Monday, January 4, 2016

Paul Graham Doesn't Write Essays

The noted weenis Paul Graham wrote a pair of blog posts yesterday which have seen celebrated, accurate, and well-deserved rebuttals. But nearly every person who disagreed with Mr. Graham has persisted in indulging the man's pretensions, by referring to his blog posts as essays. Even people who urged Mr. Graham to check his truly towering and gigantic levels of privilege accorded him the privilege of referring to his blog posts as essays.

He does not write essays. And Mr. Graham has enough privilege. You don't need to afford him even more. Stop fucking doing it.

Paul Graham first caught attention with his writing by publishing a book of what were arguably essays. At least, the book had a bunch of chapters, and no predominant theme, so calling it a book of essays was good enough. In this book, he included a chapter called The Age of the Essay, in which he argued that his style of writing would come to define our age (which I sadly must admit might be true) and further that his chapters were essays (which is questionable). He never published another book of essays, but he later began referring to his subsequent inferior, rambling blog posts as essays as well.

I'm willing to concede that the chapters in his book, Hackers and Painters, were indeed essays. It might be true, and I'm happy to call it close enough. But in referring to his blog posts as essays, I first noticed how dishonest Mr. Graham was being when I prepared a dramatic reading of his worst writing ever, the blog post Let The Other 95% Of Great Programmers In. This blog post is absolutely not an essay, by Mr. Graham's own definition.

In The Age of the Essay, Graham argues that schools teach you to only write essays about English literature, rather than just about any topic. (I'm very glad to say that this was certainly not true of my education.) He then continues:
The other big difference between a real essay and the things they make you write in school is that a real essay doesn't take a position and then defend it...

Defending a position may be a necessary evil in a legal dispute, but it's not the best way to get at the truth...

The sort of writing that attempts to persuade may be a valid (or at least inevitable) form, but it's historically inaccurate to call it an essay. An essay is something else...

Essayer is the French verb meaning "to try" and an essai is an attempt. An essay is something you write to try to figure something out.
In Let the Other 95% of Great Programmers In, Mr. Graham takes a position and defends it. There is not the slightest hint of exploring a question or trying to figure anything out. He knew what his conclusion would be, and he made an argument. That blog post was a polemic, not an essay.

Note also that a polemic on a blog is usually called a fucking blog post, not a polemic, because most motherfuckers don't even know what the word polemic means.

The two posts he wrote recently, which pissed so many people off, were not essays either. They were very obvious propaganda pieces.

And when somebody writes a propaganda piece on their blog, you might, in a subtle analysis, refer to it as a propaganda piece, but your default term for it should be fucking "blog post."


This person is a BLOGGER. He asserts an undeserved and arrogant level of privilege when he asks you to speak of the essays on his blog as essays, rather than blog posts. But that's just being rude, not dishonest. When he blogs polemics and propaganda pieces, and asks you to refer to his polemics and propaganda pieces as if they were essays, even when they are not — EVEN BY HIS OWN DEFINITION — then you are just handing away shit-tons of privilege to somebody who already has far more than enough.