Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dostoevsky Question (on selfishness)...

"If I decide there's a different, less selfish, less lonely point to my life, won't the reason for this decision be my desire to be less lonely, meaning to suffer less overall pain? Can the decision to be less selfish ever be anything other than a selfish decision?"

-- David Foster Wallace from his essay, "Joseph Frank's Dostoevsky".

PS: You can see how FD's art and Kant's Critique of Pure Reason overlap. Like FD, IK tried to resolve the inherent contradictions in the very way we perceive reality - (i.e., if we are necessarily selfish is it morally superior to steer towards unselfishness if you are doing so for selfish reasons?). While FD concluded that a "life lived without moral/spiritual values was not just incomplete but depraved", IK concluded that only in the realm of Pure Reason can pure morality be discovered.


  1. The strange part of the passage from Wallace is his looking at selfishness, or being less selfish as a "decision". I think therein lay the problem. Being selfish may be a temperament or a genetic predisposition. Deciding to be less selfish may be a case of circular reasoning, but deciding may not be a way to get there in any case.

  2. No question that temperment (read dopamine flow?) impacts the way of thinking and maybe injects a depressive "no way out" bias to the question and the conclusion. DFW and FD were both known to cycle down frequently (although in FD's day it was probably not known as cycling. About FD's life: ..."have a beloved daughter who died of pneumonia, penniless, often clinically depressed in the aftermath of tooth rattling grand mal seizures, going through cycles of manic roulette binges and then crushing self hatred" (and those are the bright spots in his life). Nonetheless, there is a moral question here: is selfishness a good thing or a bad thing? My own guess is that in moderation, not so bad. Does the doctor on a medical mission to the third world go there to do good for the third world or because it makes him/her feel good to go? Does it matter? What if such medical missions can be shown through rigorous cost benefit analysis to be an inefficient use of resources - that the money spent could save more lives in other ways? And what to make of the seeming adoration of the docs by the third world people because of their "big hearts"? Are those hearts any bigger than the local school custodian who has never given a dime to charity and has never travelled much at all but who loves his family and worries about his kids and is a really decent, kind, un-sung guy... And what if despite all those mixed weird feelings you still really enjoyed the trip and the adventure and even the bullshit aspects because it was fun. And so why not just have fun (however you want to define it). Which raises the question - what exactly is fun anyway? And if fun is a good thing why not do fun all the time? But maybe you cannot because, say, you have kids and those kids or elderly parents or anyone who you have responsability for who have needs (or as someone said, "until you have kids you are your own kid"). But isn't the reason for doing anything -- "for fun". And, so you do things for fun but what if the thing you do entails by definition non-fun aspects. So is all of life just a self centered cost benefit/ fun/ not fun analysis? And what happens if the non fun parts become (as they did in FD's case) way more than the fun parts? Most people do not simply rebalance the scales and "go for the bullshit gusto". Why not? I think that is what FD tried to figure out in his novels. Imagine soldiers.

  3. I find rational analysis if what fun it, etc. unreal. Fun is. When it happens, you know it. But to ask why don't we have fun all the time is not a real question. Living organisms are dynamic. We are not static, so even if we wanted to we could not do anything all the time. If you have a moment of fun, my advise to to savor it, not wonder if you should be having it all the time.

  4. So that unthinking , unrestrained, boorish guy drinking body shots at the sports bar is having fun because he knows it?

  5. no, because he is just drunk.

  6. We should go into the bumper sticker business...

    "Drinking = stupid and stupid = fun; therefore, drinking is fun."

  7. 12 Step program proposal for rough fractals:

    !. No more DFW, way too morbid, way too serious, way too dead.

    2. Russian authors: no more Dostoyefsky; only Marx and Engels: Groucho, Harpo and David.

    3. No more morbid,ruminating obsessive thoughts, think bluebirds and chipmunks.

    4. No more wrestler comeback or holocaust films. Think Spaceballs, Adam Sandler and Will Farrell.

    5. Think Dumb and Dumber.

    6. Think Don't Worry, Be Happy.

    7. Think Larry David.

    8. Think Sex, Love, Dancing. Kiss your lover twice for no reason.

    9. Get stupid, not smart.

    10. Don't worry about the market, the flu or global warming-kiss a pig and go for a swim- don't worry about the shit in the water.

    11. No more DFW- see #1.

    12. No more DFW for one year, period- no quotes, no videos, no nada. Watch stupid videos everyday- get stupider, don't think so much, you be making us nervous.



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