Conor responds, in part:
In my piece, I was writing about the effect of Washington DCâ€™s social scene on folks operating inside or on the fringes of ideological movements, especially on the right â€” I tried to be clear about not having very much experience of the ideological leftâ€™s social circles, and I certainly didnâ€™t claim to speak for every facet of the 6 million people in greater DC, or the 1 million people in DC proper.
Inside that circle, and even beyond it, Iâ€™ve gotten feedback from a lot of folks who thought my description was spot on â€” and from others who took issue with my assertions.
The one part of your post that I find unpersuasive is the argument by analogy where you write, â€œBlaming the networking amenities of the Washington area for personal failings is like blaming the internet for online gaming addictions. Maybe itâ€™s not the internetâ€™s problem.â€ Fault here is beside the point if the mortgage payment is gone.
Or to be more direct, I tried rather hard to have a DC life beyond ideological circles, a balancing of networking and a normal social life, etc., and I consider myself rather stubborn in guarding my intellectual independence.
I nevertheless found it difficult to strike the right social balance, and although I was never tempted to engage in intellectual dishonesty for social reasons, I wondered if I could make a life in DC, especially inside a movement, without being forced to sacrifice either an enjoyable social existence or my integrity.
If that is a personal failing on my part â€” and Iâ€™m certainly open to the idea that it is â€” Iâ€™d merely point out that lots of people have that same failing, or so they tell me, and so Iâ€™ve observed â€” and even if it is they, and not the city of Washington DC itself, that bear ultimate blame, that doesnâ€™t mean the integrity of ideological movements and the public discourse more generally isnâ€™t being harmed by the dynamic that I describe.
So yes, I do think that ideological movements would do well to scatter their constituent institutions throughout the United States.
Three points. First, the “inside or on the fringes of ideological movements, especially on the right” is a small world, and I wish Conor had been more careful not to tar all of Washington with his brush. Secondly, I think Conor is fooling himself if he imagines that ideological movements will exert less of a disciplinary force on their fringes if they’re geographically scattered, particularly given the amount of social activity that’s now conducted online. And finally, one still has to consider the benefits of location in Washington against the costs: better access to movement infrastructure, to talent, to policy experts and media organizations, and so on. Even if we’re narrowly focused on the welfare of fringe ideological groups, it’s likely the case that the benefits of locating in a movement-friendly environment offset or outweigh the costs of social awkwardness.
I admit that I don’t have any experience working on the inside of a political movement. The idea that people within a professional organization or social group couldn’t amicably disagree — even fiercely — is strange to me. I can see how this might be an issue for a group of sensible insurgents trying to wrest control of the conservative movement, but then I think that has more to do with the pathologies of the conservative movement than it does with Washington.