How to Think

A Survival Guide for a World at Odds

[Amazon Link]

I think I put this book on my to-get pile via recommendation from Arnold Kling's blog. Thanks to the University Near Here's diligent ILL workers, who snagged me a copy from—egads—Ball State University, out in Muncie, Indiana. It's a short book (156 pages), but it's full of insight, wit, and wisdom. The author, Alan Jacobs, is Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program of Baylor University. But don't hold that against him.

It starts by noting that a lot of books about thinking have a trait in common: "they're really depressing to read." (True, but I would add: if you're in a certain frame of mind, they can be pretty funny too.) But Jacobs' point is that they concentrate on all the many, many, many ways our thoughts can lead us astray, by falling into one or more of they myriad traps: all sorts of biases, fallacies, illusions, and innumeracies. Jacobs observes: "What a chronicle of ineptitude, arrogance, sheer dumbassery."

Jacobs doesn't shy away describing such pitfalls, but he has a number of good ideas about how to avoid them. We can, and should, do better, and here's how.

It would be weird if some of Jacobs' examples didn't come from the world of politics. He handles them artfully and (to my mind, even though I am a sensitive snowflake about such things) inoffensively. I came away with no particular idea about what Jacobs' political positions are. As it should be, I suppose.

I was pleasantly surprised that a lot of the authors Jacobs quotes and draws upon are some of the ones I've learned from too: Daniel Kahneman, Jonathan Haidt, David Foster Wallace, … But also some I probably should go back and study: C. S. Lewis, Eric Hoffer, …

Spoiler alert: the book's Afterword contains the "Thinking Person's Checklist", and some brave soul has Twitterized it:

In short: highly recommended to anyone honestly concerned with the quality of their thinking. I should probably buy the damn thing and re-read it every couple months.

URLs du Jour

2018-04-01

[Amazon Link]

I was going to say something clever about the Easter/April Fools coincidence, but then I saw this t-shirt for sale at Amazon… which eloquently says it all. Probably too late to buy for this year, but you can save it for 2029.

Joke's on you, Satan.

  • Proverbs 14:15 is another two-parter where the parts don't quite mesh:

    15 The simple believe anything,
        but the prudent give thought to their steps.

    The first part isn't bad. Might be as close as the Bible comes to the observation Chesterton (never quite) made: "A man who won’t believe in God will believe in anything."

    As for the second part: isn't that, more or less, the definition of "prudent"? I'm looking for a proverb, not a dictionary entry! Proverbialist, you should have quit while you were ahead.


  • The Google LFOD Alert rang for Hot Air's Jazz Shaw: New Hampshire Democrats Edging Away From The Second Amendment. He is puzzled by a NH Journal interview with Rep. Katherine Rogers (D-Merrimack) who says that Second Amendment repeal is "an interesting discussion that we should have.”

    I understand that Rogers has a D after her name and all, but isn’t this still the state with the motto, Live Free or Die? (It’s on all of their license plates.) It was only last year when they went full Constitutional Carry. You don’t need a license or special permit to carry handguns or long guns, either concealed or openly. They have the castle doctrine. They honor true reciprocity.

    Yes, I know, Jazz. But it's also the state where Bernie whacked Hillary 60.4%-38.0% on the Democrat side in the 2016 Primary. NH Democrats are pretty much as goofy statist "progressive" as Democrats in every other state.

    And as for our media…


  • New Hampshire has its own Commie Public Radio network, and (among other things) it reports on local poets. For example: Liz Ahl on Life as New Hampshire 'Insider'.

    Professor Ahl teaches at Plymouth State and lives in Holderness. The interview concerns her new book, Beating the Bounds, which refers to the statute requiring that the "lines between the towns in this state shall be perambulated, and the marks and bounds renewed, once in every 7 years forever, by the selectmen of the towns, or by such persons as they shall in writing appoint for that purpose."

    Then, of course, there are also things like town meetings, and the transfer station, and the Live Free or Die spirit that our touched on in some of these poems. So it’s New Hampshire, but it is particularly rural New Hampshire, and I think because of its age, because of its oldness, its sense of American history and personal family history, the generations at Old Home Day, really made an impression on me.

    You have to be OK with poetry that reads like prose with random line breaks. Sample: Evangelical Pastors Lay Hands On Donald Trump In The Oval Office, July 12, 2017. And one of her book recommendations:

    4.   Citizen by Claudia Rankine. "This genre-bending, heart-breaking, rage-stoking book is now required American reading, as far as I'm concerned. The retelling of such a range and accumulation of racist incidents -- from daily microaggressions to outright murder -- seems so burdensome to the book's narrator, yet the telling feels so necessary. The use of visual imagery is also highly compelling."

    My guess: her classes might be tendentious.

    Also: I think they should do a Saturday Night Live sketch where she is played by Aidy Bryant. I'd watch that.


  • And our third LFOD alert was actually a false alarm, but (nevertheless) worth a read. It's from the Irish Times, a writer named Patrick Freyne, and a reminder that reality TV isn't that different between Ireland and the US. The subject is the series "Room to Improve", and the show's précis is: Irish folk submit their homes to architect Dermot Bannon for renovation.

    Freyne headlines his review: Go back to Dublin with yourself Dermot Bannon. We’re grand here in the dark.

    The penultimate episode (last Sunday, RTÉ One) is a classic. Dermot is faced with his worst enemy, farm folk who have no truck with his metropolitan notions. Bigger windows? An open-plan kitchen-cum-diningroom? Natural light? Would you go back to Dublin with yourself, we’re grand here in the dark. Over the course of the show, china-collecting teacher Katie and taciturn farmer Pádraig slowly drive Dermot to the brink of madness.

    Ah, but what about LFOD? Ah, there 'tis, in the spoiler-filled summary:

    Anyway, it’s all building towards a twist ending in which it’s revealed that Dermot Bannon had been a ghost the whole time, like Nicole Kidman in The Others or Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard. But then, ultimately, everyone admits that the house does look pretty good, and Dermot tries to convince Katie that maybe he had something to do with this and tries to convince himself that he does, in fact, exist. “I’ll give him 10 out of 10, but don’t tell him,” Katie says to the camera, clearly happy that she has destroyed a man.

    Now that's funny, even in America.