We must begin…to stop using the formulation “We must begin…”

Essays that begin or have somewhere in their abstract “we must begin to…” often are among the more popular articles and perhaps rightly so, but I find this an annoying trait I hope I’ve largely avoided when writing. You’ve seen this often–we really must begin to think how much we see this!–in recent years: we must begin to think of objects, we must begin to think materiality, and so on. Often the word “seriously” is added: we must “take seriously” how artistic practices are also political, we must take seriously how sandals are not proper winter wear, etc.

The reason it’s a bit cloying is that it’s often linked to banal academic branding–thus the citations to the said article by others noting that X thinker has said we must begin to…

Such and such thinker says we need to begin take seriously the brain sciences or evolutionary theory or whatever, as if no one was already doing that, while also absolving themselves of responsibility for anything but continually, for years, arguing for beginning to do that. (I’m sure you have excellent examples, but I can think of several people who published whole books on why we must begin to… who have now published other books continuing to argue that we must begin to…)

All they have to argue is that we must begin to do it, not that they, serious scholar, have begun to do it themselves, since of course they only have to argue that we must begin to do it (that is the answer to any tough questions at conferences; I have only begun this, we will see how this comes out, etc.)–which is then left for others to do, like feudal lords turning over to the serfs the toiling of the land: here is a field of study I’ll name and I’ll leave to those in the muck down there to figure out whether the land or area of study is fallow.


  1. Good call. For my money you can take along “…And Its Discontents” in titles while you’re at it, although I don’t actually have good reasons like the ones you provide for “we must begin…”

    1. Yeah that’s a good one. I’m afraid to look at my CV and see if I’ve given any talks with that title–it’s such an easy one and often used. Cheers…

      1. I know, I cringed after I posted that because I realized there was a non-trivial chance you’ve used it, it is statistically pretty likely…not trying to shame anyone, though, I just want it to stop!

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