What Do I Do?
The Small Dark Light's mission statement
My previous post was about who I am, this post is about what I write. Read on if you’re curious about what this publication is for and where I hope it ends up going. Hint: you may be involved.
I want The Small Dark Light to be a meeting place between mysticism and rationalism // philosophy and religion // East, Middle East and West // left and right // tradition and progress // the personal and the political // psychology and objectivity // pragmatism and emotionalism // honesty and sympathy // essays and stories // seriousness and humour. The more diverse the better. And if things occasionally get really weird, so much the better still.
It’s a solo project for now but I’m strongly considering getting some more writers on board down the road. I’m also extremely interested in adding an interactive element — forums, open-ended discussion posts, etc — but that can wait until I’ve got more regular readers and commenters. I’m especially open to hearing from people who know more about physics, neuroscience and maths than I do (a large category). That’d help with some of the publication’s blind spots.
I’m going to let my writing style evolve over time — death to overthinking! — but the general idea is to aim for a mix of formal rigour and informal conversationality. My models are C. S. Lewis, Fintan O’Toole, Scott Alexander and Michael Gerber. I also intend to do a fair bit of stream-of-consciousness stuff that draws on whatever I’m thinking about at the time. Perfect is the enemy of the good, etc.
For reasons that will become painfully clear, I like the philosophical dialogue format. One way of saying ‘I don’t know’ is ‘I don’t know, so I’m not gonna think about it’, the other is saying ‘I don’t know, but only because I have a lot of thoughts on both sides of the issue. Why don’t I pit ’em against each other and see what happens’.
I love the story format for similar reasons: the writing flows easier (more right brain-driven I guess?); I don’t have to commit to definite conclusions or a linear structure; I can get away with more if I put it into the mouth of a character, plus I can explore views I don’t personally hold; different characters can state different positions and face off against each other; I can engage the reader on more levels than just the black-and-white analytical one.
Part of me is drawn to we’re-all-one mysticism, part of me loves breaking things down into small analytical pieces, part of me loves myths and fantastical stories and part of me loves making fun of everything. My posts draw on all four sides of the coin (or more accurately, pyramid).
My posts often involve my sarcastic self constantly sniping at my starry-eyed self, because — like my mentor C. S. Lewis — I understand where people like Bertrand Russell and people like Ram Dass are coming from. Which is a bit exhausting. But also stimulating.
My mind’s a pretty abstract place, and it thinks through associations and overarching connections. Pluses: I’m good at linking seemingly unrelated things together; I’m always coming up with Big Ideas about life, the universe and everything. Minuses: these theories tend to lack rigorous detail and are often more stimulating than accurate; it’s really hard for me to write short essays that make just one point, because everything in the world reminds me of everything else in the world. I’m starting to embrace this mind map approach and go with it.
General POV: I’m an inveterate both-sides-of-the-coiner on nearly everything. While I have gut feelings on issues like anyone else, my mind is always quick to remind me just how many shades of grey there are in the world. It also likes reminding me that I know next to nothing, making me too ill-informed to have strong opinions on most things. Then there’s the fact that I often feel strongly about two things that completely contradict each other. On the plus side, this helps me empathise with people I disagree with.
Spiritual POV: I’m a Christian, but my insatiable desire to explore things from all angles means I’ve no interest in feeling only one side of the elephant. While I shakily believe in the Trinity and the Resurrection, I’m not committed to taking most of the Bible literally and I hold a lot of the traditional doctrines lightly. Believing in a personal God is enormously important to me, but I often find the language of Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism more appealing than the Judeo-Christian vocabulary. This shouldn’t hugely worry my fellow Christians — after all, the faith has already managed to accommodate itself to the languages of Greek philosophy and psychotherapy.
Philosophical POV: I think the Buddha and Aristotle had it basically right with the Middle Way. No one perspective can show you the whole story and no one approach can guide all your behaviour. This includes the rationalist approach, which is useful when it stays in its lane but should take a back seat to the gut in a person’s personal life and awe in their spiritual life. So I like Socrates and Descartes, but I like Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu more.
Phil. POV cont.: I think rationality really comes into its own in the political sphere. While emotional and personal development shape the individual’s life, rationality is the bridge that lets diverse individuals come together and discuss matters that concern them all. Which brings me to…
Political POV: it shouldn’t shock anyone by now that I don’t identify with any party or “ism”. My utopian fantasy is a Noam Chomsky-style society where there’s no money or strong central government and everyone’s free to pursue the kind of work they find most rewarding, but I don’t think it’d work in reality given the complexities of globalisation and the darkness of human nature. Strongly hope the world can transition to a hybrid of capitalism and socialism soon, with strong economic incentives for people who are good at monetising their skills and a universal basic income safety net for people who aren’t. The idea of some people getting a “free ride” doesn’t bother me at all. The idea of talented people ending up unmotivated, depressed and creatively uninspired does. I hope that wouldn’t be the main result of UBI but can’t be sure.
Speaking of human nature, my psychological POV is that people are both significantly better and significantly worse than they think they are. Half the time we’re deluding ourselves about our motivations for being good, and the other half we’re doing bad things for completely innocent reasons. I tend to believe that everyone’s doing their best, but through no fault of their own some people’s best isn’t very good. I find this combination of optimism and cynicism relaxing: the cynicism helps me to be less shocked by bad behaviour — other people’s and my own — and the optimism makes it easier to forgive. I also think that judging people and thoughts is overrated; the better at life we get the more categories like right and wrong stop mattering. I’m agnostic on whether free will exists or not.
If I want to say just one thing with SDL at the moment it’s this: life is supposed to be messy. You’re supposed to get things wrong and make mistakes. You’re supposed to do rather than think. Purity and safety are your enemies. Compromise and risk are your friends. Bad things are good things taken to extremes, which means that every bad thing in you is just a good-thing-in-waiting, an exaggeration that needs to be toned down — less a monster to be destroyed and more the manure from which the flower of your enlightenment is growing.
Oh just tell me already…what’s the meaning of life? I don’t give that kind of information away for free.
That’s about it. Well I mean, I’ve done other deeds and had other thoughts, but I have to save something for other posts.
If you’ve been reading all this thinking ‘I hate this person and absolutely everything they stand for’, maybe SDL isn’t for you. I release you. Be free.
If you’ve been reading all this thinking ‘I love this person and want to be their life partner starting RIGHT NOW’, then bear in mind you don’t know where I live or what my gender is (of course if you’re pansexual that equals just one insurmountable problem).
And if your feelings fall somewhere in between, I’d encourage you to consider subscribing. And if you end up reading SDL regularly, I’d encourage you to comment so we can get some weird and wonderful discussions going. And if you want to contribute something to the publication yourself, I’d encourage you to pitch me. And if you want to work at being a little more peaceful and fulfilled every day, I’d encourage you to…well, I’d just encourage you. Good luck in your quest for imperfect enlightenment.