes very intimate nature of a blog and its readership. Most blogs don’t pretend to be “objective” or “neutral.” In fact, I myself have noted on a number of occasions, and proudly so, that I’m not a journalist. Which means that my posts reflect my personal opinions and deploy arguments I develop in support of those opinions in an effort to engage the material I write about honestly and without pretense.
While some critics of this kind of “new journalism” will argue that subjectivism breeds confirmation bias and ideological echo chambers, I disagree: because while it’s true that such a dynamic can form as a result of arguing from a particular political position (and there are blogs that strike me as nothing more than cheerleaders for a particular political “team”), what I’ve found is that there is plenty to disagree with even among those on the same “side,” and within the kinds of communities some blogs are able to create, the detail into which the discussions can potentially delve as a result is far and away more useful than the rather superficial way much of what comes to count as news today is reported or discussed.
And because individual blogs tend to have their own quirks and ticks and personalities, they are able to develop over time a readership that is especially attuned to the style of an individual blog.
Cotto: Aside from the obvious partisan and philosophical differences, what would you say is the greatest difference between the left-leaning and right-leaning blogospheres?
Goldstein: The right-leaning blogosphere tends to be far more self-critical. It runs as a kind of far-flung debating society — or at least, it did. Lately there’s been pressure to coalesce around a given set of political narratives, to “rebrand,” which would follow the left-leaning model, under which messages are disseminated using a top down, “talking points” model.
It’s no accident that on a number of occasions the left has been caught organizing its messaging, whether through secret email groups or, as we saw thanks to an open mic before a Romney press event, through an active collusion of activist journalists looking to drive an agreed-upon narrative.
A major battle on the right, it seems to me, comes from conservative resistance to just such a model. It turns out Hobbits aren’t terribly gracious when they’re told to get their asses in line. Who knew?
Instalanche! Thank you Glenn Reynolds, and PJ Media, for the link and welcome all you Instapundit readers!
Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto
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