My mom's birthday occurred the week before last and it sent me off on a retrospective mental journey that combined with recent discussions of recent events and a stream of contemplation I'd been riding throughout the summer. I'm using this journal to pin words to things which I find to be a good distillation proxy sometimes. If I can get one good sentence out of 2-300ish words it's a pretty big score.
By now this should not be a surprise to anyone, but I was an oddball kid. My loves, accompanied by some competence, were sports, outdoors/nature (while going through Mom's stuff I was confronted with evidence that when asked by my kindergarten teacher what I wanted to be when I grew up I said I wanted to be a scientist so I could learn everything about insects), music and art (which emerged during adolescence); while my greatest competence came in the drier classroom pursuits. I suppose with an extra shot of native ability and a little more obsession I could have wound up as a poor man's polymath. I've taken a handful of those tests that attempt to identify left- versus right-brain dominance. I can't speak to their veracity but I always scored dead in the middle which was a disappointment--for whatever reason I always wanted to be right-brained. Maybe getting beat up a few times in grade school for being singled out by teachers for being "smart" contributed to that.
Maybe it's inherent to my brand of introversion. Maybe it's just a case of wanting to be something I wasn't.
So I never had any distinguishing trait to my being, except the trait of introversion if it even rises to that level. The social conventions of the 70s being what they were, the adults around me seized on the academic facility and pushed me to exploit it, which I did, but I always felt I wasn't on an optimal path. I attended parochial schools which meant academics, arts, and sports, were presented in a context that life inherently held a higher meaning--a narrative I guess you could say. Whether it was nature or nurture I do not know, but a part of me has always sought meaning. At times I've shoved it far into the background, at other times I've carried it to the forefront. Thinking back on it now, one of the primary struggles of my soul (the part of me connected to the idea of higher meaning) has been one of seeking balance.
One of the first milestones in that journey came via music in my early teens when I absorbed the lengthy intra-album Rush song Cygnus X-1. In it they explored the ageless heart/mind struggle with a characteristically eclectic blend of soft scifi, mythology, and muscular progressive rock. Forty years later it is obviously a bit dated, but considering the guys hadn't even reached their 25th birthdays when it was written and recorded, it still stands as a pretty impressive feat. Below is a link to the coda which in some sense served as a compass for me into my mid 20s. Fundamentally, the conclusion is a statement of balance and tolerance with acceptance of the reality that following ones path sometimes means a lonely journey. It resonated well with an introvert moving into and through the process of transitioning into self reliance.
Then came the family years, where my own journey was demoted in priority until, fast-forwarding 20 years, I was again transitioning from a nuclear family into another type of self-reliance. I've been cultivating a plan that has been loosely documented in this journal, along with expressions of a growing sense that some facet of it is underdeveloped. In juggling multiple streams of thought I've noticed that aside from the outward similarities between my two personal journeys, there is deeper one, and that it is not redux but rather a continuation of a journey never completed. In a sense it is like I have a second chance to grow up!
Back to the idea of balance, it seems to be something I'm inherently disposed towards. But it's not always an easy thing. From the outside looking in it comes with the appearance of indecision, lack of conviction, lack of passion, and short rations of all the other characteristics of boldness prized by western culture. As an ironic aside, it is very possible to be decisive about withholding judgement, bold about forging compromise, or passionate about maintaining an open mind and balanced perspective. But for myself I often suspect that too much balance promotes inertia and immobility.
Now enter Jordan Peterson. Setting aside his public embroilment, one of the ideas he expressed in a way that sparked a few of my synapses is describing conservative versus liberal not as political doctrine but as personality traits. His view is multifaceted but one facet is, in short: conservative people tend to value what they have and seek to improve and optimize it while liberal people are more inclined to value new ideas and things (again, he's not primarily concerned with political ideologies in these statements). He goes on to say that at the societal level you need both, in balance, for long term success. Too conservative and a society stagnates and corrupts, too liberal and things become untethered and chaotic. When I thought about that it brought to mind the old Rush song I mentioned above (Peterson is Canadian and about my age, and I wonder if maybe he wasn't listening to Rush at the same juncture of life as I did, haha). I'll also note as an that I've described myself as middle-of-the-road on the conservative-liberal spectrum, same old same old for boring nondescript iDave.
I've just started reading Masks of Meaning, which I guess for now stands as Peterson's academic magnum opus. In just the first pages he threw out an idea (iirc, he wasn't asserting it was his idea originally) that the world can be understood as a "forum for action" as well as a aggregate of things ("place of things"). I paraphrased the former in a recent post somewhere and forgot to credit him. I still have a long way to go in his book so from here I'm mostly following what those words of his suggest to me and beginning to depart from his ideas rather than presenting his thesis.
The world as a place of things is the newer/emerging perspective, led by science and rationalism. The world as an arena for action is the ancient primordial perspective. I don't know if Peterson will ultimately try to map those in any way to liberal/conservative, and it's not immediately apparent to me that there is a 1:1 mapping, but intuitively I suspect that, like conservative-liberal) there is at least a local optimum to be found in holding both perspectives in balance. But keep in mind I've admitted that I'm sort of predisposed to balance.
Despite that predisposition, as an adult I've probably operated in the place of things realm a little more than in the forum for action realm. And it's been something I've sought to change even before I had this new vocabulary to express it. The forum for action is where things have meaning and value(s) prompt action, and I guess you can say is the domain of narrative. I suspect my moral shortcomings (perhaps residual guilt instilled by a parochial upbringing) are what has caused me to favor the world of things. An electron is neither good nor bad, it just is. It's easy to then extend that to oneself, where you can harbor a vast number of shortcomings so long as they fall short provably injuring someone else as codified in whatever laws apply to you, and argue that like strengths, they are neither good nor bad, they just are. To venture into the forum of action realm means facing the possibility that you have a responsibility to use your freedom in harmony with the whole, for the good of the narrative. It's the realm of meaning, which includes actions. That's almost enough to scare me away! But at the same time it is attractive. Intuitively it is comforting although intellectually it still feels a little like reversion to primitive ignorance.
I do not know where this all will lead yet, or how it ties together. My thoughts about my future are quite unsettled (even though my ER arc is still firm). "On paper" I don't want to revert to a perspective of mythological delusion or New Age-y superstition. But at the same time in order to try to optimize my future and the sum of my existence, I need some sort of value hierarchy, and the thought of a world steeped in transcendent meaning feels so very good. I wonder if there is room for a wholesome balance of heart and mind, as it were; or better yet, a union of them, in a construct that has meaning and reason both, and even a place for me.