The Role of Think Tanks in Meta-Governance
Corporate Social Responsibility in the Marketplace of Ideas
The Fraser Institute describes a think tank as an “idea factory.” This sounds great, but do the best ideas come from think tanks? or are think tanks the co-opted policy arms of amorphous corporations? The Abs-Tract Organization (TATO) understands the important role of think tanks as policy research centers and intends to follow best practices and examples of major think-tanks in US and globally, but at the same time TATO will bring new ideas, philosophy, and epistemology through sociological education and bringing back the truth to public policy.
There are over 6000 think tanks worldwide. Despite their intellectual identities, funding sources often skew the quality of research, and as a result many think tanks serve an ideological agenda. In August, 2016, the NY Times hosted a series of articles and debates about “compromised think tanks” and how to protect against special interests co-opting research. These reports found broad acceptance from journalists and the media, while some of the targeted think tanks rebutted the claims. Thinktankwatch.com published an aggregate list of the responses. As a meta- think tank, TATO sees a role in upgrading and interconnecting the capacities of think tanks globally, as well as cutting dead weight in the form of ideological baggage. The media disclosure of think tank corruption, while important, also serves as a distraction from extant media corruption.
In a 2008 report titled Think Tanks as an Emergent Field, Tom Medvetz conducts a deconstruction and renewal of the concept of a think tank. The postmodern discussion of think tanks refers to it as a ‘murky object’ and suffers from an unresolved “dilemma of definition,” which he seeks to address. His basic argument is that “the space of think tanks has its own specific laws, agents, conventions, and so on, but also that its structure mirrors that of the field of power in which it is embedded.” After a thorough critique…;
“[t]he concept of field becomes useful here as a meso-level device for steering a middle course between the micro-organizational approach that grants too much autonomy to the think tank and the macro-structural approach that tends to reduce them to a series of abstract determinations.”
Medvetz describes the think tank as taking place in “an institutional niche with its own intelligible structure and history… [that constitutes] a hybrid interstitial field.” The field is visualized, and can be used as a schematic interface to mediate between micro- and macro- power structures. (Figure. 1.1 from Medvetz).
The conclusion of the report indicates that more research is needed along the lines established. The conflict between the ideal of a think tank and the limits imposed on it by the field undermine its very purpose.
“It is thus possible to speak of a master opposition in the space of think tanks between authority based on intellectual consecration, on the one side, and proximity to political and economic power, on the other. Which is to say that any effort a think tank might make to heed the considerations of academic rigor and exactitude will run up against a set of powerful limitations, the main ones being the need to maximize political access and immediate policy relevance, the need to sustain the budget, and the need to garner continuous publicity. Each of these demands exacts a particular cost on the think tank’s intellectual production, curtailing its ability to do long-term research, to gather background knowledge, to incubate ideas — in a word, to think.”
TATO as Meta- Think Tank
TATO seeks to overcome Medvetz’s ‘master opposition’ by forming an open-source global think tank based on the speaking sociological truth to power. The current turbulence in the intellectual marketplace is primed for the emergence of principle based meta- think tank. TATO can be a meta- think tank thrice over as a 1) virtual organization, 2) concerned with meta-issues, and as 3) a network of existing think tanks.
The prefix “meta-” (variously denoting change, beyond, above, etc.) has many vital uses that coalesce with the advent of metamodernity and TATO’s abstract agenda. The concepts of “metacognition” (thinking about thinking) and “metanoia” (to change one’s mind) are central to intellectual revolution. “Meta-analysis” reveals unknown common truths across conceptually related studies, providing a ‘big picture’ perspective and quality control. The study of “metaphysics” as social humanism reclaims it as a ‘philosophy of first principles,’ and highlights the distinction between physical and social science. Marx’s notion of “metabolic rift” theorizes the entropy of ecological and social systems under capitalism, granting us the necessary foresight to prevent such dehumanizing decay.
Notwithstanding these grand theories, TATO seeks to serve as a meta- organization and create a think tank coordination layer, integrating humanist knowledge and policy on the global scale. In the start-up phase, TATO’s virtual nature will allow for greater flexibility and adaptability to rapidly changing conditions. Meta- problems require meta- solutions, and from this perspective TATO can devise macro policies that are adaptable at the local level.
The Abs-Tract Organization aims to prepare for and catalyze the peaceful transition of power from the power elite to global civil society. As inevitable as nuclear war is in one paradigm, in ours so is world peace in the form of global eco-humanist meta-governance, social automation, and algocracy. TATO aspires to be on the forefront of a sociological revolution to ensure a morally infallible social system and permaculture civilization emerges without delay. We will continue to discuss and advocate for as the process evolves and history unfolds.
The Abs-Tract Organization is a boutique research and media think tank, centered around the broad concept of “abstraction.”
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