Good morning, fellow Citizen.
Welcome to the second issue of No Easy Answers, a curated newsletter for curious, courageous Citizens. Our goal here is to find meaningful signal in a world full of noise, and to think more clearly about the issues of our time.
Let me start with a mea culpa.
The first issue of the newsletter came out damn near five months ago, right after the election. Back then, I'd convinced myself it would be a weekly thing. But that commitment lasted... exactly one week. In other words, it was never a commitment at all.
In fact, that's true of everything I've written on this site so far. It's all been whipped together in a flurry of inspiration and energy. Basically, I only write when I feel like it.
And to be frank, I'm finding that unacceptable.
I have various goals and ambitions for this project. I want it to be an oasis for people seeking refuge from our toxic discourse. I want it to inspire individual Citizens in a meaningful way, and perhaps one day influence the broader culture. I want to play my part, however tiny, in making the world a little less batshit insane.
But mostly, this site is for me. It's where I get to figure out what it means to be a Citizen, and then share my personal journey of trying—and likely struggling—to live up to that lofty label.
Maybe I'm being too hard on myself, but I don't believe I can be a Citizen "when I feel like it" or when it's convenient. That's not how it works. To be a Citizen is to show up consistently and courageously, to uphold your core values week after week, year after year. It's to be a one-person bulwark against the entropy and insanity of the world.
Anyhow, this is all preamble to my announcement. I finally made the commitment to show up weekly with this newsletter. For at least one year.
I've blocked off a three hour chunk every Saturday morning to read and write and think. And of course, to send this newsletter. I'm calling it "Citizen Saturdays."
The format will likely change over time as I experiment with new things. But for now, the plan is to curate three intriguing pieces of media that have expanded my thinking in some way.
So with that out of the way, here's what I read this week.
Holy moly. I can't believe it took me so long to read this. This one's important, and I suspect I'll come back to it many times in the coming years.
The core idea is that our relationship with language is inextricably linked with our ability to think clearly. When our language gets muddled, so does our thinking. And of course, when our thinking fails, so does our ability to communicate effectively and solve problems.
One of the ideas I'm noodling with for Citizen Within is something I call the "language precision project." The goal would be to build out a database of commonly-used terms and their definitions. That way, when we have discussions around them, we can ensure that we're all talking about the same thing.
For instance, I often use the term Classical Liberal. But in the modern discourse, "liberal" has become synonymous with "progressive" and "Democrat" and "the left." And that's not only unhelpful, but borderline dangerous. If we lose the word Liberal in the culture, we're at risk of losing the invaluable ideas that define Classical Liberalism—freedom of expression, rule of law, individual rights, etc.
So even though it may be quixotic, I'm going to keep using the word Liberal. And hopefully along the way, I'll change some folks' minds about what the term actually means.
Anyhow, here's my favorite quote from the Orwell piece.
I loved this piece from Nat Eliason because it gets at the root of why so many of our culture war battles are unproductive and silly. We're not fighting over the actual ideas, but over hyper-simplified, emotionally-compelling abstractions of those ideas.
Nat coins a useful phrase that I think will help us better understand what's going on in those moments of disagreement and tension.
A Schrödinger Claim is a statement that could be true, or false, depending on "what's in the box." [...] When someone says "masks don't work" or "masks work," it’s tempting to jump to saying "you're wrong" depending on what perspective you're coming from. But we simply don't have enough information to know. It could be true, it could be false, but we won't know until we open the box and see what they really mean.
Oh man, where to even start with this one. Honestly, this might be one of the most original, innovative pieces of content on the internet. The format is just so, so cool.
But more importantly, it introduces a few concepts that I believe to be essential for making better long-term decisions, and living in harmony with diverse ideas and cultures. Those ideas are Bentoism and Coherent Pluralism. If you really want to go down the rabbit hole, you can follow those links. But if nothing else, carve out half an hour to read the piece above. It truly is delightful.
Thanks for reading. Hope you found something here that helps you make sense of the world, and act with more agency and intention within it.
Good luck out there, and godspeed.