I’m about to drop a real truth-bomb about myself. I read a lot of articles on the internet, and not a lot of books. So when one of my boyfriends drops “hot take” casually into conversation, I laugh a knowing and self-aware laugh as both a producer and consumer of a particularly current and mockable form of content.
But I chafe when presentation is confused with merit. It’s a pretentious and classist to laud books and mock articles. Most non-fiction books should be articles. Far be it from me to discourage concision.
Reading Paul Crider’s latest blog post, An atheist’s defense of faith, one difference between a “take” and philosophy occurred to me.
One difference is that takes are well-written. Lacking substance they must be. Philosophy is generally horribly written, dense with pretense, making a case not just for the points but also trying to establish the author’s intelligence and breadth of knowledge.
The other difference is that philosophy is meandering. That can be frustrating if you’re not in the mood for a walk through a meadow where one stops to smell the various kinds of wildflowers. A take takes you somewhere, at a fast clip. Every point is subservient to the main takeaway, and only given as much room as is required for it to do its job.
In philosophy, the journey is the destination. The stops along the way are the point as much as any ultimate conclusions are.
I write takes. It’s my style. I’ve written philosophy by accident a few times, but always in the style of a take. That never works. In the end the conclusion is unsatisfying because the points didn’t do their job, and the points aren’t fleshed out enough to be interesting in and of themselves. People usually mostly get mad reading me accidentally doing philosophy.
Paul Crider’s latest blog post is philosophy. The points are destinations. Like this one: “I think of virtues as kinds of reasons that the virtuous person employs in everyday moral life.” Then he fleshes out what that means. It’s really interesting!
Philosophy is semantics, the study of meaning that is used for understanding human expression through language. Paul and I can now talk about virtues, having established what he means by that word in this context. I’ve never seen this definition of virtues before, but it makes perfect sense and I find it useful.
Being obsessed with class, I am concerned with barriers to entry. I have two weird memories about barriers to learning. The first was when I was in high school and started reading the Drudge Report in my sister’s room where we kept our Dell. It was my first time taking an active interest in “the news” beyond watching Fox News, reading my dad’s Newsweek, and casually flipping through the entertainment section of the USA Today my grandparents subscribed us to. At first every story was filled with references to things I’d never heard of, making them very hard to follow. Eventually, though, I learned to start following a story when it happened because the journalists wouldn’t give the backstory in future reports.
Then while I was studying journalism and political science in college I decided to start reading international news. I didn’t trust one political science professor in particular. He was a liberal. The same thing happened. Understanding what was happening in the news reports required familiarity with names, places, and events I’d never heard of. Googling those names, places, and events linked me to Wikipedia articles full of more names, places, and events. That time I gave up. Reading Drudge on a 56k modem and thoroughly researching my papers to disprove my liberal professor took up enough of my time. Plus I had Freecell to play while my pages loaded. I was really popular in college.
What’s frustrating about philosophy is that it’s full of definitions people are familiar with that I don’t know! This is why people write and read hot takes.
My ex-husband studied German and philosophy, like a brilliant, healthy white dude who never expected to have trouble feeding himself. I studied journalism, like someone who knows they need a skill but is too stupid for a hard one and too fearful of debt for an advanced degree. I took one philosophy course. I got a perfect score on every essay. I felt irritated to be wasting time learning ideas that were patently absurd and not useful to my goal of feeding myself after graduation.
Anyway, when we make fun of people for reading hot takes and not philosophy, we’re being classist. I’m not saying we shouldn’t, but I just think it’s important to be aware that it tends to be created and consumed by people who aren’t particularly worried about where their next meal is coming from. That’s not always true, of course. The first exception to this rule that springs to mind is the folks at and associated with C4SS. They are are ardent creators and consumers of philosophy and most of them are definitely concerned with meeting their basic needs. C4SS: Smart enough to get philosophy, poor enough to love markets.
Bottom line, be less classist, don’t confuse presentation with merit, and read more C4SS.