2021: The Two Towers, The Tension, and The Pie
A nicer but non-dominant discourse about what could be next
(Edited 10/3/21) I’m not sure how long I’ll leave this pinned here, but it’s a great and haunting reminder of how auspicious beginnings can become mere artifacts when Stralf aliens are lurking. Most of this was originally posted last January in celebration of our first weird year with The Pie. Some things have changed for the temporarily worse. Apparently the sabotaging aliens I mentioned in the caption up there, Stralfs (scroll 2/3 of the way down if you go to that post), felt threatened, as they should have.
In that photo up there are two generational cuspers, or tweeners, separated in time by the Gen X years, sitting at a prestigious but ivory-tower-free-university in the Midwest. The T-shirt says “There is no truth, only dare”. The thermos says “Pioneer” (black electrical tape hides other irrelevent branding, in case any ag folks out there are wondering). Perfect.
Perfect and unplanned, in part. Perfect location. Auspicious beginnings. Apparently too auspicious for the conniving aliens that Stu, my imaginary beetle friend, assures me are behind Earth’s biggest social problems and that thwart attempts to make things better. Stu warned me this could happen, but to press on anyway. The same could happen with this resumption of the Medium posts I suppose.
Stu is a rather mysterious old beetle, “a Coleoptera without a cause, but not without a reason”, going back well before the Declaration of Independence. An admitted nerd with a compulsion for learning how-things-work in many different realms.
Allie is an equally mysterious bio-enhanced screech-owl. Equally nerdy. Stu says she has a sparrow’s heart, referring to her deep, broad, and consistent caring. She’s observed humans from all different heights and places, and while we’re all different, she sees and feels common types of passions, patterns, personal and public ploys at great distances in both time and space. The wisdom of an owl, of course, and the compassion of a sparrow. Seeing into the distance in time, thinking of current and future children, one of her poems pleads for more careful thinking and attention to feenkings (glorifying the thinking done with mostly feelings) beyond popular perspectives. Here’s an excerpt.
Won’t you listen to our story, you with your…mothering eyes?
Won’t you…take in the whole story, retrace what politics denies?
Our legacy, their sighs, beyond old battle cries...
The Two Towers referenced here are not so much the Tolkien version, not that you won’t find some parallels if you try. Here’s what I mean though.
We seem to have two towers of political thought, and the tension between their respective prognoses, all intended for our good we can assume, has finally brought many of us to a period of reckoning and realization, I sense.
There’s a social psychology phenomenon called pluralistic ignorance having to do with our tendency to grossly underestimate how many people think between or outside of the apparent mainstream(s). It’s a side effect of subtle social coercion, often nonconscious, that tends to push out deeper thought, much like in Fahrenheit 451 actually, just using a different metaphor and intensity. I see it as pushing a crowd out, from both the left and right, to quiet but deeper water. That’s good news.
I call this group The Middlers, but again not referring to Tolkien’s Middle-earth peoples. Also not referring necessarily to a political middle, since I’m not sure the “left” and “right” could really define all the edges using a one-dimensional left/right mental model, ya know? I think of The Middlers as being in the deep instead. It’s harder to take simplistic sides when you go deep.
Back on land with The Towers though…
The two towers are full of people with ideas, expressions, and purpose-driven explorations. They they want to share them with us, shall we say. The two towers have been built, shall we say, over the last fifty years during what I’ve called the Fifty Year Fit.
Their ideas and the tension between them have come to both aggravate and limit our discourse and discoveries about alternatives to their world-views and platforms, which are intended for our two-party, take-it-or-die, politics. Both towers are full of smart people, driven disciples, obsequious underlings, and professional manipulators. (That doesn’t necessarily make them evil.)
Whether you live in one of those towers, or in the light of one of them, you know this is true. By light I mean interpreting facts and gathering narratives according to a tower’s illumination.
This is how things work in an overwhelming world of facts and narratives, and it’s not that anyone is necessarily wrong for taking part. Simplify, codify, and proselytize — that’s the life-blood of popular politics, which is what our democracy is based on, and it’s not going to change much.
But the two towers have gotten too big and powerful in size and narrative influence, so maybe we’re missing out on the good ideas each generates. (These are the first casualties in a partisan war of persuasion.) They’re built with differing ideas collected over at least a couple hundred years, and it’s not just about religion vs. secularism. They cancel each other out as best they can, and that has become their defining roles it seems.
A Convergence of Conscience and Meta-Cognition
A tension of another type, right there in our own minds, has also been growing, at least for a lot of us. It comes from combining the trending terms of cognitive/behavioral science with our own honest consternation about political simplifications. That is, we feel a healthy sense of doubt and uncertainty, at least when we’re not standing in the light of our respective towers.
That light gives a sense of illumination and also a subconscious sense of surveillance. We’re wired to respond positively to both feelings: feeling settled on decisions and world-views, and feeling a sense of community that we don’t want to lose.
The cognitive dissonance that comes with recognizing the fact of cognitive biases, designed narratives, and the paradoxes of over-simplified political platforms, can be too much. If we’re conscious of those factors and conscientious about what we’re all leaving for the next generation, our faith in manipulative means justifying advertised ends can start to feel…a little slimy.
Here’s a kind of meta thing going on right now. The original Me Generation is fading away from influence, and the conceptual frameworks they inculcated in both conservative and liberal politics aren’t standing up to the scrutiny of time, even from the self-centric perspective. And the potential shift is especially appealing now that we’ve come to understand happiness and misery a lot better.
That understanding hasn’t been from more extensive navel gazing (I’m a fan, don’t get wrong). It isn’t just from experience either, but from actually looking at the neurobiological processes that create happiness or misery. And while The Pie isn’t about neuroscience per se, it seems like the integration of this profoundly disruptive area of study can only happen between or beyond the Two Towers.
Otherwise, the somewhat-well-meaning surveilling light from a tower will serve to bias interpretations of meta-cognitive discoveries to support the respective traditional theses. So…I like to think there will be an emerging Fellowship of the Dimly Lit. And they will find their sense of illumination, as well as community, in that middle space, though not to the exclusion of anything or anyone from The Towers.
The Fellowship of the Dimly Lit, or The FiDdLers, escapes surveillance and blinding or distorting light you could say. Of course, this fellowship is not in reference to The Fellowship of the Ring, partly because that was only nine people…and there was a lot of magic involved. We’d stick with saying “No woo-woo, no guru” here.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t woo-woo in the largest Reality, but our understanding of woo-woo seems even too dim for a Fellowship of the Dimly Lit right now. Woo-woo ambiguity fosters animosity, and there’s lots of other things to explore in dimly lit areas without that particular divisive rabbit hole.
It’s kind of funny that the Cognitive Revolution is said to have started in the 1950’s, because it took another fifty years for it to really start affecting the cultural conversation. That conversation and those understandings are still expanding. It has taken multiple wake up calls to get our attention and imaginations in sync, as it often has in history.
Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings series was published in the 1950’s also, not that the two had anything to with each other. But with 2020 having seemed to be the year of convergences in many ways, it’s been kind of fun to see things as convergences with or without any woo-woo, kind of like in the picture above.
Our country, or the world, really does seem to need some magic, but maybe it’s mostly that we need more meta-cognition and less dependence on the Two Towers for light, not that they should or could be ignored. That’s what we’re going with here, at least for now.
This isn’t fantasy, but it’s not clinically cold either. And while The Pie isn’t from Middle-earth, it is from the Middle of Nowhere and Everywhere at the same time, as you’ll see, so that’s kind of magical in a way.
The Pie has emerged from something I called This Project, which involved taking in about a hundred related books over several years on this emergent perspective and opportunity while restoring old windows, talking to young and old Lefties and Righties, writing a couple hundred thousand words of mulling-and-melding things together, but then saying “Hey…wait a minute…” (I’ve actually said that many times over the last twelve years.)
That is, it’s not about making yet another book, or set of self-development guidelines with footnoted studies, or a thirtieth Third Way, or another course with a compelling, enlightening, empowering value proposition, or something. It’s just an exploration through the things we humans have learned these last fifteen years especially, about how we’ve been wrong about how thinking works, and what that implies about the constructs and contexts we’ve inherited and created and fight so much about lately.
It’s mostly about how incomplete our resulting political, economic, and relational understandings have been. That’s often come from trying to simplify things too much or in the wrong way — often to fit a particular political thesis. The two opposing towers are what’s resulted, and now it seems every new development in understanding has to pass through their philosophical and strategic filters. That doesn’t seem like a good system to rely on too much.
It’s not about a revolution, or tearing down The Towers. But if we’ll recognize that their foundations and main elements were constructed prior to what could be called our Second Age of Reason, beginning in the early Aughts, we have to put down our posters and pitchforks and fauxlosophies and think hard — even about thinking itself. Surely we’re responsible for verifying the spectral content of the light from The Towers, the stability of the structural members, with what we know today.
That is, the opposing tenets of the Fifty Year Fit, the commitments of the Fifty Year Fit, need to be reassessed by people who aren’t too committed to either Tower. Some will continue The Fit just like the last fifty years, and that’s fine, maybe good in a way. But others need to wonder again about what built them, and whether we’ve learned things in the past fifty years that should change the…respective perspectives.
We are constantly choosing what we’ll pass down to our kids and grand-kids, whether we like it or not, so we probably need to dig into this. The Fifty Year Fit will not be voted out the way we’re going, and it won’t end by way of attrition. Victors one season become vanquished the next.
But I can imagine how Middlers, and FiDdLers, could actually improve the light, so to speak, and have an enjoyable time while doing it. The dimly lit improving the light sounds weird, but that’s really what the Dunning-Kruger effect is all about, come to think of it. Here it would just be a generational thing instead of an individual’s learning.
Maybe this results in an enhancement for both towers, in the way gardens and shelters are, sharing a sort of commons or large field. Maybe if people spent less time in the towers and more time exploring those gardens and even going beyond the pale, they’d realize that they are the ones living in a dimly lit simple structure, not the people closer to the ground. That works both literally and metaphorically really. I like it.
The first installment of The Pie was 1/23/20, which was (95%) coincidentally National Pie Day. The other 5% was that I happen to notice it was National Pie Day (I only knew about Pi Day on 3.14) as I was finishing the article, so I made sure I actually posted it that day instead of letting it slip. That post tells more about how Emily and I started this and why, and who we are, other than nobodies. (update 10/3/21: Emily is now working independently on a very interesting and important consulting endeavor, and probably won’t be a nobody for long, so for the moment it’s just me and a few contributors.)
We stopped the posts after the spring of 2020, because it seemed like we needed to be more intentional about a couple of related elements, going all the way back to the beginning of the Fifty Year Fit, which could be seen as 1968 or so. We’re back , and I think we’re better, just like I think the country will be better for what it’s gone through this past year, as well as going through postmodernism, which we here are declaring lame and ready for retirement.
There’s one more convergence to mention here, and that’s because I’ve always felt that these issues are easier and more fun to explore with an imaginary friend or two that have a different perspective. For me that role was first filled by a beetle named Stuard, or Bug Stu. So he will be part of this as you’ll see if you go to our minimalist website landing page, and we hope you do.
Bug Stu brought in Allie Space-Owl and they made a few more characters, even humans, you’ll hear a lot about soon (we’re trying to make them visible to everyone first). I know this post wasn’t all that f-u-n, but This Project is going to be. Stu and Allie are very metaphorical as they like to say, and bring a lot of convergences from music, adult and children’s literature, movies, etc.
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll follow along here and maybe sign up for emails.
Here’s how to find out more about This Project out of the Middle of Nowhere.