As of mid-June 2016, there is a homeless encampment under the freeway overpass at Brush and 5th in Oakland. It’s a mess of tents, shopping carts, tarps, and miscellaneous junk. A part of me is sad for the denizens of this mini shantytown, but another part of me wonders if these people haven’t found some sort of little tribe to be part of. A tough tribe to be sure, but maybe a more authentic one than the forced, smiling faces surrounding those of us in a typical corporate office.
I confess that I feel the isolation of modernism. We evolved on the savannas in little tribes, maybe the size that Dunbar suggested of around 150 people. These groups would have been tight knit and had in-group loyalties and status seeking commensurate with their manageable size. And then the agriculturists destroyed the hunter-gatherers, and the Industrial Age sucked the farmers into factories, and now this Information Age left my beloved Rust Belt in ruins. So here I am, a high tech refugee on the West Coast of America, having left the smoking cinder of Buffalo behind. I am shut away safe and sound in a little apartment with my girlfriend, isolated from tribe and family. This is how we live now.
At least this is how liberals live, with our conditional obligations, we can go where the money is. The conservatives in this country still recognize inherited obligations and they suffer the economic consequences. There is something lost when we don’t know our place in the world, when we don’t have that satisfying certainly of our roles and obligations. Yet I don’t wish to return to the parochial living of times past. I don’t want to see the individual forced to submit to the expectations of small minded village jackasses, who will crush the spirit of the gifted and the nonconformist.
So we seek something else to satisfy our need for meaning, which Seligman calls the urge to be part of something greater than ourselves. We see postmodernism tear apart the narratives of modernism, perhaps rightly calling it out as a white male hegemony. And we move from the exploitive strategy to the explorative. Now non-white, non-cisgender, non-heteronormative, (etc.) narratives are harvested by social justice. Underrepresented voices are being heard in some circles now, and that should be a good thing. I am just a white guy, so I can’t really say for sure, but I suspect that this intersectionality of social justice is going to draw more and more distinctions. Your gender separates you from your race, which separates you from your class, and at some point you are just left alone in this world with no tribe to back you. And that’s how the left looks now to me. I agree with Haidt, today’s liberal does not value in-group loyalty.
You can hang out in postmodernism if you want to. I don’t care. But a lot of us are looking for post-postmodernism. I see it in Kegan’s ideas, Integral Theory, the NrX, Scott Alexander on ecclesiology seems relevant. Sarah Perry seems to be on a similar path. Vassar says to try every paradigm. Intentional communities are in there. You might not agree that all of these are an attempt to find the post-postmodern. But try to give me the benefit of the doubt here.
Still, I can’t see myself living in an intentional community, that is just too much. I value my privacy and independence. But I see an intentional community as a place for people to develop villages of their own choosing and to solve this problem of isolation. I go among various scenes here and there, the Futurists, the Rationalists, the Hedonists, the Quantifiers, the Longevity Seekers, etc. But these lack the permanence of a tribe. Even my regular Futurist Meetup feels ephemeral.
I find myself yearning for a 19th century English gentleperson’s club with pensioners snoozing in leather club chairs, dark wood wainscoting, a fire burning, copious books and booze, and maybe a butler around somewhere. A place where one can have a meal or stay overnight in a pinch. A physical place where one might seek the better sort of conversation or camaraderie at any time of day or night. But I want to see a club based not on class or connections, but on thoughtfulness about the future and whatever shared values futurists might lay claim to.
If you are interested in joining such a club in the Bay Area, please take this poll: http://goo.gl/forms/Qdj0mvyhgknUgazr1.
Continued in Part 2.