Modes of political discussion

Elsewhere in LJ-land, I’ve been in a discussion of the plight of conservatives in generally liberal environments such as the one I live in (and, presumably, the plight of liberals in generally conservative environments). I think it may be worthwhile examining the truth that all political discussions are not alike.

Leaving aside political debates where something is actually at stake, there are, I think, two basic modes of political discussion, which I’m tempted to give classy Greek names to, but I can’t find any that work for me.

On the one hand, there are discussions among people who share most of their fundamental values. I’m going to call this the club mode. These discussions tend to focus on elaborating the theory behind a shared policy position, or excoriating some opponent. (On the left, we had a lot of these the first week of November.) This mode doesn’t tend to question people’s beliefs that much, and it’s not supposed to. It’s ritual; it’s comforting and invigorating. This is the mode of so-called “activist” blogs like dKos or Powerline.

On the other, there are discussions among people with diverse and often opposing ideologies. I’ll call this the forum mode. These can be antagonistic or not, depending on the temperaments of the people involved. Discussion tends to be more formal, as you can’t assume very much when constructing your argument, and have to retreat back to more basic principles. Forum-style discussion tends to be more demanding, which is draining for a lot of people.

I think, for most people, a balance is healthy. Too much forum-style discussion, and you start to feel besieged; too much club-style, and your political thinking gets flabby and cultish. (Some people seem to have different political metabolisms; Christopher Hitchens, for example, seems to thrive on all forum-style all the time.)

Thus the singleton’s dilemma. A conservative in the Bay Area has ample opportunity for forum-mode debate; not so much for club-mode. Also, it will get awkward if he happens to be in the room when a bunch of liberals launch into a club-mode discussion. Nobody likes it when their club-style bull session gets hijacked into forum mode, but nobody wants to sit through someone else’s club session.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Book Review: The Art of the Start

One of the nice bits about the GDC was that I wound up riding BART for 45 minutes every day, which gave me some time to catch up on reading. Not that the mighty backlog of stripped books, using-up-the employee-discount purchases, and holiday loot is anywhere near expunged, but I did manage to get through the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (which I’m not going to talk about except to say that I enjoyed Runaway America more; got to give a shout out to Yale AmStud) and The Art of the Start (which I am).

The Art of the Start is the latest book from Guy Kawasaki, who made his name back in the 80s as a product evangelist for the Macintosh. These days, he writes books and runs a venture capital firm. The book bills itself as “the time-tested, battle-hardened guide for anyone starting anything”. I liked The Macintosh Way a lot; Kawasaki has a knack for drawing expansive lessons from amusing anecdotes, and so I thought I’d give this one a shot.

Alas, the book oversells itself. The entire thing would be useful for someone assembling a startup firm; maybe half of it would be useful to someone starting any sort of organization; the first chapter or so is worth reading in the context of any major project. As I am not establishing an organization, this made it interesting but not terribly useful.

That said, it’s good at doing what it does. His discussion of mantras versus mission statements alone makes it worth reading, and the chapter on pitches is excellent stuff as well. The later chapters are solid but more mundane; it’s possible I’m less enthused simply because they deal with biz dev stuff that’s almost entirely unuseful to me. And then the final chapter is the seemingly obligatory “Oh yeah. Don’t be evil.” section that every business book seems to have these days.

Originally published on LiveJournal

The Internet and audience

So about this whole Frienditto thing.  (Ed. Note 2022: Frienditto was a service that could create a public archive of any LiveJournal post a user could see, thus effectively making public material the original poster had intended to be friends-only.  There was consternation.)

While I agree with the sentiment that it’s a bad idea to assume that anything on the Internet is private, there’s a separate issue which the integrity of friends-locking touches on: it’s really hard to judge one’s audience reliably on the net.

I think a substantial portion of online flamewars start from the equivalent of making a snarky joke about someone at a party, only to discover that they’re standing right behind you. It’s not necessarily that you wouldn’t say it to their face, but you might say it differently if you realized they were there. On the net, everyone is there. That takes some getting used to.

People phrase things based on the audience they’re addressing; it’s nigh-impossible to write without assuming something about your readers — their interests, their positions, their hot buttons. It can be frustrating when your words drift beyond the audience you intended, because they stop communicating effectively. And frankly, it’s a pain in the ass to write for the whole world all the time.

That’s why I find the idea of Frienditto a little troubling. I don’t talk about anything I consider private behind a lock, but I do sometimes rely on the known audience of my friends list to let down my hair a bit in matters of diction. I also avoid sensitive matters in email, but I’d still be ill-pleased to see my emails published Paris Hilton-style.

Originally published on LiveJournal