Because we need literary thinkers more than journalists.
Was wondering why the 50 dollar button wasn't working. Realized we're a whole week into June. Clearly I need a newsletter about thinking in my life.
I love this! As someone that dislikes dystopian fiction and thought this resonates deeply with me. Call me naive, call me a hopeless optimist but I long for thought and discussion propelled by compassion and empathy.
Elle, This 800 word essay is a contribution to your new "Enlightenment" project to think about how to get to a better future. I hope what I written stimulates your conversation.
First, here's a brief about myself to give my thoughts a helpful context. I'm an old guy, 82, but I think my brain is still working; of course, from the inside who can really tell? Anyway, I had a career in science (my doctoral work was in population biology, which then (the 1960s) was a cross between natural history and mathematics), and I retired in the closing of the last century.
All my life, my habit has been to think about things from a big picture perspective, and since I was 15 or so, I’ve kept journals about my ideas, but not journals about my personal experiences. I started journaling because I discovered it was a way to hold on to and keep working on some idea that was in my head and intrigued me. And, I think, this aspect of my personal history disqualifies me as a writer who wants to express herself to others and to be a herald of her generation, because for seven decades I had no such desire, and I was quite content to develop various big picture ideas merely for my own satisfaction. Early on, my doctoral professor warned me that thinking too much in my own space would isolate me from a secure position among my scientific peers, and that has proved true.
However, in my case, it made me very interested in the ideas in other people’s heads. It was a saving grace, as some say, and kept me in the real, but less contemporary space of the conversation with others' leading ideas. I turned out to be a good manager of research scientists, a branch of cat herding.
The idea of leading ideas is very important in thinking about making the future. Our own leading ideas are difficult to make clear to ourselves, and, adding to the difficulty, we can only comprehend others' leading ideas in the light of our own. And this is one of the things it’s taken me over seventy years to understand: Our behavior and thinking are guided by the leading ideas we harbor, and if we don’t come to know them, they will rule our thinking and doing. And, what we may think of as our ideals are most likely not a very true presentation of our true leading ideas.
So thinking about future making, will have no value if it boils down to projecting our own chauvinistic ideals as guides to shape the space of spaces in which that future will inhabit.
Here's one of my leading ideas: When we talk about your space or my space or our space or their space, we are talking about a quasi ordered system of dynamic spaces. And these spaces are maintained by the continual interactions of creatures, only some of which are humans. And all spaces have modes of life which are different at their boundaries from the mode life in their interiors. Spaces come in many sizes and flavors.
And here's a big abstract idea about spaces: First, think of them all as one very big Venn diagram in which all the spaces are present and all are ovate. That is, the shape of each space is not puckered or gerrymandered. This is possible if the diagram is very highly dimensional. Second, think that there is no space that is isolated; all are connected by some pathway of intersections, but, also, there are sub spaces of spaces which are densely, but not completely overlapping. And think third, that the spaces are dynamic, but there are many ways to think of what dynamic means, so not static in some dimensions is the best general definition.
No one can get this sort of an abstraction completely in their head. It's a model and models need to be simplified to be talked about. There is in this Big Venn model (BVM) many ideas from the scientific subculture, so I want to say that as someone with a career in science, I agree with the deconstructionists that scientific knowledge is not the final authority. Science is only a subculture in the BVM, but so are deconstructionists. So in thinking about the future, the scientific subculture is only one of the voices and modes who need to be part of future making thinking.
Another of my leading ideas of which I'm firmly convinced is that of multiple kinds of intelligences among humans, consequently there are many modes of expressing what is true besides discursive reasoning. And thinking about the nature of what the future may be needs symbolic and analogical thinking and expression.
The future will occupy real spaces, so the first question to be sounded, but never completely resolved or agreed upon, is what are our leading ideas about the rock bottom reality which the future we want to make will inhabit? The tension of this set of leading ideas will frame and maintain the real space of thinking about a better future.
I'm officially intrigued (and subscribed!) Sorry to hear about your job, but glad you've found a meaningful purpose to drive you this coming year.
Idealism is indeed sorely lacking online these days, except perhaps in fleeting and shallow ways (short videos).
Speaking as the creator of The Zoo Review here on Substack, I'd be interested to hear what you think our relationship to animals should be in a more ideal future. I'm trying to serve up a literary cocktail of humour mixed with meaningful ideas to help people see animals in a different light. Hopefully as beings rather than things to be used.
Keen to hear what you think about my attempts so far if you have time, but no pressure. Happy writing 🌟
You've made an excellent pitch. Yours is the first Newsletter I have paid for. I look forward to reading!
This is exciting!! Just became a paid subscriber :) Good luck with this endeavor
Have you read Dawn of Everything? Highly recommended, in general and for your topic. Corrects the record on where the enlightenment came from (many of the socialist and utopian ideas came from conversations with Native Americans) and how societies develop. Social Evolution in regard to first came ag, then came cities, then came dystopia is not supported by the evidence. But the evidence does show myriad creative ways people have organized. Might give you some ideas/inspiration.
I grew up in the 1960s reading the Whole Earth Catalog, so these kinds of discussions are not new. They weren't new then, but they have exploded into a chaos of countercultural social fragmentation and atomization, making most "utopian" thinking irrelevant.
The 1700s/1800s were pivotal in that the idea that "God is dead ... and we killed Him..." was at the core of the social anxiety caused by Enlightenment thinking: loss of mythic social order and romanticist and ILLIBERAL reactionary ideologies (marxism and fascism).
One item of historical accuracy:
"democracy and capitalism were trialed in Europe and North America"
The origins of "democracy and capitalism" go back at least 1,000 years in the case of "capitalism" (classical liberalism) and 2,000 in the case of "democracy".
Under medieval, decentralized politics, classical liberalism was well established, in some cases by elements of the Church (Abbey at Cluny) that promoted peasant's rights, by the1,400s, but then after 1492, power was increasingly re-centralized by rising imperial powers, who crushed medieval liberalism (which was revived in the 1800s by the expanding and rising urban commoner classes, W.E.I.R.D.*).
This is one of the best "scientific" explanations of the genetic and cultural evolution of "classical liberalism" (democracy and capitalism, the modern nation state system, high-social-trust, etc.) I've seen:
By an accident of history, the early Church's ban on cousin marriage (clan inbreeding) resulted in greater genetic diversity in the NW European gene pool, and then "liberal" personality traits (Haidt) were selected for due to increased demand for literacy and numeracy in the expanding urban commoner classes (river and sea traders, shopkeepers, court scribes in Charter towns/Free cities, and so forth).
W.E.I.R.D. Minds: How Westerners became psychologically peculiar
- Joseph Henrich, Harvard, Cultural Anthropology/Economics
First, I'm very sorry to hear this news. Earning a living through writing is always so difficult, but this news is never unsurprising and always jarring. I wish you the best as you move forward.
I will disagree with your fundamental premise -- I'd say we need both, but that's a conversation for another day.
Has The Post simply been disappeared? I see that it began in March of this year? Did it just wipe out all of the work you helped to generate?
Go Elle!!! This is amazing
Upgraded to paid and recommended! Totally agree that we need a place where people think deeply about existing socioeconomic and political systems to figure out how they could be better or what else we could do instead. There's too much doom and gloom these days. People want more hope, which I believe is one of the reasons why Becky Chambers's scifi books have done so well; they're quite hopeful about humanity's future.
I upgraded to paid because I am so inspired to see you carving out your own path, at the same time it is encouraging me to stick to the path I've chosen for myself in spite of the fact that there is certainly a few financial challenges waiting for me.
I hope we can think, dream, discuss and eventually create the future in a more harmonious way.
P.S You refer to the age of Enlightenment. I dunno if astrology is your wheelhouse but Pluto has moved into Aquarius for the first time since 1778 which was the same timeline as the French and American revolutions so apparently we're absolutely in line for Enlightenment 2.0!
I'm in Elle! I wish to support your brilliance, your adventure to see if @substack can sustain you as employment, and, boy, do we need--and are ready for--"[a place] where we can think through a more beautiful future using essays and literature and discourse." You can do this!
Cool, I get to comment as a free subscriber! I’ve admired your work for some time, especially the do-it-yourself approach that helped you pivot from traditional publishing to serialized fiction. I aim to do the same.
This post solidified my desire to become a paid subscriber--not sure if I’ll make it by May, tbh the rest of this year is mighty shaky for me in terms of finances. But since I want to make writing my life, in much the same way you’re aiming for, supporting this new journey of yours is an obvious next step.
Do you know about the Twilight Club? "In the later decades of the 19th Century, the British philosopher, Herbert Spencer, took an honest look at world trends and predicted that civilization was on a downward trend, for culture, beauty and ethical practices were neglected in society. He believed that politicians were not likely or able to change the trends. If there was to be a change, how would it come about? He believed the poets, visionary thinkers and artists of the world would have the solution." Other members: Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Darwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Walt Whitman, Edwin Markham, Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie. There's not good info online about how great The Twilight Club was.