As I mentioned in the last post, I have been feeling a lack of meaning in my life, as though where I am putting my energy doesn’t matter. However, when I try to find a project to invest my energy in, I am overcome with a feeling of confusion. We all want to change the world, but I don’t know what I want to change the world into, nor do I feel I can even see clearly the world I ostensibly want to change. I am growing ever more tired of the political rhetoric I’m exposed to, which seems more and more a tribalistic war; people are not interested in finding real solutions and compromises to the problems we face as a people, rather they care only about whether I am expressing that I am one of the good guys or one of the bad guys. Not only do I find this pattern unhelpful for the advancement of humanity, I find it boring, and so my instinct is to disengage with politics and cultural criticism altogether.
Lately I have been reading and writing a lot in an attempt to see more clearly. However I have an aversion to publishing my thoughts, because I feel they are naïve or incomplete. In this post I wish to criticize this aversion and defend the social value of publishing these intermediate writings. My claim is that publishing my incomplete and imperfect thoughts is a meaningful and positive use of my time.
The Absurdity of Genius
I seem to have a belief something along the lines that you have to be a “genius” in order to have valuable thoughts: the only philosophical perspectives worth reading are those of the approved Great Thinkers, and that mere mortals cannot have any true insight. I think this comes from my schooling, in which the people we study have large names and are exalted and praised. Of course it is ridiculous. How else could someone become a great thinker than by working with and refining what they have? Furthermore, the concept of “great thinker” itself is subject to the same laws of popularity that put Maroon 5 on the Top 40. Furtherurthermore, all theories are amalgams (at least in as much as words themselves are socially constructed, and clearly much more), so it not out of the question that a world-changing theory could be influenced by my ideas.
I am reading Michel Foucault’s “The Order of Things” (which is awesome, by the way). In the introduction he says that the book was inspired by a passage by Jorge Luis Borges, which in turn was written as a critical response to a proposal for a “universal language” by John Wilkins. Here we can see the flow of ideas. Wilkins writes something which Borges thinks is stupid; Borges’s response makes Foucault laugh and then write an insightful book essentially about what is funny about the response; Luke reads the book and decides to start publishing his writing. Perhaps a future Borges will read my naïve theories and make a joke about them which will be the seed of another insightful work.
Refinement by the Risk of Criticism
The lens of publishing helps me refine and add nuance to my thoughts. Insofar as my journal is a log of my thought process, I might write some absurd nonsense that would not hold up to criticism in my journal, and never give it a second thought. That thought-structure is allowed to continue existing in my mind, unexamined. If I publish, even to my meager blog following, I am forced to consider my opinions more deeply, so that I don’t embarrass myself. There is added incentive for me to re-read what I have written, thus to organize it, considering more distant combinations and interactions between my ideas and my knowledge. As a result, a more refined and well-examined knowledge base will, in principle, help provide a stronger theoretical foundation to my future actions, so I don’t get lost in the well of meaninglessness so easily.
Encouraging Nuanced Reflection
One of the problems I identified in the introduction is that I feel that thought is losing nuance and converging toward a few tribalistic echo chambers. I feel that the world would benefit if people would philosophize a bit more. It is certainly possible to navel-gaze too much, but I feel like we are in a period of over-activism and under-reflection. We are in a time of huge protests with tiny results––this indicates that we do not have a clear foundation for our activism. We’ve got the pathos but not the logos. This is not helped by the popular social media platforms, which seem as though they are designed to promote simplistic, echo-chamber discourse. Ideas are communicated in tag-line form, and sealed with a blue checkmark––an idea is good if a popular person said it and we like how it sounds. I believe people are monkeys who imitate each other, so by raising my own standard of discourse, even if my ideas are silly, I am helping to promote a culture of reflection and nuance. I am demonstrating that I value trying to figure it out, rather than having it all figured out, which is doubtless a message I can get behind.
It could be argued that I should keep my ideas to myself until I feel like I have something important to say, otherwise I’m just adding noise. Indeed, it’s something I’ve struggled with in my artistic pursuits, of publishing things that I don’t feel proud of. When I have had a corpus of material available online that I am not proud of, it makes me shy about promoting myself, for fear that I will be discovered as incompetent. But I am not afraid of that here––I don’t care about being a popular writer, I care about refining my own ideas, I care about building a strong theoretical foundation for positive action. So the argument breaks down, it doesn’t matter whether I am proud of my work in this case.
It could be argued that I should be more informed before writing, that I should not claim things which I don’t know for sure. Since I do not have a large reader base I don’t think this is a problem; if I did, I might take this more seriously. I think it is important to plan for your own success––it’s a good question to ask whether, if you did somehow become successful, it would even be a good thing. But just I don’t think it’s important at this stage; the other benefits of publishing outweigh this risk.
Seal Of Permission
In light of the aforementioned arguments, I hereby grant you, Luke Palmer, permission to publish silly sounding ideas in your blog, even if you believe in them.