Apologies that this blog has become essentially dormant of late. I’d hoped to keep it ticking over while I wrote my book manuscript and perhaps try out some of my ideas for the book on it – as with my previous post – but the reality is I’m not finding the time to write both a book and a blog while simultaneously trying to lead an actual biological existence not confined to a 15 x 9 inch screen. Hopefully I’m in endgame with the book manuscript and this blog will spring into life again in the autumn. Meanwhile, I’m happy to keep this little corner of the internet pulsing by bringing you another book review from a valued contributor to Small Farm Future, Clem Weidenbenner. It sounds like the book Clem’s reviewing is one I ought to read as I try to thread the argument of my own book through mountains of vehemently-held and conflicting opinions. Sadly I’m now in book overload, both in the reading and the writing of them, so it’ll have to wait awhile. But my thanks to Clem for this rendering of its core:
Thinking on a Small Farm
Our benevolent host has long advocated for small farms and in many postings here at SFF has offered political approaches as means to empower them – or at the very least to not actively stand in their path. And the community of commenters here at SFF have also shared thoughts and interests along these lines. Brexit, Populism and the ascent of Trump, negative features of colonialism, causes and fallout from the financial crisis a decade ago – these subjects fascinate and invigorate lively debate here at SFF and among society at large. When matters as these stir up emotion and enflame the passions of disputants the level of discourse may descend to levels of counterproductive infighting. What course might we adopt to steer away from trash talk, insult, and invective? How might we share and discuss disagreements with a view to find common ground, or if not common ground at least some level of common understanding?
Alan Jacobs offers some thoughts on these questions. In his book How to Think1, Dr. Jacobs takes a stab at what we, as a society, might attempt on behalf of thinking, thinking together, and respecting our fellow thinkers. The hubris of the title aside, Alan’s effort here is a modest attempt to call for listening as much as for thinking. Engaged listening. Reflection. Community participation in the act of thinking.
At 156 pages, this text is decidedly shorter than Adam Tooze’s Crashed (reviewed here at SFF back in March by Michelle Galimba). For those familiar with Dr. Jacobs very capable writing style this book will not disappoint. He flows from one point to the next. He outlines examples and offers footnotes for those wishing to dig further into the subjects at hand. He does make a nod to Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow2 (which one might consider a book about ‘How We Think’) – but I wish he’d developed the contrast between his and Kahneman’s efforts a bit more. For instance, one might retitle Jacob’s book ‘How We Should Think’.
Alan explicitly moves thinking from the singular effort of an individual to the collective effort of a group. Almost a ‘We think therefore we are’ to riff on Descartes. Well, not exactly – for in How to Think Dr. Jacobs does get to offering advice on how to participate in collective thinking; how to cultivate habits that prevent bad behavior while participating in collective thinking. This may be the strongest asset for the effort. And in terms of Thinking on a Small Farm, for the community where local agricultural pursuits can survive and prosper, there is plenty here to take hold of and mull over.
I do have a quibble (hard to believe, right?). In making a point about an idea offered by Scott Alexander, Jacobs writes the following sentence, “Since Alexander wrote that initial post, an article has appeared based on research that confirms his hypothesis.” (page 73). I’d have preferred he use ‘supports his hypothesis’ instead. If we’re going to think together and think with a scientific method, we might want to test hypotheses – toss them if they deserve being tossed and accept them so long as data to hand support their being accepted. ‘Confirms a hypothesis’ goes too far.
In a sentence – Nice little book, brief, engaging, and valuable.
- Jacobs, A. 2017. How to Think. Currency.
- Kahneman, D. 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Other titles one might take a look at:
Forni, P. M. 2011. The Thinking Life. St Martin’s Press [also a smallish tome, more focused on civility, a bit preachy – but quick and full of tasty bits]
Levitin, D. J. 2016. A Field Guide to Lies. Dutton. [twice the size of the former, good introduction to critical thinking, timely help in discovering the misdirections or mistakes offered by others]