Imagine a flat plain stretching endlessly in all directions. A two lane highway splits it down the middle — a left lane traveling east and a right lane traveling west — disappearing into pin pricks on both horizons. Hurried motorists speed forward in either lane, single-mindedly traveling toward their destinations.
Their targets are opposite poles with fundamentally different cultural climates; antithetical paradises whereupon their arrival they will live among people of identical likeness. They have never seen these magnificent cities, but they believe that if they continue to drive on doggedly and without flagging, they will eventually reach them.
Either lane’s end point is an heavenly utopia to those that choose to travel toward it and an infernal dystopia to those that travel away from it. Left and right, east and west, forward and backward, black and white, good and evil; the motorists divide the world into two polarized realities utterly distinct, separate, and segregate. However, rather than remain separate and isolated, many are sincerely dumbfounded that anyone would think to go opposite them and seek to convince them to make a U‑turn into their lane.
They shout from their windows. They beckon with insistent gestures. They try to explain the virtues of turning around, of conversion, to anyone who will listen. Seldom and infrequently a few souls disrupt traffic by indeed turning around, thereby infuriating those who must yield or stop for the maneuver, “Pick a lane, asshole, and stay there!”
Exasperated by how many continue to go the wrong way, a loud, angry contingent begin laying on their horns, even stopping and getting out of their vehicles to berate the opposing traffic. They scream. They insult. They spew obscenities and make rude gestures. “F — k you, moron! Go ahead, burn in hell if that’s what you want! Why don’t you just use your brain and go the right way!? Come on, really? How hard is it!? You’re going the wrong way, man!?”
Congestion, collisions, deviations, and redirections are common, slowing progress for both sides. Eventually, the fuel begins to run out for some. They stand stranded and alone, begging for help and doing anything to hitch a ride. Countless lemons sit by the roadside with plastic bags stuffed in their window seams, rustling soberly in breeze.
Some fall asleep from exhaustion, daydream from boredom, get distracted by a radio pundit, spilt coffee, a greasy hamburger, or their children screaming in the back. Their inattention leads to accidents, pile-ups, often deaths. Progress trickles down to a snail’s pace; while a sluggish stream of angry, discontented, warring factions spit and curse over the divide.
A few souls sit quietly, legs tucked beneath them, on the yellow line. Occasionally, they try to mediate and calm the conflict, begging for mutual concessions and ultimately compromise. Of course, this usually takes the form of, “Why don’t you just stay here with us, where you don’t have to think, talk, or do anything?” Just chill. No more rat race. Take a drag on this. Recline, relax, man.” Middle-dwellers like these are more often than not deafened by the horns, asphyxiated by the exhaust, or inadvertently killed by the vehicles of the aggressive or inattentive motorists speeding by. Where is the safest place between Scylla and Charybdis? Elysium.
If only they could see themselves from above, from the vacuum of outer space, they might just realize a crushing truth: There is neither utopia nor dystopia at either end of the road, because the road is an unending circuit around the earth, the motorists driving the same loop over and over and over again. It’s no wonder that the Greek roots of the word œutopia, ou and topos, mean no and place. Utopia is no place. It does not exist.
There are countless problems with this analogy, but for now consider how these images, these symbols, describe our experience and whether those descriptions are accurate or inaccurate. One may discover that left and right, east and west, forward and backward, black and white, good and evil lose much of their descriptive value. I will write a criticism of this analogy of via media — above taken to its furthest conceit, its logical conclusion — and providing instead an alternative metaphorical conceptualization of middling.