NRO: Civilities piece on diversity a "self-parody"

A response to The National Review Online.

How curious of me to be linked to Heather MacDonald, whose work appeared in the National Review Online today. We both share an interest in doing research to investigate diversity, seeking statistics and conducting interviews on these manner. She is a professional writer, who has parlayed this into published work. By contrast, I’m an amateur. At best I can do research and pass it along. Passed along to Ms. MacDonald, she referred to it in her article with this line:

"The diversity blogging debate has just begun, and it has already descended into self-parody."

I am a bit curious what she meant here, and perhaps some of the 600 people who clicked on the link today are as well. I have written parody and self-parody, and I can supply that if you need it. This piece was a 4,500-word analysis of a conference at Harvard on blogging and journalism, which I wrote to investigate the challenge that there would not enough liberal bloggers to challenge a couple of conservative bloggers in this meeting of about fifty people. I found that challenge to be without merit, though I did perceive a noticeable imbalance between the participation of men and women at this meeting. This perhaps may not have been news to people who participate in these sorts of conferences, but it was crucial enough that Rebecca MacKinnon raised it at the next Harvard conference on a related theme– triggering the diversity blogging debate Ms. MacDonald covers here.

I subsequently assembled the documentation to demonstrate that this isn’t the first time that the issue of diversity in blogging has been raised. My argument, citing Esther Dyson’s observations, was that the blogosphere as we know it today is awful at listening, and prone to repeat the same discussions over and over without getting anywhere.

The first half of the MacDonald’s article was interesting; the second half marred by a dip into the standard playbook of tarring liberalism, or at least a conservative’s view of it.

No one has seriously suggested "quotas"; what Steven Levy passed along from Halley Suitt was a challenge for the "alpha bloggers" to seek out a more diverse community of sources for their material.

She dismisses this by suggesting that "mandates" are not far behind. Ok, count for me the number of mandates the government has issued for the publishing industry or for any hobbies.

And then she writes "One can imagine something like a federal Digital Diversity Agency…" Congratulations, this is the person to imagine that, it is right there in the Department of Handy Strawmen that conservatives have been known to summon up to rally the anti-government rhetoric. She repeatedly refers to "regulators" which do not exist. (This is "self-parody" if I ever heard it).

One could conceive of such a registry– run by nongovernmental third parties, as just about all of the Internet registries currently are. I have proposed such a service, and I thing many bloggers would participate voluntarily, just as they do with current government forms which ask that information be voluntarily provided. Some people may deliberately want to reach out to others of different backgrounds (as I have done). Others may find value in the in the data that this provide. "Trust, but verify" is a particular credo that has renewed popularity, this time with the thought leaders in blogging and social media.

Ms. MacDonald has no data to fall back on here. She simply relays the assumption that the blogosphere is a pure meritocracy simply because the startup costs are zero. This is assumption of Steven Levy and many others. I can make a good case that this assumption is mistaken. There are mere subtle forces at work which ensures that the values that are desired by blog readers happen to be those values that have been informed by a group of mostly men over the last few years.

Perhaps Ms. MacDonald can come to agreement with me on thing: if enough people feel that this is a problem, they ought to look more seriously at it than has been done. They always can use people without interests in the outcome. I’m one of them: I have no interest in being a leading female columnist. I’m a man, after all.