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On Being Nothing
September 17, 2012 9:11 AM   Subscribe

"... bitterness, instead of a form of disillusionment, is really the refusal to give up your childhood illusions of importance" - Brian Jay Stanley
posted by mrgrimm (100 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, this guy is a big ball of empty inside. I feel really sorry for him. If this is how he feels, he's doing something really wrong.

In high school, the bliss of getting a pretty girlfriend consisted less in having the girl herself than in walking the halls with her on your arm, for others to see.

Well, he needs therapy, stat, because if you don't treat people like people instead of constantly looking for people to envy you and things you think you possess, of course you're going to be a big ball of empty nothingness. I mean, that's not even normal emotional development. And if this is a commentary on why so many men are suffering (though the women's version of this might come later, in the internet comments where they endlessly praise how great their husbands are and pound out screeds and advice on their keyboards showcasing how happy they are in their "perfect" relationship) then there's a lot wrong with the way men are being raised.
posted by discopolo at 9:24 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think he's going to get a pile of advice letters from well-meaning people. Everything from "cheer up!" to "Don't think so hard!" to "Have you thought about getting a dog or volunteering to help the less fortunate or getting some exercise?" Maybe he needs a complimentary Metafilter membership so he can utilize the green. Or some B-Complex vitamins and sunshine and water.
posted by discopolo at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


At first I did not know it was your diary, I thought it was a very sad handwritten book.
posted by elizardbits at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2012 [37 favorites]


I read the whole thing in the voice of Henri, The Ennui Cat. It's better that way.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2012 [16 favorites]


"After forty, all life is a matter of saving face."
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:35 AM on September 17, 2012


A cynic is just a man who found out when he was about ten that there wasn't any Santa Claus, and he's still upset. - James Gould Cozzens
posted by Egg Shen at 9:36 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


"After forty, all life is a matter of saving face."

After 70, it's all about discounts and breaking wind whenever you please.
posted by discopolo at 9:38 AM on September 17, 2012 [19 favorites]


One had an audience for one’s failures as well as one’s successes. But it made life meaningful. Everything counted because someone was watching.

God, what a terrible way to live.
posted by mykescipark at 9:43 AM on September 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


He an I had the exact opposite experiences of small town life. He implies he was a popular kid with popular girls clamouring to hang onto his arm. He most definitely seems to have basked in the bright light created by the magnifying glass of small town gossip.

Me? I couldn't wait for the anonymity of the big city and the freedom that entails. I was no longer constrained by other people's opinions or impressions (and believe me, people's impression of me had nothing to do with who I really was or am). I could stretch out and do and be and interact with people the way I saw fit, without worrying about how I would have to deal with the fallout the following day at school, or worse yet, have my sister disown me in front of our friends for something I said innocently the day before.

Now, I approach interactions with others as a proposition of mutual benefit. So what if the presenter wants an audience for their lecture? Go, and network, and maybe you'll meet someone who wants to publish your story, or will invite you to give a presentation yourself. I have opened up more opportunities by supporting others than I would have simply demanding the world pay attention to me.

This guy doesn't know how good he has it.
posted by LN at 9:44 AM on September 17, 2012 [17 favorites]


The tone is a bit depressive and melodramatic, but hell, it's an op-ed from the NYT. There is some truth under all of that though, especially where he discusses the transition from a small community and a tight family structure to a city and adulthood. Modern urban societies can be profoundly alienating, and we are social animals. There's a lot of discussion to be had around how we adapt to that.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:44 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


life. don't talk to me about life.
posted by ninjew at 9:46 AM on September 17, 2012 [18 favorites]


But what if I'm bitter AND disillusioned?
posted by briank at 9:48 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder if I could get a piece published in the NYT about how much I wish I lived in Asheville, NC?
posted by octobersurprise at 9:49 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Growing up in a small town, I had an audience.

I felt the same way growing up, however, as an adult that moved away and happily left the small town I am delighted and relieved to finally not have an audience. It's an exhausting way to live and moving away to college allowed me, for the first time in my life, to not be "on". I think, because of his focus on approval and having an audience, the author misses out on the true freedom of being anonymous. I went to the grocery store yesterday in my cleaning the house clothes. Without makeup. And no one cared.

If I'd done that in my home town, my mother would have gotten at least two calls from concerned people worrying that I was sick or having some personal trouble. The release from such excessive examination is so very freeing and I don't care if no one ever knows my name again, I prefer the quiet life away from the prying eyes of small towns any day. Really, the only thing I feel that the world owes me is some solitude from time to time.
posted by teleri025 at 9:50 AM on September 17, 2012 [17 favorites]


Yeah, well, childish or not, none of us is exactly not important either.

In Buddhism, they have the concept of Sunyata, or roughly speaking, the full conscious realization of the ultimate emptiness/transitory nature of the conditioned (physical) world. But that idea digs deeper than this guy does by also acknowledging the fundamental emptiness of even the idea of emptiness. He seems to stop short just before recognizing this last trick, and the result is he makes an error going in the opposite direction of his original error, but with the same root: it's a form of egoism, too, to dwell on one's insignificance as if it mattered.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:50 AM on September 17, 2012 [30 favorites]


Time for a beer.
posted by colie at 9:53 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Does he not even see that taking his own dumb experiences and generalizing to all of life/humanity is just another form for failing to let go your childhood sense of self importance?

FAIL.
posted by spicynuts at 9:53 AM on September 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


Is this what it's like when the BMOC in high school gets out in the world and realizes nobody gives a shit?

I find small towns to be extremely stifling, much happier out in the urban landscapes where I roam.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:55 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I loved this. I thought it perfectly described a facet of depression. Thanks for the post.
posted by agregoli at 9:59 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


And what better way to practice "being the world’s audience instead of demanding the world be mine" than republishing your Antioch Review essay in the Times? Perhaps the Antioch Review didn't provide a large enough audience before whom to perform the lack of need for an audience?
posted by RogerB at 10:01 AM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


Every day I wake up in the city, I thank God I am not in the small town I fled when I was 17. Shudder.

But if I wanted to live in a small town, I would, you know? Being the master of my fate and the captain of my soul and all that. There were nice things about it, like the trees and the cows.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:04 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


That...made me feel a little like a voyeur, and not in a fun way. Hope he gets some therapy.
posted by smirkette at 10:06 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


How dreary to be somebody
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

posted by Sidhedevil at 10:06 AM on September 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


We are all full of ego and it is ego that drowns our souls. Lose our ego, orbit around instead of pointlessly attempting to get the rest of the world to orbit around us, and we become free. Mr. Stanley speaks with great wisdom.
posted by caddis at 10:07 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Did anyone actually finish the essay? The whole point was that as he has grown older he has realized how childish and limiting that small-town big-fish-in-a-small-pond drive to be noticed was, and how he has had to move past it. "With so much happening, society is poorly made to satisfy pride, but well made to satisfy interest, if we will only let go of our vanity and join the swirl of activity."
posted by enn at 10:08 AM on September 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


This is interesting. But I also think that affection and connection are perhaps greater sources of wealth than money (though I believe basic needs are essential to anything else of course). Funny that we encourage people to need money- DUH we NEED to eat, but we scorn people for needing love or meaningful intimacy.

How much more bautiful would the world be if instead of shaming people for needing love,we celebrated the genuine needs for some type of social meaning and interaction that most humans share. Whether we see that need in ourself or someone else... celebrate thepersuit of that greatest and most treasured experience most people can find in the human experience-- stability of circumstance and health such that one can truly enjoy meaningful connection and purpose with others.

We all can do something meaningful. Think of the seas of humans yearning to seen and loved. Anyone with enough thought power to consider this problem exists, can be part of creating meaning for ourselves and those around us. By witnessing and loving others, and giving others the opportunity to shine by doing the same for us. Purpose is about filling something that needs to happen, that makes the world better. And every person who sees how many people are in dire need of truly being seen and loved and cherished, and to give in return-- can find an abundance of purpose and meaning before them. This world is filled with need. Basic needs, emotional needs, physical needs, suffering. There is deep purpose all around us if we simply answer the calls. To have a life of meaning and purpose simply look at how much suffering exists. Then do the work of creating wealth, abundance, health, happiness, play, joy, trust, love,beauty, and wonderful things in it's place. We need hero's and every human can be one. In the place of loniness, disconnection, dreary circumstance, meaningless jobs, dreams lost... do thework of finding out whatothers dreamsareand find out what's standing in the way. You can make dreams come true. We all have obstacles that we could master better with the strength of others beside us, and others have obstacles they could more easily overcome with us on their side.

When you don't believe that you or anyone else deserves an abundance of love and joyful connection with others... life certainly does feellike an abyss. I hope for everyone stuck insuch a dreary belief system to come into the light were we can happily play together in the sun. YAY! Love is a good thing!

I am tired of this self hatred and degrading of the deepest emotional needs within the human condition masquerading as depth. Love is the greatest depth and it has ample room to celebrate the meaning and depth and amazing wonderfulness of every human being. It really doesn't have to be a competition between the self and others, we don't have to prove how masochistic and misanthropic we are about our own feelings and needs and wants to show how deeply we care about others. We really really can have a world where the inner most dreams of the self and others are all celebrated as valuable missions that should be fulfilled in ways that are mutually beneficial to ourselves and others. Certainly, the ability to refrain from impulsive wants for the betterment of the long term self and other people is a good thing. As is the artof cultivating awareness of other human beings needs and wants into your own vision of fulfillment. But that is not the same as celebrating a life of being unfulfilled and unloved. How can you respect the depths of others needs for love, meaningful work, connection, and enjoyable experiences, in addition to basic needs- if you are depriving yourself of the knowledge of your own needs or your own worth to have them filled like anyone else?
posted by xarnop at 10:08 AM on September 17, 2012 [17 favorites]


This essay reminds me of petulant, whiny, self-absorbed, self-congratulatory college students overly impressed by their depth of insight into Society and The Self.
posted by space_cookie at 10:08 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


In high school, the bliss of getting a pretty girlfriend consisted less in having the girl herself than in walking the halls with her on your arm, for others to see.

Really? Because as a hormonal teenager the bliss in getting a pretty girlfriend was the possibility of sex. Of course, there is some truth to the idea that teenagers tend to date people they think their friends will approve of even if they wouldn't necessarily choose that person for themselves (e.g., guys who prefer fat women but choose to only date skinny girls in high school so as to be seen as dating the "right kind of woman" and to gain the approval of their peers).

To get a girl on a desert island would have been a paltry pleasure.

As per point #1, I can think of a few ways that the pleasure of getting a partner on a desert island would be more than paltry.
posted by asnider at 10:11 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


But this rings oh-so true: "Most annoying are subscription solicitations I receive from literary magazines that got my name and address from rejecting work I submitted. They do not want my writing, but might I send them my money — so I can read the writers they chose over me?"

Part of the reason I stopped submitting to lit mags altogether.
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:14 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


My navel. Let us gaze upon it together!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:18 AM on September 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


Also, this is sweet irony: "This article is an edited and significantly condensed version of a longer essay that was published in The Antioch Review in 2009. The New York Times generally does not publish opinion essays that have appeared elsewhere. The writer of this article did disclose that it had been previously published, but because of an editorial oversight, that fact was overlooked when the article was accepted by The Times."

Hah, even the NYT wasn't paying attention to him when they accepted his submission...
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:19 AM on September 17, 2012 [19 favorites]


"With so much happening, society is poorly made to satisfy pride, but well made to satisfy interest, if we will only let go of our vanity and join the swirl of activity."

I read it, but still think he's hitting a downer note because he's too hung up on the significance of his personal realizations about his own vanity.

He's mistaken a partial insight for a fully-formed truth: he's right that none of us personally is the absolute sole center of the universe, but in a certain sense, we're all as much the center of the universe as anything else. So it's childish to think it's all about you. It's likewise childish to announce to others it's not about them either, and it seems to me, he's still stinging from wounded vanity himself, and this is really just an expression of that pain: "See--it's not just me that's really much less significant than my childhood self might have imagined, it's all of you, too, so, hah!"

Really? Because as a hormonal teenager the bliss in getting a pretty girlfriend was the possibility of sex.

Amen to that! It's hard for me to get into this guy's mindset. Especially in this area. For me, high school dating was all about the hot, horn-doggery, not really in the slightest about elevating my social status.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:23 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tru dat about mail, although those of us old enough to remember the pleasure of getting letters have surely forgotten about what the mailbox used to be like. It's a little unsettling to read the thoughts of a man (a guy who significantly omits the joy of writing letters to others) who gets bummed out by the banality of his daily mail.

Of all the joys in life, being lauded and flattered are hardly among my top ten. Being touched and loved, yes, but this writer doesn't seem to acknowledge what really matters in life.
posted by kozad at 10:23 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The entire essay is a set-up for the last paragraph, which turns the rest of it on its head:

There must be a Copernican revolution of the self. Instead of pointlessly cursing the sun to go around me, my chance of contentment is learning to orbit, being the world’s audience instead of demanding the world be mine. If the world is a stage, then everyone’s an extra, acting minor roles in simultaneous scenes in which no one has the lead. With so much happening, society is poorly made to satisfy pride, but well made to satisfy interest, if we will only let go of our vanity and join the swirl of activity.


He is not complaining about being nothing; he is reaching for a 'Copernican revolution of the self,' in which he removes himself from the centre. He recognizes that the entirety of the rest of the world dwarfs him like the brilliant, flaming Sun dwarfs the tiny Earth. In this, I think that he gets it just right, and is very much in line with Buddhist teachings. Or Christian teachings, for that matter.

He's emphatically trying to get away from navel-gazing. He hasn't got there yet; the essay is about the journey from a self-regarding life to an other-regarding life. The criticisms of the essay in this thread are strange, in that they admonish the author for being self-centred, while the essay is itself an ode to the sadness that comes from being self-centred.
posted by the thing about it at 10:27 AM on September 17, 2012 [23 favorites]


a guy who significantly omits the joy of writing letters to others

This is an astute point that could easily be overlooked. In fact, the author of the NYT articles seems to have overlooked it himself: in order to receive letters, you need to send letters.
posted by asnider at 10:28 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


This essay reminds me of petulant, whiny, self-absorbed, self-congratulatory college students overly impressed by their depth of insight into Society and The Self.

Ha, the comments in this post remind me of petulant, whiny, self-absorbed, self-congratulatory college students overly impressed by their depth of insight into Society and The Self.

A few commenters here seem to dislike people who don't have the insight into life that they have or those who only gain that insight later on in life. Or if their insight doesn't vibe with theirs.

I'm guilty of it too - when i listen to dumb 40-something-ish fluff-brains discussing some great philosophical discovery they just unearthed about life, which I had already figured out, I smugly and sliently laugh at them, that it took them so long to figure it out...

and yet I hate them at the same time. being insightful was mine. It is not your quality to have. I suffered as a teenager and a young adult; only I get to be insightful. Not you - you stick to your sports and friends and girlfriends so I can criticize you more.


I don't know. That's what I'm reading here anyway. Maybe I'm wrong.
posted by bitteroldman at 10:30 AM on September 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


Really? Because as a hormonal teenager the bliss in getting a pretty girlfriend was the possibility of sex.

That's right, all teenagers think like that. There has never been a single teenager in the history of humanity that has wanted a relationship for any other reason other than that!
posted by bitteroldman at 10:33 AM on September 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


This reminds me a lot of that early passage in Walker Percy's "The Moviegoer" (which expresses it much better, I think) –
I am a model tenant and a model citizen and take pleasure in doing all that is expected of me. My wallet is full of identity cards, library cards, credit cards. Last year I purchased a flat olive-drab strongbox, very smooth and heavily built with double walls for fire protection, in which I placed my birth certificate, college diploma, honorable discharge, G.I. insurance, a few stock certificates, and my inheritance... It is a pleasure to carry out the duties of a citizen and to receive in return a receipt or a neat styrene card with one's name on it certifying, so to speak, one's right to exist. What satisfaction I take in appearing the first day to get my auto tag and brake sticker! I subscribe to Consumer Reports and as a consequence I own a first-class television set, an all but silent air conditioner and a very long lasting deodorant. My armpits never stink. I pay attention to all spot announcements on the radio about mental health, the seven signs of cancer, and safe driving – though, as I say, I usually prefer to ride the bus. Yesterday a favorite of mine, William Holden, delivered a radio announcement on litterbugs. "Let's face it," said Holden. "Nobody can do anything about it – but you and me." This is true. I have been careful ever since.
posted by koeselitz at 10:34 AM on September 17, 2012 [17 favorites]


In high school, the bliss of getting a pretty girlfriend consisted less in having the girl herself than in walking the halls with her on your arm, for others to see.

I know a lot of you are giving him flak for this, but it is actually a pretty self-aware insight. If you are looking to improve your social standing in high school, one good way to do this is to have a girlfriend or boyfriend-- what he is reflecting here is an acute understanding of where the social incentives and rewards in high school are. Having this understanding is actually pretty valuable for navigating corporate and social politics.

I think the issue is that he missed his calling.
posted by deanc at 10:36 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


The criticisms of the essay in this thread are strange, in that they admonish the author for being self-centred, while the essay is itself an ode to the sadness that comes from being self-centred.

He doesn't seem to realize that he is/has been much more self-centered than most people.

Also, he still doesn't get it. From the article, "Instead, I know that the world only tramples me as a street crowd does an earthworm ...", which is just wallowing in a well of self-pity. Hopefully he will someday realize that it's not a street crowd, but just a million other earthworms.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:36 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


A few commenters here seem to dislike people who don't have the insight into life that they have or those who only gain that insight later on in life. Or if their insight doesn't vibe with theirs.

Most healthy adults mature into the understanding that they are not and should not be the center of the universe without much grief or fanfare...and without it being announced in the New York Times.
posted by space_cookie at 10:38 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think people are being awful harsh on a guy who submitted something as part of a series where the authors submit people describing anxiety. If he had been representing his feelings or worldview as completely healthy, I suppose some of the criticism might be appropriate.

But isn't it implicit that he recognizes that he'd like not to feel this way about things?

I found myself having quite a bit more compassion for him than contempt, I guess.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:40 AM on September 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Why does he think he's uniquely the person to let the rest of us in on these secrets, though? He's still holding himself up as uniquely important, in a way, or else we wouldn't need him to tell us we're too self-centered. He's not just recounting his own personal realization that he's not as important as he once imagined here; for some reason, he feels it's important that he point out and emphasize that none of us are. That seems to betray a residual bitterness that isn't consonant/doesn't square with the nominal conclusions the author tries to draw.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:40 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did anyone actually finish the essay?

I kind of got that there was a trick ending but by the time I got there I was so weary from the previous 15 or so paragraphs that I would have had trouble wrapping my head around the surprise revelation at the end of an episode of Scooby Doo and the end paragraph seemed like words worlds Copernicus words words.

I'm going to follow Voltaire's lead and go do some yard work.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:40 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


That's right, all teenagers think like that. There has never been a single teenager in the history of humanity that has wanted a relationship for any other reason other than that!

The author seems to be using his personal experience as an absolute truth of teenage relationships. I offered a counterpoint. My intent wasn't to declare it an absolute truth, or even to invalidate the author's experience, but I do suspect that "teens date to get laid" may be more common than "teens date to show off their partners and gain prestige."

Probably, though, the two actually go hand-in-hand. (Which I alluded to with my comment about teens dating people who they think their friends will approve of rather than who they actually prefer for themselves.)
posted by asnider at 10:41 AM on September 17, 2012


How cool is this guy that his piece on not being all that important got published not only once, but twice.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:42 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


After 70, it's all about discounts and breaking wind whenever you please.

I'm thirty years ahead of schedule!
posted by davejay at 10:45 AM on September 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


The real tragedy is that NYTimes publishes this.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 10:47 AM on September 17, 2012


It's not that what he says doesn't have some applicability to some people, but how he says it makes me want to wretch.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 10:48 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did anyone actually finish the essay?

It doesn’t seem like many did. Maybe they were in too much of a hurry to craft their dismissive response.

Why does he think he's uniquely the person to let the rest of us in on these secrets, though?

I don’t remember him saying that. I took more like talking with your friends about how weird life is.
posted by bongo_x at 10:48 AM on September 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


The less sympathy I feel toward an opinion, the warier I am of dismissing it. If the opinion seemed as ridiculous to others as to me, no one would assent to it. Therefore, others must see something I do not. I risk a false victory in scorning it, like a man who easily triumphs over his opponents in dreams because they are only his brain's emaciated inventions. Instead, if I cast my imagination beyond the circumference of my experience, I invariably find the odious viewpoint's flattering angle. Understanding grants the right, and removes the desire, to condemn.
- this same dude
I think some people are being a little unfair in reading this essay as a 100%-sincere expression of the author's actual ideas about life and not, say, a self-conscious exercise in a well-established subgenre of the essay. The title of his blog helpfully names the literary tradition he's working in--"Aphorisms and Paradoxes."
posted by DaDaDaDave at 10:48 AM on September 17, 2012 [16 favorites]


Metafilter: I think some people are being a little unfair
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:50 AM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sounds like somebody needs to move home. Like a commenter here up-thread said, they hated small-town life, and couldn't wait for big-city anonymity. This guy's like the opposite. Move home, go to church and get a dog.
posted by resurrexit at 10:53 AM on September 17, 2012


what's the big deal with disillusionment anyway? Who wants to walk around with illusions?
posted by philip-random at 10:54 AM on September 17, 2012


a magician!
posted by The Whelk at 10:55 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I remember lying awake in my dorm bed the first night I arrived on campus. The thought gripped me that no one on campus or in the city knew I had come or required that I be there in order to function.

Yeah, that's the golden ticket to up your game and take off any rough edges, to transcend any missteps that no one in that small town will forget.

Change your wardrobe, your hair, your attitude. Be a better person.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:58 AM on September 17, 2012


Dudes. This is not a news report here. It is possible, in writing, to express thoughts and opinions that the writer may not always think and hold; it is possible, in writing, to express thoughts and opinions that the writer has never thought or held. It is also possible to harbor apparently contradictory feelings about things, like small town life or big city life. It is possible to love these things even as we recoil in distaste from them, and it is possible to write about this. It is possible to write about these contradictions in such a way that only one side of the contradiction is presented, and it is possible for unwary readers to draw premature conclusions about the writer.
posted by Mister_A at 11:00 AM on September 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don’t remember him saying that. I took more like talking with your friends about how weird life is.

Well, honestly it may have just been that the pull quote in the FPP primed me to read the rest of the piece more critically than I would have otherwise. And the tone comes across as more didactic than casual and conversational...
posted by saulgoodman at 11:01 AM on September 17, 2012


I concur the best part was the editor's footnote. Did they publish and then find that out, or did they really accept under bogus pretenses, find out, and publish anyway as the footnote claims? The former makes more sense to me than the latter. Why knowingly not comply with your own policy just to keep your false obligation to the lying writer? It ain't like it's a fabulous essay that uplifts the page.
posted by bukvich at 11:04 AM on September 17, 2012


I don't think disagreeing with the guy that everyone should realize how unimportant they are inherently means judging the guy harshly for his musings. I just disagree with his theory that this type of insight will make anyone's life much better. If anything, he is judging human beings that believe there is a lot of worth, meaning, and importance in the human condition. So he's being a bit harsh about the worthlessness of human beings amongst each other and how the greatness of the collective entity of existance inherently makes individual lives unimportant and insignificant.

I think it's the opposite. How much infinitely more meaningful the grand expansive whole when each tiniest piece is grand and magnificent unto itself?
posted by xarnop at 11:10 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey, hey, hey, the New York Times isn't in the business of being a truth vigilante!


barf forever
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:10 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"... bitterness, instead of a form of disillusionment, is really the refusal to give up your childhood illusions of importance"

I'm important to me, which makes me the most important person in the world, as far as I'm concerned. Other forms of "importance" are subjective. Although my self-importance is also subjective, I'm the subject of it, so it doesn't matter.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:11 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


false obligation to the lying writer
The footnote says the author disclosed that it had already been published when he submitted it, it was just an oversight that it was then published on their blog.

What's with the hostility?
posted by ReadEvalPost at 11:11 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


“If you want to reach a state of bliss, then go beyond your ego and the internal dialogue. Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge. Those are the three things the ego is doing all the time. It's very important to be aware of them every time they come up.” Deepak Chopra
posted by caddis at 11:18 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm a bit paranoid about this, but I think all of this is part of a right-wing meme that is trying to turn the greater populace into drones. Entitlement programs? What makes you think you are entitled? Social Security? We need that for tax breaks for the rich.

Previously on this board we've had posts from when a Fox News commentator attacked Mr. Rogers - how dare he suggest everyone is special?

The belief in being special generally lifts up people. For example, every writer had to live with a naive bubble that they could write (while their writing sucked) in order to get to that point where ta-da, they could write.

I believe Jewish people have overachieved in history in part because of their belief that they are the chosen people. I believe American blacks have overproduced (where opportunity allowed) because of their strong self-identity.

So, commentators - learn the difference between narcissism and self-pride. And, if all you have is narcissism, then it's okay to shut up and believe you are not special. Just don't feel the need to tell me what I need to do.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:34 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's easy to be nobody when you've always been nobody. It only becomes an issue when someone convinces you that are something more than that. The trick is not letting them talk you into it.
posted by tommasz at 11:35 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


All this fuss could have been avoided if only he'd been able to resist the urge to use the unwarranted second person.

This essay would seem a lot more mature and insightful if he'd written, "But bitterness, instead of a form of disillusionment, was really my refusal to give up my childhood illusions of importance. Ignored instead of welcomed by the world, I faulted the world as blind and evil in order not to fault myself as naïve. "
posted by straight at 11:56 AM on September 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


I believe Jewish people have overachieved in history in part because of their belief that they are the chosen people. I believe American blacks have overproduced (where opportunity allowed) because of their strong self-identity.


Whoa!
posted by caddis at 12:03 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Insightful and humorous.

I think its really gone over a lot of people's heads here though. Some of the comments above seem to miss the point entirely.
posted by mary8nne at 12:13 PM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


But what if I'm bitter AND disillusioned?

Bitter and twisted is better.
posted by never used baby shoes at 12:59 PM on September 17, 2012


I think its really gone over a lot of people's heads here though.

In what way(s)? I feel like I got what he was driving at, considered what he was driving at, and found that what he was driving at was accurate yet obvious or banal in some bits, overgeneralized in some bits, and just plain wrong in other bits.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:00 PM on September 17, 2012


I believe Jewish people have overachieved in history in part because of their belief that they are the chosen people. I believe American blacks have overproduced (where opportunity allowed) because of their strong self-identity.

what
posted by tzikeh at 1:03 PM on September 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe this piece really suffered in the condensing/editing process, but what I got out of was "I used to think I was the center of the universe. Growing up, I learned I wasn't. That made me mad. Then I got over it. Mostly."
posted by rtha at 1:26 PM on September 17, 2012


I think he's going to get a pile of advice letters from well-meaning people. Everything from "cheer up!" to "Don't think so hard!" to "Have you thought about getting a dog or volunteering to help the less fortunate or getting some exercise?"

4th comment: "Get a dog or a cat that will greet you when you come home and come bump and rub on you for attention. Millions of people get affirmation that way."

lol.

Why does he think he's uniquely the person to let the rest of us in on these secrets, though?

That is a good question. What is new and/or interesting here? To me, it was the "Copernican revolution of the self" on a macro scale, i.e. the Dream, where little (mostly) white Americans will care as much or more about (mostly) other colored Iraqis, Chinese, and Rwandans as much as they care about themselves.

The fact that it might make us happier to do so (not just that it's the right thing to do), is what's interesting to me. I'm reminded of two things:

1. Lewis Hyde and The Gift

2. One episode of Growing Pains when Mike Seaver and his dad reminisce about the time Mike realized the TV shows didn't stop running when he turned the set off. I do think about that scene a lot, just as far as remembering how self-centered people are by default.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:29 PM on September 17, 2012


I thought it might be best to get some feedback on this. Did my comment about "chosen people" and "strong self-identity" offend?

On the one hand, it is classifying people and perhaps objectifying while trying to make some grand statement. On the other hand, I'm not diminishing the accomplishments of the groups, in fact, the opposite. I suppose there can be a prejudice of rationalizing to elevate groups - perhaps I committed some sort of paternalistic black-slapping - not sure. (sort of like Ross Perot's 'you people.

If it is paternalism then I will say it is rooted in my view of the world. I do believe Jewish people have overachieved in proportion to their numbers as have American blacks.
I said, blacks where opportunity has allowed. For blacks the possibility to be president (for example - although not an easy opportunity) has existed in American history for maybe the past 20 years - and already we have a black president.

If it is a question of the term strong self-identity, I believe that American blacks have had that for a long time. I know there are studies of such. Colloquially, when I lived in black Washington DC and attended black churches I can remember vividly being at church after Washington Post Magazine debuted. The preacher railed about the issue not having any blacks in their advertisements and in the same issue running an opinion column in that issue about agreeing with a jewelry store that didn't serve blacks. (I've never been able to look at the columnist Tony Kornheiser the same thereafter.) I say that it was an issue in the church, but with pretty much generally around, also.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:36 PM on September 17, 2012


Did my comment about "chosen people" and "strong self-identity" offend?

Statements that boil down to "large group x is y because..." are ill-advised, in my opinion.
posted by Mooski at 1:39 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Did my comment about "chosen people" and "strong self-identity" offend?

yep.
posted by elizardbits at 1:41 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


The voice of the essay was very strong. It certainly struck some of my heartstrings. I felt he was insightful and got past his narcissism. Mea Culpa is sometimes good for the soul even if a bit self indulgent. I thought the emotions expressed were true all in all an effective telling of an inner journey. Stories of self realization are a mixed lot. Many people can't relate to the narcissist but I think many people are secret narcissists and engage in a little bashing to cover themselves. I am certainly glad the essay was edited I'm not sure I could take much more self loathing.

Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain as most fools do.
Benjamin Franklin.
posted by pdxpogo at 1:41 PM on September 17, 2012


I thought it might be best to get some feedback on this. Did my comment about "chosen people" and "strong self-identity" offend?

Yep. Also not crazy about your usage of "blacks". Since you ask and all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:56 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seriously. It's 2012. Time to stop using colors as nouns when talking about people.
posted by MetalFingerz at 2:02 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know. What's the point of lambasting this guy's need to be affirmed other than to ingratiate yourself with like-minded people in this open and tolerant community?
posted by deo rei at 2:02 PM on September 17, 2012


Seriously. It's 2012. Time to stop using colors as nouns when talking about people.
Yes, because the colloquial terms our parents were convinced to only use in private are so much more descriptive and accurate.

This whole politically correct thing is just a Jerry-Rigged kludge anyway. ;-)
posted by MikeWarot at 2:12 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's the point of posting a link to an essay if all that can or should be said about it is "Wow, that was great." And if that's what he wants or expects (and I suspect not, since he's a writer and has surely received way harsher criticism from his teachers and editors - I hope), he's in the wrong business.

There's been some lambasting here, but nowhere near as much as some SLNYTessay posts have garnered.

It didn't strike a chord in some people the way it did in others. That's okay.

As to this: On the other hand, I'm not diminishing the accomplishments of the groups, in fact, the opposite.

Stereotyping "for good" is as bad as doing it the other way. It allows for no acknowledgement of nuance or individuality. And it obscures whatever point you're trying to make, since you end up arguing about how "No, they really are all [blanketyblank]!" and that's a losing proposition.
posted by rtha at 2:16 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can we, on our own behalf and without moderator intervention, declare the whole "Jews and American Blacks" thing a derail?

If anyone wants to pursue it, I'll ask them to go to Metatalk, as it really doesn't seem to have much to do with this post. dances_with_sneetches, if you think it really does, you of course can argue that point, but it'll probably obscure any other point you want to make.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:21 PM on September 17, 2012


Yes, because the colloquial terms our parents were convinced to only use in private are so much more descriptive and accurate.

This whole politically correct thing is just a Jerry-Rigged kludge anyway. ;-)



The idea is not to assume that everyone of a similar skin color is alike. Try that out, and you shouldn't often find yourself needing a catch all phrase to refer to everyone of a similar shade.

It's not about being politically correct, it's about applying sweeping generalizations to huge groups of people in the name of some over simplified and largely unreliable world-view.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:22 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe this piece really suffered in the condensing/editing process, but what I got out of was "I used to think I was the center of the universe. Growing up, I learned I wasn't. That made me mad. Then I got over it. Mostly."

posted by rtha


But I don't see him broadening his world of empathy to include others. Yes, he's no longer arrogant, but he's still a narcissist. (Assuming I'm using these terms correctly.)
posted by benito.strauss at 2:24 PM on September 17, 2012


After 70, it's all about discounts and breaking wind whenever you please.

I have about a 30 year head start.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:35 PM on September 17, 2012


What's the point of posting a link to an essay if all that can or should be said about it is "Wow, that was great."

I think lots of things can be said. I'm just not sure that suggestions to the effect that the guy thinks and/or feels wrong are helpful. This is how he feels. I would venture that this is how many people feel. But if in expressing this feeling the first response they can expect is "you should get therapy" then they might not express it at all. That would be a shame, because I would like to see more of it, not less, if only to see it expressed better, and by a better writer.
posted by deo rei at 2:42 PM on September 17, 2012


But I don't see him broadening his world of empathy to include others

Can you explain what you mean by that and how that might have been expressed in this piece? Apart from the fact that the writing is (intentionally?) unengaging?
posted by deo rei at 2:45 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can you explain what you mean by that and how that might have been expressed in this piece?

I'm can't say what the essay I would write would look like (that's a different essay), but where does he talk about relating to another person, or being, that isn't in terms of being admired or being despised?

Are the first 10 self-centered paragraphs supposed to be the figure we are to change from, so are not up for critique? But even in his revolutionarily revelatory final paragraph his advice is only that we needn't be the star; we can be the audience (though in the next sentence we are all bit players, as his metaphor crumbles under the lightest rhetorical pressure). It's still in terms of who impresses who. I see no empathy there.

His final advise is to drop your pride, and replace it with interest. Be interested in others? — it's all so cold. Why not love, or share, or cry with others? Just fucking connect already.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:21 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Then I apologize. Even beneficent paternalism is a nasty way of rationalizing human behavior.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:22 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Recognizing one's insignificance in the world-at-large ("the problems of two little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world") is a necessary step in adjusting to reality as one grows up.

Earlier today I was reading an episode in Gawker's ongoing stories of unemployment. Their evidence is in accord with this man's essay.

- Every day was a reminder at how small an individual is against a whole system, which made me felt awful about myself from the moment I woke up.
- I have never cried so much in my life. There is a feeling of worthlessness that never leaves you. Sleeping late is the norm because when I roll over and look at the clock, I can't think of any reason to get out of bed.

Sometimes our cozy circumstances are taken away by forces beyond our control. Realizing that can prompt us to take a wiser tack in life - not taking our fortunes for granted, and finding some compassion for the less fortunate. We're all in this together.
posted by Twang at 3:30 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Twang, that was very nicely said, and a good example of the empathy I was looking for.

Did you see this this feeling reflected in the FFP's article? While I saw "cozy circumstances are taken away by forces beyond our control" in it, I didn't really see much "finding some compassion for the less fortunate".
posted by benito.strauss at 3:57 PM on September 17, 2012


His final advise is to drop your pride, and replace it with interest

I see your point, that was a bizarre contrast. He proceeds as if towards some inevitable conclusion, then arrives at something random and arbitrary. Maybe he felt the detachment of a word like "interest" suited the piece better, with him being so much sadder but wiser and all that. Which is really not the kind of pathos this piece needs.
posted by deo rei at 4:23 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The internal disconnectedness of the piece really did make me wonder how much had been lost in the condensing of it. But I'm too lazy to see if the full-length version is on the internets.
posted by rtha at 5:21 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Instead of pointlessly cursing the sun to go around me, my chance of contentment is learning to orbit, being the world’s audience instead of demanding the world be mine.

I liked this. Firstly reading it in Henri's voice (nice one, Happy Dave) for the self-aware irony, and then coming to this quote - it's a conclusion I myself have come to, living alone, over 40 and invisible, detached from the world and an intimate support group.
posted by b33j at 6:29 PM on September 17, 2012


Watched the Tisha videos prior to reading this.

I'ma just sit in my corner and let ya'll comment.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:36 PM on September 17, 2012


Compare and contrast with David McCullough Jr's You Are Not Special speech and its reception.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:04 AM on September 18, 2012


Should have been: "I am not special, so why are you listening to me talk instead of getting on with it?"
posted by saulgoodman at 8:10 AM on September 18, 2012


@ benito.strauss:
I didn't really see much "finding some compassion for the less fortunate".

If the author has -really- recognized his insignificance, then he has (or will arrive at) compassion. Whether it's just compassion for himself or has grown to include others he didn't say. Once we stop seeing ourselves as the "crown of creation", that which was once beneath us is suddenly eye-to-eye.
posted by Twang at 1:29 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


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