Without that sense of agency, we’re incapable of doing anything at all. That is the place that hope needs to perch on, that I’m trying to articulate: that hope without any foundation of actual agency, any thinking, any knowledge, any ability to make or do change in various ways, is a meaningless thing. Like optimism. They’re not quite the same thing, but for me they’re closely related in that they’re just words without some kind of basis of action. And that action can be as simple as building a little wooden box in your garden to purify water, which is something that I’ve been doing this week. Or it can be as big as developing computer programs to analyze satellite photographs. Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be the one piece that will save the world, but it definitely has to be something that increases one’s own psychological sense of ability to make change that is a prerequisite for any other kind of hope or optimism that we might face.
How to Learn Anything
- Decide what you want to learn. But you can’t know exactly, because of course you don’t know exactly how any field is structured until you know about it.
- Read everything you can on it, especially what you enjoy, since that way you can read more of it and faster.
- Grab for insights. Regardless of points others are trying to make, when you recognize an insight that has meaning for you, make it your own. It may have to do with the shape of molecules, or the personality of a specific emperor, or the quirks of a Great Man in the Field. Its importance is not how central it is, but how clear and interesting and memorable to you. Remember it. Then go for another.
- Tie insights together. Soon you will have your own string of insights in a field, like the string of lights around a Christmas tree.
- Concentrate on magazines, not books. Magazines have a far more insights per inch of text, and can be read much faster. But when a book really speaks to you, lavish attentions on it.
- Find your own special topics, and pursue them.
- Go to conventions. For some reason, conventions are a splendid concentrated way to learn things; talking to people helps. Don’t think you have to be anybody special to get to a convention; just plunk down your money. But you have to have a handle. Calling yourself a Consultant is good; “Student” is perfectly honorable.
- “Find your man.” Somewhere in the world is someone who will answer your questions extraordinarily well. If you find him, dog him. He may be a janitor or a teenage kid; no matter. Follow him with your begging-bowl, if that’s what he wants, or take him to expensive restaurants, or whatever.
- Keep improving your questions. Probably in your head there are questions, that don’t seem to line up with what you are hearing. Don’t assume that you don’t understand; keep adjusting the questions till you can get an answer that relates to what you wanted.
- Your field is bounded where you want it to be. Just because others group and stereotype things in conventional ways does not mean they are necessarily right. Intellectual subjects are connected every whichway; your field is what you think it is. (Again, this is one of the things what will get you into trouble if you try to go for degrees.)
What are the names of a few people who create space for you, who actively seek to see and hear you, who you feel like you are able to make meaning with?
We can all be a little more random, a little less curated online. And here we might turn to etymology. The root of the word “random” is Germanic, and it evolves into the Old French randir for “a gallop,” then randon for “great speed,” and then to the Middle English random, for an “impetuous headlong rush.” Identity as random resists the idea of a cohesive or narrative arc to one self, online or offline, instead embracing the joys of “an impetuous headlong rush” through multiple moods and selves. Post whatever you want.