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February 27, 2005

Paradigm Shift: The Meme Spreads

Just because several pundits choose to write about the same topic in the same week doesn't mean anybody knows what the hell they're talking about.

But... when three influential pundits are all saying virtually the same thing on the same day, it's likely they will at least shape media (and therefore public) perceptions.

David Brooks wrote about the new optimism in geopolitics -- "Why not freedom here?" -- in a must-read column yesterday. (Excerpted at the end of this post if you don't read the Times on general principles.)

Now Thomas Friedman and Michael Barone write essentially the same story: that, whether you wish to give Bush credit or not, the world has changed since the Iraqi elections of 30 January.

Thomas Friedman, realizing he's been beaten to the punch by fellow Timesman Brooks, avoids mention of Kuhnian paradigm shifts and speaks instead of "tipping points":

he other night on ABC's "Nightline," the host, Ted Koppel, posed an intriguing question to Malcolm Gladwell, the social scientist who wrote the path-breaking book "The Tipping Point," which is about how changes in behavior or perception can reach a critical mass and then suddenly create a whole new reality. Mr. Koppel asked: Can you know you are in the middle of a tipping point, or is it only something you can see in retrospect?

...

Mr. Koppel was raising the question because he wanted to explore whether the Iraqi elections marked a tipping point in history. I was on the same show, and in mulling over this question more I think that what's so interesting about the Middle East today is that we're actually witnessing three tipping points at once.

Which he identifies as the Iraqi elections, the Lebanese uprising against Syria, and the possibility of a real Israel-Palestinian peace. After the obligatory and obvious (and word-count padding) disclaimers about how anything can go to hell at any time, he concludes:

Nevertheless, what's happened in the last four weeks is not just important, it's remarkable. And if we can keep all three tipping points tipped, it will be incredible.

Michael Barone also uses the term "tipping point" as a hook (citing, actually, Friedman's appearance on Nightline), noting that minds are changing in a column called, uhhh, Minds Are Changing. He confesses to have been previously over-optimistic about the pace of change in Iraq...

But the spectacle of 8 million Iraqis braving terrorists to vote on January 30 seems to have moved things up to breakneck speed. Evidence abounds. Consider what is happening in Lebanon...

[R]eporting from Beirut last week, [the Washington Post's David Ignatius] wrote movingly of "the movement for political change that has suddenly coalesced in Lebanon and is slowly gathering force elsewhere in the Arab world."

Ignatius interviewed Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader long a critic of the United States. Jumblatt's words are striking: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

...

Or read Claus Christian Malzahn in Der Spiegel. "Maybe the people of Syria, Iraq, or Jordan will get the idea in their heads to free themselves from their oppressive regimes just as the East Germans did," he writes. "Just a thought for Old Europe to chew on: Bush might be right, just like Reagan was."

It is often said that the press is lazy and prone to herd-thinking, simply parroting the received wisdom of the elite urban caste.

And while the media's favorite narrative is the one they've simply repeated ad nauseum for years -- after all, that's the easiest one -- their second-favorite narrative is one of Major Change With Serious Implications.

Perhaps Brooks, Barone, and Friedman will together produce another stampede of media group-think.

And if they do, we shouldn't think necessarily that they're right; they'll just be mindlessly repeating the new buzzwords "Kuhnian paradigm shifts" and "tipping points" as they were previously repeating "quagmire" and "exit strategy" a month ago.

The evidence is still out as to whether we will see a real paradigm shift in world geopolitics; but there is a fair chance of a paradigm shift in media groupthink.

And I wouldn't complain too much about that.

A lazy, soft-headed media is still a lazy, soft-headed media, but it's about time they were soft-headed towards the possibility-- the possibility, mind you-- that freedom works.

Fourth Time a Charm? Actually, the first time, as NRO Corner writer Mark Krikonian wondered Thursday morning if 2005 might not witness a bubble of revolutions not seen since 1848.


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posted by Ace at 02:02 AM

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