Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Does Any of This Really Matter?
"I think you've been in the fishbowl of the Beltway for too long. Think tankers are obsessed about publishing op-eds and articles that no one ends up reading, except fellow members of the so-called "foreign policy community", or appearing on shows like the Newshour or Charlie Rose or filling up space on the cable networks, in an endless self-referential loop. News flash: outside that narrow group, NO ONE CARES.
"I think you publish a quality product at TNI, but it appeals to such a narrow group. Lump in your circulation with that of Washington Quarterly, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, Orbis--all those journals--and combined you still wouldn't make the top 100 list. Even the "influential" weeklies like New Republic, Weekly Standard, etc. have a tenth of the circulation of a magazine like Jet, Food and Wine or Marie Claire--and those aren't exactly mass appeal magazines. You have to convince foundations to underwrite you as a public service because the free market won't sustain your existence.
"I've heard all of the arguments about why the journals and think-tanks and blogs matter--venues for sharing thoughts, space for testing ideas, place for policymakers to engage with analysts, you exist to educate the public, raise the level of discourse, yada yada yada. Let's get real. I don't think that the president, secretary of state or other administration officials wait for their copy of Foreign Affairs to tell them what policies to undertake.
"You are all engaged in a smoke and mirrors act trying to demonstrate influence and access and relevance.
"You are not creating anything. You are, essentially, living off of your ability to manipulate language, or are just the modern-day equivalents of the Roman augurs coming up with prophecies from reading entrails."
Harsh, direct, blunt. I don't have a reasoned reply ready (in part because we are getting ready to send the spring issue of TNI to the printers) but may post something in the comments.
"In a market like the US, blogs are superabundant and often irrelevant because we suffer from a glut of data and have lost our norms for creating information hierarchies," said Anne Nelson, a media consultant and adjunct professor at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs.
The problem is that few blogs do ... much traffic. According to the monitoring done by thetruthlaidbear.com, only two blogs get more than 1 million visitors a day and the numbers drop quickly after that: the 10th ranked blog for traffic gets around 120,000 visits; the 50th around 28,000; the 100th around 9,700; the 500th only 1,400 and the 1000th under 600.
Who are we writing for--basically the media. We are trying to coin the shorthand phrase (clash of civilization, world is flat, axis of evil) that will be used to take complex phenomena and reduce them to a coherent soundbyte.
Again the words are meaningless.
The words amount to substantless air, and hollow and moot. Words have no more meaning.
Rather, deeds define our realities, and the deeds prove that elites are wrong more far more often than right, and willing to stoop to the ridiculous and absurd to defend or apologize for the bloody, costly, wayward policies, dictates, and machinations of fascist warmongers, profiteers, and incompetent chickenhawks posing as leaders.
The people do not trust the media, the priests, the politicians or the corporate titans because they are often proven parrots, reprobates, criminals, supremists, fascists, and pathological liars.
We have no place and no one to hoist our hopes.
We are powerless victims to the unholy machinations of select cronies, cabals, klans, cults, and oligarchs bent on control, dominance, and the entrenching of wealth and power.
We are lied to and decieved repeatedly and insistantly.
We are expected to bow to and honor laws and principles our obdurate, supposedly infallible, and quite obviously unholy leaders are above and beyond.
We live in very different worlds, hazard and endure very different realities, and hold to strikingly different faiths and beliefs - than the lofty and distant circles controlling the conduct of this wild and violent worlds nations and commerce.
It is this imagined hope of some kind of government that is derived from the consent of the governed, - that abides by certain lofty and/or noble principles, - that affords the people - all people equally - certain inalienable rights - that holds leadership accountable to the same laws and principles that bind and unite the people - it is this imagined hope that keeps humanity civil.
Remove this hope, dismantle these underpinnings, the foundation of the nations beliefs, - and the entire house of cards collapses into ruin, rubble, disorder, depravity, oceans of blood, and chaos.
The way of the gun. There are no rules. There are no truths. There is no hope. There is only the terrible swift sword and the fiery chaos unfolding rapidly before are our eyes.
You have to convince foundations to underwrite you as a public service because the free market won't sustain your existence.
Erm? When a private foundation or corporation funds a think-tank or a journal like TNI that *IS* the free market. Voluntary association--and that includes contributions to thinktanks--IS the free market at its very core.
I don't particularly care whether or not a think-tank or TNI has much popularity or mainstream appeal. Not to sound too elitist, but most of the population doesn't care about policy decisions, and frankly isn't informed enough to be involved. Policy makers and career movers and shakers *do* pay attention to the idea market in the Beltway, regardless of how small the Christain Science Monitor's readership is compared to, say, a magazine like Seventeen or Wine.
Fellow Thinktanker, I think, got to synthesizing the role of the wonk. That is, s/he synthesizes complex relationships and ideas into something salient and palatable so that the majority that doesn't care or know enough might understand.
Finally, blogs may or may not matter (and you can get a good idea of who links to TWR through Technorati), but they're a good way of connecting with people that do. The blogosphere isn't based on the importance of one particular blog or expert as much as the network of people discussing a particular set of ideas. It's a dearth of information in a decentralized (and therefore arguably more efficient) form. Ultimately, the blogosphere is the aggregate good produced by people who post for their own benefit and seek out the ideas proffered by those who do the same.
Not to mention that a blog is the only way for me--a lowly college freshman all the way in Portland, Oregon--to put down ideas and develop concepts that otherwise would remain unorganized and un-uttered.
It's easy for someone like s/he who made those comments to denounce the blogosphere and the more established idea market in Washington as pretentious, self-perpetuating, and navel gazing, but the fact is that the contribution to policy that thinktanks, especially, make is influential, refreshing, and necessary. The blogosphere is just an extension of the same idea.
So maybe this person should just get a blog of his or her own and rant about this stuff there?