Why The Web Will Win The Culture Wars For The Left? or Not

| May 12, 2003

You need not look further than the White House and FOX News to realize that the radical right has dramatically grown in power in recent years. ?The culture wars between the religious, traditionalist right and the liberal, pluralist left have started to look like a rout everywhere but in the larger, coastal cities. Conservatives are recasting communities to be more comfortable with, if not prostrate to, received authority in the form of literalist interpretations of religious and political texts,? writes Peter Lurie, a Chicago attorney and critical theorist in a recent essay in the webzine C Theory.

But progressives take heart, the tide will change, Lurie argues. ?This will result not from the range of content available online, but rather the process of finding it. The architecture of the web, and the way users navigate it, closely resembles theories about the authority and coherence of texts that liberal deconstructionist critics have offered for 30 years.? Web surfing, he continues, ?mimics a postmodern, deconstructionist perspective by undermining the authority of texts. . . . And a community of citizens who think like [deconstructionist] Jacques Derrida will not be a particularly conservative one.?

In a thoughtful rebuttal posted on C Theory a few days later, Kevin Barnhurst disagrees. ?The vast majority of web traffic goes to ?mainstream? sites,? he argues, ?where another, related logic (of market leadership, corporate identity, brand loyalty, and supposed brick-and-mortar solidity) surely counterbalances the structures of web information.? Further, the great diversity of sources available on the web allows most users to live in a ?land of illusion where everyone ?out there? shares one's own worldview.? He points out that ?Those who have participated in the flood of anti-war messages and posts, links to protest images, and online petitions, e-mail-writing campaigns, and other actions are stunned to learn from a recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project that in fact opinion on the web has closely paralleled opinion off line. A similar majority supported war in Iraq, but the structure of the Internet allowed (encouraged?) U.S. citizens all to live in our own comfort zones.?

But Barnhurst points to a silver lining in the isolation from opposing views that the Internet enables. ?Causes for hope seem so few these days, but one might be that these zones of safety will nurture great ideas from the left (and for that matter from every subgroup).?
?Leif Utne

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