Thoughts on the Present Day
As quite a few people have been acknowledging, something profound seems to be happening in our culture at this very moment. New vistas of important conversation have begun to spread out before us. While the mainstream media--and those consuming it--remain fixated on one another's shortcomings, a new group of people on independent platforms have been speaking to one another across various differences, reaching mutually toward a place of possible convergence. Even from the outside, it feels that the possibilities for future conversations among politically disparate people are unfolding and becoming available. The long-used trenches of tribalism are filling with rainwater, and more and more people are climbing out.
Suffice it to say that I am excited about this extended moment on a societal level (as well as eager to find some way of supporting its temporal perpetuation and spatial penetration). But I am even more interested in it on a personal level.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is one of most the instrumental voices in this "movement"--if you want to call it that--and, as I've seen it joked in YouTube comments, I'm a simple man: I see a Jordan Peterson video and I watch it. This, for me, is true. HOWEVER! He is not exactly the stimulus that generated this post! What catalyzed my current line of thinking was a single sentence uttered by Theo Von in a recent interview with Peterson.
Check this out:
I had not encountered Theo Von before this interview, but I found him both engaging and knowledgeable. I think he conducted one of the most unique and capable interviews with Peterson yet.
That sentence at the end, regarding his fears about becoming "a sober person," struck me in a peculiar way. A seemingly life-changing way. Let me explain.
I am just twenty-four years old. I'm sure there are twenty-four year-old people who could classify as true alcoholics, but I have been reluctant to assert this for myself. What I know is that I have been drinking for many years. Not seriously until about the end of high school, but since then, through college and after, I have found myself to be pretty dependent on ethanol. For stretches of weeks or months I have managed just one or two drinks a night, but then, eventually, the tides turn and I find myself consuming a half-dozen beverages on any old night, most nights.
I have had reasons to stop. Nothing utterly life-deranging but bitter enough moments and circumstances to make me feel I should make a serious change. I have had stretches of success but nothing finally sustainable. Ironic, because my focus on health is wide-ranging and deep. I carefully structure and adhere to a slow-carb diet and moderate exercise regiment, for instance. Yet this one vice--the vice of mind-numbing substances like marijuana and alcohol--has remained insurmountable.
Jordan Peterson's words have promoted a welcome shift in my thinking that has (as of late) caused me to cut back significantly on my consumption. In the last week I have arrived at the decision to undergo a ten-week cleanse--free of both alcohol and marijuana (I live in Massachusetts, so don't worry ;)
After hearing this one sentence from Theo Von, however--about being afraid to stand in a circle of tough guys without a beer in hand--I have endured a next-level meditation. Let me share that with you now, as best I can, and try to articulate why ten-weeks is too short a cleanse. Let me explain why I am stepping away from the stuff for good.
Sam Harris was the first first person I heard express an idea; probably in The End of Faith, his debut book. The idea is this: Human Beings have two options in the face of sufficiently consequential disagreement: conversation and violence. At this point--a good seven years after encountering it--I am convinced that this is a truth so true and deep and ubiquitously apt that it simply cannot be subverted. Honestly, I see no way to deny the axiomatic primacy of such a notion. There has never been and will never be a third option for human interaction.
From this realization it follows that conversation must be the single most important dimension of the human experience. It is the means by which we course-correct; it is the Tool of Titans that allows individuals, as well as whole societies, to navigate in the world.
So, what is it about the beer-in-the-hand that makes our monumental burden of conversing with other capable individuals appear less daunting?
Imagine this: You and a friend walk into a room. The room is full of things: folded blankets on the couch, a sleeping cat, a vacuum cleaner, magazines, a water bottle, TV remote, a single shoe. You both take this in at first glance... Or, do you?
Jordan Peterson made the case in his book 12 Rules for Life that vision depends on perceived utility. When I see a chair, for instance, I see a-thing-on-which-to-sit. Or maybe, something-in-my-way. So, you and your friend, walk into the room, both seeing: what do you see?
Your favorite magazine might be on top of the pile--does your friend even notice it? Perhaps he loves cats--what cat? Is that water bottle open or closed? Full or partially emptied? Are you thirsty? Backwash?
I do not mean to belabor the point but something crucial emerges from this thought experiment. It goes something like this: The world appears differently to different people, in each moment. Internally, of course, but externally too. The worlds we inhabit might have significant overlap but more often than not they aren't precisely the same! They are constructed differently, in accordance with our values.
Now: you're standing in a circle, or maybe your speaking with your girlfriend--it doesn't matter. The point is: there's a beer in your hand. It's acting as a sort of buffer between you and them. Providing another stimuli outside of the words they are speaking. Perhaps it's your third beer and the toxins are beginning to reach your head. Now their words become even less palpable, a bit fuzzier, struggling to remain clear.
Undoubtedly, you can see where I am going with this. It may not feel like much, this "insight." Even as I type the words I am struck by a dissatisfying sense of banality. But it's something that I feel, deeply, in a section of my Being that I haven't been in contact with for many years.
We have to converse with others, to avoid violence. But also to live fully and meaningfully and to access the full range of emotional and inter-personal experiences. To put anything between myself and the world as it appears to my attentive mind is to rob myself of something sacred. I mean that, as a strident, die-hard atheist, I mean it: the unadulterated, authentic, searching interactions between human beings can tend toward the sacred!
So, why, I now wonder, would I place anything between me and the sacred? When it's so close at hand. When I could simply reach out and hold it.
Thanks for reading.