I run in two circles. They don’t overlap much, though I’m working on that. I have my family and friends, business colleagues and general acquaintances; the usual collection of people everyone builds up over a lifetime of interactions. Then I have my “Doomer” friends, people I’ve met through Dark Mountain, through my own blogging, and through meetings on the state of the world I’ve attended over the last few years. This group tend to live far away. Our interactions mediated by the internet. My relationships with you range from passing acquaintance to the tantalizing beginnings of strong friendships, but are all made tenuous by the impacts of distance. The day-to-day wear-and-tear dealing with the competition each of our proximate circles demands of us, as well as, the long-term precarious nature of having to rely on the luxury of instantaneous intercontinental communication which may come to an end at any time, leaving us without the current illusion of the easy possibility of intimacy or even just expedited communication.
I’ve likened this on-line effort to tapping away in hopes of hearing answering taps, like the stricken sailors on the S-4 beating out the state of their lives and hopes to a diver outside their sunken hull and a million miles away. Or to Dwight Tower’s mission in On the Beach, tracking down a signal from the North they all feared was lifeless. It’s natural to want to find connection and gain the solace of companionship in extremis.
Here’s where my thoughts have fallen today. How much do we tend to keep these two circles apart not only out of the difficulty we all – over here on this side – have in sharing our concerns with those around us; but because of the strange dynamic that may comfort us by keeping these two cohorts apart? Over here, we tend to decry the denial we find rampant in our “first worlds,” made up of our traditional circles. “If only they would break through!” we think. “Then everything would be so much better.”
I’m beginning to wonder whether we really mean it. Not that we don’t wish it were true, but that we also gain comfort from its not being the case. There is a frisson we all share, over here, that acts as a glue to hold us together. After all with the fragility of the long distance relationship always in mind, it is comforting to hold onto the idea that here is a special bond unavailable anywhere else. This is more or less obvious. What got me writing today was a glimmer of how its corollary may operate. What do we gain from not pushing too hard to get our traditional circles integrated into the world of our meditations on the consequences of our predicaments? This gets messy as soon as we open up the subject. – Now I know that many of you out there do have more integration, you spend significant “face-time” with others who share our concerns; but I would wager that we all can find some contact with the mechanisms I’m bringing up.
I would wager we’ve all spent time in that airless condition as someone has broached the subject of the “elephant in the room?” For me it has a nostalgia for the days of my childhood, either avoiding the recognition of someone’s heavy drinking, or the proximity of open violence if some assumption should be broached. I don’t think I’d be wrestling with the state of the world if it hadn’t been for my immersion in a life filled with double-binds where I had to get used to being “damned if I did….” After that, all of this is almost a relief, especially as it has allowed me to find you others with whom to share my concerns instead of remaining isolated in a private hell.
There is a perverse nostalgia generated by this dynamic. We are flirting with the edges of the old dangers and the way our new integrations have given us a renewed strength. Its like fiddling with a sore tooth, better yet, a loose baby tooth. We know we will be better off when it’s gone, yet the slight thrill and the sense of control we feel while we prolong this little agony gives us comfort. We are the only ones who “secretly know” how it’s going to turn out and that gives us a slight buzz of deniable superiority. Again these aspects are rather obvious. One new element has come to mind. What if we enjoy the haven of joining our less “aware” circles in their sphere of denial?
While we are with them, going through the motions of everyday life, acting “normal,” and making plans, and just enjoying each others company; we are free of the burden of our own awareness. Sure we would have greater rewards from more fully integrating our lives and raising the awareness of those close to us, but that takes a lot of work, and we tend to be pessimistic as to the results. I know whenever I’ve tried, I have not been able to find the right voice, or to even find the internal stability that lets me speak to you here. I regress into a tongue-tied fearful child, and that internal discomfort only adds to the difficulty and makes it harder and harder to try again after a failure. There is not only a haven in joining their denial even if only temporarily and partially. It frees us from having to take the tremendously difficult step of finding our own next level of maturity so that we can enter these archetypal scenes with all of our faculties intact.
This is already helping me gain that place to stand in relation to this challenge. Awareness of dynamics that have their way with us has always given me a better hold on how to respond to difficulty. Articulating these thoughts begins to put them into a perspective that allows me to see beyond the silly yet powerful sense of betrayal or potential loss, or the risk of breaking or loosening of important bonds through inadvertent flailing.
I’m off to see friends, I don’t have time to draw this out any further right now. I would like to hear how you feel about this, or any insights or experiences you have that would help us decipher this mechanism further.
7 thoughts on “Two Circles”
This feels close to the heart of my own dilemmas as well, and to the extent that it’s a near taboo topic, thank you for speaking up about it.
After stumbling on the Dark Mountain Project and beginning to educate myself about collapse, I started driving myself quietly crazy by living in a quite desperate post-collapse future in my head and via on (and off) line reading, while having a very pleasant ordinary life in Berlin, where hot water always comes out of the tap and the organic supermarket shelves are always full, and nourishing a knotty brew of guilt and useless self-righteousness (walking past middle-class parents and their little ones – of whom there are plenty where I live, highest birthrate in Europe – thinking to myself ‘look at you with that humdinger pram, don’t you know that civilization’s going to collapse’, etc, etc, etc.)
Then it dawned on me that this was just another version of not living in the present, but in ‘what if’ world – too often, the vicarious world of other people’s lives – and that it was wretched not to appreciate the good fortune of the moment, given that there’s no guarantee it will last forever.
That I’d built up this mental construct in which my actual, physical day-to-day life was a fragile delusion, and collapse was the true reality; but the infrastructure of my life wasn’t imminently collapsing.
It’s also become important for me to try and let go of needing the people close to me to share my beliefs. Finding the next level of maturity to speak a necessary truth – and to be able to converse with it – does grow in its own time, but I’ve a hunch that letting go of the need to be the instigator is part of that growth, and simply meeting others – including yourself – as you find them.
Although it’s chronically uncomfortable, living with the tensions between different aspects of oneself, with different and seemingly incompatible, partitioned-off circles and communities, is dissensus in practice. I’d wager that it’s what makes your writing worth reading, what drives Boats For Difficult Times, as a way of finding creative and adaptive solutions to our predicament out of your own unique bundle of talents.
I hope this helps keep it moving.
A thoughtful post, thanks. You too Elizabeth. My experience may have been a little different than yours, but might add something or other. I have a long history with this 2 circle phenomenon, not least because of my youth spent in a far fringe apocalyptic religion, while still having to navigate public schooling. That experience is mercifully buried under a few decades, but I think I gained some useful things from being an oddball trying to pass in the straight world. Maybe the most important is that the contact that you make with people who don’t share your views is really important, and does make a difference, however small. That is, an ordinary social or business or family connection where you don’t try to convince anyone of anything, but also don’t try to hide what you believe. I find that I don’t agree completely with anyone, so it happens that it is only a matter of degree that I don’t overlap with the person with whom I am conversing, some a little, some a lot.
That apocalypse thing was a trick too. The world could end at any moment, but you had to keep on as if everything was just normal, because no one could say exactly when it would end. So here we are today, seeing a future, and standing in the present. It is quite a balance to get the mix just right, how much to work on the needs of the future, and how much to live in present. I have decided that whatever we do with what knowledge we have is the right thing – provided we keep a good heart, and remain as honest with ourselves as we can tolerate. How could it be elsewise? We do what we can do.
But if you are feeling isolated, please feel heartened by what has been my experience; if I remain open to the possibility of it, I find that I get support and companionship from many different people, usually in small ways, and from people that I would not necessarily expect it from.
That’s brilliant Antonio, and the comments too. I have my work life, where I am “out”. Some people do admit to not telling me things (e.g. flying) where others just don’t give a damn, knowing that I am not going to make a federal case out of it. And I find many times I bite my tongue!
You’re dead right, IMHO, about the hidden ‘benefits’ from keeping the two circles apart…
Thanks for this important sharing Antonio. I have been an outsider from childhood. Also fascinated with finding out the real truth about everything. It was clear from the beginning that those I encountered did not share my passion for digging beneath the surface of things; their discomfort with my attempts to share my “discoveries” was an all too obvious signal to “knock it off”.
As I grew older, it became clearer how people were living their lives in a tacit mutual conspiracy not to upset each other. Anyone being really different just wasn’t easy to deal with — they found it somewhat embarrassing, both for me and themselves. At family gatherings I could detect them projecting a silent wish that “he doesn’t start going off the deep end”. I was like a relative known to have some awkward deformity — of the psyche.
How did I cope with the feelings of alienation engendered by this situation? For one thing I created an inner mantra to make myself invulnerable: “I don’t give a shit what you think of me.” I can’t say this made me truly comfortable, but it perhaps protected what could have been a very fragile sense of personal identity and self-worth.
Existing inside one’s private world certainly yielded its subtle pleasures. All the years I smoked grass continuously day and night, I moved in many environments among folks who didn’t have a clue that I was always stoned. It was a little like being a secret agent in a foreign country. Nobody knew who I really was. I had a secret. When we are profoundly different from our peers, we find little ways to make it OK, and even enjoy it a little.
The two circles have changed in many ways for me now, but they are very definitely still existent. Thanks for sharing about this. I still seek company in my inner solitude — where it is possible. Good to know there are others out there like me, and unlike…