As I mentioned last week, I’ve been reading Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture. Keen proposes that blogs are part of the problem – a big problem – so perhaps a blog is an odd forum for discussing his observations. But there’s a lot to ponder in what he says, especially for Alaska.

The most obvious connection – with apologies to those of you who don’t want to hear another word about Sarah Palin – is McCain’s selection of an amateur for his running mate. It’s not the first, it won’t be the last, and yes, some make a case for Obama being, if not an amateur, not exactly an expert either.

This isn’t the Alaskan spirit of doing the best you can with what you’ve got because it’s all you’ve got. What’s unfolding in the Palin candidacy is the notion that amateur status isn’t something for which you must apologize, compensate, or explain. With a big boost from the internet, Keen proffers, we’ve thrust ourselves into a frightening extension of populism, the celebration of the amateur.

That’s why some scoff at qualifications and education and judgment and say they wish Sarah Palin could be President because she’s just like them. That’s why her Truth Squad has the audacity to conduct daily bashings of “partisan politics” and “the media elite” as if they’re some sort of plague from which we must be quarantined. It’s why, if we’re not paying attention, we could get confused and believe something is Truth just because a Squad says it’s so.

The cult of the amateur calls for a ditching of the experts, those with the facts. Get your news from the man on the street, the blogger with all the answers, the smart guys that call in to radio talk shows.

Here’s what I like about Alaska. It stretches you beyond your perceived limits, and it also puts you in your place. But in the cult of the amateur, you’re neither stretched nor corrected. You can blather on and think it means something. And maybe it does, if enough people believe it.

Our current economic crisis is another proving ground for the strength of the cult. Will Congress listen to economists or amateurs? So far, the amateurs have prevailed. In a climate of distrust and a cacophony of voices, the question is how far they can go, and what damage will be done along the way.

There’s more to be said about what the cult of the amateur means for both Alaskans and authors. We’ll use this forum – the forum of amateurs – to explore those ideas later this week.

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