Nothing Left But The Think Pieces

It would be hypocritical in the extreme for someone who writes as many think pieces of one kind or another to be hostile to them as a whole. Nonetheless, there is something immensely dispiriting about the thought of the sort of think pieces that will be written and are being written about our times and what insights other people want us to gain from these turbulent times and the idiocy of our leaders and elites during them. One of the more noted aspects of our time is the way that think pieces often masquerade themselves as more factual forms of writing. There is no harm in writing editorials and opinion articles–I do so often–as long as one is clear that one is writing one’s own opinions and from one’s own perspective. Those of us who write often from our own point of view are often shocked–I know I am–by what is written by those with a different perspective, but it can be helpful to realize just how much of what one thinks of as objectively true ends up being subjective, even if it can be painful to realize just how hard it is to communicate effectively to others how much the same is true for the point of view of others as well.

I found myself greatly amused this evening while I was reading a book on collaborative worldbuilding for writers and gamers that thought of wikipedia as having a neutral point of view. Those of us that know better are quite aware that wikipedia does not have a neutral point of view, especially if we happen to have intimate personal knowledge of institutions, people, and events that are narrated from an extremely biased and often hostile point of view by editors who refuse to let such articles be corrected. Similarly, it is often our experience that helps to shape our understanding that much of what is presented as “neutral” or “factual” is in fact highly interpretive and highly partisan, it is just that we do not recognize the unnatural and subjective parts of these accounts until we have acquired a perspective that sees the distance between what is presented and often taken as fact from what is in fact the truth. Our inability to grasp what is objective reality does not in any way contradict the reality of that objective reality, only the extreme difficulty of finding objectivity, not least because we think we find it when we do not even remotely approach it.

When we read something that other people write or listen to a message that people are saying, we must be very careful to note the sort of motive that people have for doing so. As a writer (and speaker), I find that it is necessary to verbalize what I am thinking to form my thoughts. In many cases my thoughts are inchoate until I take the effort to structure them and organize them and verbalize them. It is fortunate, given this need to externalize my thinking processes, that I have acquired the sorts of habits and had the sort of opportunities to sharpen my thinking through an extensive amount of both speaking and writing. I do my best to be transparent about my goals and motivations, because it is important that other people understand where one is coming from. We may not always be aware of the full layers of our motivations, though, but there are many cases where our motives are obvious to others even if we may think we are disguising them, as is the case when people write think pieces to try to absolve themselves of blame when something they have worked hard on for years or decades spectacularly blows up in their face and they are desperately trying to fasten the blame and responsibility for the disaster on someone else.

When we look at think pieces, we have to determine above all what they are trying to do. Is the thinking serving as a preparation for action, trying to make sure that we have right thinking before we are to engage in right action? Is the think piece reflective of how the person writing it happens to think and, more importantly, behave? Is what is being written designed to encourage action or serve as a substitute for action–either actions in the past that were not taken that could have led to a better result, or actions that could be taken that the writer does not want the reader to take? What perspective does the writer have, and what involvement does the writer have in what is being written about? Is the writer forthright and candid about anything that may undercut their credibility as an expert–for example, being an unmarried person talking about marriage, or being involved as a policy maker when mistakes were made in the past? The more an author or a speaker is honest about that which might hurt their expertise or credibility, the more credible they are. Likewise, those that try to disguise their vulnerabilities only show themselves to be untrustworthy. In think pieces, as so much, security comes from a position of strength, and apparent weakness that instead of harming one’s position strengthens it by providing an honest lay of the land. And one cannot be a credible guide without honesty.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in International Relations, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Nothing Left But The Think Pieces

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    This is an interesting blog. It is impossible to get into someone else’s head, so the long and short of it is that think pieces can elicit more questions than answers. This would usually be the case unless we have a spate of previous works or life experiences that reveal the author’s character or point of reference. Just as you stated, clarity of definitions and a stated premise also help to ground the audience. Leaving room for assumptions paves the way to misunderstandings.

    • No, we cannot get in other people’s heads, and it is for the best that they cannot get into ours. There are very deliberate reasons why people sometimes do not want to be clear and unambiguous with each other, and at times, unfortunately, peace between people and peoples depends on mutual misunderstanding, though this is obviously not an ideal thing.

  2. Catharine Martin says:

    Yes, I guess in this world an armed truce or the lack of war is the best we can hope for. Showing our hand instead of keeping the cards close to vest can have disastrous consequences–as we are now seeing.

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