I end up spending a fair bit of time talking to radicals of various stripes, both online and in real life. It's something I enjoy, and I think it's important for an intellectually curious person to do.
Understand, I don't mean “radical” as a dismissive insult, as most Americans seem to misuse the term. I mean it in the proper sense of striking at the root. These are times that call for radicalism. Our institutions are failing us.
But we mostly have a poor crop of radicals, and one thing I find particularly vexing is radicals who only know their own radical school of thought.
An anarchist who doesn't know who Hobbes was, or an Austrian who doesn't understand what Keynesian economics actually says, or an anti-globalist who doesn't know what comparative advantage is has not done their homework. Conventional thinking is often wrong, but even when wrong it's rarely just stupid; it usually emerged from smart people thinking hard and coming to their conclusions for compelling reasons. If one has not devoted enough attention to understand the best arguments for conventional solutions at least well enough to recognize and describe them, one does not have an informed opinion worthy of attention.
A friend suggests this could be coined as Korman's Law:
if you don't understand the conventional thinking, there's no point in offering radical thinking
Though of course John Lennon said it better:
You say you want a revolution?
Well, you know
We'd all like to see the plan.
And another friend reminds me that this is a variant of Ideological Turing Test.
Further reflection inspires me to offer a kind of corollary, Korman's Second Law:
if you don't understand any radical thinking, there's no point in offering conventional thinking
Jim Wright at Stonekettle Station has more on this: Why I Talk To Loons.
Yeah, but why do this at all?
Aside from the fact that these silly buggers should be ridiculed publically, you mean? Because, I was trained as a intelligence officer. Because I was trained as a military leader. Nothing drives you to disaster quicker than assumption. You must know the battlespace, the failures of intelligence and assumption should be glaringly obvious to every single American in these post-911, post-Iraq days. You must know the adversary, how he thinks, how he sees the world, what matters to him. There is no substitute for boots on the ground, i.e. direct observation. Comments like those I used in yesterday’s post convey layers of information beyond the obvious opinion expressed by the commenter. Taken as a whole they show trends, memes, the spread of viral concepts though the public mind.