October 26, 2016

Making Space for Notes—0. Thinking in the open

Hello friend,

I need a quite space to think out load.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I go through several different processes for thinking. First, I have to be alone process everything I take in. Then—even though I’m an introvert—I synthesize best when talking to friends. So that’s what I want this to be: part of the informal conversations that are necessary to craft ideas.

And that conversation happens best in a place that is comfortable, without outside distraction. And despite basically being an email campaign system—tinyletter has come to embody that. Weird, that.

Other spaces are too cacophonous, with too many other things vying for attention. They have their own cultures, grammar and language that is internal to their community, social norms and convention setting structure to how people talk to each other.

I also thought about building out a new system, but that would take too much effort. When I build stuff for myself, I have a habit of wanting to add more metadata so the structure of the data also reflects where the connections are being made. And not having the space is creating a traffic jam in my mind that needs an outlet. I need a place where I can impose my own structures and on my own terms. So the rules are: 1. This is a place to collect thoughts and chew on them, most will be half-formed, finished ideas go elsewhere. 2. I’ll try to use proper grammar, but no promises. Sometimes sentences will be half-finished and I won’t catch it. If you see an idea half-finished and you’re so inclined, let me know, maybe we’ll get somewhere interesting together. 3. Yes, this is a newsletter, but it comes from a need for a new conversation space. So please, send me your thoughts, links to things you think are pertinent, or even if you just want to shoot the wind.

These letters will come in three parts:

  1. The letter—this first section is a topic I’m working on, sometimes it’ll be topical and try to provide context in a way that isn’t happening elsewhere, the core what what we’ll be thinking through are notes and ideas I come across while working on Making Space for Democracy (this letter’s namesake). Think of this as a mix of the rough draft and footnotes section to those pieces.

  2. Normative connections—This is the spiritual successor to my old Normative Connections Tumblr. Making connections between silos and breaking down categories. Sometimes this will be totally connected to the first part, but not always.

  3. Miscellany—I have a habit of not closing browser tabs because I never feel like I’m done engaging with their content and bookmarking for my archive isn’t enough. I hope that by systematically jotting down some thoughts, I can get myself to close out some tabs. And then maybe I can free up some RAM and not have to restart Safari every day.

This letter is for the thinking that happens during the thinking and processing, when connections are being made, and before the outline is finalized. Figuring out the archives can come later.

Finally, it follows the same guiding principles as the rest of my writing. I’m still writing the style guide, but here are the opening and guiding principles:

The Making Space for Democracy Style Guide

Language is social. Using the right grammar, tools, and style signals that you belong, that you are not an interloper, that you know what you are talking about. But specialized language also oppresses, it acts as gatekeeper to keep those who do not know the right words out of the enclave.

MSfD is about unlocking the gate and giving people the tools to participate in conversations that are important to all of us. And because gates and fences are as effective at holding people in as they are out, MSfD is not just about expanding access to scholarship, MSfD is about expanding what it mean to do scholarship. Insight into the multifaceted problems that we work on can come from anywhere and anyone, regardless of our academic credentials. MSfD is about modeling a more inclusive and collaborative form of intellectual inquiry.

Guiding principles

  • Fiercely compassionate, not detached indifference.
  • Radically empathetic, not dispassionately unninvested.
  • Intellectually generous, not smug gatekeeping.
  • Passionately curious, not casual insouciance.
  • Rigorous and thorough, not superficial and hollow.
  • Angrily optimistic, not bitterly nihilistic.

As a part of that, MSfD…

  • is inclusive by default.
  • emphasizes situated knowledge and experiences over theory.
  • is skeptical of systems of power and authority while also cognizant of their value.
  • prefers incisive questions over clever answers.
  • aims to provide potential paths to progress as a part of its critique.
  • respects and empowers by making academic terms and grammar accessible to non-expert audiences.

Finally, I don’t know how regular it’ll be, but I hope to send regular letters on Fridays. Share if you are so inclined, this is meant to be intimate, not private. And of course your thoughts are deeply appreciated.

Letter 1 is shaping up to be about decolonizing democracy and building a civics of love and joy. So here goes the thing, just an email between friends.

See you Friday,
BCY