Circles, part 1

02020-08-08 | Uncategorized | 6 comments

Thursday evening I watched a documentary called Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (IMDB). This morning I reflected about artists and their position in society. I remembered this old “rant” from the Nineties. You can find it in this website’s archive. Link

In the fringe is where everything exciting happens, never in the center. Cultures are like spinning circles. In the center they don’t move very much, that’s where the traditionalists live, the conservatives. Towards the rim is where the action is, that’s where the artists hang out. Life is a little more out of balance there sometimes and the spinning can make you dizzy there. What is most exciting is that many of the culture circles overlap and if you can stay in a spot where several things overlap you can find new clouds of ideas. Ideas are not bound to any individual, there are bound to a time. Many people in that spot will come up with similar ideas. Sometimes this cloud of ideas forms a new circle and the center of it hardens and becomes a new tradition. The longer it can remain liquid the more alive it will remain. Life is change.

I may have arrived at this analogy through experiencing circular, rotating stages. My first experience of a rotating stage was at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, during the 1990 Basia tour. The stage is 30 feet in diameter and completely round, exposed to the audience on all sides. It turns four revolutions at a speed of up to half a revolution per minute, allowing everyone in the audience to see every part of the stage during a performance. Sitting, or standing, near the center of the stage one barely feels the movement. At the edge of the stage, however, one experiences around 12 mph of movement. That’s the number I remember…

The image of cultural elements as spinning circles works, I think. We all exist on multiple circles. Some of us are only comfortable in the center of each circle, a few need to be on the edge of each circle, but most of us, I suspect, live a mix of positions. For example, a person might prefer the center of the circle IRL but be a badass risk taker in video games. Looking at ourselves through the lens of this circle metaphor makes it easy, I feel, to examine our positions on many issues. Where are we too comfortable, where are we spinning out of control… etc.

(((Tangent: I wonder whether the human population had to reach a high number – a number that is clearly too high to be sustainable – to have a sufficient number of people on the edge who can drive artistic and technological innovation. How would this be seen by an older species on a distant planet? In the history of the universe do species have to come close to self-destruction to get a chance of reaching the next level? How many reach the next level versus how many perish?)))

To be continued…


  1. JaneParhamKatz

    Ottmar, isn’t this happening to our society (not exactly species) right now. The free, self-governing society is on the edge of self-destruction. Count the number who have perished (Covid). We will barely get through this pandemic with our lives, and I think those of us remaining will be forced to the next social level. You can see it in the news every day. I believe in a mental element to this pandemic disease. When the international criminal forces are defeated, a fresh mental breeze will clear out our depression AND the infection as well. (I will take the vaccine.) These are exciting times. I’m glad I’m here for this phenomenon.

    I like Ayn Rand’s novels – I never new anything about right-wing philosophy. But reading her as a teenager, I appreciated in ATLAS SHRUGGED how those talented and educated people, being harassed by the ignoramuses, left that declining society and set up a colony in Peru or somewhere. After they abandoned the mediocre and stupid society, that society quickly reverted to no technology – horse and buggies, candles, and eventual self-destruction. I think the people that went to Peru, came back and established a new order to move the world forward. (I’ve got to read this again!)

  2. Will

    I don’t think you need to have an unsustainable amount of population in order to sustain exploratory thinkers and artists. I think what makes the “fringe” and/or exploratory innovation possible is the balance of positions. In order for the “fringe” to explore/think at your metaphorical “edge” there must be “others” in the center who anchor the society in proven processes such as politics, economics, trade and development etc.

    I would say if you had a population of 10, there is always going to be one person on the “fringe” thinking about how to best serve the tribe, how to take the tribe to the next level. The other 9 will probably support this person if the ideas are deemed valuable such as we no longer have to eat cold food because “fringe boy” (lol) thought of striking rocks together to make fire. As long as “fringe boy” continues to innovate and create ideas that further enhance the tribe, the tribe will support him.

    Innovation and fringe thinking is not perceived as value until it is brought back into the center and revolutionizes the proven standard process that the “others” deem valuable. It’s not that they don’t appreciate the “fringe” process, they just don’t understand it until it is tangible to them. Nobody thinks about the philosopher dreaming until his ideas shake up an entire political and economic system.

    On the final question of self destruction, I believe the “others” are hoping the “fringe” are thinking of the solution as we speak.

    • JaneParhamKatz

      Awesome, Will.

    • ottmar

      I agree with you saying that you don’t need to have an unsustainable amount of population in order to sustain exploratory thinkers and artists. The key word there is “sustain”. The technological push of the last quarter century, however, might not have been possible without the crushing numbers of humans on this planet. Take the iPhone for example. In the span of just thirteen years Apple has been able to turn the lowly phone camera into such an amazing tool that even experienced companies like Olympus quit the camera business this year. This sort of development is only possible when there are lots and lots of people who buy these smartphones and create the kind of money Apple and Samsung can spend on camera technology.

      Undoubtably the planet would be in better health if human numbers had remained more reasonable… but it would also have taken much longer to get to where we are right now in terms of technology. Perhaps also in terms of culture and society.

      Now we have no choice as we have painted ourselves into a corner. We have to learn and develop more sustainable ways.

      • Will

        Sure consumers drive profits which drives thinkers which drives technology. The more consumers you have the more products you can sell. From another angle the more consumers of food products the more production of food at a rapid pace is needed hence factory farming and our poor nutritional diet. Which leads to our #1 killer…Heart Disease that appears will far outstrip Covid-19 deaths (647k US deaths in 2019).

        The key would be to bring sustainable practices from the fringe to the center, which I think is happening to a greater extent than in years past. Nobody,except for a very few, thought electric cars were trendy until Elon entered the main stream. Marie Kondo taught others how to tidy up and purge, the Minimalist are teaching an entire generation to live with what they need not all that they want. Solar and alternative energy is now being talked about by other people than just Ed Begley Jr. Patagonia has a site called Worn Wear that is a website for the swap/purchase of used Patagonia clothing.

        Sustainable change is a long game and I believe the younger generation is embracing it and we need to support it whole heartily. I think the fringe sees opportunity and profits in sustainability, but adoption by the masses may take time.

        • ottmar

          I agree with all of that. Interesting times.


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