We're all impostors. That's actually wisdom, not paranoia. We're all wearing masks, identified with our masks. To the degree that we accept and embrace that fact, is the degree that the psychological burden of "maintaining the lie" is relieved. Unfortunately our society doesn't recognize this at all and exploits the "mask identification," so you've got to be skillful about taking your mask off!
A student who read Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning in my composition class several years ago emailed me this link to a recent Atlantic article, which analyzes Frankl's theories in light of a new study.
Last semester I was teaching Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss in my Critical Thinking class. One of the things we learn in the book is that Thailand, disdainful of therapy and self-help books, ranks much higher than America in the Happiness Index.
I deduced that over-thinking and self-obsession, encouraged by therapy and self-help books, diminishes happiness.
But a student, a recovering addict, said something very interesting: While he believed that too many therapists are motivated by money and therefore need to make the patient dependent on their services, he said, in his case, the therapist worked on making my student independent (and he beat his addiction). In other words, "a good therapist works his way out of a job."
In my freshman composition class, we study Elie Wiesel's Night, a memoir about his teenage experience in a concentration camp. Some questions raised are how was God silent in the presence of such suffering and could Wiesel keep his faith.
This theme is also addressed in a book I use to supplement Night, Bart Ehrman's God's Problem. Both writers assert the difficulty in faith in a God who allows senseless suffering. Trying to reconcile God's presumed benevolence and omnipotence in a world of pointless suffering is called theodicy.
I've never been convinced by theodicy arguments. Some people react to failed theodicy arguments with a loss of faith and even though I'm agnostic I see the danger of this because too often the rejection of God or the loss of faith is followed by the pernicious thought that "I am free from all morality. I will just get rich and crap on the rest of the world."
But the wise, religious or secular, know that self-interested altruism is a better life than one of the self-indulgent hedonist. In fact, people with jobs that help others, as we read in Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss, tend to score highest on the Happiness Index.
Hedonism clearly leads to a life of despair and ruin. As ESPN's Colin Cowherd says, the tawdry television show Cribs needs a different title. It should be called "I'll be Broke in Five Years."
Today in my Critical Thinking class, we're going over classification of terms as this relates to pride. I came up with 8 types. I doubt the list is complete, but here it is:
1. Charity pride: You're too proud to accept help or charity even when you're having tough times.
2. Physical pride: We pass the beautiful woman who wears an arrogant, supercilious expression that says, "You're lucky I'm not charging you money to simply look at me, loser."
3. Stubborn pride: You won't back down on a position even though you know you're wrong because you're too proud.
4. Vindication pride: George Costanza hates his girlfriend but he refuses to break up with her because he wants everyone who accuses him of being too immature to be in a relationship to believe otherwise. Of course, his stupidity proves their point.
5. Perfectionist pride: You throw away a chocolate cake you made for your family because it doesn't meet your high standards.
6. No excuses pride: You always deliver top quality product and performance on time and you are never late. Nor do you ever disappoint people because you have pride in your honor and integrity.
7. Indignation pride (adapted from Louis C.K.): These are people who see themselves as victims because they operate on the stupid belief that NOTHING BAD IS SUPPOSED TO EVER HAPPEN TO THEM. Their dinner reservation might be late; their airplane departure might be late; their dry cleaning might not be ready. Whatever it is, they always have the same response: "THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? YOU WILL BE HEARING FROM MY ATTORNEYS!"
8. Intellectual pride: You believe you are intellectually superior to the human race and because you are superior you do not have to comform to the same moral principles as the rest of the world. In fact, your noncomformity, your moral lapses and moral depravity, prove your superiority.
Intellectual pride is always the mask of the emotionally wounded, the people who have a grudge or a chip on their shoulder. They wear their pride as an excuse so they don't have to grow up and have moral accountability and adult responsibilities like the rest of us.
Intellectual pride is a childish position. It is the position of emotional retardation.
Intellectual pride cuts us off from the rest of the human race.
Intellectual pride cuts off our empathy.
Intellectual pride results in solipsism, extreme self-centeredeness, and as such its final destination is insanity.
I teach a famous book to my college students, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a book the argues we are responsible for adopting a courageous attitude in the face of suffering. Frankl posits that suffering is the key to finding meaning and that the primary objective in life is for us to make ourselves “worthy of our suffering.”
Frankl’s argument contradicts the sensibility of another admirable thinker, Bart Ehrman. In God’s Problem, Ehrman, a former Christian and current agnostic, says that a lot of the suffering in this world is meaningless and senseless to the point that it defies any theological formulas or apologetics. His book portrays a deep melancholy as he lays bare the journey of his soul from hopeful believer with firm answers to life’s most deeply felt problems to disillusioned skeptic bereft of easy answers.
Frankl on the other hand suffers the atrocities exacted upon prisoners of the Nazi concentration camps and he relies on his Jewish faith to make meaning of his suffering. When released from the camps, he writes:
At that moment there was very little I knew of myself or of the world—I had but one sentence in mind—always the same: “I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space.”
How long I knelt there and repeated this sentence memory can no longer recall. But I know that on that day, in that hour, my new life started. Step for step I progressed, until I again became a human being.
Wanting to be honest with my students, and myself, I tell them my sensibility at this time of my life is more in line with Ehrman’s, but I aspire to more like Frankl.
The challenge of teaching irony in a composition class is to challenge the students’ preconceptions about Irony
My freshman composition students have to write an extended definition essay of irony beginning with a single-sentence definition.
They know the common, pedestrian meaning: Saying one thing but meaning something else.
But we try to go beyond that to a deeper definition that points to wisdom, namely, the ability to penetrate the superficial appearance of things and to identify contradictions and reversals of expectations. Having a sense of irony makes us wry and gimlet-eyed toward the world and keeps us even keeled.
Here are the 12 types of irony I’ve come up with over the years:
Reversal of expectations: A vegetarian becomes a world-famous butcher. A man hates academia and grows up to become a professor. All romantic comedies are based on this irony. At the film’s beginning they hate each other and will inevitably and helplessly fall in love with one another.
Serendipitous irony: A desirable outcome from an seemingly undesirable situation: You fall into a toilet, you break your fall by reaching into the water, and find a silver dollar.
Self-Deceptive Irony: The more we think we’re rising and succeeding in life, the more we are actually falling as we become crushed under the weight of our own vanity, which blinds us and leaves us vulnerable to failure. The counterpoint is also true: When we think we’re falling in life we’re rising because “falling” often entails the development of humility and fortitude. Another example of self-deceptive irony is the persona from the song "I'm Not in Love" by 10cc. The more he says he's not in love, the more he reveals himself to be helplessly in love.
Pathological irony: A man severs his foot in an attempt to rid the foot of a wart. We can call this the irony of overreaction.
Sarcastic irony: Saying one thing and meaning something contrary to it.
Satanic irony: A greedy man enjoys a long, healthy life while his innocent victims die cruel deaths and their lives are short. This type of irony refutes notions of justice.
Narcissistic Irony: searchers for the self lose their selves while people who don’t think about their selves find their selves. Someone goes into therapy and becomes even crazier. Or the example of Stalingrad in which the selfish die and the helpful live.
Jungian Irony: The more extreme we develop a facet of our personality the more extreme we develop its opposite. The macho man is also becoming more and more of a baby.
Materialistic Irony: You buy an expensive fur coat but the weather is forever hot so you can never wear it. You fight tooth and claw to get rich, your business partner murders you, and your wife and children are left without the provider whose millions are hidden in bank accounts, which the wife cannot access.
Short-sighted irony: You workout to impress a girl but she’s turned off by big muscles. You were looking at what you want, not at what she wants. A woman overdressed and wears too much make-up and men are terrified of her.
Ironic Irony: You try to be ironic because you think it’s cool but you come across as a fake and as a poser.
Corruptive Irony: The more we get our hands dirty in the mess of life, the more pure we become; the more we stay away from the filth, the more contaminated we become by our lack of involvement, which is a form of narcissism.
Michael Shermer on bigquestionsonline explains the "flapdoodle" behind Deepak Chopra's philosophy. Rather funny. In any event, I love the word "flapdoodle" and put it up there with kerfuffle as one of English's funniest words.