Alan Jacobs is one of my favorite internet people – his various blogs and mini blogs and the sole reason I used to go to twitter have long provided interesting ideas, visuals, and social commentary that was worth reading. A number of years ago I LOVED his book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. This book is written in that vein. It’s a personal exploration of the whys and hows of – instead of reading – thinking.
I had little investment in the last Presidential campaign and election, but found myself on election night watching the returns and not able to turn away. The absolute shock of the cable commentators to understand what was happening and how people could vote in the way they did was worth watching. It was demonstrative of much of what Jacobs talks about here in How to Think: the Repugnant Cultural Other, the failure to listen, to empathize, to see past the filters, myths, and metaphors that hold thinking together. Jacobs’ instructive defining would go a long way to help us all not only listen to each other, but hear and understand – to not speak past one another but to know.
The worst part of this review is that while I’m sure I didn’t understand everything in the book, I didn’t really disagree with anything … which means I wasn’t thinking about it as I should. I do think that seeking community is different from desiring membership in an Inner Ring, that being able to switch interaction as appropriate to the social setting is important, and that I care way too much about what others think. I do think that ideas held loosely yet firmly is wise, but that employing empathy toward the situation of others is wise. I do see how the myths and metaphors I surround myself with are helpful and harmful.
I suppose I do disagree that both/and instead of either/or isn’t necessarily the lazy way out. I don’t really have good explanations for that, but I see so many false dichotomies espoused that could be resolved by seeing ‘both’ as viable options that his argument there fell on deaf ears.
Overall, this is my favorite kind of Jacobs books. It’s well written with many references and -be still my soul- footnotes, yet it’s very personal with many stories and narratives to keep it going. It’s conversational, yet formal at the same time like Pleasures of Reading …