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2012 Spring Issue 5 (May 4, 2012)

Is Writing Enough?

May 4, 2012
By Michael Goodgame

I consider myself a writer.  At this stage, I can foresee myself doing something involving writing—I enjoy it and I’m certainly better at it than I am at math or physics. 

Another goal of mine, though—and a much more important one—is to orchestrate positive change. This is vague, but it’s what I want to do. I feel as though too many people get caught up in their own lives to bother with doing anything meaningful in a worldly sense, and I don’t want that happening to me. 

So, my question is this: is writing enough of a catalyst for the kinds of social, political, environmental, and technological revolutions that are required all over the world?  What impact does good writing really have?

David Brooks is an excellent writer.  Furthermore, his columns in the New York Times often contain inspiring plans for action and ideas that politicians and other important leaders could take into consideration when drafting their policy and making their decisions.  But do they?

Who really listens to Brooks’ opinion and does something with it?  I get the impression that most people read his columns (and the work of most writers), shrug their shoulders, give a noncommittal sigh of “interest,” and then move on.  Often, nothing actually gets done. 

This is incredible frustrating.  Brooks and other public intellectuals put countless hours of work into their writing, and the people with the opportunity to make the change often do not.  Brooks is also possibly the most far-flung of examples. There are many more “private” intellectuals who publish less often — professors, for example—but have big ideas that could revolutionize the way we think and live.  These are the best minds, the cream of the crop, and their ideas should be valued the most, not pushed aside by those with decision-making power. My economics professor last term noted that all economists know how we should fix the recession—it’s just that nobody will listen to economists.

It is worth noting that there have been many books and essays that have, in fact, changed paradigms and revolutionized thought. The Bible, Plato’s Republic, and, for a more contemporary example, The Jungle all changed the way people think in a big way.  So, I am not insinuating that books do not have the ability to revolutionize.  I am saying that they don’t do that as often as they should. Too often, I read a book, article, or essay, and I am astounded that the ideas it contains are not in practice. 

The problem is not with the writing.  The writing is good and the ideas are solid—in fact, they are probably both improving as we learn more about the world around us. The problem involves getting people to listen. 

How?

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