May 18, 2007

Punditry as male "If I ran the world" fantasy

Writing public affairs commentary is rather like running one of those fantasy sports franchises where you "draft" NFL players and then score points versus the other obsessives in your league based on how well your boys do on Sunday, while the women in your life (if any) roll their eyes. In other words, punditry is basically just something that guys do, like pretending they own a football team. It's pretending you run the world.

Granted, this is pretty pathetic. On the other hand, the people who actually do run the world are far less competent at their jobs than the people who run NFL teams, so there is some justification for commentary. On the other other hand, is there any evidence that the people who run the world learn from good commentary?

On the other other other hand, unlike in a fantasy football league, nobody keeps score in punditry to see if you are as smart as you say you are.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Ian Lewis said...

The people who run the world now (Presidents, Prime Ministers and Bureacrats of the large and influential countries) were reading something by somebody before they got in power. It might as well be you.

Let's face it, people like Locke, Hobbes and Machiavelli were just pundits. Granted, very smart pundits with insightful comments.

Also, let's not forget the influence people like John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman had on the Western World. And they were definitely being influenced by different people and different ideas before they got in "power".

Floccina said...

We posters are even lower than the pundits...

Ron Guhname said...

I plead guilty. Most guys exercise their mental powers and fantasize about power by endlessly analyzing sports as if they had some say in the matter. For those a step up on the IQ ladder, sports isn't enough. You need a much grander battlefield that involves real power. It might even be the case that those another step smarter (or perhaps more ambitious) are not satisfied with domestic politics, but need a world stage, and those who think even bigger need to contemplate the whole universe.

Meanwhile, the very pracical wife says, rolling her eyes, "Honey, it's not like you can change anything."

Udolpho said...

I wouldn't class either Friedman or Keynes as "pundits". When I think of pundits I think of the people who appear on TV and who have no qualification to discuss any subject, and who generally lack a talent other than the ability to speak fluidly before a camera (or in print to write to a fairly low but readable standard).

Who is Bill Kristol other than Dan Quayle's former Karl Rove? Who is Pat Buchanan or Michael Kinsley or Eric Alterman or Jonah Goldberg? Most of them have done nothing of note outside the field of punditry. They are not experts or even particularly well-informed about subjects beyond the limited sphere of topics that fall into mainstream political discussion (even there they are usually tragically ill-informed).

To say Locke or Hobbes were "just pundits" is reductivist nonsense. Why not say they were "just scribblers" or "just guys who walked upright"? No one in the English speaking world refers to "that famous Enlightenment pundit, John Locke". It's silly.

However the idea that politicians get their ideas from pundits does explain a lot.

(And although we "bloggers" and commenters are often inane and hyperbolic, not being taken very seriously keeps our egos in check. Unlike pundits. You know that Andrew Sullivan imagines he is contributing great thoughts to Western society. He will surely one day write his memoirs as if he had once lead a nation in wartime or won the Nobel prize.)

Anonymous said...

There's a sampling effect here that matters. Tens of thousands of people in the last four centuries have written essays explaining this, that, or the other thing, putting their deep thoughts about world affairs or nature or whatever into written form. A tiny fraction are worth reading even when they're written. A few were brilliant, but had little direct effect on the world--think of Mendel or Bayes. Others weren't anything special, but influenced people making big decisions--think of the huge amount of text on socialist central planning, the coming socialist utopia, how wars would end when the working classes of France and Germany saw one another as brothers, etc. Dumb, but influential.

And then you get stuff that was clever, that still carries insights now, and that had a big influence. Think of Darwin and Adam Smith for examples.

The only stuff anyone pays attention to that's 200+ years old is stuff that was either enormously influential, or somewhat influential and still offering insights today.

Locke was just a pundit, in the same sense that Shakespeare was just a writer. How many of his contemporaries can you name? (If you've read _Ruled Brittania_ or seen Shakespeare in Love, you should be able to come up with a couple names!)