Since I value understanding why I do the things I do, I thought I'd explore why I've started a website. The proximal reason is to establish a regular writing practice. So the real question is: why write?
Foremost, Writing is thinking. The process of writing is the process of refining your assumptions and arguments. And publishing your writing is the test of your ideas and conclusions. And through this feedback we learn to think better.
But why think?
Cardinal virtues Both Stoics and Christians (and to an extent Buddhists) recognize four cardinal virtues:
- 🧠 Wisdom (prudence),
- ⚖️ Fairness (justice),
- ⛓ Self-control (temperance), and
- ❤️ Courage (fortitude).
Though these virtues can be abstract, their definitions open to debate, and their promoters prudish, let us assume that some version of these virtues is worth pursuing. In all cases, the immediate precondition is simple awareness (the awareness of one's fears, cravings, cruelties, and fallacies, in reverse order). It's an awareness we reach in writing.
2. Write to convince, Write to inspire
We write to convince and inspire or—if we're feeling less scrupulous—to deceive and incite. To make our assumptions digestible and our arguments contagious, so others might share our values and behave accordingly.
Because there are ideas are worth fighting for: e.g., the inherent value of living beings, the importance of science in making sense of the world, and the danger of dogma. And there are more than enough ideas worth fighting against: e.g., jihad, creationism, climate change denial, and constructivism.
For more than two millennia, a "classical" education concerned the seven liberal arts, split into the lower trivium,
- 🗣 Rhetoric,
- 📏 Grammar, and
- 🤖 Logic,
and the upper quadrivium,
- 🎶 Music,
- ◾️ Geometry,
- 🔭 Astronomy, and
- 🧮 Arithmetic.
That rhetoric, grammar, and logic could last for so long attests to their importance: these arts form the basis of communication, and communication forms the basis of community. He who commands rhetoric controls history. It's rhetoric that gave Hitler Germany, MLK the civil rights movement, and Trump America. Even before grammar. Even before logic. (Certainly before music.) And writing is the most visceral practice of persuasion.
3. Write to inform,
Sometimes, our mandate is less to convince and more to inform—to provide the facts without a preordained conclusion. We welcome debate and understand that participants must share a common core of information for productive debate to be possible. Writing becomes a path to develop that shared core.
From an early age, I've had a desire to create: first pillow forts, then legos, now writings. This pleasure of having created plays at a more carnal level than any of my more uppity reasons for writing. It's just fun to make stuff.
But this comes with a caveat: if you write to create, you have to accept that you will likely never express an original thought (except in select technical disciplines). We are penguins swallowing the regurgitated ideas of previous generations. If we're lucky, we put those ideas in a new context or point out surprising connections. But the ideas are the same predigested morsels as always.
Case in point: The impossibility of creativity So don't take it too hard when you discover that "creativity" (in anything but the sense of identifying new combinations) is mostly a farce.
5. Write for the ego
I would be deceiving myself if I didn't admit to writing for the validation. I was a quiet, studious kid who got his recognition from most of his authority figures for being "intelligent." So my reward circuitry is still wired to worship intellect and to fire up at being seen as smart. And I'll admit that the thought of literary immortality is as tantalizing as any fountain of youth.
What to Write About?
As for subject matter, I'll write about the questions that excite me (from physics to cognition and consciousness), the problems that inspire me (e.g., climate change, inequality, and automation), and the systems and tools that work for me (in learning and in health).
This last banner requires a little more justification. After all, aren't there more than enough Tim Ferrisses, Tiago Fortes, and Nat Eliasons writing about productivity? Do we really need more content on self-improvement?
Why Write (about self-improvement)?
Yes, most everything I will write about self-improvement will be a trite rerun of things already said. As is always the case but even more so. Still I'll write.
First, because writing about self-improvement helps you (the writer) stick to the tactics you describe. You are accountable to your audience, and the fear of being labeled a hypocrite cuts deep.
Next, because writing focuses your attention. It helps you clarify your own reasons for pursuing your goals. And when you deeply understand your reasons for pursuing something, it's easier to persevere.
Finally, because most of the self-improvement crowd focuses unilaterally on one thing: self-improvement. It's about developing second brains so we can write more about second brains. We risk forgetting the world beyond the self that makes self-improvement worthwhile.
So we need more content that helps us bridge from self-improvement to societal improvement. Ambitious, yes, a little arrogant, likely, but my plan is to contribute to that bridge. Because self-improvement alone is not going to save us.
"Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself." — Rumi
I'd like to see more of the wise folk try to save the world again.