Escape From Flatland

In November 2013, involved with NoWriNaMo [1], I wrote a nonfiction novel in which I discussed my dramatic and terrifying departure from Thailand [2], examining in particular detail the personal and political disasters that in parallel left me deeply shaken to the core in terms of the level of threat that people could view me in. The work was called Escape From The Land Of Smiles, and in a way that particular book had an ironic title, in that while it was not particularly difficult to leave Thailand, even if I left Thailand even more anxious and damaged than I had arrived, and that is a notable accomplishment given the tormented course of my life, it has proven to be impossible for me to escape the repercussions of my disastrous time in Thailand, which have become part of a massively complicated crisis that has lasted for three years and shows no sign of ending anytime soon. The concept of Flatland, on the other hand, originally springs from a story about the futility of convincing people of the reality of more layered dimensions given the mistaken and woefully inadequate information they have in their own minds, a devastating critique of Victorian society as well as a pointed reminder of the limitations of our mind in conceiving reality [3]. This concept of Flatland as a prison of the mind is also an idea used often by Professor Edward Tufte in examining the ways that the representation of information seeks to escape the limitations of two dimensions to show the world in more multivariate ways that aid people in comprehending the complexity but also the underlying structure of reality. To escape from Flatland, therefore, is to escape a prison of the mind that seeks to entrap one in flat misrepresentations and that denies the full complexity and beauty of what exists in reality. This is not an easy or a trivial problem.

The dimensions of Flatland that I struggle against in horror at how others have seen me and judged me are as easy to understand as they are harrowing to conceive. At their core, they spring from a lack of honor. People who think of others as dishonorable fail to act with proper honor, and fear retaliation for their wicked actions, rather than seek repentance and recognize their own lack of honor in treating others. Yet it is not acceptable to treat other people with dishonor merely because they have done so to me, for that would merely confirm in their own heads the mistaken idea that I am a person of dishonorable behavior and motives and intents. Paradoxically, the only way to demonstrate that one is a person of honor, even in the most unfavorable and difficult of circumstances, is to treat with conspicuous honor those who have least deserved it by their own actions. We only demonstrate our own worthiness of honor and respect by acting graciously towards others who do not deserve our honor and respect. By being gracious, we demonstrate our own goodness, not springing from ourselves and our own nature, but springing from the reality of God’s spirit working within us, and the ways in which we have internalized God’s laws and ways, so as to be able to act instinctively in ways that show love and concern even for those who hate us and spitefully persecute us. At least part of the escape from Flatland, therefore, means acquiring the righteous character of God through painful practice, but it is perfected when our own actions help encourage others to behave in kind, so that we receive the graciousness that we have already given to others, so that graciousness becomes the norm of behavior by which we treat others better than we think they deserve, in the hope that everyone may feel honored to the level that we feel that we deserve.

There is another dimension to honor that is worthy of discussion here. One of the ways that people receive honor from others in normal life is to be treated with honor in institutions. People tend to follow the example of others, especially those in power, and if one wants to encourage others to honor someone, there are some very obvious ways to do it. Receiving honor is one of those virtuous cycles, by which it is easier to receive honor the more people honor you. On the contrary, dishonor is a vicious cycle, in that it is easy to dishonor people who are held in contempt by others. One of the most difficult aspects of being a godly and upright human being is to honor all people as being created in the image and likeness of God, when other people are treating such people with contempt. To move beyond merely mirroring what others do, and taking a stand towards treating others with decency and honor, is a matter of difficulty but also of importance, because every society in its own way will tend to view certain people with dishonor automatically and summarily, and part of the test of being a good person is to deliberately counter such behavior, even if it comes at a cost to ourselves.

Another dimension that is connected with that of honor in escaping Flatland is the matter of perspective. Our perspective includes our attitude as well as the way in which we choose to see what is going on around us. It is easy to judge according to our native perspective and to naively assume that others will act in kind. Yet in situations like mine, where one is stuck in flatland, one must recognize that the same three-dimensional surface will look differently depending on the perspective that is seen. This is an elementary exercise in mechanical drawing, where one is often given a complicated block to draw according to perspectives, from the top view, from the front view, and from a side view. From a skillful reading of these three perspectives, one would be able to picture the image in all of its glory, yet any one perspective alone would be missing one other dimension. If we know that our individual views of others are going to be somewhat flattened, then we will be better prepared to supplement our own interpretation with knowledge we can get, which is especially helpful if the particular person we are seeking to understand is honest and open in communication. Once we adopt a given perspective, though, we will tend to force all of the evidence we find into the perspective we already have, rather than critically examine the extent to which our perspective is accurate. It ought not to be a surprise that in order to escape Flatland it is necessary for oneself and for others to recognize that you are being stuck in Flatland and that this will by necessity be a distorted view, which can then be corrected. So long as people persist in error and refuse to admit the distortion of their viewpoint, there is no hope of betterment in terms of their own vision. We must, however, work on our own perspective even if others do not respond in kind, because a more accurate perspective leads to more accurate judgments, which leads in turn, hopefully, to more successful behavior.

Another dimension when it comes to escaping Flatland is the problem of feeling. Let us note that rather than letting feelings determine our perspective and behavior, that we ought to begin by setting the behavior we are to follow through our will, so that we decide to behave as best as we can regardless of the circumstances, and then we decide that we will view others the most charitably that is possible, and then relying on the example of our behavior and our perspective to reorient our feelings. This is seldom done. The reason it is seldom done is because while all of us wish to avoid being imprisoned in flatland ourselves, we are not aware that other people have the same order of complexity that we do. We see the exterior surface of others, if we are even attentive, and we infer the interior from the exterior, but we see the immense complexity and depth that we have inside of us, and so we (rightfully) resent when others oversimplify us and put us in a box, which is essentially what the prison of Flatland is. If we lack the hearts to empathize with others, then our heart needs to be turned by our actions showing concern and kindness, whether for friend or enemy, for stranger or someone familiar to us, and by our conscious desire to see people in their depth and complexity, so that we may behave towards them with graciousness and kindness, so that we will eventually feel kindly towards them. If our goal is to escape Flatland, we have a lot of work to do, both that we may escape it for ourselves, and that we may let others escape it so that we are not imprisoning them. After all, those who seek justice for themselves cannot harm their case by behaving unjustly to others.

[1] See, for example:



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Escape From Flatland

  1. Pingback: Book Review: How To Argue Like Jesus | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Information Dashboard Design | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: On The Ambiguities Of Classification | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Misnagdim | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: An Introduction To The La Hotel Espero Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s