Curiosity and Imagination

There are two central factors to life. There is curiosity or its lack. Also, there is imagination and its power over us, whether conscious or unconscious. This is a step back from even first principles. With curiosity and imagination, we are probing the depths of human nature itself, the ground of our being. That is the foundation of any and all society, no matter the kind of political and economic system.

There is the additional insight about how curiosity and imagination are closely aligned. Curiosity is always an act of imagination, even if only to imagine that there is something to possibly be known. As imagination increases, so does curiosity. And the further one follows curiosity down the rabbit hole, the more fodder there is for imagination.

However, a given social order will always constrain this process. It is extremely difficult to think outside of a social order, to probe its boundaries and peak beyond the veil. If it were easy, the social order would be weak and not last long. It is the rare person with the ability and motivation to step out of the allegorical cave and venture beyond the known, to question oft-repeated stories and challenge the  dominant worldview.

It’s freaking hard. And there is little reward an individual will get for the effort. If anything, they’ll be punished and sometimes severely at that or else simply made a pariah. Down this path, one does not make many friends, although one will quickly learn who are one’s true friends. Curiosity and imagination aren’t for the faint of heart.

I don’t think anyone willingly chooses that path of seeking and challenging. It is simply that some people find themselves on this path and it is the only path they see before them. Certain things once known can’t be unknown, once imagined can’t be unimagined. After being awakened, it can be hard to fall back asleep again, especially when it becomes apparent there is something lurking in the dark.

On some level, most people are aware of this. And, for that reason, most avoid that path. When given the choice, it’s not hard for most people to choose the blue pill, rather than the red one. It really isn’t even a conscious choice, as they’ve been given the blue pill their entire life. They would have to actively refuse the blue pill and actively go looking for the red pill, which would require them to imagine a red pill existed. The blue pill is just the the job they go to every day, the family they come home to at night, tv they watch before bed, the party they support every election, and simply the life they know and the society all around them.

For whatever reason, my mind is obsessed with imagination and curiosity. I can’t take credit for it, any more than I can take credit for my severe depression or introverted nature. I have no idea why I’m the way I am and I have no idea how to be otherwise. Someone must have slipped a red pill into my bottle when I was a baby. As I see it, all the world is a buffet of ideas and knowledge, possibilities and visions. Even looking at reality around me is an act of questioning and wondering. The world just seems like a strange place to me. I can’t help but see all the different ways to look at the world, to interpret things, and to sense what it all means and where it could could lead. I’m a possibility thinker, whether positive or not-so-positive possibilities.

Both the distant past and distant future seem real to me, as real as the present. We exist on a massive spectrum of space and time. And, speck of dust though I am, I go on thinking about my place in the grand scheme of things. But I’m never sure what to do with my contemplations, as I live in a society that seems rather indifferent to them. What’s the point of being curious about knowledge that is ignored and dismissed by mainstream society? What’s the point of imagining possibilities that few others will ever entertain? I don’t know.

On the imagination front, my mind flows along two broad grooves. They represent parallel universes and potential futures.

There is the dark vision of what might be grounded in a dark understanding of what already is. Many things we see in our society are what one would expect if it were already being ruled by authoritarianism.

My dad pointed to the correlations of other data to Fed monetary policy. And I pointed out that is what one would expect to see with fascism, where the economy follows policy. Such correlations are the imagining of reality, because without an act of imagination one never sees such correlations in one’s daily life experience. From this act of imagination, one can extrapolate a number of possible futures of growing authoritarianism.

My mind was in this funk because I started a couple of books about how fascism relates to American society: Right Out of California by Kathryn S. Olmsted and American Fascism and the New Deal by Nelson A. Pichardo Almanzar and ‎Brian W. Kulik. They are both scholarly books, but they are far from boring. In their own way, they are more fear-inducing than a horror movie, as American-style fascism is so ordinary that few even recognize it for what it is. At least with Freddie Krueger, you hear his claws scratching on metal before he comes for you.

On a lighter note, I was reminded of hopeful possibilities. A new Star Trek show is coming out. Star Trek was the last tv show I watched that offered a positive vision of the future. I have particularly fond memories of watching Star Trek TNG in high school back in the simpler times of the 90s.

I like thinking about positive visions of the future. It make me happy to imagine a genuinely free society. Star Trek portrays a full-fledged social democracy that could even be described as socialist, far greater than present Scandinavian countries with their cultures of trust and happy and healthy populations. In the Star Trek Federation, an individual’s achievements isn’t limited by birth, class, wealth, or any other social constraints. Each person is allowed to develop as fully as they are able and in whatever direction they desire. Everyone has resources, opportunities, and guidance available to them.

Compared to our society, it sounds like a utopia. But in the Star Trek world it is presented as so plausibly normal.

I see so much potential in society and in the larger world. Yet humanity seems to have tunnel vision. All we see is what is right before us and even that we see it in the way a near-sighted person looks for their glasses, hoping not to step on them. In this metaphorical scenario, the glasses being looked for stands for the vision of democracy. If we could just find those glasses, the world of possibilities we might be able to see all around us.

Just imagine what if. Doesn’t it make you curious?

7 thoughts on “Curiosity and Imagination

  1. Do you think progress is a myth? People say the US is getting more liberal,but is it really? I always look back at the people that rose up in the 60s. Many of them know probably vote for someone like Trump. Aren’t you 40? Would you say most of your friends that you went to highschool with or college are conservative voters now? Do you think the 20 something now will be conservatives in 20 years?

    Maybe a lot of it has to do with how a person is in their 20s compared to how they are in their 40s.

    • I don’t think progress is a myth. It’s just complex. Some things genuinely are getting better, even as other things are getting far worse. In the end, it’s hard to know which will win out. Such things as climate change, if it gets bad enough, could undo centuries of progress or even undo civilization as we know it.

      Still, what has improved in our society is not insignificant. For example, the average IQ has been increasing. This is most clearly seen with particular demographics, such as minorities and the poor. So, the race and class gap in average IQ is quickly disappearing, as the average IQ is improving. Some argue for a corollary Moral Flynn Effect and a strong case can be made, considering that such things as violence rates have been steadily decreasing, although admittedly it’s a complex issue.

      Maybe most important, it’s what kind of intelligence that is increasing. It’s specifically fluid intelligence that involves pattern perception and problem solving. Plus, intelligence in general is highly correlated with psychological liberalism and social liberalism. Liberals on average are better at fluid intelligence and on average are more well educated. It’s maybe unsurprising that, as education and IQ rates have increased, liberal politics have increased. This is most clearly seen when comparing the youngest and oldest generations.

      Here is something few people don’t understand about the 60s. It wasn’t just the era of hippies, radicals, and protesters. It was also the era of Barry Goldwater’s campaign, Ronald Reagan’s early political career, growing popularity of Young Republicans, the Southern Strategy, incipient culture war backlash, the emergence of the first mega-churches and the prominence of the religious right, big ag putting small family farmers out of business, growing corporate dominance over both parties, etc.

      I’ve done a lot of research about generations. It’s one of my longtime favorite topics, having been of interest to me since back in the 1990s. Research shows that people don’t tend to change their views much over their lifetime. People who are liberal when they are young tend to be liberal when they’re older. Speaking of the older generations now, many of them never were liberal, especially by today’s standards. Plus, back then during the early Cold War, even most liberals were extremely centrist and antagonistic to the slightest hint of leftism.

      The oldest generations alive right now are Silents and Boomers. The majority of Silents were teenagers in the 1940s and 1950s. Older Boomers were also teenagers in the 1950s and early 1960s. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that radicalism began heating up. My mother was born in 1945. She went to college in the mid-to-late 1960s and yet she somehow didn’t notice all the events going on at the time. People were much more isolated back then and media was less pervasive. My parents went to a conservative college, although it was a major state college. During the 1960s, what happened in one part of the country wasn’t necessarily known in all other parts of the country. People lived much more isolated and insular lives in those days.

      Yep, I’m 40. Just turned 40 a few months ago. As for my peers, I haven’t stayed in contact with most people I knew from high school. I went to high school in South Carolina and I haven’t been back there in about a decade. I am Facebook friends with one high school friend who is a mainstream Democrat and moderate liberal. I did check out the Facebook page of another high school friend and it seems he was a right-winger of some sort. South Carolina is a conservative state, but where I lived was a relatively less conservative city. My childhood friend here in Iowa is not particularly political, although his general mindset is liberal. Most people I know around here are liberal to varying degrees, but this is a liberal college town.

      To answer your last question, I’d say ‘no’. I doubt the 20 something now will be conservatives in 20 years. I’ve become more liberal as I’ve aged. If anything, I’ve been moving in the direction of radical leftism. Much of this has to do with the times. Many people are feeling pushed more to the extremes. It’s just that, generally speaking, the entire spectrum of public opinion is shifting left. My guess is that, 20 years from now, Sanders will seem like a moderate and Clinton will be remembered as having been on the political right.

      But all of that depends on what happens in the coming years. If society becomes stabilized, world war turns the global order on its head, and climate change forces massive social change, then public opinion could be drastically shifted in almost any direction. Predicting the future is a fool’s game, even though it is a game I sometimes like to play.

      • Do you think we’d be more like scandainavia today if it weren’t for the crushing hand of the state / cointel pro? I always wondered.

        • Probably. But the question is: Why has such things as the “crushing hand of the state / cointel pro” so often been ignored, dismissed, accepted, allowed, condoned, or rationalized in the US?

          Part of the problem is we are such a large diverse society. Many Americans simply have no clue what is happening elsewhere to other Americans. My father had never even heard of COINTELPRO until I told him about it recently, even though major documents about it were leaked decades ago.

          The American public is one of the most propagandized population on the planet. How did it get that way?

          • “Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent every year to control the public mind.” – Noam Chomsky

            Through the ridiculous spending of money.

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