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Liminal Space 6
Signals and motivations, beliefs and religions, families and social progress, free speech and censorship, and more
Welcome to Liminal Spaces, a place for me to put my brief and scattered thoughts (and invite you to share yours) between essays.
Thoughts and Recommendations
I’ve found my way into several new essays that I suspect are going to require healthy doses of space and time to complete. So I’m going to give them plenty of both and resist saying more about them until they’re done—i.e., until the point at which clicking send is the only other thing left to say.
I often question my motivations for sharing what I do. There’s no escaping the fact that anything I write here is bound to hold some signal I wish to send to you. A big part of my job—as a writer, but also just as a human who interacts with other humans—is to keep a suspicious eye on those signals and motivations, knowing that at least some of them (if not all of them) will be ego-driven and hidden from view. Hidden from my view, that is. Most of you can probably see my self-interested bullshit plain as day. You can probably even see some of it now, in the fact that I’m going to such lengths to signal that I’m the kind of guy who keeps a suspicious eye trained on his bullshit.
Do you see what I mean? There’s no clean way around the bullshit. It’s not possible to do anything in public—or even in groups as small as two—without getting a little of it on you.1
My only defense, insofar as I have one, is that my (obviously very, very noble) trained eye forces me to reckon with a series of questions. Questions such as:
Am I sharing this only to send a self-interested virtue signal?
If yes, have I considered shutting the fuck up instead?
Would my interest, focus, and (occasionally) fixation on the point at hand go undiluted if my thoughts went unshared?
If yes, have I considered shutting the fuck up anyway, because maybe the world doesn’t need another hot take on, for example, the introduction of BIPOC trans carbon-neutral Lego gift bags at future Bud Light-free Drag Queen Story Hour events, or whatever the latest fleeting uproar is over the latest fleeting absurdity?
More fundamentally, would I want to have this next experience if no one were looking at me having it, and if "I" could never be anything more than my current unwitnessed experience?
If yes, consider the next point as well: Would I want to have this next experience (or share this next thing) if everyone were looking at me having it (or reading it)?
If yes, then I should be bold and do it and take whatever damages or consequences or exposed oversights come back my way.
The best we can do, I think, is to act both in awareness of and in spite of our bullshit. I’m doubtful that we can ever go entirely unaffected by it; it will be there with us no matter what we do or don’t do. But we can be more aware of it, and the more aware of it we are, the better our resulting choices and actions will be.
Likewise, the more we say and share in awareness of and in spite of our bullshit, the more our awareness of it grows. That is an important part of an important cycle. Living too much in your head—or allowing too many ideas to form and live and grow alone there—is a treacherous move.2 It is if truth is something you value and pursue, anyway. We are fallible creatures, eight billion strong, and eight billion mostly wrong. So wherever one of us can be found valuing truth, so too must one of us be found valuing the free exchange of ideas.
Lest bullshit prevail.
For more on preventing that, I suggest’s Everything Is Bullshit, which has (obviously) influenced my thinking and helped me to find clarity on much of what I’ve written about here.
With all of those thoughts now released from my head and requesting entry into yours, here are a few more recommended reads from the past week or two. Have at them, and let me know what you think about them and/or the points above.
I’m basically an atheist with a strong sense that there’s something far greater than me and us going on behind the curtain. I sometimes refer to myself as a lapsed atheist for this reason. But I don’t know. They’re all just words that don’t really do the thoughts and feelings justice. My interest in Buddhism is strong and growing. But I’m not a Buddhist. My interest in other religions is ultimately only a curiosity about their myths and philosophies and deeper meanings. But none of that is rooted in my belief. Then there are all the modern secular religions and beliefs: humanism, social justice, some would say progress, and so on, each of which I find myself believing less and less in over time. Hence, I think, the “lapsed” half of “lapsed atheist.” I mention all of that only to say that I found myself drawn to these three reads despite my various unsettled beliefs and disbeliefs.
Why Religious Belief Provides a Real Buffer against Suicide Risk by David H. Rosmarin
For a long time now, my fascination with the push and pull between freedom and community has felt bottomless. Inherent in any serious thoughts on the topic are further thoughts on the conflicts between family and social progress. Each of the pieces below speaks well to unique aspects of those conflicts.
The Two-Parent Privilege by Robert Cherry
Lastly, for reasons that I don’t think need explanation, here are some great thoughts on free speech.
- on the Lex Fridman Podcast
I love people as I meet them one by one. People are just wonderful as individuals. You see the whole universe in their eyes if you look carefully. But as soon as they begin to group, as soon as they begin to clot, when there are five of them or ten or even groups as small as two, they begin to change. They sacrifice the beauty of the individual for the sake of the group.
—George Carlin (source)
For the record, I say this as someone who dumbly and instinctively fights to spend all eternity living too much in his head, and who must regularly be stopped.