Rumcake and rainbows

Rainbow image courtesy Eric Rolph

Obviously meaningfulness is either outside your head (“objective”), or else inside your head (“subjective”).

There are excellent reasons to believe it is not outside your head. There are excellent reasons to believe it is not inside your head.

This is the essential argument for nihilism.

But what if meaningfulness is not either inside or outside, and does exist? How could that be?

Completing the countercultures

Galleon Goteborg reconstruction sailing by London Bridge
Galleon courtesy George Owens

The countercultures of the 1960s-80s took attitudes to boundaries as their central themes. The monist counterculture—the 1960s youth movement—wanted to eliminate all boundaries and level all distinctions; the dualist counterculture, or religious right, wanted to make them absolute.

Meaningness suggests that oppositions between such mirror-image pairs of confused stances can be resolved by complete stances that correct their metaphysical errors. Specifically, monism and dualism share the mistaken idea that boundaries must be perfectly crisp. Participation, the complete stance regarding boundaries, recognizes that they are always both nebulous and patterned. (I’ll explain all this jargon shortly.)

Below, I apply that conceptual framework to two illustrative countercultural battlegrounds: gender and national borders. These are clear, easy, and important examples because:

  • it’s obvious that they are about boundaries
  • it’s obvious that these boundaries are both nebulous and patterned, so everyone already understands and accepts the complete stance
  • except that, even still now, ideologues sway many people by claiming otherwise
  • gender was perhaps the most important cultural issue in countercultural politics1
  • war was perhaps the most important social issue.

Monism and dualism contain each other

Yin/Yang symbol
Pathological counter-dependency

Monism and dualism are opposites. But because each is obviously wrong, each turns into the other when cornered. A devious trick!

Monism is the stance that fixates sameness and connections, and denies differences and boundaries. Dualism is just the other way around: it denies sameness and connections, and fixates differences and boundaries.

Both these confused stances sometimes show themselves to be obviously wrong. The complete stance of participation recognizes that samenesses and differences, boundaries and connections, are all real, but also always somewhat nebulous: ambiguous and fluid. This is obviously accurate, but usually less convenient. Monism and dualism are simpler, and deliver particular emotional payoffs—some of the time.


General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book. Start with an appetizer, or the table of contents. Its “metablog” includes additional essays, not part the book.

Subscribe to new content by email. Click on terms with dotted underlining to read a definition. The book is a work in progress; pages marked ⚒︎ are under construction.