about Alan Jacobs

photo by Holly Fish

I am Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the Honors Program of Baylor University, and before that taught for many years at Wheaton College in Illinois. I’ve written a bunch of stuff. I am a native of Alabama. I’ve been married for thirty-seven years and have a son. I am an Anglican Christian.

I write a blog about technologies of knowledge called Text Patterns. My more random extrusions of “thought” may be found at Snakes and Ladders. Further information about my work, with many useful and entertaining links, may be found on my home page.

13 thoughts on “about Alan Jacobs”

  1. I found your website via Daniel Pinks link today.

    Love your comments– especially love Gospel of the Trees.

    I have been in need of inspiration and this surely lifted my spirits and creative energies.

    Thank you!

  2. I learned about your new book from your interview in The Atlantic. I was immediately impressed, and hope to get a copy soon. I don’t know if you’re a man after my own heart or my own brain. The former I can handle; the latter pushes all my buttons.

    Being semi-retired and frightened ever since Trump appeared on the scene (which could be 1985 when I first discovered him, but for practical purposes begins the summer of 2015), I have spent an embarrassingly amount of time engaging with right wingers. Although I do need to read your book before coming to any conclusions, my takeaway is different than yours. The portrait of groupthink is probably accurate to a degree, but at the same time strikes me as just a bit too academic. (Perhaps the academic version of the cartooning of sides that goes on minute by minute in any given social media forum.) When I’m confronted, over and over and over again, with visceral anger from a complete stranger (just this evening I was told to leave the country if I don’t like Trump, based on my quoting verbatim Russ Douthat’s description of the number of sexual assault allegations against him) there’s only one conclusion I keep coming to – it’s paranoia. Maybe it’s my non-academic wish to have a simple answer to a complex problem, but I submit that your complex answer to a complex problem is going to fall on the same deaf ears that refuse to listen to every other expert opinion on every other topic. This is an us-them battle. Or probably more accurate, a me-them battle between individual confusion and fear facing multiple complexities, without much resources (or leery of the ones available) to face them. People are stricken by too much information, and desperate for a world view, something to put it all together. And when people who feel disoriented and lost find “An Answer” (the simpler the better) they latch onto it for dear life. In that respect, same as it ever was.

    I have come to start saying that the alt-right (or whatever you want to call them) are correct, but for the wrong reasons. The grievances are real, but the targets for their animosity are phantoms, e.g. “the liberals”; George Soros’ global networks, etc.

    So it is a worthwhile thing to dissect our inability to communicate in an age full of communication tools. But at some point the dissection just becomes part of the same noise, at least to those disinclined to read analyses – a perfectly reasonable thing that is too. The question remains one of how to appear not as a threat to someone who is vociferous in telling you that you are the one with a disease.

    1. Perhaps I might offer a simple answer? You’re describing symptoms. The problem is still that people tend to disengage from thinking that challenges their assumptions. Unexamined thought is not thought at all.

      1. Maybe, but if it is simply a matter of “examining thought” then where does that put us other than in some sort of purgatory of a never-ending criticism/self-criticism meeting like back in the days of Mao’s cultural revolution? What you’re suggesting sounds good on paper, but in reality is still asking one group of people to change their groupthink with another group’s groupthink. That is to say, who gets to decide on who gets to say “Examine your thoughts!”?

        Most people don’t want to be bothered with “thinking” and that should be respected, if only because it’s not important to have a society of intellectuals, if only because that’s an impossible Utopia. What is more important is not to have a society full of leaders who prey on those who don’t think for a living. I’m less concerned with trying to sway the unwashed masses, or even convince any given person to examine their assumptions, than I am with people who rise to prominence taking advantage of those assumptions. Between the fool-hardy tasks of trying to change mass assumptions or trying to educate a new generation of leaders of their responsibilities, I think the latter is just a bit more realistic.

  3. I’m only thirty-seven pages into “How To Think” and appreciating your work. A footnote refers to a blog by Patrick Deneen titled, “Critical Thinking About Critical Thinking.” I wanted to check out that article, but it appears to be private and unavailable without invitation. Any chance you could point me to an alternative link?

    1. Jeremiah, I’m afraid I can’t help. That post was public when I wrote the book, but Pat has made his blog private since then.

  4. Hi Dr. Jacobs,

    I just read an article you wrote about American evangelicalism. And our family is reading your book How To Think. It is great.

    I am from rural East Texas, now living in a very nice part of Sydney, Australia. I’m trying to think of two more polar opposite parts of The English speaking world . . .
    .
    .
    .
    Nope, nothing comes to mind.

    Perhaps from living overseas for ten years, being a Christian, and raising two children in public schools that are highly secular, I can see more positives In American evangelicalism. I appreciate that American evangelicals are most critical of their own tribe. Other Christian tribes I have been a part of don’t argue, critique, survey, examine, probe quite like Texas evangelicals. (I grew up Texas Baptist and am hesitant to speak too broadly outside of those circles ).

    If I only heard about American Christians through Australian media and Australian evangelicals I would be in complete despair. Some church leaders here in Australia seem almost happy when another story of shoddy American evangelicalism reaches its island shores. I would argue that Australia has fewer and fewer stories to tell of any sort.

    But when I go back to my hometown I am hopeful. I see a more diverse population that actually interacts with one another. I see more religious fervor particularly among Catholics. Many of my friends who I would have classified as non religious are more religious than their parents. My parents just went to Israel with a group made up with Catholics, Methodist and Baptists. My Texas religion (perhaps because kids all went to public high schools) is less sectarian than Australian religion. I also recently read Byron Johnson’s et al. published paper on Angola Prison Seminary. His findings are impressive. I was looking for a clip for a talk on the prodigal son and came upon some interviews of men from there.

    I see other good signs as well. I remember debating St. Mark’s Boys Prep school in a few tournaments in high school (it never went well) so when I heard Richard Spenser came from there I wanted to put some of the blame on an Elitist Boys school in Dallas. But I couldn’t. It is extremely diverse with a disproportionate (to the Dallas population at large) number of African American students. Texas is far from perfect, but better than I recall.

    And one more thing. I am privy to community Facebook group pages in both places…religion definitely makes a positive difference.

    Hope you are enjoying your time at Baylor.

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  6. I find what I know of your book from your recent CBC interview so much better than my own Deadbeat Hypothesis (DH), that people become absurd and escalate to abuse when called on to face the consequences of choices they do not wish to acknowledge the cost of or the obligation to address.

    Social standing is at least as ready a motive, and I look forward to actually reading more of your views.

    All the best for 2018

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