Thanks to my cousin Mike for pointing out this article/commencement speech by the late writer David Foster Wallace. Wallace hits on a few themes in the article, but he’s mostly focused on biological preservation via putting one self first, worship (not just the religious or spiritual kind), and awareness/consciousness. In sum, though, I think Wallace is making a simple point: it’s tough being human. Here’s an excerpt:
Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
Coincidently, I must admit to owning Infinite Jest (bought it used about 5 years ago) but never got through the first couple of pages. I did read through a collection of essays which I thought were quite good, but the aforementioned commencement speech/article in the Wall Street Journal was particularly well done.
Here’s a nice interview with Wallace on Charlie Rose in 1997, I think: