Where to Start? Simply Put – I am Awed
Eli Fennell all I can say right now is Thank you for an amazingly in-depth discussion. I’m going to have to bookmark this one for re-reading several times to get all of it.
Wow. Screw the idea of Tl;dr on this one – you need to take the time to read it.
Originally shared by Eli Fennell
Evolution at the Crossroads
Some say there’s a road to heaven, following the straight and narrow. Some say there’s a road to hell, which is smooth and wide.
In this life, however, J.R.R. Tolkien said it best:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
There isn’t one road, but a succession of crossroads going hither and thither their appointed ways, winding, curving, dipping, rising, zig zagging in some spots, even twisting around on themselves. At each of these crossroads, where to quote Frost, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood”, comes the existential terror of change.
Why do we fear this change so much? Because it reminds us too much, perhaps, of what we fear about death: the loss of self, of meaning, of relationships. In his book In the Dark Places of Wisdom, remarking upon the ancient association between wisdom and death in Greece, Peter Kingsley notes,
“It is such a perfect arrangement for wisdom to hide away in death. Everyone runs from death so everyone runs from wisdom, except for those who are willing to pay the price and go against the stream.”
Although he was referring to a traditional belief in and practice of rituals to facilitate an existential rebirth, one taken so literally in some places in the world (including modern Haiti) that the person about to undergo the transformation is mourned as a dead person, the process is analogous to a more universal principle: evolution.
In biological terms, Evolution by Natural Selection refers to natural selection: creatures poorly matched to their environmental conditions tend to die without reproducing, while creatures well matched to their environments tend to survive longer and reproduce more.
An environment can include such basic things as atmosphere, light levels, water purity, mineral profile, and topography, but can also include every other species it regularly interacts with (even microbes) in that environment, or any recurrent challenge to the survival of a species.
Therein lies the key: the challenges creatures adapt to are recurrent. This is why our planet isn’t covered with lightning-proof creatures: getting struck by lightning is random, unpredictable, and rare.
Whereas biology takes many generations of a relatively predictable set of environmental conditions to adapt to, there is a newer form of evolution occurring in all of us: mental evolution. You can frame this however makes you feel comfortable. The difference between Richard Dawkins’ theory of Memetics (that ideas are a type of lifeform in a very real sense; see The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins) and Eastern Philosophy with its conception of mind as an ever changing chimera tricking its host into believing in the illusion of its own existence, is irrelevant for our purpose here.
Creatures with minds evolve very rapidly, in terms of behaviors, in response to changing environmental conditions. Though shaped by recurrent biological threats, the mind of some of the more cognitively advanced species can actually learn to respond to novel challenges.
We humans are, by far, the most gifted and cursed by this. Our brains remain shaped by the tens of thousands of years of our prehistory. Many of the challenges we face do remain the same in essence: form meaningful emotion relationships, find supportive groups to be part of and contribute to, acquire food and drink, find mates, make children.
The monkey wrench in all of this is the internet. It is an amazing tool, connecting you to information and people and content around the world, when allowed to breathe the air of liberty. It is also a shape shifting colossus able to crush everyone and everything beneath its heel.
While the acceleration of knowledge and connection has been great, it has also accelerated the distribution of ignorance, mistrust, misinformation, deception, denialism, and invasiveness by factors well beyond anything that came before it.
In such an environment, the challenge of mental evolution becomes far more complex. We humans strive for internal consistency, and all the more so when those around us anticipate it, yet the internet itself changes so rapidly that we can’t always keep up. Typical advice for ambitious go-getters in this era is to build the epitome of the Personal Brand: polished and precise and calculated for maximum Return On Investment.
We’ve always had personas, to be fair, but it used to be easier to disconnect one from the other. Even the cellphone alone didn’t doom you to connection, as most had little to offer beyond the phone features prior to the modern Smartphone Era.
Now they are the primary gateways to the web and the app ecosystem as well as our primary means of communication. Personas must therefore be maintained constantly, curated for any hint of controversy aside perhaps for a token value or two you hold sacred and which won’t offend anyone you would ever be associated with. They must also be ever present, posting and sharing, engaging and interacting.
The young rebel who does social media his or her own way is tolerated, within reason of course, but once he or she has “grown up”, then cometh the grooming, the putting away of toys from prior years. This is the expected way of things. It is evolution, a mental adaptation to a new environment and set of challenges not entirely dissimilar to ones that are instinctive. This is as true for those leaving behind the college years and with them the drunken frat party pics on Facebook, as for the internet marketer coming into the prime of his or her career.
The old rules still apply, in a way, for those who wish to gain the most benefit from the system. Form connections. Network. Develop your own cliques. Invent rules, upon rules, upon rules made up by yourselves for whatever reasons you can justify and convince others you that you should be allowed to claim authority. Give prophecy from On High, never to be questioned.
Every Tyrant once had a political opponent, and superior forces decided to overthrow them, which only proves that people get the rulers they choose.
It is no weakness to serve. There is no sin in rebellion. These are choices guided by experience and instinct but adapted as best possible to the situation at hand. The basic three goals remain: home, family and friends, and food and drink. From the woman posting baby pics to the professional building a career boosting network on LinkedIn, some combination of these goals drives the nature of our social interaction.
In such an environment, disconformity is easily spotted, and dissention always exists within the ranks. It is the tension of the social environment in which our minds swing like monkeys through the tree tops from one branch of attention to the next to the next, never quite sure how to return to the last branch nor certain which the next one will be until it presents itself for attention, that now most precious of commodities.
Deep down inside we fear the masks we must inevitably hide, and which have facilitated our relationships and livelihoods, will be ripped from us, even when what they would show was simple human weakness and vulnerability. The child did not call out the Emperor for his nudity to shame him, but rather because the transformation was so sudden that it truly revealed all that had been hidden, whilst all around hid their shames away.
To be naked, our post Edenic shame, is all the more terrifying in the connected world. Try though we might, our nakedness shows through in the contradictions which come from this evolutionary process. Alas, could our social evolution have but allowed us to yank ourselves away into some protective shell like the Turtle! Instead, in an age where your social activity can be graphed and searched and segmented, and no guarantee ever can be made that once deleted something is truly gone, we fear more than ever the exposure, the loneliness, and the dark.
So we come to the Crossroads, the place of dark spirits and dark magic, where death seems to stalk us not with fears of demise, but of unveiling! That it could be the meagerest of things we hide away, like a fear of clowns, tone deafness, or secretly dying your hair color, does not in the least abate it. For, even as our minds have evolved, so too have our emotions, and where the crossroads of self meet, we shall inevitably find these two at odds.
In this there are no heroes, only those who are comfortable with their own changes being on display even as others might doubt them, and those who seek the safety of the group, the numbers who will welcome them back as long as they promise always to stay, be the same, for to those who would fear our change, it must seem like death. How many friends have we all, in our times, left behind as we changed, or been left behind?
Friendships and relationships predicated on sameness may feel comfortable like an old blanket, hiding from us the pillow they’re using to smother us. Be the same as us, and we will like you they whisper, and always be the same as you are now, because this is how we like you.
Growth is not just putting away toys, but those things in general which would distract us from our new course, the one that calls us to a greater destiny with each new chapter of our lives. As the seasons turn, so too does the spring of something turn to summer, then fall, then the lifeless winter, only to return in force again.
Once the leaves have fallen and the harvests begun, it is then we must begin to prepare for the next season to sow the seeds of new endeavors. First there is the giving of thanks, for all that the year has brought you. We take stock of what we have gained, so that what we will soon lose comes as less of an injury.
Then, standing at the crossroads once more, we must face the Season of Death, be reduced to our basics like the stripped branches of the trees, and let the elements cleanse us. Only when we face this with courage, and embrace it fully, does the Devil of the Crossroads become the Angel of Rebirth.
#PlusOnly #ReflectionHour #Evolution