Learning by Applying

Well, here we are, at the end of 2018, and yet again I find the last post was published here at the end of the year before.

I started this site on a simple impulse: to have a little corner of the web under my own name, dedicated to the public face I presented to the world. It then became a deposit for my thoughts, something in which it was superseded when Eli and Jerry invited me to write at The Ümlaut, and then when friends and I started Sweet Talk, and lately after fewer friends and I started Liberal Currents and Dave started Embodiment and Exclusion.

I have considered the question of what exactly this site is for on several occasions along this journey. For a time it seemed appropriate to keep it as the main non-social media venue for personal reflection. Then, when I intended to write a book, it was the primary location of Austin Kleon-style show-your-work updates. But, as I finally admitted publicly in my last updated, the book project stalled long ago.

During 2018, there were several times I was reminded of this site’s existence and wondered if it was finally time to roll it up.

But there’s a kind of writing that I’ve missed, something that isn’t appropriate either to Liberal Currents, where we require a more polished product aimed at a higher purpose than self-fulfillment, or at Embodiment and Exclusion, where I would quickly drown Dave’s posts on his own site with material at best tangentially related to his enterprise there.

This is the kind of writing I began at The Ümlaut but really ran with at Sweet Talk, for I was not reading nearly enough for it to work during my time at the former. The kind of post I have its mind owes its origin to some book or books or specific thinker that I have been reading or reading about, and struggling to grasp. A pivotal part of that struggle was to write a lot of posts about various aspects of what I was struggling with. It did not result in much good writing, in any sense of the term. There are very few posts I wrote at Sweet Talk that I am proud of–though the number is not zero (I wrote quite a lot after all). Nevertheless, they served a purpose, one I find underserved since I ceased writing there.

Sweet Talk was originally conceived of as a conversation blog, inspired by group blogs such as the EconLog in the early days, when the bloggers would post responses to each others’ posts on a regular basis. It ended up largely being conversational in a different way; my posts were, as it were, part of an ongoing conversation with myself, but it served as a basis for many interesting conversations with others, cobloggers or not.

One thing I learned the hard way, and also through observation, and through the guidance of wiser friends (as in all things), is that the quantity of books consumed means very little in the end. You can read quite a lot of smart books by great minds and scholars and still end up with a shallow mind. How you read is at least as important as what. This is what those with a degree education in a field, or at least some sort of institutional support for pursing knowledge in it, have over the autodidact. Yet the reverse is also true: the many online scenes for communal reading and especially discussing of texts provides novel contexts for autodidacts that are often unavailable to the professional. Both approaches have their traps and dead ends, but both have their promise.

I am lucky in the context of my reading. I have made many better read and wiser friends who put up with my relentless questioning on the topics that fascinate me. It also does not offend their professional dignity when I attempt, feebly, to take on some hard line on a matter in which they know more than I, to draw out where I might be mistaken, or why they read the same texts but drew different conclusions.

But still, I miss the posting. Dave once pointed out to me that the writing I did at Sweet Talk paralleled the graduate student who must write an essay performing a straight application of the texts he has recently read. That is just about right, and that sort of writing’s greatest value is in service to the growth of the writer.

So I think I may, once again, begin to straightforwardly apply texts, in writing, as part of my process of learning. And it seems appropriate to do so here, a place that need not be so polished and public-oriented as Liberal Currents, nor so ephemeral as social media. A site under my own name, on servers and under a domain name I pay for myself, in easily-ported WordPress should my relationship with the hosting company deteriorate for some unforeseen reason.

This site has therefore received a stay of execution but also, hopefully, a new life. Expect more to come. I have on my mind Joanne Freeman’s excellent Affairs of Honor for my next post, one of many this year that my friend Adam Rust brought to my attention which has remained on my mind since.

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Adam Gurri

Adam Gurri works in digital advertising and writes for pleasure on his spare time. His present research focuses on the ethics of business and work, from the perspective of virtue and human flourishing.