From politics and bullshit to embodiment and meaning.
I love abstraction and logic, so it took me a while to outline your argument, but I ultimately got it down to about 15 points, haha.
I agree with you that abstraction is a tool for comfort (like a blanket, or a coat), which we can use to escape stress. I agree that abstraction is also a tool for utility (like fire, or hammer), which we can use to build or destroy.
I also agree that some people are too abstracted, and live only in their heads, and fail to live out meaningful lives in the real world (the example I can think of is the classic white-collar worker who is basically a drone for the corporation, whose work is nothing new or useful, and when he goes home he reads mainstream books or watches mainstream TV and learns nothing new). The illustration that comes to mind is this Ted talk, which for a while was the most viewed Ted talk of all time. It currently has 75 million(!) views on the Ted website, but I think there are more on youtube and other sites. Perhaps this reveals that it resonates with people. I'll never forget the line where he says something like "most professors view their body as merely a vehicle for getting their mind from place to place." https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_do_schools_kill_creativity?language=en
I imagine that many of your peers and many of the people who frustrate you the most fall into this category of people. Perhaps that is the people you're writing to, the people you most want to change, because they are wasting their potential.
However, I think the bigger problem is that most people around the world are too embodied and do not use their minds or abstraction enough. Most people are too busily following a script laid out for them by their parents or their culture, and never once take a moment to consider--in the abstract-- how things could be different. How they could rise about their situation. A million quotes from Walden rush to the mind, but I'll spare you. But I think that book is directed primarily to people who are miserable and don't take the time to use their imagination fully enough.
Perhaps the problem is an over-reliance on left-brain and logic. Or an over-reliance on the given narrative, rather than considering alternatives. You mentioned how nerds have to escape into nerddom because life is hard, and unlike the life of the quarterback. But I think the quarterback is also following a narrative, and others around him also buy it, that paints him as the hero, the unencumbered one. And yet this is also an abstraction. Perhaps that's bullshit-- accepting the given paradigm as the only, uncontested paradigm.
Your argument, if I am understanding it correctly, is that we can escape bullshit by actually living out our philosophies, admitting our ignorance, making mistakes, recognizing that we are more than just our thoughts, and then entering flow. This sounds doable in the abstract, but also sounds like a difficult formula to follow in the specific. Could one not also follow this formula and end up being a really good banker, who is still disembodied?
I think you made a stronger point when you explained that 'stories are early “mathematics” for which attitudes and actions most effectively deliver good outcomes.' To paraphrase: 'good stories are algorithms for right living.' And I think that argument holds true to what you said when you said the point of life is to live adventure.
The truly embodied person is not only living a story of his own making, or of his culture's, but a story that aligns closely with the myths that we all know and love. Those people you speak about who change the world are those who are living a life of mythic proportions, because their ethos is mythic. So perhaps the formula to escape bullshit should also require self-sacrifice to a noble cause.
Thank you Taylor. I needed that.
So much gold here, Taylor. Fantastic essay. Love seeing you back in my inbox!!!!
Your writing resonates so consistently and beautifully - thank you for your gifts! I see you have some paid subscribers but I can’t seem to find where to upgrade - do you have a link for that?