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The Tinkered Mind
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April 3rd, 2020
A writer, when faced with the blank page has the opportunity to compose any sentence. The amount of potential upside for this situation is practically unlimited. This makes writing asymmetrical, that is, there is usually a lot more potential upside than downside. The only downside is potentially a bit of lost time, but considering what can be gained, even by composing the worst piece of writing, a writer almost certainly gains more than if that time had been wasted by watching another rerun.
The asymmetry of writing depends heavily on the initial incentive to sit down and write. A journalist who sits down to write something for work has far less potential upside than a random person sitting in a café looking at a blank sheet of paper. The aim of the journalist is far more constrained, not just in terms of the task, but the perspective. The writing of a journalist is automatically constrained, either consciously or unconsciously by the fact that a superior has to approve the piece of writing. The writer is already warping their own attention to the task by the dictates of another. And both the journalist and the boss are ultimately constrained by the financial incentives that bracket the entire endeavor. The shift in journalism as clearly seen by the advent of click bait headlines demonstrates this shackle, which ultimately limits the upside of writing, and increases the downside, making the whole endeavor less asymmetrical.
On the other hand, the writer who composes words for no one in particular and perhaps no one at all grows the asymmetry. Having no set audience means that the writing is not constrained by the need to cater to that audience. It also means that the opportunity to generate an audience is also asymmetrical. Anyone who doesn’t like the writing need not be a part of the audience and in the absence of incentives like financial leverage, a disagreeable reader has very little influence, and this leaves open the opportunity for an enthusiastic readership to form themselves into their own group.
This entire discussion of an audience, however, is ultimately irrelevant. The business dictate that the customer is always right has somehow bled into the world of writing and reading in a way that is totally invalid. Remove the incentive-leverage mechanism of financials and this business dictate vanishes. The writer is under no obligation to craft something that is agreeable, pleasing or in anyway oriented towards the reader.
Readers might scoff at this, claiming that the writing is useless or ineffective, but such a reader does two things with this perspective. At the very least they exclude themselves as part of the audience for that writer. But more importantly, such a reader fails to see the original, and core upside of writing in the first place: exploration.
The writer ultimately sits down to explore their own mind. This is the Arbitrage of Language. There’s simply no telling what sort of useful idea or thought might crop up while we are recording with that old technology of the written word. At the very least, a writer gets to know their own mind a little better, and how is that not also the greatest upside of this whole endeavor? Understanding your own mind a little better, exploring how your own perspective navigates reality, this is in some sense what living is all about. And the writer gets it for free. Anything else that might occur, like when writing finds an enthusiastic audience, or wins some sort of award, or merely gets read by anyone else, these are all like icing on the cake. The true value of writing occurs far before any readers get involved.
This episode references Episode 505: The Endless Arbitrage of Language.