This is truth, this is freedom, “This is Water”

Did you know/care that yesterday was Constitution Day? In the Wegmann home, we did, as we are both graduates of Hillsdale College, and that fine institution instilled in us some pretty fierce Constitution love. Am I saying that the Constitution is perfect? Yes Pretty close. What I am saying is that I am in awe of the eloquent and masterful document crafted by a few devoted men that has managed to (mostly) peacefully govern a nation for several hundred years.  Yes, it has been amended — by a process that it itself set in place for this event. Everytime we peacefully transition to a new leader, the Constitution wins a victory that many other countries have bled in their streets. As my friend Jenny once said, “Yes, times have changed, but human nature hasn’t changed, and the Constutution shows an understanding of human nature.”

It established a nation that believed in Freedom, above all else. Unfortunately, my heart breaks at what we have done with the idea of being free. It used to be that freedom was a governing principal that inspired us to protect those less-able, build our lives as we saw fit, and speak our hearts in safety. Now I see freedom being used as the excuse to live without limits, without consequences, without apologies. We think that choice is always best, in every sense, to every extreme, forgetting that choices have consequences. This is hedonism, in its purest form. To quote my most famous Camus play Les Justes, “I cannot let you say that everything is allowed. Thousands before us died so that we might know that everything is not permissible.”

But I don’t really want a political debate, here, on the internet. What I want is to share with you some truth I heard over the weekend. James and I listened to David Foster Wallace’s  2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College this past weekend, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I had to share my favorite part. I encourage you to listen to the entire speech here (and part 2 here ), or read the whole thing (though you really should hear him give it) here.

 “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 worshipping. 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 YHWH 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 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 grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, 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. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re 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 in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and 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 tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre 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 talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. 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, 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.”

-David Foster Wallace, “This is Water”

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6 Responses to This is truth, this is freedom, “This is Water”

  1. Martha Tanner says:

    Very interesting, Hannah! You’re a good writer and a good thinker! I will be pondering freedom all day. 🙂

  2. asilvercord says:

    “Skull-sized kingdoms”…I wish I had written that! Great post, Hannah

  3. bkjergaard says:

    Whenever people ask why I went to a liberal arts school I always want to refer them to this address. Helps me get through the ick of adulthood all the time!

  4. bkjergaard says:

    Also, I spaces Constitution Day. I should probably have my diploma revoked.

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