Parameters of Solar North
“…he probably didn’t use the word ‘hegemonic’…”
—from “Decolonizing Cartography: A Memoir of Maps and Normative Worldviews: a meditation on south-up maps, imperialism, the evolution of language, and internalized heteronormativity” by Anna Hundert
I have a friend who wanted to be a vagrant philosopher when she grew up, sleeping on people’s couches and preaching ideas for a living. I went to her eighteenth birthday party, and since I’d just learned about the “Solar Plane”, and how to identify at a glance which twinkle-lights in the sky to call planets, I speed-talked for a few minutes about how uncomfortable it would be if we all treated Solar South as down. To demonstrate it, I leaned over at about a thirty degree angle and stood as if perpendicular to the plane created by the relatively flat orbit of the planets around Sol.
There’s a moral to this story, which is treat everyone like they have an imagination, because you may inadvertently touch infinity.
I find it difficult to imagine that the universe has any other center except for Oliver the Shiny one, whose wit knows no notable nemesis. Sometimes I will encounter people who challenge that world view, but I have always found it easier to assume that they believe false things—they know wrong information—rather than concede any deviation in my world. I reason that I know an awful lot. My imagination constricts multitudes. And seeing as I possess the brilliance of seven or eight small stars, I suppose it more likely that my vast understanding contains all truth. Accepting that I have incomplete knowledge makes me uneasy.
Which sometimes makes it incredibly difficult to interface with ideologies that disagree with my own. I can tell you that for a fact. One of the alleged “facts” of reality that I like to repeat goes like this: we’re all in this together. Put another way, that “community,” whatever that means, ought to be counted among the purposes for human existence. That, when we’ve said it all and done what we haven’t said, then what we find ourselves left with is each other. People, and people in the plural.
Whenever I accede to the seduction of thinking about the human race in the singular, and that singular being just me, then I discover the corners and shadows where all the fear demons live.
And I do find it incredibly seductive, the allure of solipsism. A world that exists only as a construct of my imagination is a world with a much higher success rate for one Oliver B. Furthermore, such a monocosm would never get sullied by the confusion of such things as social reform or any kind of beliefs-based conflict. All beliefs would be my beliefs, and therefore all beliefs would be good beliefs. To simply deny the existence of other perspectives would make a marshmallow world with a hint of lemon and nutmeg, and I could march toward my grave with a sublime smile and nary a moment of guilt. I wouldn’t even notice the hands of the oppressed that I walked over to get there.
That’s no way to live. I mean, it’s a way to live for some, but it’s no way to live. Some people prefer it, you know? Like…well, most people, I imagine, like it a lot better than any alternative way of living. I know that I prefer it. And the world really does encourage continued self-centered living. The popular doctrine in the west derives from the humanist ideologies invented during the Enlightenment, and that doctrine preaches the importance of the individual. We are all self-made men—or women—or whichever we like. And we all possess an inalienable right to make ourselves, as individuals, by ourselves, without the help or aid of anyone else.
Which our communities never miss a chance to tell us.
I think I may have figured out why I always feel a little lonely. I don’t know if everyone has this experience, but something happens to me in situations when I have to spend time with other so-called “individuals.”
See, what happens is I spend the whole time reminding myself that nobody else in the whole world is what you’d call “real” people.
None of them have any effect on me. Of course they don’t. I have made myself, out of raw materials, into the last say in humans being. I don’t have conversations. I have extended practice in patience while I wait for all these other imaginary people to get done being so self-indulgent so that I can finish the obligatory public appearance and go do something important, like sit in the quiet, by myself, and think about how great I am.
That would seem to be the usual perspective people hold to. Or at least a common one. Which feels like an odd attitude to build a civilization on top of. It’s sort of like saying, “We’ll build this house, but we won’t require any of the bricks to associate with each other unless they really want to.”
I need to think about this, though, because of Napoleon Bonaparte. And because of Genghis Khan. And also because of the Caribbean mutineers who became pirates, and every other revolution or revolutionary individual that forced an examination of freedom and who didn’t have it.
Freedom is a hard word. Most of my life I took the word for granted, because that’s what you do with hard words. I always take it for granted that the people saying the hard words know what they mean. Of course I do. Because the alternative would be to figure out what the hard words mean by thinking about them myself. And, as my father has been known to say, that sounds like work.
I think I understand freedom now, after a lifetime of being required to possess it. I won’t tell you what I think freedom means, because that would make me like them.
When they have “freedom,” I think that some people have interpreted it to mean the end of community. Community tends toward rules, and rules tend to feel like they curtail freedom. And since freedom has become a requirement for modern, western living, I think that a lot of people tend toward rejecting community too.
And when I say people, I mean me. Mostly me. Because this is all about me.
Community makes demands of me. Community asks me to do bothersome things, like empathizing, and sharing perspective, and trying to understand difficult things like other people. What is with that? What? I understand the people around me and then what? We all have a donut and make chains out of clover and live in a field till we feel better or something?
Not for me. What did community ever do for me? Nothing. That’s what. I am a self-made man, just like Napoleon Bonaparte, the ultimate self-made man. You would never hear Napoleon Bonaparte whining about how exhausting it is to wake up every day to redefine what kind of a man he will be for the rest of his life, and reaffirming his certainty of self, all before breakfast. He would have simply risen to each new day, certain of his place in the universe—at the middle of it—and gone and, I don’t know, conquered Belgium again or something.
That’s the example of the capital P “Person” in the western world. A real person, not one of these imaginary sods “just getting by,” or some nonsense like that. A real person is someone with such conviction about their position in the universe that they’ll rearrange everything else to accommodate that position. Everyone in neighboring universes that never touch.
I have freedom, and as that one guy paraphrased, give people freedom and they’ll never give it up.
I have freedom. Community has rules. And as everyone knows rules are exactly what curtail freedom. So community is not for me.
I am an independent, fully realized universe unto myself.
Just like everyone else. And I know that it’s true because everyone and everything I encounter encourages me to believe it.
Which sounds a little codependent when you think about it.
I don’t know. Being my own individual grows easier every time I subscribe to popular ideas. I’ve never had easier days than the ones when I asserted my individuality by giving into peer pressure. Being an individual only turns out to be difficult when I take a moment to ask why everyone inside my club disagrees with all the “clearly wrong” people.
Not sure if I have a point beyond suggesting the occasional exercise of asking, “What do I mean by, ‘because it’s the right thing to do’?”
So this vagrant philosopher friend of mine…
The thing about life is that it sometimes includes regret. I try not to indulge too much in regret myself, because it seems to inhibit my ability to maintain forward motion. Just a personal philosophy.
That said, I do indulge in regret every now and then when I think I made a genuine mistake that I need to remember, because I hope that I can make better decisions someday.
If I have regrets, then one thing that I regret happened one night after my vagrant philosopher friend had graduated high school. That summer, she spent a lot of time rebelling against her family life—like you do. One night, after a bit of a to-do with her family—the details of which I don’t know—she found herself wandering up and down the streets of my neighborhood. It grew later and later, and I did not have the courage to invite her to come and sleep on my couch. I’m sure I had some extenuating circumstances, but the raw facts of the matter were that I could not see with enough simplicity to just extend that favor to her. Somehow, it didn’t fit into my sense of “right.”
I feel awful about that still. She went on to get a degree in English or something and travel the world and start her own businesses. She’s doing well, and I’m sure she forgave me for it.
I learned something that night about the dangers of becoming too stuck inside any set parameters of righteousness without checking in with yourself on the regular.
p.s. Never grow tired of demanding why he wouldn’t use the word “hegemonic.” Because if the answer is, “because I wouldn’t know what it meant,” then it might be time to go stand under a big tree and think about the universe for a while. “Because it’s hard” is a reason to do, not a reason to avoid doing.
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