Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Does Any of This Really Matter?

I wanted to share a note that comments on some of the recent issues discussed in TWR and elsewhere. I post for discussion:

"Dear Nick:

"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.

And further bad news--from the Financial Times weekend edition:

"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, 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.
I can't access and using the other spelling for "bare" also doesn't get me to that site, so I wasn't able to see where Washington Realist ranks.
One of the things that has changed is that venue is less important now than distribution. Certain venues (e.g. Foreign Affairs or the New York Times) have a greater number of casual skimmers who may come across a piece than one that appears in Christian Science Monitor or NI--but if an author circulates his piece and gets it into the bloodstream so that people actually read it (or see that it exists) then it has impact.

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.
The blogsphere may be irrelevent, but it does afford the little people (us powerless pedestrians) an opportunity speak and be heard. Hopefully some of the more potent meme's rise above the chari vari and gain some resonance, - because from our lowly perspective (being a powerless pedestrian) - the socalled experts, the thinktankers, the slithering reptiles posing as politicians and the complicit parrots craven sychophants in the MSM are clearly and quite obvious devoid of and in conflict with principle, logic, reason, factbasedreality, simple math, and anything resembling honor, ethics, standards, human decency, or compassion.

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.
Before I say anything less...
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?
Let's not also forget the role of journals as calling cards and as ways for authors to advertise their willingness to take jobs--Kirkpatrick came to Reagan's attention because of her double standards piece in Commentary, etc.
Well, Nick, being a foreign policy wonk still beats driving a taxi (I think). I do wonder why "if no one cares," your correspondent spends his precious time to write a note letting you know that "no one cares." The fact is that most of us enjoy doing what we do, which is something that is interesting and creative -- and how many people can say that? -- and contributes to public discourse on the issues of the day. Which means that we are less under stress than tax lawyers (and we will probably live longer) and you can imagine how we make our moms proud when they see us on television for two minutes. But seriously... if there has been any age in history in which people who can express themselves can also make a difference -- this is it.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?