"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 27 September 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Politics is the Art of the Gullible


[Politics, again]

As unsurprising as precipitous

falls in stock value for

web-oriented companies shortly

after their initial sweep of the

burgeoning "sucker born every

minute" market is the thudding,

resounding weakness of the blow

against the empire that

"netizens" were supposed to

strike this election cycle.


[Some more politics]

While it should be obvious to

anyone sentient enough to point

and click that the only people

profiting from the fantasies of

professional web advocates are

those advocates themselves, the

enormous surfeit of pages to

fill in our nation's newspapers

and magazines (and bandwidth to

fill on the net itself)

guarantees much heavy

chin-scratching over the

conundrum of how it is that less

than 15 percent of the

population - united mostly by

their interest in pornography,

bad science fiction, and wasting

their employers' time at work -

aren't rising to break their

chains of bondage and flex the

spindly, unhealthily pale

muscles of a united netizenry.

Arise, you have nothing to lose

but your password. We must hang

together or most assuredly we

won't have free access to all

that kiddie porn I keep hearing

about. Yawn.


[A big bombed out building]

The Communications Decency Act

passed and became law easily; it

took a judge ignoring political

winds to overturn it. The

stirring words

"telecommunications reform"

don't echo from the hustings

much these days. Sure, PACs and

politicians, even the most

marginal and inept, all have web pages -

but so do brands of booze.

Whoever wins this presidential

election could easily do so

without the vote of a single

Netscape user. And the lack of

Congressional commissions

investigating such burning

Usenet concerns as the

accidental naval shoot-down of TWA

800 and the intentional

scuttling of Ron Brown's plane

proves beyond a doubt that the

operating spirit is "Subject:

Politicians to computer users:

Drop Dead."


[A Guy Named George]

There are relatively few ways to

have any meaningful political

influence in today's world, and

using a computer isn't one of

them - unless of course you use

it to mar Department of Justice

websites with swastikas or crash

Department of Defense systems.

Even then, it's hard to get that

exciting Dreyfussian

political-prisoner vibe going.


[Some Money]

Most ways to flex political

muscle involve commanding armies

of the grumpy elderly or running

gigantic agribusinesses. In the

historical scope of things, the

new robber barons of electronic

media have not yet felt their

political oats - and in the long

run, and on average, there's

still probably a safer, cleaner

buck to be made investing in

sugared carbonated water than

the "emerging electronic

frontier" anyway. It takes an

engineer's real-world

naiveté to think that any

power the Gateses of the world

have has anything to do with the

perceived interests of the

"netizenry" at large.


[A guy with the first initial J]

Why should computer users be

particularly united by any set

of political beliefs or

attitudes any more than users of

Caller ID, Game Boys, Federal Express,

or mail-order catalogs - which

between them pretty much cover

most of what people use the web

for anyway? Maybe netizens are

all the information-age

libertarians of John Perry

Barlow's fever dreams, but that

might be more of a function of

their limited demographic than

something inherent in

using/abusing the web.

Libertarianism has not exactly

been the winning political team

this election season, or any

other one.


[A guy whose last name is the same as a color]

The only candidates who feel it

necessary to even mention their

grand successes in "web polls"

are Born Losers (whatever their

qualities, or lack of same, as

candidates) like Pat Buchanan

and Libertarian party stalwart

Harry Browne. Hey, I'm not

saying that begging a

self-selected and ideologically

motivated group to vote as often

as they want won't lead to

edifying and scientifically

reliable poll results, but...

well, OK, that is what I'm



Besides, if at bottom the web is

a medium of entertainment and

education, well, that just

doesn't mix with two-party

politics. The National Debates

Commission is clear about this:

candidates don't deserve to be

highlighted in national debates

just because they might be

entertaining or add something

new to the debate. And the

Federal Communications

Commission has made it clear, in

allowing TV stations to give

free time only to Clinton and

Dole without triggering

troublesome equal-time problems,

that only candidates who already

have every media advantage and

reporters dogging their every

step deserve to get more such

free advantages. Notice that no

one is threatening lawsuits for

free web access for marginal




Recent "data" from Northwestern

University's Medill School of

Journalism recently did a survey

that tried to debunk what they

call the "conventional wisdom

that nonvoters are uninformed,

alienated from the system" and

withhold their vote "out of

spite." At least certain

specialized parts of netizenry

(Suck audience? Anyone out

there? Just point and click...)

might be ready to really turn

this on its head and decide to

go ahead and vote out of spite.

But isn't that the spirit that

everyone approaches their sacred

franchise with, anyway?


[A guy named steadman's art]

How do memes like "netizenry"

survive, anyway? They lack even

minimal cogency, have

preservational value only for

the people who get paid to

spread them, shouldn't pan out

in the quantity parental mode

since they're so

self-aggrandizing any

self-respecting kid should see

through the smoke, and in the

adversative mode doesn't appear

to have done much good - though

we can always hope for more of

those swastikas on government

websites. Perhaps there's a

memetic survival mechanism not

yet fully conceptualized,

something along the lines of the

"punditational" mode: Any idea

that gives people something to

blather about in print or

electronically that makes them

sound even unconvincingly

predictive will survive and



Kevin Kelly waxes rhapsodic about

the "headless, emergent

wholeness" that web community

represents. When it comes to

political influence, he's at

least right about that first


courtesy of Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk