Monday, December 31, 2007

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

A phalanx

Looking back over 2007, particularly the last couple months of it, I realize that I have learned a sobering lesson:

We cannot rely on the major blogs to police themselves.

Blogs are extraordinarily adept at finding and publicizing errors of fact in the mainstream media. When Reuters and CNN and France 2 unquestioningly report hoaxes, falsely attributed material, staged photographs, and all the other manufactured propaganda of the Left and the Islamists, the distributed intelligence of the blogs exposes them immediately. Major American blogs with their large readership are particularly important to the process of discovering and reporting the truth as it pertains to the MSM. Without these blogs, corrections and retractions would be extremely unlikely.

This is not true, however, when it pertains to one of their own. For whatever reason — professional courtesy, a reluctance to get into a flame war, or just a general distaste for conflict amongst one’s peers — it seems that large blogs shy away from reporting on factual errors committed by other large blogs.

Blogging success relies on a reputation for trustworthiness. We expect the truth from a popular and respected blog. Trust is earned over a long period of time through scrupulous accuracy and a rapid correction of errors.

Ultimately, the trustworthiness of a blog depends on the character of the blog’s writers. People with a natural sense of probity and the ability to accept criticism will build up a record that deserves our trust.

Unfortunately, if a blog with a large enough readership falls away from these standards, no mechanism exists to expose and correct it.

It brings to mind the age-old question:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Who will guard the guardians?
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A hopliteThe Latin adage is from Juvenal’s Satires (iii.347), but the question derives originally from Plato. In his dialogues with Socrates, as recounted in Book III of The Republic, Plato describes the ideal polis, a tiered city-state with guardians who protect and govern the city by means of their wisdom and special training.

Socrates is asked, “Who will guard the guardians?” Plato’s answer is that they will in fact guard themselves. In order to do this, they will be told the Noble Lie:

The noble lie will inform them that they are better than those they serve and it is, therefore, their responsibility to guard and protect those lesser than themselves. We will instill in them a distaste for power or privilege, they will rule because they believe it right, not because they desire it…

In Plato’s view, the noble lie was a necessary evil, designed to avoid despotism and at the same time prevent the state from falling into chaos and anarchy. In the centuries since Plato political philosophy has grappled with the same problem — how to prevent the accumulation of power in the hands of those unfit to exercise it — but has never arrived at a satisfactory answer. Solutions suited to particular times and cultures have emerged — the separation of powers, constitutional monarchy, various caste systems — but none is perfect.

And, in any case, the lie may be a noble one, but it is still a lie. The guardians are not better than ordinary people.

The hoi polloi of Blogopolis are just as capable of discerning the truth as are the aristocrats.

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A hopliteSo what is an alert reader to do? The major blogs are guarding the MSM, but who is guarding the major blogs?

Regular readers will not be surprised when I offer a distributed solution.

Smaller blogs are more competitive, and an aggregate of the truth is likely to appear among them. This argues for a variegated base of news sources. Include the big blogs in your reading, but look for independent sources among the smaller blogs. If possible, find more than one original source for any given important fact. The wisdom of crowds will arrive at the true story, but you’ll need a crowd of information sources in order to find it.

Readers and commenters have an important function in maintaining the standards of any given blog. Provided that the group can avoid becoming an echo chamber, if the expertise of these contributors is acknowledged, then they are performing their custodial duty to truth.

We bloggers have a responsibility to acknowledge our readers’ acumen. We need to recognize that we’re communicating with our peers.

It’s also important to beware of undisclosed biases. Virtually no one dispenses information from an unbiased point of view, so a source that is up front about its natural biases is inherently more trustworthy than one that claims to be dispassionate.

That’s my two cents’ worth. It’s a rather meager reward for cashing out of 2007, but it will have to do.

Happy new year, everybody!


Charlemagne said...

It also translates to "Who watches the watchmen?" which to me always had Big Brother overtones.

Anonymous said...

I'm finding the comments section of and other MSM newspapers a good source of suppressed information. Often, friends of people mentioned in the stories, or even police commenting anonymously, provide insight that isn't available elsewhere. It's impossible to verify its accuracy, but I find such information useful, if it contradicts or adds to the offical version, which I have reason to doubt anyway.

Who Struck John said...

A huge issue in the blogosphere is that it has the equivalent of multiple personality disorder -- two rather large personalities in the Left and the Right and a horde of lesser personalities in the various specialty interests. Evaluating who has the best grip on a particular truth turns out to be a matter of not only source but topic -- various sites have ideological blinders to other problems and possibilities, and there seems no universal way to sort through that noise to get at truth. I'd say that is the single greatest problem that blog readers face.

Fellow Peacekeeper said...

Yes, commenters matter greatly.

Blogs that make uncomfortable and nonconformative commenters go away are almost inevitably going to become positive-feedback closed-loop echo chambers. LGF is one, the DKos is another. GoV would quite possibly have become an echo chamber with wierd and irrelevant memes without the enlightened comments policy.

X said...

Part of the problem, even with aggregated small blogs, is the echo chamber effect. A lot of people don't look too far for their information and tend to focus on one or two sites rather than browse a dozen, and many of the smaller blogs tend to echo what other blogs are saying rather than bring in new information.

One word I'm glad I didn't see in your entire post is "regulation". Government regulation is a non-starter for obvious reasons... The number of times self-regulation has been tried boggles the mind, and every occasion has failed because there's no penalty for not complying, and no reward apart from a the kudos of having a little badge on your site.

I believe Pyjamas Media tried to solve this aggregation problem when it was founded, but it focused on creating celebrity columnists and promoting "big" blogs. My personal opinion is that PJMedia has failed. Every attempt to broaden the reach of blogging has failed because there is no reliable way of getting that aggregate picture. It's technically possible but the social system isn't there. Blogs are the modern technological equivalent of the gossip network with a more reliable fact-checking mechanism, but people aren't in the habit of gossiping anymore, except in that most of their gossiping revolves around what is broadcast by the media at large.

In short, we all know these things are great but the majority don't, and - importantly - don't know how to find out. Some effort needs to be made to bring people into this gossip network as news carriers.

Henrik R Clausen said...

Those quotes by Plato are interesting. He tries to avoid despotism, but actually falls into traps that would promote just that.

I disagree with him in both directions.

First, telling lies usually leads to a loss of honesty, where lies are perpetuated to protect the initial lie, and honesty goes down the drain. The bane of proper rule, a road to despotism to protect the interests of those in power.

Second, I disagree with the notion that noone is better fit to rule than others. Some people have a natural talent to listen to a variety of interests and balance them, while others have talents in all manners of other fields, like medicine, engineering, law, farming and other worthy pursuits.

Plato is out on a simplistic tangent with this. His utopian views would fit the Soviet Union, but not a real European democracy.

Democracy - the process of figuring out who are the most able leaders, endowing them with suitable powers and appropriate checks and balances, to make sure they serve the interest of the people who elected them, not the politicians themselves.

If you place responsibility on single politicians beyond their capacity, corruption becomes a real danger. Able politicians do not have to fear the future and hoard resources in an illicit way for their 'retirement'.

A corrolary of this would be that education in itself would lower corruption, not just the crackdown when it has happened. Interesting. I never thought of this before...

Democracy is not only the right to pick your own dictator. In Islamic countries - like Iran - voting is just that.

More important that picking the ones with the same views as yourself is identifying those that are most likely to listen to your points of view before the next election. The US ruling elite does not understand this.

Democracy is wonderful. It lives and breathes from public participation, and the blogosphere is becoming a vital part of that.

Zonka said...

I think Graham has nailed the problem, people are lazy and don't have a lot of time to browse many blogs, hoping to find something interesting (to them), however most of the time they don't know what is interesting before they find it!

A couple of thoughts about this, and with the hope of sparking a discussion about the way to present ideas, information etc. in a more effective manner....

So as I see it the current model of blogging doesn't work very well for the average joe. And it is something that needs to be addressed, if the blogs want to become more important in opinion making and news reporting.

One way to go is to follow the MSM into consolidating blogs, so that the consolidated blogs offers more of a one-stop shopping, and brand recognition as the MSM media. meaning having a staff or group of people joining forces so that that particular blog can cover more areas. This model offers readers more of the same benefits that traditional MSM offers, while having fewer constraints to enter the market etc.

The other possibility that I can think of is through “innovation” and that means creating new ways of aggregating blogs so that many specialized blogs can contribute to a greater whole, presented through a portal or something like that. For this to work it needs design, experimentation and creation of new ways of presenting information, to make the information readily available to make the individual bloggers or blogteams matter (so that the aggregate doesn't steal the whole picture) and several more issues that have to be worked out.

I believe in that last model, and I there has been some pioneer work done, some with success, like aggregate feeds etc. and some with failure like (they had a good idea, but destroyed it with the bury button, that lead to the bury brigades)... To make this model work we need creative ideas as well as technical solutions to implement them.

And then regardless of the model one chooses there is some problems with the ways that blogs are presented to the public. Most blogging systems offer a strict chronological ordering of posts and their associated comments, which can make it hard to find the posts that one is interested in. Some systems offer a traditional media type frontpage with teasers of current stories, which in my opinion works great to get an overview of what is available.

But then blogs are different from a the traditional media, in the sense that they are both the current edition and an archive of all prior editions at the same time. Which wouldn't be a problem if the previous articles were static, but they're not. Some change over time as new facts or information becomes available, and most importantly some gets read for the first time a long time after being posted by somebody who found them through a search engine and then comment on the post, a comment that when the post has disappeared from the front page will not have a high chance of being seen by the majority.

Message boards have some advantage in this area, where posts that receives a new comment is being pushed to the top of the forum. But a message board is not always a good way of presenting information as the ordering is somewhat chaotic.

the doctor said...

Henrik ; There is a lot of truth in what you say , however Plato understands the concept of the "noble" lie . The noble lie does not equate to an ordinary lie on the grounds of necessity .
I sit on some very high powered committees and to some extent operate under the noble lie , but I know that I am not greater than anyone else and so exercise my office from a sense of duty . Ultimately "custodians" are the servants of society .

Henrik R Clausen said...

Actually, I've come across a possibly better name for 'noble lie', namely 'dynamic truth'.

I've seen leaders in companies praise people not for what they had achieved, but for what they had the potential to achieve. This motivated the persons to actually go do what they had been praised for.

Praise is a dangerous tool, though. It has been said that praise, not power, is the hardest test on personal integrity. A certain prophecy-less prophet (Qutham was his name) craved praise, so much that he took a nickname bearing the meaning "The Praiseworthy". The result was a disaster that is still ongoing.

The ability to discriminate between 'good' and 'bad' is crucial.

Dymphna said...

The ability to discriminate between 'good' and 'bad' is crucial.

That is the crux of the pedagogical problem in nationalized education. The very notion of "good" and "bad" is suspect.

"Discriminate"? Please, that is as odious as the word "niggardly." Some words have been swept off the table, and you have named two right here.

Good is whatever feels good as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else.

Bad is anyone who would presume to tell you that there is such a thing as "bad." Those moral discriminaters are the bad people.

Henrik R Clausen said...

Dyphna immedialy picked up the seed I had put down in my last comment :)

'They' may want to lock me up for this. I insist on my right to discriminate between good and bad, or we'll never have a good society again. It's one of the finest qualities of a modern, rational society.

'Prejudice' is another controversial word. The guards at my local shopping mall are full of prejudice, and they make it perfectly clear that even if you start out without any, half a year in their job will create prejudice.

Fortunately, the principle of rule of law is more important than any of those. The laws apply equally to each and every citizen, with upbringing, skin colour and the like being so irrelevant they do not even deserve mention.

That goes both ways. One does not gain exception from the law based on culture, religion or the like.

Assaulting rule of law with charges of 'discrimination', 'racism' and the like is a very real problem. I still haven't figured out a proper antidote.

spackle said...

OT. Just wanted to wish all of you a happy new year. Here is to another year of Gov.

Zenster said...

And, in any case, the lie may be a noble one, but it is still a lie

What a delightful topic! Intellectual honesty, along with integrity, consistency and loyalty all seem to have taken a major hit in the last few decades. Even worse is the lack of outrage or protest over the ebb of such vital character traits in this brave new world of "truthiness". I can only hope that the Baron's enlightened comment policy will properly drive intellectual honesty at this site. It is something I relish about the Internet: Namely, the opportunity to be correctly informed and to have any misperceptions righted. If we cannot perform the simple task of steering towards truth at all times, then our footsteps will not be worth following.

While it may seem obvious to some, I am hard pressed to see what people find so offensive about the word "discriminate". My own view is that it represents a vast challenge to the morally deficient. Too often we are told, "Judge not lest ye be judged." I do not have a problem with such a notion in that we all live or die by our judgements and make dozens, if not hundreds of them, every day. Being judgemental or discriminating is not the issue, it is prejudging people or events that can lead to problems. That amounts to making decisions without sufficient information and is a definite blunder. I'll end here with a plea that this site not be allowed to deteriorate into any sort of echo chamber. That would be a travesty.

PapaBear said...

Random comments

Dympha and Henrik, this morning I was watching Evan Sayet delivering a lecture at the Heritage Foundation on youtube "How Modern Liberals Think"

His point is that part of the essence of Leftist thinking these days, is that there must be no indication that there is anything good or superior about Western Civilization, Christianity, rationalism, or any of the other foundations of modern civilization.

Regarding the "issues" LGF seems to have with Gates of Vienna: don't sweat it. Charles is probably responsible for a lot of new people taking a look at GoV, just to see what the fuss is about

xlbrl said...

This, like it or not, is as good as it gets, or has ever been.
'Such is the irresistible nature of truth that all it asks, and all it wants is the liberty of appearing, but as scarce as the truth is, the supply will always be greater than the demand.To most of us nothing will remain so invisible as an unpleasant truth.
Nor does a truth triumph by convincing its opponents, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. So the truth is not for all men, but for those who seek it.
When we tell the truth, it must not be for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those who do.'

Zenster said...

"How Modern Liberals Think"

Definitely worth watching. Sayet nails modern liberalism to the wall.

A most appropriate Thomas Paine quote, xlbrl.

Reliapundit said...











Alexis said...

I think the big blogs are increasingly becoming integrated into the mainstream media, with the effect that the biases of the Big Blogs and the Mainstream Media are increasingly becoming one and the same. Somehow, I had been under the impression that incorporating big blogs into the mainstream media was what Pajamas Media is all about.

PapaBear said...


When blogging is just your anonymous side hobby, you can speak your mind and be as politically incorrect as you want.

The problem with getting big, is that you now have a significant cash flow from advertisers. You start to become reluctant to take positions that elicit protests from advertisers.

And the side that is most expert in making large, organized protests to advertisers, is the Left.

. said...

Hmmm, I wonder who you could be talking about ...

Charlemagne said...

With regard to spreading the message to a wider audience I think that a well produced video blog might be effective. The decline of newspapers and other print news mediums isn't solely due to the rise of the web and cable new shows. The decline is also partly attributable to the declining attention span of our societies. People want the Cliff's Notes version of the news and rarely have the time, interest, or intellectual depth, to follow critical issues. If important GoV et al topics can be delivered via a weekly vlog that provided entertaining summaries of the week's critical developments perhaps more people can be made aware and become interested. Each segment can be delivered as a kind of 'personal impact' to let viewers know how some Islamic development affects them, e.g. removing St. George's cross from prison guards uniforms, banning ham sandwiches in school lunches in public schools, making special accommodation for Islamic prayers in public schools while denying such rights to Christian students, etc. By making these news clips personal rather than at the higher level often discussed here, e.g. cultural and moral relativism, culture and identity, philosophical underpinnings of societies, etc. more people can be made aware of the negative impacts to our broad Western culture and hopefully join in the conversation and defense of our civilization.

And Happy New Year to all!!1

bansheewailer said...

Let's call it what it is and why.
Noble Lie -- fallback onto dishonesty due to inadequate information, intelligence, imagination, and courage to take the bull(crap) by the horns or other appendage.
Loyalty to blogger associates when you think they err -- Misplaced loyalty; proper placement of loyalty is to the truth or reality as best we can discern it. If need be, respectfully disagree with others. State the source of your 'facts'.
Discrimination -- Do you prefer differentiation? Or do you insist on slavishly suurendering parts of our language to those who misuse it?
For example, do you sanction the use of the word 'discrimination' or do you sanction its use?

bansheewailer said...

I find it helpful to read blogs from different sides of the polygon of opinion, prejudice, and postjudice. What is emphasized, deemphasized, or eliminated from what should be the common pertinent information/data base?
Who's misrepresenting the supposed facts in context?