Intellectual traffic jam.

In the shower, I was imagining how I would respond to one of Pete Holmes’ standard questions – why are we here? – on his You Made It Weird podcast, and I started developing the following idea:

It’s easy to congratulate ourselves for how open-minded we (self-proclaimed progressive thinkers) are, but we aren’t immune from the instinct to create and sustain an in-group. We’d like to believe our tribe is transcendent or something and therefore not a tribe, but we are still guilty of “us versus them” dualistic thinking, the very form of thinking we actively express opposition to. After all, we are the enlightened explorers of the world; they are stupid settlers.

But how often do we engage with them? What do we really know about them? The point, as we “enlightened” ones well know, isn’t convergence. We’re not trying to create a singular hive mind. What would be the point? Life thrives on diversity; society, counterintuitively, operates on homogeneity and conformity, the stuff of them. Yet in our own way, traveling though we are on an open highway, where our thinking is free-er to roam, we are bound. Our divergence remains narrow. We are open, yes, but not boundless. They are on another road (and in our mind, they’re converging), stuck in traffic, stopped by some catastrophic accident that inevitably awaits all of them. We, on the other hand, have no destination, and so we experience the breezy joy of high-speed driving.

The real challenge then, or rather, a truer sign of enlightenment, would be to choose their traffic. If we are so open, getting outside our bounds and swerving into “known” (since we don’t really know, choosing as we do to avoid it) danger is the test that awaits us. What if going over there might help people realize that they’re stuck in traffic? As far as they know, they’re just waiting in line for whatever’s ahead that’s been promised to them. That’s why they got in the car in the first place, to get somewhere special or better…or just to get somewhere. Why not journey with them somewhere together?

By exploring the paths we learn to avoid, our maps grow, and it is only then that we may consider ourselves open to new experience. The business of staying on the same road with drivers all on the same page as you? The road may be open, but it’s going nowhere. So go get stuck in traffic, and see how present and free you are then.

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