Posted from the U.S.
This week I had an interview with a reporter from one of the leading Japanese national newspapers, The Asahi Shimbun. The reporter, Shingo Egi, initially contacted me because he wanted to do a story about blogging and bloggers, what it all means, and how did bloggers come to have such an influence on the Old Media. He even offered to fly down for the interview, which was very gracious and indicated that he wanted to dig deep.
I thought to myself - this is great. He is here to interview me, but I'll actually interview him. With blogging, it's hard to tell who is the hunter and who is the hunted. Call it hacker journalism.
We agreed to meet and have a discussion over dinner, and I'm supposed to pick him up. I felt like a true American picking him up in my messy, overblown, gas guzzling SUV. Crude, unsophisticated, and not very fuel efficient. I'm also late, and went to the wrong hotel at first (same name, wrong address) - A bad Seinfeld episode (Hey Kramer, where's the Japanese reporter? I don't know - in Japan?). As he hopped into my car, I'm thinking to myself - this is a brave guy. An Old Media warrior putting himself at the mercy of a blogger hacker.
To my suprise, he has an impeccable English accent, speaking both fluently and with the elegance of a wealthy British lord. Time to play cricket! Again I felt like a true American, because my own Japanese is limited to words such as "sushi" and "samurai", although I have read Sun Tzu. We get right into it pretty quickly, and soon we are in general agreement about a few things:
- Blogging is a powerful force
- It has the potential for good, but the potential for chaos and evil is surely there.
We discuss the possibility of some charismatic leader or fanatical group using the speed and depth of an interconnected global population to organize, manipulate, and activate perhaps millions of people. While I advocate the concept of the democratization of the media, and the empowerment of the everyday citizen, he was not so sure. Does everyone have something meaningful to say, or is most of it pure shite? Are most people just followers, passive like sheep, wanting to be led? Alpha bloggers dominate, each building a tribe of loyal followers. Do online tribes constitute empowerment, or are these just online street gangs, clustering around a few ideals and bashing away at anyone not loyal to the cause?
We agreed that blogging is a revolution in the media, but I argue that blogging philosophy will spread to all aspects of society, especially government. We seemed to agree there as well. Throughout all of our discussions, he seemed disturbed, almost saddened by what bloggers, including myself, were doing. I did not understand this until later in the evening: Shingo, at heart, is a true journalist, and it seems a good one. Not a mainstream media corporate scum that bloggers loathe, but journalist to the core of his being. Journalism is his craft, his life's dedication. When I asked him why he had risked his life so often reporting from war zones, he said "someone needed to tell the story of what had happened to at least someone else. Not neccessarily the whole world, but someone. This in and of itself is important".
Like warblogger Kevin Sites, Shingo and others like him represent what is, and has been good, about journalism. Some are dedicated to the truth, to the story, and to make sure that others in the world understand what has happened in some place - usually some bad thing. Shingo stressed the importance of being there, of seeing things for yourself. In tearing down the conventions and structures of the media, us bloggers need to also separate the format from the content. Blogging is not truth. It is only a way to accelerate information to and from everyone. Millions of subjective points of view do not constitute the truth. Shingo's view on this bothered me greatly, because he has had plenty of experience in gathering the views of people from all sides, in the Balkans, in Africa, and in Iraq. As a Japanese reporter, removed from the politics of a conflict, he was neutral, and expected to uncover the truth more easily. It did not come more easily. Perhaps it never comes.
I advocated the friendly, warm environment of open source software development as a model for society. I said - look at Linux and other tools built by strangers from all over the world, all working cooperatively and in relative harmony. But Shingo argued that something like Linux is much simpler than the complexities of humanity and society. If bloggers are the open source coders for the software of the world, there is no way to tell if the code works. There is no easy compiler.
Shingo's sadness seemed to run deeper, and we got into a discussion about his paper. I was able to point out how Old Media structures existed everywhere, and worked to shape and color the news. He even admitted that in Japan that there are "clubs" which you must somehow work your way in to become a reporter of the police, or of the government. The Emperor is still largely a taboo subject, even though the very concept in today's world seems like a ripe target. He agreed that blogging may sweep change in these areas, but pseudo-blogging formats in Japan (called "2-way") have a reputation of being vehicles to simply skewer reputations. In a society that is losing some of its liberal views, this bothered him very much.
The darkest point of my interview of him, or of his interview of me, came in discussing Fallujah. "We still don't know what happened in Fallujah", he said softly, with the eyes of someone who had been in many, many ashen places. He did not say this in a political way, but in a the way of a man seeking the truth. A man whose country experienced thousands of its own Fallujah's not so long ago. We were enemies once, now we are friends.
We still don't know what happened in Fallujah. I am haunted by the way he is saying it, because this is not the standard tone of an American liberal. He is speaking with the hollow eyes of a soldier who has been there, but it is even beyond that. He tells me that during WWII The Asahi Shimbun was one of the most propagandist, pro-war, right-wing papers in Japan. After the war, it, and most of Japan, became very anti-war and liberal. Japan had completed a cycle of being a global power, invading nations, wreaking regional and global havoc, and then having all of the horror brought back home in ways they never comprehended. Inside Japan they thought that they were Right, and what they were doing was for the Good of Japan. Outside we knew what madness was brewing inside Japan, and we Americans firebombed and nuclear bombed Japan into a new philosophy: We Shall Not Learn War No More.
My discussion with Shingo was like speaking to the Ghost of America's Future. We brandish the sword of freedom and bring democracy to the world, right? We always fight righteous wars, don't we? Today, we are the ultimate power, with the ability to restructure regions and countries as we please and see fit. Is there madness brewing in America? We did not speak about this out loud, but it was in my mind, and I am sure that it was in his. It took the near complete destruction of Japan for a national Wisdom regarding War to grow into their national Mind. We are the free country, the land of independance - but it is slipping away.
Danny Schecter, who pisses on me occasionally, said:
Have we? In the March 10th Rolling Stone (RS 969) Spc. John Bandy describes the battle of Fallujah:
"Don't ask me how many people I killed...you're not gonna understand, I'm not gonna be able to tell you"
"It's almost beautiful at times, what soldiers are capable of doing when you don't have any other choice than to fight or fucking die. Fear is always there."
"Fear fuels your desire to kill."
The entire article is worth reading. Don't judge these soldiers - if you're an American, we put these guys out there. Kevin Sites describes a similar mindset in his Open Letter to Devil Dogs of the 3.1:
"No one, especially someone like me who has lived in a war zone with you, would deny that a solider or Marine could legitimately err on the side of caution under those circumstances. War is about killing your enemy before he kills you"
Kevin wrote this after witnessing a shooting which kicked him deep in the pit of his stomach. What does it mean to become The Other, to become the Terror which we are fighting?
We still don't know what happened in Fallujah. Shingo's message was not from the left or right, nor was it anti-American. It was a caution - a warning, do not slip into the absyss. American is a hope for the world, and America now is no longer the dream realized. America is in a struggle to understand itself, and it is changing, and this internal fight is visible and felt all over the world.
No, we are not in the abyss, but from the sad look in Shingo's eye, we are slipping into it. As an American, I do not want to know this, but I can feel us slipping, falling, and eroding. Of all the things we discussed that night, this one was the most true.
America is strong, but so was Japan. America believes that it is right, but so did everyone who was ever mighty and had the capacity to drive the world. I hope that America stays strong, but I also hope that America can foster a greater sense of compassion. Not weakness, but a sense of humility that we too can slip into the abyss, be utterly destroyed, and that we understand that our long term survival, hopes, dreams, and true freedoms can never be built on war.
Can we be the Good Americans, the ones the Conservatives talk about but never really are, the same ones the Liberals never really believe can, or will exist? Let us be that.
Or will we fall farther into the abyss, and one day gain Wisdom in our national Mind the way Shingo's people have?