Quite often when my younger brother asks me a question — about whether I like something, or what I think about some idea, event, some thing — I grow distanced, philosophical, observant, and I question not only the feelings I have attached to the answer I’ve yet to give, but I question the question itself.
It annoys the crap out of him when I do this.
And, like listening to the stereo full blast in my car, it’s okay when I do it. But boy do I hate it when others do it.
I’ve always thought that it’s an admirable goal to not think thoughts that are unoriginal, but rather arrive at my own thoughts under my own steam. An economical gambit, something like my friend M’s rule of never spending what you simply don’t have. But it’s becoming increasingly evident (only “becoming”? you say: tsk tsk) that (running with the spending metaphor) intellectual and existential awareness requires a lot of credit, borrowing, and a lot of going into debt. There seems to be no way around it.
Growing up with two older brothers, I was the recipient of many a hand-me-down. Although I balked at getting used clothes, it impressed my junior and high school friends to see me wearing pretty hip threads that were beyond most of our means, certainly so in the quantity that I had. Imagine what a wardrobe I’d have had if I’d had 4 older brothers!
I suppose that it might be pointed out that, because I did not buy these clothes, my couture did not accurately reflect who I was, sartorially speaking. My choices were limited to what my brothers had grown bored with; and because the clothes were free they did not truly reflect my choices, since the economic model posits that what we pay for is a better barometer of true choice, and hence more reflective of persona. What we give up in exchange for what we acquire is a more complete précis of who we are. What you get for free is worth the price you paid for it.
I think it’s safe to say that in the arena of the choices that make up the clutter we call our minds and souls, no one ever quite get to pick from an unlimited market. There will always be markets beyond not only your means but outside your knowledge. There will always be something you do not know. When I was a Seventh Day Adventist, I endeavored to be as informed a thinker as possible. This entailed not only being conversant with the King James Holy Bible, but with the intellectual writings of the Church, such as the writings of Ellen G. White and such, as well as having faith-honing debates with fellow believers as well as non-believers.
How much of an original and free thinker was I in those days? I’m probably flattering myself, but within the boundaries of what I was exposed to, on a 10 point scale, maybe an 8.
And on the Cosmic Unified Theory’s Spectrum of Free Thought (C.U.T.S.F.T.), where is that? A 2 or a 3? Maybe.
When I grew up and evolved into an atheist, I felt that it was the result of more information, helping me refine my choices. (Funny how most Christians feel that atheism is a limiting view because it denies God. I think it’s the other way round. I’ve grown to believe that atheism is more comprehensive and inclusive than theism, it embraces more. A belief in God is so very limiting. Atheism, on the other hand, has the whole mysterious and beautifully enigmatic universe as a backyard in which to play. Also, you can’t deny or reject something until you’ve examined it with some level of scientifically rigorous examination. Believers tend to close their eyes and/or get hostile to anything that questions their perspective. They’re like the politically correct and incredibly humorless former Smith’s frontman Morrissey with his vegan issues. Or communist ideologues. Or religious fanatics. Or even militant atheists. But in general, atheists are the intellectual omnivores of the cosmos. They’re pretty funny people. Unless I’m mistaken, it was Dostoyevsky who wrote, “If there were no God, then everything would be pretty funny.”)
As an atheist, my C.U.T.S.F.T. rating rose to something around 5 or 6. (Sorry, but I’m essentially a very lazy person, and this was the best I could do. But I think that even if I were God I’d probably score no higher than a 7 anyway. Maybe. On a good day. After having a nutritious breakfast.)
Is that the best that can be done? Are these the two antipodes? At one end, making our choices from a limited palette; at the other end, always endeavoring to increase what we know — or shopping at as many and as varied a group of clothes stores (to pick up again with the clothes metaphor) — to ensure that what we end up choosing is what we really want, what really suits us, what are our best choices.
Kind of looks like that.
I imagine that most of us, no matter how intelligent, fall somewhere in between these two poles. And, wherever you fall on that spectrum, there is honor and integrity selecting (from the pool of data available to us) those choices that best echo who we are.
Who we are? (Ah, I hear someone say, but that’s a whole ‘nother conundrum. Who we are? Is that the gold standard? And what if you are — like Bill Cosby joked in his skit about cocaine — an asshole? Is it your goal to be the best asshole you can be?)
Perhaps originality is overrated. Maybe our best chance at integrity, as Sartre pointed out, is in making choices that have some sort of universal application and benefit. After all, we choose for ourselves what we believe others should also choose. That Californian New-Age-Twenty-First-Century bullshit cop-out that says, well: it’s okay for you to believe in God or to be a Buddhist or be a vegetarian or an omnivore or a Republican, but I don’t and I’m not. That’s like Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack making fun of a ridiculous golf outfit on a store mannequin but, when seeing Ted Knight right next to it actually wearing the outfit, says, “Ooo, ooo. But it looks good on you!”
No, it doesn’t.
You still look like an asshole.
Which is just what my kid brother is thinking of me when I start my practice of splitting hairs.
Is it live, or is it Memorex? And does it really matter?
I think it does. But hey, that’s me.
If a tree falls in a forest, and nobody is there to hear it, did it fall?
I think it just did.