Does this curve depict an abrupt change?
I think this is an unexpectedly meaningful question. It pertains to why human beings tend to differ so violently in our interpretations of reality; whether or not we can come to understand two divergent visions (of anything, even this simple arrow) simultaneously without conflict; or whether we’re forced to take sides and stick to our positions until one of us submits (i.e., plots revenge).
Even the resolution of this simple question depends on finding a view wider than the widest view of the question – not merely a wider interpretation, but an awareness that encompasses the limits (and therefore valid extent) of every interpretation that is encountered. (It’s always a little startling how this “negative awareness of limits” is precisely what adds clarity to an interpretation. Until I know the limits of something I don’t know it’s real shape and function. Two sides of the same coin).
(Whether the arrow describes something abrupt or gradual looks meaningless, I grant you. But I think it matters because climate catastrophe and political rebellions, are all nudging this civilization to an abrupt end, or at least to abrupt changes in direction. But we tend towards despair when we see the magnitude of change that’s necessary, which is why the gradual interpretation of change is still more popular, which means we’re not alert to the more optimistic possibility of rapidly shifting our whole approach to life. I suspect, in other words, that we get comfortable with an illusion of gentle progression, which shuts down the possibility of seeing a new potential for learning and changing astonishingly fast. So that’s probably why this feels like a necessary question, a way of waking myself up from this sleepwalk to extinction).
Let me try to phrase this even more plainly: How will we recognize the need to change abruptly if we’re always taking the gradual approach? What if the necessary step isn’t merely a bigger leap along the same trajectory? What if we need to jump off this illusory escalator, without looking first, without any rationalizing plan for where it will take us, with only the negative confidence that these escalators of gradual change are in fact conveyor belts dumping us in the same old tarpits?
So this simplistic question also pertains to whether we can avoid freaking out and holding tight when the smaller, gradual shifts no longer cut it. And it pertains, finally, to whether we are courageous enough to see through our own deceptions as they arise, because these deceptions are only attempts to preserve a singular vision, a lost hope, or a conclusive hold on reality, to avoid freaking out, but which also ironically prevent us from learning or growing into some new shape that might be a leaping evolutionary response to this crisis.
This capacity to shape-shift is a human gift that we have not yet unwrapped. We don’t seem to realize that every truth we hear is limited. We tie ourselves to stupid consistencies or certainties because we think the multiverse, the capacity to see from different angles, is a danger and not in fact the way intelligence finally begins to flow.
A perspective wider than the widest Interpretation
So here’s a picture of an abrupt change in direction. South to West let’s say.
But if the view is magnified, the moment of change looks gradual:
If I look at this change from a magnified vantage point, there is no sign of any abrupt shift.
But from a wider or less magnified perspective, the shift is abrupt, because there is a shift in orientation from south to west that is substantially different. Some subtle element has changed completely when shifting from the vertical to the horizontal directions. The one is the absence of the other. The radical nature of this change in direction is not noticed from the solely magnified or atomistic perspective, but neither the broader nor the more magnified view is more real or more true than the other (although one may in fact be more significant, depending on context, and I’ll come to that). The point is, a primarily atomistic view misses the nature of the shift that is occurring from south to west. It won’t detect the abrupt nature of the change.
And likewise, the gradual aspects of change are not noticed from the wider perspective.
Both perspectives are correct. They are not in conflict, despite the fact that they contradict each other.
This is an intoxicating clarification for me, because until now I allowed the two perspectives to argue at each other. So I didn’t look farther afield to notice this wider perspective that finds conflict absurd.
From here they’re not in contradiction because now we’re looking from a perspective that takes into account both interpretations simultaneously. Both add their own insights into a shared actuality that exceeds each particular point of view.
And if we magnify the view even more, as a vector plot (below), the kaleidoscopic nature of truth begins to become obvious. This is a third prism through which to look at change, (but there are infinite prisms available). Below you can see individual vectors in red, which reveal a quality of change that is far more chaotic and inconsistent with the level of perception from the two previous, broader views (shown in black).
But this is not merely a closer vision. It’s a more x-ray vision – it depicts the movement of individual thoughts and feelings that get averaged out when thinking at the level of broader trends.
If my awareness was reduced to a radically individualistic perspective (any one red arrow), I wouldn’t even be able to decipher the broader directional trend at all. But I would be able to trace the changes within or between individual vectors, which in turn would be invisible from a wider perspective.
All I’m saying is, no view is more true. This change is both gradual and abrupt depending on context. They are different refractions of a shared actuality, but the shared quality goes utterly unnoticed if I attach myself to any one interpretation as a conclusive fact. Realizing this, we discover at least momentarily a perspective wider than any particular answer.
And this wider view of a shared actuality is not reductive – doesn’t corral us into a limited opinion that all must share. It’s expansive, because in order to see the wider commonality behind particular contradictions a vision is provoked that is not tied to one or the other but recognizes the limits (and therefore the valid extent) of every perspective (which is to say, it sees “the truth in the false and the false in the true”, as K put it). So it is more open-ended than any point of view. In fact, this wider perspective is not a “point” of view. It’s not an opinion, but a new relationship to opinions.
But there is still a missing element in this perspective that helps sort out the relative significance of each view, that provides a hierarchical order that is not merely interpretive and dogmatic.
How the Stupidity of Greatness Supplants a Wider Perspective
This culture shies away from any notions of a shared actuality, because we have by and large misunderstood the meaning of relativity, although climate catastrophe is bringing this misunderstanding to an abrupt end.
Relativity has been degraded to mean a kind of radical individuality, where “everything is relative” in a dismissive, distinction-erasing manner, where everything is only an opinion, where a climatologist has no more validity than a crank, where there is no link between points of view, no way to harmonize these disparate voices without crushing the individual under another mansplaining dogma.
This error in our culture’s patterns of thought may not seem obvious to anyone who is thinking only of their own particular vector of experience. To see this we’d have to confront certain assumptions that stem from this cultural misunderstanding. One of them is the notion of our Selves. We see identity by and large as the primary reality, which prohibits our awareness of an underlying wholeness connecting these separate selves. Relativity has come to mean ‘relative to me alone, to my truth.’
But relativity isn’t reducible to “my truth” and “your truth”, and to the uneasy toleration of these differences.
Relativity is itself a Universal Insight, which applies across the board, linking all of us in a larger, nested hierarchy of meaning.
But the practical world (the world dedicated to seeing only the separate vectors and not the wider meanings) is stuck in a kind of Bardo or waiting room that feels a little hellish. I think it’s the absence of this larger vision that has made us hungry and weird. We’ve strangled our range of vision, or something has strangled us, and the traumatized reaction has been to keep our heads down and busy ourselves with the proscribed path. I see nothing, know nothing, feel nothing. This is called humility in a world that doesn’t have any. But it’s more like subjugation to the towed line. The mind that loses its autonomy feels obligated to the practical rules and ideals that supplanted much of its own intelligence. None of us are stupid, but stupidities rule us.
This strange refusal to open ourselves to the nested hierarchies that link us all! And because we don’t make room for this wider vision, we suffer the slow torments of cynicism on the one hand and gullible clinging to fantasies on the other. We’ve lost heart for living and busy ourselves with the meaningless vectors we’ve been offered. We still live in the Dark Ages. Our Enlightenment may have been vastly over-stated.
But evidence of this nested support, this deeper reality is everywhere and it’s not a creed. The unacknowledged portion of our lives that was lost in subjugating ourselves to a practical order, the eternal portion, the roots that stretch into the stratosphere and beyond.
It’s obvious in the simple fact that the health of the earth is a universal necessity, whereas no individual is necessary to the health of the earth. It’s a nested hierarchy, a more finely tuned perception of a universal truth, not an erasure of it.
But we don’t decide this hierarchy. It’s not an interpretation, it’s a negative reality. Reality itself nudges us towards this nested order through error.
This kind of hierarchy, in other words, is not domineering, or reductive or positively conclusive about anything. It’s not dismissing the importance of individuality. It’s saying that the individual blossoms in connection with larger realities, not apart from them, or as something greater. Relativity isn’t coherent with a radically individualistic vision, which is a vision of personal Greatness; the illusion of being larger than the nested hierarchy that supports the individual.
The Absurdity of Conflict
Human overshoot is forcing us to see that there is something tying us all together, a more intense reality than our fantasies of independence. The crash helps us see our mistake – that in raising individuality (on the right side of the political divide) and diversity (on the left) to the highest value, we have blinded ourselves to larger commonalities and to common cause. On the right, common cause (or responsibility to the collective) is feared as a repression of individuality; on the left it’s seen as a repression of diversity.
Or, if there is common cause, it tends to be interpreted as Us against Them.
Relativity was an insight into holding contradictory truths as ultimately complimentary, because relativity is an overriding order or wider intelligence, which sees every truth in its limited context, where they don’t collide.
Seeing the limited context of every truth is negative awareness. And if we can’t tell the difference between the wider, negative truth and a mere opinion, then we have no bearings in the world, then everything is fake news.
What is Not True is the only real truth that doesn’t end in reductive dogma. It’s the only truth that loosens our attachment to particular perspectives. And if we’re unwilling to see the limits of our perspectives then we can’t learn or change direction.
Negative awareness is wider than the widest interpretation, because it only identifies error in every vision. It provides no interpretation of its own. The wider interpretations that form as a result of this sensitivity to limits tend by default to be broader and more empathetic. But they too will become dogmatic if this negative (or relativistic) vision isn’t always active.
Recognizing the Element that Needs to Change Abruptly for a Wider View to Emerge
There is an abrupt quality to this adoption of a negative or relativistic or prismatic perspective. For one thing, this perspective starkly differs from most perspectives in not being a creed, opinion or dogma. It’s a quality of awareness that has no resistance to its own perpetual errors. It’s not trying to end error. It relies on error to provide its bearings in the world. Without this constant corrective nudge from actuality, we’re lost.
This describes a radical shift in our relationship to error, and to the meaning of error. If we’re not resisting the error, then there is nothing wrong with error. Then it’s precisely what alludes to a larger and more real world than the world we have imagined. It is the sole contact point between the otherwise solipsistic mind and a common world underlying all the diverse differences.
Or I could describe this shift as one from a Literal relationship to a more creative and relativistic relationship to our own interpretations or perceptions. In losing this literal relationship, we no longer distinguish between fact and fiction, but between honest and dishonest fiction (real news and fake news). After all, we can’t know the nature of actuality, only these interpretations. Knowing this, we’re no longer gullible. We’re no longer in the market for certainties, no longer susceptible to con artists or apt to collude in the spread of lies.
In the absence of certainty, the only force that keeps our thoughts and images sane and coherent is the constant shove delivered by the realization of limits or relativities and errors in our interpretations.
So now the line above depicts the shift from Literalism to Metaphor; or from Dogma to Relativism; or even from a primarily positive to a primarily negative awareness. When awareness of limits is dominant, we are no longer self-deceptive in defense of particular interpretations of reality. Then the positive ceases to be dogmatic or Literal and abruptly becomes metaphoric and prismatic or shape-shifting.
In other words, the essay is uncovering key elements of human perception leading us down a road to ruin that can change immediately.
Now imagine that this diagram above is depicting an individual shift in orientation from a Literal (downward) to a Metaphoric (leftward) framework and then back again, during the course of a single day. Each individual arrow here could represent my own particular perceptions in the course of this day. So it depicts the chaos of my own inconsistent or wavering orientation to life. This is a personal prism, a way to learn about my own internal road to ruin.
Sometimes this prolonged delay in my own transformation translates into wilder inconsistencies. Sometimes when I near the threshold of a new orientation, I go back and forth more rapidly, fibrillating, re-orienting and then losing the orientation, making mistakes more rapidly, which is how learning speeds up – by failing more freely.
I’m always confused by the question of whether I’ve changed or not. I seem astonishingly similar to how I was when I was about 5 years old. But there is a new clarity around this question, which suggests that some things are changing despite appearances. I might even say “no, I’ve never changed, because the Self is still operating in self-defensive circles.” This means I still think about myself all day long, trapped in a kind of solipsistic egg, unhatched.
And yet, the wider view is accessible now. But here’s the new information: from the wider view the Self doesn’t change, it dies. From the wider view the Self’s torments and repetitions are bemusing and of no concern. So a new dimension of perception is opening that is without a center, even if “I” can’t access it self-consciously. The Self disappears but doesn’t evolve.
So I’m trying to use the diagram above to depict this strange predicament, whereby change has happened even though “I haven’t changed.” In this diagram each vector of thought either moves Literally or moves Metaphorically, and there is no real in-between direction. Each moment of awareness arrows towards the Self or towards a wider perspective (and I couldn’t find a perfect depiction of this without drawing it, and I’m not a good illustrator).
But it’s a toggle shift, whereby each movement excludes the other. When I’m seeing metaphorically I’m not seeing Literally, and vice versa. So these are abrupt shifts in perception to and from a non-Literal perspective even when a full shift has not yet occurred.
But there’s also a gradual shift in outward behavior (black line), which is much easier to notice. And it’s harder to notice abrupt perceptual shifts if I fail to recognize the quality of perception that is alternating, and this key quality I’m describing here is one from Literalism to Metaphor. If I notice that qualitative difference, I also notice how abrupt that change actually is (or needs to be).
In other words, human thought tends to underestimate the abrupt shift that needs to be made (the nature of the real challenge we face) when a more gradual interpretation of change dominates perception.
The gradual perspective isn’t wrong. We’re not “moving on” from that perspective. It just can’t be allowed to dominate perception, that’s all. We can only see the nature of the change that we’re being challenged to undertake from a vantage point that can see insights in every prism of perception without getting stuck in one or another frame as a dogmatic conclusion.
Have Humans Evolved or Are We Still at the Threshold of Evolution?
Now it’s easier for me to handle each question without arguing one answer or another. Now I can see that every question has multiple answers, and I also see that it’s not necessary to decide the best answer. This last discovery is still a little astonishing. Decisions aren’t necessary because we’re never in a static situation, waiting to move. Even if we don’t do anything to reverse climate change, this isn’t a static situation. We’re rolling along on a conveyor belt of momentum, “deciding what to do” by inertia. The decision to act doesn’t arise in any individual vector of thought. The vectors of thought are already in movement and are only altered in their orientation by the course-correcting nudge of error. All I have to do is be honest and everything begins to change very rapidly, without the need to decide.
So now I can even turn the question around and ask, “have we failed to evolve for the last 100,000 years?” Have we been stuck in the illusion of evolution and progression simply because we have confused our own development with the development of technology? (I’m leaping to this “reason” because it lingers as a consideration since the last essay).
See, we can argue forever over whether we’re evolving or not. The answer means a great deal to some people, because they have placed their hopes in the positive image of perpetual improvement. And they would be correct – we have improved in some ways, and relative to certain periods in our history. But these first hierarchical civilizations were even more brutal than ours. So maybe we’ve only improved in relation to some of the most debased periods in human history.
Or we might point to developments such as the Magna Carta as signs of human evolution, but there was no need for a Magna Carta until populations lost their autonomy and became subjects. So every interpretation of improvement is true but isn’t conclusive.
And notice how we have ignored or haughtily dismissed the qualities of human cultures prior to these so-called civilizations, or even contemporary indigenous cultures. We dismiss them as inferior simply because they didn’t invest their energies into developing hierarchies of domination, which depend upon technologies of domination.
There is no overriding Opinion that can win this absurd argument.
But if we look at our condition (poised at the brink of extinction) from a wider perspective than opinion we can locate an element in human perception that is more significant than all the other elements in human perception that have evolved. This one quality is Literalism.
We’ve never fully confronted this confusion between map and territory.
And the ending of Literalism implies a far larger change than merely a new stage in human development. It’s the ending of stages in some sense. Yes there are infinite insights that will unfold as human life proceeds, assuming it does. It will go on, but that’s where we end from a certain vantage point. We can’t project our identity into what comes after this death of Literalism.
Beyond this, the Self loses its centrality.
This isn’t the kind of death that is frightening, however. Because it’s the death of an illusion. So something feels Ok about this.
The larger world makes it feel ok, because it reminds us of something more real than who we think we are.
Our attention is being recalibrated by these collisions with limits. These indications of a collapsing human civilization are tuning us towards a wider range of frequencies, wider than the widest opinion, and to a life larger than the ones we have lived.
I mean, sure, that’s a rosier way of stressing catastrophe. And it’s not one way of looking or the other. It’s all of them at once, which can’t help brightening the vision, because the wider than wide perspective reveals a potential to change that would otherwise go unnoticed.
We behave according to how we think the world is organized. So this change in the quality of attention is a stark change in “human nature”. But it doesn’t seem to feel that way, it seems to feel like a loosening of compulsions. So from another angle, this stark change in the quality of attention and behavior is gentle. An abrupt gentleness.
But if we repress this re-tuning to a wider frequency of reality, then we’re still gullibly proceeding with a dark faith.
Look, I’m a big sports fan. The rosier way of stressing catastrophe relates to the intelligence of a running back or a shortstop turning a double play or a no-look pass or a great boxer, and all that genius we dismiss as a lesser form. I think great athletes are perceptual geniuses, capable of reading the subtlest hints of intention in others and in the environment. They read minds and contexts and change course abruptly without planning. That is the kind of intelligence we need now, not the gradual approach of yet more politics and rational programs, but a sensitivity to our own feints and deceptions, like a running back shooting through a hole in the defense, an insight into a wider field of play.
And right now we’re missing the holes that are developing in our own self-defenses, the openings through which we could alter our course instantaneously. It’s the joy of being an animal — learning to see things honestly and responding precisely and coherently. Otherwise we get killed by predators.
And yet, of course, there’s nothing to be done, we can’t force this change on ourselves. But what would we need to do anyways? The limitations, errors and relative realizations themselves do all the work, all we have to do is let them change our course, not get in the way. Let our minds behave poorly, invite the fools within us to perform their song and dance, and applaud and laugh at the vaudeville of self-deception until it’s obvious that it was only an illusion.
We lost our heart, because we tried to live in the illusion of greatness, beyond the nested hierarchies of life. It’s not greatness we need but humility.
That’s what the indigenous cultures have been telling the alienated vectors of this Western migration – they see how backward we are, how we have taken ourselves for something greater than the supporting world itself.
Although it’s not the only truth, it’s a truth we need to face: we’ve been circling this essential shift in orientation, occasionally, rarely, changing into a Buddha or Loa Tzu; occasionally developing cultures that approached the world less atomistically and more relativistically; but never quite making the full leap, remaining susceptible to the illusions of Literalism, rising and falling back, as I do in my own private life, never quite able to see through my own deceptions thoroughly, almost as if we’ve all been milling about for millennia now at the threshold of a new world. It’s time for a hearty leap.
6 thoughts on “The Stupidity of Greatness and the Absurdity of Conflict”
[…] tempted to apologize for the difficulty of the next essay. There are too many links between seemingly unrelated and perhaps even initially uninteresting or […]
Changed a poorly written paragraph towards the end: “And yet, of course, there’s nothing to be done, we can’t force this change on ourselves. But what would we need to do anyways? The limitations, errors and relative realizations themselves do all the work, all we have to do is let them change our course, not get in the way. Let our minds behave poorly, invite the fools within us to perform their song and dance, and applaud and laugh at the vaudeville of self-deception until it’s obvious that it was only an illusion.
We lost our heart, because we tried to live in the illusion of greatness, beyond the nested hierarchies of life.”
I like that. “Nested hierarchies of life.”
Like Russian babushka dolls, nested one in the other, we uncap what’s within only to be faux-surprised that it’s …. lo and behold …. “just” another doll. We gather up the scraps of curled metal and chunks of heavy wood and put them away. It’s a moment of creation after-the-creation.
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Ahh, it wasn’t until today (3 months later) that I discover that several of the diagrams I’d used were in the wrong place. Fixed.
[…] Probably the essays that parallel this one the closest (from different angles) are “The Stupidity of Greatness” and “The Limits of Ken […]
[…] other words, can be felt as a relationship to this solid limit in our understanding. It’s a vision wider than the widest view, because it detects the limits of every positive attempt to frame it. So there’s no need for a […]