Friday, January 29, 2010

I am an egotistical lover of beauty who hungers for truth and change

Last week I read Stephen Jay Gould's essay, "The Median is not the Message" and in it the author says,
"Heart and head are focal points of one body, one personality,"
By which the author means that one's hope for oneself must also consider the facts about oneself but, the facts about oneself must be respectful of one's unique nature if hope for oneself is to be had.
It is helpful to understand where you fall in the bell curve and you can't be afraid to find out that you might be far from average.

George Orwell gives advice in "Why I Write" that is specific to writing but, could apply to a broader consideration of self-reflection and self-acceptance he says;

". . . there are four great motives for writing . . . they exist
in different degrees in every writer . . .

  1. Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc. etc. It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one . . . Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose on the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not be missed . . .
  3. Historical Impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
  4. Political Purpose - using the word 'political' in the widest sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people's idea of the kind of society that should strive after."
They all make sense to me and they are all hard to admit.
I like to make arguments that express my personal sense of who I am in the world. I feel more hopeful when I do. To sum Orwell, I am an egotistical lover of beauty who hungers for truth and change.

Gould wrote his essay when he was diagnosed in 1982 with abdominal mesothelioma, a rare and very deadly form of cancer, which technically speaking offered him, a "median mortality of eight months" to live. He took the time to understand who he was relative to the average and lived for 12 years.

His quote above is the resolution of the conflict between "what is" versus "what's possible" and, he postulates, a death sentence is only accurate if a person fails to appreciate, with head and heart, the unique variations s/he carries within. He concludes with sage advice,
"It has become, in my view, a bit too trendy to regard the acceptance of death as something tantamount to intrinsic dignity. Of course I agree with the preacher of Ecclesiastes that there is a time to love and a time to die - and when my skein runs out I hope to face the end calmly and in my own way. For most situations, however, I prefer the more martial view that death is the ultimate enemy - and I find nothing reproachable in those who rage mightily against the dying of the light."
Makes sense to me.


kateherself said...

You always give me lots of things to think about. I too am an egotistical lover of beauty who hungers for truth and change. Also, the Secretary of Grrl Power.

Chuck O'Connor said...

And as Secretary of Grrrl (I prefer the European spelling with three r's) you help me kick out the jams. Sorry I didn't call last night. Will do so today.

Barb said...

I find nothing reproachable in those who rage mightily against the dying of the light."

I can agree with that.

Jesus is the light who came into the darkness --and the darkness received him not.

John 1: 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.[b] 10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent,[c] nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,[d] who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Isaiah 5:20-21 Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight.

"BUT if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

This is the message of light to the world --and it does concern preparing to die --and living righteously in the meantime.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Thanks Barb,

But I don't think Gould meant what you mean.

Barb said...

Yes, I realize Gould's meaning is different.

After all, Jesus also said that Satan would appear to us as an angel of light....

Gandolf said...

"After all, Jesus also said that Satan would appear to us as an angel of light"

Might have meant the christian bible, sounds quite possible.

Maybe Jesus was actually a very wise man.Thanks for explaining that Barb.

Chuck O'Connor said...


I don't understand your second point. Are you saying that the application of statistical methods is "satanic"? Please clarify.

That said...

Interesting intersection of religion and statistics.

I have heard it said about both, the bible and statistics, that they are most often used as a drunk would use a lamp post - for support rather than illumination.