Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Triumph of the rational

I finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's Blink the other day, and Harry had mentioned that he was reading Freakonomics, another book in a similar vein of social science applied to interesting topics. I saw that Gladwell had given it a glowing review, so I downloaded and listened to most of it on my ride to and from Charlotte today.

I could (and probably will) blog about both these books for several days, but for now just let me say that they are renewing my faith in academic research. Gladwell and Levitt have taken disciplines that always struck me as relatively squishy (psychology and social science) and total redeemed them for me. They are extremely rigorous in citing (and explaining) the research that backs up their theses . . . and yet, they haven't lost sight of the fundamental questions that are driving the inquiry. It gives me a sense of hope that a single researcher can tackle an interesting and important problem, and discover things that really help us to understand ourselves. My conversation with Kenny the other night, and reading these books, is making me wonder what kind of questions in the realm of education could be answered in this same insightful and rigorous way.

Driving back I also listened to NPR, and I heard an interview with Sarah Chayes, a former NPR reporter who started a non-profit venture in Afghanistan after reporting on the war there. She was trying to develop an economic model that could get Afghanistan into producing profitable crops other than opium poppies. She spoke with what I can only describe as informed passion. Her head and heart were equally engaged. Somehow that seems to fit in with the message I'm getting from Blink and Freakonomics. I think I spent so many years engaged in mystical spirituality (albeit a fairly cerebral kind) that I started to doubt the real value of intellectual work in understanding humanity and making real change.


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