Worth Reading - 6/12

1. The move to silence unpopular political opinions has gone so far that a techie recently got disinvited to speak about a platform he created at a tech conference because he blogs politically unacceptable ideas under a pseudonym. While the conference has every right to choose whomever they wish to speak, the petulant desire for ideological homogeneity in culture is getting out of control when an expert on a subject is declared to be an unacceptable speaker on that topic because some people don't like political views unassociated with the  topic of his presentation:

The decision to toss Yarvin is foolish but not because it’s censorship. By making the issue about Yarvin being a “distraction,” Miller has created a perverse incentive. By that logic, anyone could get tossed from the conference if enough people object for any reason at all. Miller admits as much when he says he hasn’t even read Yarvin’s political writing. (I can’t blame him.) Ergo, make enough noise, and you can get your target kicked out of Strange Loop. This is the mentality of “no platforming,” as it’s known in the U.K., a tactic that was once used to exclude (sensibly, in my opinion) National Front members from public life but has now become so widespread that even the hard-left New Statesman is objecting to the practice. If the problem is, as Miller wrote to Yarvin, that people’s “reactions are overshadowing the talk and acting as a distraction,” then all objectors need to do is create a distraction to get a presenter thrown out.

2. A letter to young essayists. A plea for thoughtful, creative engagement with the world:

I have often wondered why people who give you so sprightly a conversational account of their thinking balk at putting prose on paper. It seems to be that there is a kind of reverse gatekeeper, a St. Peter of the Writing Threshold, who makes sure that nothing gets out that isn’t righteously stiff and properly dead. The best advice is to write it as you think it and postpone the censorship until the first revision. It is easier said than done because it requires self-confidence, the confidence that your uncurried and uncombed inward speech is interesting. Believe it: Since you trust your internal interlocutor more than anyone else, what you say to yourself is going to be interesting—as interesting as human beings and the human condition always will be. But it also means starting way before the deadline, very rightly so called. Last-minute writing is forced, false and lifeless. To be sure, due dates should loom, but as a gentle remote pressure. Senior essays, as you know, are due on a midnight of late winter. The dean has the Joshua-power to make the moon stand still in the valley of Ajalon, and so some seniors “get their essay in” (funny locution) two hours late and yet on time, but that’s not the way.

But I want to say more about this so frequent disconnect between internally spoken and externally written speech. Conversation has to paper-speech a little bit the relation of noise to music. The former is usually diffuse and jagged, now potential infinite, now abruptly ended, now a sound continuum, now a discrete ejaculation, while the latter is supposed to be controlled, composed, articulated, completable as well as deliberately finished. Above all, speech is blessedly evanescent (“Forget I ever said it” is sometimes efficacious), whereas something down in writing and out in public is pretty undeletable. But then writing can be censored before it is released, while the moment for biting back the spoken word, the moment, in that wonderful Homeric phrase, before it has “escaped the barrier of your teeth,” is easily missed, and then it’s too late.

3. From the New Yorker, "All Humanities Dissertations Considered as a Single Tweet":

What looked like a moment of failure, confusion, or ugliness in this well-known work is better seen as directions for reading the whole.

A problem you thought you could solve defines your field; you can’t imagine the field without the problem.

The only people able to understand this work properly cannot communicate that understanding to you.

Those two apparently incompatible versions of a thing are better regarded as parts of the same, larger thing.

4. David Bebbington on the task of being a historian: