Intellectual Weakness

Nobody wants to be weak. Weakness leads to losing.

Weakness leads to resentment.[1]

Intellectual weakness is perhaps the most subtle weakness.

It compounds itself. Physical weakness makes us feel bad.

Intellectual weakness makes us feel smug or leaves us unable to see our weakness.

There are many ways to overcome this problem, but the first is to read.

The abysmal truth is that few read before or during college:

“The desire to appeal to incoming students who have rarely if ever read an adult book on their own also leads selection committees to choose low-grade “accessible” works that are presumed to appeal to “book virgins” who will flee actual college-level reading. Since common reading programs are generally either voluntary or mandatory without an enforcement mechanism, such “book virgins” have to be wooed with simple, unchallenging works. This was our conclusion two years ago: the lay of the land is still much the same.”

If you want to get ahead in life, at least ahead of yourself, read.

Why Read?

If you read you can:

  1. Get inside the head of somebody smarter than you. (Have you written a whole book?)
  2. You can empathize more effectively.
  3. You can learn new skills.
  4. You can acquire great examples for action, thought, and virtue.
  5. You can avoid the brain rot of emotional eating or over watching television.
  6. You can understand the foundations of your culture and rescue you father from the underworld.

What to read?

  1. Try reading classic fiction. Start easy with the Chronicles of Narnia, then try the Hobbit, A Study in Scarlet, Tarzan of the Apes, etc. Then try some Umberto Eco. Then the Iliad or Beowulf.
  2. Read a self-help classic or two: The Slight Edge and How to Win Friends and Influence People are really helpful.
  3. Read some classic philosophy. Try the meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the Lectures and Sayings of Musonius Rufus. Then try The Last Days of Socrates by Plato.
  4. Try reading about interesting figures in history. I like reading about Teddy Roosevelt, Jim Bowie, and St. Paul.
  5. Think of a science topic you like (the launching of the moon rocket, invention of the light bulb, the discovery of gravity, etc), and read a popular book about it.

Footnote

[1] For the Christian, weakness can be a form of power, insofar as that weakness is one that the Christian has tried to overcome. In that sense, Paul the apostle can speak of his preference for weakness. This preference is not, even in context, an excuse for low-effort, shoddy thinking, or laziness in general.

How to read several books a year

I love reading and I love reading a lot. But sometimes I get depressed and don’t “feel it” or I get busy and don’t pick up a book. Author Jeff Olson, in his book The Slight Edge offers a solution to this problem:

Everything you need to know to be successful—every how-to, every practical action—is already written in books like these. Here’s a Slight Edge action guaranteed to change your life: read just ten pages of a good book, a book aimed at improving your life, every day.

If you read ten pages of a good book today, will your life change? Of course not. If you don’t read ten pages of a good book today, will your life fall apart? Of course not.

I could tell my shoeshine friend that if she would agree to read ten pages of one of these good books every single day, over time, she could not help but accumulate all the knowledge she’d ever need to be as successful as she ever wanted to be—successful enough to send her daughter to that cheerleading camp and hey, to send her to the best college in the country if she wanted. Like a penny over time, reading ten pages a day would compound, just like that, and create a ten-million-dollar bank of knowledge in her.

Would she do it? On day 1, sure. And day 2. And maybe day 3. But would she still be doing it by the end of the week? If she did keep reading, over the course of the year she would have read 3,650 pages—the equivalent of one or two dozen books of life-transforming material! Would her life have changed? Absolutely. No question. But here, back in week 1, all that’s still an invisible result.

And that is exactly why most people never learn to recognize or understand the Slight Edge, the reason most people never learn how to make the Slight Edge work for them, and why the Slight Edge ends up working against them: When you make the right choice, you won’t see the results. At least, not today.

We live in a result-focused world. We expect to see results, and we expect to see them now. Push the button, the light flicks on. Step on the scale, look in the mirror, check the account balance online 24/7. Give me feedback, trip a sensor, hit a buzzer, tell me, tell me, tell me it’s working!(Olson, 37)

Just ten pages a day, a discipline that could be accomplished a page at a time if necessary could lead you or I to read 3650 words per year, minimum. Most people won’t do it because it doesn’t feel epic enough. Same reason many people quit simple but effective training routines like Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe, Body by Science by Doug McGuff, the six week program by Johnny Candito or Heavy Duty by Mike Mentzer. All of these programs will yield impressive results over the course of 12 months. The results will be even more impressive if the training is accompanied by increased sleep and improved diet. But, since the results won’t be evident in three weeks or six weeks, most people will give up. When I was a personal trainer I had several people give up while they were still simply learning perfect form.

Anyhow, don’t let time be the excuse you don’t read. This is especially important if you’re a teacher or a clergy member whose job is to be informed.

How to read: Ask is it true?

[I originally wrote this in 2015. It seems especially relevant now.]

In the Screwtape Letters, the delightfully evil demon said this to his student:

Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating the Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the “present state of the question.” To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. – C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters Letter XXVII

For those who haven’t read The Screwtape Letters, it’s a book of speculative fiction by C.S. Lewis wherein he writes from the perspective of a demon attempting to help a lesser demon tempt a human being who begins to consider Christianity.

I think that Lewis’ point above is very important. In a significant portion of scholarship (as well as in internet bickering) the source, background, or reaction others might have to a claim are what people consider. The missing piece is, “Is it true?” After we ask the truth question, we can ask, “So what?” I’d rather read a book by a brilliant New Testament scholar like Maurice Casey who actually asks, “Is it true?” and said, “No.” It gets tiresome reading work that says, “Clearly Paul got this idea from stoicism,” “Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher” or “Aquinas just said things Aristotle said,” without exploring whether the ideas are true and what it means for the reader if they are true.

The idea that one has found the origin of an idea and can therefore reject it is actually a textbook example of the genetic fallacy (the notion that an idea is discredited for its source rather than evidence to the contrary). Now, obviously in a Bible commentary part of the task is explaining parallels, allusions, background, and so-on. But even then, the truth question must be asked in one, if not, two ways:

  1. Is this interpretation true?
  2. Once the text is interpreted, is the text true and if so, how?

Examples of finding the source/influence behind an idea or the hypothetical results of expressing it are rampant on the internet.

There is a good reason for this: making an idea seem unpleasant to believe is easier to do than making an idea seem untrue. For instance, if I explain where an idea comes from, then I can make it seem juvenile to think it (That idea is from the Bronze Age!). Or, if I can say that “so-and-so bad person thinks that idea,” then the idea is shameful. Th

e problem is that many people won’t actually consider ideas on the level of logic and facts because it is rare that people think about the difference between logic and rhetoric. Anyway, I challenge you to ask the truth question when you read.

Thoughts on completing plus sized reading lists

TLDR:
Here are the five steps to help you read more:

  1. Make a list
  2. Schedule time to read
  3. Shorten it by reading books or taking off pointless/boring books.
  4. Don’t read too many things at once.
  5. Leisure reading is no substitute for religious reading if you’re religious.

Overly Personal Introduction
Many of us have too many books to read. I know I do. There are good reasons for this:

  1. You need to keep up with your field of study.
  2. You are really ambitious to know more about the world.
  3. You genuinely want to decrease your television/non-print/social media consumption.
  4. You want to add specific skills to your repertoire.

There are also bad reasons for this:

  1. You have spread yourself too thin and will not give up on interests that add nothing to your vocation.
  2. You want to impress people whether or not the book is a worthwhile read.
  3. You have no realistic concept of yourself or your capabilities.

Anyway, I always have a humongous list to books to read. This reasons for this vary:

  1. I’m a math teacher. So, I try to read books about mathematical philosophy, symbolic logic, motivational psychology, memory, and pedagogy.
  2. I’m a research and rhetoric teacher. Thus, I try to read books about rhetoric, logic, epistemology, inference, and critical thinking.
  3. I’m a college student. This means that I try to read books about physics, statistics, and computer programming.
  4. I’m a Bible teacher, chaplain, and a seminary graduate. For this reason, I try to read books about ancient history, ancient culture, Greek linguistics, theology, philosophy, and Old Testament theology.
  5. I’m also a nerd. So I read science fiction and have interests solely for fun like warfare, strategy, and tactics, philosophy of mind, and scientific perspectives on fitness.

For the reasons listed above, at any given time my book list (really my to read list, because it includes articles and book chapters) is absurd. It really is. It is not laudable, it is simply silly. In fact, if you talk to people who know me behind my back, they would probably tell you that I read too much, talk too much, and do too little.

Strategery

Anyhow, here is my strategy to get my reading done:

  1. Make a list
    I make a list and divide into topics. This helps me tremendously. You might even find it helpful to prioritize books by putting numbers next to them in terms of urgency or personal importance. There is a difference between urgency and importance. A self-help book might change your life. But a chapter in your math text book might help you pass a test tomorrow.
  2. Schedule Time to Read
    If you do not plan to read and you are not already a reader, then you will not read. If you want reading to become your default pastime, then you must force yourself to do it until it is as natural to read when you have down time as it is to eat when you’re hungry.
  3. Cross things off the list
    When you finish a book, cross it off the list and write a few comments about it: what you learned, whether you would recommend it to others, what could have been better, etc.
    Another reason to cross things off is because you decided not to read them or finish them. If you skim a book and realize it would not enrich your life (it is not important) and it has no data that you need to know that is otherwise inaccessible (it is not urgent), then put it down and cross it off the list with a note: not worth reading.
  4. Never read more than two things at once
    There are obvious exceptions to this such as doing research or having text books to read aside from leisure reading. But exceptions aside, I recommend having a non-fiction book and a fiction book or two non-fiction books. The fiction book could be used to replace television and the non-fiction is something you read in a very intentional way. You might set aside time for a non-fiction book the way you set aside time for golf, going to a movie, or a doctor’s appointment.

    Example: If I’m reading The Everlasting Man by Chesterton and The Hobbit by Tolkien I would read the Hobbit when I have time to burn, but I would read Chesteron and his long ponderous sentences during moments when I commit to sit down and finish a whole chapter.This principle also can apply with articles and chapters for research or lesson prep. If you have time to burn, use the fiction book as a carrot: I will read and briefly summarize this journal article/book chapter before I commit to reading my fiction book.

    In my own world of reading I actually make my books for lesson prep and college into prerequisites for even reading non-fiction that is personally interesting.

  5. Religious Reading is Separate (but not really)
    Religious reading, like reading Scripture daily or studying it in depth every Sunday morning prior to church is something that can be leisurely. Still, Scripture reading, does not necessarily fit the paradigm of leisure reading. If you are a Christian I still recommend scheduled time for reading Scripture that cannot be infringed upon by other reading delights or duties. Of course, such reading must be performed in proportion to other duties.

Those five steps have already been very helpful for me this year.

Aphorisms:

Here are some aphorisms that may help you to read more fully:

  1. If you feel like scrolling on the internet, read instead.
  2. If reading feels like a chore, read anyway.
  3. Some land really just has gold on the surface and skimming can be better than reading.
  4. A steak and some salad is much healthier than fifty pieces of candy.
  5. Don’t talk about reading until you’ve read.
  6. Don’t whine about the books you want to read until you’ve read the books you have.
  7. This one isn’t mine, “Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread. (Proverbs 20:13)
  8. Neither is this, “Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.(Proverbs 12:27)”*

*The lazy will not read the books they own, but the diligent will reap the wealth of knowledge and experience available to them.