Essay #2 Due July 3
In an essay of appropriate length, defend, refute, or complicate Cal Newport’s argument from his book excerpt (available online) from So Good They Can't Ignore You that the Passion Hypothesis is dangerous and should be replaced by the craftsman mindset.
Use 3 sources for your Works Cited page.
Suggested Essay Structure:
Paragraph 1: Summarize Newport's argument in 250 words.
Paragraph 2: Explain how you've been pursuing your career goals before reading Newport's book. Then explain how his book affects the way you might re-think your strategy and approach to your career plans. 250 words.
Paragraph 3: Your thesis: Example: "Cal Newport's argument that we should shun the Passion Hypothesis and replace it with a craftsman's mindset is convincing (is not convincing) because ______________, ______________, _________________, and ______________________. 150 words (subtotal 650 words)
Paragraphs 4-7 are your supporting paragraphs (150 each for 600; subtotal is 1,250)
Paragraph 8: Counterargument-Rebuttal Paragraph in which you anticipate how your opponents will oppose your thesis and your rebuttal to their counterargument. (150 words for subtotal of 1,400 words)
Paragraph 9: Conclusion: Dramatic reiteration of your thesis. (100 words for grand total of 1,500 words).
Sherry Turkle’s “The Flight from Conversation” and Curtis Silver’s “The Quagmire of Social Media Friendships” (444) allege certain pathologies result from social media. These pathologies include an empathy deficit, depression, narcissism, shortened attention span, online shaming, lost conversation skills, and even altered brain development. In an argumentative essay, support, refute, or complicate the assertion from Sherry Turkle’s “The Flight from Conversation” (online essay) that social media is harmful for our social, cultural and intellectual development.
Paragraph 1 Summarize the pathologies explained in Turkle's and Silver's essays.
Paragraph 2: Write a profile of a person you know who is squandering his or life on social media while becoming afflicted with a myriad of social pathologies.
Paragraph 3: Write an argumentative thesis that either attributes these pathologies to social media, as is claimed in Turkle's essay, or argue that social media is not the culprit.
Paragraphs 4-7: Support your thesis with these body paragraphs.
Paragraph 8: Anticipate how your opponents would disagree with you (counterargument) and show why your opponents are wrong (rebuttal).
Typical counterargument goes like this: "My opponents claim that I am wrong because of _________; however, their claim fails to address ___________." Or, "My opponents will take issue with __________; however, their opposition is clearly misguided when we consider _______________."
Paragraph 9: Conclusion, a restatement of your thesis with powerful emotion (pathos). 11
Cal Newport's Book Page
Excerpt from Cal Newport's So Good They Can't Ignore You.
One. What revelation does Thomas, the Buddhist Monk, make as he finds how to crack the koan codes (word puzzles) and become an enlightened Buddhist practitioner?
He followed his passion, to pursue Buddhism to the extreme, and he felt empty, he felt he was the same person he was before, he felt the same urge to find meaning.
His passion had betrayed him.
Cal Newport juxtaposes Thomas’ failed quest with an obsession that Newport has had for a long time, the very obsession that provides impetus for this book we’re reading: Why do some people end up loving what they do while others fail to be happy and feel empty and wasted in their efforts?
Trying to find a professor job in a struggling economy in 2010, Newport’s prospects were bleak. How could he find happiness in such bleak circumstances?
As Newport embarked on his quest to discover why some people find happiness in their work while others do not, he concluded that passion was overrated.
In fact, he ended up rejecting the Passion Hypothesis, the idea that we find happiness by following our passion. “Follow your bliss” is a false path, a canard, a dangerous cliché.
Two. What common thread holds Newport’s book together?
The importance of developing a high-quality ability that cannot be easily replicated so that one is not easily replaceable is one of the dominant themes of this book.
How to develop such an ability is another theme.
Rule #1: Don’t Follow Your Passion
Steve Jobs, as we know him, is a myth.
Not only is Steve Jobs a myth, he perpetuated a myth: “The only way to be great at your work is to love what you do. Don’t settle. Keep searching until you find your passion.”
“Follow your passion. Life is for the living.”
“Passion is the engine to living a life.”
Steve Jobs’ words are a disingenuous, empty clichés; they are false; they are dangerous; and he didn’t even apply those words to his life, his real life, not the mythical one people have been led to believe about him.
Steve Jobs is a perpetrator of the Passion Hypothesis, which says the following: The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then to find a job that matches this passion.
Three. What is the real Steve Jobs story?
He never followed his passion to create Apple computer. Before Apple, he was living as a hippy on a commune and doing work with Atari. He travelled as a sort of nomad or vagabond, dabbling in Zen Buddhism, but really he lived the life of a dilettante, doing casual work here and there.
But then he needed money, and he Steve Wozinak who helped Steve Jobs sell model-kit computers at $500 a piece. Steve Jobs had no passion and no vision for some giant company that would take over the world. He wanted quick cash. That was it.
Once he saw an opportunity to make even bigger money, Steve Jobs busted his butt doing deep work to make himself competitive against the other people trying to make money in the same computer space.
Had Steve Jobs followed his passion, to be a lazy Buddhist monk living in Zen communes and travelling here and there, he would have never been able to compete against the burgeoning computer engineers.
He would have floundered.
He would have been a nobody.
He would have been a professional bum.
He would have been an annoying quasi-spiritual Zen-cliché-larded mountebank.
Steve Jobs Became Successful Because He Didn’t Follow His Passion
Steve Jobs didn’t follow his passion. He followed an opportunity and delivered by developing in himself a unique ability that made him valuable to others.
Following your passion is a lie.
Following your passion is canard.
Following your passion is the kiss of death.
Following your passion is an empty cliché spewed by sanctimonious, brain-dead mediocrities.
Cal Newport points out that Steve Jobs became passionate AFTER he mastered his craft, AFTER he honed his talent, AFTER he developed unique skills that allowed him to navigate a world-dominating computer company.
Three. What is famous radio broadcaster Ira Glass’ advice on becoming successful?
Much to the disappointment of the interviewers who wanted Glass to pontificate on the notion of “following your bliss,” Glass gives some sobering advice:
First, you’re going to suck at what you do. You have to go through the drudgery and mental strain of moving through your suck at it phase and reach a point of mastery.
It’s the endurance and drive to move past your “I suck at it” phase and reach a higher level of expertise that accounts for success and happiness.
Cal Newport goes on to explain that we can’t know what our passion is in the beginning. It’s rare that people have a clearly defined passion at a young age.
I can only think of one exception: George Carlin, the famous comedian, told Terry Gross on Fresh Air that he knew he was going to be a comedian when he was in the fifth grade.
But that is the exception, not the rule.
We should live by the general rule.
Complex Career Origin Principle
Cal Newport writes: “Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the single idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.”
Real Passion Principle: Time and Mastery
“Passion takes time.” You have to cultivate it with deep work, undistracted focus on your craft.
To support the above, Yale researcher Amy Wizesniwski wanted to look at job happiness. She divided jobs in 3 ways:
One. A job is a way to pay the bills.
Two. A career is a path toward increasingly better work.
Three. A calling is work that is an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity.
Having a “dream job” wasn’t the key to happiness, AW found. She found that it was time spent on the job and mastery of the job.
Her findings contradict the lame Passion Hypothesis, that childish, infantile myth that all you have to do is find your passion and as soon as you get the job you are instantly happy. “You followed your bliss! Oh happy you!”
“Passion is a side effect of mastery.”
Develop your mastery first. Then the passion comes as a natural result.
This reminds me of something Viktor Frankl writes: Don’t aim to be happy. Aim for a life of purpose and meaning and then happiness will be an unintentional byproduct.
Four. What is Daniel Pink’s Self-Determination Theory?
As we read on Cal Newport’s blog:
At a high level, SDT makes a simple claim:
To be happy, your work must fulfill three universal psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
In more detail…
- Autonomy refers to control over how you fill your time. As Deci puts it, if you have a high degree of autonomy, then “you endorse [your] actions at the highest level of reflection.”
- Competence refers to mastering unambiguously useful things. As the psychologist Robert White opines, in the wonderfully formal speak of the 1950s academic, humans have a “propensity to have an effect on the environment as well as to attain valued outcomes within it.”
- Relatedness refers to a feeling of connection to others. As Deci pithily summarizes: “to love and care, and to be loved and cared for.”
Cal Newton’s adds: We also do not need pre-existing passions to be happy with our job.
Working right is more important than finding the “right job.”
Five. How is the Passion Hypothesis harmful?
Newport argues if people believe there’s a right job out there waiting for them, they will never be happy. Such a job does not exist.
You don’t make the shoe fit you. You make yourself fit the shoe. You need to change. You need to develop the character of a master craftsman. That requires deep work. That requires shunning shallow work and distraction.
The real path to follow is not your passion, but a road of discipline, focus, and hard work that makes you so good they can’t ignore you.
And here we’ve arrived at the book’s title. “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” The quote is taken from Steve Martin when he’s asked to give advice on how to “make it.”
Six. What two approaches can you have regarding your career?
You can have the craftsman mindset, which asks how much value you can produce for your job.
On his blog, Newport elaborates on the craftsman mindset:
A CAREER MANIFESTO
Career advice has fallen into a terribly simplistic rut. Figure out what you’re passionate about, then follow that passion: this idea provides the foundation for just about every guide to improving your working life.
The Career Craftsman rejects this reductionist drivel.
The Career Craftsman understands that “follow your passion and all will be happy” is a children’s tale. Most people don’t have pre-existing passions waiting to be unearthed. Happiness requires more than solving a simple matching problem.
The Career Craftsman knows there’s no magical “right job” waiting out there for you. Any number of pursuits can provide the foundation for an engaging life.
The Career Craftsman believes that compelling careers are not courageously pursued or serendipitously discovered, but are instead systematically crafted.
The Career Craftsman believes this process of career crafting always begins with the mastery of something rare and valuable. The traits that define great work (autonomy, creativity, impact, recognition) are rare and valuable themselves, and you need something to offer in return. Put another way: no one owes you a fulfilling job; you have to earn it.
The Career Craftsman believes that mastery is just the first step in crafting work you love. Once you have the leverage of a rare and valuable skill, you need to apply this leverage strategically to make your working life increasingly fulfulling. It is then — and only then — that you should expect a feeling of passion for your work to truly take hold.
The Career Craftsman thinks the idea that “societal expectations” are trying to hold you down in a safe but boring career path is a boogeyman invented to sell eBooks. You don’t need courage to create a cool life. You need the type of valuable skills that let you write your own ticket.
The Career Craftsman never expects to love an entry level job (or to stay in that job long before moving up).
The Career Craftsman thinks “is this my calling?” is a stupid question.
The Career Craftsman is data-driven. Admire someone’s career? Work out exactly how they made it happen. The answers you’ll find will be less romantic but more actionable than you might expect.
The Career Craftsman believes the color of your parachute is irrelevant if you take the time to get good at flying the damn plane in the first place.
“Drivel” of the Passion Mindset
Or if you reject the craftsman mindset, you can have the passion mindset, which asks how much value your job is offering you.
Newport argues it is only by producing the craftsman mindset that you can create work that you love.
In terms of maturity, the craftsman mindset is the approach of a mature, fully realized human being.
In contrast, a passion mindset is the approach of a naïve, immature, lazy narcissist.
Seven. What is the pre-existing passion principle and why does Cal Newport reject it?
There are some who argue that musician Jordan Tice and comedian Steve Martin, both referenced in Newport’s book, are master craftsman who work hard because they are doing so in the service of something they love, in work they are passionate about.
Newport rejects this argument. In the entertainment business, “the tape doesn’t lie.” Both performers work super hard because they want to improve their performance.
They both actually have doubt about their vocations as musician and comedian respectively.
What they are sure about is that if they are going to be good they are going to have to engage in deep work.
Both Jordan Tice and Steve Martin have developed consistent habits of hard work as the foundation of improving their craft.
They have developed a craftsman mindset.
Eight. Why does a craftsman mindset produce a great job?
Only by creating a great craft, bringing great product to the job, does a person have a great job, which Newport observes is distinguished by three ingredients:
Creativity: Ira Glass reinvented radio.
Impact: Steve Jobs affected the way the world uses technology.
Control: Craftsman are not micromanaged by their bosses because of the value they bring to the job.
Nine. What is career capital?
One, great work, which is rare and valuable.
Two, great workers, who have rare and valuable skills.
Three, craftsman mindset, which is determined to be so great they can’t ignore you.
Always Know How Much Career Capital You Have Before Making Career Change
On Cal Newport’s blog, he elaborates on the life of Lisa Feuer, who is featured in his book:
The Courage Fallacy
In 2005, Lisa Feuer quit her marketing job. She had held this same position throughout her 30s before deciding, at the age of 38, that it was time for something different.
As the New York Times reported in an article from last summer, she wanted the same independence and flexibility that her ex-husband, an entrepreneur, enjoyed. Bolstered by this new resolve, Lisa invested in a $4000 yoga instruction course and started Karma Kids Yoga — a yoga practice focused on young children and pregnant women.
Lisa’s story provides a pristine example of what I call the choice-centric approach to building an interesting life. This philosophy emphasizes the importance of choosing better work. Having the courage to leave your boring but dangerously comfortable job — to borrow a phrase from Tim Ferriss — and instead follow your “passion,” has become the treasure map guiding this philosophy’s adherents.
But there’s a problem: the endings are not always so happy…
The Economics of Remarkable Lives
As the recession hit, Lisa’s business struggled. One of the gyms where she taught closed. Two classes offered at a local public high school were dropped due to under-enrollment. The demand for private lessons diminished.
In 2009, she’s on track to make on $15,000 — not nearly enough to cover her expenses.
This, of course, is the problem with the choice-centric approach to life: it assumes that a much better job is out there waiting for you. The reality, however, is often more Darwinian: much better jobs are out there, but they’re only available to people with much better skills than most of their peers.
As I’ve argued before, the traits that make a remarkable life remarkable — flexibility, engagement, recognition, and reward — are highly desirable. Therefore, to land a job (or start a business) that returns these rewards, you must have a skill to offer that’s both rare and valuable.
It’s simple economics.
Lisa didn’t have a skill that was rare or valuable. She did receive professional Yoga training, but the barrier to entry for this training was the ability to write a tuition check and take a few weeks worth of classes. This skill wasn’t rare or valuable enough to guarantee her the traits she admired in the lives of successful entrepreneurs, and as soon as the economy hiccuped she experienced this reality.
Her courage to follow her “passion” was not enough, in isolation, to improve her life.
The Value of Nerves
This brings me back to the (perhaps) controversial title of this post. If you’re in a job that’s boring but tolerable, and you feel nervous about quitting, you might consider trusting this instinct. Your mind might be honing in on the economic truth that you don’t have a skill rare and valuable enough to earn you a substantially better deal somewhere else. Because of this, your mind understandably reacts to your career day dreams with jitters.
On the other hand, those who have built up highly desirable skills rarely feel much nervousness about the prospect of switching jobs. They’ve probably had other job offers, or can name a half-a-dozen clients that would pay handsomely for their consulting services.
Tens of thousands of bored cubicle dwellers fantasize about building their own companies. (Writers have built lucrative careers around pitching this message.) Most of these workers, however, are nervous about this idea due to the very real possibility that their business ventures will fold, leaving them, like Lisa, broke, without health insurance, and worse off than before.
By contrast, earlier this year I received a call from a head hunter trying to recruit me to work at a Manhattan-based start-up incubator that would, in essence, pay me to think up and try out business ideas. (Jeff Bezos was in a similar position at D.E. Shaw when he came up with the idea for Amazon.com.)
My point is that if I wanted to start my own company (which I don’t), I wouldn’t feel nervous. The reason is clear: By earning a PhD in computer science at MIT I developed a skill that’s rare and valuable to this particular economic segment. The market has made this value clear to me; ergo, no nerves.
The Hard Focus-Centric Approach
Though I’m not nervous about the idea of starting my own company, I am, at this point in my career, nervous about the path that most interests me: becoming a professor at a quality research university.
Instead of paralyzing me, however, these nerves provide wonderful clarity. My goal during my postdoc years now centers on eliminating this nervousness. To do so, I need to make myself unambiguously one of the top candidates in the computer science academic job market. This, in turn, requires incredibly high-quality research that promises to push my research sub-fields forward. This specific goal has trickled down into concrete changes in my day to day work habits. Most notably, I’ve recently rebuilt my schedule around hard focus, and I spend much more time reading the research literature and thinking about the long-term direction of my short-term work.
In other words, nervousness can provide more than just sober-minded warning. It can also help guide you in your efforts to build a remarkable life. Instead of grappling with vague worry — “Am I stupid for wanting to try this new career path?” — you can focus your energy toward a clear metric: building up a valuable skill until you’ve eliminated this nervousness.
Sentence Fragment Review
No main verb
An essay with a clear thesis and organization.
An essay with a clear thesis and organization has a stronger probability of succeeding.
An education system based on standardized tests with no flexible interpretation of those tests
An education system based on standardized tests with no flexible interpretation of those tests will inevitably discriminate against non-native speakers.
No main subject
With too much emphasis on standardized tests targeting upper class Anglo students
With too much emphasis on standardized tests targeting upper class Anglo students, No Child Left Behind remains a form of discrimination.
With my fish tacos overloaded with mango salsa and Manchego cheese
With my fish tacos overloaded with mango salsa and Manchego cheese, they fell apart upon the first bite.
Until you learn to not overload your fish tacos
Until you learn to not overload your fish tacos, your tacos will fall apart.
Examples of Student Fragments
People are never happy with what they have. Always trying to be something they're not.
Star Trek predicted what the future would be like. A world where an abundant supply of technology helps the human race.
Since being drawn to social media, we're together now more than ever. Not communicating with conversation but only connecting.
Don’t allow gerunds and participles to stand alone.
Having Facebook friends whose GoFundMe accounts that are always asking for money.
Babbling about the Presidential election.
Stuffing my mouth with cream cheese and bagels.
Examining the reasons for staying in college.
Running toward the buffet table.
Running toward the buffet table is dangerous. (gerund noun phrase)
Running toward the buffet table, Mo tripped and broke his wrist. (participle phrase modifies Mo, so it’s also called an adjective phrase)
Eating bucket-fulls of cashew and walnut pesto larded with Parmesan cheese.
Eating bucket-fulls of cashew and walnut pesto larded with Parmesan cheese can lead to a heart attack. (gerund noun phrase)
Eating bucket-fulls of cashew and walnut pesto larded with Parmesan cheese, Augustine was oblivious of his girlfriend who sat across from him at the table looking at his exhibition of gluttony with horror and disgust. (participle phrase that modifies Augustine).
Augustine dreams of eating a ricotta pound cake smothered with whipped cream and strawberries. (gerund noun phrase is the object of the sentence)
Elliot was a vulgar philistine. Evidenced by a love of gold and sequin-encrusted toilets.
Elliot was a vulgar philistine evidenced by a love of gold and sequin-encrusted toilets.
Don’t let prepositional phrases stand alone.
A prepositional phrase starts with a preposition.
Under the bridge, the Red Hot Chili Peppers rock star contemplated the emptiness of his life and wrote “Under the Bridge.”
In "Growing Up Tethered" by Sherry Turkle is talking about why more teens are more focused on their phones than real people.
In the above, get rid of the preposition "In."
I enjoyed my run. In spite of your choice to abandon me and leave me to run alone in the rain. (prepositional phrase can’t stand alone)
I enjoyed my run in spite of your choice to abandon me and leave me to run alone in the rain.
Don’t let an appositional phrase stand alone.
An appositional phrase is a the use of phrase to rename a noun.
My father, a military man, speaks in a loud, bombastic voice.
I listen to the loud voice of my father, a military man.
Bo Jackson, the most freakish physical specimen of the last century, suffered a career-stopping hip injury. That sent his fans into mourning.
Bo Jackson, the most freakish physical specimen of the last century, suffered a career-stopping hip injury, which sent his fans into mourning.
My favorite athlete is Bo Jackson. The most freakish specimen of the last century.
My favorite athlete is Bo Jackson, the most freakish specimen of the last century.
I dreamed last night that I was sitting behind the wheel of a Lexus GS350. One of the greatest cars ever built.
I dreamed last night that I was sitting behind the wheel of a Lexus GS350, one of the greatest cars ever built.
In 1969, I swooned over my third grade classmate Patty Wilson. A pulchritudinous goddess from another planet.
In 1969, I swooned over my third grade classmate Patty Wilson, a pulchritudinous goddess from another planet.
Don’t let an infinitive phrase stand alone. An infinitive phrase is a “to verb,” which is not a real verb.
To know me is to love me.
Working in his lab for ten years, Dr. Kragen was obsessed with creating a new type of Greek yogurt. To see if he could create a yogurt with 100 grams of protein per cup.
Working in his lab for ten years, Dr. Kragen was obsessed with creating a new type of Greek yogurt to see if he could create a yogurt with 100 grams of protein per cup.
Don’t let an adjective clause stand alone.
An adjective clause is that or which followed by a subject and a verb.
I like cars that feel like they’ve been built with care and precision.
Spotify, which I joined last year, has kept me from spending money on iTunes.
I spend most of my listening time on Spotify. Which costs me ten dollars a month and saves me from spending up to $100 a month on iTunes.
I spend most of my listening time on Spotify, which costs me ten dollars a month and saves me from spending up to $100 a month on iTunes.
People who lard their salads with candied nuts.
People who lard their salads with candied nuts have to admit they can only eat salad if they make it taste like pecan pie.
People who cut you off and then drive really slowly as if they're trying to enrage you on purpose.
People who cut you off and then drive really slowly as if they're trying to enrage you on purpose are passive-aggressive miscreants.
People who sign up for community college classes and then ignore the syllabus.
People who sign up for community college classes and then ignore the syllabus are more in love with the idea of going to college than actually going to college.
People who think marriage will cure them of their immaturity and give them instant status as winners in society.
People who think marriage will cure them of their immaturity and give them instant status as winners in society are delusional charlatans who are on the road to divorce.
Don’t let an adverbial clause stand alone.
An adverbial clause modifies a verb.
I like to do my kettlebell workouts when my twins are in school.
When it’s too hot to exercise, I slog through my kettlebell workouts.
I tend to inhale gallons of rocky road chocolate chip ice cream. As a depressive reaction to “Lonely Night Saturdays.”
I tend to inhale gallons of rocky road chocolate chip ice cream as a depressive reaction to “Lonely Night Saturdays.”
Don’t let any long phrase or clause be confused with a complete sentence.
Although I studied herpetology and kinesiology during my stay in the Peruvian mountains while keeping warm in the hides of Alpaca and other mountain-dwelling bovine creatures.
Although I studied herpetology and kinesiology during my stay in the Peruvian mountains while keeping warm in the hides of Alpaca and other mountain-dwelling bovine creatures, I feel I didn’t retain much information during my two-year stay there.
Find Fragments and Comma Splices
The other night I consumed a tub of Greek yogurt with peanut butter and honey so I'd have enough energy to watch a documentary about world hunger.
I wasn't really hungry, I was anxious. Whenever I get anxious; which is all the time, I eat like a demon.
Anxiety propels me to stuff my face even when I’m not hungry. The mechanical act of eating. Using my greedy hands to lift food to my mouth and then hearing my mandibles and molars crunch the food matter into mush, has a soothing effect on my anxieties—like giving a teething biscuit to a baby.
Anxiety compels me to engage in the practice of “preemptive eating.” The idea that even though I’m not hungry in this moment, I might be “on the road” inside my car far away from nutritional resources so I had better fill up while I can. In truth, I’m not “on the road” that often evidenced by the fact that my nine-year-old car has only 33 thousand miles on the odometer. Clearly, then, my impulse for preemptive eating is indefensible.
But you see, my anxieties exaggerate the circumstances, so that I have ample food reserves in my car—cases of high-protein chocolate peanut butter bars and a case of bottled water. All that unnecessary weight in the trunk compromises my gas mileage, but my anxieties are a cruel tyrant.
Anxiety is the reason that, in spite of my hardcore kettlebell workouts, I am a good twenty pounds overweight. Being twenty pounds overweight makes me anxious, and these anxieties in turn make me want to eat more.
Contemplating this vicious cycle is making me extremely anxious.
Good food makes me anxious.
Just thinking about good food can make me so anxious I’ll obsess over it in bed, so I’ll toss and turn all night. Like a heroin addict.
When I was in my early twenties, I ate donuts that were so good I wanted to drop out of college, give up on relationships, and hole myself up in my mother’s basement. Where I’d spend the rest of my life eating donuts.
I suffer from food insomnia. Meaning that fixating at night on a certain delicious meal I once had can prevent me from falling asleep.
There’s one food in particular that keeps me up at night—chocolate brownies.
Chocolate brownies are the best delivery system for sending an explosion of chocolate into the brain’s pleasure centers. Chocolate brownies saturate my brain with so much dopamine that after eating a brownie platter it’s not safe for me to drive or to operate heavy mechanical equipment. When I was a kid, I took cough medicine laced with codeine, and there was a warning label on the back: “Not safe to drive or to operate heavy mechanical equipment.” Chocolate brownie mix should have the same warning on the back of the box.
The best brownies mix I’ve ever had are Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Chip Brownies from Costco. I’ve purchased the same brand from other stores, but the Costco version is the best. Costco apparently uses its special powers to have Ghirardelli make an exclusive proprietary formula that is far superior to other versions, this fact has been corroborated by conversations I’ve had with Orange County housewives.
I don’t live in Orange County, and I don’t normally have conversations with housewives. That I talked with them about the superior quality of the exclusive Costco version of Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Chip Brownies mix attests to the severity of my unhealthy dependence on food.
Costco does a good job of making you think about food. Before you even walk inside Costco, you smell the freshly baked cinnamon rolls, chocolate chip cookies, and cream Danish. The smell makes you run inside the store.
Chronologically speaking, I am supposed to be an adult, but like a kid I’m running toward the Costco entrance while pushing an empty shopping cart. I must be a scary sight. This 240-pound middle-aged bald guy aggressively pushing his battering ram into a giant food larder. Where he will pillage the spoils. I’m like an Old Testament warlord about to ransack a defeated city.
Types of Arguments
(I've adapted these ideas from Chapter 3 of How to Write Anything by John J. Ruszkiewicz.)
3 Types of Claims Or Thesis Statements
Identifying Claims and Analyzing Arguments from Stuart Greene and April Lidinsky’s From Inquiry to Academic Writing, Third Edition
We’ve learned in this class that we can call a thesis a claim, an assertion that must be supported with evidence and refuting counterarguments.
There are 3 different types of claims: fact, value, and policy.
Claims of Fact
According to Greene and Lidinsky, “Claims of fact are assertions (or arguments) that seek to define or classify something or establish that a problem or condition has existed, exists, or will exist.
For example, Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow argues that Jim Crow practices that notoriously oppressed people of color still exist in an insidious form, especially in the manner in which we incarcerate black and brown men.
Alexander in other words is arguing this claim of fact: That Jim Crow still exists in a new insidious form of the American incarceration system.
In The Culture Code Rapaille argues that different cultures have unconscious codes and that a brand’s codes must not be disconnected with the culture that brand needs to appeal to. This is the problem or struggle that all companies have: being “on code” with their product. The crisis that is argued is the disconnection between people’s unconscious codes and the contrary codes that a brand may represent.
Many economists, such as Paul Krugman, argue that there is major problem facing America, a shrinking middle class, that is destroying democracy and human freedom as this country knows it. Krugman and others will point to a growing disparity between the haves and have-nots, a growing class of temporary workers that surpasses all other categories of workers (warehouse jobs for online companies, for example), and de-investment in the American labor force as jobs are outsourced in a world of global competition.
All three examples above are claims of fact. As Greene and Lidinsky write, “This is an assertion that a condition exists. A careful reader must examine the basis for this kind of claim: Are we truly facing a crisis?”
We further read, “Our point is that most claims of fact are debatable and challenge us to provide evidence to verify our arguments. They may be based on factual information, but they are not necessarily true. Most claims of fact present interpretations of evidence derived from inferences.”
A Claim of Fact That Seeks to Define Or Classify
Greene and Lidinsky point out that autism is a controversial topic because experts cannot agree on a definition. The behaviors attributed to autism “actually resist simple definition.”
There is also disagreement on a definition of obesity. For example, some argue that the current BMI standards are not accurate.
Another example that is difficult to define or classify is the notion of genius.
Another example is what it means to be a Christian. Some people say to be a Christian means you must believe in the "inerrant word of God." Others reject biblical literalism and say they model their lives after Christ, adapt Christ's core message, and reject the "bad stuff" and say they are Christians. The argument is making claims of what it means to be a Christian, very different claims of an orthodox and progressive believer.
In all the cases above, the claim of fact is to assert a definition that must be supported with evidence and refutations of counterarguments.
Claims of Value
Greene and Lidinsky write, “A claim of fact is different from a claim of value, which expresses an evaluation of a problem or condition that has existed, exists, or will exist. Is a condition good or bad? Is it important or inconsequential?
In other words, the claim isn’t whether or not a crisis or problem exists: The emphasis is on HOW serious the problem is.
How serious is global warming?
How serious is gender discrimination in schools?
How serious is racism in law enforcement and incarceration?
How serious is the threat of injury for people who engage in Cross-Fit training?
How serious are the health threats rendered from providing sodas in public schools?
How serious is the income gap between the haves and the have-nots?
How destructive is a certain politician to his party?
How bad is sugar? We all know sugar is bad, especially in large amounts, but how bad?
How bad are cured meats? We call know cured meats in large amounts are bad for us, but how bad?
Claims of Policy
Greene and Lidinsky write, “A claim of policy is an argument for what should be the case, that a condition should exist. It is a call for change or a solution to a problem.
We must decriminalize drugs.
We must increase the minimum wage to X per hour.
We must have stricter laws that defend worker rights for temporary and migrant workers.
We must integrate more autistic children in mainstream classes.
We must implement universal health care.
If we are to keep capital punishment, then we must air it on TV.
We must implement stricter laws for texting while driving.
We must make it a crime, equal to manslaughter, for someone to encourage another person to commit suicide.
The Importance of Using Concession with Claims
Greene and Lidinsky write, “Part of the strategy of developing a main claim supported with good reasons is to offer a concession, an acknowledgment that readers may not agree with every point the writer is making. A concession is a writer’s way of saying, ‘Okay, I can see that there may be another way of looking at the issue or another way to interpret the evidence used to support the argument I am making.’”
“Often a writer will signal a concession with phrases like the following:”
“It is true that . . .”
“I agree with X that Y is an important factor to consider.”
“Some studies have convincingly shown that . . .”
Greene and Lidinsky write, “Anticipating readers’ objections demonstrates that you understand the complexity of the issue and are willing at least to entertain different and conflicting opinions.”
Developing a Thesis
Greene and Lidinsky write that a thesis is “an assertion that academic writers make at the beginning of what they write and then support with evidence throughout their essay.”
They then give the thesis these attributes:
Makes an assertion that is clearly defined, focused, and supported.
Reflects an awareness of the conversation from which the writer has take up the issue.
Is placed at the beginning of the essay.
Penetrates every paragraph like the skewer in a shish kebab.
Acknowledges points of view that differ from the writer’s own, reflecting the complexity of the issue.
Demonstrates an awareness of the readers’ assumptions and anticipates possible counterarguments.
Conveys a significant fresh perspective.
Working and Definitive Thesis
In the beginning, you develop a working or tentative thesis that gets more and more revised and refined as you struggle with the evidence and become more knowledgeable of the subject.
A writer who comes up with a thesis that remains unchanged is not elevating his or thinking to a sophisticated level.
Only a rare genius could spit out a meaningful thesis that defies revision.
Not just theses, but all writing is subject to multiple revisions. For example, the brilliant TV writers for 30 Rock, The Americans, and The Simpsons make hundreds of revisions for just one scene and even then they’re still not happy in some cases.
Four Models for Developing a Working Thesis
The Correcting-Misinterpretations Model
According to Greene and Lidinsky, “This model is used to correct writers whose arguments you believe have misconstrued one or more important aspects of an issue. This thesis typically takes the form of a factual claim.
Examples of Correcting-Misinterpretation Model
Although LAUSD teachers are under fire for poor teaching performance, even the best teachers have been thrown into abysmal circumstances that defy strong teaching performance evidenced by __________________, ___________________, ________________, and _____________________.
Even though Clotaire Rapaille is venerated as some sort of branding god, a close scrutiny exposes him as a shrewd self-promoter who relies on several gimmicks including _______________________, _______________________, _________________, and ___________________.
Even though ****** ****** is portrayed as a hedonistic lunatic, he is in truth a sad, misunderstood, lonely parvenu searching for meaning, connection, and true love.
The Filling-the-Gap Model
Greene and Lidinsky write, “The gap model points to what other writers may have overlooked or ignored in discussing a given issue. The gap model typically makes a claim of value.” For example, too many happiness seekers have failed to looking at the real missing link to happiness: morality.
Many psychology experts discuss happiness in terms of economic wellbeing, strong education, and strong family bonds as the essential foundational pillars of happiness, but these so-called experts fail to see that these pillars are worthless in the absence of morality as Eric Weiners’s study of Qatar shows, evidenced by __________________, __________________, ___________________, and _____________________.
The Modifying-What-Others-Have-Said Model
Greene and Lidinsky write, “The modification model of thesis writing assumes that mutual understanding is possible.” In other words, we want to modify what many already agree upon.
While most scholars agree that food stamps are essential for hungry children, the elderly, and the disabled, we need to put restrictions on EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards so that they cannot be used to buy alcohol, gasoline, lottery tickets, and other non-food items.
The Hypothesis-Testing Model
The authors write, “The hypothesis-testing model begins with the assumption that writers may have good reasons for supporting their arguments, but that there are also a number of legitimate reasons that explain why something is, or is not, the case. . . . That is, the evidence is based on a hypothesis that researchers will continue to test by examining individual cases through an inductive method until the evidence refutes that hypothesis.”
For example, some researchers have found a link between the cholesterol drugs, called statins, and lower testosterone levels in men. Some say the link is causal; others say the link is correlative, which is to say these men who need to lower their cholesterol already have risk factors for low T levels.
As the authors continue, “The hypothesis-testing model assumes that the questions you raise will likely lead you to multiple answers that compete for your attention.”
The authors then give this model for such a thesis:
Some people explain this by suggesting that, but a close analysis of the problem reveals several compelling, but competing explanations.
Give Appropriate Sartorial (Clothing Style) Splendor (Writing Style) to Your Arguments
Your argument is the "body" of the essay. Your writing style is the fashion or sartorial choice you make in order to "dress up" your argument and give it power, moxie, and elan (passion).
Here is the same claim dressed up differently in the following two thesis statements:
Civil War reenactments are racist gibberish that need to go once and for all.
More Dressed Up
Our moral offense to civil war reenactments rests on our understanding that the participants are engaging in nostalgia for the days when the toxic religion of white supremacy ruled the day, that the participants gleefully and childishly erase black history to the detriment of truth, and that on a larger scale, they engage in the mythical revisionism of the Confederacy narratives, hiding its barbaric practices by esteeming racist thugs as if they were innocent and venerable Disney heroes. Their sham is so morally egregious and spiritually bankrupt that to examine its folly in all its shameless variations compels us to abolish the sordid practice without equivocation.
We need to stop blaming the poor for their poverty.
More Dressed Up
The idea that the rich are wealthy because of their superior moral character and that the poor live in poverty because of their inferior moral character is a glaring absurdity rooted in willful ignorance, the blind worship of money, and an irrational fear of poverty as if it were some kind of contagious disease.
Qualify Your Thesis to Make It More Persuasive and Reasonable
Qualifiers such as the following will make your thesis more bullet-proof from your opponents:
under certain conditions
Under most conditions, narcotics should be legalized in order to decrease crime, increase rehabilitation, and decrease unnecessary incarceration.
Examine Your Core Assumptions
Assumptions are the principles and values upon which we base our beliefs and actions.
Under most conditions, narcotics should be legalized in order to decrease crime, increase rehabilitation, and decrease unnecessary incarceration.
Treating drug use as a medical problem that requires rehabilitation is morally superior to relying on incarceration. Some may disagree with this assumption, so the writer will have to defend her assumption at some point in her essay.
Subordination and Coordination (Complex and Compound Sentences)
A complex sentence has two clauses. One clause is dependent or subordinate; the other clause is independent, that is to say, the independent clause is the complete sentence.
While I was tanning in Hermosa Beach, I noticed the clouds were playing hide and seek.
Because I have a tendency to eat entire pizzas, inhaling them within seconds, I must avoid that fattening food.
Whenever I’m driving my car and I see people texting while driving, I stop my car on the side of the road.
I have to workout every day because I am addicted to exercise-induced dopamine.
I feel overcome with a combination of romantic melancholy and giddy excitement whenever there is a thunderstorm.
We use subordination to show cause and effect. To create subordinate clauses, we must use a subordinate conjunction:
The essential ingredient in a complex sentence is the subordinate conjunction:
I workout too much. I have tenderness in my elbow.
Because I workout too much, I suffer tenderness in my elbow.
My elbow hurts. I’m working out.
Even though my elbow hurts, I’m working out.
We use coordination to show equal rank of ideas. To combine sentences with coordination we use FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
The calculus class has been cancelled. We will have to do something else.
The calculus class has been cancelled, so we will have to do something else.
I want more pecan pie. They only have apple pie.
I want more pecan pie, but they only have apple pie.
Using FANBOYS creates compound sentences
Angelo loves to buy a new radio every week, but his wife doesn’t like it.
You have high cholesterol, so you have to take statins.
I am tempted to eat all the rocky road ice cream, yet I will force myself to nibble on carrots and celery.
I want to go to the Middle Eastern restaurant today, and I want to see a movie afterwards.
I really like the comfort of elastic-waist pants, but wearing them makes me feel like an old man.
Both subordination and coordination combine sentences into smoother, clearer sentences.
The following four sentences are made smoother and clearer with the help of subordination:
McMahon felt gluttonous. He inhaled five pizzas. He felt his waist press against his denim waistband in a cruel, unforgiving fashion. He felt an acute ache in his stomach.
Because McMahon felt gluttonous, he inhaled five pizzas upon which he felt his waist press against his denim waistband resulting in an acute stomachache.
Joe ate too much heavily salted popcorn. The saltiness made him thirsty. He consumed several gallons of water before bedtime. He was up going to the bathroom all night. He got a bad night’s sleep. He performed terribly during his job interview.
Due to his foolish consumption of salted popcorn, Joe was so thirsty he drank several gallons of water before bedtime, which caused him to go to the bathroom all night, interfering with his night’s sleep and causing him to do terribly on his job interview.
Bob dropped his peanut butter sandwich in the tiger’s enclosure. He leaned over the fence to reach for his sandwich. He fell over the fence. A tiger approached Bob. The zookeeper ran between the stupid zoo customer and the wild beast. The zookeeper tore his rotator cuff.
After Bob dropped his peanut butter sandwich in the tiger’s enclosure, he leaned over the fence to recover his sandwich and fell into the enclosure during which time he was approached by a hungry tiger, forcing the nearby zookeeper to run between Bob and wild beast. During the struggle, the zookeeper tore his rotator cuff.
Don’t Do Subordination Overkill
After Bob dropped his peanut butter sandwich in the tiger’s enclosure, he leaned over the fence to recover his sandwich and fell into the enclosure during which time he was approached by a hungry tiger forcing the nearby zookeeper to run between Bob and the wild beast in such a manner that the zookeeper tore his rotator cuff, which resulted in a prolonged disability leave and the loss of his job, a crisis that compelled the zookeeper to file a lawsuit against Bob for financial damages.