Monday, March 14, 2005

Notes from the House Pinko

I've received less email than I expected, and more of it supportive than I expected, about this article for Free Market News Network. I have, however, received a few messages of the type that I expected, to wit:

"What the f--k, Knapp. Are you going commie on us or something?"

Deserves an answer, I guess.

A working writer has several tradeable assets:

1. The will to actually sit down and write. Don't knock it. For everyone who actually writes, there are a hundred who think about writing. It used to be a thousand to one, back in the day of typewriter and ball-point pen and mailing off manuscripts via US Snail. The Internet Age has reduced the ratio of "thinking about its" to "do its," but it hasn't eliminated the latter class.

2. The thick skin required to risk criticism. There's always someone who doesn't like what you write. Often, that person has a point. You messed up. The thing about writing is that when you mess up, you do so in public. It's like that dream where you're in high school, and suddenly realize you're naked ... only now it's real, and it's a day-in, day-out routine. Not everyone can take it.

3. Fundamental competence. Spelling. Grammar. Sentence construction. Pacing. Writing to word length. Writing to deadline. Another side effect of the Internet Age is that a bad writer can now achieve wider distribution. What he can't achieve is long-term respect. If you're really, really bad, your articles will appear ... and then sink without a trace.

The fourth and final asset, for a writer working with a multi-writer publication, is whatever he has that distinguishes him from the other writers creating content for that publication.

I've had the luck to fall in with some of the finest writers on the planet due to my association with FMNN. Some of them are great at explaining how to apply libertarian principles to policy questions in general, others target particular policy niches.

I don't see any advantage in competing with Harry Browne, Tibor R. Machan or Walter Williams in the former area, or with any of FMNN's "specialists" in the latter (I do not have Ph.D. in Outer Mongolian Micro-Economics or some other niche in which I am uniquely qualified to act as an "expert"). It's not that they're necessarily better writers than me (although I'd argue that some of them are). The way I see it, I'm better off looking for unexplored "market demand" to fulfill.

Thus have I designated myself FMNN's House Pinko: The guy who walks around the FMNN house -- which has what one might think of as a fairly "right-libertarian" foundation -- and looks for "left-libertarian" holes in the walls. Hell, when I think nobody's looking, I might even punch a couple of those holes myself.

I've chosen this niche for the reason described above (I want to cover a "beat" that isn't being covered by someone else in FMNN's editorial stable), and also because my current political projects give me good reason to explore the Left End of the Political Spectrum (sorry, Marshall -- the WSPQ is great, but "left" and right" have some utility as descriptors).

Finally, I think that having a House Pinko is good for FMNN. If you look at other publications, most of them have an on-staff gadfly: Bill Press at WorldNetDaily. Christopher Hitchens at The Nation. Please don't infer any comparisons with respect to either temperament or talent here -- I'm talking about function, not quality. A publication benefits in several ways by publishing at least one writer whose work challenges that publication's "editorial line" either generally or on some of the hotter issues.

The House Pinko can attract readers to the publication who aren't already part of the "the choir." He can make "the choir" break some skullsweat and perhaps falter in whatever semblance of four-part harmony it usually maintains for long enough to question itself a bit. And, if nothing else, the readers who disagree with him may love hating him enough to read his stuff anyway.

Over the years, I've noticed that bringing up certain issues in libertarian (or other political) forums makes people uneasy. Asking certain questions elicits sulky silence. Uttering certain inconvenient conclusions of fact brings forth quotes from "scripture," but not the underlying arguments required to make those quotes into real rebuttals. And, occasionally, standing by one's guns calls down the fire of "party line" rhetoric designed to squelch, rather than advance, debate.

At FMNN -- surrounded by confident, experienced libertarian writers who will likely remain unshakened, unthreatened and unsurprised by whatever I might have to say -- I believe I've finally found the perfect venue for exploring those kinds of issues, asking those kinds of questions, uttering those inconvenient conclusions, and standing by my guns until I'm satisfied that what I've arrived at is the truth. And that's precisely what I intend to do.

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