I Only Know I’m Crazy

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?

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4 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Doubt, Education, Essays, Hope, Laments, life, Teaching, Thoughts, Writing

4 responses to “I Only Know I’m Crazy

  1. My reply got so long that it turned into a post on my own blog.
    Ball’s in your court.

    I loved your blog post and commented there.

    Part of my purpose here was simply to be provocative. Though I’m still quite confused, I may not be as confused as this post makes me sound. In my heart of hearts, I’m okay with unsettled thinking (I sort of have to be, it being nearly a perpetual state for me) and secretly wonder if we’d be better off if people more frequently questioned their own notions.

  2. MCG

    Life experience and education make certainty impossible.

    I went abroad to Israel because I thought after spending four months immersed in the country, I’d understand its problems better. I didn’t though. I came away with more information but with fewer certainties, fewer answers.

    I enjoy making sweeping generalizations. (See above.) I’ve always loved making a passionate deeply-felt case for one extreme or another. But in the end, I can’t help but think that’s just bad scholarship.

    Humans are order-seekers, even when the order they seek is the perverse, reactive disorder I gravitate toward.

    I’ve been doing some strange writing lately, trying on perspectives that I don’t truly embrace and can’t truly reject. In MFA school they taught me to ignore “write what you know” and write instead about those things you don’t want to talk about. Maybe I’m experimenting. Some things I don’t want to talk about because I really don’t know or because I distrust thinking I know anything. It’s a giant rabbit hole, and I’m not sure it’s worth going down it, but it’s fun.

    I too like sweeping generalizations, including your suggestion we shouldn’t make generalizations. It seems we can’t avoid believing ourselves–we’d be lunatics otherwise–but sometimes it feels as if all thought is circular, every dialectic ends in mirroring, and all propositions begin in desperation.

  3. I’m with you DM. I just haven’t had the wherewithal to speak it so forcefully. Great post.

    Thank you. For the most part, my essays here haven’t caught on well. I’ve gathered good readers, but not many. It’s good to know someone is out there reading.

  4. This is my first visit to your essay site.

    I drive myself crazy with the fact that I’m always either too open to seeing sides or not open enough. I kind of wish I were one of those people who is completely certain all the time. Or one of those people who has the wisdom to never be certain, or at least not openly demonstrate such arrogance. But no, I have to be all of the above. 😦

    I’d like to be all of the above too, but I would satisfy for knowing which I was trying to be at any given moment.

    Then again, maybe we’re meant to be at sea—the deck shifting to train our balance. I so glad you found me. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

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