Ideology, Complexity, and Myths of Limitlessness

Adapted from Cultural Maturity—A Guidebook for the Future

The language of complexity provides a particularly helpful frame for understanding the gift that confronting inviolable limits ultimately gives us. Confronting limits successfully makes complexity newly visible, and specifically the more “living,” all-the-crayons-in-the-box sort of complexity that is our interest.

Partial perspectives, we find, inevitably hide arguments for limitlessness. We see this most readily in the implications inherent to any parental conception of reality. Whether framed in the language of my-country-right-or-wrong nationalism, narrow religious ideology, or a view of science and invention that becomes a technological gospel, such views imply an ultimate, and thus ultimately limitless seat of truth. Parentally conceived truths are, in the end, presented as (and experienced as) omniscient and omnipotent truths.

The way limitlessness is implied by polar advocacy provides a more conceptually specific lens particularly pertinent to the challenge of “living” perspective. We find this relationship whatever the defining either/or—political left and political right, masculine and feminine, leader and follower, mind and body, material and spiritual, or good and evil. Such views inherently argue for a limits-defying mythology. They in some way suggest that if we only try hard enough, all obstacles can be surmounted.

Sometimes the source of the idealized conclusion is a belief that the pole opposite to that which we identify is an enemy to be defeated. Succeed and all will be eternally well. Good defeats evil and we enter the kingdom of heaven. Political left defeats political right—or the reverse—and ideological purity conquers all. In other instances, the source of the perceived limitlessness is precisely opposite. Instead of projecting our demons, we project images of ultimate truth. When we put leaders and lovers on pedestals, we give them power to make us ultimately safe and ultimately happy.

The language of complexity provides a particularly helpful frame for understanding the gift that confronting inviolable limits ultimately gives us. Effectively engaging limits produces the greater ability to appreciate complexity—and our specfic sort of all-the-crayons-in-the-box complexity—that come with Cultural Maturity. It challenges us to bridge polarities. In the process we come to see in more encompassing and complete ways, and not just with regard to particular issues, but, in the end, more generally.

Particularly important is the recognition that this conclusion makes no sense limited to conventional mechanistic notions of complexity. It pertains only to the particular kind of complexity we are by virtue of being alive, and more specifically, of being human, the all-the-crayons-in-the-box sort of complexity that is our interest in these pages. The limits to what a machine can do are the limits to what it can do. Exceed those limits and one has a broken machine—end of story. Recognizing that one’s car can only go so fast doesn’t accomplish anything more than perhaps help one drive more safely. It doesn’t turn one’s car into something else or make it more wise.

That we might believe in limitlessness is a product of the polar dynamics that come with how our minds have worked. When we confront an inviolable limit, we grapple not just with the dilemma presented by that particular limit, but also with that whole way of organizing experience. The hope that we might see something beyond the simple fact of limits also comes from how our minds work—in this case, the multiple-crayons-in-the-box nature of human cognition. In particular, it comes with the more consciously all-the-crayons-in-the-box understanding that accompanies the mature application of our mind’s complexity. In struggling to come to terms with an inviolable limit, we bring this greater complexity in ourselves to bear. Doing so changes how the world looks. The new picture that results reveals new possibility.

This link between limits and complexity does not imply that Cultural Maturity makes the hard realities presented by inviolable limits any less difficult, rather simply to highlight how systems work. When we confront inviolable limits, that confrontation makes newly vivid the complex nature of ourselves and the richness of the complex world around us. It is not an easy world and the fact of new complexities doesn’t make it any easier. But, new human capacities do make such complexity potentially more interesting and offer that we might more creatively address it.