Love Minus Zero/No Limit

It really is about giving, giving from a full heart.

My responses to the pressures of life (which come up most pressingly at work and in dating) ‘work’ best when I just let go. When I find a source of strength within, avoid confused stances, and let go of my attachments to give something to someone in that moment, while maintaining a certain healthy respect for practical concerns. A certain Stoic/New Age mashup way of making love to fear, or shame, or anger and releasing it in envisioning and embracing the worst-case scenario that is at the feeling’s root.

It can’t really be forced as its a way of being in the world that stands firm in gentleness and truth. It’s hard to keep hold of and is the ever-continuing work of a successful, spiritual life.

When a new client tries to dump his unrealistic expectations on me, it’s not a surprise, but my refusal to let go of certain attachments blocks my unrestricted, spontaneous, deep-seated presence, and thus the potential to hold space for myself and him is lost. I am beholden to the guilt and fear and uncertainty I associate with losing the client, and I am beholden to the energy I’m accepting from him that ultimately doesn’t serve him, and we all lose. And indeed, I also lose the ability to clearly discern which expectations of his are realistic and that should cause me to alter my behavior, lost its all getting in everyone’s emotional storms.

The energy of dating is very hard to hold, too, and like difficult work situations provides a litmus test for my growth edge. I want to keep the other person at a distance at first and maintain an intense sense of self-respect and personal boundaries. This is all great and seems to ‘work’ as far as creating attraction goes, but its ultimately at the heart of what I’d consider an earnest attempt at maintaining autonomy in current dating culture that devolves into over-cautiousness. Yet my tendency to, once a date or interaction gets going,  lose myself in the other person’s world ends up leading to putting all the wonderful growth and the wonderful ‘me’ I’ve rediscovered recently onto the other person. What will be beautiful to see unfold with practice (and some luck at the continued life circumstances to continue practicing) is the ability to hold onto my own sense of self, the other person, the space around us, and joy so that I can maintain an attitude of fullness and giving rather than the ambivalent-attached energy of  neediness [1].

And from that place, a lot of my worries about being alone and what love means and what my attitude is towards it melt away, and I step into the place of discovering it in the moment with openness. I can be patient with it, but also have tenderness towards myself as I realize the degree of difficulty for me on this is off the charts, small successes should be celebrated, and a long-term outlook should be embraced, even one that involves no  material success outcome, or one that looks a lot different than the ones I might currently envision. Which all allows for, in the moment, giving, and letting be.

“Why can’t you just be happy?” That’s what someone asked me as to why I gave up a life that was solid and stable and created all sorts of waves and instability for myself and others.

Well, no one can be happy long-term, but I found the answer to being fulfilled, which leads to more frequent, more spontaneous happy than the striving to be happy. That happy wasn’t my happy. There is a place for it in society, a substantial part of society, perhaps who would be better served embracing boring/stable family from an early age instead of continuing to go clubbing at 30 with no stability and little future prospects (I’ve developed an acquaintanceship with a working poor guy who’s life is like that). But for me, given all the advantages and privileges I enjoy, I’m compelled to go for it, to go after what I really want and really stirs my soul (while keeping a toehold in the practical world of keeping bills paid) in hopes I’ll bring joy into my life and into the world, and that will just plain be a good thing. Knowing and peacefully accepting the risks in advance grants me the serenity to move forward, because now I’m in touch with the misery the fearful way produced, and I think I can hold onto that even if things don’t turn out how I want.

What I want for my work life is to be able to find the appreciation for other people released of attachments to my own fear of job security. What I want for my dating life is to connect with (not stuff down) the childlike excitement wonderful women elicit in me, and then release it back to the universe in a dance of appreciation, keeping the focus on how I can give and understand this other person better rather than how I can get this person to like me.

The world is infinitely interesting, but it does not guarantee us anything. The attitude of spacious passion, of keeping energy/zest/curiosity but also keeping perspective/openness/non-attachment in the same moment, is the only way to go, and here’s to staying in that space more and more!

Even the very problematic world of pickup has, at its heart, beneath a lot of the ugliness, this exuberance of two people fulfilling their somewhat arbitrary, somewhat biological roles in a joyous dance of mutual giving and joy.  Nothing is forced, nothing is guaranteed, and presence is found. The joy of giving and of inhabiting the role of the “tall/bold/proud” American man sums it all up nicely, energetically, and while I won’t likely be trying pickup anytime soon, I’d love to bring that joyous, open-hearted kind of swagger Lana sings about into my dates, and in a way, into my other interactions too.

[1] The answer to which, as I learned in The Highly Sensitive Person, is not to give into tough guy warrior-like theories of END NEEDY BEHAVIOR! or MAN UP!; those may actually be authentic on another person’s path, but to me they are empty given the genetics I appear to have been born with combined with the way I was raised (which as with anyone relatively fortunate, has its good and bad but is largely something to be thankful for). Neediness is replaced with fullness, with toughness, not bravado or cynicism that flows from the confused stance of rebellious anger.

 

Also, final disclaimer: this is yes, indeed, my surface-level blogging.  What I share with friends is much much deeper & darker than this, and my journals even more still, so just know that I’m not sharing my deepest thoughts with you here. May seem like it, but believe me, it’s not lol :). This is the surface.

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What is Community after atomization and the subcultures?

Lack of social connection, and by extension lack of community, is one of the primary issues of this era. Resolving it means building meta-communities. When these communities are being constructed, we ought keep an eye towards restoring/restructuring the vitality of many of our institutions through the transcendent energy of intrinsic connection presumably buffeted by the meta-community.

My dude David Chapman is so on point about a sensible approach to life these days. He’s not perfect, but his is the closest I’ll get to a guiding philosophy. Often my intellect can barely wrap itself around his points because they are so on the edge of where our society is at right now, I forget them, fuck up from how I’d like to live, but then return, presumably (so I hope) a bit closer to integrating the lessons into my body and behavior.

I’m in one of those oasis emotional points where I’m grasping what he’s saying, the parts that particularly resonate, and how it resolves ‘confused stances’ I’ve been enacting in the interim since my last ‘oasis’.

The idea is that the great cultural shifts of the 60s resulted in two competing countercultures – conservative family values (evangelicalism as the archetypal but not exclusive spiritual movement related)  and liberal social justice/change (new age as an archetypal but not exclusive spiritual movement related).

These typified the baby boom generation, and, due to that generation’s frustrating, continued arthritic grip on our politics, still defines our country. In 2018. Fuck. You realize how far from 1968 that year is right, and we’re still in its grip? Christ, dude.

But does a political affiliation (which swallows up ones religious identity, ones selfhood, one’s local community, even) provide identity? Well:

Countercultural identity didn’t work well, because a nation-scaled group is too large a group to provide functional community; and because each counterculture merely suppressed and denied its internal diversity.

Because of this suppression, Gen Xers came to embrace subcultures that would allow diversity to flourish through group cohesion, i.e. punks, goths, bros, D&D nerds, etc. This Chapman refers to as the subcultural mode.
But when it comes to community, that didn’t quite resolve it either:
Both countercultures recognized the value of local communities, which the systematic mode had eroded. Both invented new local community models: monist communes and dualist megachurches. Communes failed quickly; megachurches remain vigorous. The subcultural mode developed subsocieties as another new model for community, which unfortunately did not survive atomization. The atomized mode provides virtual but limited community through internet social networks. Overall, the problem of community is still mainly unsolved.
So we have:
  • Baby-boomers and the counter-cultures, Social Justice Liberal vs. Family Values Conservative, which has failed because its way too milquetoast and generic to really supply many identities; sub-cultural identity became more appealing for…
  • GenXers and the subcultures, i.e.  SLC Punk. However [spoiler alert] just as the punks in SLC punk eventually died, got straight, or burned out, subcultures couldn’t remain a dominant force due to the fact that those identities were tenuous, we in reality have a multitude of identities, which was made clear as the Internet, globalization, etc. took hold bringing forth the era of…
  • Millenials and atomization, the fracturing of identities, the infinite ironies and lolz and hyper-niche creation of Harry Potter / Mad Men fan fiction mashups starring the Care Bears that comprise 1/4 of someone’s identity.
The atomized mode provides virtual but limited community through internet social networks. Overall, the problem of community is still mainly unsolved.
So that’s where we’re at. As we survey the landscape of community, we find:
  • A politics still dominated by the counter-cultural inclinations of 60+ year-olds, the liberal communal form of which is largely long dead and the conservative communal form of which is something like the Walking Dead, full of false consciousness and empty calories (i.e. the Megachurch).
  • A shadowy whisper of the old subcultures that were so cool in the 80s and 90s (sorry GenXers, you’re always overlooked) which provides a kind of identity through comic book conventions and the like, but which can’t really help people navigate the world and is more of an escape.
  • Atomized modes of online community that aren’t addressing people’s needs (of which Meetup is perhaps the best because it at least gets people together in person)
Where does this leave us? Very anxious and depressed.
And I basically buy the solutions proposed in Lost Connections, which include:
  • Reconnect to meaningful work
  • Reconnect to other people
  • Reconnect to Meaningful Values
  • Acknowledge and overcome Childhood Trauma
  • Restoring Status and Respect
  • Restoring Sympathetic Joy
  • Restoring a Hopeful Future

If we could find a way to build bridging meta-communities that bring counter-cultural (first bullet points in the two 3-bullet point list-sets), subcultural (second bullet points…), and even atomized (third bullet points…) communities together, I think that’s how we can start to find these solutions and address the aforementioned ‘unsolved’ problem of community.

So what might the three forms of culture I’ve talked about so far contribute to a meta-community that brings people together from all 3? Thoughts:

  • Chapman points out that “The countercultures developed personal and small-group practices for personal emotional fulfillment, self-expression, and “finding yourself.” These seem to me on the right track, but had limited success, mainly due to universalism—the denial of diversity.” If we could embed those practices within a meta-community, perhaps we can get past the denial of diversity problem. If an Encounter Group can meet within a community that also includes Bible Studies and an artist’s roundtable, and that makes space for getting to know people as people outside those emotional practices, too, then perhaps certain individuals could find themselves enjoying the practices without getting their entire identity wrapped up in them and thus either abandoning said practice altogether or just sort of not feeling great about it.
  • Chapman next points out that the subcultures (the GenX one)  “made their greatest contribution [through] expressive communal practices for “DIY” exploration of psychologies, aesthetic culture, and social models.” In the same way as with countercultural personal and small group practices, these expressive communal practices could become the practices leaned on in ‘all hands’ type meetings of the aforementioned meta-community.
  • Finally, I’d speculate that atomization could find a place here, though I’m not quite sure how, because if atomization is large enough in scale to meet in person, it’s by definition subcultural, and this seems to involve online forms of community. I suppose it gets down to the diversity, nebulosity, and non-judgmentalism of the meta-community allowing mostly millennial atomized types to find a comfort level of community that isn’t squeezing them into a mold that feels ‘off’. And, to specify, I think plenty of millennials fit into countercultures or subcultures, as those are still around, it’s just not a majority.

So let’s dream big. This meta-community succeeds. We start to remedy the maladies Lost Connections speaks of. We’re all feeling better. We did it! But that’s only the beginning.

At that point, we only have the foundation of connection and lots of good feelings and warmth from which to address the slow-rot of the institutions on which modern life relies upon. Back to Chapman on how the rot started with the countercultures:

  • Countercultures saw the misery of modern life as due partly to inadequate selves. Overall, though, the countercultures’ anti-rationality and subjectivism undermined effective systematic understandings, methods, and institutions.

  • Both countercultures tried to reorient society away from formal, systematic roles toward natural ones: family, unstructured friendships, and local communities. This was the obvious response to the painful gap between the private and public selves. However, it represents a partial reversion toward the choiceless mode, which isn’t capable of sustaining contemporary civilization. That could eventually become disastrous.

And this is my concern with Lost Connections if we succeed at its aims, which god I hope we do. The underlying value the book highlights is an intrinsic connection  – which, yes, is needed when we overvalue materialism. But, restored and refreshed, we need to create a positive feedback whereby our ‘natural’ enjoyments – unstructured friendships, local community, family – revitalize our enthusiasm for work, for boring detail-oriented societal reform (instead of the stasis of countercultural conservatism and the drastic-society-is-evil change of countercultural liberalism), etc. If we do not, we will have created a small little light of encouragement while abdicating our responsibility to the institutions that keep the light on. Life is empty without the ‘childlike’ side of intrinsic connection, its likewise a brute state of nature (I would argue) without the adult side to keep all of these modern systems going. We do indeed need people to go back into their workplaces and inhabit their necessarily impersonal roles with perspective and grace, helping the whole machine function better. We need creativity from all across society to help solve issues like the health care system.
As Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela says in Invictus, “to get [each other] to be better than [we] think [we] can be.” 
“Inspiration, perhaps. How do we inspire ourselves (as a collective) to greatness, when nothing less will do?”
That’s a question for next time.

Oh and one final note – get yourself a high school style romantic tragedy. It does wonders for the creative juices. Maybe I’ll start doing this like monthly or something bros and gals and zirs, it’s great!

 

ADDENDUM:

The below essentially resolved my exploration of Marcuse enough to where I doubt I’ll be motivated to read Eros and Civilization and have it lead me back into professordom or whatever. And it probably got lodged in my subconscious from an earlier reading of this very passage, even. Oh that I had I only realized that these paragraphs already worked out the damn problem and resolved Marcuse with contemporary evidence. Goddamnit!

Herbert Marcuse was probably the most important New Left theorist. His Eros and Civilization rejects Freud’s pessimistic conclusion in Civilization and Its Discontents (which I discussed previously) that the self, particularly its sexual desires, must be subordinated to the social system. Modern political repression, Marcuse argued, is based on sexual repression. For the New Left, the sexual revolution was inseparable from the struggle against oppressive corporations and an oppressive state.

This program was partly successful. By the mid-1970s, when the monist counterculture petered out, a majority of Americans had adopted a much more liberal sexual morality than was publicly acceptable in the early ’60s.

The demand that all men marry and support a wife and children doomed many to an onerous and unwanted breadwinner role. The Beat movement—to hippies—was largely a revolt against work, which implied a revolt against marriage. Hippie men too wanted to sleep around, get high, and listen to music—not spend all their time in a mind-destroying job in order to pay for children they hadn’t asked for.

The loosening of social norms, particularly around sex, drugs, and family, which originated in the monist counterculture and which is propagated by the leftish upper middle class, has been catastrophic for the working class. Millions who might have led decent early-marriage strategy-2 lives have slipped instead into the underclass: destructive drug addiction, permanent unemployment, crime, child neglect and abuse

Old Christian communities: And, the Christian technologies of the self were designed to make the large-family strategy more emotionally bearable.

So Jordan Peterson can fuck off about artists necessarily needing to get married unless its one that works for said person and partner in a very uniquely thought out way (or else things seem to frequently go poorly, highly sensitive people (i.e. artists) have more difficulty having good relationships apparently), but I’ll accept that we’re outside the dominance hierarchy in our weird little shamanic world, which is another of Peterson’s ideas. We should watch out for romantic rebellion and instead focus on enjoyableness and usefulness. 

The Path Less Travelled Ain’t so Nice

I wrote this about six months ago but looking back it’s still so true, and was qutie the foreshadowing of the 6 months that were to come for me.
We begin the new year thinking about the path ahead. A fork in the road with new potential choices, perhaps.
There’s a dirty secret about the path less traveled.
It sucks.
People try to help you down it, but sometimes their help is imperfect and even counter-productive and in the end, they can’t do it for you.
There’s no shortcut to the finish, it’s straight through the nasty snake-infested swamps of fear, and the searing hot cobblestone of pain on your bare feet.
And there are no bonus points for trying when you crawl back to the fork in the path and go down the easy one again. You have to start over; perhaps older and wiser but learning again the fundamentals of facing fear and pain that you left behind long ago. Still no getting around that. Seasoning may help get you ready but it won’t get you through. It won’t change the opportunities you’ve missed. But it can help you seize this day, and this chance to finally complete the ritual and emerge forever changed.
Viewed in this light, a million trite sayings that you’ve dismissed time and time again as the mindset of simpletons become real.
Just because it’s easy to understand doesn’t make it invalid.
So muster all the courage you can, but know it doesn’t do jack until you actually go and accomplish that challenge, that pain that pushes you to your limits.
Go forth, your destiny lies ahead, it’s up to you to manifest it.

A Blaze of Glory

Facebook pullout: I hope your 2018 is a great one, too, and that you don’t have to wonder, at the end of the year, whether or not it ‘could’ve been me’. Perfect love casts out all fear, so go out there and love; we’ll all have problems and they can either be’ just problems’ or something transformative. 


 

 

This Mark Manson post really got me thinking recently.

Thinking about tragedy and limitations and what I can’t or won’t do had its place in my twenties, but this new year is about faith and action. “The will to believe” as William James put it.

As Manson says:

We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control a) how we interpret what happens to us, and b) how we respond to what happens to us.

What would this year be like if I tried to assume that I was in much more control than I currently assume? I must work with what’s thrown at me but that I can accomplish an awful lot in the divine dance of circumstance and action This idea grates against the over-determinism so assumed by the circles I’ve run in for the last, I don’t know, decade, which is why I love it. I need to hold this idea loosely and not let it torment me, but there is freedom to be found in the midst of this consistent, assertive response to life’s blows and learning from them. I think I have good reason to believe this year could be the best yet, and the world could be better for it.

The energy I’m calling upon to do this has a blue collar tinge to it because as Camille Paglia asserts, blue collar people tend to know where they stand in the universe and thus can go out and live with a lot of energy and freedom.

Millenials can be a whiny bunch, liberal and conservative. May this year be the year that shit happens and I make art out of it instead of complaining and withdrawing. Can’t predict exactly where it will take me, but if I continue to build on my 2017 attitude and add even more swagger and presence, and add just a touch of luck, it could be a great one.

I hope yours is too, and that you don’t have to wonder, at the end of the year, whether or not it ‘could’ve been me’. Perfect love casts out all fear, so go out there and love; we’ll all have problems and they can either be’ just problems’ or something transformative.

 

 

 

 

Santa Claus and Metamodernism

Oops, posted a Krampus picture instead of Santa.
A point of difference that has developed between my own perspective and Megan’s perspective. I want to get to that sort of empty, nonjudgmental place but then use the space created to take bold & confident action. In the post I linked, I think the place she’s describing is of non-attachment from culturally imposed understandings to the point where she can’t break out of certain relationship patterns because she won’t intervene and take decisive action, because that might mean relying on a cultural narrative or archetype which she’s placed beyond the pale.
That is a much better place to be in than ‘attachment’ to culturally imposed bullshit, but I think it’s ultimately going to leave her in a state of detachment from the world without all of the passion and energy and romance and connection that are also possible in life…because that was the whole point of Sūtrayāna, anyway – Enlightenment, the mental release for religious clerics from the humdrum of regular human life through forcing the mind to release some of its natural (but stress-inducing, and possibly outdated in some instances) functions.
I suppose the glimpses I’ve had of the release of attachment have been peaceful but also somewhat empty of meaning for me. So my wish is to detach from all the emotional energy that comes up from these cultural forms, but then use that energy to take action. This is a more Vajrayanic than Sutryanic Buddhist ‘move’, if that makes any sense.
For example, maybe someone insults my beard and says it makes me look like Santa Claus. I’m beginning to feel gruff and butthurt about it, then realize I’m doing what my Dad and other men do and clinging to the male ego, release the butthurtness through non-attachment, and then I propose not stopping there but rather deciding what to do next. There are so many cultural forms to play with and reactions that may be more helpful or useful than the one I’m habituated too, but I do believe that picking one is often the best option rather than always inventing a new one since inventing one may not even be possible. So in the example, I can use the energy of frustration and butthurt and transmute it into something else, maybe I feel like channeling the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt in this moment (a cultural archetype not appropriate in each moment) and puffing up my chest and feeling adventurous. How this will impact what I do next is anyone’s guess, but it will be a more confident, empowered reaction than remaining in the butthurt space, and also than remaining in the non-attached space. Riskier, too but idk, that’s livin’ for me. Maybe I tell him that he’s just jealous of my beard and I challenge him to a pushups contest to settle whether my beard looks like Santa Claus or is an icon of perfection. Idk, these things are hard to illustrate because I’m still mastering them. Maybe someday.
Idk, at the end of the day this could be an excuse for me to think I’m taking ‘bold action’ when all it really means is I’m acting like a hyper lumberjack and having loads of fun but not really any better or worse than the chill nice guy I used to be just different. Who knows?

 

Total Eclipse of the Soul

An eclipse allows for a rare experience of two energies ever so temporarily fused, creating a disorienting experience of diffused light that opens a window to the soul. Likewise, the surely somewhat temporary, uncanny alignment of time, resources, and social support that have allowed me to make some progress towards straightening myself out are surely temporary, and I want to keep making progress so long as this personal eclipse lasts.

There is no success without sacrifice. I’ve been so angry at those who would save me and who are themselves hypocrites. I had likewise condemned the ‘Jesus Christ pose’ of the would-be saviors. That analysis leaves no room for those who actually can save me or help me along life’s road, it’s a path of not just individuality but also of radical isolation. That line of exploration found its end in a much unexpected place: the re-discovery of saviors and my faith in them after thoroughly stabbing and mutilating my old idea of Saviors. For the older, truly wiser that have something to teach me. It’s not the case that anyone who slings advice my way qualifies — in fact the vast majority of advice I’ve received or given could have used a much healthier dash of humility from the giver.

And learning requires faith in the technique of the teacher. Culture, that is obtaining any mastery over Nature, any legacy beyond brute subsistence foraging requires faith. In what are we placing that faith? Ideology and self-righteousness, mostly.

Thus the connection to my last post. As I’ve begun to advance from level 4 [1] to level 3 on the ‘Type 4’ Enneagram hierarchy, I’ve felt a self-revealing impulse that has led to these recent posts. My past self isn’t dying easily, and the blame and projecting are screaming at me to go back to where its safe behind the Mask of Ideology. If they knew the way I’ve been self-disclosing, many in my life would probably encourage me to go back behind the mask where its safe for employability. But it’s never actually been safe for me there, despite well-meaning advice. It’s been quite dangerous; leaving me less able to face with honesty and growing strength the dragons in life’s path that don’t go away just because you have a mask on. Pain and suffering will happen whichever way I choose. Will I face it with fundamentalism of conservative, liberal, socialist, libertarian, evangelical fervor? Or with the courage to become who I am?

 

[1] (though frequently 5,6, and occasionally 7/8)

 

The Tao of Shaved Ice and Other Tales

I plan to spend my 30s pursuing character, something Americans pursued during the era of the Culture of Character. And I hope to pursue this character within the context of community.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but I didn’t feel how much I’m missing community down to the depths of my very soul until recently. It involved shaved ice.

I walked with my wife through the neighborhood to our local New Orleans style shaved ice stand. As we walked and talked and enjoyed the simple joy of walking as a couple, I saw all sorts of tiny, idiosyncratic church communities, all providing meaning, shelter, and community for their members on small scales. I took in the taste of my cotton candy flavored ice. SO smooth. It was totally surprising how good it was. I’d never had New Orleans style shaved ice. It’s a completely different experience than the sugar crunchy ice cubes I was used to – you should try it if you have a soul.

I looked up from a lick of my shaved ice, full of peace, and was suddenly transported outside of time, seeing both the past, present, and future all at once. I saw a sanctuary full of symbology, full of congregants honoring their past. Where I stood up and preached at 15, totally out of my depth, but so full of passion that a few of the faithful were prone to anoint me a future pastor of the flock, a shaman-in-training. I never believed them, so it never happened. I saw a fellowship hall where congregants greet and reconnect. I saw myself growing through the years, going up the same steps again and again with greater aplomb. I saw a large all-purpose gym, where children could play and learn about their faith/cultural heritage. Where potlucks were shared. It was like the church I grew up in, almost identical in square footage to the church in the city I now live in, where part of a cultural archetype of a space just the right size to accommodate a Dunbar’s number sized community. Then my dog barked, startled me, and the vision collapsed into shaved ice spilled on my man-boob.

A longing for the tried-and-true format of the church or parish where you see the same people week after week holds deep resonance given my upbringing [0].  That said, I’m afraid I can’t go back to the Church since I don’t share their belief in the same metaphysical creature, but I do believe in some of the principles Christianity gave us that are inextricably linked to Western Culture. I want this group to stand for something, and I’m increasingly inclined to believe that ‘something’ for which my group stands must include at minimum the value of direct truth-telling (as opposed to Eastern indirectness), of individual identity and responsibility (as opposed to being subsumed by a collective, a society, or an ideology) [zir], and a mutual commitment to best practices for living a good life (such as marriage) [.5].

As I think about the kind of person I’d want to become, partially shaped by this future community, I think the key to unlocking the door of our current sociability crisis is to recover the right bits of said Culture of Character [1]. Traces of that culture were kept alive in unique ways by my grandparents even as the Culture’s time had passed a generation earlier thanks to Dale Carnegie and replaced by the Culture of the Salesman.

To do this, we must travel back further and deeper than the 1950s paradise imagined by Robert Putnam. I imagine his idyllic childhood as the suburban paradise of Dale Carnegie styled salesmen going over to each other’s houses, truly gaining social benefits that we lack today, but falling short of the bonds that are formed around shared conceptions of character development, community, and mutual concern and with too much a tinge of self-promotion, salesmanship, showmanship, and materialism in maintaining appearances. Sure, they would have had richer connections and more strongly shared conceptions than we have today, but I would posit that they (50s suburbanites) had less social cohesiveness or benefits, in turn than their counterparts in the more agrarian 1800 small town or rural community Culture of Character (as opposed to the overall, urban, 20th century figures presented by Putnam).  The vestiges of this 50’s neighborhood cookout neighborliness that I’ve caught still existing today have oft been fraught with the pride of the extraverted Salesmen who can’t wait to brag and tell everyone about his tight knit group of neighbors.

Image result for 1880s community

The way I imagine it [2], many of the true believers of the Culture of Character were utterly blind to the power wielded over them and how they were used as means-to-an-end by various cultural forces above them in the social hierarchy. But there was something powerful in their belief in earnestness, an honesty essential to forming a deeply knit tribe built on trust and not mutual lust for power. A foundation of Stability. Meaning. Love for fellow community members that ran deep enough to lay down one’s life for them. Accountability.

Though some may challenge the notion that a la Little House on the Prairie, the Culture of Character approached a level of loyalty to the community that was within eyesight of loyalty to one’s family, that’s the narrative I’m going with for now.

Image result for old man praying

Purity of heart.

That’s what I’m seeking to recover from that history.

When I was 16, I went all-in on Evangelicalism augmented by a mystical Christian book or two and tried on Evangelical clothes as all-encompassing identity. I prayed. I meditated. I stopped making excuses and stopped being possessed by teenage-flavored Ressentiment[3]. I admitted where I was weak and tried to improve. I pushed the areas where I was strong far beyond my comfort zone. I did some very awkward, predictably share-your-faith things that I wish the world didn’t have to continue to endure looking back, but which were acts of courage within my moral framework at the time.

But I did a lot of things I’m proud of, too. I reached out as a friend and built some bridges with classmates that I’d bullied back in middle school. I also reached out to my high school social hierarchy ‘superiors’ and dared treat them as people, and got positive responses. I had a transcendent spiritual experience. I started trying to take a leadership role to encourage others to do the right thing. But it was all largely without a spirit of coercion or self-righteousness, or else, I’d like to believe, it wouldn’t have been as successful. Now, there comes a time when you have to keep your humility, and despite warnings to keep the ego in check from a good friend, ultimately the lust for more power and more mystical experiences undermined my progress [4]. But maybe after a decade and a half of picking apart every aspect of that rural, evangelical, Christian, white, male worldview and finding meaning and community wanting from such a project, I can make a change. Maybe I can find success in returning again to purity of heart, albeit with a more healthy distance from some of the more nefarious aspects of those aforementioned identities so harped on by the Left [5].

When I drop the power games and the overly harsh enforcement of boundaries [6], and return to a more authentic, open-hearted, self-creating experience. I improve relationship with my wife when I return to this sort of purity.[7]

I hope that soon the same will be said again of how I’m improving, through purity of intent and action, my relationship to my community, friends, and family like it was for this brief precious months in 2003.

Now, all this said, you have to have your street smarts in this life. Nature still puts pressure on us as much as we have succeeded at harnessing its power. And that pressure sometimes stresses people past what their character can handle, manifesting in crime, poverty, resentment, deceptiveness, that have quite reasonable causes even if the reaction to those causes is reprehensible. But goodness still has to be at the center. As the authors of The Upside of your Dark Side point out, you need to harness the “dark” (critical, angry, jealous, pissed, sharp, biting) side of life for that last push of the 5k, that last 20%. This willingness to get nasty or critical, if its to avoid devolution into Ressentiment must constantly be questioned for its service to good character. We must endure enough Self-Purification (MLK) so as to know wholeheartedly, tentatively  with fear and trembling that we are a few steps to the side of Good rather than taking on the Mask of Ideology and assuming we are several Giant Steps on the Right Side of History because our ideological touchstones (Rush Limbaugh, the Black Lives Matter platform) justify our superiority.

The above is a highly introverted, highly agreeable take on goodness, but I’m going to claim it. We need more Solzhenitsyns. Maybe we’re on the naive side, but we truth-tellers have a way of exposing lies, however subtly the self-serving and difficult to pin down nature of them, before its too late. When we shirk our duty, as when all ‘types’ do, a certain amount of balance is forfeited in the eternal struggle for balance of order and chaos [8].

Image result for  Solzhenitsyns

To bring all of this full circle, I seek to find a community where I can safely practice this work of truth telling and trust. From there, from the mutual safety and support of our established group, we can attempt to stave off the entropy of self-congratulation, self-satisfaction, and isolation by engaging in bridging work with other groups towards healing the divisions in society and, for me, figuring out how to keep this culture going and working for all of its members in the Age of the Tapestry [9]. Running back home to my nuclear or extended family does not address the challenge, though I haven’t 100% ruled out that it might be a part of the solution. That’s because the challenge is not confined to my local, individual loneliness. No, the problem is existential (a problem of being alive, period), societal (a product of this moment in the US), and world-historical (a product of the technologies and pressures on the entire global ecosystem), to name a few. And I know from experience that from a solid foundation of loving relationship, beautiful experiences can be achieved.

I’m still working out what that group might look like [10]. I hope you’ll join me on this journey and add your own passions and insights to the conversation.

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Please note:

This piece began as a theoretical exploration of the ideas that are intriguing me the most right now. As I synthesized and self-debated the different ideas, it grew into this piece.
I plan on cleaning up the theory-heavy piece sometime soon, again, mostly from the conviction that I should get in the habit of releasing these thoughts out into the world as a discipline of open ‘type 4’ (Enneagram) sharing, whether or not its well-formulated and illustrated enough yet to actually make sense!
Disclaimers & Footnotes

Please comment if you find the inevitable spelling and grammar mistakes. Again, I wanted to release this into the world without editing down its spirit. If I get enough commentary, perhaps it could transform with carefully selected illustrations, examples, and even changes of opinion.

As an artistic/individualist type, I’m tempted to take the Wendell Berry route, exalt rural communities as godly, and dive back into where I came from, embracing small countryside churches and down home community. But that feels too lacking of the kind of bridging work we now desperately need, and further, too full of true believing nonsense in counter-productive religious theology for me to live in such a community as my truthful, soul-bearing self.
This post is 100% my life, my passion. It is not my livelihood in any way, therefore profit isn’t in the picture at this point. I’ll kindly take down any picture that’s requested.

[0] Robert Putnam speculates that groups or organizations may not be the mode we most need, but I can’t conceive of one past it. My highly intelligent friend Justin might be onto something, more fluid than these fixed groups in his idea of the modern social library. The mark of true creativity (versus just authentic expression/self-discovery as I am apt to trade in) is coming up with something that truly no one else on the globe is talking about or has quite conceived of, and he’s done so, which is amazing!

[.5] Even if those best practices are a bit more loosely defined than “Bible-believing” church groups, I’d like to see them more tightly defined than just ‘to each her own’.  I also haven’t ruled out an intentional community, though the values of those I most often see would likely be too much like a loosely structured apartment complex to be worthwhile, or would find my beliefs to fall short of either a religious, Leftist, or collectivist benchmark for inclusion. Lest I devolve into a Special Snowflake Millennial in Need of a Community of Other People Tailored to my Needs, I’m looking forward to discussing these ideas in a couple meetup groups some friends of mine started with me. At some point, I’ll need to make a call on what fits my vision best amongst limited, flawed, human existing options or make sure that one I potentially help co-create has enough of mine in the vision to satisfy.

[zir] See communitarianism, communism, socialism, hippies

[1] excluding, for instance, the bits that were overly puritanical, exclusionary, and harsh, elements of its not-to-be-overlooked religious element, to name an example.

[2] I’m of course bullshitting here, this argument is wide open to critique/improvement/data/empricism

[3] Ressentiment (not resentment), Nietzsche’s concept of a peculiar form of angry resentment typical of ineffective individuals that is oft sublimated into passive aggressive forms of dominance, like calling weakness strength in order to drag ‘the strong’ down on the level of ‘the weak’ and have ‘the weak’ feel better about their own shortcomings. One of the influences on my complimentary theoretical piece to this piece is Stephen Hicks’s diagnosis of postmodernity as Marxist Ressentiment manifesting after its failure in the world. This understanding has been tempered by how I use Thaddeus Russell to temper Hicks/Jordan Peterson within a meta-framework provided by David Chapman. If that’s a mouthful of people you’ve never heard of before and exist in my own little corner of the universe, that’s why it’s over on the forthcoming ‘theoretical piece’!

[4] I was 16 after all. Only some of the very best among us, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., seem to attain the combination of wise choices, grit, and luck that result in keeping their upward trajectory going with minimal interference, stuckness, or regression along the way.

[5] Practicing a kind of Speculative non-Christianity akin to these chaps’ Speculative Non-Buddhism.

[6] And I do draw a firm line between over-concern with ideology or over-concern with power analysis and a cynical jaded attitude towards life itself, a line between the raw philosophy of the postmodernist and the pop-distillation of its impact in personal relationships of Robert Greene. See the other piece.

[7] I’m reminded of Kelly McGonigal’s disagreement with Rick Hanson towards the end of this podcast. Hanson keeps driving away at the need to interpret one’s relationship in a sort of power analysis of gender, but McGonigal essentially says that the benefits of a harmonious relationship and of mutual trust and giving are going to far outweigh the benefits of this aggressive power brokering, even if the premises of the benefits of that power brokering are fully accepted. Not to say they shouldn’t be challenged or heartfully discussed in a healthy relationship, but a stark reminder of what the priorities should lie if resilience, stress tolerance, and ultimately, holistic health are valued over the perceived manifestation of political goals in a spousal relationship. In my case, it’ been a harshness about debating the true consequences of feminism and wanting to make sure I get a say in the partnership as I rightly have to watch that as a High Agreeable.

[8] Again, those of us who have done and do the continual work to avoid devolving into self-servitude, or which I can’t yet count myself one, I’m only beginning this work anew.

[9] We figured it out in the age of the melting pot, but I guess in some ways took the easy way out in switching to the tapestry model as a way to put off having to deal with the consequences of diversity. We clearly can’t do that anymore. See Charlottesville, but also Berkeley (not to equivocate murder and assault, but to muddy the good/evil Leftist narrative about who’s provoking who and who is using violence).

[10] and if the solution is not a flesh-and-blood, brick-and-mortar group, what that would even mean.

Our Internet culture tells us not to reveal insecurities, i.e. not to speak the truth as it may damage your reputation. But Solzhenitsyn reminds us why we can’t give in to that temptation, and I feel a sort of archetypal responsibility to be one who does, vague-and-never-well-defined-fears-about-future-employability be damned. I’ve been afraid to put this stuff out there, but you know what, I’m someone who likes reading heady, amateur, quote-on-quote “narcissistically Millenial” too long pieces mixing pop culture and a shallow understanding of academe giants. So I’m going to put some of that out there into the world, even if it happens to be the 1,000,000th piece that does so. So if I’m open to the process of Truth, which is extremely difficult for a High Agreeable, but necessary for someone perhaps equally high in the desire for openness and the desire to know others and ideas deeply.and  I’ll be open to improving or even overturning much of this by exposing it to the world. In reality, it likely won’t get read or if its read won’t be understood, but you have to start somewhere! Also, not editing this heavily. This is not a competition to put the sheen of perfectly marketable, rhetorical stuff out there. That will make it fairly obscure for any who happen to read it. If there are contradictions, may they come to light so I can either be aware of the need to live with them or re-work my maps of meaning to alleviate them.