This is something I’ve been meaning to write for the last few months. I have penned this in a bit of a haste but I hope I haven’t missed any important bits.
Nearly two years ago, I wrote about minimalism and my efforts at applying it in my everyday life. In the process, among other things I cut down on reading most of the blogs/columns I used to read. I tried to read quality content which by definition respected my time as well. I discovered some marvelous writers (Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jai Arjun Singh) and read my share of writing that could have been much better. Of late, I’m seeing much more of the could-have-been-much-better variety. I noticed some common themes in such writing. Once I identified them, it was easier for me to skip content that would add nothing to my perspective, or worse, add noise into my thoughts. I have nothing against the writers I’m linking to. I’ll be only happy to read good writing from them in the future.
These are the recurring themes in writing that I avoid because they rarely lead to anything good:
1. It is an overreaction right after an event.
In my experience, any writer who churns out posts right after an event is articulating a visceral reaction or a predetermined opinion, or taking a short-sighted view of the happenings. Writers owe it to themselves if not to their readers to think through events before putting pen on paper.
2. It is common sensical—or something obvious made to sound profound.
Exhibit: The subtitle of this magazine (PDF link) which says, “The existential threat to Pakistan comes from disease, poverty and ignorance and not from India.” Unless the readership is the Pakistani Taliban, they’re preaching to the choir. Andrew Sullivan has a recurring series Poseur Alert for this kind of writing.
2a. It passes off information as knowledge and analysis. Exhibit A: Take this reaction to the Italian Marines trial in India.
The writer is often quoted as a foreign policy analyst in the Indian twitterverse. Note the uses of geopolitical in the post.
“Turning a legal issue into a geopolitical one has raised the stakes and hurt bilateral relations.”
“The action has shifted to the geopolitical domain.”
There is very little geopolitical about the Italian Marines’ case unless by geopolitical, one means foreign or external affairs.
2 and 2a show disrespect to the reader.
While on the subject of Italian Marines, the reason the Italian government refused to send the marines back on March 11th seems clear in hindsight: To negotiate a no death penalty for the marines. How many of the foreign policy wonks, think tank members or regular columnists guessed this? Zero, to my knowledge. (I didn’t guess it either but my shtick is not foreign policy.)
3. It doesn’t add anything to your thinking.
Exhibit that doesn’t do the above: Gautam Patel writing about Ram Singh’s (one of the accused in the Delhi gang-rape) suicide.
There is far more at stake in the Delhi gang-rape case than the fate of individuals. Can our system respond in an appropriate and just manner to such cases? What must we do to ensure the safety of our citizens, and what form should the remedies we must provide take? What is the value of a particular form of punishment?
And most of all, this: that the measure of any just society is not how quickly it deals out an extreme punishment, but how evenly it deals with those who stand accused of the most heinous crimes. This is a collective trial of our society. Allowing, even by inaction, one of the accused to be killed like this robs us all of a chance at redemption.
Emphasis mine. This perspective was fresh to me.
4. It has no inside perspective—or put bluntly, the opinion lacks qualification.
These are not the only exhibits of writing I avoid and not all posts that exhibit one of these traits are worthless. I trust you to be a good judge and read wisely. Happy reading!