The Pit of “Scholarship”

“I don’t know about other disciplines, but academic writing in the humanities has become notorious for its jargon-laden wordiness, tangled constructions, and seemingly deliberate vagary and obscurity.” -Steven Pinker

The crafty cuttlefish surrounds itself with ink to obscure itself from enemies. Most things worth saying can be said clearly with few words. Lengthy and convoluted arguments are justifiably suspect.

Here are a few good signals that an ideology does not map to reality.

  • When the founding document/scriptures is so conceptually disjointed that it has given rise to hundreds of variations, all hostile towards each other.
  • When the “scholarship” (commentaries) written to explain the founding document/scriptures is so voluminous that it would take several lifetimes to wade through it, and the commentaries themselves reflect mutually hostile doctrinal positions.
  • When you are told that, to properly understand the ideology, you must invest a considerable amount of time exploring the founding document/scriptures, as well as the accompanying “scholarship”.

Once you give in to the notion that a significant investment of time and focus is necessary to make sense of an ideology, you are susceptible to the trap of vested interest. The more you invest exploring an ideology, the more difficult it is to honestly assess it since you don’t want to feel your investment was wasted.

If you have time to invest, invest it strengthening your filter of rationality as others have to effectively defend against hundreds of false ideologies. Explore logical fallacies, cognitive biases, standards of evidence, statistics, probabilities, and other essential tools of rationality. That foundation will allow you to quickly and correctly assess any ideology that comes your way, and to avoid the false promises offered by the pit of “scholarship”.

This, of course, does not include domains of scientific or technical knowledge that requires acclimation to a body of literature before new discoveries are made.


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