Update: Buried in this was a remarkably accurate prediction about President Obama. Red emphasis added.
This question surfaced during an email exchange with the always interesting Dan Tdaxp (here is his blog). We can only guess at the answer, but I believe blogs provide a valuable service for America — one that we will need in the difficult times ahead.
Blogs have many roles, but most importantly as a 21st century version of conversations at the local pub. Great things have grown from such beginnings (the New York Stock Exchange met at the Tontine Coffee House until 1817). Blogs expand the community discussion to global scale, but the subjects remain the same: gossip, war, politics, sports, business, and so forth. While the audience is global, the numbers remain like those of a local pub (blogs like this and Zenpundit have three or four hundred visitors per day).
Blogs circulate information and insights, helping us see and understand our rapidly changing world. Our news largely comes from giant organizations (e.g., corporations, governments, foundations, universities). Insights come from the big names (in 4GW, people like Martin van Creveld, Chet Richards, John Robb, etc). Blogs help us digest all this, combining information and insights in different permutations — allowing us to see things from different perspectives.
The more rapid and radical the changes, the more important for a democracy that its citizens be “synchronized” with both reality and each other (allowing for collective action). The explosive growth of blogs comes at an opportune time for America, as our society’s Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action loop (OODA loop) seems broken (as I have discussed in many posts; pdf explanation of the loop here). Our financial problems result from foolishness (e.g., borrowing without thought of repayment). Our geopolitical problems from willful ignorance of history (e.g., the consistent failure of foreign occupations since WWII).
What should we expect from President Obama?
As these problems reach critical dimensions and our economy sinks into what is (at best) a severe recession, our national leadership will likely move into the hands of someone with astonishingly little capacity to govern. Barack Obama has amazing rhetorical gifts and the potential for greatness, but becomes President with his skills immature, his vision on major questions of public policy unformed, and no executive experience. His brief career and campaign of empty rhetoric — appealing to the best of America’s history and aspirations — tell us little about the course he will chart for America, or how he will respond to the terrible choices that lie in our future. He provides a frame into which his followers project their dreams — a virtual reality candidate. (Candidates’ white papers, like party platforms, have historically proved poor guides to their actions)
This is our failing, not his. High office in America goes to those with both drive and hunger for fame and power. That Obama goes along with our childlike dreams says much about us, but nothing bad about him. However the election might result in weak leadership for our national government during tough times, unless he grows in office (which would be wonderful, but not something we can rely upon). (The other remaining candidates I consider more developed personally, but probably worse for us if they gain office)
If these guesses prove correct America’s ability to adapt to new circumstances — the end of the post-WWII geopolitical and financial regime (see here for details) — might rely on us, its citizens. Blogs can help bolster our resilience and our ability to develop innovative solutions without top-down direction.
Of course, blogs are no magic wand. They can just as easily fan our fears and exacerbate divisions, circulating bile instead of blood. Imagine a future for America like the Reconstruction South. Blogs circulate myths about our nobility and greatness before the Fall. The Small Wars Council resembles a post-colonial club in Africa, where veterans exchanging stories about the old days and bemoaning the new age. Youtube has videos of John Nagl explaining why events in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted from its ungrateful people.
Our collective response will determine what America will be. I am confident that we will rise to meet these challenges.
For More Information
- Will Israel commit suicide? More rumors of a strike at Iran. (22 December 2007)
- Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant (6 February 2008)
- Cable Cut Fever grips the conspiracy-hungry fringes of the web (7 February 2008)
- Resolution of the Great Submarine Cable Crisis — and some lessons learned (8 February 2008)
- What do blogs do for America? (26 February)
- The oddity of reports about the Iraq War (13 March 2008)
- Will we bomb Iran, now that Admiral Fallon is gone? (17 March 2008)
- More post-Fallon overheating: “6 signs the US may be headed for war in Iran” (18 March 2008)
- Euphoria about the Bakken Formation (10 April 2008)
- The Internet makes us dumber: the Bakken euphoria, a case study (15 April 2008)
6 thoughts on “What should we expect from President Obama?”
I agree that the discussion on blogs helps disseminate information and clarify its import. However, the major advantage to the local pub comes from the ability of people to directly relate to one another, to form groups and to take action. In the blog world, the only action seems to be “signing” the numerous petitions that circulate. Calls for others to act rather than the direct taking of responsibility (exercising one’s ability-to-respond).
We have the illusion of participation without the reality.
Fabius Maximus replies: I agree. A powerful observation. Hopefully what we gain from blogs we put to work at home. An example of local action is community politics, another is Project White Horse.
Dinner parties actually played a significant role in Socratic philosophy. Both Plato and Xenophon wrote Symposia; while Plato further explores the role of drinking parties in his Laws. From this, there has been an undercurrent of philosophic thought which Plutarch, for example, explores in his Table Talk.
During the Renaissance, neoPlatonists took this concept an ran with it, calling the phenomenon “convivio.” Michel Jeanneret explores convivio is his A Feast of Words: Banquets and Table Talk in the Renaissance .
One of the fabled institutions of late Elizabethan and early Jacobean London was the Mermaid Club. Meeting once a week at the Mermaid Tavern, it was reputedly founded by Raleigh and Shakespeare. Whatever the case may be regarding them, Ben Johnson and John Donne definitely were members as well as a host of other poets.
Somewhat similarly, the coffeehouse culture of late 17th and early 18th century London were productive gathering places. The publications of Addison and Steele and the bull sessions of Samuel Johnson result from them. Such institutions as the stock market actually descend from them. Coffeehouses also flourished elsewhere in Europe. Much of Bach’s music, for example, results from jam sessions he conducted in a coffeehouse in Leipzig.
Note that all these involved not only talk but eating. The body as well as the mind was engaged. Blogs lack this physical aspect. Perhaps somehow they will evolve so this can be added.
Interesting analogies! I was thinking of regular people in regular pubs, like the Bull & Finch in Boston idealized in in the TV show “Cheers”, which I think better captures the spirit of the thousands of active blogs (the tens or hundreds of thousands ones with microscopic traffic are structurally more like correspondence or even diaries).
I doubt blogs will include actual dining. New technology is often seen in terms of existing systems. Like the horseless carriage, electric pen, wireless telegraph. Blogs function somewhat like pubs, as cars transport people like horse-drawn carriages.
A description of the Mermaid Club:
Mermaid Tavern was located in Cheapside, to the east of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It had entrances from both Friday Street and Bread Street. The tavern’s sign, not surprisingly, bore a mermaid. Mermaid Tavern was the meeting place of the “Friday Street Club”, also known as the “Mermaid Club”, a literary club first begun in 1603 by Sir Walter Ralegh. Mermaid Tavern was a favorite haunt of Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, John Donne, Robert Herrick, John Selden, and last, but not least, William Shakespeare.
The Mermaid Tavern, which burned down in the Great Fire of London, was memorialized in verse by Jonson in “Inviting a Friend to Supper”, by Beaumont in “Mr. Francis Beaumont’s Letter to Ben Jonson, and, two hundred years later, by Keats in “Lines on the Mermaid Tavern.”
I just read some articles on the followin’ blog: cominganarchy.com
well,you know, you could always arrange something like dinner with beers at where you’re staying. Maybe you could like invite Oldskeptic, Duncan Kinder, the Dude who runs Project White Horse, maybe even William Lind.
…then again you’ll have to consider their work schedules, the distances cross Pacific and Atlantic.And most importantly,we have no idea ’bout each guest’s TEMPERAMENT. Whether talkin’ ’bout American policies domestic and foreign is gonna turn into some MAJOR bar room brawl.
A lotta work with some MAJOR unknown variables.
FYI — the OODA Loop is Observe — Orient — Decide — Act. Unless you meant to suggest that the first two are being done backward.
Fabius Maximus replies: Dyslexia strikes again. Thanks for the correction!