1 min read

Take seriously but not authoritatively

I'm reading some questionable books lately. Questionable in the sense that the contents should be questioned. If I didn't question them I wouldn't be getting much value out of them – just another ideology. (Strictly speaking I guess that's most, maybe all books.) Also: They are often wrong and stupid if taken at face value.

This is unfortunate. It makes them harder to read. They still seem worth reading some of.

(I've mostly given up on one of them, for its vagueness and the way that it skips over the hard questions to get to the easy questions.)

Mostly, this means asking: Do I feel that could be true? Do I think so? And if true, in what sense? I don't find that I have to agonize about this. If I pay attention it's pretty clear how I feel about it: Maybe it feels bad but not obviously wrong, or feels good but seems dubious, or it feels probably good or bad overall. I take the text seriously enough to ask the question about it, but the text can't answer the question for me — it's not a matter of reading closer for the authoritative answer.

This unfortunately makes reading more work. I have to pay enough attention to notice these feelings.

It still seems worth doing. Some topics are impossible to approach without running into this problem whether you read a book or not. Books put the least time pressure on me to understand. By definition I'm avoiding the parts that are obviously bullshit. Meanwhile, I don't have to care about the non-obvious bullshit until it becomes obvious bullshit.

(Of course, if it mattered I would do more work. But for two out of three books it mostly doesn't matter to me, and the remaining one I have already done half of the work.)

Here's to bullshit reading.