Shelly asks the question "What part of you, the writer, is part of a community? Where, within yourself, does community leave off and you begin?" and says, "But I guess we're accountable to each other, and that's the most dangerous censorship of all -- it's the censorship of the commons." This is an interesting question that Shelley has pointed out to me and I have been thinking about. In the comments on Shelley's blog, Doc ties it to the notion of the "echo chamber," the effect where we're all just talking to each other oblivious to the outside world. Many people blame the failures of the Dean campaign to this "echo chamber" and point to this "echo chamber" as a problem that is prevalent on blogs. I do see the risks, but I don't think criticizing the existence of communities or friendships is the solution. I think that communities and friendship are the foundations of trust and love and I do not agree that an aggregate of facts and single voices are the solution to finding the "ultimate truth" in writing.
I believe that communities and the feeling of community are an essential part of the equation, but that the goal is to bridge many communities and try to expand one's notion of community the largest possible size.
For instance, I believe that you can feel your ultimate loyalty to your family, company, city, state, race, religion, nation, type of government or the world. I believe that by putting your loyalty at the highest level allows you to be a global citizen and helps you recognize the importance of whistle-blowers who are often betraying local loyalties for a higher good. I believe that the whole notion of civil rights is a struggle to elevate and increase the emotional size of the community we identify with.
One way to increase the size of the community one identifies with is to participate in multiple communities or to include members from others communities. This is an important part of the "caring problem" that Ethan and I often talk about. I often quote Jack Kemp who once said that, "it doesn't matter what you know if you don't care." One of the problems that mass media faces is that they can report on Iraq, Iran and Africa, but most people don't identify with the people there and they don't care. Salam Pax showed that a single blogger with a voice can increase the caring. Salam Pax is part of our community and we are proud of him and we care about him. Through his eyes, we see Iraq as part of our world and because of him, other Iraqi bloggers have joined our community.
I think the key is to understand that it's not just like a high school. In high school, there is group of friends and everyone spends all of their time concerned about being in that group or not in that group. My life is a jumble of relationships and memberships in a great variety of sometimes conflicting communities of all different sizes and doesn't feel like high school to me. As Ross has pointed out, these can be roughly grouped into three sizes. Big power-law shaped groupings, which are political, medium sized groupings which are social, and smaller groups which are strong-tie/family/close-friend groups. My sister used the word, "Full-Time Intimate Community".
The behavior at each of these levels is quite different and it is when we collapse the context that we get in trouble. Comments made between intimate friends are different from the comments that are suitable for a discussion at a cocktail party. Comments made at a cocktail party are often not suitable for a public speech. One of the problems we have on blogs is that all three of these contexts are often collapsed into one blog.
On the notion of "censorship of the commons," I guess I'd disagree with Shelley. I think censorship by a minority of people with influence over the majority is much more dangerous than "censorship of the commons." If the commons represents a general consensus of the views of the community you choose to participate in, they should have some influence over you. I think censorship is really bad when it is exercised from a position of authority, especially one that has the ability to assert such authority through force. I am personally pulled in many directions from all of the communities I participate in and these tensions are interesting and useful. I see them less as censorship and more as points of view that help me triangulate. My traditional Japanese community, my crypto/security community, my feminist friends, my liberal political community and my latte-drinking, orkut-loving, IRC-addicted community all have opinions about what I write. I think about what their opinions will be when I write and I find that this helps me look at any issue from a variety of perspectives. They are each echo chambers in their own way, but I try to escape this echo chamber not by denying their existence or their influence over me, but by recognizing them and using a combination of communities to help me and my readers triangulate.