Where Do They Get These Guys?

Someone at The New Republic named Lee Siegel, writing a column called “Lee Siegel on Culture” for the magazine’s online manifestation, seems to know nothing about the blogosphere (his subject in his most recent post), American culture (according to his title, his general topic), or American history.  Strangely enough, TNR touts him as a “senior editor.”

Where do they get these guys?

Perhaps Siegel was asleep during his American history classes in college–at least on the days when Alexander Hamilton and debates in the press in the early years of the republic were discussed.  When he writes of the blogosphere that it “radiates democracy’s dream of full participation but practices democracy’s nightmare of populist crudity, character-assassination, and emotional stupefaction,” he seems to be completely unaware that it was just this sort of dichotomy that led to The Federalist Papers.  Hamilton was a master of attack in the press.  A fast writer with no brakes, he went after anyone he disagreed with–and in nasty fashion.  He even did so in the years after The Federalist Papers, when he had become the most important person in the United States government, except for George Washington.  Yet he, with James Madison (later, the two would become bitter enemies, demolishing each other in the press), created the bulk of the most important unofficial work of American political history.

Don’t dismiss the blogs, Lee.  There are Hamiltons out there honing their skills but also thinking and learning.  Sure, bloggers may often produce a thread that “meanders into trivial subjects that have nothing to do with the subject that briefly provoked it.”  But so what?  Are all of your conversations over dinner with your sparkling companions always on point?  It’s often the meandering that allows new ideas to gestate.

“The blogosphere’s fanaticism is, in many ways, the triumph of a lack of focus.”  Oh, really?  I guess you were never a college student involved in bull sessions until three in the morning, focusless conversations that, for many of our best thinkers, were the genesis of more innovation than any particular classes.

People learn by talking, by discussion.  Perhaps, Lee, you only see media as product, not process.  That’s probably because you no longer understand what has been happening in the media and in American culture.  No longer are the news media the purview of an elite, trained cadre of professionals.  No longer are the news media places where finished products are presented only.  Today, because of the Internet and, in particular, because of the blogs, the media are becoming what they once were, tools for the people in their process of political discovery (which, by the way, is the reason that “freedom of the press” was included in the First Amendment to the Constitution).

What is happening is that we, the people are reclaiming what Jürgen Habermas calls “the public sphere” from the commercial and professional elements you represent.

Scares you, doesn’t it?