The Space in Between
Two days ago I deleted my Twitter account and hibernated my LinkedIn account, with a view to deleting it soon—I didn't quite have the courage to do it immediately. Last year I deleted my Facebook account. I’ve kept the Instagram account I use solely to post the drawings I make for the 365-day drawing challenge that I engage in. No politics there; no opinion, no discussion and no comments beyond "Cool picture!"
Apart from Instagram my social media cull leaves me with this new substack, which, populated as it is (or so it seems to me) with thoughtful, curious writers has a different status in my mind to all other social media. I'm slowly trying to clean my life up, to get away from the toxic world that the different social media platforms have collectively created for us, and to which, it must be said, I have been an active contributor. We all believe that what we say ourselves is reasonable, and it is everyone else who is at fault. It is the others, the collective Them destroying the once intriguing, open, anything-is-possible world of social media. But it isn't them, it is us. It is me. I have a part. Well, I did. Now I don't, at least while I hold out.
At the start of Lent I committed to not posting anything political to LinkedIn. I failed at the first hurdle. Someone—a Ukrainian, actually—posted a link to my Absolutely Nothing post, ripping into it, and me. I tried to explain, but it just got uglier. I momentarily forgot one cannot counter emotion with logic, and right now emotional arousal is about at maximum strength, not just for Ukrainians, but for all sympathisers too, which at this time appears to be everyone except Russians. Of course it isn't that simple though,1 and that's what I'll try to write about here. Nuance. The spaces in between.
A war/peace tangent
Before continuing though, and because it seems not to have been obvious in my last post, I would like to be very clear here that I am against war. I am against all war and any war. I therefore do not takes sides. There are no good guys and bad guys. There certainly are aggressors and defenders, but as we know from previous wars, and the aftermath of wars, this role can alternate over time. Neither am I neutral. I stand strongly on the side of No War—which, perhaps counter-intuitively, does not mean I am on the side of Peace. I don't know what peace means or what it looks like, and I'm not convinced it is desirable. It has always sounded like a grey, rather dull existence to me. I like conflict. I like disagreement, argument, hastily-formed opinions open to be torn apart. I like passion. Peace may be many things but I doubt it is passion. I imagine it as a stable equilibrium, and as we know from complexity science, equilibrium is the precursor to death.
So I’m no peacenik. Peace is too easily (and often quite correctly) conflated with passivity. Even the descriptors themselves, pacifist and passivist, sound almost identical. I am interested though in what Walter Wink, in his study of the life of Jesus, describes as the third way. 2 This is essentially the approach that Martin Luther King Jr is alluding to in these words:
To our most bitter opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory. 3
How this third way should play out in the current conflict I have no idea. But my lack of imagination—or indeed yours, or anyone’s—does not invalidate the concept. As a society we need to move past the polarisation of passivity and violence and explore other avenues.
The spaces in between
This (Wink/King/Jesus) third way can be thought of as a ‘space in between’. It belongs neither at one extreme nor the other. It hangs, suspended, colouring the desolate no-man’s land between the poles, offering us a rare glimpse of heaven. What do we do with it? We don’t know because we have no experience to guide us. Maybe for now simply acknowledge. That’s all. See it, know it is there. And wait. It may make us ask, what else is there, between the poles?
I’ve written about it before, at least twice now, and I’ll repeat myself again: As a society, as a world, we have lost nuance. We have lost the ability to live in contradiction. What happened? It wasn’t so long ago that Walt Whitman wrote,
Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes. 4
We have the potential to contain multitudes, and yet today we seem incapable of entertaining even two disparate ideas and engaging in any kind of sense-making. We either completely accept, or completely reject. And the more people who completely accept one idea the bigger that idea grows into righteousness, until any other idea is crushed beneath its weight, suffocated, unable to breathe. I suppose we should be grateful that at any time there are two ideas or beliefs and not just one. They never meet though, which is a shame. I imagine if the North Pole met the South Pole they’d each discover they have a lot more similarities than differences, indeed that their essential natures are almost identical. I venture to say that each side in our dichotomous world probably wishes there was just one idea, conveniently dismissing the fact that this is essentially the definition of totalitarianism.
We know in our hearts, in our souls, that the world is not a binary place, that there are a billion colours, overlapping a million shades of grey, and yet the onslaught of social media is fast wiping that understanding from our minds. Curiosity doesn’t sell products. Only certainty does that. But I’m done with it. I’m done with being told what to think, done with the polarisation, the left/right, good/evil, them/us divisions. And that’s why I got off Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And with God’s help I’ll stay off. For good.
This complexity is best described by Francis Laleman in his recent article, so you thought that common sense would soon be taking over again? you were wrong. I recommend reading this, perhaps before you continue here, as my thoughts today are to some degree inspired by the nuance expressed in Francis’s work.
Martin Luther King, Jr., sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama (Christmas, 1957), written in the Montgomery jail during the bus boycott. Reprinted in the A. J. Muste Essay Series, number 1 (A. J. Muste Memorial Institute, 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012).
From Song of Myself, 51, by Walt Whitman, 1855