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The Minimum Requirement for Being Human
Liminal Space 8: High suspicions and deep investigations
You’re reading the eighth edition of Liminal Spaces, a place for me to put my brief and scattered thoughts between essays. I invite you to share yours as well.
Forgive me if this sounds incredibly basic, but it occurred to me recently that virtually all of the critical thoughts that I have can be traced back to the negative emotions that I experience ahead of those thoughts (and then traced back further through the many cycles of earlier emotions and thoughts). The two might seem to go hand in hand, which is why the realization might sound super basic to you, as it does to me. But if you sit with the idea for a bit longer, maybe you’ll see the trapdoor therein that I started to see, which is that having a negative emotional response to something is a fair-enough basis for forming a critical opinion about that thing for yourself, but a horrible basis for thinking that your opinion is therefore right or applicable to others.
For example, I sit in front of my computer feeling negative emotions about much of what I see online during the forty-plus hours required weekly to do my progress-centered job. Those negative emotions rendezvous with the ones I feel upon recognizing my inability to stand up and walk away from them (like, even just for an unscheduled hour), due to the fact that we moderns have structured basically all human life around (the totally made-up value of paper and digital) money and our individual and group economic responsibilities and interests. I could of course change jobs or careers (again). But I can’t change the fact that we exist in a time and place of our own slow making, where continuous economic growth and technological advancement have become necessary just to avoid widespread impoverishment and death and societal collapse.
(That may sound like a doomerist exaggeration, but it is literally the main—and I’d say most, and possibly only convincing—argument against going the other way, à la moving toward the “return to non-civilized ways of life” advocated by movements like anarcho-primitivism.)
In turn, I’ve become very skeptical of the idea of human progress. My notion of progress—at least at the moment; it tends to shift—is that it’s a slippery and subjective false idol that we now find ourselves doomed to need to keep working toward, despite all its inherent consequences and trade-offs. It has become, to me, less of something to cheer on and more of something to just observe and accept, and to maybe roll my eyes or shake my head or type some words at, and say, “Well, we did it to ourselves. And there’s no stopping us now. And if we had the chance, we’d do it all again.”
In turn, I develop critical thoughts about all of those things: progress, modernity, economic forces, technological advancements, civilized (but seemingly self-eating) societies, and so on.
But it is important, I think, to remember the cycles that create those critical thoughts. To remember that they begin from my flawed negative emotions and are then rapidly supported by my flawed negative thoughts. Flawed as in blemished, limited, imperfect, imprecise. But not wrong, necessarily. Not for me, anyway. I don’t owe it to you or anyone to change what I think about me and my life. I do, though, owe it to you (insofar as I owe anything to anyone) to avoid making the error that often results from such thoughts, which is the one where I start to think that something that seems small-t true to/for me is probably also small-t true to/for you. Or worse, that it is probably also true on a larger, societal scale, and that it must therefore point to the need for a larger societal change.
Every critical thought and negative emotion that I have and notice should inspire nothing less than my highest suspicions and deepest investigations. I don’t owe that to you, either. But I do owe it to myself. At least according to the values and rules that I’ve set for myself. As far as I can tell, it’s the minimum requirement for being human, and most of us aren’t meeting it.
Roughly 99.9999999875 percent people alive right now are not me. That makes me around 0.0000000125 percent of us. Why, then, should a shitty feeling I get while reading acutely and inescapably reductive representations of our world and its fallible inhabitants—created by its fallible inhabitants—fool me into thinking that I know what’s best for anyone but me? Never mind that I don’t even know that most of the time.
You owe me nothing. But if you were to allow me one request, it would be this: Beware of yourself.
Words, Concepts, Being: Language and the ouroboros by Dawson Eliasen
Being Patient with Problems by Henrik Karlsson
Appreciating Imagination by Terence McKenna (via the Roger’s Bacon essay above)
Shadow on the Sun by Sam Kriss
Abstraction and the Origin of Evil: Where I disagree with Jordan Peterson by Ruben Laukkonen
The Answer Is Better Gangs by Seth Largo
Potpourri & Publishing: An interim miscellany of self-surgery, Talmudic sex, sphincters, limericks, humility, a mini book review, Greg vs. Leon, photos of Europe, a cocktail recipe ... by Martin Greenwald, M.D.
Hushed and Grim by Mastodon
“Going to California” (Live at Georgia Theatre) by the Dave Rawlings Machine (via Chuck—thank you for sharing this with me, and for including “mayonnaise” twice in your list of things to be thankful to the French for)