Reading Update

So I’ve been reading a ton of books on virtue ethics as research for the book I’m working on.

Six months ago, Matt Zwolinski, Aaron Ross Powell, and Drew Summitt recommended a big list of books and authors with the idea that any one or two of them would be a good place to get started with virtue ethics. I assembled the list, looked at it, and thought to myself “I’ll bet I can read these by the end of the year.” Setting that challenge for myself was one of the first steps to deciding I wanted to write a book myself.

It’s gone faster than I thought it would. I just finished Philippa Foot’s Natural Goodness, which was the last book from the original list. I’m not done with the virtue ethics part of my research yet—I’ve been adding books and papers as I went along, so that I now have at least seven more that I want to include in this leg of my research. I’ve also taken a couple of detours along the way—most notably Deirdre McCloskey’s Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics and Michael Oakeshott’s On Human Conduct. Both well worth the time taken.

What I have found interesting about my tour of virtue ethics so far is the diversity of perspectives. McCloskey’s framework in Bourgeois Virtues was so cohesive, and she drew on other sources so liberally, I hadn’t expected her own perspective to be so distinct in some ways. For instance, her treatment of prudence as being equivalent to phronesis is at odds with, at minimum, how Julia Annas understands those concepts. And Annas’ emphasis on virtue as skill, while not at odds with McCloskey, is something different, surprising, not what I expected to find when I set out. But in a good way—it made virtue concrete for me, something I could really understand.

Moreover, there are some wildly different metaphysics going on. Alasdair MacIntyre is more like me; he sees morality as synonymous with a moral tradition. Meanwhile, Martha Nussbaum bluntly states that she is not like that at all; she believes herself operating firmly within the Enlightenment framework and simply scavenging the ancients for wisdom that can be used within that framework. Most objective moral metaphysics within this community are similar to, or directly inspired by, Foot’s (developed at length in Natural Goodness). Foot (inspired by Aristotle) speaks of the good as being relevant to the telos of a species; we can speak of “a good specimen of X” based on some very specific ideas of what it means for X species to flourish. I find it interesting, but think it works better within a McCloskeyan pragmatist framework than as a theory of truly objective morality.

In a way the metaphysics is something of a distraction. A business book audience is not going to care one bit for metaphysics; if I try pulling that on them I’m certain to lose their attention or any chance that a publisher would take me on. Still, I’m not going to write a book about a moral framework unless I believe in it and its underpinnings. And books like Bernard Williams’ Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy can be very clarifying about what the role of a philosophy of ethics should be. Oakeshott helps a great deal as well—as Oakeshott might put it, I’m going to be writing a book for an audience that already subscribes to the same moral language that I do. All I’ll be doing is attempting to expand their vocabulary, so to speak.

Another surprise for me was how central the role of luck was to the multi-century debate in ancient ethics. Annas covers this as part of her (masterful) tour of ancient ethics overall, and Nussbaum focuses specifically on this, and contrasts the philosophical positions with the perspective to be found in Greek tragedy. The debate between the Stoics and the intellectual descendants of Aristotle was just about whether or not living well or happiness (eudaimonia) was vulnerable to changing circumstances, or if the virtuous person was truly happy no matter their circumstances. This seems a bizarre question for us moderns, but Annas and Nussbaum put it in context masterfully.

The best modern response I’ve read to this question is Daniel Russell’s in Happiness for Humans. He argues that the Stoics were correct that virtue is all that is needed for living well, but that the details of what this means do, still, leave us vulnerable to luck. Virtue is the skill of living well, and he argues that the activity involved in the exercise of that skill is “embodied”. He does not just mean that it is a physical thing that occurs (and thus physically vulnerable), though that is part of it. His point is more interesting than that.

Russell draws on the bereavement literature to discuss how the typical person copes with tragic circumstances. He discusses C. S. Lewis, who wrote that when his wife died he felt like he had lost a piece of himself. He then points to studies on people who have lost physical limbs that show that they often speak of feeling as though they have lost a loved one. This equivalence is striking, from each side; and Russell shows that Lewis’ case is not uncommon; indeed feeling like one has lost a limb is a typical response to losing someone very close to you.

This is what Russell means by “embodied”—the virtuous person takes the major, meaningful activities of their life, and the people who are dearest for them, and makes them a significant part of who they are. I am not just a man who happens to be married to a woman. An important part of who I am is the husband to my wife. If I were to lose her, I would not just be losing another person, but a vital part of myself. Russell argues that the stability that the Stoics sought can be approximated only by a separate skill, the skill of resilience, of reshaping your life meaningfully after a tragic loss.

All of the books I went through have been enriching to read. If I had to pick only two to take with me to a desert island, I would take Julia Annas’ Intelligent Virtue and Russell’s Happiness for Humans. If I could take three, I’d add Annas’ The Morality of Happiness. If I could add a fourth, it would be Nussbaum’s The Fragility of Goodness.

As I said, I intend to read yet more virtue ethics books. I’ve got three books by Alasdair MacIntyre alone that I intend to read, including his most famous, After Virtue (though to be honest I’m much more excited to read Whose Justice? Which Rationality?). But I will now increasingly be reading other categories of books—McCloskey recommended this one, for instance, and of course I’ve got business books and self-help books to get to.

The exciting but frustrating thing about diving deep into a subject is that the further you go, the bigger the corpus of relevant works seems to grow. Actually getting to the writing of this book is going to take self-control on my part, in terms of creating a definitive stopping point where I say enough is enough where research is concerned. I intend to reach that point by the end of next year.

I Am Working on a Book

I began research for this earlier this year, and I’m tempted to just wait until I’ve actually got a draft (a while from now) but I’ve decided to take a page from Austin Kleon’s book and show my work.

Two or three years ago I tried to read Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Virtues. I expected, based on what I’d heard and on this EconTalk interview, to find an extended argument about how commerce has made us more moral and more expressive. What I did not expect was a big treatise on virtue ethics in general as well as applied to middle class and commercial life. I pushed my way through it, but frankly I didn’t absorb much of the book at the time. Her second book in the series was much more accessible to me, but didn’t touch much on ethics.

Last year, on Nassim Taleb’s recommendation, I picked up Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. Seneca and the Stoics in general are an odd lot, in many ways too cold and too rationalist—one of the letters involves Seneca chastising a friend for crying too much after the death of his child. But I was reading the book during a difficult time, and I found it helped in a number of ways—if I viewed the book as a source of wisdom rather than a potential ideology that I needed to take as a whole. Seneca’s advise to simply assume that the worst was going to happen, rather than allowing the possibility of it to be a source of stress, was of great help to me in a particular situation.

I knew that Seneca and the Stoics in general were part of the larger conversation about virtue in the ancient world, and I was anxious to learn more. Though it had not stuck with me in the first read through, I could tell that McCloskey’s Bourgeois Virtues was a highly researched, broad exploration which included not only the ancients but the Christian contribution (Aquinas in particular). So in February, I gave it a reread. And this time, its message resonated, and resonated strongly.

I’m not going to do a book review here but suffice to say that I think McCloskey’s project of demonstrating that healthy commercial culture includes the exercise of virtue is both worthy and, to me at least, persuasive.

The end of the book includes a call to action, which goes as follows:

We need to revive a serious ethical conversation about middle-class life, the life of towns, the forum and agora. We need to get beyond the project of damning a man of business because he is neither an exalted aristocrat nor an unassuming peasant-proletarian. The conservative program of handing things over to a class of pseudoaristocrats trained at Andover and Yale or the radical program of handing things over to a proletariat-friendly party of bourgeois-born young men has not worked out very well. We need an ethical bourgeoisie.

When I read these words I knew I wanted to participate in this revival. To that end, some friends and I have launched Sweet Talk as a hub for conversation. But I also want to make a contribution in the form of at least one book.

Finding the Right Implied Author

There are two books I have in my head, with two very different implied authors.

One book is a long treatise on virtue ethics in the market, written by an implied author who is capable of addressing the main critiques that would come out of the philosophical community. This implied author is very well read in the conversations of philosophy in and out of ethics, and is well equipped to engage in that conversation. The problem is that Deirdre McCloskey has basically written this book already, and even though my version of virtue ethics may differ slightly from hers, I don’t think that this is the best contribution I could make right now, nor am I well equipped to make it. It would take me several more years of research before I could comfortably write as this implied author.

The second book has an implied audience of the people who buy books in the business section of a book store (or Amazon). Unpretentious, practical minded people who nevertheless view consulting books as both enjoyable and useful. The implied author is well read and confident in the subject he is writing about, but not an expert or a specialist in philosophy or economics. He works for a living and thus experiences the world of business forty hours a week or more, and has so for his whole career—but not as an executive or entrepreneur or anything more exciting than a salaried employee. His value proposition for his implied audience is that his life is similar to theirs, and he can offer a framework for looking at that life that is very clarifying, but also satisfying. Useful, but also enjoyable to engage with critically or from the inside.

I believe that that is an implied author I am capable of becoming within a reasonable timeframe, and that is more or less the book that I want to write.

Respecting a Pre-existing Conversation

One thing that I have learned from McCloskey, both explicitly from her works on rhetoric, and by example, is that there is no worse scholarly vice than taking shortcuts. Any subject that you think you have a novel idea or framing for has been discussed to death by countless numbers of people much more intelligent and well read than you are, and over a course of generations rather than years or even decades. There’s nothing new under the sun, philosophy is a footnote to Plato (who was himself a footnote to the traditions that came before him), etc, etc.

The point isn’t to downplay originality or novel contributions, the point is to respect what’s already been done, and to avoid as much as possible reinventing the wheel. The amount of work you need to do to familiarize yourself with those conversations, and the specific conversations you need to focus on, depends on the implied author that you want to project. If you want to project an implied author who is simply an enthusiastic amateur, then you will need to do much less reading than you would for either of the implied authors described above. The point is to be persuasive but also to be honest; choose the story you’re going to tell based on what you’ve actually credibly developed the knowledge base to defend.

Don’t pretend to be more knowledgeable than you are—the greatest sinners in McCloskey’s work on rhetoric are inexperienced youth who think they can take the shortcut to Authority by acquiring some Popperian or positivist demarcation that allows them to write off huge swaths of the conversation as not worthy of being read. It does not work that way—if you’re going to critically engage with an area you have to actually engage; that is, make a real effort to understand what it is that you are criticizing.

There are a few overlapping conversations that I need to get myself up to speed on before I feel comfortable writing this book. Here’s the basic sketch:

  • Philosophy. You know, that set of conversations that has been going on for thousands of years? For this book I’m focusing primarily on the community of virtue ethicists, but also a few others that I think will tie in well, like Oakeshott. I’ve been reading books in the virtue ethics strain for a few months now; two books that have stood out are The Morality of Happiness and The Fragility of Goodness.
  • Business Ethics. This is less cohesive, as it seems there are several strands. There are philosophers that write about business ethics, and then there’s what’s taught in ethics courses in business schools, with apparently very little overlap. I’ll be looking into both. I’ll also be reading From Higher Aims to Hired Hands, on McCloskey’s recommendation.
  • General Business Books. I’ve read a few of these in my day but I feel I should really familiarize myself with the big hits in this genre if I’m going to engage it as well as sell to its audience.
  • Self Help Books. I cringe even writing it. This is the part of the research project that I am least looking forward to. But the ancient schools which inspired modern virtue ethics tied ethics together with the project of living well. Today, ethics and self help are essentially segregated; different sorts of authors, different audiences, minimal crossover. I would place the book I’m going to write in the business books section, but it’s going to be in some ways muscling into the turf of self-help. As I said above, I don’t believe in writing off an entire sphere of conversation just because I want to. So I’m going to try and look at the five top selling self help books of all time, then of the last ten years, and then of the last three to five years.

Again, the goal is not to become a specialist in any of these, at least not for this book. The goal is to respectfully engage with what has come before, and to be informed enough to become the implied author I want this book to have.


I have a full time job and I’m writing in a couple of venues these days. Also I’m married and I have a life. Part of the joy of doing a project like this out of love is that I don’t have a hard deadline. But I also don’t want to let the process linger and stagnate. In short, I’m going to straddle the line between taking as much time as I need and actually getting this thing done in a reasonable timeframe.

The tentative timeframe I have in mind is 2-3 years (starting from near the beginning of 2014) for researching and writing it. The research is at this point going much faster than I thought—I gave myself a list of virtue ethics books (suggested by Matt Zwolinski, Aaron Ross Powell, and Drew Summitt) to read by the end of the year but I’m almost done with it already. But I’m still saying 2-3 years because I want to do this right and I don’t want to rush myself. And if it takes longer, it takes longer.

I also want to shop the book around to traditional publishers after it’s done, rather than going the self-publishing ebook route. If self-publishing is the only way it’ll get out into the world at all, I will naturally do that. But I live in New York City, the publishing capital of this country—I figure I might as well give it a shot.

Show Your Work

I mentioned Austin Kleon at the beginning of this post, so before finishing I’ll explain what I was referencing. Austin’s latest book is Show Your Work, and as the title implies it’s all about putting your creative process out in public while you’re in the middle of it. Austin argues that it’s better to let go of the pretense of a creative work as this pristine thing that springs fully formed from someone’s brain. People will find it more approachable if you show them the messy, flawed, human process that goes into making anything. And you’ll open up the possibility of getting useful feedback along the way, rather than after it’s too late to do anything with it for the specific work.

Between The Umlaut, Sweet Talk, and R Street, I haven’t had much to say on this blog other than personal stuff or philosophical dialogues. But this is the right place to talk about what I’m working on. So moving forward, the tag “book bleg” is going to have all the posts talking about the process of working on this book. I’ll try to update fairly regularly, and with much shorter posts than this one, which is working through a lot of stuff that’s been in my head and I have only talked about with a handful of people. Future updates should be more targeted and less verbose—at least, I hope so.

That’s all I have for now. I’m excited to have a project like this to work on; it’s fun and I enjoy having a target to be aiming towards. Any feedback you have would be highly appreciated, as becoming the implied author I want to be is still very much a work in progress, and I could use all the help I can get.

On Hustle

Hustle is in many ways the master virtue of New York City, and especially of Manhattan. So it may come as a bit of a surprise when I say that most of my struggle with this sometimes-virtue, sometimes-vice occurred before moving here.

2008 was a year that required a great deal of hustle from me. I met Catherine, and so began that terribly awkward dance that is what passes for wooing on my part. I got my first non-retail job, 40 miles away from where I was living at the time. I started grad school, which involved two or three night classes a week, more than 40 miles away from where I worked. And at that point, I was living about a half hour drive away from where Catherine was.

There was a lot of time spent on the road. So much so that I moved on from the family car to a brand new one I bought myself. Nevertheless, it was a tiring thing, to drive so very much. I very quickly grew sick of it, though podcasts helped to ease the pain.

Crunched for time on so many sides, I embraced hustle to what was in retrospect an unhealthy degree. My average driving speed, when traffic allowed it, was 80 mph. That was the average, to repeat—I frequently exceeded it. I fought for even inch of gain I could, weaving around slowpokes (by my skewed standard of slowness) without hesitation.

This embrace of hustle went beyond my driving. I would push my way past people into elevators, almost knock people over on the sidewalk, and so on. Got into a couple of nasty spats for no good reason.

I was already in the process of dialing back on this when we came to New York, but coming here actually helped me get to a healthier place in a number of ways. First of all, I was no longer driving regularly, though I’d like to think I would be more responsible and more calm on the road even if I was. Second, it is impossible to be the person with the most hustle in New York City. It just is. It’s a fractally nested hierarchy of hustle. There’s no point trying to be at the top, so you just shouldn’t.

Finally, it became clear to me, as it already had been becoming clear, that unbalanced hustle doesn’t help anyone. Peace of mind matters, and so does being charitable to strangers. Today, for instance, I’m willing to accept a longer commute in order to avoid having to switch trains, or to minimize the amount of times I do so. In the past, I would try and fight for every minute I could get—but in the end I have to ask myself, what’s the point? I’d rather be relaxed and leave a little earlier if I have to than give up my peace of mind to shorten my journey by five or ten minutes. And I don’t want to remember myself as the asshole who knocked someone’s grandmother off her feet so he could achieve his aspirations of being a minute faster.

Hustle is part of New York’s charm and also one of its frustrations. Like all virtues, it must be balanced with the others; such as temperance, prudence, and love.

I Can’t Hide From My Mind, Though I Try

(warning: naval-gazing)

I’m going through a bit of a change at the moment. If you follow what I write, you may have guessed this from a couple of recent posts. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I got here.

The first big influence on how I thought about the world was my dad (of The Fifth Wave and the now-neglected but still excellent Vulgar Morality). Arguments I had with people in High School (in person and online) usually consisted of appropriating an informed opinion that he had and bullshitting my way around it from a substantially less informed point of view. After I started to grow up and actually take reading up on the things I talked about more seriously, I held onto Burkean traditionalist instincts and an interest in specific thinkers such as David Hume that I had first heard about from him when I was too young to approach their writings myself.

I learned about the blogosphere from him first (he was a media analyst by trade), and started my own blog, Sophistpundit; the name derived from the Greek sophists, which he was reading a great deal about at the time and talking about constantly, and Instapundit, a blog he introduced me to. The start of that blog marks the beginning of the time I began to take the matter of discovering my own point of view seriously, as the simple act of writing about it regularly restructured the way I thought.

I’m a storyteller by instinct; even when I was just bullshitting my way around arguments as a teenager I was trying to take things I wanted to be true and fit them into an overall framework. I wasn’t satisfied with one-off explanations or answers or arguments. So when I began to really read works of philosophy and social science, and write about it, I started seeing things about the individual components of what I thought that dissatisfied me. Whether intellectually, or from a storytelling point of view, I couldn’t tell you. I’m not sure I know the difference.

My introduction to serious philosophy began with Karl Popper. I picked up a collection of his essays and was hooked. He had a very accessible style and his ideas seemed incomparably elegant. For a brief time, I was completely won over; I thought I had found the keys to unlocking the universe. Ultimately, Popper was just a great place to start, and though it wasn’t too long before I started drifting from his (quite rationalist) point of view, I’m still glad that I started with him. He was a great place to begin.

From then on I had a fairly regular diet of nonfiction books ranging from classics of philosophy (like David Hume) to more popular stuff (like the Long Tail). Not to mention reading a ton of politics, economics, technology, and personal blogs.

The next big change that came into this brain of mine was libertarianism. And big it was; I’m still reeling from it years after its onset.

I was always generically small-government minded, in the way that most Burkean types are, I think. But there were key differences between where I was and where the libertarians I had exposure to were. For one thing, I was a hawk on the war at the time. For another, I had vague acceptance for labor regulations such as the minimum wage. I also respected traditions generally, including traditions of government. And I was very strongly pro-democracy. Perhaps most crucially, I viewed libertarianism as a rationalism, and I was (and remain) strictly anti-rationalist.

The crucial moment came when I was still working on my BA in history at GMU. I knew I wanted to go into economics by that point, but opted to finish my BA and go for the MA in econ. In the meantime, I would take the prerequisite undergrad courses, starting, of course, with introductory level economics.

The 101 and 102 level courses at GMU are taught by Dr. Thomas Rustici, who is an excellent communicator of economic theory but also a firebrand-style preacher of libertarian ideology. I was made a convert practically before I even realized what was happening. The process was both fast and gradual, in a way. I kept looking at the margin between my positions and full blown, all-encompassing libertarianism and telling myself that I hadn’t been truly converted, but slowly and steadily that margin was chipped away.

I think in retrospect that Dr. Rustici was simply responsible for the initial breech, and the rest of the erosion of that margin came from going straight into the MA program in economics at GMU. The effect was stronger there, less due to the ideology of the professors particularly, and more because of the fact that said ideology (in some form) was widely shared by the peers I encountered there.

Looking back now, it kind of feels like libertarianism was an invading force that entered my mind and started pretty substantially rearranging things. I used to think Richard Dawkins’ theory of religion as a mind virus was just condescension, but frankly it feels apt here; it’s like I came down with a chronic case of libertarianism. It got to a point where arguments I had previously mocked now seemed like the only point of view that made sense. At its pinnacle, I had that “I have the answer to everything” feeling I got from Popper, only much, much more so. Libertarianism (the variety popular among GMU types) is far more all encompassing as a theory of everything from human behavior to morality to history.

With time and distance between myself and GMU econ, I’ve slowly begun to shrink the size of this ideology’s partition of my mind. It will always be part of the pantheon, but I’m starting to move on to other things. I suspect that those other things will be far messier, less internally consistent than libertarianism. But that’s OK; it’s a messy world and even as a storyteller I was always wary of how very clean the ideology is.

Lately I’ve been swayed by people like Nassim Taleb and Nate Silver who think probabilistically about things; an approach that helps me think about challenges to libertarianism posed in forms like this. I’m also exploring more and more of the social sciences beyond the boundaries of economics. And I’m going back to the classics of philosophy I never got to; I recently read Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, and I’m hoping to read something on Epicurus’ philosophy next.

Talking with Noah Smith yesterday got me thinking about all of this even more, as he seems (from my limited exposure) as ideology-free as is possible for a human being to be. His beliefs seem to have some themes consistent with modern progressivism, techno-futurism, and a dash of libertarianism, but for the most part it appears as though he’s got a grab bag of ideas he more or less believes in that don’t add up to a consistent story. When I asked him what his most absurd belief was, he had trouble answering because it seems he wasn’t quite sure what his beliefs were. This is neither good nor bad, but it’s kind of interesting. I don’t think I have it in me to be that way—the more stories I gather, the more I instinctively try to edit and combine them in my brain to see if I can make a single consistent one. Anti-rationalist though I desire to be, I’m a cathedral builder at heart.

A Cathedral of Their Own

I’m not sure I could tell you what this all adds up to or why this blog is an expression of these ideas. But I like the idea of a consecrated but untamed place, and the spiritual development the term implies, not impressed by a conquering army, or ritual defenestrations, but by those who hoped that one day others might enjoy a cathedral of their own.

-J Arthur Bloom, missionary ground: A brief word on this blog’s title

Jordan’s post made me realize that I have always sought to make my little corners of the web into missionary ground, in the sense that he is describing.

Growing up, I would tell my dad about the stuff I had learned in history (mostly) or English, and he would say something to the tune of—“That’s totally wrong. But remember it because it’s what your teacher will want you to say on a test.” I found this very troubling. Teachers were authority figures, but my dad was the king of authority figures. That their stories did not line up—that they straight up contradicted one another—was really quite unpleasant.

Since that time I have consistently sought certainty in a world where so many stories are presented as though they were born of the true knowledge of the storyteller. Any certainty would do; even a Pyrrhonian certainty that no one knows anything at all. I’ve tried that one on for size many times, and it will always have a hold on me.

In 2004 I set out to conquer the untamed stories by declaring a little corner of the Blogger empire my missionary space—again, in Jordan’s sense. I was not looking to convert the world—I was looking to build my cathedral.

And I did attempt to build it. First, from Protagorean foundations. Then, from Popperian ones. Then, from Humean and social science inspired ones. Between these episodes of attempted craftsmanship was a virtual ocean of reading, quoting, linking, writing, and arguing. Between attempts to raise up an elegant edifice was messy trial and error, and intense devotion to particular ideas for brief and longer periods of time.

The truth is in the mess, and not the edifice. No matter how many cathedrals I start I am always living in the untamed lands, where stories vie for my allegiance. Where sometimes I think Pyrrho was right and we are all little more than dreamers and storytellers, and the rest of the time I am merely certain that my own mind is systematically working against me.

Writing at The Ümlaut this year has been good for me; I have followed trains of thought in a far more focused, less messy manner. Still, I scrutinize my work and wonder whether they form a whole or if they are incompatible pieces to entirely distinct puzzles. Are this, this, and this part of one story or am I contradicting myself? What about this and this? I often have trouble trusting my answer to this question.

Still, I continue to work on my next cathedral, clinging to the hope that this will be the one. I feel I have made a great deal more progress than the last time I made the attempt. But is this an accurate reading of my circumstances or is this the same false confidence I always feel when setting about a task of this sort?

If I have given the impression up until this point that I have some sort of anxiety on this score, I hope you’ll forgive me for that bit of stylistic indulgence. I actually love it down here, in the untamed lands, where I’m never more than half-sure of anything. I don’t know if I’m going to ever finish a cathedral with solid enough foundations to last long, but I do know that I am so much better at navigating these parts than I was even a year or two ago. And I am incomparably better than the 19-year-old kid who planted a flag in the blogosphere nine years ago.

When it comes to cognitive biases and imperfections, I have grown comfortable thinking of my mind as a table at which many strange characters sit. One of those is GMU-style libertarianism, informed largely by people like my friend Eli and the GMU professors who have a large presence in the blogosphere and on Twitter. Then there are people close to me in my life, whose idiosyncrasies I know well; I often think about how any one of them might react to a particular story I have read. Then there are the people I seek out who often force me to experience the cognitive dissonance of disagreement when I know the person I am disagreeing with is intelligent—people like Noah Smith, Claudia Sahm, Bernard Yu—they are numerous these days, I am proud to say. And there are others.

This isn’t to say that I have cataloged the sources of my biases and elevated myself above them—I am just as imperfectly human as anyone else. But I am more comfortable living with my biases than I used to be.

I really am serious about this next effort to build something, but I am also keenly aware that a cathedral is something that no individual can build alone—indeed it cannot even be built in a single generation. We speak of people like Daniel Kahneman or Everett Rogers—to say nothing of Adam Smith or Charles Darwin—as having done immensely important work because after decades or centuries of other people building on top of what they did, we now know that their work was, indeed, important.

So I will continue to do work in the hopes that I can add a few pieces to something bigger than I could ever possibly accomplish on my own.

And in the meantime, I will revel in the madness of this perpetually untamed space of stories and uncertainty.