by guest blogger, BroKen
Gerard Vanderleun at American Digest put up a video called "This is Water". It is an edited version of a commencment address given by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 class of Kenyon College. It is fascinating. Take a look.
What do you think? Well, here is what I think...
There is a lot of very good stuff in there. Lots of great ideas and good advice. It is more and more the case that "the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about." But that is more because of how we have been taught to see and talk, than about the important realities themselves. Yes, the Water in which "we live and move and have our being" is there whether we see it or not. What that water is, is of vital importance. Unfortunately, this video leaves out what the water is.
Yes, there is a "default setting" based on our inherent selfishness; "everything is all about me". It is great that the video calls us to rise above it even though it is hard to rise and few, if any, of us do it very often. Yet what is the foundation of this call to rise above? "The only thing that's capital-T true is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it.” Oh, so it really is about me, all about ME, after all. Hmmm.
Now, in the full speech from which this video is made, Foster does tell another "didactic story" which could point more to Reality. He tells of an atheist and theist arguing about God after a few beers in a remote Alaskan bar. The atheist says, "It's not like I haven't investigated the claims of God. Just last month when I was lost in the blizzard facing certain death, I prayed for God to help me and save my life." "Well, then you must believe. Here you are!" cries the theist. "No," replies the atheist. "That was just a couple of Eskimos that happened to be passing by and led me out." Foster says, "It is easy to run this story through a standard liberal arts analysis. The exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim the one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual's templates and beliefs come from." (Emphasis mine) No, Mr. Foster, it is not fine. The fact that we don't talk about where beliefs come from and judge the reality of those beliefs is THE problem with modern education and this video. It is the foundational problem of modern liberal arts education which leads people to get it wrong every time. It is why you, Mr. Foster, fall right back into the "default setting" when you explain that freedom, education and right thinking is all about ME and MY CHOICE.
In the end, Mr. Foster cannot say with conviction, "GOD IS LOVE" and "In Him we live and move and have our being" for that is far too moralistic and judgmental. So, we are left with banal platitudes like, "Have a nice day". Just use your $100,000 education to dream up fanciful reasons to say "Have a nice day" even when, no, especially when you don't really mean it. Why? 'Cause if you don't you'll be miserable. (But don't think I'm moralizing like Dr. Laura!)
Come on, Mr. Foster! The "water" is God. Yes, He's hard to see and talk about nowadays. But it was not always so. May He help us lose this post-modern Liberal arts non-sense which is so fatal, and get back to learning and teaching what is really True and Good and Noble and Right. Yes, that means saying some things are wrong and bad and false. So be it.