Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Klinger's Long Tail . . .

Klinger refers to the name of the writer, and the Long Tail is the name of the phenomenon he describes, here. I think he's accurately described the problem, but his solution is a little far-fetched and would require a radical rewrite of the U.S.Constitution.

A number of years ago it was intellectually fashionable to think in terms of the electronic village, and I think Mr. Klinger hearkens back to that notion -- technology permits us to construct ad hoc social structures independent of geography, replacing the old, geographic villages. Calling it some sort of new federalism merely packages the electronic village idea a little differently. In other words, the outdated approach is based on geography, but technology permits us to ignore geography and exploit affinity.

Nonsense. It hasn't happened and it probably won't happen. We don't ignore geography. The problem with this "solution" is that one gets captured by the metaphor - the electronic village - and sees the boundaries of the metaphor, the environment of imagination, instead of the actual environment. It's an appealling metaphor, but wrong.

On the other hand, I think that new affinities are emerging, which are fracturing old, political party thinking. Less and less are we considering issues and information, and even the personality of politicians, and more and more we are making political choices based on affinities. I think the better metaphor, but still a metaphor, is electronic tribalism. We vote, not with a party, but with our tribe. I think we saw that in the last election. It no longer matters much what Bush or Kerry say or do. For many voters, what mattered more was what "our" people said about the positions of the candidates, than what the candidates said their positions were. We voted, not so much for one of the candidates, but more to place ourselves in terms of identity with and opposition to others. So, we had Democrats, Republicans, socialists, liberals, religious rightists, and economic hardliners voting, but we also had people voting simply on the basis that they weren't blue state types, or red state types.

I think the thinkers on the left appreciated the new tribalism and attempted to exploit it by leftist rhetoric. But they failed to win, so they will "learn their lesson" and try to run somebody who will appeal to "the middle," which will represent a return to the political spectrum metaphor that no longer, in my opinion, describes how Americans think politically.

The challenge, for politicians, is to come up with a strategy that permits them to appeal to the largest tribes, or else to come up with an issue that will transcend tribalism.

Right now, I can only imagine one such issue -- national security.

So, my message to the politicians is, good luck little fellers. And my message to the electorate, my tribe, is, let's keep them guessing, it's good when they're confused.

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