Tag Archives: perfectionism

Twenty. (An anniversary retrospective.)

Today, May 20th, marks the anniversary of my life’s work. Twenty years ago, I set myself to developing a philosophy that I called Promethean, or Prometheanism. Today, composing Promethean philosophy is still what I do.

But many things have changed. To explain some of that, I feel like I probably have to set the stage just a bit.

When I started in 1998, I was writing with the internet audience in mind, which was then select, relatively-educated, and worldwide. Back then, online publishing was a frontier that required web design. It was before blog software. It was before social media sorted everyone within their culs-de-sac. In fact, the usual types were hand-wringing about the “digital divide” of access, not-yet universal, seemingly unaware that mainstream crowds can ruin anything special. Back then, many people actively surfed the web looking for interesting, random, and challenging reading, as well as stupid humor. (That was always there.) Scattered individuals who were motivated to learn and interested in a better future were excited to have the means to connect and congregate. I was unapologetically talking to this forward-looking elite—of all ages, socioeconomic classes, and origins—who were looking for enlightenment, and eager to participate in a renaissance.

Promethea.org maelstrom

The “maelstrom” theme I designed for the Promethea.org web site in 2000.

I wrote and published multiple articles and essays on the web, and especially created novel, illuminated presentations for a website called Promethea, including The Promethean Trilogy, which began with The Promethean Manifesto, the genesis of all Promethean writing of mine. I worked on e-books/series on subjects like the economics of liberated society, critiques of naive faith in democracy, the importance of typical philosophical errors, and prospects for ending war. One goal was to try to build a cross-disciplinary Promethean movement.

You see, back then, with enough talent and very little money, you could create and publish, and people would come. Intelligent people would read it, and converse with you. You weren’t competing with billion-dollar corporations for mere seconds of attention from millions of eyeballs. It was a promising time, but it didn’t last very long.

As of 2004, when everything unique and thoughtful was getting lost in an interminable internet, I began to shift my emphasis to writing paper books, instead.

Photo on 2011-12-22 at 06.02

Checked-off proofreading edits in a printed draft of Pyramid of Babel, December, 2011.

I spent about seven years, on and off, on the great project of writing an unpublished novel, called Pyramid of Babel. I’m proud to say that Pyramid of Babel turned out both provocative to the conventional tastes and temperaments of those who follow along in society—as a novel of ideas ought to be—and unique, as I think a great novel ought to be. It did not fulfill my goal of breaking in as an author, however, so that I could get other books out there. If I had known the dire state of the industry, its rigidity of genres, its sanctimony, and its gatekeeping by agents, it’s possible I would never have adopted that plan—prioritized the novel, bet on success, and sacrificed so much as I have in order to create it. That would have been a shame, artistically.

Pyramid of 5 Aspects of Pyramid of Babel

I made a Pyramid of the complete draft.

Along the way, I also finished and self-published a collection of essays in 2008 called Rising in Words.

I also wrote a lot of material for 2 or 3 important but unfinished nonfiction books. The lion’s share consisted of 1) research to flesh out a cybernetic attractor model of personality and mind, while 2) working to articulate it with the wonder and clarity of the best popularized science writing, so as make it understandable to as many interested people as possible—the closest thing to a user’s manual of the human mind I would ever try to write. I don’t work on it consistently these days, but I have plans to do so again, when the course of writing The Constellation of Man leads me back to the part where I have to work out how to communicate these same mental attractors that we all demonstrate.

Another batch of work laid out my sociological theory of the anti-social origins of conflict, not in Paleolithic human nature, but in historical-era hierarchical institutions, which empowered psychopaths and narcissists. (A subject also intended for a vid-doc script on Myths About Human Nature and War.) Part of the argument would be an evolutionary one, accounting for the presence of these sub-types. And, a perhaps-separable book built on overlapping research would emphasize psychopathoid personalities in modern society over their origins.

At some point I began writing some entries on this blog, Wisdom Dancer. I don’t entirely remember why, except that I needed a place to talk about process, and journal, and vent, basically (as opposed to my “real” writing). I did all that of elsewhere, first, and then gradually migrated here. Happily, I left social media behind.

Currently, I write material primarily with The Constellation of Man (formerly Prometheus Redux) in mind. This evolved from early efforts in The Promethean Trilogy to invent new kinds of philosophical literature, better able to tell a story about reforming and rekindling humanistic values. (Actually, Nietzsche beat me to it.)

thinking-through-philosophy-tpm

February, 2013

I have many emotions as I look back on twenty years of personal history as a philosopher, a creative artist, and a dissident.

I have thought and written across boundaries—for instance, between social criticism, philosophy of science, humanistic psychology, cybernetics, anthropology, political science, history, education, epic literature, and mythology, with enthusiasm for fusion. I’ve held no more regard for artificial academic boundaries than the artificial boundaries of government, or moralism, or collective divisions, which I have repeatedly written against. As a result, I have often found that I fit nobody’s expectations, and fit in nowhere; and that I make impermissible, unpopular arguments. I do not regret it. Taking sincere advantage of freedom of thought is highly likely to have genuine social and economic costs, not only in facing off with institutions and conventions, but with herd-minded people, and those simply ill-equipped by their institutions to recognize (and value) a wider breadth of thought than their conventions. Again, I do not regret it.

The large majority of what I have written remains unpublished—some of importance, unfinished. The weight of potential hangs over my work, as I do it; I rarely have the satisfaction of completion and feedback, and have never had the feeling of success. It was not a journey I embarked on for attention or reward, although I intended to have more of an impact. It has certainly not been a journey I have continued because any project has, so far, really accomplished what I set out to do. These days, I often have to think that I write for the future and not the present. I continue because the work itself compels me, or needs me. It still fascinates. It still frustrates. I could say that I continue to write because I am a philosopher, and I cannot be someone else.

I can, all at the same time, appreciate that I have made much progress over the years as a writer of philosophical literature. Mastery does not come easily, and it is never finished. Abilities and efficiency go through ups and downs, not continual improvement. But once in a while, usually by sticking it out through many trials and errors—as well as through the marvelous leaps of imagination—the writing does play out as it feels like it was meant to, and fully satisfies even the perfectionist in me.

I will always have mixed feelings about testing the lines between epic accomplishments and impossibilities. I cannot be satisfied with less, in any case. I will always have that kind of ambition.

Regardless, I figure that twenty years of shouldering responsibility in a cause I am truly proud of, and have never compromised—and 20 years of labors, undergoing some immense challenges—well deserves a bottle of Lagavulin Scotch whisky. So that will be my toast tonight. No lamentations for what might have been.

On growing away from a singular vision that can define perfection

I’ve come to appreciate an interesting lesson while combining creative and intellectual ambitions with perfectionism: pursuing perfection according to certain expansive goals actually leads away from any meaningful perception of “perfection.” If carried through, particularly ambitious, magnificent aims for creative projects can grow them into a scale and complexity more analogous to the design of a city or at least a neighborhood than a single, intentional work of art or design.

A single work can be circumscribed, defined, and evaluated. Sometimes they even give a sense of achieving perfection according to the intentions evident in them. Cities or neighborhoods are composed of many interconnected works and can never become perfect—not just due to the difficulty involved, although that is relevant to flaws creeping in—but because there is too much going on and there are too many simultaneous intentions to retain clarity about such overarching terms of evaluation. Likewise a single passage of an epic can retain a focus within itself similar to a short story, but the breadth of the thing is something else. Or rather, it takes on many qualities, perspectives and mantles.

Even given the sense in which one person can encompass many different facets at different times, it’s surprising to find that in practice a creative process primarily involving one person can open up in a similar way to a city or neighborhood designed by many, so that even one creator ends up populating as much as unifying. At some point, it’s difficult to judge, criticize or admire except by adopting a limited view. So I feel like perfection means less and becomes less applicable even as I feel like I do come closer to attaining expansive and ambitious goals, overall.

I suppose this sense of unfolding is something that few writers or single creators of creative works get a chance to experience, as opposed to filmmakers or others who work collaboratively. I particularly feel that relatively modest goals for single writing projects differ not only in degree but in kind from something like a philosophical epic novel few novelists would be crazy enough to attempt, or—as I have also perceived, through glimpses—an intricate body of nonfiction work such as few philosophers have written. I only know this from experience.

I think it’s unfortunate that few perfectionistic writers—and perfectionists make some of the best writers—will take the risks necessary to gain the valuable psychological experience of investing in work like this. It’s work that not only tests limits, but will redistribute creative attentions for less of a sense of tight, intentional control over a project, but a deeper sense of realization that one was nevertheless a facilitator of something ambitious and that it was realized.

Ego dissolution isn’t the right phrase, but it does have to do with opening up and letting go, even though—and this is important, I think—the way there requires a tremendous amount of struggling with tight, focused and laborious work to absurdly high standards. If you will, spiritual attainment of a less constrained view of a laborious creative process needs to go through it, first. Shortcuts do not work. (I believe I’ve heard this a few thousand times about esoteric spiritual practices?)