SETTING THE STAGE....
Right now in 2017 humanity at large finds itself in a situation in which it has access to increasingly god-like technological capabilities, but, finds itself still employing chimp-like behaviors. Even though we can do things like communicating pretty much instantaneously across thousands of miles, and, we have more than enough food and energy resources to sustain every human on the planet; causes of human conflict and suffering like extremist ideology still exist. As a result of the ridiculous dichotomy between capabilities and actualities evident right now, it is quite apparent that our cultural software is in dire need of an upgrade.
This is a 4 part series of short articles exploring the powerful cultural lessons humanity at large can learn through analyzing the combined endeavors of two different Dr. Manhattans. One is the fictional character from the movie/graphic novel "Watchmen" and is actually called Dr. Manhattan, the other is Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer whom I have nicknamed "Dr. Manhattan" because he was the actual real life project head of the Manhattan Project during World War 2 from which the Atom Bomb was birthed. But, before I get to what humanity can learn from the super-intelligent blue skinned physicist who can shoot lasers from his face, and the chain-smoking physicist who was basically responsible for a Little Boy and a Fat Man ending WW2; I need to set the stage by looking a few important underlying concepts.
The 4 part series is laid out as follows:
Part 1 looks at the biased lens through which I see the world as well as an introduction to the concept of Mixed Mental Arts.
Part 2 looks at what it means to be a "hobgoblin" and the issues surrounding ideological extremism using US politics as a case study.
Part 3 looks at the fictional Dr. Manhattan and what he can teach us as a unifying-nemesis.
Part 4 looks at the real life Dr. Manhattan and what he can teach us as a unifying-generalist as well as the power of the logos.
Let us begin.
My primary work is as a strength coach and my educational background is in Sport and Exercise Sciences. I chose that course of study as I wanted to get into strength and conditioning, but at the time there was no specialist 3rd level course in Ireland for that field. In retrospect, this was a very fortuitous situation.
I had an interesting time in university studying not just the three main elements of the sport and exercise sciences (biomechanics, physiology, psychology), but also a really broad range of feeder disciplines such as computers, mathematics, physics, and sports injuries. While very little of what I studied actually directly applied to my work as a strength coach, this broad study gave me a real appreciation for what I would later come to realize was being a generalist.
Ironically, after years of coaching one realizes that being a strength coach actually is an activity that warrants being a generalist of sorts. Having a broad understanding of how not just the body, but the mind works, is a huge help in coaching people from a wide range of backgrounds with drastically different needs both physically and mentally. On top of this, there is the practical bonus to having a wide enough surface understanding of how the world works to be able to hold a decent conversation with often highly intelligent clients during the rest periods of a training session.
When I finished university I received a scholarship to do a Ph.D. in biomechanics with a supervisor I highly respect. News of the scholarship came to me while I was traveling in America. After some deliberation, I turned it down for a number of reasons with the primary one being that I was just too interested in a wide a variety of areas to shoehorn myself at that time. Years later, I would hear a really eloquent one-liner by a podcast host that pretty much summed up my mentality at the time of my refusal:
"I would rather be a curious generalist, than an exhausted specialist." - Jim Lawler of the Melted Snow Podcast
So that is my bias: while in a lot of ways I am a specialist, I also enjoy being a generalist. It is potentially this generalist lens that I think has led the concept of "Mixed Mental Arts" to resonate with me so deeply.
So now that I have laid my bias out on the table, what in the fuck is "Mixed Mental Arts"?
MIXED MARTIAL ARTS & MIXED MENTAL ARTS: ATOMISM TO HOLISM
Mixed Martial Arts is the name of a sport in which elements of Boxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling, and Brazillian Jiu Jitsu (as well as any other fighting style that may be useful) are amalgamated to solve the problem of winning a full contact fight under agreed upon rules. Basically, whatever works to solve the problem at hand (a fistfight) is used, regardless of its origin.
"Mixed Mental Arts" is the name of a podcast by Hunter Maats and Bryan Callen in which elements of everything humans have ever known (apart from what was lost in the Libraries of Alexandria that time some asshole Romans decided to have a bonfire) are taken so as to analyze and potentially solve big picture cultural problems. They got the name from being Mixed Martial Arts fans themselves and watching fighters adopting useful techniques to win fights from wherever they could get them. Mixed Mental Arts is not just the name of a podcast however, but a way of looking at the world.
The core tenet of Mixed Mental Arts is to try to get away from a dominant culture of atomism and move towards higher levels of holism.
The same atomistic thinking that caused Westerners to become so individualistic and to separate housing into little separate units caused them to divide up the world into separate disciplines. There's math, literature, physics, chemistry, biology, history, psychology, economics, gender studies, African-American studies and on and on. And now, the boxes keep on getting smaller and smaller. There are smaller and smaller subdisciplines in each of these areas. Initially, this was helpful. The world is a complicated place and much of the success of the West's intellectual endeavors came from breaking the problem up. However, as you focus on less and less, you lose more and more context. The more you stare at a tiny part of one tree the more you lose sight of the forest." - Hunter Maats
The progressive atomism that is the standard narrative in academia in which we know more and more about less and less is both good and bad. Good because we are increasing our depth of understanding and knowledge base, but, bad if this continues to happen at the expense of serious collective analysis to solve actual big picture cultural problems. To my knowledge, there seems to be very few people within academia who are doing a serious job of trying to solve major issues facing our culture and society through collective analysis of the available knowledge, not just inter-discipline, but intra-discipline. As Hunter alluded to above; we are not just missing the forest for the tree, but we are missing the forest for a tiny part of the tree. Looking at how that tiny part of the tree plays a role in the forest at large would be a holistic viewpoint.
To a certain extent however one can't blame academics for this focus on atomism because of the framework they operate in. For the most part, people in academia receive not just research funding, but job security, based on their ability to produce novel findings that will ideally be published in journals with as large an impact factor as possible. To illustrate my point and to show how long this publication system has been a problem, here is an extract from a 1968 article called "Publish or Persish: The road to academic job security.":
"Objections to the publishing system center upon the time necessary to author a reputable work and the emphasis it places in written rather than classroom competence. Mrs. Bette Lustig, assistant professor of Modern Languages, felt that "class preparation suffers due to publishing. Either you teach less to do both, doing mediocre research and causing your teaching to suffer, or you teach, and fail to make re-appointment." - Mike Brady
From their perspective, there is very little incentive to not just focus on being a good teacher to their students, but to adopt a holistic big picture approach. The elephant in the room, however, is that atomism is in all likelihood NOT how we will come to solve the complex problems facing our species.
For example, what approach would you take if I told you that you have 3 months to train before you have to fight another trained person in a cage in your underwear? You wouldn't give ONE-SINGLE-FUCK which martial arts styles the techniques you learned came from, so long as they worked and resulted in you not getting your ass handed to you.
Mixed Martial Arts represents holism perfectly because elements of specialist disciplines are taken regardless of their source to address the problem of a fistfight. In the same exact way, Mixed Mental Arts represents holism perfectly because elements of any discipline will be taken to address the problem that we live in a world with cultural software that badly needs a fucking update.
Mixed Mental Arts is about evolving better and better culture drawing on the best of all times and places and learning everything we can from humanities mistakes. It's bringing the principle of agile development used by software developers to evolving cultural software. We move fast and we break beliefs. - Hunter Maats
Q. But if being a Mixed Mental Artist seemingly makes so much fucking sense, why is it so rare?
A. Because we, as a species, are acting like hobgoblins...........
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