Stop thinking that the best way for progressive activists to help the progressive movement is for those activists to live in poverty. You can’t do your best work when you struggle to pay your bills. When it comes to blogging, you can’t do your best work on a dial-up modem in a studio apartment, a ten-year-old computer chair and a five-year-old cell phone. If you want to keep the best and most effective progressive activists in the field of activism rather than the private sector, don’t tell them they need to live like monks.
In one of my very first major posts on MyDD–a post which I paid $25 to write at a Kinkos in Modesto, California as there was no other way for me to get online–I posited the political blogosphere as the avant-garde of political and opinion journalism. Considering that it is now quite old in blogosphere terms, and the conditions under which I wrote it, I am surprised at how well it still stands up. Here is an excerpt (emphasis in original):
While the poetic and artistic avant-garde sought to relocate the primary purpose of art away from the aesthetic function, I had a very difficult time figuring out what the Blogosphere sought to do differently than the Political Opinion Complex. However, at long last I think I have it.
While the corporate funded Political Opinion Complex seeks to distribute information primarily for the purpose of consumption, the primary goal of the Blogosphere is to distribute political information for the purpose of agitation / direct action. The POC only wants you to consume what it produces. The Blogosphere seeks for its consumer to act after, or even as a result of, consumption of its product. To put it another way, The Blogosphere is a counter-institutional formation that seeks to relocate the primary purpose of political and opinion journalism in agitation toward action rather than in profit-based consumption.
Three years later, I no longer agree with some of the specifics of that formulation, but I still subscribe to the general sentiment (for example, I wrote something similar in an article for the BBC last October).
I’ll skip over the lame ‘vanguard’ trope, which was fresh back in 1902.
It reminds me of all my artist and writer friends who are frustrated that they can’t make a living doing their art. But they, at least, lack the arrogance to presume that they are owed a living.
And I’ll suggest to Chris that he flat misses the point of the modern political & advertising message machine – it is exactly to get people to act. What’s different about the Internet is that the space for action and nature of the action desired changes, and the expectation is that because you’re a customer, you’re also a part of my marketing team.
Now, one of the things I do is to help companies do this. It’s rapidly becoming a platitude among people who are knowledgeable in marketing.
The difference between Chris and I is that I acknowledge that it’s a living – an interesting and lucrative one – and he purports that what he’s doing is, in essence, art.
Bowers’ defense will doubtless be that his ’cause’ differentiates us.
I’ve got a ’cause’ for Chris. It’s defending the ideal of America against a faux political avant-garde that’s in it for the money. You’re no different than James Carville – except that he’s won some elections, he gets paid more, and he’s a better writer.