Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Join the pajama party

Instapundit has a another good post on lessons to be gleaned from the 60 Minutes newly discovered documents relating to GWB's military service. Can I call it military? It was Guard, really. Is the Guard, Reserve? (Ok, I got my snide remark in. Now I'll attempt some seriousness.) I say "another" (See the curly quotes? Ed - Quit that!) because he has had many good posts over the years on the more general subject of how the blogosphere is changing the landscape of news and opinion, among other things. Mr. Reynolds will have still more because, 1st, this is still an evolving situation and, 2nd, (Ed- I said quit that!) this is only a tiny part of a much larger evolution.

To put my muddy finger on this evolution, I'll just call it The Internet. The evolution happening is very similar to what a person does over their lifetime -- accumulate knowledge, sort it and, also, evaluate it.

The accumulation aspect is interesting. Knowledge is usually associated with 'what can you tell me right now' as though you are in an argument, debate or discussion. I remember an instance during my college years of talking with one of my economics professors. He always impressed me with how much he knew, with the depth and breadth of his answers to so many questions. I asked how it was he could remember all this stuff. He fended off the compliment with something to this effect, "I don't remember much information at all, really. All that stuff up there in a clutter, getting all dusty, does me no good. Mostly, I just remember where to look it up." Looking at it now, it was just that he had evolved. He was past the 'just accumulate" stage.

There's a misnomer, if you will, about knowledge, too, where sorting comes in. While in common conversation we will say, "That's good to know.", or "You got some bad information, buddy.", all information is good information. Grouping aside, sorting is determining what is correct or incorrect via evaluation (I suppose there's a "Where the hell does this info go?" box, too, which is labeled "To Do") Once you hear or read "bad" information and know it is incorrect, the next time you'll know and that is "good" information to have.

The third part of knowledge, evaluation, also has it's distractions. In large part, the crux of Rather's document controversy is the distractions. In his latest post, Mr. Reynold's points to one such distraction which, in logic, is called argumentum ad verecundiam, an argument one type of which appeals to authority to show the argument's truth. (There are others, such as, argumentum ad hominem. Partisan hacks, anyone?) Authority has no place in objective evaluation of information but it can serve as a shortcut in the evaluation process. Authority allows acceptance of portions of the evaluation process to be dispensed with, that evaluation already having been done by that authority. As Mr. Reynolds implied, trust is essential for authority to dispense with full and complete evaluation.

Years ago, the Internet was dubbed the "Information Superhighway". It is still surprising that, last Monday, being in need of the IBM Selectric Composer Manual, circa 1968, it was at my finger tips. But thinking about it since, I recognize that that nickname has, if anything, obscured the reality that the Internet, like my economics professor, has evolved beyond that. It is sorting and evaluating and has been for some years. Knowledge deals with the past. Sorting and evaluating deals with the future, the creation of new knowledge. The Internet isn't what it used to be.

Mr. Reynold's updated his post with an e-mail from Hugh Hewitt speaking to the issue of high and low-trust conditions of authority linked by familiarity. While Mr. Hewitt is correct in describing how trust facilitates dissemination of knowledge, trust had very little to do with the evaluation of issues in this controversy. In my humble opinion, this issue the Internet has taken on is the closest to full evaluation of the facts without appeal to authority outside of a laboratory.

So, with all due respect to Mr. Rather, (which now has shriveled to the point of only politeness and even that is vanishing) there was a time when authority could be used to buttress or close-out arguments. That era is past. A new era has begun and it is in the style of Athenian Democracy. It is dubbed The Internet. Neither CBS nor any other organization, person or entity can usurp this new authority with it's own self-claimed authority. It is the ideal authority, derived by the process of knowledge laid out, sorted and evaluated by anyone and everyone. Arguments or opinions presented here with stuff hidden in your pajama pockets, just doesn't pass the test.

Put on your pajamas, Mr. Rather, empty your pockets, and join us.

Immediate Update: Yikes, two more updates at the linked post. Must go read.

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