Writing about world events for my books during very specific time periods has caused me to do a great deal of roll-up-your-sleeves research, such as “What was America’s political relationship with Iran in 1969-70?” — a quest for my latest book, Shamar. Several years ago, while I was writing the story contained in my second book, Zurich, I found the need to research what Israeli combat tactics were and what methods worked, or didn’t work, and why. The search pushed me in the direction of a blog called “A Cop’s Watch,” authored by a Texas law enforcement officer, whose blog just happened to show a short video of Israeli tactics that had been taught to law enforcement groups in various parts of the world. Since then, I’ve continued to read his blog and have found his viewpoints strongly routed in reality, but also refreshingly candid, including his continual quest for “the best Scotch Whiskey.” (Who wouldn’t envy that journey?) Through this blog, I became acquainted with a geopolitical web site known as “Stratfor.” Statfor is primarily a subscription-based site, but they do offer many free articles on geopolitics that are written in an impartial, journalistic style. Today, I took time to read their article on why they post a Geopolitical Diary. I found this so reflective that I wanted to share this with all of you:
Reflections on the Geopolitical Diary
We have always wanted to take some time to explain to our readers what the Stratfor Geopolitical Diary is, how it differs from other things we publish and why we produce a diary. We haven’t had the opportunity to do so simply because we were too busy writing diaries and not taking the time to reflect on them. But today is one of those odd days in which, while many things happened, none of the events were so important as to require memorialization. This gives us a chance to explain what we are doing.
A diary isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, a listing of things that you have done or that happened. Rather, a diary should be a reflection of life through the prism of an event that happened that day. Where an analytical piece is about the event, the diary should be a search for the deeper meaning embedded in that event or even of a thought that is a diversion of the event.
Wednesday’s diary was about the identification of the killer in France as a jihadist. But that was merely an introduction to a broader problem, which is the tension between profiling and democratic values, between the right to be safe and the right not to be targeted because of membership in a group. The shooting was addressed in articles during the day, but for the Geopolitical Diary, it was an occasion to consider the broader issues that had been raised as a result of the shooting.
Living through a day is daunting. The details of living can overwhelm and exhaust the mind. It can also blur the distinction between the significant and the trivial. A diary is best written at the end of the day, when events seem to cease, and a quiet descends on the mind. Then the diarist should ask two questions. The first is to identify the significant event of the day. The second is to define why it was significant. Sometimes the most important event of the day might seem trivial to others, until, on reflection, it emerges as the most important thing. So, for an individual, the most important event of the day might be as significant as getting a raise, or as seemingly insignificant as a stranger’s smile.
When we apply this to global events, the most important event of the day might be the story that dominated the world’s newspapers. On the other hand, it can be a minor event that was given little notice but happens to provide insight into the nature of things. Thus, a world leader’s press conference may be on the front page of every newspaper but be worth noting only because it happened. On the other hand, the death of someone of little importance, that goes unnoticed in the press, might provide an opportunity to think more seriously about how the world works.
For Stratfor, as for any diarist, the Geopolitical Diary allows us to distinguish the important from the unimportant, based not on the attention the matter got nor even necessarily about the consequences of the event, but on what it teaches us about how the world works. Our diary is therefore an idiosyncratic work, because all diaries should be unique. Diaries are meant to memorialize private thoughts. Our diary is published, which in a sense violates the principle of a diary, but then it is not about private but public things.
Writing a diary requires discipline. It must be done regularly and days like today, when nothing obvious leaps to mind as being pre-eminently important, are perhaps the most precious. It allows the mind to wander, which can be more productive than having a singular focus. But a regular diary also poses challenges. It sometimes slips into events that are in fact banal. It sometimes draws meanings that in retrospect were true only on that particular night.
In the end, a diary is a writer’s dialogue with himself. It is an ongoing conversation that chronicles not only the world, but also the writer’s place in it. For Stratfor, that means that unlike analyses and the majority of our other daily output, a diary should not be read in isolation, but rather as a stream of reflections. A diary is the output of the wandering mind trying to grasp the meaning of the day. In the end, a diary should drift between the obvious and the surprising, the clear and the esoteric. But if it is successful, it should always surprise, particularly it should surprise the writer who didn’t know what he wrote until he wrote and digested the diary entry.
Particular entries in diaries are not always successful. Like all things, their value varies. But diaries should be judged on the whole. The Geopolitical Diary is the antithesis — or should be — of the daily, detailed chronicles we produce. This particular reflection is extreme, and won’t be repeated often, but sometimes leaving the path altogether is the best course. Stratfor’s Geopolitical Diary should be written and read differently from other things we write.