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

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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