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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

On becoming a Small Fish in a Big Pond

I note a state of mind which I have detected in myself, and wonder if any others share it?

Once Upon A Time, I was a happy libertarian. I knew only about a dozen other libertarians at all well and I was one of the cleverest and most dedicatedly productive of them. The rest of my little world consisted of the Great Unenlightened, the Statist Masses, all of whom I outranked. I knew of other libertarians, in far away countries of which I knew little such as America, but they didn’t loom large in my mind. Occasionally they sent us little bits of writing through the post, but nothing impressive enough to threaten my sense of my own libertarian magnificence. I and my little gang of friends, we few, we happy few, were shining the torch of liberty in little England. I thrashed out Libertarian Alliance pamphlets, secure in my own libertarian splendour. I was a Big Fish in a Small Pond.

Then came the Internet. Suddenly I am becoming acquainted on a daily basis with the clever – often very clever – thoughts of as many dozen libertarians as I can make myself attend to. Worse, Little England no longer needs me to tell it about libertarianism, for it too can plug into the great Magic Filing Cabinet in the Sky, the Great Conversation Machine. In such a world, does my little voice, my little computer keyboard, count for anything? What do my Libertarian Alliance pamphlets signify, when set beside the thousands upon thousands of other libertarian writings out there? I still crank out Libertarian Alliance pamphlets, because it’s what I do. It’s what I am. But what I now am is a Small Fish in a Big Pond. I feel melancholy.

This experience is not confined to libertarians. I am suffering from a universal syndrome caused by better global electronic communications. (I’ve even read a book about this, by, I think, someone called Oliver James.)

Because of daily TV broadcasts of the best club and international football matches in the world (which he knows others are watching even if he can’t bear to watch such things himself), a man who was happy when thinking of himself as the second best footballer in Doncaster, is now forced to contemplate the fact that he is the 9,673rd best footballer in the world – a depressing demotion indeed. Ditto in every other area of human endeavour.

It sounds to me as if most of my fellow bloggists here at Samizdata found their first voices, so to speak, as contributors to the Great Global Conversation, and are making steady, satisfying progress up the relevant, if huge, pecking order. “Last week I was the 934th best libertarian” (or however exactly they classify themselves). “Now I’m the 919th best. Next year, if I keep it up, I’ll make it below 900”, etc. I’m talking subjective experience here and my guess numbers are just that, pure guesses. I am aware of no rating system for libertarian writers and activists of this kind, of the sort which now says that Sachin Tendulkar of India – for I think it is he – is the now the best test match (i.e. international cricket) batsman in the world (thereby depressing all other batsmen everywhere). Thus, the other bloggists do not feel melancholy. But then again, maybe if you are starting out at the bottom of the global libertarian pecking order, the prospect of that long trudge from 900 to a probably peak of, I don’t know, about 300, and then back down to 1,000 followed by oblivion, depresses them too.

Serious confessions of unhappiness are not cool, coming from libertarians, and especially not if the cause of the unhappiness is something so triumphantly capitalist as modern electronic communications. Trivial snarlings about the annoyances of the latest version of Windows or non-trivial snarlings about politicians and their many misdeeds, yes, fine. But confessions like this one cross some kind of line.

Which of course is why I choose to write thus. Good writers regularly cross such lines, and I’m still bashing on, trying to write well. So don’t worry everyone, everyone who cares that is to say. My confession is serious, but the unhappiness I confess to is not overwhelmingly serious. I’m not talking suicide here. I’ll soldier on, and all the better if this piece of confessional therapy does its job and helps to reconcile me to my new (small) place in my new (big) world.

But, does anyone else out there know what I’m talking about?

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