The Round-Based Community

Yet there’s an even deeper point to be made here, which is that flatness may actually be closer to how we think about the people around us, or even about ourselves.

This is a useful observation from Alec Nevala-Lee (The flat earth society).

I’m willing to bet that perceiving others and oneself as round characters has to do with the ability of cognitive complexity and tolerance for cognitive dissonance. These are tendencies of the liberal-minded, although research shows that with cognitive overload, from stress to drunkenness, even the liberal-minded will become conservative-minded (e.g., liberals who watched repeated video of 9/11 terrorist attacks were more likely to support Bush’s war on terror; by the way, identifying a conflict by a single emotion is a rather flat way of looking at the world).

Bacon concludes: “Increasingly, the political party you belong to represents a big part of your identity and is not just a reflection of your political views. It may even be your most important identity.” And this strikes me as only a specific case of the way in which we flatten ourselves out to make our inner lives more manageable. We pick and choose what else we emphasize to better fit with the overall story that we’re telling. It’s just more obvious these days.

So, it’s not only about characters but entire attitudes and worldviews. The ego theory of self itself encourages flatness, as opposed to the (Humean and Buddhist) bundle theory of self. It’s interesting to note how much more complex identity has become in the modern world and how much more accepting we are of allowing people to have multiple identities than in the past. This has happened at the very same time that fluid intelligence has drastically increased, and of course fluid intelligence correlates with liberal-mindedness (correlating as well to FFM openness, MBTI perceiving, Hartmann’s thin boundary type, etc).

Cultures have a way of taking psychological cues from their heads of state. As Forster says of one critical objection to flat characters: “Queen Victoria, they argue, cannot be summed up in a single sentence, so what excuse remains for Mrs. Micawber?” When the president himself is flat—which is another way of saying that he can no longer surprise us on the downside—it has implications both for our literature and for our private lives.

At the moment, the entire society is under extreme duress. This at least temporarily rigidifies the ego boundaries. Complexity of identity becomes less attractive to the average person at such times. Still, the most liberal-minded (typically radical leftists in the US) will be better at maintaining their psychological openness in the face of conflict, fear, and anxiety. As Trump is the ultimate flat character, look to the far left for those who will represent the ultimate round character. Mainstream liberals, as usual, will attempt to play to the middle and shift with the winds, taking up flat and round in turn. It’s a battle of not only ideological but psychological worldviews. And which comes to define our collective identity will dominate our society for the coming generation.

The process is already happening. And it shouldn’t astonish us if we all wake up one day to discover that the world is flat.

It’s an interesting moment. Our entire society is becoming more complex — in terms of identity, demographics, technology, media, and on and on. This requires we develop the ability of roundedness or else fall back on the simplifying rhetoric and reaction of conservative-mindedness with the rigid absolutes of authoritarianism being the furthest reaches of flatness… and, yes, such flatness tends to be memorable (the reason it is so easy to make comparisons to someone like Hitler who has become an extreme caricature of flatness). This is all the more reason for the liberal-minded to gain the awareness and intellectual defenses toward the easy attraction of flat identities and worldviews, since in a battle of opposing flat characters the most conservative-minded will always win.