hello everybody and welcome to the
neutral ground podcast
today i'm going to build off of the
previous podcast episode where we
started talking about neo-modernism
in that episode we discussed kind of
what neo-modernism is where it came from
and some of the ways in which it impacts
our culture today now before we we dive
into this episode proper i want to say
that i've received some wonderful
feedback from people via email about the
first five part historical movements
series that i did
and i want to say please don't be shy
about sending in your thoughts
you can do so through email at
theneutralgroundpodcast
gmail.com
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and i really encourage you to do this
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theneutralgroundpodcast.com
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and you can actually leave an audio
comment which if it's good if it has
some really nice
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what i want to say is thank you because
i do feel like we're starting to build
really a wonderful community of
listeners and thinkers here and i really
couldn't be more thrilled
at this this prospect here of what of
what we're building together so thank
you for that
now today i want to start a three-part
series
on the three main aspects of
neo-modernism that i believe are the
core principles that are driving this
current historical movement and i think
much of our very culture today
the reason why i want to kind of
slow play this a little bit and and dive
into these in their own episodes is
because i want to lay out with more
detail why i think these are important
traits for us to deal with in
neo-modernism
and how
i think confronting these traits might
make us feel more connected with the
culture with our own place in the
historical movement and really just kind
of more connected with each other in
general
so just for a reminder
the three traits that i see currently in
neo modernism are
narrative reassurance
transcendence of the corporeal meaning
the body
and the need to create sacred space
today i'll be talking about the first
trait narrative reassurance
and i want to be clear about something
these these traits that we're going to
discuss they didn't just come out of
nowhere i've been defining challenging
rethinking and kind of reforging these
over the better part of the last few
years
i've tested them in the classroom with
students and
let me tell you something about testing
theories in the classroom
if there isn't at least a vein of truth
in what you bring to the classroom
students will let you know and i love
them for it they'll tell you whether or
not there's anything there and i have
absolutely brought theories to the
classroom only to get kind of
looks like
what are you talking about
so even though i'm the one in the room
with the phd in the classroom
i always feel like it's important to be
open to listening to what the students
have to say
if you can't say what you need to say in
a way that makes sense to them
then it's probably not worth saying at
all
or at the very least it might not be
ready to kind of birth out into the
world you know to release the ill-formed
offspring of my feeble mind as the great
american poet anne bradstreet said
finally this is still going to be an
organic thinking kind of episode meaning
although i've got the ideas
pretty well in hand
you're likely going to hear me kind of
work with and struggle with the ideas at
times
and if this podcast is going the way
that i hope it is
you should be grappling with them as
well
don't be afraid to kind of pause and
challenge and think about what i'm
saying here
now some of the questions that i want to
explore in this episode are how did we
lose narrative assurance
what is narrative reassurance why do we
need it and where do we see it
manifesting itself in our current
culture
now you might recall from our kind of
two-part mini-series that was within the
series
a series within a series how very meta
i'm getting off track already you might
recall that post-modernism introduced
narrative skepticism at first it mostly
confined itself to skepticism of what we
would call grand narratives
these are kind of all-encompassing
stories that attempted to find major
human concepts
and or maybe some aspect of the human
experience sometimes they're called
meta-narratives as well
however although it started off as
skepticism of just those grand or
meta-narratives i think it slowly spread
to language itself
and then even personal narratives so
that people no longer felt as though
their stories carried any sense of value
or meaning by the time we get to
uh i would say roughly the early to mid
2000s
now do we at times need to glance upon a
narrative with a skeptical eye
yeah i think so
again
don't buy into the hype that
post-modernism is all bad it's not
there are times when reading something
from a skeptical perspective can
actually help us balance out our own
biases
when i read something that i completely
agree with
at first
you know like most people it makes me
feel good vindicated
even dare i say a bit self-righteous
which is always
pretty much when i know that something's
gone wrong
but then i'll i'll start to actually use
some of that post-modern skepticism
and i'll think about how that narrative
got me to be so much on its side
and i'll start to grapple with the major
points and try to contextualize them
against myself
against the person
that i ultimately want to be in life
and oftentimes when i do that
i'll find at least a few parts where
i'll go
wait a minute
i'm not so sure that i actually do agree
with all of this this stuff these ideas
and that's why thinking as a process
needs to be
time-consuming and muddy right you need
to think rethink
and live with something for a little bit
so there are times when a post-modern
skepticism can be useful
the problem is when you apply this
skepticism
to all things at all times and it
becomes your very own ethos right your
your i your sense of self is built
around a kind of cynical reading of all
human narratives
i would argue that
if that's you
you're in a pretty bad place in life
if we can't agree on
certain basic fundamental aspects of
humanity that we need to be kind offer
mercy as much as we can show respect and
value individual integrity if we can't
maintain those bonds of humanity
then we're in trouble
so how do we help build and maintain
those bonds of humanity especially today
when things seem to be so
contentious and argumentative
through narrative reassurance
and what i mean by that is
by reading
ingesting
telling
stories
that reassure us
that there are certain universal values
that we can agree upon
and even build relationships with
or build relationships upon i should say
we get those connective bonds from
narratives that have stood the test of
time
and by listening to great stories that
speak
to the core
of humanity and reinforce them
now i'm going to regale you with a story
from my past from a time when i was
actually training to become a secondary
school english teacher
although i teach college now at one
point in my life i did teach junior high
in high school for a very little bit
this was i guess quite some time ago now
but i still
very much value the experience of it
because i met a lot of wonderful kids
who were really fun to be
around but there's one story
that i'll always remember
i was a student teacher at the time and
it was a 7th grade english class so i
guess roughly like 13 year olds
one of the lessons that my cooperating
teacher was using and it was a good
lesson actually was this concept of
having the students build their own
towns
now i don't remember what book it was
connected to
but i do remember it was a good lesson
they had to quite literally draw a town
on paper
you know put in these squares and
identify the core buildings and
utilities that their town needed to have
when it came time to share these towns
with each other
one of the students was kind of rattling
off these buildings in his town he had
schools video game stores grocery stores
and then he said porn shop
and everyone in the room
just went silent
it was one of those moments that you
could feel
the thickness of tension in the room
and the student felt it immediately and
was like
what
what's the big deal
my cooperating teacher pushed for some
clarity like what do you mean what are
you saying
and the student said
yeah a porn shop
you know where you can bring things in
and get money for them
and we all gave a collective exhale and
said oh
a pawn
shop p-a-w-n
we all had a good laugh even the student
because he knew what he meant
he just didn't kind of have the right
word there
you get those funny moments actually
teaching in junior high where the
students still kind of occupy that that
liminal space between child and teenager
in that moment however
we all experienced what narratologist
jerome bruner calls a narrative breach
this is a moment in a story that creates
a genuinely jarring effect that almost
completely takes the reader out of the
spell
of listening to a story
sometimes these breaches can actually be
used really effectively as a form of
narrative construction
if you're a final fantasy video game fan
i'm sure you remember the first time
that you experienced the scene with the
death of aerys which is an amazingly
disturbing moment
but it makes you want to continue to
play the game and actually win
on the other hand
sometimes narrative breaches can really
ruin a story for some people
one example of a narrative breach that i
would argue didn't quite work so well
is the death of glenn in the walking
dead
people were genuinely disturbed by the
way in which he was killed in the series
and there were articles written
on
the the problematic scene
and
people even claimed a kind of
viewer trauma over it
now just prior
to my junior high student clarifying
that he meant a pawn shop
that student created a narrative breach
in the room for those of us who
know what the other word means
i bring up this concept of a narrative
breach because in post-modernism we
experienced
large amounts of narrative breaches in
various forms
and it destabilized
our trust in narratives
i love going to the movies and you tell
me if you've experienced this i love
going to the movies with someone
and about halfway through the film they
kind of lean over and whisper to me
i think i know who did it i think i know
the twist
but you know
what you want to know what the twist
really is
there is no twist
it's just a straightforward narrative
people always seem to kind of yearn
for the twist yearn for that
destabilized narrative
and it's almost like when we don't get
the twist in the movie now
we're kind of like hmm
you mean this is just a story it's like
yeah
it's just a story
and because you were kind of looking so
hard for that destabilizing twist moment
you've actually missed
a good story
that we could have shared a kind of
common bond around
okay let me fast forward a little bit
here
so about a year later after that after
teaching junior high i'm teaching in
high school and i was very fortunate
enough i got to teach 9 10 and grade 12.
so everything except 11th grade which i
mean i guess is a bit ironic considering
my field of specialty is is american lit
and that i didn't even get to teach
american lit
but one of the interesting aspects of
the school curriculum in new york state
and i don't know if this is still the
case actually
but in each year of high school the
students had to read at least one
shakespearean play
and i think they might not have had to
read it in 11th grade because of the
american lit thing that they they might
have either way
in ninth grade high school students
traditionally read like romeo and juliet
probably because they
you know have access to that story in so
many different forms and adaptations and
it's it's pretty accessible in terms of
its plot right
in 10th grade you read either othello or
julius caesar and then in 12th grade
students traditionally read either
hamlet or midsummer night's dream
now
from my own personal experience teaching
it
i think students actually reacted pretty
positively to having to read those plays
when i say positively i just mean that
they've heard of the great william
shakespeare so much that i think they're
they were open to kind of seeing what's
so great about it right like they would
go into it going all right bill
shakespeare
you got me for at least a couple of
pages let's see what's so great
about you
and let me tell you sometimes that's the
best place that you can have students
even at the college level is when
they're like
i've heard of this
i'm open to seeing what's so great about
it
now the beauty of this high school
curriculum was that it gave students
from all different backgrounds things
that they could discuss with each other
i'm not saying that students went around
saying can style believe what atrocities
befell fair desdemona and the most
worthy of hello
no they most definitely didn't do that
at least i never heard them do that
but there was a connection there
and when they came upon themes and
characters from those stories for
example a character like iago from
othello the type of person who is so
good at manipulation
that he can lead you toward your own
very destruction
and make you believe
that you
were in control of it the entire time
exposure to that kind of character gives
not just young people but all of us a
frame of reference to be able to spot
potential iagos in our own lives
it gives us a template
for one aspect of evil
the destructive force
of manipulation
now for hundreds of years people read
shakespeare's othello and could use that
reference of iago as a kind of stable
narrative
they could reference that someone was
like an iago figure in real life and you
knew to be wary of that person because
we had narrative
assurance
in our understanding that iago was evil
so anyone who's like iago we should kind
of keep away from
all of that was the case until you get
to the skepticism of postmodernism
now if you do a quick search on google
with the question
is iago evil
you will find a bevy of answers many of
which are very postmodern in their
approach where people try to push back
on the concept that he is in fact evil
i'm not saying that all of the people
who question this are trying to do
anything malicious in any way
in fact
i'll talk probably a little bit later on
about why this can be quite a useful
personal exercise for us
they're most likely just utilizing that
post-modern skeptical eye
to test what is often considered a
pretty straightforward reading iago is a
horrific human being
they might also be trying to distinguish
between human evil and cosmological evil
does iago portray evil in a cosmological
way now that's a good question
i think you can make a pretty decent
argument that he does
represent
a kind of cosmological evil but that
might be for another time
nonetheless iago's actions in the play
and his choices and i mean his direct
choices what he does
lead to the deaths of multiple people
some of whom are at least portrayed as
fairly innocent
or pretty innocuous
so how do we deal with a character like
iago today in neo-modernism
and what do we do with the story
well
let's bring this question onto the
neutral ground for a moment and really
grapple with it
is it wrong
to test whether or not iago can be
labeled as evil
no
in fact this is the first step to
developing a kind of narrative
reassurance again
in order to make the question of iago's
evil a meaningful exercise in a
neo-modern context you need to break
with the post-modern protocol and define
evil for yourself
you need to take a personal stance
on what evil actually looks like what it
is
in doing so you are attempting to create
narrative reassurance you're saying this
is what evil looks like to me
and the beauty of that concept
is that once you do that you can create
a kind of template from which you can
then go out in the world
put that template up against other ideas
and stories
and either build up the person that you
want to be or protect the parts of
yourself
that you are happy with
you build up your narrative reassurance
and the more you do this the more you
begin to build up your templates for the
world the more the world can start to
make sense and i think the less anxious
we become
in situations where our definitions and
templates are being tested now these
templates however
need to be like spider webs well hear me
out think about this they're strong
enough to carry our own weight and the
weight of others right think about what
a spider web can actually carry not just
the spider but like multiple insects and
things like that so they're actually
super strong
but
they also need to be light enough
that if need be a strong wind can kind
of just whisk them away
so that they can be rebuilt restructured
reconfigured
on our continuing engagement with the
template and with society
i think that metaphor of the spiderweb
actually comes from nietzsche on truth
and lies in a non-moral sense it's a
fantastic metaphor
you need to be open
to to
tweaking your templates to refining them
now i'm not saying that you always need
to destroy them that's not what i'm
saying i'm saying
we often need to make minor adjustments
now and then
why
because you're constantly evolving as a
thinking and socializing human
being tell me when did socrates stop his
process of growth and thinking
when he died
you can and should build a solid core of
templates that you believe will lead you
to be the best version of who you want
to be as a human being
but you must be open to tweaks
however if you're constantly destroying
your templates and rebuilding them from
the ground up that's not good
it means you're not actually defining
any core principles for yourself and
you're probably
not spending enough time reflecting on
who you actually want to be
if you can't even define what a good
person is
how the heck are you supposed to judge
your own actions in the way that you
interact with others you can't
and if you have no clear criteria for
judging what is good in you
how can you ever reassure within
yourself that which is best in you
you can't
and that is one of the reasons why i
think
so many people today feel so terrible
about themselves like everything they do
is wrong and that they they simply have
no good inside them
the first thing that i would ask those
people is what is good to you
write it down
construct what a good person is
does says
and then go out into the world with that
template and see the world through the
template don't try to be it
at the very beginning see it in the
world
identify it
then start to slowly move yourself
toward being
that good person
and a good person is not a perfect
person don't create a perfect individual
from which you assure your own failure
and then you can feel justified when you
just give up
i'll tell you one of my traits of being
a good person
a good person tries to maximize positive
emotional engagement with others
now do i always do this
nope
i screw up like everybody else
but the key word in that statement is
tries
i know when i actually try to do this
and when i don't
and i can judge myself fairly
based on that
now you do need to make the foundation
of your templates sturdy right so that
you can build upon them and then make
your your tweaks here and there right
but
they also must be malleable in case your
templates start to degrade into a kind
of irascible tyranny
you can trap yourself within your own
templates so that you no longer
experience what it means to be human
that's an incredibly dangerous place to
be in because you will slowly decay
inside and start to remove yourself from
humanity you will find yourself only
comfortable
with yourself because that's the only
connection that you feel you can control
and even that's a lie
your templates become walls
at first they are walls to keep others
out
but then they quickly become walls to
keep you in
this is why it's important that you test
your templates constantly
and if you do find that you need to make
certain adjustments there
you need to do so
now as always i try to bring in some
literature or philosophy for us to
really grapple with that connects with
our theme for the podcast for this
episode i'm actually going to quote from
a movie
and as much as i love the lord of the
rings books and trust me i'll be quoting
from the books plenty of times in the
course of this podcast
as good as the speech by sam is in the
two towers in the books i mean
look the movie version
nails it
those movies
weren't just well done
we loved them because they spoke to our
yearning for
neo-modern seriousness for narrative
reassurance
just listen to this and i think you'll
hear what i mean
this is a speech from sam toward the end
of the two towers
and it really comes at kind of their
worst lowest point right when they're
about to just kind of give up
and sam says
i know
it's all wrong
by rights we shouldn't even be here
but we are
it's like in the great stories mr frodo
the ones that really mattered
full of darkness and danger they were
and sometimes you didn't want to know
the end because how could the end be
happy
how could the world go back to the way
it was when so much bad had happened
but in the end
it's only a passing thing this shadow
even darkness must pass
a new day will come and when the sun
shines it will shine out the clearer
those were the stories that stayed with
you that meant something even if you
were too small to understand why
but i think mr frodo
i do understand
i know now
folk in those stories had lots of
chances of turning back only they didn't
they kept going because they were
holding on to something
what are we holding on to sam
that there's some good in this world mr
frodo
and it's worth fighting for
now
i challenge you to listen to that speech
and not go out into the world and build
up your templates of good to leave the
world of cynicism behind and find good
quest for it look for it in those you
love and more importantly look for it in
those you despise
because no matter how dark the world
becomes no matter how many people cast
dirty looks at you
no matter how many times you fall down
and the people around you
simply laugh
never forget there is good in the world
and good is a real force
and it is magnified with every smile
every time you extend humanity to
another
you don't simply build a narrative a
reassurance for yourself you live it
you bring it out to others and in doing
so you show others that there is good in
the world
and i promise you if you bring that
goodness out and embody it it will catch
on with the people in your house
in your work
in your community
in the country and in the world
all great pieces of literature and media
have known this fact for ever
goodness
can triumph over hate
but it must be believed and practiced
and you will fail
at times you will hate you will be
frustrated
but that
is not the source of your failure
you fail only
if you do not try
the next time
i hope you took something positive away
from this episode in the next episode
we're going to take a look at the second
part of this series the importance of
transcending the corporeal or the body
until next time try to keep one foot
firmly planted
on the neutral ground
and have a great day
i thank you for taking the time to
listen and i hope you've enjoyed the
episode
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neutralgroundpodcast.com
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you for your feedback thank you for your
time
it is truly appreciated