Coming In the Air Tonight
Advent, Innovation, and a look ahead to 2022
TL;DR— why Advent is the prerequisite for innovation, some important announcements about the new things readers can expect heading into 2022 (like these TL;DR’s), plus a short video from me.
Hey everyone—I’m back. To my American readers, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. And to my many, many readers who are not: I thought of you often as I contended with leftover turkey and cranberry sauce while simultaneously desiring a month-long detox from this time of celebrated excess (I’ve been so busy attending to my family that the most exercise I’ve got in 6 weeks is taking my newly-adopted, geriatric, German Shepherd for a walk to the end of the block and back, and I think he’s coming back less winded than me.)
I’ve never been more excited to write. My soul has been starved of creativity for some time, but it has been a necessary purge—a Dark Night—during which desire grows. The dawn has finally appeared, coinciding with the beginning of the Advent season (more on that below), and it’s a reminder to me that waiting is a skill—a skill I think we’d all do well to cultivate and develop.
So what the hell are we waiting for?
Ad-vent to In-vent
Last Sunday marked the first day of Advent. It’s a special time of anticipation between now and Christmas when Christians await the coming of God in several different ways: in the liturgical celebration of Christmas, in the continual breaking through of the kingdom of God in everyday life, and in the consummation of Christ’s first coming (the incarnation) in a new heaven and a new earth—when Christians believe that Jesus Christ will be recognized as having complete dominion.
(“Okay, Luke, you’re already going heavy with the theology here—where are you going with this?” I know. Bear with me. I can’t write about advent without explaining the Christian context first. We’ll get to why it has much broader applications in a hot second.)
It’s no coincidence that in the Roman Catholic rite, the last Sunday of the liturgical year before Advent is the celebration of the feast of “Christ the King.” The word advent comes from the Latin word “Adventus” (Greek: parousia), and it was used in the Roman world almost exclusively to refer to the Roman Caesars. From the Internets:
Adventus was a ceremony in which a Caesar was formally and ceremonially welcomed into a city. When the ruling Caesar won a military campaign or when a city was dedicated to a Caesar or another Roman God’s divinity, an Advent celebration was held in that city to confirm their deity and give them great honor and adulation. These ceremonies were not only held in Rome, but in many of the great conquered cities in the Roman Empire.
So it’s not hard to see how the birth of Christ and Christianity in general has had radically subversive political implications from the beginning: the Christ child, born in a manger in Bethlehem, was and continues to be exalted above the great Caesars and Presidents and General Secretaries of the Party (aka the Xi variant).
Today, the Christian meaning of advent has largely been lost or ignored—but the idea of an advent has been taken up in the very modern conception of innovation (he word 'innovation’ has a long and fascinating Girardian history, by the way), and the political sub-context is still there.
For instance: When I look at the blockchain movement, I see people looking toward a new "advent”, a new world order—a politically subversive series of events that are also infused with religious meaning (whether all of the believers realize or accept the religious dimension or not). It’s the coming of something new—this time, through human ingenuity and innovation. We await in eager anticipation what it might be.
(When you read futurist descriptions from crypto maximalists, note the theological—particularly the eschatological—language. Many times it’s metaphorical. It won’t be long before there’s a brand new Book of Revelation: “I, Luke, was caught up in the spirit and taken up into the metaverse, and I saw four living creatures, the first of which sat on a sea of glass and revealed his name to me as the Ethereum Lion…)
I believe the general idea of advent is a critical one for all people, not just Christians. Being ready for a breaking through of something new—something bigger than ourselves, which we are unable to manufacture or fabricate on our own—is the only way we’ll be able to escape the mimetic mess that we’re caught in. Until then, we’re people trying to pull themselves up by their own hair.
This idea of being open to newness is at the heart one of my favorite thinkers, Iain McGilchrist, whose new book The Matter With Things I’ve been reading with rapt attention this past week. He writes consistently about the importance of attending to reality—being fully present to people and things—as a means of engaging reality at deeper and deeper layers. (For anyone who has read my book,Wanting: this is the idea that I put forward in explaining the difference between “calculating” and “meditating” thought in Chapter 8. McGilchrist was an important influence.)
So what does this mean when it comes to our day-to-day lives? Well, I’ve tried my best to adopt a spirit of advent as a habitual way of being. It means having a vigilance, a yearning, an anticipation that something new is coming—and I have to be ready for it, lest I miss it completely. Something is truly coming in the air tonight, in the words of Phil Collins. But something is always coming.
Unfortunately, the primary way that I’ve heard the words ‘it's coming’ used in the past 18 months—and especially in the past week—has been in relation to the Covid-19 virus. And inflation. And winter. And a coming authoritarian rule.
All kinds of generally bad things. Not the kind of advent that anyone sane is excited about. Certainly not the kind on offer to us in Christmas.
It’s time to kindle the desire for something new. It’s time for Advent.
A Healthy Tension
As most readers will know by now, I try to take my spiritual life seriously. That includes the recognition that silence (including prayer) and an openness to things beyond my expectation and/or understanding are as necessary to my soul as food is to my body.
But I’m also a highly ambitious, active, get-shit-done kind of person, as well as a recovering addict of hustle porn—and I generally don’t like to be still or idle for long.
That creates a tension between the watching and waiting of advent—the coming of something beyond my ability to bring it into being—and being the so-called ‘innovator’ that I want to be. Innovating, as opposed to advent, is the coming of something that I am largely responsible for bringing into being (like a book).
Both are important—but it’s important to know the difference. I am, at best, merely a participant in creation: I’m not the Creator. I’ve never created light out of darkness or made a new molecule. I simply take what I’ve been given, what I’ve received, and try to return it with interest. Without advent, there is no innovation.
Nobody has ever sent me a bill for the air I breathe or the number of seconds I’ve been conscious since I woke up this morning. They’re pure gift. To the extent that I co-create anything, I’m channeling something greater than myself.
A mentor of mine once described the act of prayer as mostly preparation: it’s like getting yourself onto a train track and staying there until the train comes—the train, in this case, is the power of God, and it’s a train you want to have a collision with. Ninety-nine percent of the battle is being prepared.
One way to understand Advent is in the distinction between two different kinds of time. The Greeks had two different words for time: chronos (χρόνος), which signified logical, sequential, tick-tock-tick-tock time, quantitative time; the other word was kairos (καιρος), which signified qualitative time—a different dimension of human experience in which we step out of chronos time, and which requires an openness to a new and different kind of experience of reality. Otherwise, we’re stuck in chronos time forever—until we end up in a box six feet under the ground.
The older I get, the more that I realize that most of life is simply being ready, and in a position, to get hit by the right things at the right times. It’s a matter of having the right disposition to be ready to receive what is given to me at the time that it is given—otherwise, the gift falls on deaf ears, or falls flat, or falls off the track completely…and I have no encounter with anything other than myself. I retreat into the illusory self and become more miserable there. Chronos time becomes my tyrant.
Advent and innovation go hand-in-hand. I realized this several years ago: Creativity doesn’t come from me; it happens through me. It happens in kairos time.
The challenge is creating the right conditions for something special to happen. This, I suppose, is why there have been so many words spilt over writers being by the sea; or the inspiration that comes from nature; or industrial design that encourages ‘good’ collisions and induces creative labor.
In a world in which everyone is obsessed with “innovation”, we would all benefit from an advent spirit—whether it’s religious or not. Clear eyes, full heart. A spirit of watching and waiting for the right opportunity to encounter that which we long for, so that we can meet it.
This was the power and genius of The Old Man and the Sea, or the moving image of the Father on his front porch keeping watch daily for the return of the Prodigal Son; or the woman who waits with bated breath for her husband to return from a war.
This spirit of advent that I am trying to describe is ultimately about love—because love is patient, and it is kind. And to a great lover even 7 years can seem like but a few days.
Advent is about an openness to a force greater than ourselves that we must ultimately harness to build goods that are truly good and services that truly serve. Otherwise, humanity’s innovation becomes a self-referential doom loop that is simply a reflection of our deepest fears and anxieties rather than desires that transcend the moment or the limited circumscription of our specific time and place.
2022 is coming. I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions in part because of everything that I’ve said here. Every day, every hour, every moment is an opportunity for newness. Even in the tragedy of death that I witnessed this past month, there were moments of advent—a breaking in of new life. And I’m grateful that I had the eyes to see.
Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur, wrote Thomas Aquinas. It means “whatever is received into something is received according to the condition of the receiver.” In other words, I can receive the most beautiful moral or aesthetic experience imaginable in a way that distorts and perverts it if I am not in the condition to the receive the fullness of the thing given to me. If I’m lustful, I am unable to see or receive purity; I’m on envious, I’m unable to see or receive the joy over another person’s good; if I’m proud, I’m unable to receive the gift of another person’s talents that exceed mine and the opportunity to work with them to build something greater than the sum of our parts.
As we head into December and into this New Year, I’m bringing this spirit of advent each and every day. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll describe what that means more practically. But here are a few things regarding this newsletter.
Anti-Mimetic in 2022
Before I get to specifics, here few general notes on how this newsletter will be changing in the coming weeks and months.
First, the topics that I write about are going to be taken up by me more spontaneously and be more wide-ranging than they’ve previously been. Everything is fair game.
Second, my approach is going to be less systematic, more playful, and with more engagement with other writers and stories.
Third, I’m going to sharing frequent lists of things that I’m reading or watching or engaging with for the premium subscribers. (I sometimes do this in tweets, but I’ll aggregate here and send it out weekly or bi-weekly—I’m still feeling out the frequency of newsletters, and I never want to overwhelm your inboxes or annoy you.)
On a personal note, I’ve been teasing out a chapter outline for a new book (and looking for a research assistant as well as editing and marketing help for that project). I’m also considering some major life moves that will put me more squarely in the middle of the train track. More on that in the coming months.
An important note to my most loyal supporters: I realize a few of you premium subscribers have unsubscribed in the past 5 weeks—I assume it was due to my lack of publishing, and I don’t blame you. But I’m here to say this: premium subscribers are about to be rewarded more than ever before, so I hope you consider signing back up or gifting a subscription to Anti-Mimetic to a friend this holiday season.
Okay, now here are some more specific things to ‘wait’ for…
You will be getting more, not less. Here is what I have in store for all those with a free subscription:
A weekly essay on a specific topic that should start hitting on Thurs/Fri instead of on the weekends
Mimetic Monday—a short three-bullet roundup of weekly mimesis, every Monday. You have to specifically opt-in to this to receive it through Substack, though. Go to your account settings and check the box if you’d like to receive it. You should be able to read these in 3 minutes or less.
Short, spontaneous emails from me from time to time on everything from new fiction to financial markets to weekly in-person meet-ups that I’m going to start organizing. ('I’ll generally avoid politics, unless it is requested by populist (popular?) demand.)
A monthly Open Thread where everyone is free to comment on a proposed topic, or put forward topics of your choosing
I’m working on a course, or a group journey, for those readers who are interested in diving deeper. I’ve been struggling with a very long time about what to focus on, but I think I’m finally zeroing in on where the greatest need (and desire) is. These will be available to all at a small cost, with premium subscribers receiving a sizable discount.
Everything that Free Subscribers receive
Immediate access to the community Discord channel (I am going to be engaging there much more frequently including, this week, of dropping my original book proposal for Wanting there—when I tweeted about doing this, I was shocked at how many people had interest in seeing what a successful book proposal looks like.)
A Book Club. There’s a channel in the Discord for book suggestions. We’ll pick early in the new year. Now’s the time to put forward your choices.
A monthly Thread for premium subscribers only
A roundup of interesting or note-worthy things that I’m reading, watching, or paying attention to
I’ll provide infrequent updates on the process of writing my new book. While I can’t announce the name (because it’s TBD) or even the major theme of it quite yet, I hope to be able to do that soon. It’s still in the very earliest of stages—the book proposal is not even finished yet—but I’m excited to begin work on something new and to share it with all of you.
Text notes/alerts: from now on, only Premium subscribers will have access to the text message alerts and Q&A on offer through texting. When you sign-up, you’ll receive the number. To be clear: it’s not my personal cell number; I use an app called Community that aggregates the messages from people who text the number. I can pull up the texts from my phone (within the app) and respond in real-time, though. I’m doing this because emails are becoming an unworkable system for me right now and I need to implement layers out of the simple recognition that I’m no longer able to respond to everything. I will prioritize these messages.
Zoom calls every 1-2 months. We’ve had a few of these so far and I’ve enjoyed them immensely.
I’m still working out the new system out, but I wanted to let you know where things are at and encourage readers old and new to get back on the train—because the train is leaving the station. Or, as if you prefer, just strap yourself to the track.
For those who missed out on (or just missed) my writing these past 5 weeks, especially those who were paying subscribers, the button below is good for 20% off a premium subscription. I’ll be taking steps to not only make your eight dollars up to you, but to 10x it. Now’s the time.
In the spirit of Advent, a name change may be coming to this newsletter, too—one that might encompass all the stuff going on here. (If you want to see a man doing some serious adventing, by the way, check out the thread below. It served as part of the inspiration for doing this. I haven’t decided with 100% certainty whether it’s going to happen, but I’m learning toward it.)
Lastly: please know that I’m incredibly grateful for all you. I didn’t know how to write a Thanksgiving newsletter without it seeming obligatory or cheesy, so I did not. (My other idea was to write a Girardian cut on animal/turkey sacrifice and thanksgiving, but that would’ve been a beast that would’ve taken too much time away from family to slay.) So let me say it now: thank you for reading. Truly. I wouldn’t be doing this without the response I’ve received.
I think the greatest thing you’ve all taught me this past year is simply how important it is to love and respect your readers. I am continually amazed at the degree of thoughtful, insight, and support you provide—and the beautiful emails and messages of encouragement that I’ve received during these past 5 weeks.
The emails poured in, and I read every single one of them even if I couldn’t respond. They matter. They meant a lot. I feel a greater connection to you, my readers, than ever before.
And that’s the way I always wanted it to be: we’re building a relationship here, and it’s not just a transactional one. Thank you for building it with me.
If you enjoyed this newsletter and would like to be along for the ride in 2022, please sign-up.