Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Peeling the Onion III

It's a point I've been hammering the last few posts but I'm going to do it again because Frederick Turner explains nicely how millions of pieces of disparate information all came together to expose Dan Rather.

Traditional journalism (usually referred to by the bloggers as the MSM -- Mainstream Media) limped behind the story. Mary Mapes, the CBS journalist who produced the unlucky 60 Minutes segment, had been working on it for five years, four years too late to smear Bush in the Bush-Gore election -- but it took the bloggers around 36 hours to track down the whole affair and to reveal the hoax at the heart of it.

What we saw was an extraordinary example of what chaos and complexity theorists call spontaneous self-organization. Out of a highly communicative but apparently chaotic medium an ordered, sensitively responsive, but robust order emerges, acting as an organism of its own. Suddenly a perfectly-matched team of specialists had self-assembled out of the ether.

The process was powered by the mighty search engine of Google, with its instantaneous access to all kinds of information and the addresses of experts to dispense it. The persuasiveness of replicable graphic experiment helped catalyze the moment of conviction: for many the decisive moment was the Little Green Footballs display of the Microsoft Word text flashed alternately upon the forged memo text. The dazzling speed and monstrous bandwidth of the information flow had crossed some kind of threshold, in which thousands of minds could act as neurons in a sort of super-intelligence -- an intelligence with not merely cognitive, but moral characteristics.

For as the story developed, something remarkable began to happen. The new community became aware of itself as a community -- the group mind, so to speak, had awakened, yawned, and seen itself in the mirror. As the various blogs, comment threads, and link systems cohered and came together, they started to recognize, exult in, and reflect upon their own power and speed, and a new tone entered the discussion.
Read the whole thing. The functionality of this system is strikingly similar to the textbook operation of efficient free market theory. They could learn a lot from each other.


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