t byfield on Thu, 30 Sep 1999 19:07:35 -0400

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Re: Syndicate: reactions and cosequences

prijatelj@angelfire.com (Thu 09/30/99 at 10:21 PM +0100):

> Why has the public debate about Soros activities been mostly
> limited to propagandists of regimes like Milosevic's and to
> those who or whose projects are economically dependent on Soros?
> Why does a kid like me have to start the discussion about
> control of activism through funding, when it is a bloody burning
> issue for so many people and for understanding what is happening
> in Eastern Europe? I am hardly the most informed person here in
> some issues I had been posting about, but why are the informed
> ones silent? Having no better answer from anybody yet, I say
> this is because funding often means heavy control and it often
> forces people to self-censorship. What totally pisses me off is
> that some people accept this self-censorship as normal in
> private communication, sometimes even with friends.
> This is a thing that I would like to see discussed.

there are a lot of ways in which funding can influence whatever is
being funded--direct control, subtle hints, biases in programming,
choices in hiring, etc.--but it's important to remember that there
is one last way it does so: through the belief that funding equals
influence. if everyone involved in a funding situation believes it,
then it becomes true. conversely, if *no one* believes that funds
mean influence, then there can be a very strong basis for rejecting
attempts to exert influence, intentional or unintentional.

i think one of the difficulties surrounding the presence of the OSI
in the ex-east is the cultural difference within the organization
(at some levels, not all) and in the societies in which it's func-
tioning. *of course* funding something means influencing it: many
if not most OSI-funded organizations simply wouldn't exist if it
weren't for that money. and *of course* if those organizations en-
gage in activities that the OSI views as antithetical to its goals,
it'll cut or cease funding them. in that sense, the assumption that
funds=influence is absolutely correct, and if you ask *anyone* at
the OSI 'are you trying to influence the societies in which you're
operating?' they'll say 'YES.' but to assume from that that the OSI
has an absolutely clear agenda--that's a big leap. within its in-
stitutinal structure and activities, there are many layers, many
ambiguities, many uncertainties, and many buffers--with the result
that it transmits more money than specific directives. that whole
process, of transmitting benefits in exchange for actions, works
differently in different societies. so, to someone from a society
where it can often be a very simple exchange, the OSI's activities
might well look like a very simple exchange: the OSI funds Whatever,
and Whatever says exactly what the OSI wants. or so it might seem.

i could pay you to say 'i hate milosevic' or i could pay you to tell 
me *what you think about milosevic.* now, it could happen--and does 
happen--that you might think to yourself, 'if i tell him what he 
wants to hear, maybe he'll pay me again.' and if you think i want to
hear you say 'i hate milosevic,' you might well say that. what just 
happened was *not* a simple process of me paying you to say 'i hate 
milosevic,' but it certainly might look like that to a third party.

keep in mind that all foundations, including the OSI, have to be
very careful about this kind of problem. when they open an office,
there are a *lot* of people who would happily take money--but not
all of them are the best people to fund. do organizations like the
OSI make mistakes? of course. could you point at those examples as
a way of accusing these organizations of being corrupt or stupid?
of course you could. would that accusation be 100% correct? nope.
how do you know? you don't. but, in principle, it's good to assume
that someone is innocent (which may mean that they're naive) and 
*then* try to prove that they're guilty. 

so, if you're concerned that funding necessarily means influence,
you should stop to think for a moment about *exactly* what you do
and don't know about how these transactions are occurring. to just
assume that money=influence is too simplistic. there's an old rule,
and a good one, for thinking about things that look like conspira-
cies: never attribute to malice wha you can attribute to stupidity.
the OSI doesn't have to function 'conspiratorially' for you to 
disagree with its goals; if you disagree with its goals, then just
disagree with those, and skip all the conspiratorial logic.

for what it's worth, the US is full of this kind of nonsense--people
who get so worked up over 'conspiracies' that they fail to state in
any clear way what they actually object to or what they actually
want. and look at the results.


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