This post was originally written in 2013 and posted on a defunct blog. It’s been migrated here because I still think it’s worth sharing.
It’s been a while since I hypothesized about doing this essay series— and because it’s only just getting started now, I’m going to keep things organized as best I can, but I may come back and tweak things later. I’m certainly not going to prepare an overall outline for people to access unless I really follow through with more than just a few posts.
But without further ado…
VIOLENCE & VIOLATION
This essay, or set of essays, is about the isolated infliction of suffering, about what happens when patterns of suffering develop, and about the importance of observing suffering on those two distinct levels. More casually, this is about why we do not live in utopia. Talking about all of this will get complicated enough to require that I establish many “first principles,” i.e. some kind of philosophical framework that I expect people to accept as given before I proceed onward with the real bulk of my writing. I will attempt to rationalize each initial premise, too, rather than ask that readers simply assume everything and move on.
But first, truly first, I want to establish the audience for whom this has been written, and why.
I’m sure more exist than what I can think of right now, but philosophical treatises tend to land in a few basic categories:
• Academic papers intended for achieving a degree or other concrete personal advancement
• Academic papers created by a professional in the field, for dissemination amongst peers
• Either one of the above, with the twist that these papers become so well-regarded that they become expected reading for newcomers to the same field, or even to utter laypersons, which may result in some revisions
• “Popular” nonfiction that intentionally addresses itself to laypersons but is written by an informed scholar and/or is intelligent regardless of author
• “Popular” nonfiction that intentionally addresses itself to laypersons but is written by a charlatan and/or is complete tripe
• The rare attempt to straddle both the purely academic and the purely popular without alienating either readership
I would like to say I’m trying that last thing, but since I have a particular academic (and anti-academic) pedigree, and since I have chosen to simply write in the way that feels most natural, I believe I’ll inevitably produce something that alienates some people while enthralling others, just not with specific regard to their OWN background, only their personality. On the one hand, these days I still try to explain my thoughts precisely, thoroughly, and with some measure of real eloquence, which should earn me points with more “hardcore” intellectuals— as it did during my school days. On the other hand, I have absolutely zero patience for language that either a) uses unhelpfully esoteric vocabulary, or b) discusses a perfectly common sense topic as though it were rocket science; this trait of mine, I suspect, will convince some of the same intellectuals that I’m writing for some lowest common denominator in a trashy, less-than-rigorous ploy to market “pop ethics” to the masses. Meanwhile, though, I can hardly guarantee that my writing is automatically accessible to every English speaker on the planet. But I am at least strongly motivated by a desire to have a large, diverse audience; if my essays could somehow get on a bestseller list, I would openly consider that a success, insofar as it could indicate accessibility on some level. I might be wary if my essays only got there by a clever publisher marketing campaign.
So, to you, the reader— and I’m just going to call you you, at this point, because doing otherwise feels dry after a while— I cannot make any promises, but I hope to put as much intellectual rigor into this as is GENUINELY, humanly necessary, and I hope to keep my wording clear even when it is not concise. It will often not be concise. If I allude to a particular thinker from the past (or a contemporary), I will try to always explain who they are in-paragraph or via a footnote. I will also try to not rely on too many references in general. I will favor providing meaningful statistics over tossing in meaningful quotations. I believe that any empirical claims I make require empirical evidence, but I believe I’m largely working from scratch— beginning from a place where any person, regardless of education or scientific inclinations, could manage to do the same thing.
Philosophers themselves would be tempted to interpret this procedure as me using a priori reasoning, a.k.a. the reasoning used “prior” to the application of the senses, a.k.a. pure logic alone. But I would like to assure them this is anything but. The senses are the immediate point from which I will really start this essay, and I will also immediately explain why. I just don’t rely upon other people to tell me facts that I already know, and that any individual can find themselves.
In some way, I guess, this entire essay ought to be something that everyone already knows, too, but maybe— very maybe— it hasn’t been said all together before. On that unfortunately considerable possibility, I now depend.