Interpolation 8: 100 words on the Millennium

Dear Dave,

I stumbled across this text on the Fantods site awhile back when I was looking for a diversion from Brief Interviews; it is your “100-word statement on the new millennium”[1] that appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine.  Since it is a rather brief quote – by your standards at least – I will repost it in its entirety here:[2]

We’re all—especially those of us who are educated and have read a lot and have watched TV critically—in a very self-conscious and sort of worldly and sophisticated time, but also a time when we seem terribly afraid of other people’s reactions to us and very desperate to control how people interpret us.  Everyone is extremely conscious of manipulating how they come off in the media; they want to structure what they say so that the reader or audience will interpret it in the way that is most favorable to them. What’s interesting to me is that this isn’t all that new. This was the project of the Sophists in Athens, and this is what Socrates and Plato thought was so completely evil. The Sophists had this idea: Forget this idea of what’s true or not—what you want to do is rhetoric; you want to be able to persuade the audience and have the audience think you’re smart and cool. And Socrates and Plato, basically their whole idea is, “Bullsh**.  There is such a thing as truth, and it’s not all just how to say what you say so that you get a good job or get laid, or whatever it is people think they want.”

You talk about how we are so caught up in externalities, on image and reputation.  All we care about is how people perceive us, and how we can use those perceptions to get what we want.  What struck me when I first read it was the part about how this idea is almost as old as time itself.  You quote[3] the ancient Greeks to show how old the idea is.  A few days before reading your Statement, I was reading another ancient text, the book of 1 John from the New Testament.  In this text, the Apostle John writes of the fellowship we have with one another when we “live in the Light,” the Light being a state of total honesty with ourselves, with God and with others.

So we have this contrast between the two texts, one showing the openness and honesty that we are capable of and the other showing the reality of the facades we put up instead.  But I can’t help but view the 1 John text in light of my recent and on-going[4] reading of Brief Interviews which shows mankind at its worst.  If BI is accurate in any way, then the Light would reveal an awful lot of horrible, hideous stuff within us.  I think many of us would shutter at the thought of our true feelings and intentions being laid bare for all the world to see.

So it begs the question: Is it better to be dishonest and manipulative or honest and hideous?[5]

I guess if you and the Socrates and Plato and Saint John are right, people will eventually see through the bullsh** of our fronts and facades and see our true intentions.  The truth of our hideousness will one day be brought into the light no matter how hard we try to hide it.  And when other people do see it, there’s no telling how they will respond.  But if we let down our masks and allow the light into the cracks and crevices of our hideous frailties… sure it won’t be pretty, but at least others won’t be questioning our actions and intentions.  We will have nothing to fear because we will have nothing to hide.  And perhaps we will experience a little more acceptance from those around us, because – to be honest – we’re all pretty messed up.

[1] Which the contributor who posted it to The Howling Fantods was quick to point out that there are actually 209 words in the passage.[back]

[2] And hopefully not break any copyright laws in the process.  If what I’m doing here is considered copyright infringement, I ask my readers to let me know so I can remove the quote from this site.[back]

[3] Well, paraphrase.  I doubt Socrates and Plato used the words “Bullsh**” or “get laid.”[back]

[4] Seemingly never-ending…[back]

[5] I know this is set up as a rhetorical question, but I’m going to venture and answer anyway.[back]


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