The occasion of my fourth blogiversary naturally sets me to thinking about what I do on this blog, and what I might be doing in the future here.
Of course, it’s a relatively stress-free analysis. After all, I am a blogger. I have no boss. I am not subject to the wishes of a Board of Trustees or other organizational structure. I have no editor, publisher, or clientele of paying consumers to dictate what I write.
Oh, sure, there’s the desire to have readers read my work. But bloggers learn quickly that the best way to have your blog fail is to be false to yourself in order to “please” your readers.
So I’ll continue to write about what interests me. My decisions will be fairly arbitrary (I can’t possibly write about everything, but I’m grateful for every tip regardless). Those who know me realize that I’m a bit of a geek for things like Constitutional law and the Bill of Rights, so i’ll definitely talk about those things.
My eventual goal is legal regulation of current black-market drugs worldwide, but I also have no problem with helping people a step at a time along the way. If someone doesn’t believe in medical marijuana, I’ll try to convince them of its value. If they believe in medical marijuana, but not legalized and regulated recreational value, I’ll try to convince them of that next step and so on. If I can help people make the full jump without the steps, that’s preferable, but not exclusive.
Here are a few random things that have me thinking right now.
If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.– Bertrand Russell (via Anonymous Liberal)
This is why the drug czar’s propaganda works. It takes advantage of the gullibility of those who have already been taught to believe in prohibition. To overcome that, our evidence must be overwhelming (and that takes time to convey).
Why not give up?
Recently a blogger I greatly admire — Glenn Greenwald — wrote this about the importance of blogging (and while it wasn’t specifically about drug policy, I think the overall thoughts are still relevant).
Given how systemic and deeply rooted all of these political and media failures are, what is the point of writing about them day after day, and complaining on a case-by-case basis about them? The corruption and dysfunction is, by now, obvious to those who are able and willing to see it. Why beat the same drum every day?
As frustrating as it can be, this sort of day-to-day pressure on individual journalists and political figures is the most effective weapon possessed by blogs, websites and other organizations devoted to forcing into our public discourse various perspectives and narratives which are otherwise excluded. Given how energized, engaged and active blog readers are, virtually all journalists, editors, pundits and political figures now hear the criticisms launched at them, and usually hear them quite loudly.
Through this process, many became aware of objections to what they do that they otherwise would not have realized. At the very least, they are conscious, when they go to write the next article or give the next interview, that they can trigger very vocal and negative reactions by repeating their errors.
Even for those who are not driven by rationality and who are not operating in good faith, this process can still affect how they behave. Everyone is potentially affected, to some degree, even if subconsciously, by substantial amounts of anger directed at them. Journalists in general have thin skins for criticism and when they are subjected to it, they remember it.
The point here is that changing our public discourse is a slow, grinding, difficult process. Any changes that occur, any progress that is made, will be made only incrementally, one day after the next. Each individual change is usually so slight as to be imperceptible, but aggregated, those changes can be substantial. The real success of blogs comes not from single, easily identifiable spectacular achievements (“we defeated this bill/candidate” or “we uncovered this fact”), but rather, by the gradual re-shaping of the dominant political narratives, by changing how political and cultural issues are discussed, by influencing (either through pressure or competition) how the media conducts itself in covering our political process.
I believe that there has been a significant payoff in this area in recent years. In my own very conservative heartland hometown paper, some of the most discussed stories are drug war-related and while plenty of comments exhibit prohibition-blindness, there are now huge numbers of intelligent comments armed with facts and reason to dispute the propaganda.
(This is also an area where MAPinc.org shines.)
We’re re-shaping the political narrative, but not from the top. It’s from the ground up.
Phillip Smith is also doing some navel-gazing today in his post: Taking it to the Drug Warriors — Is it Time for Direct Action?
You know, a guy gets tired fighting for decades for the right to do something which should be our right anyway. Yeah, I know the litany: We’ve got to play the game…if you don’t like the law, change it…the political process is slow…we can’t be impatient…we have to educate politicians and cultivate law enforcement….blah blah blah.
Well, in the face of the no-progress Hinchey-Rohrabacher vote and the continuing defiance of the will of California voters by the DEA, not to mention all the other drug war horrors, I’m prepared to once again make inciteful (if not insightful) calls for direct action against these downpressors.
And I agree with him as well. But as one who has actually protested outside a DEA museum exhibit, I know first hand the difficulty of convincing large (or even small) numbers of people to actually take that kind of direct action.
I agree that the Hinchey-Rohrabacher vote has increased my pessimism about expending extensive efforts in convincing politicians, or even in convincing indivduals to vote for specific politicians. While I went through a lot of effort to create voting guides in 2004, and a mildly successful effort to implement a wiki-based voting guide for 2006, I think that Drug WarRant in 2008 will simply provide a basic useful guide for how individuals can find out the drug policy views of their candidates.
My efforts will continue to focus on reaching and convincing people. One at a time, if necessary.
And my view of direct action is that, if practical, it will succeed not by trying to change the minds of politicians and bureaucrats, but rather by affecting the views of large numbers of individual people in positive ways.
Providing people with the tools to be self-advocates
Regular readers of Drug WarRant probably assume that the main blog page is the most visited. It’s not.
I’ve recently started tracking site information with Google analytics and some of it is quite interesting. In the past month, the top four visited pages on this site were:
- 51.67% — Why is Marijuana Illegal?
- 31.40% — Drug WarRant
- 2.86% — Drug War Victims
- 1.39% — Bong Hits 4 Jesus
And while I’m sure that other months might have slightly different results (I’ll keep tracking it), the point is clear — people really like having an easy-to-use, focused factual piece with strong visceral elements, and I happened upon the right idea combined with the luck for it to turn viral. I see that page all over the place on messageboards (the Drug War Victims page, while less popular, has a similar effect, and receives significantly higher numbers of visits at other times).
I hope to create some additional tools of this nature — something to help all those people who know the propaganda is crap but need an easy way to explain it (or link to it).
What are your deep thoughts? (they don’t actually have to be deep)