The World-Wide Work.

An astonishing talk by Ethan Marcotte. At first I wasn’t really sure where he was going with his examples and stories, but his call to organize and his reflection that there are signs of hope already really got me in the end. I have hope because I know there are more talented, motivated, compassionate people out there like Ethan who believe in the ideals that the web is supposed to help us all collectively work toward. There are more of us than of the cynical and broken folks who are currently in power and benefit the most from the corruption of the web.

Thank you Ethan.

Charlie Owen on React

Charlie Owen at her best:

If React was used as one of many technologies, purely for non-critical user journeys, augmenting server-side rendered markup, then I don’t think most of the issues we have seen of late would arise.

There’s a lot of provocative stuff in here, but these points especially got me:

  • These new devs were heavily trained by a combo of corporate-sponsored online materials, blog posts, video courses, and by the formation of bootcamps.
  • The Web That Was, a place of chaos and malleability, was suddenly seen as an impediment to this process of training sacrificial developers, as it required acknowledgement of variety and empathy with the infinity of technology and human combinations.
  • The Web That Was was seen as needing a lot more artisanal work.
  • Big Corporates twirled their non-existent mustaches and realized that it’s easier to train people to use to work on a factory production line, learning a set of APIs, than it is to train them to see the Web as a precious resource that is inherently chaotic in nature.
  • BTW, I’m not blaming developers in all this - under Capitalism you always need to follow the money, and web development suddenly became a well-paying career. It was always going to happen.

I’ve been working adjacent to web development bootcamps for the past several years and have watched as the classes next door have moved from Ruby on Rails (server-side rendered) to primarily React-focused. I remember the first time I had a conversation with one of the web development instructors on the way into work and discovered that he had never even heard the words “progressive enhancement” used together.

Charlie’s definitely right that although it is possible to use tools like React in server-rendered ways, that’s certainly not what’s being taught to students in the bootcamp settings that I’ve seen. And it doesn’t seem to be where so much of this loud vocal energy in a certain part of the community online is either.

I’m trying to remain patient while the pendulum finds its way back, but this time really does seem to be taking longer than I’m used to this cycle running for. And honestly, the last time I felt this way about a technology overstaying its welcome, was 2008–2017 when I was convinced that Facebook couldn’t possibly continue to be so popular and widespread for so long.

A Short Guide to Building Your Team’s Critical Thinking Skills

Matt Plummer writing for Harvard Business Review:

Here is how to assess the critical thinking skills of each of your team members, how to help those who are struggling, and how to know when a team member has mastered one phase and is ready for the next.

I like how his breakdown echoes the scaffolding in Bloom’s Taxonomy: “ the ability to execute, synthesize, recommend, and generate.”

I imagine these development stages would also be a good framework to reflect independently on your own skills.

Reactive User Interfaces Syllabus

Rune Madsen has done a great job of making his design courses available for others to peruse and take inspiration from, which feels like living up to the original purpose of the web. The whole thing is available on github.

Mirroring: how to design for Arabic users

Gaby Piñeda delivers an amazing deep dive into designing for Arabic-speaking audiences.

Stéphanie Walter

I’m glad that I can still be really impressed by the creativity and professionalism someone like Stéphanie puts into her website. Thoughtful touches in the writing, the illustration style, her positioning, and just overall presentation. I especially like the details on links and button styles.

And on top of that, she shares excellent links and useful resources on a regular basis. Very inspiring.

SQL Murder Mystery

This looks fun!

There’s been a Murder in SQL City! The SQL Murder Mystery is designed to be both a self-directed lesson to learn SQL concepts and commands and a fun game for experienced SQL users to solve an intriguing crime.

Anti-Oppressive Facilitation Guide

A must read:

Even organizations with great meeting process inadvertently perpetuate barriers to full participation and access to democratic process. This happens through group dynamics of power, privilege and oppression that often marginalize women, people of color, queer, trans and gender non-conforming folks, people with disabilities and those with limited access to the cultural cues and financial resources that come with class privilege.

Whether or not you act as facilitator at meetings you attend, building your facilitation skills will help you make your meetings better, more inclusive, and more fully democratic! Here are some foundational tips and suggestions that can have big impacts on your meetings.

I especially like the “Community Agreements”:

  1. One diva, one mic
  2. No one knows everything; together we know a lot
  3. Move up, move up
  4. We can’t be articulate all the time
  5. Be aware of time
  6. Embrace curiosity
  7. Acknowledge the difference between intent and impact

This strikes me as thoughtfully and lovingly put together, battle tested. I’ve used some similar ground rules in class in the past, but am looking forward to trying more of this language in the future.

Africa’s Lost Kingdoms

Howard W. French:

It may remain a little-known fact, but Africa has never lacked civilizations, nor has it ever been as cut off from world events as it has been routinely portrayed. Some remarkable new books make this case in scholarly but accessible terms, and they admirably complicate our understanding of Africa’s past and present.

There is still a lot of world out there, and a lot of history. The more I travel and read and learn, the more I realize just how ignorant and biased I am.

Khoi Vinh on How His Blog Amplified His Work and Career

Khoi continues to inspire:

For years I wanted to be the kind of writer that could write more often, more quickly, more succinctly than I do. But throughout it all, I’ve been drawn back to writing the same kind of posts, which are sort of like opinion column-style essays of 500-plus words or so, and that always takes me way more time to write than I would prefer, if given the chance. Ultimately, I just learned to accept that that was the kind of writer that I am, for better or worse.

A Lovely Letter From Susan

Donny gets a letter:

Your work is beautiful and your passion for our language is quite inspiring. I have never seen this sort of appreciation for Vietnamese by a Vietnamese person before. I’m glad to have found Vietnamese Typography and I’ve donated $5 via the support page. I wish you all the best, Donny.

This is how we can win back the web, one person at a time. Take some time to create something you care about and share it with the world. The world might just find you and thank you for it.

Borges on Life and Death

Lovely interview with Amelia Barili in 1981.

Cynicism, Not Gullibility, Will Kill Our Humanity

Mike Caulfield has been working on teaching web literacy, in part as an effort to address misinformation spread and impact. These preliminary results from some of his classes, and his conclusions, are compelling.

Front-end development is not a problem to be solved

Robin Rendle’s ending is the best part.

My answer: I don’t know.

Prototypes and production

Jeremy Keith differentiates:

So these two kinds of work require very different attitudes. For production work, quality is key. For prototyping, making something quickly is what matters.

B. F. Skinner: The Most Important Theorist of the 21st Century

Audrey Watters:

Design matters. Engineering matters. But so too does the context and the practices around technology. Culture matters. All of these systems and practices have a history. (That’s one of the key takeaways for you, if you’re taking notes.)

Why does the cursor blink, for example? How does the blink direct and shape our attention? How is the writing we do – and even the thinking we do – different on a computer than on paper, in part because of blinks and nudges and notifications? (Is it?) How is the writing we do on a computer shaped by the writing we once did on typewriters? How is the testing we take, even when on paper, designed with machines in mind?

Audrey has been working on a book, Teaching Machines, and gave this talk last month in Florida. I won’t try to summarize the whole talk here, because I think you should just go read her transcript. I’ll just whet your appetite with a couple more selections.

On B. F. Skinner’s influence (over Seymour Papert’s):

I maintain, even in the face of all the learn-to-code brouhaha that multiple choice tests have triumphed over democratically-oriented inquiry. Indeed, clicking on things these days seems to increasingly be redefined as a kind of “active” or “personalized” learning.

And just for fun:

“The most important thing I can do,” Skinner famously said, “is to develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us,” adding that he intended to develop “the social infrastructure for community – for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all.”

Oh wait. That wasn’t B. F. Skinner. That was Mark Zuckerberg. My bad.

See? I told you—go read.

Tobias Rechsteiner’s GT Zirkon

Everything about this is beautiful. I love the deep cuts in the letterforms, I love the weird growths on the website. And I love the simplified black and white user interfaces in the illustrations.

A boring education

Speaking of Lisa, her dissection of student needs vs. wants is withering:

It is obvious that the problems of the customer-service model of education continue to expand. The larger question is how it has become accepted wisdom that students require motivation in the form of entertaining behaviors on the part of instructors, that not to do so means being boring, and that boring is not OK and needs to be fixed. Regardless of what a student may need in terms of acculturation, self-direction, and scholarship, it has become more important that they be entertained into learning, then get a degree as quickly as possible to avoid wasting public monies.

Education should not adapt to such support goals, nor adapt to fit what students say they want.

Since I work in for-profit education, I see this bad habit of thinking of students as customers crop up all the time. I do believe that we should take a service-centered approach in supporting student learning. But I believe any input from students has to be filtered and interpreted, and that we have to rely on more sophisticated and less biased methods to determine what is working and what isn’t.

There’s an analog in user experience: designing for the user isn’t about giving the user whatever she wants. If you ask people what they want from their software, you’ll often hear very different things than you’d catch if you watch someone actually use their phone.

I learn more about improving my class by observing students work and asking them to explain things to me than I ever could by sending a survey asking them for suggestions. I do surveys like this, yes, but these are inputs I largely treat as noise that’s required by the larger organization—by people who aren’t in a position to do the boots on the ground work of figuring out what students need.

Lisa’s approach to learning outcomes

Lisa M. Lane:

An SLO is a Student Learning Outcome. Now, before you roll your eyes, be aware that when the History department was given the task of creating SLOs for all our courses years ago, we were given significant latitude. In our wisdom, we decided to make our SLOs skills-based rather than content-based. Instead of saying what content would be covered, what names and dates and events students had to learn, we would base our SLOs on what skills we wanted students to practice as historians.

Love this approach. Personally, I prefer to go a bit broad and overlappy at this high level, because it allows you to have a dialog about shared goals across subjects.

Beyond Digital Ethics

Cal Newport :

It’s hard to imagine companies of this size voluntarily reducing revenue in response to a new brand of ethics. It’s unclear, given their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, if they’re even allowed to do so.

By contrast, I’ve long supported a focus on culture over corporations. Instead of quixotically convincing some of the most valuable business enterprises in the history of the world to behave against their interests, we should convince individuals to adopt a much more skeptical and minimalist approach to the digital junk these companies peddle.

We don’t need to convince YouTube to artificially constrain the effectiveness of its AutoPlay algorithm, we should instead convince users of the life-draining inanity of idly browsing YouTube.

Maybe I’m just in a cynical mood, but I don’t personally see either of these approaches working. Honestly, anything that requires individuals or groups of people to shift their behaviors by first changing their minds sounds like tilting at windmills to me.

I’d love to be wrong about this.

On a less cynical note, I believe behavior is currently naturally shifting away from the excesses alluded to by Newport. Anecdotally, I see fewer students distracted on their phones throughout the day than I used to. And it’s clear people have to started to pay attention to the man behind the curtain in terms of advertising and content suggestions online. Give it some time, people know how to take care of themselves, and are surprisingly resilient.

Mathematics for social good

Dylan Kane:

Most of my students don’t see themselves as mathematicians because they can’t see pathways for mathematics to positively influence their lives. What if, as one small step toward creating richer perceptions of what mathematics is and creating a discipline that has a more positive influence on humans, we chose to center “mathematics for social good” as a core part of what we see as math?

Replacing 1 billion-user platforms

Manton Reece:

We do not need another social network with 1 billion users. Part of the problem is having so many users and so much power concentrated in one place. And setting out to achieve 1 billion users means it’s an ad-based platform that will inherently revisit many existing problems.

Agreed. And yet I am still bothered by the barriers of entry to alternatives, including Micro.blog. Apart from the usually-discussed technical and know-how barriers to entry (which honestly I find dubious on their own), what of social barriers? I see a lot of what faces whenever I check in on Micro.blog. How do we avoid revisiting this existing problem?

Coney Island Boardwalk

OMG I love these old postcards of the boardwalk at Coney Island.

The wood planks of the Coney Island Boardwalk were designed to accommodate two kinds of traffic: pedestrian and rolling chair. The sections with diagonal planks forming a chevron pattern were meant for foot traffic, whereas the two strips of straight planks were meant for rolling chairs.

If you ever visit New York, I really recommend the trip out to Coney Island. It’s kind of a bizarre place so close to such a huge international city. I recommend the freak show, a corn dog or two, and a stroll down the boardwalk.

If it’s nice out, take a nap on the pier. Don’t forget sunblock.

The Hidden Cost of Touchscreens

Amber Case:

When I worked in food service and in the mailroom, the uglier touchscreens were always easier to work with. They were color coded with bright, contrasting colors, making the boundaries between numbers or items very obvious. I found that the colors reduced mistakes. I’d usually tap the right items after barely even glancing at the interface. After a while, I’d only check the screen for mistakes at the end of the process, before submitting an order or printing a receipt.

Most touchscreen interfaces don’t use high contrast colors or locked, static buttons for basic functions. They bury actions under multiple buttons, and this leaves us dangerously hunting for the right button while trying to drive, or our frustrated passengers trying to help us get our phone connected via Bluetooth.

AI is Not a Community Management Strategy

Derek Powazek:

This PageRank thing, they told us, was an “algorithm.” And, for a time, algorithms were all the rage. We were living in the age of the algorithm. And in all my client meetings and project plans, every time we had a decision to make, someone would say, “the algorithm will do it.”

The algorithm never did it.

I’ll let Dionne Warwick take this one:

Gotta get off, gonna get
Out of this merry-go-round
Gotta get off, gonna get
Need to get on where I’m bound

When did I get, where did I
Why am I lost as a lamb
When will I know, where will I
How will I learn who I am

Service Design: From Insight to Implementation

Added this to my reading list last year, and have been digging into it again the past week. So far I’m finding the book to be interesting in terms of case studies, but short on practical advice. Does anyone have any other recommendations as I go down this road?

15 principles of good service design

Lou Downe:

Without professional standards we will continue to expect those around us to be able to do more than they can, and not expect enough of ourselves.

We need to understand that most people can spot a bad service, but won’t be able to tell you why it’s bad or how to fix it. This is the same with graphic design – where most people will be able to identify a bad road sign, but won’t be able to tell you that the kerning is too tight. It isn’t fair to expect them to do this, just as it isn’t fair for us to charge for our services as designers if we can’t.

Reading through these principles made me much more interested in service design.

In Defense of Design Thinking, Which Is Terrible

Khoi Vinh:

“Everyone Can Code” is an interesting idea. The implication is that there will be a lot of good code out there, but it also implies that there will be a lot of bad code too. In a world where everyone can code, not all code will be good. There will be bad code, in fact.

It’s worth noting though that engineering as a discipline, as a trade, as a profession is largely unthreatened by the idea of bad code. In fact, you could say that the prevalence of bad code has been a boon to the world of engineering. In spite of all the bad code being written out there, the discipline is thriving.

And yet when it comes to the discipline of design:

Designers want design to be an exclusive domain. They want its processes to be mysterious, and often rooted in the idiosyncrasies of mercurial creative directors and savants, because it preserves the perceived value of our craft. Put more plainly: the more difficult design is to practice, the more lucrative it is for practicing designers.

I’m with Khoi on this point:

Any embrace of design by non-designers is a good thing, and design thinking qualifies here. The reason for this is that when that happens, it means our language, the vocabulary of design, is broadening to the rest of the world.

If you ask me, this is a big part of what I’ve always loved about the web: the way it seems to support individual growth by giving so many a platform to share about what they do and how they approach their work.

Back in the 90s, I remember an explosion of writing and sharing about making web pages. It was great! I wouldn’t have learned half the things I know how to do without that impulse to share.

I think the impulse is still there, if it sometimes gets a bit overwhelming dealing with so many resources which just attempt to monetize content rather than provide genuine heart-felt writing to visitors. Just have a look at some of the math education blogosphere and you’ll see that impulse on full display.

Eloquent JavaScript, 3rd Edition

I’m so glad to see that the third edition of Marijn Haverbeke’s excellent Eloquent JavaScript is out.

He’s updated it to reflect modern JavaScript, but he wisely leaves alone topics which are subject to tumultuous change:

So it is not uncommon for the code that you find in an NPM package or that runs on a web page to have gone through multiple stages of transformation—converted from modern JavaScript to historic JavaScript, from ES module format to CommonJS, bundled, and minified. We won’t go into the details of these tools in this book, since they tend to be boring and change rapidly. Just be aware that the JavaScript code that you run is often not the code as it was written.

I hope to give this a more thorough read over the next weeks. If you haven’t read the earlier editions, now’s a great time to pick this up.

Nobody Said CSS Is Easy

Amber asked for some help with checkboxes:

In conclusion to my first two months on a big project, I now know that getting confused, spending a long time studying many different files & folders, and asking other developers for help is a right of passage to becoming a better developer.

Observable: Five-Minute Introduction

I discovered Observable, a new project from Mike Bostock just yesterday. It’s a modern web-based programming notebook for JavaScript.

I remember the first time a friend of mine showed me something he’d written in Mathematica, about 15 years ago. I had no idea what was going on. I hadn’t studied any computer science, I didn’t really understand what this tool was supposed to be doing, or why anyone would use it. There was a big gap between how impressed my friend was with what he’d been able to do with it, and my feelings at looking at it with him. (I feel like it had something to do with simulating sheep populations?)

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, when I was working on the launch of a data science course and saw a Jupyter notebook in action running Python. The scales came off my eyes. This was an interactive programming environment that I had never really imagined! The possibilities for teaching were immediately obvious. You could create notebooks that showed code and results for students to tinker with, demonstrate with live examples you could update on the fly, leave blanks for students to fill in like worksheet, etc.

It was only later that I realized I was seeing a new take on a set of paradigms that I’d seen in Mathematica so many years earlier.

Observable uses the same notebook model, in a way that feels very much web-technology native. It’s web interface is nicer than Jupyter already. I’m also encouraged to see some early community on the site (although at first glance it seems heavily male-leaning). I’ll be curious to see how it grows. As far as I can tell, there’s not currently a way to download and work locally on Observable notebooks, whereas part of what I like about the Jupyter format is its portability. Observable is still young, so I hope that there is a chance this may happen in the future.

In the meantime, if I was teaching JavaScript, I would give this a serious look.

Ask Irene

As it says on the tin, “Find the perfect spot to eat & drink in Barcelona.”

Highly recommended if you’re ever in Barcelona. We only got to try a couple of these places while visiting, and will definitely try more next time we’re there.

10 Mostly Easy Steps To Become An Indie Dev

Inspiring comparison of indie game development with playing in a band.

Crying in Public

Shortly after I moved back to New York, I was let go from my job. It was the first time I ever cried in public, and I still recall more of the emotional nuances of the experience in my heart, than any of the actual details of the job. I just remember suddenly needing to get out of the building, waiting tortuously for the elevator to take me down the 40-or-whatever floors, and having nowhere to go. So I simply broke down into sobs in the street.

I felt embarrassed, like insanely embarrassed, and I was so worried that people would come up to me and ask if I was okay and it would only make it worse. But no one came up to me. I don’t think anyone even took a second look at me. And this was a busy area in mid-town, a few blocks from Grand Central.

I fell in love with New York a little bit more that day. Sometimes you need to cry, and in New York that often means crying on the street or in the subway, because life doesn’t happen in your apartment, and you don’t have a car to hide in. There’s a shared experience of this, anyone I’ve talked to who lives or lived in New York has stories like these. And the beautiful part is, that we also all know that the best way to comfort someone who is crying in public, is to leave them alone.

I love that, and I love this map, which so effortlessly conveys the experience of living in New York during your formative adult years with emojis and one-sentence stories. Thank you for this.

Fraction Frenzy

Megan Schmidt figuring out fractions with her daughter, by talking about sharing:

It’s not possible to share 10 brownies fairly with 4 friends. Can we have 5 friends?

More like this, please.

My Fellow White People, Here’s One Simple Trick You Can Do About Racism TODAY!

Captain Awkward:

So, you said something racist. Or, someone told you that you said something racist.

Or, someone you really like & admire said or did something racist, or is getting told on for saying something racist.

And now you feel uncomfortable. You feel guilty, maybe, or ashamed. Whatever it is, it’s weird and you don’t like it.

This.

People and tooling

Susan Jean Robertson:

The way we build for the web right now feels problematic in so many ways. Instead of welcoming everyone from our teams with their various skills, we create layers of complexity that shut many out.

This has been bothering me too.

See also: Aging out.

Legends of the Ancient Web

Another thought-provoking talk from Maciej Cegłowski, tracing the early history of radio from hobbyists to commercial success:

Like the Internet, radio technology was on the horizon for a long time before it arrived, and it arrived in a rudimentary form that didn’t strike anyone as a qualitatively new technology, let alone one that could upend politics.

The world that radio arrived in already had ways to communicate in real time over long distances—telegraphs and telephones. It wasn’t clear at the outset that Hertzian waves could be detected at distances much greater than a few hundred meters, let alone that they might become a practical method to transmit the human voice.

At best, they might prove a useful method for detecting lightning at a distance, or communicating with ships at sea.

The world that radio was born into had a group of telegraphy enthusiasts who ran their own little networks, the Usenet of their day. And there was also an assortment of thriving small-scale telephone networks, including rural ones where the telephone wires were run over barbed wire fencing, connecting thirty or forty farms on a circuit.

Some of these people became the first radio “hams”—amateur hobbyists.

Correspondence from Alan Kay

Socrates didn’t charge for “education” because when you are in business, the “customer starts to become right”. Whereas in education, the customer is generally “not right”. Marketeers are catering to what people want, educators are trying to deal with what they think people need (and this is often not at all what they want). Part of Montessori’s genius was to realize early that children want to get fluent in their surrounding environs and culture, and this can be really powerful if one embeds what they need in the environs and culture.

I want to believe this, but I don’t know how to escape the patriarchal implications of this line of reasoning. As soon as it’s the teacher’s job to know better what students need…

Amber Wilson on Learning

A refreshing take:

The Web is at a point where more of us need to be putting in some effort to get a broader view of the world and the people living here. The social effects of the Web are stretching further and further every day. More and more people are getting access to it. More than ever, we need to make sure it’s an accessible and secure place for everyone.

No, #MeToo Is Not a Witch Hunt

David M. Perry gets it:

This is all nonsense, but nonsense with a purpose. Powerful men, mostly white men, are not Jews in Nazi Germany, black Americans in pre-civil-rights U.S., heretics and witches before the Salem magistrates or the Inquisition, alleged Communists before the House Un-American Activities Committee, or political dissidents in Soviet Russia. Losing a job, losing screen time, losing influence—these are not equivalent to the loss of life or freedom. Every time the playing field tilts a bit toward level, the powerful start to cry, “Help, I’m being repressed!”

People Are Not Talking About Machine Learning Clickbait and Misinformation Nearly Enough

Mike Caulfield:

You know what machine learning is really good at learning, though? Like, scary, Skynet-level good?

What you click on.

Rebuilding the social open web

Brent Simmons:

The period from 1995-2008 (roughly speaking) was fun. It seemed like everybody was coming up with new things, and people were experimenting, and we were finding new joys in new connections, both human and technological.

What’s New in HTML 5.2?

Nice overview from Ire Aderinokun.

Robust Client-Side JavaScript

Mat​hia⁠s S​chäf⁠er offers up a wonderful and in-depth overview addressing the current state of affairs with practical advice and examples throughout.

I should probably add this to my list of web books.

cgit

This looks interesting (and deeply nerdy):

A hyperfast web frontend for git repositories written in C.

Honestly, it’s fun just poking around a codebase whose user interface is the project itself. For me, it’s especially fun to look through all this C code and realize that in most cases I kind of know what’s going on.

I don’t know what I’m doing.

Lynn Fisher:

My career path wasn’t planned out and was shaped by an acceptance that it’s okay not to know. Even now I don’t have much of a plan for what I’ll do next. All I know is I want to keep learning and to keep making things, and with that I’m confident I’ll find my way.

I can relate.

The Year in Falling Apart

Rahawa Haile gets it.

“Natural” Teachers

Dylan Kane:

Speaking confidently, explaining ideas clearly, having some content knowledge, and getting students to like you are all things that many humans get good at outside of teaching contexts, and at first glance someone with those skills might appear to be a natural teacher.

[…]

The heart of teaching is much more subtle, much harder to learn, and much more counterintuitive.

Isn’t this true of any field of endeavor?

I find it’s often the case that those who show the most “natural” skill in something, wind up being the ones who have the most difficulty un-learning what they believe they know and understand as they work toward mastery. They’re more likely to get frustrated once things become more challenging for them.

I always find it more rewarding to try to get better at things which I feel require work for me to really engage with. Anything that seems immediately obvious or straightforward to me gives me pretty major pause, because I’m probably over-simplifying it.

It’s the Kultur, Stupid

Timothy Garton Ash makes a compelling case that Germany’s current flirtations with the far-right have more to do with a sense of cultural loss, as opposed to a loss of economic standing.

For the rank-and-file, it is yet more evidence that the liberal elites have so little time and respect for them that they “won’t look at us even with their asses.” Worse still: they won’t even let ordinary people say what they think. In a poll conducted in spring 2016 for the Freedom Index of the John Stuart Mill Institute in Heidelberg, only 57 percent of respondents said they felt that “one can freely express one’s political opinion in Germany today.”

It’s therefore encouraging to see a growing number of German intellectuals advocating John Stuart Mill’s own response. Take on these arguments in free and open debate. Subject them to vigorous and rigorous scrutiny. Separate the wheat from the chaff. For as Mill famously argued, even a false argument can contain a sliver of truth, and the good sword of truth can only be kept sharp if constantly tested in open combat with falsehood. Otherwise the received opinion, even if it is correct, will only be held “in the manner of a prejudice.”

I can’t pretend to really know what is going on at all, but it makes sense to me that there are many people in this world with grievances who feel simply unheard. It also does strike me as dangerous to allow insular thoughts to fester in their own insularity. If we can’t air out our grievances, how can we stay open to the possibility of changing our thinking?

This isn’t at all to say that I think the “non-elites”1 of economically advanced countries like Germany and the US are somehow more deserving of attention than the billions of people on the planet who are genuinely making do with too little. But they are part of the voting process for decision-makers who increasingly affect people around the world, despite being representative of only a select few. We have to be able to have a conversation with them, or I can only see the current state of affairs getting worse.


  1. I’m not sure what to call it, but I mean folks who feel left behind somehow. 

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