Lennon vs. Bono, Round II (Washington Post version): the death of the celebrity activist

UPDATE III: Blood in the water, sharks circling! (see debate with Daniel Drezner at end of this post) UPDATE II: pasted some email comments below. Gained 1st supporter, victory in sight.

UPDATE: go to the Washington Post full version click below to read lots of comments. The vast majority of commentators disagree with this column. So my attempt to answer the critics who were not convinced by my previous answer to the critics of the previous post was still not convincing. And I will still not back down: give peace a chance.

For those 5 people not totally satiated with this topic, including those of you who want answers to some of the very valid questions and doubts posted as comments on the earlier blog post, I have an article coming out in the Washington Post Outlook section this coming Sunday.  Please read the full version that is already available online, here are some extracts:

Lennon was a rebel. Bono is not.

Lennon's protests against the war in Vietnam so threatened the U.S. government that he was hounded by the FBI, police and even immigration authorities. He was a moral crusader who challenged leaders whom he thought were doing wrong. Bono, by contrast, has become a sort of celebrity policy expert, supporting specific technical solutions to global poverty. He does not challenge power but rather embraces it; he is more likely to appear in photo ops with international political leaders - or to travel through Africa with a Treasury secretary - than he is to call them out in a meaningful way.

There is something inherently noble about the celebrity dissident, but there is something slightly ridiculous about the celebrity wonk.

...In this role, Lennon was continuing a venerable tradition: the celebrity as a crusader against the wrongs committed by those in power. In the 19th century, the celebrity activists had been not musicians but writers. Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and other authors loudly supported the abolitionist crusade against slavery. ...Mark Twain denounced American imperialism and atrocities in the 1898-1902 war against Spain and Filipino independence fighters.

...{Bono} runs with the crowd that believes ending poverty is a matter of technical expertise - doing things such as expanding food yields with nitrogen-fixing leguminous plants or solar-powered drip irrigation.

These are fine moves as far as they go, but why have Bono champion them? The technocratic approach puts him in the position of a wonk, not a dissident; an expert, not a crusader. (Little wonder that he hasn't cranked out a musical hit related to his activism. It's hard to imagine "Beautiful Day When We Meet the MDG Targets by 2015.") Can you imagine Lennon passing himself off as an authority on the intricacies of Vietnamese politics and history? His message was simpler: This war is wrong.

UPDATE III: The very smart Daniel Drezner at Foreign Policy does not get  it (he thinks I want "dumber celebrities").  There has an unexpected breakdown in either Drezner's previously impressive comprehension of logical argument or in my ability to explain a logical argument.  The problem with even the celebrity experts that are "smart"  is that "smarts" do not lead you to a unique answer: different smart and well-informed people disagree. The best answers usually emerge from logical and evidence-based debate, but celebrity experts short-circuit this process -- they will win the argument because they get so much attention as celebrities, not because of logic or evidence. And so having rock stars as experts, even those that are amazingly smart and well-informed "for a rock star" (that phrase says it all), will often to lead to bad answers (as indeed it has, see mine and everyone else's writings on this).  

The celebrity as moral crusader is doing so based on ...  a moral crusade that is already there. These crusaders take a situation that  is morally wrong, but is in the interests of those in power, and they say ... it's morally wrong. This has been a vital part of social change, and celebrities have played a useful role.

So no, I don't want dumber celebrities. The celebrities are too dumb already to deserve to have their ability to short-circuit debate and announce "the answer." And they always will be.