Archive for May, 2013


Posted: May 10, 2013 in Philosophy

The only thing that’s capital T true is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.  This, I submit, is the freedom of real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted: you get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.  You get to decide what to worship.

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism.  There is no such thing as not worshiping.   Everybody worships.  The only choice we get is what to worship.  And the compelling reason, for maybe, choosing some sort of god, or spiritual-type thing to worship, be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles, is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough–never feel you have enough.  It’s the truth.  Worship your own body, and beauty, and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly.  And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.  

On one level we all know this stuff already; it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, cliches, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story.  The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.  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.  

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it is that they are 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 on the fuel of fear and anger and frustration and craving and the 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 own tiny, skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center 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 talked about much in the great outside world of wanting, and achieving, and displaying.  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 little 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….what it is, as far as I can see, is the capital T truth with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away.  You are of course, free to think of it whatever you wish.  But please don’t just dismiss it as some finger-wagging, Dr. Laura sermon.  None of this stuff is really about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death.  

The capital T truth is about life before death.  It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness.  Awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain site all around us all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over, this is water, this is water.

It is unimaginably hard to do this; to stay conscious and alive in the adult world, day-in and day-out, which means yet another grand cliche turns out to be true: your education really is the job of a lifetime…

~David Foster Wallace