The Freedom of Absolutes

Good writing gets to the point. It’s concise. It explains a viewpoint and gets out of the way. No one wants to read through a list of qualifications for a statement or opinion. Writing in absolutes is better writing.

For example, DHH’s recent piece, Reconsider. He made a strong argument that there are drawbacks to taking VC money — that there are routes to founding and running software companies outside the norm.

A lot of people responded positively. But a lot of people noted the irony that he was writing that opinion on Medium, a site funded by venture capital. And then promoting it on Twitter, another VC-backed company. Did that invalidate his argument? Should he have addressed those things?

This is a question I have struggled with in my own writing. Can readers understand, and even agree with, an opinion while understanding that there are valid counter-arguments left unmentioned? Are opinions more damaging than helpful if they can’t? Who does the onus fall on — writer or reader? It’s a paralyzing consideration if you’re trying to write.

DHH’s writing was impassioned and aggressive which made it compelling and entertaining. He didn’t spend a paragraph explaining why it was okay that he was writing that opinion on a venture-backed site. He didn’t go out of his way to defend startup culture. And that was a good thing.

Why?

People can read that opinion from someone else — someone who believes it more strongly. Conclusions should be read as a question — a thesis to be measured against other ideas. The onus falls on the reader to inhabit this gray area and leave writers to animate viewpoints.

This idea is very freeing. If someone disagrees with your writing, that is a good thing. Animate a viewpoint and know that you aren’t etching it in stone. Let someone who believes counter-arguments more make them for you. And if readers can’t understand that, then that’s their problem.

“Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question.” — Niels Bohr


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