Clerestory

Revolutionary Disclaimer

July 21, 2020

This is a disclaimer which applies to the series I’m doing on revolutions.

First, I’d like to reserve the right to be wrong in the writing which is to follow. Or at least to make mistakes, later to be revised. I’m not setting out to be wrong, of course, and perhaps this is (or ought to be) implicit in everything that’s written. But it is not just that I am as unlikely as anyone else is to be infallible, which is to say unlikely in the extreme.

It is that I am more likely to be fallible.

Why would I say this?

There are four reasons.

  1. This is intended to be an expansive, exploratory search for patterns in nature and culture. As I’ll explain later, one consequence of the thinking I’ve been doing is that the search must far exceed the answer space, and later be pruned. This means searching high and low. If I don’t hit false positives, finding too many matches to the pattern, then I am not looking far enough.
  2. I want this to be a collaboration. I am going to write about a wide variety of domains. At best I have read several books and taken some classes on a subject at uni in the distant past. At worst I have come across an idea in a paper or a wikipedia article. If you are an expert in any field I mangle, misunderstand, or misrepresent, I’d love to hear from you.
  3. This is intended to be a live draft, an expansion of the writing I’ve been doing in the Zettelkasten, and therefore experimental, provisional, and subject to change over time.
  4. I want to change my mind about things. I like testing out wild views then learning why they are wrong. I think this is a faster way to learn than staying close to what is easily proved.

A separate disclaimer is that I am going to discuss rapid and dramatic changes in nature and history, usually without appeal to morality. In other words, things that produce rapid change are neither necessarily good nor necessarily bad — though they do, in my view, follow the same pattern. Things are not good because they are natural (Appeal to Nature).

Scylla and Charybdis sit on either side when it comes to the moral question. There is something roughly equivalent to Social Darwinism on the side of enthusiasm, and another to nostalgia or Neo-Luddism on the side of caution.

For example, it should be obvious that I don’t think the Wehrmacht is a good thing, even though it undoubtedly produced rapid changes. But neither do I want to go down the path that “Things were better before agriculture/industrialisation/eukaryotes evolved.” I’m not particularly interested in making moral pronouncements, though I hope to make it clear that there are always serious trade-offs when step changes occur.

With that in mind, please read the next post, on definitions.


I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.