Our Inestimable Humanity

We started Distilled in 2012 as an international quarterly magazine. We published four issues consisting of articles written by students and young professionals about politics, economics, and culture. In our initial run, we built a steady readership and a stable of writers, publishing a blog, interviews, and even political cartoons.

What we realized is that our most important asset was the community of writers and readers we brought together. We originally chose a quarterly magazine as our model because we wanted to organize our articles by a theme or a question, and to foster a diverse, wide-ranging discussion amongst our contributors around a particular topic. We cultivated our writing, provoked heated debates about politics, economics, and culture, and even engaged in dialogue with other publications and communities.

Alas, we were unable to keep a community spanning oceans and time zones engaged through just a quarterly magazine. Since our student days, our ability to publish several articles four times a year became strained as we developed our respective careers and crafts, built relationships with our local communities, and started our own eclectic families.

In many ways, this was exactly what we wanted. Distilled, from the very beginning, hoped that its writers and readers would become active and engaged members of various professional and personal communities, and in the process develop unique and diverse ways of relating to the world.

Nevertheless, the world remains troubled. Since 2012, the global crisis of confidence has unleashed a flood of violence, xenophobia, and greed that had previously been tethered loosely by propriety. Every day we see people’s fear manifest in the support of extremist, violent policies; in the rampant predatory behavior of corporate and financial entities; in government crackdowns of free speech and movement; and in the relentless hollowing-out of civic, liberal, humanizing institutions. Dogmatic followers of charismatic leaders promise the end of suffering and redemption, not realizing that out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing has ever been made.

The fragile harmony of our world is under attack from the dogmatic and frightened. The best still lack conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

We believe that the only way forward is through cultivating and nurturing a global community. This global community must have the courage to stand boldly against fear, and to share what we learn as we go along. We also realized that the only way to salvage courage from fear is to be aware, present, and fully engaged with the world we live in and the people we are around. Courage erupts from living in truth. The principle of courage was the driving impetus of Distilled in 2012, and remain the reason why we must have Distilled today.

So, how do we live in truth and courage?

We must seek full engagement with the world we live in, forming a community in which we actively share our ideas, wisdom, skills, and ways of living. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, and consequently more unstable, we must forge a community that too is international and diverse but united by a common belief in the value of civil discussion. Only in such a community can people seek refuge from dogma and extremism.

We must together consider the story of where we have been, who we are, and where we are going. And when the time comes, our community must have the courage to stand our ground and defend it, wisely. For if we succumb, we will be irrevocably devoured by fear.

Distilled is relaunching as a print and digital pamphlet series. Articles and essays submitted to Distilled will be mailed to our community mailing list as a printed pamphlet, and distributed digitally as a secure e-pamphlet.

Why pamphlets?

Pamphlets are intimate, like letters from dear friends. Anyone in the community can respond directly to a pamphlet through either a letter to the editor or another pamphlet. Pamphlets are easy to produce, and the techniques for producing and distributing pamphlets in both print and digital forms can be easily shared with the entire community. They can also be easily distributed in local coffee shops, bookstores, pubs and amongst friends, and digitally via e-mail, flash drive, phone, computer-to-computer connection, and social media. Pamphlets can be smuggled into restrictive countries and workplaces, and distributed in a way that is difficult to trace.

Digital pamphlets can be further securitized and distributed on local devices free from the monitoring and tracking of the internet, facilitating a digital samizdat. Finally, pamphlets have a long and august history of communicating subversive ideas across communities. These pamphlets will create a forum of letters amongst the Distilled community, which is held together by the principles of courage, engagement, and living in truth.

Nothing is permanent. Everything changes. What we are building together is mercifully not a utopia or a paradise. Instead, we are cultivating an intellectual avant-garde in which engaged and meaningful ideas and relationships have the time and patience to germinate and grow.

Our community won’t last forever, but it is indeed a refuge for our own inestimable humanity.

We humbly invite you to join us,

Sarang Shah