Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Commentary In Defense of Comments

Guest post by Andrew Hoffman
“Propaganda ceases where simple dialogue begins.”
--Jacques Ellul
I recently stumbled upon a fairly typical “Big Brother is good” propaganda piece from Reuters which had been posted on Yahoo! News. The article, “Utah city may use blimp as anti-crime spy in the sky” ignored any concerns with privacy and focused on the supposed benefits of using a supposedly inexpensive blimp to look for criminal activity. I was not surprised by the article because Homeland Security has been employing blimps since at least 2005.
A pleasant surprise awaited me, however, when I happened to look at the comments below the article. As of this writing, there are 636 of them and a vast majority of them are decrying the program as another example of Big Brother police state activity. There also seems to be a healthy debate around how easy it would be to shoot down a surveillance blimp, with the general consensus being that it would be fairly easy.
There have been many observers who have credited the Internet with bringing a political awakening and leveling the playing field with the establishment media. Ron Paul, for example, credits the Internet activism of his supporters for much of the success of his 2008 presidential campaign and for increasing public awareness on issues like the Federal Reserve. While there are many factors involved, I believe the essential element of the Internet is that it allows dialogue to begin.
C. Wright Mills, in his 1956 book The Power Elite, pointed out that one of the key dimensions that separate a mass society from a society of publics is the ration of the givers of opinion to the receivers. Because of mass media like Television and Radio, Mills forecast that America would become more and more of a mass society rather than society of publics (the textbook model of a democracy). I believe this part of Mills’ analysis was correct, and as several generations have grown up under the dominating influence of mass media we have seen the effects.
Now, however, thanks to the Internet, the tide seems to be turning. The ratio of givers of opinion to receivers is beginning to shift back in the other direction. Independent blogs, podcasts, and radio shows are inexpensive to create and allow a host of new voices to be heard. The simple act of leaving a comment under a mainstream news story modifies its effect. Instead of wondering if I was alone in feeling like the surveillance blimp is another step down the road to an Orwellian police state, I realized that most of the people reading the story felt the same way. I am not alone. You are not alone. Let the conversation continue.
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Obviously, comments are welcome!  You may also comment at Andrew Hoffman's website.


  1. Voltaire still has a lot going for him when he said - I may not agree with what you say, but I shall defend with my life your right to say it.

    Unfortunately, today the widespread perspective is - If you disagree with my opinion, I shall hold your life in my hands. By this read - kill you, lock you up and throw away the key, or what have you.


  2. Nice style. I would love to write that way.

  3. Develops the theme further.