I don’t know who said insanity is “doing the same thing and expecting a different result,” but, by that definition, I am hopelessly insane. There’s so much I’d like to accept and cannot, so much I’d like not to believe and do.
My students have healthier minds—they undermine premises and find good reasons for rejecting theories and philosophies. They deny Marx because he predicted the wrong future and cast Thoreau out for being unrealistic and anachronistic. They know what’s interesting but wrong and what’s flawed but right. For them, capitalism has problems, but no other economic system can surpass it… case closed. For me, we might do better.
I wish I excelled at slamming doors, rebuffing thinkers, discounting and discrediting, overcoming reservations to accept ideas wholeheartedly. People like that move on. They know what they think. They have convictions and the strength of those convictions. They’re admired.
I’m adrift. “Sure,” I say, “Marx and Thoreau (and Confucius and Jackson Pollock and Freud, and a host of other famously suspect people) aren’t entirely right, but….”
It’s always “But…” with me.
Maybe it’s that shadowy gap between “ought” and “is.” How can I concede the right or wrong answer and yet not accept it? Why do I still want the answer to be something else? When the genie is out of the bottle or circumstances have brought us to here, I’m still pulling the stopper again or twisting my head back like Lot’s wife. I can’t reach a conclusion. If you say, “That’s the way it is,” I’m going to ask, “Really?”
I hate the words, “Give it a rest” and “Enough already.”
Debates should settle things but make me terribly unsettled. I stop trying to win and begin sabotaging every argument including my own. Jane Addams said all arguments are finally emotional, not intellectual, and I see that particularly clearly when I’m losing. I begin to see the actual truth—I don’t care about being right, only feeling right. And my emotional desire leads to desperate delusions, baffling naiveté, stupid idealism.
Even now, you hear my secret pride. I say I’d like more confidence, but I somehow can’t accept certitude is a good idea. I wonder why everyone isn’t like me, always reopening cases and exhuming the dead. I keep quoting Yeats, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” What’s wrong with being perpetually confused about what’s what? What’s wrong with doing the same thing and expecting a different result? Who is really insane here?