But the fact that this argument was so incomplete and so unsatisfying (in an discussion where I was explicitly speaking about larger-order societal values) ultimately didn't matter; it was blogical, and in that context that's all that mattered. It ignored the broader substantive implications of what was being discussed, but followed the well-worn patterns of Twitter-friendly argumentation. Blogical arguments proceed from A then to B then to C, even if what we're discussing lives in the interstices between L and Q. Common to blogic are responses that neither reflect on the deeper concerns at hand nor rebut the arguments they consider but rather drag the conversation down whatever alleyway of obfuscation and minutiae is necessary to win a temporary victory. Blogic is the language of those who look for the missing key under the lamp because the light is there.
Blogic is a signalling-laden communicative mode. In addition to expressing the point at hand, blogical argument performs the frequently more-important task of demonstrating that the speaker knows how insiders argue. Terms common to a sophomore economics seminar are the coin of the realm, and their significance and appropriateness are always assumed, never proven. Typically they are dispensed they way an inexperienced cook uses spices, a little more thrown in here and there. These terms are used to defend some simplistic deductive explanation of a complex and shifting phenomena, using the human capacity for narrative to give the sheen of plausibility to explanations that cannot possibly be verified through evidence. All blogical stories are just so stories.
I thought Dylan Matthews fared quite poorly during the Twitter debate that ensued over the CTU strike. (Pardon me for not being able to gracefully link to it all, but then, ephemerality is part of why people like Twitter.) In part this is simply because people like Doug Henwood and Corey Robin are smart and good at arguing. But on a deeper level, I think he failed simply because he is so thoroughly a creature of a narrow blogical mindset. Confronted by people who do not believe that moral arguments can be settled through reference to pie charts, Matthews's instinct was to dig deeper, to reduce away precisely the issues that his interlocuters wanted to discuss. Typical of blogic is the claim "that is not an argument," which always actually means "that is not an argument expressed in the idiom that I expect." This insistence should naturally attract suspicion and rejection, but because so many of prominence are existentially blogical, you can usually get away with it, and thus your substantive weakness becomes rhetorical strength.
Matthews is Ezra Klein's researcher. He's not bad at that job. But research for blogs is a particular, peculiar kind of research. It involves the sifting of abstracts for choice nuggets that can be shined to perfection by removing the sediment of context, limitation, and qualification which researchers stubbornly provide. This is then referred to as "the research" or "the data." The research and the data are dispositive when they confirm the preexisting assumptions of the blogical and not when they don't. (In discussions of education, they very rarely do, for school reform types.) The misunderstandings of what research says is ultimately a consequence of misunderstanding what research is. Shorn of the necessary context developed by spending hours reading full studies in a particular field, and invoked by those who lack the experience of generating research and the attendant skeptical understanding that comes with it, research become just another argumentative piece, used to assemble some jigsaw puzzle of cleverness, plausibility, and "seriousness."
None of which is to say that all blogical discourse is unhelpful or unnecessary. Wonks are sometimes necessary. You need look no further than Klein's blog, and Matthews's research within, during the debate on health care reform. Their work was essential. When discussing complex situations like American health care, which lies in the intersection of politics and economics and science and morality, it is essential to have populizers and explainers. Of all the potential complaints about the wonks, the oddest to me are complaints about their generalism. Policy generalism is a consequence of democracy; the idea of a polity is founded on the idea that all citizens should aspire to be informed on as many issues as possible. And though wonkery is usually underpinned by the intellectual architecture of capitalism, it needn't necessarily be. Mike Konczal is a leftist wonk, as well as one of my favorite people on the Internet. I don't deny the importance of wonks and blogic; I merely deny that their mode is universally applicable. Ezra Klein is necessary but not sufficient.
The trouble is that the popular Internet discourse has become dominated by blogic, and I encounter people all the time who seem literally incapable of assimilating arguments not expressed in that style. And that's what was happening in the arguments during this strike; sundry Tweeters complaining that those supporting the teachers weren't "arguing in the right way." It wasn't that they were choosing a preferred kind of argument; that was all they knew. Blogic dominates professional blogs for various structural reasons. Professional blogging is largely made up of magazines, think tanks, and nonprofits, and the leadership of magazines, think tanks, and nonprofits is dominated by the kind of Ivy League pedants who want to be knowing more than they want knowledge. And because networking effects from the earliest days of the blogosphere still define the contours of the blogosphere, to a great degree, many of the most prominent voices out there sound very much the same. The more that people see argument expressed in the same mode again and again, the more they start to believe that there is no other mode, and the harder and harder it becomes for us to understand other ways to address our problems. There are alternatives.
Wonks should work their work, and the rest of us ours. But too often I find them defensively, angrily protective of their prominence, quick to dismiss arguments outside their own idiom with a "LOL" or some shitty invocation of what a big deal they are. We have big problems, intractable problems, and solving them means we have to not just look for new solutions but look for a new language in which to express them. Everyone should feel free to float around in their own pond, just stop insisting that there are no other waters in which to swim.
I cannot tell you how many times I've gotten counsel, from strangers and friends, telling me that I could be somebody if I just played ball a little bit more and expressed myself the right way. And there are indeed times when I know that I could express my arguments in the expected way and see them get better play. But I reject the internal logic of that mode of argument, and the professional apparatus which rests upon it. And ultimately my rejection comes from a desire to oppose not just the arguments but the deep structure, the firmament of our system, the architecture of capitalism.