Author Topic: The Secret History of Think Tanks  (Read 2223 times)

Cain

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The Secret History of Think Tanks
« on: September 22, 2011, 01:22:58 pm »
Adam Curtis has, as always, an interesting article for consideration:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2011/09/the_curse_of_tina.html

Quote
The guiding idea at the heart of today's political system is freedom of choice. The belief that if you apply the ideals of the free market to all sorts of areas in society, people will be liberated from the dead hand of government. The wants and desires of individuals then become the primary motor of society.

But this has led to a very peculiar paradox. In politics today we have no choice at all. Quite simply There Is No Alternative.

That was fine when the system was working well. But since 2008 there has been a rolling economic crisis, and the system increasingly seems unable to rescue itself. You would expect that in response to such a crisis new, alternative ideas would emerge. But this hasn't happened.

Nobody - not just from the left, but from anywhere - has come forward and tried to grab the public imagination with a vision of a different way to organise and manage society.

It's a bit odd - and I thought I would tell a number of stories about why we find it impossible to imagine any alternative. Why we have become so possessed by the ideology of our age that we cannot think outside it.

The first story is called:

CARRY ON THINKING

It is about the rise of the modern Think Tank and how in a very strange way they have made thinking impossible.

Think Tanks surround politics today and are the very things that are supposed to generate new ideas. But if you go back and look at how they rose up - at who invented them and why - you discover they are not quite what they seem. That in reality they may have nothing to do with genuinely developing new ideas, but have become a branch of the PR industry whose aim is to do the very opposite - to endlessly prop up and reinforce today's accepted political wisdom.

So successful have they been in this task that many Think Tanks have actually become serious obstacles to really thinking about new and inspiring visions of how to change society for the better.

It is also a fantastically rich story about English life that takes you into a world that's a bit like Jonathan Coe's wonderful novel 'What a Carve Up', but for real. It is a rollicking saga that involves all sorts of things not normally associated with think tanks - chickens, pirate radio, retired colonels, Jean Paul Sartre, Screaming Lord Sutch, and at its heart is a dramatic and brutal killing committed by one of the very men who helped bring about the resurgence of the free market in Britain.

What is most interesting is it illustrates how think tanks should, actually, properly be called "propaganda tanks", because really the focus of many of them is not to carry out independent research, but to disseminate the truth they have already decided they know.

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Re: The Secret History of Think Tanks
« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2011, 02:46:15 pm »
I have noticed that Think Tanks usually Think About New Reasons Why Their Founding Idea Is Best.

So, a Think Tank founded by a conservative comes up with Really Clever Reasons Why Conservativism Is Best, etc.


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Re: The Secret History of Think Tanks
« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2011, 03:07:55 pm »
Thanks, Cain, that's some good insight on how the think tank movement came about.

I have always thought of them as "apologetics tanks".  They start with the positions they want to promote or defend, look for data to back them up, ignore or use special pleading/ad-hoc theories to wave away data that contradicts them, and use ad-hominem attacks against those who make cogent arguments against their positions.

"Propaganda tanks" is a great term for them.
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Cramulus

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Re: The Secret History of Think Tanks
« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2011, 03:11:53 pm »
What the think tank thinks, the prove tank proves

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Re: The Secret History of Think Tanks
« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2011, 03:19:21 pm »
 :lol:
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Elder Iptuous

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Re: The Secret History of Think Tanks
« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2011, 03:31:09 pm »
excellent link, Cain.
thanks for that.

Jenne

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Re: The Secret History of Think Tanks
« Reply #6 on: September 22, 2011, 03:51:35 pm »
Ha!  I had this idea once I learned about a few of them, and their ATTRIBUTING FOUNDATIONS that are sometimes attached that fund them.  I'm glad someone's spreading the word.

I at one point WANTED to work for a political think tank.  I think I would have done well...but I'm glad I went into the field I ended up in.

deadfong

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Re: The Secret History of Think Tanks
« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2011, 07:30:11 pm »
It's funny, one of my professors once said that we (meaning the school of religion) ought to set up our own think tank, but he framed its mission precisely as a "propaganda" tank (without using that word).  That instead of spending our time and resources simply conversing with other scholars, we ought to turn our attention to countering statements coming out of right-wing religious groups such as Focus on the Family or the Catholic League.

He was insistent that it had to be separate from the university and be named a foundation/institute/think tank, because having "John Smith of the Important-Sounding-Name Foundation" sounded better and would carry more heft than "Prof. John Smith of the University of Who-Gives-A-Fuck-Since-University-Professors-Are-Just-Left-Wing-Lunatics-Who-Are-Out-Of-Touch-With-The-Real-World."

Jenne

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Re: The Secret History of Think Tanks
« Reply #8 on: September 23, 2011, 09:00:54 pm »
It's funny, one of my professors once said that we (meaning the school of religion) ought to set up our own think tank, but he framed its mission precisely as a "propaganda" tank (without using that word).  That instead of spending our time and resources simply conversing with other scholars, we ought to turn our attention to countering statements coming out of right-wing religious groups such as Focus on the Family or the Catholic League.

He was insistent that it had to be separate from the university and be named a foundation/institute/think tank, because having "John Smith of the Important-Sounding-Name Foundation" sounded better and would carry more heft than "Prof. John Smith of the University of Who-Gives-A-Fuck-Since-University-Professors-Are-Just-Left-Wing-Lunatics-Who-Are-Out-Of-Touch-With-The-Real-World."

What religious school was this?  Sounds interesting if that's the bent your prof was taking.

deadfong

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Re: The Secret History of Think Tanks
« Reply #9 on: September 23, 2011, 09:44:45 pm »
I wouldn't say it was the school so much as him.

School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University.  Does not actually do things like what he suggested, which he saw as part of the problem, namely, that there is no think tank anywhere doing what he suggested. 

There are a lot of ways in which I am kind of disappointed in that place.

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Re: The Secret History of Think Tanks
« Reply #10 on: September 24, 2011, 06:10:36 am »
I heard a guy from the Cato Institute the other day on NPR, arguing that the more multimilionaires funded politicians, the less pull any one millionaire had, so having big donors actually decreased the influence of money on politics.   :?

I felt a brief urge to call and let him know that there must be a lead deposit somewhere in Cato's plumbing, but decided against it.
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