This collection was originally compiled from a series of essays and letters written between 1996 and 2007 and submitted to various newspapers and magazines, or to various elected officials and other public figures. It has since been augmented with contemporaneous material — sometimes posted at the time it was written and sometimes inserted some time afterward — and I continue to add to it on an occasional basis. For the most part, I still continue to seek out formal print publication somewhere else (or an actual conversation with some editorialist or public official) before posting things here, but that is no longer a hard and fast rule.
Each essay or letter in this collection was an attempt to give voice to an important idea, a unique viewpoint, or a novel solution to some problem which I felt had been either overlooked or ignored in the general public discourse. Almost universally they remain unvoiced; for most of them, this is the first public airing they have received.
That is understandable. Early in the process of writing them it became clear to me that my writing style, driven partly by my own nature (or by my verbosity) and partly by the depth in which I wished to explore my subject matter, does not match the space and attention-span requirements of a daily newspaper or a news magazine. Similarly, elected officials or their meager staffs cannot possibly fully evaluate the nuances of all the correspondence they receive; anything detailed or complex requires a large time investment for a very uncertain payoff.
My purpose in compiling this collection was to allow these ideas some sunlight to nourish them, and perhaps a patch of fertile soil in which to grow. The best result I could hope for is that they become part of our public conversation. Some, perhaps all, may not withstand such scrutiny; my hope is that a few will be found useful, to pass beyond this blog into the general consciousness in which political and social issues are debated. But, even if they are all found wanting, the process of identifying and rebutting their shortcomings may help us all understand a little better the fundamental issues underlying them.
This, of course, requires your participation: when you find yourself disagreeing with me, don’t just dismiss my argument — rebut it; don’t just contradict me — convince me! For, if my best hope is to convince you I am right, my second-best hope is to be convinced I am wrong. That is how we learn. That is how we advance.
The result of neither assignment nor deadline but, rather, of inspiration, annoyance, or occasional moral compulsion, these essays and letters reflect my personal biases about what is and is not important in the public debate. They are, by nature, unrepresentative and incomplete, the views of one educated and engaged citizen. Having no claim to public prominence or personal importance that would bring my ideas automatic attention, I have published myself in the most self-indulgent of venues — online; so this is also, perhaps, a product of vanity. It is my hope, nonetheless, that the very act of publication will draw sufficient attention to allow the ideas to speak for themselves.
Three notes on the text:
- The process of writing is idiosyncratic and critically dependent on both frame of mind and experience. The same author writing on the same subject but at different times and under different circumstances would produce different results; and an author revisiting, now, things written earlier and under different circumstances will inevitably find things that he wishes he had done differently. Thus, the process of preparing these for publication in this format, sometimes years after the original act, created an occasional but irresistible urge to edit. I have, in some instances, given in to that urge, so, in places, these differ somewhat from the original drafts submitted for publication. Since the original conceit of this collection and its format was that these (or, at least, many of them) were submitted, but not accepted, for publication elsewhere, that may seem a bit of a cheat; perhaps, as improved by editing, they would have been assessed more favorably. I assure you — and you will have to trust me on this — that the edits were relatively minor and in no way changed either the structure of the pieces or the import of their arguments; and that such self-edits were in no case more severe than what might be expected (and what I have occasionally experienced) from the editors to whom they were submitted. In all instances, I have resisted the urge to augment arguments and structures to make them more robust or more powerful or more articulate, even when hindsight and reflection has provided me with inspiration for such changes.
- Since this blog site was originally created from a collection of old material (now, happily, augmented with newer stuff), I have adopted the convention that the date on a post corresponds to the date on which the original material was written and/or initially submitted for publication. Since the introductory front-notes on the older pieces were, for the most part, written later, when I assembled the collection, they may occasionally include anachronisms or updates that could not have been legitimately known at the time of “posting”. This is not an attempt at dishonesty; it is a natural byproduct of the way this site was created from old material. Such anomalies should disappear in future posts for which the front-notes are created contemporaneously with the underlying material.
- In my introductions, I include the names of publications which declined to publish (or, rarely, accepted for publication) these essays and letters. In this regard five newspapers, the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe, Foster’s Daily Democrat, and the New York Times are frequently mentioned, from which a reader might infer either a particular animus on my part or a particular short-sightedness on theirs. Neither is the case; these are merely the ‘local’ papers from my former home in California and from my current home in New Hampshire (and in the case of the New York Times our national newspaper of record). They are the ones to which I have consistently subscribed, and therefore to which I was most likely to submit what I write. I believe any other major newspaper or magazine would behave as they have.
© Copyright 2018, Augustus P. Lowell