Strength in Community – The Gestalt

This has been an interesting and very different kind of summer for me. It’s had its ups and its downs, as any decent length of time typically does, but more than anything, this summer has been something of a painful enlightenment.

It’s certainly been a summer of firsts! I’ve moved into an apartment in Cookeville, since I’m working here over the summer, so there have been lots of exciting first experiences in relation to that! First time being entirely dependent on my own cooking for one, and further, first time discovering that when buying chicken, if the package does not explicitly say “boneless, skinless”, this implies that the chicken does, in fact, have both skin and bones. (Oops…)

It’s also the first time I’ve ever lived alone, since my roommates aren’t moving in until fall semester. As someone who really REALLY doesn’t like being alone, and tends to feel lonely very easily, this aspect kind of sucked. Even worse, this unfortunately coincided with my developing both cubital tunnel and briefly carpal tunnel syndrome. (Nerves that are perpetually inflamed from trauma or overuse, and not having enough room, causing pain and tingling/numbness in the hands and forearms.) Normally if I’m feeling lonely, I bury myself in my projects, and focusing on building stuff makes me feel better. For a solid month and a half, I couldn’t type or use my computer outside of work, for fear of causing any kind of permanent damage to my hands. I desperately tried finding ways to distract myself from both pain and loneliness, but this was pretty difficult given that a small part of my brain was constantly panicking, wondering if I wouldn’t be able to type again.

I don’t mention this as some sort of pity plea, or anything like that, because it was actually a rather valuable experience, all in all. For one, for the first time in my life, I started an exercise routine that I’ve actually stuck to for longer than a week! Moreover, without the ability to distract myself, many long walks were taken so I could think about and seriously evaluate myself and how I felt and thought about things.

So enlightenment: “the state of being freed from ignorance and misinformation”, “based on full comprehension of the problems involved.” I’m in many ways an extrovert who’s very much not social (I’m weird, I know…if it seems like those should be antonyms, I’m using the word extrovert more to mean that I much prefer to be with people than not. I don’t “recharge” with “me time”, I more tend to derive energy from being around others. I just also happen to be particularly bad at socializing, which is an unfortunate combination…) Yet, despite this, and despite that I’ve known for a very long time that I don’t like being alone, I’ve apparently never given enough active thought to the idea that the opposite of going all lone wolf is investing in and being part of a community.

I’ve had this thing for as long as I can remember where I’ve held something of a delusion that if I stuck to myself and worked on building lots of really cool impressive things all on my own, I would be better liked, better respected, and better accepted into groups. (Note: that’s the misinformation and ignorance part.) Over the more recent years, I’ve started recognizing this as a delusion: not only is it not particularly true, it’s a rather unhealthy mindset to live in, both emotionally and mentally, and all this REALLY hit home over the last couple months.

All this to say: I now fully recognize that being part of a strong community is extremely important to me, and as such, I want to take part in and help build said strong community.

Coincidentally, what with the inordinate amounts of free time for reading I had this summer, I read (and am reading, and unfortunately now have to wait days at a time for the next chapter to come out…) Twig! Those of you who have read at least part of it will likely immediately understand why I bring this up and why it’s relevant, and believe me when I say it very much cemented and drove home all of the above points! (For those who haven’t read it, don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers below, and I highly recommend reading it!)

So a point that Twig repeatedly and effectively hammers on is the idea of a “gestalt.” A gestalt is loosely defined as “an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.”

Twig directly and indirectly refers to this everywhere:

“The original plan was for each of us to have a role, a specific set of talents, and for us to be able to address any problem. A gestalt.” (2.05)

“Just like with any problem, when things start going south, we’ll approach it from our individual angles, we’ll support each other’s strengths, and shore up each other’s weaknesses.” (3.08)

“Different is good. Look at how the Lambs work. They are stronger because they’re all different. Everyone has things they’re good at and things they’re bad at and we make up for each other’s weaknesses.” (13.05)

“We unify, we cover each other’s weaknesses and magnify each other’s strengths.” (17.15)

A gestalt then, in my opinion, (and seems to be John McCrae’s as well) is effectively the epitome of what it means to be a strong community.

I found an article a few weeks ago from a group of people in the rationality community, related to all this, that’s definitely worth a read: Becoming Stronger Together. Briefly summarized, it’s essentially a real life attempt at a gestalt: a group of ~10 people who formed a community focused on self-improvement and helping everyone work together to grow both individually and collectively. They openly communicated with and supported each other in all the things from long-term endeavors to their daily lives. They acted as a support group for each other, a collection of trusted friends to talk to when life got rough. It was a group that inspired and encouraged good habits and overall life improvement.

Part of Ben’s original intent behind starting AWDE was to form a gestalt. After discussing the above article, we both agree that it could be really beneficial to try working towards a strong self-improvement community, similar in model to the one in the article. (Though perhaps to a more moderate degree.)

As such, there are a couple of interesting things we’d like to try doing!

The first is our new twitch voice chat server. The goal for this is to be an online space to just hang out at, whether you’re just idly browsing the interwebs and want some company, or you’re working on something and want help, encouragement, or motivation (or potentially distraction, depending on the type of work!) Our hope is that we all use it enough that whenever you pop on, there’s likely to be at least one other of us there to talk to and chill with.

The other is we’re reviving the old google groups forum! (Some of you may remember the, ah, INTERESTING, nature of some of the posts populating those particular annals of the internet.) In particular, we’re looking to use it to encourage a deeper level of discussion in the form of dialectics. Dialectics is a really old concept (think Socrates) that entails discussing different viewpoints/opinions/ideas on a subject with the sole goal of discovering the truth. The idea here is to accomplish what rational debates should be like, but so rarely are: it’s not meant to be a heated defense of viewpoints to which one is emotionally attached, but rather to have an environment where it’s encouraged to freely and openly explore and talk about ideas, without fear of having one’s head chewed off for thinking something slightly differently. An environment where there’s a moderate emotional dissociation from said ideas, and it’s totally okay to be wrong. (In traditional dialectics, it was considered honorable to bow and admit when you were wrong.) Again, the idea behind dialectics is not to prove anyone wrong, merely to collectively discover the truth via evidence and well thought-out discussion.

Some examples of interesting subjects we might start off with, if everyone’s open to them: the ethics of eugenics, universal basic income, and transhumanism.

The way we’d like this to work, we’ll make initial posts on google groups describing each subject/problem/question, and perhaps provide related links for some additional information on the topic. From there, everyone is free to (and encouraged to!) weigh in and comment with thought-out arguments/responses/opinions on the matter (evidence and sources are of course encouraged, this is in part meant to be a critical thinking type thing.) Emails are sent out by google groups as comments are added, so you should be able to see as the discussion unfolds. Ideally, we’d also like to, once any type of mutual group conclusion has been reached, make a little paper write up of the group’s best ideas/thoughts put forth, and publish it here on awdefy! (I’ve already volunteered to do the write up bit if no one else wants to.) Also, if anyone remembers the cookie thing, (cookie points for participating in discussions, that get converted into actual cookies at in person meetings) there’s talk about potentially bringing this back!

As always, thoughts and questions are welcomed in the comments below!
– WildfireXIII

Leave a Reply