by Andy Nowicki
I am not stoical by nature, by temperament, or by habit. To my everlasting exasperation, I find that I continue to crave the applause, admiration, and approval of my fellow man. Horrifically enough, I still have hope for the future. I still cross my fingers, hold my breath, and get butterflies in my stomach when I anticipate the possibility of obtaining some manner of temporal success or victory in life. When someone pays me a compliment, I find my inner Sally Field-- "You like me; you really like me!!"-- annoyingly asserting herself. (Yes, the part of me that gushes in such a manner is unquestionably a woman.)
I have long held hardy, unyielding stoicism in the highest regard, but Epictetus I ain't. I talk a good game, and perhaps even project a convincing image, but deep down-- well, not really even that deep down-- I still cannot resign myself to reality with manful resolve. I find myself more often raging against the inevitable than accepting it.
The problem is, of course, that all the hope in the world doesn't turn the inevitable into the evitable. There comes a point when one must simply understand that one's efforts are largely for naught. Acknowledging this fact doesn't mean succumbing to fatalism or giving in to one's enemies; in fact, stoic resolve is ultimately the only sure defense against defeatism. There is even a breath of stoicism in the first statement of the "serenity prayer" invoked in 12-step programs and other contemporary pop-psyche venues: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." If one can be "serene" about one's essential impotence, one can in turn cultivate a cheerfulness in one's everyday efforts to do what is right and to shun what is wrong, meager though such efforts might be in the grand scheme of the cosmos.
No stoic am I; however, I am learning-- slowly but certainly-- to wean myself from my pathetically primal, idiotically adolescent hunger and thirst for popularity and acclaim. It has taken a while, and it will surely take a good while longer, perhaps the rest of my life, to rid myself of this inborn Sally Field-ish proclivity to give a damn, and then some, what others think of me.
I hesitate to universalize my own embarrassing struggle with the need to be "liked," both on Facebook and elsewhere. I will, however, go so far as to say that there is something inherent in our shared human consciousness which pushes us to follow the herd, to court the favor of our peers and the powers-that-be, and otherwise to show ourselves worthy objects of admiration to the world. Yet there is also, I have found (and perhaps you have, too), a liberating, even deliriously intoxicating sense of release and relief that accompanies the conscious decision to forego such approval-seeking pursuits, and instead to fling oneself headlong into sheer, glorious disrepute. There is a delicious delight in ceasing to even try to be attractive or appealing to others, but rather to cutlivate a positive disdain for what the world in its foolishness deems to be "attractiveness"-- to jilt the Zeitgeist and all of its guardians, to hurl defiance into the teeth of all of the principalities and powers of the age, in the haughty manner of a prom queen, yet in the mien of a shabby, smelly, spat-upon, shat-upon outcaste; in short, to uspset the balance of corruption and deceit in this world of naught.
Here in the United States, it is almost Thanksgiving Day, when Americans are asked to count their blessings. This year, I give positive thanks for nothing. That is to say, I am thankful for the blessed void into which the truth-teller can safely and securely tumble, a pit of social ostracism and glorious squalor into which he may disappear, and from which he may spit holy hellfire into the ears of the complacent, the status-hungry, the cowardly, and the conformist.
This nothing will never let us down. Thank God for it! Let us cleave to it, not forsake it; let us openly embrace our disrepute and never settle for less than the glory that accompanies our mission to speak the truth in a truth-forsaken age!
(originally published at Alternative Right, November 2012)