From A Place to Study
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V and R grapple with their difficulty seeing concretely what resources visitors and curators on A Place to Study will work with. They discuss a loose analogy: Wikipedia + WikiSource minus the prohibition of posting original research. They distinguish between a workplace and a website. V finds a bias in the preliminary content and R acknowledges it, but assures V that A Place to Study will move from this male, white, Western bias towards an inclusive racial, cultural, linguistic representation. They leave off contemplating factors that complicate efforts to realize that aspiration.

V 1 — There you are! I've got a question, R. I went and poked around the active side of A Place to Study. The resources I saw there aren't quite what I expected. I understand the site is just starting up, but from the examples there, I'm not sure how you expect visitors to use it.

R 2 — Yeah, I've had the same worry. Sometimes examples get in the way. When thinking about what the site would be, I'd say that it would be a little like Wikipedia, only different in a key way, but I wasn't very clear what that way would be. Imagining it, I simply pictured something like Wikipedia without its policy of "No original research."

V 3 — Yeah, that's what I've been doing, with various kinds of original sources thrown in—Wikipedia plus Wikisource. That's not A Place to Study, but somehow I'm having trouble making clear what it is going to add up to.

R 4 — In working with the site, I discovered how hard it is to understand our own intentions well. For a long time, I was trying to start a website for study, using a variety of names. We usually think of ourselves going to websites for something—information, essays and ideas, news, opinion, social interaction.

V 5 — Well, we go to Amazon to shop, but I guess given Amazon's fulfillment powers, we go there for whatever it is we want or need. Ah ha! A place to study—people won't come here for something, to get something. They come to do something, to study something.

R 6 — Exactly. I like to think of A Place to Study as a workplace, not a website. We will have information, like Wikipedia, and sources, like Wikisource, but those are merely resources, not the objectives one seeks here. This is a place to study, and to study, not anything and everything, but specifically one's own self-formation and liberal learning, cultivating one's powers of judgment, taste, and conviction.

V 7 — OK, I'm beginning to understand what should and should not be here as resources for study. You want to include cultural resources that foster a person's self-cultivation and autonomous development. But how do you know what those things are?

R 8 — Difficult question! We are not going to put much faith either on mechanisms of revelation, religion, or on systems of confirmation, science. Perhaps the question is poorly posed, as if it has a conclusive answer.

V 9 — I don't get that. Questions have answers, even if no one yet knows the answer or how to get the answer. No?

R 10 — If reality is in part determinate and in part indeterminate, would not the interaction of the two parts go on indefinitely as a continuous process? On one side, life itself, in all its complexity, would be the agency of that process, forever making itself determinate by giving form to the indeterminate. On the other side, death, in its brute finality, would reset the balance, terminating the determinate form given to the indeterminate.

V 11 — Ah. . . . This is kind of cosmic! Would this come down for you and me and those around us to the idea that each of us lives our life forming it as best we can and we will each give it the best meaning that we can until we each die and then it is done? Isn't that terribly egocentric?

R 12 — I don't think so—I conduct my life in the company of many others, many different lives, not only human, but the lives of all sorts of other living creatures, animals, plants, bacteria, viruses. The lives we can lead interact and intersect—we're all in it together.

V 13 — Now I feel overwhelmed with complexities. What do you think this all means for the studying that we might come here to do?

R 14 — To me it means that we have a criterion which suggests that we come here to study, in the company of others, how we can and should achieve form ourselves and give ourselves meaning through our lives. We do so as peers of one another, all being here in the world together. We recognize that each can and should make our judgments for ourselves, based on the best reasons we can set forth, and we do that collaboratively, together, in common, within the scope of the site itself, as a place to study together, and within the large world of living interaction, as the locus within which our lives will all unfold.

V 15 — Beautiful. But to go back to what I found looking at the initial resources put up to study here, I see how they relate to the intention, but I think they do so in a narrow or biased way—primarily the literary work of dead, white, Western males.

R 16 — Yeah. That is the primary frame of reference for efforts at self-formation and liberal learning of the persons who are starting the site up. I think the site will outgrow that bias, partly through the conscious effort over time of those who embody it and partly as persons who embody other biases start participating in the site. Circumstances are real constraints, however, so the site will outgrow initial biases gradually, slower than many might like.

V 17 — What sort of circumstances will have significant limiting effects?

R 18 — Well, I think that over long haul copyright will disappear, but over several decades it will affect what resources we can and cannot work with. Right now the site has a very small user community, limiting our technical sophistication, which in turn limits the modes of study feasible through the site. And it also severely limits our scope of knowledge. Further, I suspect the concern people feel over potential biases—linguistic, racial, ethnic, gender, age—has been exacerbating a sense of inadequacy because so little in contemporary communication brings out the common humanity that spans us all. We shun the least common denominator and fail to grasp for the apex which the encompassing community of all might aspire.