It was just a matter of time until I would finally succumb to the cliché of the white male pseudo-intellectual and write an entire 1000+ words of a blog post based on out-of-context David Foster Wallace quotes. But here it goes. (It’s taken from his infamous commencement address at Kenyon College.)
There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship (…) 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. (…) 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. (…) Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.
To me, the most apt analogy for this odd brand of theism is the feature in The Sims 2 that allows you to set a so-called “aspiration” for the Sim you’re creating. Back in the day, the spectrum for quirks and ambitions was still rather narrow, with only six default aspirations to choose from: family, fortune, knowledge, popularity, romance, and power. In childhood a Sim’s life-long aspiration is not yet set in stone, so the only goal those lucky little grasshoppers pursue is to grow up.
This slim set of aspirations serves a very straightforward purpose: depending on a Sim’s outlook, a given experience along the way can be accurately judged as either an accomplishment or failure. Sims who strive for knowledge, for instance, are more eager than others to acquire new skills and rate an alien abduction as a scientific revelation rather than life-long trauma. Sims whose lives are geared toward fortune value a materialistic kind of prosperity. Romantic Sims, unlike their family-oriented counterparts, are more concerned with the quantity of intimate relationships than the quality. And so on. This model may strike you as somewhat reductive, but let me submit that features like this, which celebrate the absurdity of human desire even at the risk of overlooking diversity and nuance, are what’s made The Sims such an intriguing, if unrealistic, franchise.
If I were in a funny mood, I’d say that my aspiration is stuck in “Grow the fuck up” mode, but alas, I started this post because I felt I had to pour my heart out, so I might as well go ahead and do it, since nothing else whatsoever seems to come naturally to me.
Here’s the truth: my place of worship is university, and realizing this is one of the myriad reasons I feel completely inept. As an eligible member of a community that worships knowledge, open-mindedness, and philosophical depth, I’m supposed to be craving intellectual engagement with every fibre of my being; yet I don’t. Or rather, I don’t act on my desire to become smarter, and even if I did, I have too incompetent
a brain to make anything stick.
Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.
I ought to read more, I ought to busy myself with mind-stimulating hobbies, show a devout and equally critical interest in current events coverage, make a qualified choice as to who my favourite philosopher should be, evaluate my own values and opinions every time they’re challenged in discussions… My inadequacy knows no bounds. There’s virtually no barriers to entry when you’re as privileged as I am, and yet I don’t put any of those societal freebies to good use. I have literally no excuse for not already being who I want to be.
It’s easy to object that the point of an aspiration is not instant success but long-term commitment. I can see that. But my problem is not that I’m getting there at too slow a pace; I’m worried that I am and always will be a phony: an easily exposed and desposed-of part of the social apparatus that exists only to assure you that “whatever makes you happy” is good for you, even if self-deception is your sole area of expertise.
If my knowledge aspiration weren’t such an integral part of my identity, I’d probably be able to shrug it off and follow this path of hypocrisy which some of history’s greatest impostors have walked. I’d bottle up all the anger I feel toward myself on a daily basis and channel it into something that can divert my eyes from self-pity. But instead, I’m doing what everybody would expect from a technologically over-saturated millennial: I’m bitching about the whole ordeal on my blog. Because “oversharing” is the only way to put my buzzing mind to rest.
Maybe I can find some consolation in the fact that I’ve always been what a euphemist would call “a late bloomer” (and anybody else calls “a spoiled brat”). When you think about it, it’s a pretty nice, forgiving metaphor. My spring is delayed; it’s not passing me by without my noticing. And to be perfectly frank, that’s an okay way to live your life when you’re seven years old and still prefer to drink your daily dose of milk from a baby bottle; but it’s not such a wise frame of mind for trying to figure out what to do and be for the rest of your life when you’re about to become part of that blessed group so affectionately referred to as “twentysomethings”. As of this month, I’m still missing the “something” that’s required for membership. The day I turn 21 will mark yet another insignificant step towards a summer whose advent I’ll never witness.
Why do we humans always get obsessed with the itches we can’t scratch? Why does a disparity between self-image and self still affect us the same way it affected those who didn’t know better, who weren’t brought up with stories that advocate for the humility and undemanding persistence of a righteous citizen? Well, I guess it’s because there’s no such thing as not worshipping. You can’t cure people of it.
If you want to call me a late bloomer, that’s fine. But I’d rather you cut right to the chase and told me I’m already past my prime. Because the only time I was ever legitimately ~thriving~ was when I had a healthy measure of faith in myself and my creations, which is a time I now look back on with a cringe and open disdain. In my book, self-confidence isn’t something you earn. It’s something you lose, and then long for, and then resolve to fake for the rest of your life.