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The Way Things Are
When you know it's who you know and who they know, you know?
It does not do to become bogged down with sorrow and grief for the way things are, because this is not always how they will be. “Better” and “Worse” are subjective states, and while there are many things “better” about the methodology of thought that lends itself to more freedom for many people, there are also ways we are being constrained. I, as a woman in 2023, am allowed to attend college, I am allowed to teach at a college, whereas I would be excluded from such higher orders in decades and centuries past. Yet—me being allowed in these spaces still means that these spaces do not inherently belong to me as they belong to men.
Women intellectuals still found ways to sprout through the heavy topsoil of patriarchy, and there is an intricate and beautiful web woven of intellectualism in which the main players, although born in different geographies, different cultures, different economies, different families, different religions—all seemed to find one other. Ralph Waldo Emerson knew Margaret Fuller who knew Elizabeth Peabody who was sister-in-law to Nathaniel Hawthorne who was loved by Herman Melville who knew Maria Mitchell who knew Sojourner Truth who was the subject of letters addressed to Walt Whitman, who knew and idolized Ralph Waldo Emerson….etc, etc.
There was no specific physical proximity between each of these figures that led to their ultimate connection (à la Truman Capote and Harper Lee growing up next door to one another)—they were all connected to one another through more than just ideas. Yes, they were all intellectuals who lived and worked (by some divine miracle or ultimate-big-bang-chaos) within the same chronology that brought their lives within the scope of one another. But when the lives of intellectuals of the nineteenth century can all be mapped on a family-like tree, and each is connected to the other in some personal way—there seems to be something bigger at play than mere souls who existed at the same time. And now, as history has been crafted and set in stone and these players are all dead: their lives, work, and ideas are all intricately connected, we can look at these threads and follow them to their conclusions. These lives will always be intricately connected through sex, intrigue, intellectualism, obsession, mutual respect, and dialogue, like some intellectual soap opera.
But why these players? How did this become a club of intellectualism (literally the Transcendentalist Club, that also published The Dial), which had no admission requirement except an unspoken understanding that these were the greatest like-minded minds of the century? Who else was included in this club, in the social sense—names that are less notable, but still as influential? Perhaps a better question: who was excluded from this club? Who had what it took to be a great thinker, but was not given the time, the space, the resources to become what they could have been? Who did not have access to “The Club” to help them make introductions, to network, to elevate, to publish? Who did not have fathers to see them for their intellect, for their potential?
As for how and why these players all got together—is it magnetism at play? While we do not yet know what the web of our own time will look like, it is indeed still being woven and connections are being forged. The energy that this particular group detonated on the world is still being felt today within the ripple of the East Coast intellectual elite. This ripple still permeates our board rooms, our galleries, almost every single creative and consumer opportunity. It’s about who you know, and who you know is determined by the circles you run in.
What determines the spotlight of one’s own intellectualism? Chance? Fate? Something else? How many women could have added to the intellectual curiosity that forms our ideations of self?
How many women were discomfited by motherhood, called “hysterical” by an antiquated and sexist medical system and—for the wealthy, sent to warmer climates to “recover”; for the impoverished, sent to the asylum? Could there be a worse fate for women so imprisoned by their own minds: to have no outlet for creativity, no outlet for their ideas, as to be physically imprisoned on top of it all?
We exist within a throbbing, pulsing, changing thing: we exist within a social and cultural dogma that expands and contracts with the energies at play. There are some who are pinnacles of this thought, who put forth into the universe a life force that can shift and grow and change what it is we exist within. But this takes time. We will never truly know the extent of the thinkers that exist on this same mortal coil. Which ideas will catch, which will influence the future generations, which ideas, born and bred in our own days, will create the way things are in the future. It does seem, though, that to have this kind of scope one needs to be placed towards the top rungs of the ladder. This puts the rest of us at a disadvantage, who are born on rungs beneath.
Where we are born and who we are born to can often make it seem we are fighting up a mountain that’s impossible to climb. When we aren’t born into an already-existing creative epicenter, when we don’t know a famous trial lawyer to get us that internship at the law firm, when we are middle-aged and want to pivot into a new career field and don’t have any connection to help us begin: it can seem impossible to find our footing. How can we reach “The Club” that exists on a higher plane? If we are not naturally part of the “magnetism” of being born into a well-established family; of not being born into the right spaces and right times, how can we ever hope to improve our station, or to jump to a different circle? This idea is not reserved for intellectualism, but also has everything to do with generational poverty and generational wealth: certain people are helped, certain people are hindered. We are not supposed to be able to shift the influence and scope of our lives, because the elite have the power and they do not want it any other way.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is this: how can we ensure our lives have meaning beyond our own existence? For some people it is enough to exist within the scope they were born, to die within the scope they were born, but we ALL want our lives to have meaning, whether in modicums or masteries. We want to create in some capacity, we want to have influence in some capacity, we want to put work and art into the world that has some kind of positive impact, even if it’s to bring a blip of beauty to an otherwise dreary day. I am not speaking of fame, but of influence: the same kind of influence that guides this mythical, transcendental kind of lifeforce: the ways in which our society has become what it has become; the ideas that we take for granted, the ways of thinking we accept as true. The reason we live as we do and believe as we do is because of the ideas and poetry of our ancestors: Galileo Galilei, William Herschel, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johannes Kepler, Louis Daguerre—all changed the very fabric of civilization with their ideas. And while there are often intellectual “clubs” that further the prospects of those in proximity: ideas are not safe things inherently, because ideas are politically charged. Many have suffered loss of property and life because of the ideas they purported. Sometimes ideas grant status, but often they threaten livelihood.
Why are some ideas ultimately given credence while others perish in anonymity?
Why are some people given credence while others perish in anonymity?
Until next week.
Love, light, and questions without answers,