Net Culture Personal Publishing Politics

On the responsibility of linkage…

Ok. Right. This is where things start to get interesting. Firstly, a metaphor. Imagine if you will a solar system – let’s make it a binary system with planets that fly around it. Watch the suns move around one another. Watch the planets move around the suns. Watch the moons move around the planets. Watch their stable arcs cascading around one another. The reason they do this? We all know the answer – the various entities have an influence on one another that we call gravity… This influence, exerted by each and every participant in this system, is what keeps the system stable. If the gravity was dramatically lower, the celestial bodies would fly off from one another into deep space. If the gravity was dramatically higher, the celestial bodies would collapse in on themselves, forming one body – a symbolic monolith…

Let’s move in a different direction for a moment. Must we as liberal individuals believe in a world that gives each and every opinion equal weight. Are all views equally “valid”, “worthwhile”, “right”? And where does this leave us when we vehemently disagree with the tactics that people promoting these views start to use? And where do we end up when the views we must consider “valid” are precisely those views which don’t believe other views to be “valid”, “worthwhile”, “right” and are prepared to say so, and/or do something about it.

This last assertion is one of the simplest paradoxes of liberalism. But it’s not a model worth operating with. And here’s where the solar system comes in. Because a world in which we – as individuals or groups – are unable to extert any kind of pressure on anyone else for doing what we believe to be wrong resembles a solar system without gravity – an immediate explosion occurs, critical divergence, utter lack of stability. And a world in which we – as individuals or groups – are able to extert total pressure on anyone else for doing what we believe to be wrong resembles a solar system with absolute gravity – an immediate imposion occurs, monolithic thinking, totalitarianist repression, totally lack of motion, inertia, death.

The weblog space is a space that bends under the pressure of traffic and influence. But mostly it bends under the strength of reputation (earned by “good work” or unearned by association and / or tacit sanctioning by those who have done “good work”). And I now believe that as an individual operating responsibly in this sphere, I have to be aware of any and all potential abilities I have to legitimately (ie. without lying, cheating or unfairly manipulating the situation in any way) exert whatsoever influence I might have in order to stop what I perceive to be morally wrong, corrupt politics, cheap argument and potentially warmongering. (And yes – if you’re beginning to catch on – I am again talking about warbloggers). I think I’ve come up with something that I believe to be appropriate action in these circumstances, and it’s to do with the responsibilities of being linked to

At the moment one very specific site is in my mind. This site, which I will not link to, links to a considerable number of intelligent and interesting people. Many of whom don’t share the politics or attitude of the man in question. Each one of these people is in a situation to act in such a way that would demonstrate their profound disagreement with those views simply by dint of their link being on his page. What I’m suggesting is that there is a power that comes with being linked to – and it’s a power that one should not only be aware of, but should feel the responsibility to employ – whether by sending a simple e-mail askind the link to be removed (“I do not wish to be associated with the bile-ridden drivel on your site”), or more proactively and campaigningly by using an .htaccess file or something similar to serve up a page which declares that you refuse to be associated with the views of the person whose site you’ve just left.

It’s not a lot, I know, but it’s the first thing that I can think of that actually represents some kind of weblogging ‘direct action’ – some kind of (almost negligible at the individual scale) gravitational influence that can be exerted by a site to act in such a way that it makes itself known as protesting without driving additional traffic to the thing they’re protesting about… And the best thing about it is that it’s entirely non-violent, non-flaming, non-confrontational. It’s a kind of passive politics – refusal to participate – refusal to allow yourself to be referenced – a bizarre kind of work-to-rule… The power of the inbound link should not be ignored…

PS. To clarify, maybe I can give a couple of examples… Let’s say a site links to yours that is homophobic – not a specific link to a specific page, but rather a general blog-rolling style link. To mention that site – to link to it – will promote their agenda, give them more page impressions, more people reading the crap they write. So what you could do instead is use an .htaccess file to shunt them through to a site that debunks myths about being gay.