Between Blogs and a Hard Place
By Sudarsan Kant
As a sometime interlocutor on this blogsite, I have a passing interest on what others are saying about the issues and events that draw our attention and bring us together in the blogosphere. The recent observation by Hamish Fletcher about the adversarial posture of a number of Fiji blogs does beg the question, why do they tend to shed more heat than light, especially when they are beyond the censorious reach of its target? It is easy to dismiss the anti-government blogs precisely for that reason, because they are beyond the reach of the regime, they can and often do peddle in hyperbole and sensationalism, we can refer them as the “shock and awe” method of blogging. A second group of blogs, mainly run by professional journalists dutifully pay homage to the tired nostrums and stale policies of the political elite while burnishing their image of detached objectivity to a fine sheen. These are your run of the mill “cocktail bloggers” a bit loud after a few drinks but don’t stray too far from the party line. The last group of bloggers, and the fewest are the “believers” those who earnestly believe that discourse and dialogue will advance debate on the critical issues of the day, although too often they feel like they are spitting against the wind.
With the possible exception of the last group, it should not be a surprise to anyone why they is more heat than light emanating from the many blogs dedicated to commenting on the situation in Fiji. I am happy to concede that it is not the objective of the first or second group of blogs to offer concrete policy proposals for moving the country forward and why should they? These blogs have been designed for a specific purpose in mind, whether to excite existing prejudices or reiterate conventional wisdom. Thus it is time for believers to acknowledge that it is not the raison d’etre of certain blogs to do what they are not ostensibly designed to do, which requires sober and careful exegesis of politics and culture, it is akin to using a hammer to cut a log.
The problem we are faced with is not why we have an abundance of anti-government blogs and those from the predictable chattering classes, but the paucity of blogs that are dedicated to serious policy analysis and political solutions to our most vexing problems. Two possible reasons emerge on why the blogosphere has failed to produce a more robust and healthy yield of ideas regarding Fiji and why we should not at least in the immediate future expect anything different. First, it is very expensive both in time, resources and personnel to develop the kind of sophisticated analysis that is current, creative and comprehensive. The best a blog can do is to rely on external links, studies and references about an issue and hope that it stirs debate and reflection. Secondly, and most importantly, politics is a very difficult enterprise, and to quote Max Weber, “politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards.” It is far easier for individuals to oppose governments and policies than to actually propose substantive, meaningful and realistic alternatives. The intellectual work required to reform and rebuild our institutions and structures is beyond the ken of most bloggers and increasingly as is becoming apparent, for many in government too.
Are we therefore resigned to a steady diet of anti-government rants and recycled commentaries, which are par for course in any of the great debates of the day? One can easily despair about the quality and quantity of discourse on issues that one cares about deeply and wonder if the enterprise is worth the grief it brings. Furthermore, independent blogs like Crosbie’s that are not underwritten by research centers or academic institutions perform quite admirably given the resource and personnel constrains. The design of these blogs is to create a site amenable to debate and exchange of views and opinions on issues about a place we all seem to care about. It cannot assume responsibility for formulating concrete policy nor should it be judged on whether it succeeds or fails in that task. The best we can expect from them is to provide a forum that is respectful, transparent, knowledgeable and serious about politics, culture and society and I think that Dr. Walsh has done an admirable job on those counts through his blog, I only wish there were more of them. In the meantime if you need to rant and rave or find out what the policy de jour is, you can always go to one of the other blogs.