Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A bit of wisdom from that well-known philosopher/guru, Jackie 'Socrates' Robinson.

A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.
Jackie Robinson

THIS PAST WEEK, amid baseball's annual, self-congratulatory celebration of "Better Late Than Never" day, I must have heard that quote invoked (sometimes in slightly different form) during a dozen broadcasts. I suppose we could debate the precise intended meaning of the word important, but to me, regardless, it's another one of those "inspirational" totems that breaks down under scrutiny. After all, if my life is only important for the impact it has on you, and your life is only important for the impact you have on old Miria
m there, and old Miriam's life is only important... See the problem? Doesn't anybody's life have an inherent value that makes it worth living for its own sake? And if not...what's the point of any life? Or even life itself?

I bring these things up not bec
ause I oppose goodness and philanthropy; regular readers know better than that. I bring these things up because I oppose pretentious, simple-minded gurudom: the kind of gurudom that sounds so sweet-natured and high-minded but reduces all of life's complexities to bumper stickers, and whose ultimate effect, whether intended or not, is to obliterate genuine critical thinking. In more mercenary settings (like, say, self-help seminars) the purpose of such sloganeering is to lull attendees into a narcotic state of overblown idealism and/or expectation where they're progressively more susceptible to the leader's spiel...where they come to believe that anything really is possible for them as long as they just keep buying what the guru's selling...where they're willing to brush logic aside while reaching for their checkbooks because, dammit, the whole thing just sounds so right....

Another example: I've heard Dr. Laura moralize about how a parent's primary job on earth is to raise his or her children. This implies that the children's job is to grow up and become p
arents so that they can then raise their kids. And on and on it goes.*

Platitudes of this stripe remind me of a game of musical chairs that never ends. The Robinson quote in particular is a bit like saying that the only point to being in possession of a delic
ious, juicy hamburger is to give it to someone else. This means that the someone else must also give it to someone else. Doesn't anybody actually get to eat the freakin' burger before it gets cold?

I'd have no problem here if the quotes said something like, "Try to have a positive impact on others along the way" or "Don't think only of yourself; spread the wealth." But see, quotes like that don't resonate. They lack the power, the philosophical sweep, to find and inspire a large audience. We want to admire, to follow, people who say (seemingly) transcendent things. So we have to puff up our quotes with extravagant, noble-sounding b.s. At which point those quotes cease to mean anything whatsoever.

This explains why, in the land of SHAM (and the myriad cultural institutions influenced by its ideas),
the course teaches not how to be more successful, but how to become a multimillionaire; and the book talks not about how to search for a good mate, but how to get any woman you desire; and the speaker at the school assembly lectures kids not about how to put their priorities in order, but how they can all be president of the United States if they want! Blah, blah, blah...

Incidentally, apropos of scholastic assemblies and the like, try this cartoon strip. Priceless.
S

* I have a feeling that somebody's going to nitpick me here and say, "Well, not all kids will grow up to become parents. So maybe she's only talking about the people who decide to have kids
that their primary job is to raise their kids." Well, so what? I still think my point applies.

1 comment:

nightman1 said...

My goodness, your blog is like mine would be if I could ever resist being tendentious and / or confrontational! No wonder you seem to have many more readers than I do!

I particularly like THIS:

"I'd have no problem here if the quotes said something like, "Try to have a positive impact on others along the way" or "Don't think only of yourself; spread the wealth." But see, quotes like that don't resonate. They lack the power, the philosophical sweep, to find and inspire a large audience. We want to admire, to follow, people who say (seemingly) transcendent things. So we have to puff up our quotes with extravagant, noble-sounding b.s. At which point those quotes cease to mean anything whatsoever."

All I can possibly add to this is that in a culture whose official attitude toward all areas of effort is unstinting hyper-optimism, clearly everyone can reasonably expect to do well in any department of life, and hence if you're striking out in one of those departments you must be screwing up. No bad-luck excuses please!

The conclusion that it's all your fault naturally produces a strong need for quick, fast answers to use in fixing whatever you are clearly doing wrong (lest you feel chronic shame before all your more successful friends and relatives).

Folks who are articulate, who don't mind misrepresenting stuff, and who really like easy money are happy to step in and provide the quick, fast answers you need--for a price.

Cordially,
nightman1.wordpress.com