I have learned from Jungian analysis that there is such a thing as synchronicity, the meaningful juxtaposition of two people or events or ideas, striking coincidences. For example, I take notice when I read about a book or author or poem in several very different sources within the time span of a couple of days. Inevitably, when I check out the material I've been repetitively made aware of, 99% of the time, I find a new reservoir or wellspring of insight or truth, an author to be explored in depth, an idea or concept to be massaged, or a person to get to know.
Such was the case with my discovery of David Foster Wallace and his brief commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005, three years before his death by suicide in 2008. This man and his commencement address at Kenyon were referenced three separate times in wildly different sources in less than a week, so I pursued this blatant synchronicity in hopes of discovering something important. And, as expected, I did.
Wallace was obviously an internally troubled soul, yet we know that sometimes those with the greatest internal pain give us the most relevant, honest, and trustworthy ideas and insights. Such is the case, I think, with Wallace--his unfortunate self-inflicted demise somehow lends a sort of additional validity to ideas which are so obviously correct as to almost "go without saying" (we do know the danger of "not saying" what we think is obvious, right?).
Wallace begins his address with a parable of sorts, a joke, which really made me think (ponder) about the way I have lived, about my life and the forces which have shaped it. The story goes like this:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swam on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"
...The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about....A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded...[Why?] ...Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realist, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it's so socially repulsive, but it's pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It's our default-setting hard-wired into our boards at birth...
---[Life therefore]...is not a matter of virtue--it is a matter of my choosing to do the work of someone altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting[s]...
I certainly agree with Wallace's notion about self-centeredness being hard-wired in all of us as a default-setting; but I would argue that (in my case at least) a significant number of default-settings were added to my boards after my birth, very early on, by my parents, extended family, community, my friends, my gender, color, race, etc. Said another way, my predispositions to think about lots of stuff in certain automatic ways accumulated in my psyche without my knowledge or approval (more like a process of osmosis) long before I was capable of rational discrimination, judgement, and self-understanding. These "predispositions" or "biases" have been largely unconscious and have the unfortunate attribute of operating automatically and outside of any process of ratiocination or deliberate making of choices.
In my next few writings, therefore, I plan to examine several of my own default-settings (biases, predispositions) and try to understand their origins and the impact they have made on the way I have lived and viewed my life, made choices, and on the way my living has affected those around me--often, as said above, without me even being conscious of the reflexive nature of my thoughts and actions--certainly evidence of a default-setting in action.
I will begin with the topic of vocation and work, and then move on to other subjects such as gender and sexuality, race, religion, sectional loyalties and prejudices, leisure activities, education, food, money and economics, sports, government and the like. I look forward to this exploration as an opportunity to discover more about myself--what I really believe and think and why, and where all this comes from. I suspect and hope that in the process lots of my unexamined certainties about myself and my life,perhaps about life and the world in general, will be blown out of the water ("totally wrong and deluded") by the time I complete my list. I wonder how successful I have been "altering and getting free" of my default-settings.
I find that undertaking this process is exhilarating, though somewhat daunting. Onward!
[To read Wallace's full commencement address, go to: http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words]
A welcome to readers
As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime: