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Think tanks

The first think tank was founded in 1919 in America, i.e. it came from the Devil’s arsehole and at a time when the arsehole was already quite unwell. This was the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the trustees were told to use the fund to "hasten the abolition of international war, the foulest blot upon our civilization.” Well, to paraphrase Sarah Palin, “How’s that workin’ out for ya?”.

It was followed by the Brookings Institute, which sought to introduce the methods of academia into the management of the Federal government—again, has the Federal government become better or worse since it was infused with academic wisdom?

No—because think tanks are nonsense. You only like the idea of think tanks because you like the idea of sitting around in a fancy conference centre (in a tweed suit, if conservative; in an open-necked polo shirt, if liberal) talking about position papers—about some glossy pamphlet you made with your mates, mainly to stroke your own egos.

It’s “collaborative working”—and it has only become more popular post-WWII as the West’s decline has deepened. Think tanks have become popular because they provide a haven for bright but narcissistic individuals to preen themselves and read books at the expense of the think tank’s trustees. In their irresponsibility and collectivity, think tanks are on the left in intrinsic terms—the first think tanks were founded to pursue left-wing objectives, such as “world peace”. The first think tank members were hippies in bowties.

Occasionally, your think tank will put out glossy pamphlets with titles like Perspectives: Russian geopolitical alignment in the 21st century—or perhaps come up with some meaningless catchphrase for the journalists whose tummies you rubbed at your last event to repeat, phrases like “role-model” or “dysfunctional family”. Key ingredients for a think tank: branded lanyards, glossy pamphlets, pretty “PR and social media assistants” called “Chloe”, and mini pastries (particularly miniature almond croissants) to balance across your coffee cup as you listen to the break-out session for the masterclass.

It’s about talking about talking, not doing—it’s not the answer to the problem, it is the problem. It’s a cosy self-congratulatory club where everyone agrees with each other and strokes their egos in an intellectual way (with lies—and PowerPoint slides). Then, after you have been well fed and watered, you can come home off the train, collapse on the sofa, watch another episode on Netflix and then, come next year, wonder why everything is still in deterioration (although the catering is still excellent—you can feel all hazy from the artisanal muffins as you force another wad of paper into your complimentary branded goody bag).

Some people want to solve problems, some people want to talk about solving problems—the latter include academics, journalists, think-tankers (i.e. people you shouldn’t listen to). These people want to talk about themselves because reality is simple and hard—and, per Clausewitz, the simple thing is hard to do. It’s easier to have a nice warm and cosy conference and hedge around the issues in a complex way—because to resolve the issues would require hard work, pain, and sacrifice.

The vain hope that lies behind all think tanks is that “someone else” (in the government, perhaps the military) will swoop in and take up all your ideas and do the hard work for you—while you retire to your study to highlight Carl Schmitt in yellow fluorescent marker pen and receive sycophantic tweets that open pseudo-discussions with you (that serve to preen your ego, so clever—yes, but has it changed anything?).

“He who travels swiftest who travels alone.” The same applies to the intellect—you’re not going to get anywhere wrangling six egos who contributed to your Collaborations: Thoughts on the migrant crisis document. You’re just going to produce a lot of hot air and self-congratulation. Breakthroughs and genuine insights come from individuals—Clausewitz, Newton, Machiavelli—not clubs for a load of self-preening girls that will, inevitably, sabotage anything realistic or original out of spite because it hurts my ego that I am not important.

Think tanks are a symptom of decline, ignore think tanks.


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