Having spent a lot of years on various discussion forums around the Internet, I’ve run into my share of self-described experts and activists. I say “self-described” because one of the first things they’ll tell you about themselves is that they are experts in the field, or in the case of activists, tell you all about their dedication to a cause and their activism. They don’t want anyone to doubt their expertise or commitment. Sometimes they are indeed what they say they are, but sometimes they’re not. It’s when the facade cracks that things get interesting. What happens is that someone catches them out. Suddenly the “expert’s” expertise is thrown into question. “Activists” are shown to be either hypocrites, small potatoes, or just ineffective. Their perceived status is endangered, and their ego is tied with the carefully crafted persona they’ve been presenting. When they’re challenged, they respond vigorously. Not by proving their expertise, or demonstrating their effectiveness as advocates, but by attacking the person(s) challenging them.
When this happens, it’s almost always an indicator that they weren’t experts to begin with, or were particularly poor advocates for their cause. Once again, I’ve had a ringside seat to this. Watching the healthcare reform battles being fought on the Internet has shown that a number of “experts” proven to be wrong. That’s in addition to the number of advocates whose main ability seems to be to make an enormous amount of noise while not accomplishing much – if not actively hindering the cause they’re “activists for.” Why would I call them poor advocates? Because I’ve seen effective activists at work. I’ve worked with them when I’ve agreed with their cause, and I’ve had the bad experience of trying to work against them when I didn’t. Real activists know their issue backwards and forwards. They know all the arguments for and against. They have a plan of action – including backup and alternative actions. They learn the “rules of the game” and who the “players” are, and use that knowledge to their advantage. They don’t think that just believing in their cause and telling everyone about it is a substitute for getting their cause enacted. They don’t waste time on efforts that aren’t going to advance their cause, and they’re not going to use tactics that have been shown to be counter-productive.
Which is why so many of the “netroots” aren’t taken seriously as activists. They don’t know the arguments well. They make up things, or take news items out of context, and present them as “fact.” They don’t have alternative plans of actions. They often spend a great deal of time advocating actions that have no effect – for example, asking people to call someone who is not one of their congressional representatives – and attacking anyone, even allies, who don’t follow their current official line. They’re not effective. When they’re called out on that, when they’re asked hard questions or challenged on their “facts”, they react by attacking the person. They’ll tout their “expertise,” indulge in derision, or complain about the person being mean to them. One of the occasional questions they’ll ask is “Do you think I’m stupid?” Do you really want me to answer that? Based on the evidence, my answer to them is: Yes. Yes, I do think you’re stupid. You really didn’t want me to answer the question, did you?