Ins and Outs

Time for heart and solidarity - Petulance is for suckers


Human knowledge is all about making distinctions. In a funny way, we can look at most of our intellectual efforts (and by we I mean all humans through history) as a splitting of one bunch into two, after which each of those bunches are further split. Animals aren’t plants, but invertebrates aren’t vertebrates either, and amphibians aren’t mammals and so on.

But rather hilariously, I am already in a tiny bit of trouble, even with that simple and self-evident definition of knowledge – to be honest I am forced even to split THAT. Because there is also a concept of knowledge which is about the whole, instead of the parts, kind of a gist of the thing, rather than a model built of moving parts, each separately understood. It is super tempting here to say that’s kind of like the split between a quantum approach, in which all possibilities are equally real in the instant before, but only one of them actually happens (here) determined mostly by luck. Versus a Newtonian concept, a vast machine of actions and reactions, all of which could theoretically be understood.

That fit isn’t perfect (and I don’t want to get distracted too far in that direction), because we do understand that Quantum physics is correct, and Newtonian physics much less so. On the other hand, we get another nifty clue here – because on human scale Newtonian physics works great (adequate for the entire industrial revolution, after all) and quantum effects are completely invisible. Still ‘more true’ though – hmm.

I am old enough that I remember a time when being politically left only meant about a half a dozen things, and being conservative or right, about the same. That is – there actually weren’t ever monoliths on either side, rather whole ranges and communities. But they were once generally coherent families of ideas in a way – where today left and right have lost all meaning or value as indications of underlying principle. And to be clear, I mean both sides contradict themselves.
(I’ll dig into a few obvious examples for the skeptical below, after my main point).

So – what are some other ways to split families of understanding, which don’t derive in a roundabout way from antiquated French parliamentary traditions that none of us know anything much about? (Left and right of what exactly, anyhow?)

Thomas Sowell, an important black American economist and intellectual who is disowned by many on the left, because he was just as fond of busting their orthodoxies as any other (and his critique of intellectuals in particular, was so amazingly spot-on that they could and will never forgive him for it) made this contribution.

He said the culture split was really between those with an unconstrained, versus those with a constrained vision of humanity.

The unconstrained vision believes us good in essence and capable of anything we can imagine, is eager to change old standards, views and ways of doing, and when in full voice (as now?) believes sincerely that the dire warnings of history are really just suggestions. All past limits cautions and hubris itself can be overcome with thrilling new beliefs!

The constrained vision believes human beings are still pretty much what they have always been, amoral, except insofar as we make serious efforts to better and perfect ourselves, using traditions and technologies that we have long proven.

Right off the bat we are struck by the incompleteness of both perspectives. None of the attainments of civilization so beloved by the constrained, would have been possible without generations of unconstrained paradigm busting, to transcend the subsistence-traditional, and win our advanced ways of doing things.

But also – no human beings would ever be so cozy and spoiled as to think we can be any damn thing at all, without the extraordinary gifts of the modern world. Just imagine growing all of your own food, making your own shelter and garments, and doing your own fire safety, health care and personal security, all as a completely free and unencumbered individual. Not so much time left over for wondering and dreaming.*

Here’s another big strange idea which describes often obscured aspects of our new post left/right universe. This one is particularly helpful because it provides key insight into some of our loudest popular bamboozlers.

Martin Gurri spent many years working at the CIA as a culture analyst, which is where he first warned about signs he saw that society was beginning to fracture in a new (actually cyclical) and potentially dangerous way. The establishment wasn’t interested in hearing it, so he left the agency to write for the general public instead.

The key culture split he sees is between Centres and Peripheries.

Demographically his “Centre” is the university educated urban middle and upper class, the so called “Knowledge workers” (which group also culturally includes the underemployed overeducated ‘poor’ middle-classers who can now be found in huge numbers, in every big city). Narrative control concentrates here, and faithfully serves the already powerful.

The “periphery” are made up of the rural, the working class (working poor) and the practical trades. Mostly diploma free.

In terms of American life most sharply (but super-true in Canada also) these are now two entirely separate cultures which do not in any way understand and most often outright despise each other.

Beauty keeps showing up afresh

Now I want to add one more important split which I (and millions of other kids from the latchkey generation) have spent many years thinking about. Being for yourself, or being for others. (That is, steering by whim or by duty).

As the first generation with easy access to birth control, all bets were off on a culture level. The boomers weren’t sure what the rules about family were anymore, so they tried a lot of stuff which didn’t work, some of which is still quite popular.

Here’s the thing though – if you can’t put your children’s needs, ahead of your own wants, don’t have kids yet. Every kid deserves to feel that they are incredibly important. If you haven’t got that inside you to give, then grow some more, first.

I know so many people whose parents went the other way, and for all their courage and heart, the loss of potential and stunting of growth is heartbreaking from any angle you take. This is a malignant definition of freedom, and always was.

Even being a single individual who cannot ever put the needs of other people ahead of self is only slightly less of a problem. Not personally torturing a small child you invited, with neglect (so, big points for that) but still acting like a child – without any limiting responsibility – which forces the state to act like a stern parent to corral impulsiveness into safe limits. This is an insult to the adults also present, and pushes governance to become cruder, less nuanced and humane.

My understanding of how we grow out of our childish state of emotionality impulse and demand, to really hear and share with others on a deep level, and let our love for them guide us to a more selfless (or at very least balanced) mode of thought and action, is woefully incomplete. I can testify personally that all-in love will definitely get you there (and a high proportion of fiction and music suggest the same has been true and important, for quite awhile).

As as leftist I was reflexively (that is, unfairly) skeptical about this path for much too long, but honesty and respect compel me to say I have met many who have risen to an impressive and sometimes outright inspiring maturity of perspective, through their sincere and heartfelt faith.

Over the years I have met other people who got there through things as various as all-in teaching, painting (both fine-art and house) cooking (hospitality is ancient and powerful stuff) and healing. The one common ingredient? Each had found something which they loved so dearly and completely, it made their selfish self seem petty and foolish, and helped them get over it, so they could shed that encumbrance and grow further in their love.

Is plan B always a variation of bitterness, selfishness, pettiness and a hostility to compromise and society in general?

No, not always – plenty of people are doing their best to zone out altogether, and some don’t really get passionate about anything much, unless they are absolutely forced. And then on the far side of inert, some are very simply balanced.

The funny thing about this caring for others split is that it is describing an output, instead of an input.

I was tempted to talk about people who had their needs met when they were kids (especially the need for caring attention), versus people who were left with a structural defect, that would never stop hurting them.

This is a real split too (and one which people who were well-raised almost never take seriously enough), but the reason I think of this as ‘input’ and the caring for others question as ‘output’ is that an awful lot depends on how we digest our experience, and what we feel motivated to make out of it. A lifelong grudge? One contribution to knowledge or culture? One fine new stone in heaven’s temple? A better love than the one which brought us?

We get the same years, no matter what we choose to make of them (more meaningful, only as we ‘do’ that). So I come to the self or others split here as my best sum of outputs, allowing for a wide range of starting ingredients.

One way to do “Cross Town Transit”

Now what can we make of these splits, in combination? Some uncomfortably familiar recipes!

I should probably begin by declaring my own approximate location on these axes, for the sake of fairness.

I was given a reason to live try and grow, because I found love, and every time I love more, I live more richly. I’m also a poor kid with trade school only, who has read so voraciously for so long that I kind of sound like a university educated city slicker. Growing up in a commune and spending my teen years as a sincere (albeit misguided) socialist puts me squarely on the left, but working in the trades for most of my life, makes me as peripheral as can be (and believe me, the periphery can sure feel the suck, in a way the self-congratulatory have ignored for decades with truly amazing determination).

A lot of people are mixed up like this, I’m not unique, but this full-spectrum perspective is very rarely presented to others as a more complete vision than sharp emotionalist partisan takes. Sadly often it is branded a tribal treason and dismissed.

Here’s the single funniest thing about these splits, when you understand that both sides are totally false (that is, incomplete in a way which serves only an ego-tribal anger desire, not an adult loving-compromise purpose).

The Centre think the Periphery are idiots, and the Periphery thinks the same about the Centre – and both of them are absolutely right about that! (That is, both pathetically deny roughly half of the perspective they desperately need).

Those of unconstrained vision think those of constrained vision are cruel maniacs, and the old fashioned and traditional think the very same of the self righteous screw-the-past radicals – and both of them are correct also!

We are fighting vast battles about gross simplifications, instead of looking at the full broad range of reality (like loving adults).

What all sides have in common is we feel scared, undermined and messed about. But instead of seeking a more perfect union, we have instead allowed ourselves to become caught up in a festival of online Pavlovian snarling, which has trained us to eagerly and with gritted-teeth determination throw away the rich potential futures of real human beings day after month after year, just so that we don’t have to do the serious work of maturing our feelings about the world and the other people who are here with us. (Once called “getting over yourself” AKA: Wisdom 101)

Our Dogma ate our heart-work!

One way to do “Apartment Building”

Are all Trump supporters a bunch of demented racist Nazis? Really not. In fact, I haven’t talked to a single one yet who doesn’t acknowledge the guy has some very serious problems. But they are through being ignored, and their sharp working class critiques of Biden would have been hilariously familiar to my beerhall Trotskyist pals, a generation ago.

Are urban progressives sneering ignorant know it alls, who take every kind of working class effort (and exploitation) for granted, and still can’t be bothered to actually do any hard work, ’cause they might chip a nail? No they aren’t. It is true that there are some realities which they are determinedly ignorant about (and their open contempt for the workers around them makes their lazy claims of ‘leftism’ ring fraudulent, to every worker who witnesses that – and believe me, most do on a daily basis), but the vast majority of us crazy city people are just trying to figure out how to have a decent life, and/or raise a happy family. Nothing any small town stalwart wouldn’t recognize in heart, in full.

Now here’s a way that thinking about these categories of approach might just improve your life.

When an elite urban journalist tells you how evil people on the periphery are – you are listening to what all true working classers recognize as an “asshole customer” – a special-case sociopath – one of the most ignorant and offensive roles any human being can take. Purest ignorant bigotry from privilege. The voice of those who have always gleefully called for more flogging of the peasants.
This is a perversion of language and the political intention of journalism both. Bad stuff, wrong also (blind, right out of the starting gate – and still just as blind at the finish).

On the flip-side, when a blogger or “YouChewber” tries to tell you that the big cities are all rapidly degenerating into chaos and dying-off because the Eloi are still busy fretting about chin diapers and hoarding battlements of toilet paper, it is definitely time for a grain (or perhaps even a block) of salt.

Do you dare to be your own diplomat? (Or brave explorer among the enemy, if that framing suits you better) great – but why not be a SMART diplomat/explorer. You want to reach across one divide? Hooray! But why not look for a place where you actually find yourself on the same side of another divide? If you think there aren’t any to be found, then you are an ignorant bigot. Look harder.

All of my Trump supporter friends are love-first people. Most were saved from selfishness and pointlessness by that love, and devote all of their care effort and sacrifice to being more loving and supportive than the example they were given.

The exact same alchemy of pain-into-purpose which I find so uplifting in many of my hurt-kid leftist pals, who rose past entirely justifiable resentment, and made themselves into a thing ever more suited to nurturing and inspiring others.

On the flip side of that, almost all of the people who are making my own seriously hopeful leftism (constrained more by thermodynamics, Bucky Fuller style systems theory and design science, than by tradition) look like something reckless, which really does need to be responsibly opposed, are ego-first people, looking to justify their own permanent anger, rather than nourishing the future for others, with all our wealth of positive loving hope knowledge and energy.

Self-not-other just can’t be or do good – doesn’t matter at all whether it comes from the fake left or the fake right. Love or nothin’, folks.

Finally – I suspect that it is my Morlock/Peripheral experience in the trades and behind a cash register, which helps me to surmount the hopelessness that many of my ‘knowledge worker’ friends feel overcome by. I truly adore all of the creative arts and humanities, and participate myself whenever I can, but these studies and struggles mostly go in grand beautiful spirals, rediscovering eternal themes by ever more elevated means. It is too easy to think that everything works like that.

People with hammers and blueprints don’t do spirals – they make the world physically different and can do so quickly. Put a warm roof over those on the street, warm food in their belly, and a dignified job in front of someone seeking their own means to overcome early pain and grow to become fit to care for others. It isn’t endless theory and critique – they both change and sustain the world for real.

We scorn this effort, and those legions who show up and do it for us day after day, only at great peril to the future we share with them

and with that scorn we just as surely earn their eye rolls and laughter (the Eloi monicker and price tag, too) no matter how infuriating we have always found the impudence of ‘the help’.

*City people think meat comes from boxes and cellphones are nice. City people are dumb (both are very bloody work indeed).

I really wish the Americans who call themselves anti-racist actually were – because if they truly did object to the mass murder of black people, that would make it impossible for the Democrats to run proud and grinning war criminals for office, which would raise the frighteningly tiny potential for non-paranoid sanity in the white house considerably.

But somehow those ‘anti-racists’ decided “Free education and health care? Screw that – we demand power for the guy who made sure grandpa got locked up for decades, just because he got caught with a rock of crack in his sock.”

Rural and working class Americans, abandoned by the Democrats ever since Bill Clinton forced them way to the right, in a vain attempt to create a permanent governing party, finally had enough and elected a screw-you candidate (and however you feel about him, you have to admit Trump delivered huge dollops of screw-you to apoplectic urban elites, like very few politicians in the modern age).

Did he drain the swamp? Nope – the weird truth is that he didn’t have enough contacts or pull in the swamp, to even understand clearly where to start going after the genuine problem of deep corruption in the state. Did he tilt things toward the little guy in a big way? Nope, mostly he gave rich guys like himself a pay raise in the form of a big tax break.

We are fighting about paranoid self-serving megalomaniac geriatrics, who don’t even understand what or where the world is anymore.

Please can we stop pretending that conflict is about morality, instead of huge whacks of policy and corruption (both of which would be made far better with cooperative engagements and popular fronts, than our infinitely furious splitterism)

Not to say that this is any sort of a clue about why the powerful want us angrily fighting our most natural allies forever. Perish the thought.

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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