2022 is coming to an end. That’s seven years since I started this. My gosh. The years do pass more quickly when there are more of them, each additional one having an ever smaller impact on the totality.
Not to say that this has been an ordinary year. It’s been quite different. I’m of course speaking of the Pluralism and Civil Exchange grant from the Mercatus Institute I got this spring. I applied late January, explaining my intention to write a book, if only I could release enough time. I got the good news in February — I could barely believe it to be honest! I received the funds in March, and took part time off work in April.
At the time I didn’t feel I knew how it all would work out. In my post It’s a book! in april I wondered if I might be able to both write the book and do regular posts, since I hadn’t actually had much or any time carved out to write before. Now, 8 months later, I must say results have been mixed. I’ve been reasonably productive with the book, I have a rather detailed outline for all of it (see below), a majority of the text written, and only feel slightly stressed about finishing it before I can’t afford to work part time anymore. I expect those stress levels to increase as time goes on though.
The thing is, a lot of time slips away. Reading books as research takes time, and there’s more of that for a book than for shorter posts. And life tends to get in the way; kids get sick, parents get sick, and I get sick. Other duties sometimes has to come first, because “I have time” for them and it can be hard to insist, to yourself and to others, that no, this must count as work too, even if it isn’t as urgent as a report deadline or whatever.
I don’t mean to complain or anything, it’s going well. I’m mostly feeling a little pressed because the economic situation in the world means costs are going up and it’s looking like the grant I got might not buy me quite as much time as I had hoped and expected.
From the beginning I did try to write new posts as well, and I published about one a month until September, when I started to get a little antsier about time slowly running out. I feel some guilt towards my Patreon supporters for this, as I feel I owe them more regular material, but I hope they’ll be ok with supporting the book writing for a while instead. Because that’s where it’s at right now, and I’m not likely to write other posts until it is finished. This phase is all about the book, and I’m hunkering down. It’s a lot more “introverted” work, just working and working and working and working with no feedback.
In the first phase of writing I scribbled on paper how all the ideas I wanted to fit in would combine and work in order. It’s quite a challenge. Putting things in sequence when they’re really a web of cross-referenced ideas, each needing the others to fully make sense, mean you have to make some tough decisions. You easily get ahead of yourself wanting to reference things coming later, or you get to that situation where one idea readily leads towards two other things but you have to pick one of them and then try to find some place to out the other.
It has come together reasonably well and while I keep making small adjustments to the plan, chapter structure and content is pretty much fixed. I won’t go into details just yet but as it looks now it’ll be divided into five parts:
Part 1) Complex, dysfunctional disagreement in the postmodern condition (these headlines are just working descriptions, not titles). I’ll start with a “case study” touching on a controversy involving most ideas the book will later discuss, using a reworked and expanded version of Science, the Constructionists and Reality. Then an intro about the purpose of the book and some terminology to be used, including what makes disagreements complex and/or dysfunctional. It ends with a discussion of what the postmodern condition is (with some small stuff from Postmodernism vs. the Pomoid Cluster and Case Study: The War on Christmas), and the importance of incommensurability (including an extremely compressed version of my Bachelor’s Thesis).
Part 2) Language and what it does to us. This parts zoom in more on details and looks at the relationship between language and reality and how it’s less obvious and objective than we think. It goes on to discuss how the establishment of concepts and vocabulary is the central aspect of contemporary rhetoric more than traditional argumentation, and it contains, among others, parts of Cat Couplings (+revisited), Interpretation matrix: Free Trade Benefits Everyone, The Big List of Existing Things, Wordy Weapons of Is-Ought Alloy, and Beliefs are Endorsements.
Part 3) On narratives, general truths, and intuitions. Zooming out, this parts is about how facts and specifics are used to create narratives and grand generalizations of how the world works. How to we generalize and compress reality, what happens when different such compressions collide, and how does it work when we not only have different beliefs but different beliefs about what beliefs others have? After this, based on ideas in Partial Derivatives and Partial Narratives and in The Signal and the Corrective, I’ll turn more general and discuss deeper, more general narrative-like assumptions about how things work that tend to lie below explicit awareness and discussion, but influence how we interpret others and argue with them.
This is mostly new material, but part of it will discuss “cognitive decoupling”. Of all the things I’ve written, this one (from here originally and elaborated on here) seems have been the most ~successful, in that I regularly (and increasingly) see people use the terms on Twitter, in a way suggesting that others are expected to know what it means. I’ve always been wary of it’s adoption, since I intended it mostly as an afterthought and not as a load-bearing part of my thesis in that piece. And people use it to dunk on people too often, which I don’t approve of. Nonetheless, I think there’s a “there” there and that it belongs in the book.
Part 4) People are different. These low-level assumptions leads to a longer discussions of how people are different psychologically and how that affects our opinions of various things. It’ll range from discussions of supertasters, aphantasiacs and people with or without internal monologues, to the sort of things covered in The Political is Personal and The Self Compass. There’s also be some deeper discussions on political divisions based on this, with some stuff from The Tilted Political Compass and Platist Politics.
Part 5) The political animal. In the final part I’ll come back to a darker view of how all this work, how disagreement is rarely a matter of innocent misunderstanding. Using mostly new stuff discussing the work of Jonathan Haidt and Mercier and Sperber on the nature of reason, I’ll lead into some content from Facing the Elephant and The Prince and the Figurehead, on exactly how our minds trick us into being dishonest with a clean conscience. I’ll discuss how narratives are used to translate (launder) factual “isses” to moral and political “oughts”, with reference to Political Capital Flow Management and the Importance of Yutting, and finally end with some hope that greater awareness of this can reduce the damage it does, tying into the purpose described in the beginning.
The way forward
This is the right time to write the book. I got an offer to submit a pitch to a literary agent a few years ago and I didn’t feel quite ready then — and not just because I didn’t have enough time. As I wrote a year ago in my summary of 2021, the format is getting as little stale and I need to move on. A book is the perfect capstone to this phase, integrating the main body of ideas I’ve been working on. It makes me excited to keep going afterwards in ways regular posting no longer quite does. The thing is, I haven’t had as many “hits” the last two-three years as I had before, and part of it is that I’ve shied away from discussing specific issues (where I can more easily be wrong) in favor of more philosophical generalities as audience size grew in 2018-2019. Putting all the general-framework stuff in a book to refer to might open things up again and enable me to focus more on specifics, because what use is a framework if you can’t use it? Show, don’t tell, walk the walk, and so on.
That seems like a better idea that trying to pump out more “takes” that I suggested I should in 7 Hang-ups to Hang up On. I haven’t been able to shake those hangups — surprise surprise — and perhaps I should just lean into it and drop the idea that I need to publish more often. For many it’s better to write few but better things that can be relevant for longer. My “biggest hits” keep getting the most views even today, and visitors keep steadily trickling in from a wide variety of places, without new posts apparently being the main draw. Sure, it’s quite a lot less than at the peak a few years ago, but the 40k-ish visits I got this year happened without me doing much of anything in the way of “marketing”.
So yeah, with the book as a capstone I’ll feel free to move on after it, to more applications or to other books (I have at least three ideas for other books, with one reasonably well outlined, but that comes later…).
So, to everyone who reads this, thank you for your support, and a happy new year to you all.
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