A New Chapter in Human Flourishing or:
I Meta Bug Named Stu
He thinks we can be happier
On a calm July evening in Nowhere, Indiana, my geeky little beetle friend flew from the nearby tulip tree to our porch, lighting on the vine beside my chair. He’d flown over with his usual, graceful, sine wave pattern, in the smooth up and down and up way that symbolizes his outlook, which he had shared many times. “Complexity, elegance, mystery, and more,” Stu likes to say.
Stu first introduced himself in 2016, after I’d struggled with how to connect the brain science trend with the Culture Wars phenomenon. The relevance was profound, but there was so much anger and side-assurance that it seemed nothing could be said to the ranks on either side. By then Stu had eavesdropped for days on the podcasts and books I’d taken in over several years, and he felt like we Humies were finally revisiting our outlook — since around 1968. The neuroscience approach was a new area of thought, even for him, and he wanted to help us make use of it. “You Humies have to go more meta. Come back, Copernicus!” Stu likes to say.
On this particular summer evening, July 21, 2018, I noticed that the amplitude of his sine wave flying pattern was especially high. That meant he was excited to share something with me. It was about three feet from the peaks to the dips, and between the tulip tree and the porch, around thirty feet, he’d made six cycles up and down. This was going to be a special conversation.
We’d probably had fifty conversations by then, but that involuntary smile still came to me as soon as I noticed him heading my way. As always, he landed on a leaf that stuck out close to my ear and said “Hi, Tim,” like he always has. His voice is so soft and whispery that we can’t talk on windy days with the noisy leaves. “Tim, listen.”
Lately he’d started saying “Tim, listen,” even though he knew I was already listening. There seemed to be two reasons for the new sense of urgency. Stu is at least a few hundred years old, and he’s beginning to feel it. He senses the end of a fruitful and unique life among insects; unique in that he learned to read and to converse with humans — at least with me, but probably others, too. Time’s always limited, but towards the end, for a steward like Stu, the angst about what all to say, and how, is almost debilitating.
He also sensed our engaged but fractured and enraged society was ready to ponder a more complete, meta perspective, which was something Stu’s insect world had done in their Reset Era, shortly after Copernicus realized how the solar system actually moves despite initial impressions. His excitement was from the fact that he’d written a couple of rhymes for me to share for the cause which, for him, was to nudge us toward a meta perspective on our modern social dysfunctions, dissatisfactions, and discourse. He so loves making cursory rhymes and word herding, as he calls it. One was very short, but powerful after he explained it:
Come Back, Copernicus, and take a turn with us. Could it be. . . their goals are smiles, like, long term, a place we’d call. . . happy?
He was referring to both our economy and our political impressions. His point in using Copernicus was that it’s extremely difficult for us creatures to see how a system (society) works from the inside, which is where we always are. He also sees the sides as generally disagreeing on just how to create an enduring happy place, with the often noble efforts being obscured by philosophical and rhetorical Humie-isms. (The ways we convince each other of things, usually forms of reductionism to avoid inherent complexity.)
Copernicus had accomplished something amazing by thinking outside the solar system, then applying that to what he was seeing from the inside. It’s amazing not only because of the necessary shift in perspective, but also that he did it in spite of that stultifying risk of losing friends –the biggest obstacle to cognitive free ranging for any group-oriented creature.
Bug Stu and his friends had the ants to observe for getting that outside meta-perspective. They could see what the ants could not notice from the inside. Also, the ants were so busy doing so many things that they never really had time to think deeply. On the inside, every disruption was a crisis to solve, immediately, not a situation to be pondered and examined from a meta view. Besides, they couldn’t take another perspective and risk falling out of step, losing friends, being hurt, etc. No time, no refuge, no way to look at it from above in any sense. Impressive productivity and efficiency (as ants defined it), plenty of systems to keep things going, specialization, incremental improvements, wars, killing, and cannibalism as needed, “But no way to qualify the quotidian!” Stu likes to say, and, “Some ants gotta ant.”
Sure, our quotidian, established systems and paradigms produce many good outcomes that support human flourishing. But our immersion in those systems, even the mental models and assumptions in current social discourse, keeps us from noticing new opportunities that change the context, therefore the conversation. Not at all to suggest tearing down existing economic or cultural constructs, but many of us might engage best by doing a collective mental reset. The fray can fight in the fray, it needs done, but some of us need to do a reset — and qualify the quotidian.
This reminds me of the meta perspective of “Shapes of Stories”, as Son-of-Indiana Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. explained so well. You can’t notice recurring shapes or patterns even exist from inside a story. And what we shepherded Humies are fighting about are narratives of curated facts — or stories.
That creates a subtle but promising new opportunity for more human flourishing in a Reset Era exploration. Maybe more of us can take Stu’s advice in going meta, acknowledging that we shade the stories to suit our understandings, narratives of curated facts or stories, shaded to suit. Shades of stories, dimly illuminated.
From this meta view, with breathing room, emotional security, and no rush to vote, we can notice the intentional narratives, the curation patterns, and maybe even the power structures behind our cultural assumptions. Then what?
We can’t predict what all any new insights bring. Having the correct mental model of the solar system doesn’t matter directly in everyday life, but taking that Copernican view opened our imaginations on what could be done in a new existence of causes behind causes. That’s what brought us the comparatively safe world of today, not that big problems haven’t been created.
We’re all interested in human flourishing, wellness, not narrow concepts like technology, efficiency, faster, etc., but they have provided experience and knowledge of cognition, which now let’s us engage in resetting our cultural conversation if we’re interested.
Stu so wants to see a Humie version of the insects’ Reset Era that he’s writing a story.
He’d written this introduction on a large vine leaf for me:
The Fellowship of the Dimly Lit:
In response to our country’s Fifty-Year Fit,
Some Lefties, some Righties, some Believers and Nons
Got together in the Land of Pastures and Ponds,
And they said “Hey wait, this isn’t going anywhere.
Can we question our scripts?
Do we care? Do we dare?”
Then he looked up, smiled, blushed, paused, and whispered,
“Somewhere off in the distance, a cicada sang.”
(To Be Continued)
I’m hoping we’ll soon have more than this page to carry on what I’ve called This New Conversation. As I’ve said, we’re “no guru, no woo-woo”, and this is all from a down-to-earth perspective. I hope you’ll follow us and send a few comments. Clapping is nice, but I realize this isn’t really a clap-type publication.
Thanks for reading.