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Better to Be a Human Being Dissatisfied than a Pig Satisfied

What we need, what we want, and what we should want to want.

Scholarship takes time. Maria Popova, a cultural critics and creator of the popular Brain Pickings blog, sums it thus:

The true material of knowledge is meaning. The meaningful is the opposite of the trivial, and the only thing that we should have gleaned by skimming and skipping forward is really trivia. The only way to glean knowledge is contemplation, and the road to that is time. There’s nothing else. It’s just time. There is no shortcut for the conquest of meaning. And ultimately, it is meaning that we seek to give to our lives.

The argument slips in a whopper of a category mistake. Contemplation may well be necessary for finding meaning. But reading is not a synonym for contemplation. There is no contradiction in contemplating an idea discovered while skimming.

Popova underlying point about the importance of discovering meaning echoes a long tradition in Western philosophy, one that begins with Socrates’ “the unexamined life is not worth living” and continues through John Stuart Mill's “better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”

Later in the same interview, Popova happily endorses the hard work of teaching people what they need, even when it’s not what they want.

Don’t say, ‘I wish people wanted this.’ Sure, it’s great if the market already wants what you make. Instead, imagine what would happen if you could teach them why they should.

Popova's is the cry of the elitist, one heard since the first smart kid threw up her hands in despair that her peers just didn't get it. The average person is unreflective, happy to accept the world as it presents itself, unwilling to grapple with the whys or the what-could-bes.

Meaning and knowledge are unpacked in the hard work of deep contemplation.

For more context

I've gotten rid of almost all my philosophy books.

What to read next

Skimming and skipping forward aren't nearly so devoid of meaning as Popova suggests.

Other items of interest

Reading like a scholar doesn't work like you think it does.

It's not the texts that truly matter.

I'd like to learn more about this John Stuart Mill guy.