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Here is an audio link to the episode: Episode 1
welcome
to the neutral ground podcast
i'm your host joe meyer
stop me if you've heard this before
everything today just seems so
argumentative and contentious and
everybody just seems to be putting out
extreme ideas and honestly i'd rather
just kind of
stay neutral just stay in the middle
so what is it that's making our culture
so extreme
well i have a theory about that
but first since this is the inaugural
episode of the podcast
i thought i might give just a little bit
of background information on myself so
you know where i'm coming from and so
you can get to know me a little bit
i was born and raised on long island new
york
and i've been teaching college courses
mainly composition and literature since
roughly 2005 2006.
i received my phd from the university of
arkansas woo pig suey
if you're familiar with the culture over
there if not you're probably like what
the heck was that was that a
sneeze or something
no need to be afraid
the focus of my research is mainly in
what we would call the american
renaissance
authors like
poe hawthorne
melville douglas dickenson
but i'm also familiar with the early
early americanists
people like william bradford from of
plymouth plantation
john winthrop you know the city upon the
hill
and moving into the 18th century as well
with the
american constitutional framers
i also go into a little bit of modernity
as well with some t.s eliot fitzgerald
hemingway
flannery o'connor
and i bleed over ever so slightly into
post-modernism
with some ralph waldo ellison
but
again the main focus of my research is
mostly in the american renaissance
however i'm also
consistently fascinated by the
heroic narrative and how heroism tends
to manifest itself throughout history
take for example these marvel cinematic
universe movies
that didn't just come out of nowhere
those popped up at just the right time
just when people felt like they started
to need to believe in heroes again
and you better believe when we talk
about neo-modernity which is the
current historical movement
when we talk about neo-modernity we're
going to have to spend some time to talk
about this
heroic narrative surge
that we're still in right now
currently i teach at the university at
albany in upstate new york in the
program in writing and critical inquiry
and i love it i love my job
we're very fortunate in that we get
to teach mostly freshmen incoming
students
with the occasional sophomore junior or
senior but
for the most part we get the brand new
students who come into college
and it's
wonderful
i love challenging these students
to think
to leave the surface level
of thinking behind and the reactionary
world that we've somewhat been trained
to embrace
and to engage in a process of deep
thought
and i try to set this up from the very
beginning
by having two main rules on my first day
and if students have taken my class
they'll they'll know they'll remember me
saying this hopefully
rule number one no cell phones
now i'm i am kind of happy to report
that with this new generation generation
z that's not really as much of a problem
as it used to be i think millennials
really enjoyed the
toy aspect of the smartphone the the
newness of it at the time but this
generation dare i say they're almost
happy to use the classroom as a
a way to get away from the phone for a
little while
which is great
the second thing that i tell them and
the most important one is
the world doesn't need
20 50 100 more of me in it
it just needs one
of them
you see i don't want to create
acolytes and followers of
myer religion
and i don't recommend anyone follow my
religion there's
nothing of substance at the end
the world needs just one of them
because it's that uniqueness of the
individual that we want to preserve
yes we want them to be conscientious
and good citizens
of the world but
we need to preserve the uniqueness so
that we can preserve diversity of
thought
that's how we move forward as a species
and so i try to instill in my students
the idea of
i'm going to throw ideas at you big
ideas
and you're going to have to engage in a
process of deep engaging thought
and at the end of that process
you're going to have to make a decision
how much of that thought or philosophy
do you want to apply to yourself
in order to make you the best version of
yourself not just for you
but for the rest of us
and if that thought or that philosophy
doesn't make you better
or doesn't make you see the world or
humanity in a better way
get rid of it
that's deep engaging thought
however today
it seems like our culture
does everything it can
to make sure that we don't
have deep engaging and meaningful
thought
we reward reactionary thinking
tell me if you've never felt this before
you're speaking to someone and you're
trying to get across an important point
and you can almost feel
that the other person is not really
listening
they're just kind of writing a script in
their mind
this is a rebuttal script
because today
it seems to be more important that we
fight with each other that we somehow
win a competition or win a debate what
the greeks called filio nikia
nike as in like the company nike
which is the love of victory or love of
competition
when in reality what we need more of is
filiosophia
like philosophy love of wisdom
and there's a big difference there
if you're
building a script
to rebuke whatever it is i'm trying to
say before i even finish saying my
thought
there is no wisdom there there is no
genuine exchange of ideas there is no
dialogue
and therefore
nothing
has actually happened
i don't get
to hear my idea out loud i don't get to
hear it challenged and maybe made better
in a meaningful way i simply get
well
rebuked and
that's it
we need to get away from that and so in
order to do that i try to instill a
process within my students
and here's how that process works here's
what deep
critical thinking actually
sounds like
you hear an idea or a philosophy or
whatever it is
and you put it in your mind and then you
give it your own language
and that's so that you can maximize your
understanding of it
once you have it maximized in your own
language
you bring it out to the world
and you look at how that idea
manifests itself out in the world and
how
you use that idea in the world as well
and as you observe how that idea is
utilized in the world
you think on it and you think what is
happening here what do i see
does this idea
make me see humanity better does it make
me a better person
does it help clarify some
some aspect of the human condition
if so how how does it do that
and you create your own
kind of philosophy
on the idea
and then comes an important step
you have to let that idea that new
philosophy that you just created about
the idea you have to let that out
into the ether
and social media does not
really
promote this idea well
putting it out there as a tweet or a
post
doesn't really work the same way as what
i'm going to propose you see
what's better
is even if it's in an empty room
which sounds crazy but hear me out even
if it's an empty room
vocalize
your new philosophy out loud
let it bounce off the walls and the
surfaces of the objects in the room and
then come back to your ears
and i promise you
you will hear and understand
your philosophy in a new way
and this has happened to me
in the classroom as well this is kind of
the interesting and exciting part about
speaking in the classroom
sometimes i'll have this great amazing
all-encompassing theory in my head that
i want to bring to the classroom and
i'll say it out loud and it'll glide
past the students and it'll bounce off
the back wall and then i'll come back
right past bewildered faces
and it'll hit me and i'll say
wow
that was stupid
that did not work at all
and sometimes
you need to hear it
so that you can
rethink on it
reflect on it again
and maybe even recompose it
and that's also the beauty of being able
to speak with another person
you throw the idea out to that person
and if they're a good listener then
they're not creating the rebuttal script
in their mind while you're speaking and
at the end of you throwing your idea out
to them
you ask them a simple question
what do you think
don't ask them do you agree or do you
disagree that creates that kind of
reactionary thinking that i was talking
about before
we don't want that
just ask them what do you think
and then let them go let them speak
if they ramble or meander a little bit
it's okay there's nothing wrong with
that because we're trying to create
thoughtful meaningful dialogue and if
they push back
against your idea and challenge it
all the better
then it's upon you to not create
the rebuttal script and to listen
and take in their challenge
and play with it for a little while but
you see deep
thoughtful
meaningful thinking
takes time
and we don't seem to promote time today
something you hardly ever see or hear
in conversation today whether it's on
social media or
person to person is
i don't know
or let me think about that
and so i try to instill in my students
the importance of
of thinking as a process
and sometimes you can best clarify your
thoughts by writing because writing is
the most
i would say precise form of
communication
because i can speak to you right now
through a microphone and i can throw in
the occasional
uh
or stutter
in order to try to figure out the most
accurate word that i can use at that
moment
and if i'm in person with someone i can
use my hands i'm i'm very much into
using gestures while i'm speaking
i can do that and sometimes that body
language can help the other person
understand more accurately what i'm
trying to say
but on paper or on on a computer
every word
has to connect with the previous one in
a meaningful way
every sentence every paragraph every
page
and it forces the author to organize
thinking
so where did this contentious atmosphere
and culture
come from
well i have a theory about that
and i'm going to propose that theory
here and then
we'll use other episodes of the podcast
to really clarify it and
make sense of it but
here we go
it's my theory that
what we're all feeling really
is the pull
of historical movement
historical movements have a kind of
force almost like gravity
and you need a certain amount of force
in order to overcome gravity
well i think that's no different when it
comes to historical movements as well
whenever i teach historical movements as
part of my class
i always use a rubber band
as a kind of
metaphor for historical movements
you see you remember how you would take
a rubber band and you'd
put it between your fingers and then
you'd like
pull them back and try to hit each other
and then
somebody would yell at you and say up
you know stop it you're gonna
poke somebody's eye out
and then you'd continue shooting them
and someone would almost get hit in the
eye and you'd all be like whoa
they know the future
we better stop
well historical movements are kind of
like these rubber bands
the further you get into a historical
movement the more you pull the rubber
band back
and the more you pull that rubber band
back the more tension and potential
energy you build
until
the force you use to pull that rubber
band back is so much that it snaps it
and converts that energy to kinetic
energy that must move it must be
dispersed
and of course we know how
rubber bands
actually act right or react it's never
that it just kind of falls to the side
no they react violently they snap back
and sometimes
can hurt your fingers
and that's sort of what happens i think
with historical movements major
historical movements as well
we're just constantly pulling a rubber
band back until it snaps
very violently look there's a reason why
many of our major historical movements
tend to either begin or end
around violent events like wars
or revolutions
so
how exactly does this work
well
i know it's really trendy right now to
hate everything that is post-modernism
and
there's plenty to dislike don't get me
wrong when we talk about post-modernism
in a future episode
with more you know specificity
you're gonna hear plenty of things that
i dislike about post-modernism but
there's also tremendous good that
happens in post-modernism as well and so
i try to teach my students that
major historical movements are neither
really good nor bad in of themselves
there are simply things that we learn
that move the species forward in a
positive manner
and there are things that we experience
that we never really want to experience
again that we should be learning from in
order to avoid in the future
let's take a popular one the
enlightenment
and you know scholars disagree all the
time about like when they when it begins
and when it ends but
for our sake we're going to say
very late 1600s early 1700s probably
more accurate
all the way into the
late 1700s in america
and of course the enlightenment
for the most part this is an age of
reason
right we're going to use rationale to
better understand the human being and
the human experience
and what's not to like about that
we tend to value
rational human beings
and of course if you can you want to use
as much reason as possible
for your life
however
again picture the rubber band
being pulled back pulled back
everything's reason everything's
rational
and ask yourself a very important
question here how much
of the human being's existence
can be
purely based on reason
without much
connection with emotion
or much connection to
even just
experiencing the human condition
from outside of reason right we have
relationships sometimes that don't
really make much sense they're not
rational relationships
but they're important and we love them
and we have feelings that sometimes seem
irrational to others but maybe later on
they'll make sense
and so what ends up happening is
you pull that rubber band back so far
that eventually
the human condition the human species
basically says i can't
just be
a human in reason
i need to feel
something i need to know that i can have
meaningful emotional connections to the
world and thus the rubber band snaps
and we enter into the age of romanticism
roughly the late 1700s in europe and
then
reaching all the way through to probably
just prior to the civil war in the 1860s
in america
and this is an age
of emotional connection connection to
nature but also connection to the human
being
and how we experience life
but there's also
a subgenre
in romanticism that's quite interesting
that's kind of a carryover
of the enlightenment
and that's the dark romantics
the dark romantics
authors like byron blake the shelleys
and then in america poe melville
hawthorne even
stretching over into dickinson
these dark romantics were fascinated by
the transformative nature of knowledge
now today we have the
often said
cliche of knowledge is power and it's a
cliche because it's actually true
knowledge is power however for the dark
romantics
they saw knowledge
as being transformative
and we tend to think that if you're
transformed by knowledge today that's a
very good thing it has a good
connotation but the dark romantics saw
something
much more potentially
horrific in it
they were fascinated more with
divine knowledge
things like in the garden of eden you
have the
the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil
and what
divine knowledge would do
to the individual who could harness it
for them it had a destructive effect on
the human being
once he or she was exposed to this kind
of dark knowledge
think for a second if this sounds a
little crazy think for a second about a
time that you found out something about
a friend of yours
and once you found out that negative
thing about them it forever changed the
way you viewed that person and changed
your relationship to that person
that's the kind of dark transformative
knowledge
that the dark romantics were interested
in
it's out of romanticism that we get one
of our most commonly seen
villainous characters or sometimes
complex characters in movies and books
and whatnot we get the mad scientist
the individual who is going to
use divine knowledge to
create life
in a laboratory and
come close to actually destroying the
world because of this right you get
shelley's
frankenstein
and in hawthorne you have things like
the birthmark
and rappuccini's daughter
so really fascinating figures that have
stayed with us but
again all the while as we're walking our
way through romanticism that rubber band
is being pulled back
and we start to ask how long can the
human being be
a figure of pure emotion
we become like a toddler in a store
who's going through a tantrum by the end
and if you've ever seen a toddler
you know throwing a tantrum in a store
it can be kind of funny actually when
it's not yours
but what ultimately happens right
they're crying and crying and crying and
then they start doing that
like wind down cry
[Music]
and you start to look at them like are
you done
but what does that cry actually well
it's because
their emotion
has spent all of their physical energy
as well because
being in a state of constant awareness
of one's emotion
is quite or can be quite debilitating
physically
and so that rubber band snaps
and we enter into a new historical
movement now here's where things get a
little bit a little bit dicey because
it's my belief that america
enters into modernism much earlier than
the rest of the world because of the
civil war
modernism is somewhat of a difficult
movement to define or to pin
but for me and for my classes i tend to
define it through the lens of
redefinition
in modernism we want to redefine
what it means to be human
against the great atrocities that we've
seen against that the heart of darkness
of humanity
and so in the wake of the horrors of the
civil war because the civil war of
course not you don't simply just have
an immense amount of death and
destruction
but you also begin to mechanize warfare
in a way that hadn't been seen before
really
and so now we're starting to see
more ways to massively destroy the human
species
and at the end of the civil war america
has to take a look at itself
and say
how do we put ourselves back together
here
what do we do
now
as america is doing that in
again the late 1860s 1870s moving into
the 80s
england of course is going through
the victorian era
and then
when world war one hits
we start to see or the rest of the world
starts to see what i think america was
already
learning or going through
which is this notion of
war has forever changed
it's
it's just too easy
now
to massively destroy people
and if we can't
understand the evil within us as a
species
or our potential for such horrific
destruction
we're not going to be long for this
world
and so
the rest of the world enters into
modernism and begins to try to redefine
what it means to be human
we have the geneva convention
and even in our literature we see this
as well think of the
modern
authors people like
stephen crane with the red badge of
courage
you've got fitzgerald you've got
hemingway
these are not novels
of of grandness
they're usually novels about an
individual trying to figure out
how do i
stand up against the greatness and when
i say great i don't mean morally not
morally i mean in terms of its
looming effect how does the individual
[Music]
who is so small
against the greatness of the world
suffering of the world's evil how does
the individual survive when all of
humanity seems to be
so destructive
well you begin to look for pockets of
goodness and thus small gestures
in modern literature become sites of
great good something as simple as
holding a hand
becomes the climax of like a hemingway
novel
and something else happens in modernism
as well
we start to redefine in modernism
what heroism looks like
if you recall in the red badge of
courage you have a young soldier named
henry fleming
and
fleming wants nothing more than to go
into the civil war and earn his glory
there's a very homeric background there
from from like the iliad i think
achilles
and henry fleming is going to go and
he's going to make a name for himself in
battle but there's this beautiful scene
that's often overlooked
and that's when henry
has to tell his mother
that he went behind her back and he
enlisted
in the union army
and he's going to leave
to go fight
and the narrator tells us
that
henry's mother could have given him any
number of reasons for why
there is more glory
in staying home
this is also seen
in james joyce's novel ulysses
where the character leopold bloom
who's not a very
great epic individual becomes joyce's
epic hero
even when the scaffold of the novel is
the odyssey with a great hero like
odysseus
there's a scene where leopold bloom is
sitting with
a young man named steven daedalus
and they're just talking in a place and
in that same place there's this
really kind of
braggadocious pompous sailor named d.b
murphy and d.b murphy is clearly
the stand-in in the novel for odysseus
and murphy talks about his adventures
and his sailings and all that stuff and
it's mentioned that he has a son and
when bloom asks murphy about his son
murphy has nothing to say
there's this tremendous disconnect
between d.b murphy and his son
and we see this of course in the odyssey
itself right odysseus is away while
telemachus is trying to grow up
but in modern literature
what it does is
it makes leopold bloom
the hero because he's the individual
who's home
and listening
to young people
and so the epic hero becomes
the domestic hero
and so we continually try to redefine
what it means to be human until again
remember always that rubber band is
getting pulled back
how long can the human being
be
in redefining mode always looking for a
coherent narrative
for humanity to believe in
it snaps
we enter into world war
ii and when world war ii is finished
we begin
post-modernism
now think about this for a second right
if you came out of modernism unable to
find any coherent narrative where does
that leave you as an individual it
leaves you
skeptical
that any coherent narrative can exist
that can connect all of us and thus
post-modernism
is built around
skepticism
and what are we skeptical of we're
skeptical of
any grand narrative
that can propose an
answer like a clean full answer to
something and so
we become skeptical of institutions
things like religion
like governance
we become skeptical of language of
meaning and so we deconstruct language
and in essence break apart its meaning
again there is some good here in
post-modernism
it's not by coincidence that we reach
the heights of civil rights that we do
in post-modernism because
that deconstructing
of the
major narratives is what allows
individuals who were not able to fully
participate in society it gives them the
way in
to be able to participate
as citizens
and there's no way around that
you had to deconstruct or break down
the main narrative in order to do so
additionally if you're a stand-up
comedian fan like i am
stand-up comedy comes out of
post-modernism essentially or booms out
of post-modernism because the good
stand-up comic looks at the world with a
skeptical eye and asks what's really
going on here
when we see this
but of course
there are the negatives as well
you see in post-modernism
we lose
a lot of what is sacred in the world
everything is up for debate
everything is up for mockery
and because of that nothing can be held
as sacred
and so
i think by the end of
the 1990s
you start to have the beginnings of that
rubber band starting to lose its grip a
little bit on post-modernism
and i think we start to ask ourselves
can we be
a species any longer
without some sort of sacredness to us
and so when that rubber band snaps
and we enter into
again the movement that i think we're in
today
neo-modernism
i think the first thing that we want to
address
is that loss of the sacred
and here's where i think we start to
connect the dots with why everyone seems
to be so contentious today
neo-modernism
is a newer version of modernity neo
meaning new
modernity
it's my belief that we've
come around
a circle almost think of a bell bell is
a better example here and think of a
bell curve i think post-modernism was at
the top of the curve
and we're starting to make our way back
down and along the way we're going to
hit upon a lot of these major historical
movements
that we just finished talking about and
the first one up is modernity and so now
we have neo modernity which again is
about the idea modernity is about
redefining
but of course
you never go through the exact same
movements you always have new ways of
experiencing them
and so what is it that we're trying to
redefine well i think we are trying to
redefine
the sacredness
of the individual narrative
and so each person has a kind of
sacred
self narrative
that they want to protect and to build
and if you
have something or you hold something to
be sacred if anyone tries to attack it
it's not simply an attack on say
our thoughts or an attack on
you know
something that we only slightly believe
in when you hold something sacred an
attack on it
is akin to an attack
on a cosmological level like at the
level of the soul
which is why i think people are so
protective of their sacred self
narrative today
and remember there are
there are a couple of ways that you can
actually support your own sacred
narrative two ways one is to continually
build it up
and the other is to at times
tear other narratives competing
narratives down
and so we will continue
i think to have these kind of fights
at the extreme levels
until we realize that you don't have to
simply occupy
your self-sacred space at all times you
can come out to the neutral ground
and pull
from the great ideas that can be found
on both sides because both extremes or
any extreme side can have
interesting and useful ideas that we can
use to better society and to better
ourselves but if you're standing on the
wings of one of the extremes you're
forcing yourself
into a corner
from which you have to deny
the good ideas of the other side the
opposing view
because you have to prop up
what you believe is your sacred
narrative
but you don't have to do that
the other problem is this if everyone
puts forward a sacred narrative
then nothing is sacred really
when everything is sacred nothing is
because sacred space
has to be treated differently than
everything else
it's meant to
enter into
preserve
and then leave
and that's why i started this podcast
that's why i want to give people a
neutral ground space from which we can
take ideas from great literature great
philosophy
build ourselves up
bring it out into the world think about
it like the through the process that i
mentioned earlier
and rejoin humanity in a meaningful way
now i will say this
like all historical movements
eventually whether we do something or
not
this is going to end
because all historical movements end
the question is
what will you have done
with your time in this historical
movement will you spend it on the
extreme
burning yourself out constantly
defending constantly attacking
or will you come out into the neutral
ground
and simply live
and help the rest of us help humanity
build yourself up to be the best version
of yourself
that's the purpose
of this podcast
i ultimately want to have guests on my
podcast people that we can pull into the
neutral ground and ask them to at least
consider opposing arguments to move them
away from their extremes
however in order to do that i need your
help
i need to build up my audience
so if you found the podcast episode
interesting or even if you think you
might find it interesting in the future
support my endeavor to bring sanity back
to discussion
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leave a positive rating a nice comment
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comment that i might use on the air as a
springboard for one of our thought
sessions yeah i'm actually really
curious to hear what what all of you
think where where is your neutral ground
i'm also on
joemeyer.substack.com that's
j-o-e-m-e-y-e-r
dot sub stack dot com and you can email
me directly at the neutral ground
podcast at
gmail.com
so i hope you enjoyed the first show the
first episode and i hope you subscribe
and stick around for more
until next time
try to keep one foot firmly planted on
the neutral ground
and have a great day