Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habits, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.
The object of their desire, the “essential” core of life, is something called authenticity, and finding the authentic has become the foremost spiritual quest of our time. It is a quest fraught with difficulty, as it takes place at the intersection of some of our culture’s most controversial issues, including environmentalism and the market economy, personal identity and the consumer culture, and artistic expression and the meaning of life.
Consider it: every person you have ever met, every person will suffer the loss of his friends and family. All are going to lose everything they love in this world. Why would one want to be anything but kind to them in the meantime?
… Our self-image from those [adolescent] years, in other words, is especially adhesive. So, too, are our preferences. “There’s no reason why, at the age of 60, I should still be listening to the Allman Brothers,” Steinberg says. “Yet no matter how old you are, the music you listen to for the rest of your life is probably what you listened to when you were an adolescent.” Only extremely recent advances in neuroscience have begun to help explain why.
It turns out that just before adolescence, the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that governs our ability to reason, grasp abstractions, control impulses, and self-reflect—undergoes a huge flurry of activity, giving young adults the intellectual capacity to form an identity, to develop the notion of a self. Any cultural stimuli we are exposed to during puberty can, therefore, make more of an impression, because we’re now perceiving them discerningly and metacognitively as things to sweep into our self-concepts or reject (I am the kind of person who likes the Allman Brothers). “During times when your identity is in transition,” says Steinberg, “it’s possible you store memories better than you do in times of stability.”
At the same time, the prefrontal cortex has not yet finished developing in adolescents. It’s still adding myelin, the fatty white substance that speeds up and improves neural connections, and until those connections are consolidated—which most researchers now believe is sometime in our mid-twenties—the more primitive, emotional parts of the brain (known collectively as the limbic system) have a more significant influence. This explains why adolescents are such notoriously poor models of self-regulation, and why they’re so much more dramatic—“more Kirk than Spock,” in the words of B. J. Casey, a neuroscientist at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. In adolescence, the brain is also buzzing with more dopamine activity than at any other time in the human life cycle, so everything an adolescent does—everything an adolescent feels—is just a little bit more intense. “And you never get back to that intensity,” says Casey. (The British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips has a slightly different way of saying this: “Puberty,” he writes, “is everyone’s first experience of a sentient madness.”)
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
- David Foster Wallace
The self-help movement seeks to account for and overcome the difficulties we experience when we are trying to make a desired change—but doing so by invoking an immortal soul and a mortal sinner (or an ego and an id, a homunculus and its minion) is not much different from saying that we “are of two minds,” or “feel torn,” or for that matter that we have a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. These are not explanations for the self. They are metaphors for the self. And metaphors, while evocative and illuminating, do not provide concrete causal explanations. Accordingly, they are not terribly likely to generate concrete solutions. True, self-help literature is full of good advice, but good advice is not the issue; most of it has been around for centuries. The issue is how to implement it. In the words of the emphasis-happy Robbins, “Lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know.”
When it comes to solving that problem—which is the problem—all self-help literature offers is a kind of metaphysical power of attorney for our putative better halves. But if you identify with the above-mentioned Oreo-eater or healthy-relationship saboteur or procrastinator, you yourself are evidence that this is a nonsolution. If giving your better half executive control by fiat could change your life, sales of self-help material would plummet overnight. It is a somewhat beautiful fact that the underlying theory of the self-help industry is contradicted by the self-help industry’s existence.
Pursuit of Happiness by Kid Cudi
Being ‘normal’ is not a high priority of mine — being human, however, is. It’s amazing how little the two have to do with one another.
The cure for all things is complaining.
The constructive schizoid person stands against the spiritual emptiness of encroaching technology and does not let himself be emptied by it. He lives and works with the machine without becoming a machine. He finds it necessary to remain detached enough to get meaning from the experience, but in doing so to protect his own inner life from impoverishment.
And make no mistake about it, you are dumb. You’re a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people. I was there. We all were there. You’re barely functional. There are some screw-ups headed your way. I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups, but the screw-ups, they’re a-coming for ya. It’s a combination of life being unpredictable, and you being super dumb.
Having done some freelance copywriting for advertising myself, I know what a dark and cynical world copywriters can live in. But, focusing that darkness for humor is awesome! Witness the funny that arises from hijacking copy at Depressed Copywriter. A little reminiscent of Ji Lee’s Bubble Project.
Tired of staring at a computer all day? Well, go back a 100 years and you’d have been working in a grueling factory all day. Go back another century and you’d have been tending a field all day. Go back 500 years and more than half of your children would have died before the age of five. And yet you’d *still* be using all kinds of human-made objects and systems. As we read yesterday, humans may have been deploying fire for 1 MILLION YEARS. No matter how far back you go, you’ll find us shaping our environment. It is technology all the way down.