Alain LeRoy Locke, American philosopher and pluralist

Liminal Spaces

The United States is essentially a protean entity at the nexus point between cultures, markets and global population centers. Forgetting that may not only limit our potential, it may undermine the ethical principles that justify our existence as a nation primarily comprised of immigrants. Why are we here?

After several decades of “Culture Wars”, it may be productive to shift our focus to strong protection for individual rights and the unique qualities of radical pluralism. Reinforcing everyone’s freedom to pursue their cultural preferences, as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others, should allow individuals to preserve their traditional ways of being while enabling the unique qualities of a liminal civilization to fully develop.

Just as ligaments and tendons connect flesh and bones, liminal cultures connect less flexible locations in time and space. We are the edges to the nodes, the protocol keepers, the synaptic gap, the neurotransmitters. We build and design systems that allow the nodes to exist as a single integrated whole — without dictating their content. Forcing the world to be all edges, all connective tissue and in-between spaces, is incoherent. It threatens to destroy our reason for being and limits the full expression of our human nature.

Historically, cultures in the in-between spaces have produced distinct information flows leading to wealth, beauty, novel ideas and novel artifacts.

The future of what we think of as essentially “American” must grow beyond thoughts of pickup trucks, bibles, and apple pies. It also should include many qualities that are similar to historical places that existed at the intersection of multiple cultures. Think ancient Alexandria, medieval Constantinople, renaissance Venice, the Dutch Republic, and modernist Vienna. We should also look for inspiration from contemporary “superconnectors” like Cape Town, Mumbai, and Hong Kong.