Here are the big lessons I have learned from ten thousand hours working on the FM website project, 14 years writing 4,000 posts and answering 50,000 comments. These posts got eight million pageviews.
Some of these posts were forecasts. Most of them were nowcasts (much easier to do than making accurate predictions), analysis of current events drawing different conclusions than the consensus shown in the news media. My first two articles set the pattern — in September 2003 disputing the stories about our victory in Iraq and in October 2003 disputing stories of our victory in Afghanistan. My track record is quite good — see some of the hits and the misses.
Looking back, I am astonished at how simple and even obvious were most of my observations. And how unpopular. Probably 90% of the comments disagree with my conclusions — usually vehemently. These were written by intelligent and well-educated readers in the grip of delusions fed by the news media.
- They said that we were winning (or had won) in Iraq and Afghanistan,
- that oil production had peaked in 2005 (with doom around the corner),
- that global warming and sea ice trends in 2008 showed that climate disaster was certain to hit in the next decade,
- that “sudden jihad syndrome” in US soldiers was a more serious problem than PTSD and lack of adequate health care (e.g., see here),
- and many more beliefs that look equally daft in hindsight.
These consensus delusions were even more evident in responses to the more important FM nowcasts. Top of the list is Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, posted on 4 July 2006. I am sure that yesterday’s post will go on that list: For Father’s Day: revolutionary words that will forever change the American family (with its mind-blowing content). These show another fascinating pattern: the important posts get below-average views. Perhaps they are too disturbing? Perhaps we prefer the familiar narratives fed us by the news media, no matter how bogus?
In terms of utility, I put the posts discussing ways to reform America at the top of the list. The internet overflows with warnings and whinings, but little advice what you and I can do to improve America’s future. These are non-partisan. Left or Right, I do not care. These posts give operational suggestions. There are two themes. First, that we need to love the truth more than comforting fiction. Be skeptical! Second, that we need to assume responsibility for America — see ourselves as it crew, not passengers whining about the service.
The comments show that both themes are deeply unpopular. Which is why I believe reform remains unlikely in America for the foreseeable future — until some future day when we more clearly see the world and realize that we are the weak link in the Republic. The political machinery bequeathed us by the Founders remains idle but still powerful. It needs only our energy to power it.
Thanks for the people who made this possible
Chet and Ginger built the FM website and gave invaluable advice that made it possible. Thousands of commenters kept the quality of the content high, discovering lapses of logic and factual errors (and countless typos).
Another small group provided invaluable aid. American websites thrive by supporting tribes. Hence their comment threads are usually echo chambers, dominated by confirmation bias and epistemic closure. A few people reposted or linked to articles from the FM website — although they contradicted their tribe’s views. My conversations at their comment threads — mostly defending against brutal criticism — taught me much. I am grateful to these editors, showing a greatness of vision rare but much needed these days: Dave Dilegge at the Small Wars Council, Yves Smith and Lambert Strether at Naked Capitalism, and Anthony Watts at Watts Up With That.
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