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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.