Welcome to The Complicater!
I have decided to start a blog. The following is a brief explanation.
Jonathan Franzen’s novel Purity, which otherwise has entirely nothing to do with this blog, contains the following passage:
“ ‘What if you could start your own magazine? What would you do with it?’
I said I would try to serve the truth in its full complexity. I told her about the politically polarized house I’d grown up in, my father’s blind progressivism, my mother’s faith in corporations, and how effectively the two of them could poke holes in each other’s politics.
[. . . .]
‘If you already know you want to serve the truth, you should serve it. Start a magazine like nobody else’s. Not liberal, not conservative. A magazine that pokes holes in both sides at the same time.’
‘That’s good!’ ”
Before your eyes roll so far back in your head that you need medical attention, let me make two quick clarifications: 1) I am not a journalist, I don’t pretend to be one, and this blog is not trying to be a traditional journalistic outfit, nor a magazine (though I strongly encourage my journo friends to submit things) 2) I don’t think I’d ever say that I want to “serve the truth,” though if I had to choose that’s not a terrible thing to serve.
Still, melodrama aside, this passage stuck with me. It stuck with me for the description of a bi-political family, which I and it seems virtually all of my friends have, and for the feeling that ideologues can so often put forth the worst arguments — a feeling for which I have deep sympathies. Most importantly, I’ve wanted to start a blog for a while and that name sums up what I generally want to write about: complicating things.
Admittedly, not all things need complicating, such as climate change policy, or Nazis. The valuation necessary for traditional cost benefit analysis often fails when applied to climate change. What is walking to work “worth” in terms of the value in mitigated global temperature rise if that value is not realized for another century, if at all, considering the overwhelming inherent collective action problem. A professor of mine has openly considered whether to print syllabi, thus using paper and its attendant resources, or not, thus requiring students to access it electronically, which uses electricity, which is primarily produced from coal and gas fired plants. Such valuation pontificating and trade-off consideration can be suffocating. It might be easier to just tell someone to walk to work and shut up about it. Similarly, people may argue that while, like all humans, Nazis have complex and nuanced reasons for thinking and acting as they do, it’s better to just punch them in the face.
Still, I am a yeah-but-what-if kind of guy. I am drawn to unpopular thoughts and thinkers, nuance, and frustrating logical consistency. I also just write a lot, and like explaining things to people. So, against the better advice of some and on the worser advice of others, I am starting this blog.
A Jonathan Franzen inspired blog about political discourse admittedly sounds like a Hamilton-inspired Lena Dunham web series in terms of its ability to make any meaningful dent in the awful state of conversation we are in today. Luckily, I have no pretension that this blog will do much good on that front (I may have plenty of other pretensions…), and just to reiterate: this blog has nothing actually to do with Jonathan Franzen. Again, I mostly just write a lot, and like explaining things to people.
I want to especially thank Dylan Clancy for the awesome artwork. He has his own blog, by the way. The image (which you can see by going to the publication home page) is an adaptation of Rodin’s Thinker. According to Mr. Clancy: “I thought it would be very apt to use the well known “The Thinker” iconography but complicate it with its actual identity, namely that it was originally only a small part of a larger work Rodin was creating known as The Gates of Hell. While he ended up casting the famous larger versions of this figure its intended role was specifically Dante the Poet contemplating his poem, sitting within the transom of a massive doorway that’s crawling with characters and themes from The Inferno.” It also looks really cool.
I also want to thank Charlie Pogacar for editing help, and the several other people who have provided, and perhaps will even continue to provide, some editing support along the way.
For those whose eyes have not rolled forward yet, please know that I take no offense at you not reading more of my writing. For the rest of you, enjoy! (I hope!)
For those wishing to write something: the very loose theme of this publication is, as may now be evident, “complicating things.” In the absence of enough work product to be discerning, however, the theme is basically whatever you want it to be.
I would aim for something more than 500 words and less than 1500, but neither of those are strict limits. I would err on the side of non-fiction and no reporting, but those are also vague parameters. I will use footnotes, and so can you.
Feel free to contact me by any means necessary to send me something.