Evolutionary psychology describes how we humans naturally developed the skill for pattern recognition. The better our ancestors were able to detect patterns in the environment, the better their survival skills. Even if the patterns we saw were not real yet we reacted as if they were, we were more likely to avoid potential danger. Is that a snake in the grass or a garden hose? Better to err on the side of caution!
My point is this – all humans have a natural tendency to synthesize input from the world in which we live and seek to organize it in some meaningful way. We may not always be right, but that doesn’t stop us in our efforts to box up the world and put labels on our boxes.
Recently, cultural commentators have detected a new pattern in the attitudes and actions of a number of people in Western society. A few years ago, the old English term “twee” meaning “affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint” was resurrected out of the dictionary to describe this new mindset they saw.
Three years ago in 2011, a Chicago Tribune article commented on the rise of Twee, and more recently magazine writer Marc Spitz has published a full-length book (Twee – the Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion and Film) outlining what he sees as both the roots of and evidence towards this so-called social phenomenon. Here are some of the characteristics many people exhibit which Spitz lists as “twee-like”:
- An awareness of human darkness and cruelty yet keeping a focus on our essential goodness.
- Maintaining a tether to childhood with its innocence and lack of greed.
- A healthy suspicion of adulthood.
- Valuing things that are beautiful.
- Letting go of the conventional meaning of “cool” in favor of things that are “nerdish”.
- A lust for knowledge.
- The cultivation of a “passion project” – something that the individual sees as a force for good and something to live for.
That’s certainly an interesting list. I certainly know people who display these characteristics. Heck, to a large part this list describes me!
But really, who are these people? Although Spitz wants to label them collectively as “generation twee” or a “twee tribe”, he acknowledges that the described behavior manifests across different age groups, from “late-cusp baby boomers” to generations X and Y or the Millennials. Yet could it be that these witnessed “twee characteristics” have less to do with a particular generation and more to do with our natural evolution of consciousness and its tendency to form “worldviews”?
Think about it this way – we humans live in both the inner world of our consciousness and in the outer world of material things and other people. Both worlds are in a continuous feedback loop where one is impacting the other. Our experience of the outer world is absorbed and interpreted within our thoughts. This assimilation redirects our actions such that our future outward behavior is modified based upon how we have construed to that point internally the outer world. And, we are immersed in a culture where everyone is doing this! Individuals are learning and growing and expressing themselves differently out into the world and their behavior is observed and interpreted and acted upon by others.
As our life conditions change, we change to meet the new conditions and by our changing, we serve to change our life conditions. Such a feedback system is the heart of the evolutionary process.
Most of Spitz’s book is an interesting walk through selected parts of the artistic expressions of humanity primarily from the last half of the 20th century to current times. To a degree, his descriptions of the works of certain artists reminded me of how a cultural anthropologist might have tackled the subject. He attempts to objectively describe the behavior and artifacts of certain people within the culture and link them together in a way to support a particular hypothesis – in this case, that we have this new group of “twees”.
Spitz describes the work of Walt Disney, JD Salinger and others and then describes how their work impacted later artists (from Morrissey and punk rockers to Zooey Deschanel (pictured above) and others) and their subsequent artistic expression. Taken as an interesting “connect the dots” exercise, the book is an fascinating read. It reinforces the fact that everything is connected. We live in a continuous feedback loop – the artistic expressions of others are continuously being absorbed by us and impacting our own artistic expression which impacts others. Round and round and round we go!
Let’s not forget that this evolutionary loop occurs in all aspects of human endeavors. Science, technology, management practices, entertainment, religion, sports and play – you name it – and everywhere you look you recognize how the past is internalized and evolves us towards a different future. Yet, all of these different human endeavors also impact one another – our compartmentalization of the arts, science, technology, etc. is just a natural part of our human tendency to box up the world and put labels on it. Everything truly is connected – everything evolves in tandem.
Ultimately, at any particular moment in time, a significant number of people are experiencing a very similar world and interpreting it in a very similar way. This common outlook on life (or worldview) serves to both guide what this group actually chooses to experience and how this group interprets those experiences. This fact is at the heart of the groundbreaking work of social scientist Clare Graves back in the 1960s and 70s and his theory on human values more recently popularized under the title Spiral Dynamics. I’ve written about it many times here (link to introductory article).
What’s essential to know here about his theory is that individually and collectively we are evolving through a common series of worldviews. As humanity’s life conditions have changed through time, so have our worldviews – each new one emerging in response to outer conditions. Yet within a particular society, different groups of individuals may have different worldviews. Currently Western society has three different major viewpoints at play. In the evolutionary order in which they emerged historically (and also the order through which we evolve through them in our own lives) are the following: (1) traditional (exemplified by strict religious fundamentalists); (2) modern or scientific/rationalist (exemplified by a strict materialist or greedy Wall Street financier); and (3) postmodern or cultural creative (exemplified by the Greenpeace activist). Yet there are further worldviews beyond these three emerging which Spiral Dynamics and others such as Ken Wilber have described as “higher” or “second tier” or “integral”. These are the cutting edge aspects of our culture.
What are some of the characteristics of these newly emerging worldviews? Here are a few:
- Tends to focus on the good of all living entities.
- Seeks after a variety of interests and will choose to do what he or she likes whether or not it is trendy, popular or valued by others.
- Sees his or her core motivational and evaluative systems within themselves and are less impacted by any external pressure.
- Has less need for status, exhibitionism or displays of power.
- Values good content, clean information and open channels for finding out more on their own terms; value open questioning and discovery.
- Sees themselves as part of a larger, conscious whole and thus values the contributions of others and is internally motivated toward service to the whole.
In other words, one might consider that what Spitz and others are seeing that they are labeling under the name “twee” is actually evidence of more people evolving into this new emerging worldview. This is not really a new group being formed that we can simply put a box around and label. Instead, we all potentially can belong to this “group”. As we evolve and our culture around us evolves, we can evolve into these more advanced levels.
But am I saying that “cute” or “quaint” are aspects of advanced consciousness?
The judgments we form about things in our world are invisibly impacted by our own current worldview. The higher reaches of our human nature can at times appear in their outer expression to be “cute” or “quaint” when seen through the eyes of a different viewpoint. There is no right or wrong here, simply different perspectives based on different worldviews.
For example, I see the “bad” in the world but I tend to focus on the “good”. Much of my writing here on Conscious Bridge is designed to reframe our seemingly negative outer experiences in a positive light. Yet, I know that such a perspective can be perceived by some people as “naïve” or the brain droppings of some kind of “Pollyanna”. That’s OK.
My first book was entitled “Be Yourself“…..it was a call to you and to me to find our inner calling and to live it without regards to the good opinions of others. Maybe as we evolve in our own lives into being comfortable showing up as who we really are and doing what we are called to do as a force for good for the planet, then maybe we can all become our true selves….and in doing so, maybe we will all be just a little bit twee.