Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Praise for Wretchard

It’s embarrassing to reveal that I am such a toadying bootlick. Honest, folks, my voracious reading really truly does include a few headlines or so every few weeks from someplace besides Belmont Club and Vodkapundit, and of course there are entirely other regiments and troops of excellent writers, wordsmiths, and essayists who think BIG THOUGHTS.

But Wretchard the Cat has a quiet understated deftness from which a reader almost always comes away richer for the reading. For example, today he’s posted an essay titled “The Wood Between the Worlds” prompted by a report of a member of a group styling itself “Fathers4Justice” evidently climbing on London’s Parliament house.

It’s really a short piece, not dealing with news of titanic EVENTS of the moment. Just a casual comment in response to a publicity stunt by a group wanting its grievance to get some attention. But like the veteran instructor in the LaMaze class, Wretchard manages to guide and place our finger on the pulse of a living beast aborning, which embodies for better or for worse, the doom of our time much more than the jihadists, the bureaucrats well-meant or otherwise, or the most rapacious of capitalists.

At one level, the particulars of the incident matter less than the fact that it is closer to raw experience than 99 percent of the reports we get from most news sources, which have been viewed, trimmed, compressed, and marinated at length in journalistic digestive juices by layers of editors before being allowed to impinge on our un-tutored retinas.

Just some guy with a grievance climbing a building to be noticed. And he is noticed, because it was a well-traveled public place, pretty quickly by the news-hungry professional photojournalists.

And by the amateurs, as well.

Everyone taking pictures of the event, of the individual, of the location, of each other taking pictures. With at least a few cameras that can feed instantly into the web. The new urban environment is being documented from all angles, seemingly every minute of the day. Everything all at once all the time forever.

I’m not entirely convinced that this signals the utter end of rascally government’s ability to suppress news; a truly repressive government can impose harsh penalties for owning or using cameras, just as it can confiscate weapons to ensure a subjugated populace. Like the astronauts conversing in Larry Niven’s book “Lucifer’s Hammer” when in a small epiphany one observes that seen from orbit, the Earth’s surface shows no borders between countries. A cynic replies that such observations should be kept to one’s self, lest the petty governments immediately paint ten-mile wide stripes in day-glow orange along every border, to ensure they CAN be seen from space...

Wretchard’s insight is deceptively mild, so all the more acute:

“If Moms4Justice had scaled Nelson's plinth and Kids4Justice had swarmed Buckingham palace at the same time, how would meme collision get arbitrated on the nervous system of a digitally wired society? Is there any way of assigning headers to memes such that they get where they should? Is there any way for memes to rearrange themselves in a logical order upon arrival at a destination to form an even more complex idea? What is to prevent the whole digital nervous sytem from suffering a breakdown from an overload? And encapsulating all these questions implicitly is the most important question of all: how does one make a buck out of it?”

This last year has provided a number of celebrated examples of how the internet and the people who monitor the flow of information can augment, correct, “fact-check” and even sometimes trump the Old Mainstream Media. But it is sometimes forgotten that the key to it all — the key to ANY of it working — is a fine, insightful, devastatingly logical mind with the ability to identify a crucial item, and like some kid with a Rubik’s Cube, sift through all the variations and extract the verities for us.

Most of us can recognize a snake displayed on a table top. Not so many can pick out a diamondback rattler sitting motionless in the leaf litter where we are about to step. Wretchard and a number of unsung folks like him are setting a high standard for peering into the thicket, and marking a path.


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