Saturday, January 26, 2019

Putting Down the Flags

[A good friend who quite likes the Jungian-derived Myers-Briggs personality questionnaire (I almost said quiz), wrote me recently about how spot-on he felt our shared (and apparently rare) personality acronyms were – we’re both INFP (can’t recall what the letters in the acronym stand for: there’s a link below, though). He asked me if I thought it was bullshit, which he clearly did not. It broke open a familiar egg which I’ve often spatula-ed into better and worse omelets – and I’ve just come up another one, which inevitably I suppose will be another variation on the theme of whatever my prejudices cause me to hold as ineffable truth. What this does to how tasty my omelet is, Fate only knows. It’s at any rate what I’m apparently thinking now, and I immodestly imagine it may have wider interest than just to my friend and me. I can’t resist broadcasting manifestos – they’re so much fun to write. So here’s another one.]

I think every category of inquiry into the oddness of being human is marvelous for two reasons: the audacity of its premise that it can crucially illuminate human motive and behavior, and its abounding energy aimed at parsing its hypotheses into articulable, persuasive and actionable principles. Everything from the Delphic Oracle to Sigmund Freud to Phrenology to Wilhelm Reich’s orgone energy accumulator ( to the 12 Steps to Esther Hicks ( to my INFP diagnosis (though I tend to change acronyms slightly every time I re-take that Q&A, here’s the rundown on that one: all have various appealing aspects to recommend them (I love listening to Esther Hicks) and at various points in my life some of them have drawn me to them, heart and soul. But when I think of when I was drawn to them it was always at moments of believing (sometimes desperately) that there must after all be a system of self-guidance that I could learn from some wiser source which would help me better to know myself and therefore help me to get what I wanted. The great truth for me at these moments was the clearest truth: I didn’t have what I wanted. I wasn’t whom I thought I should be.
‘Know Thyself’ after all is the great & resonant Socratic admonition. And it seemed to me an incontrovertibly essential mission, if however impossible entirely to carry out. But the promise in that invitation to “know” was my holy grail. It had to be there for the finding, however difficult the search would be. Without it, how could you find meaning in anything? Consciousness was hard work.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. I lost interest in myself. I had plenty of interests - Judy Garland and Henry James being two - but none of those interests was particularly me. I found I don’t very much care how or why I am who I am. (This, after years of caring very intensely about all that.) Suddenly and interestingly, I didn’t see any clawing reason to change who I was. If I gained weight I ate less and I lost it. Nothing seemed urgent. So why would I care about my phobic reaction to hearing people chewing loudly or my erotic fixations on never-you-mind or why I have such an obsessional passion for certain kinds of vocal vibrato? I just do, that’s all.
So I told my friend I do not disavow the plausible findings my INFP diagnosis offers; it just no longer matters to me what or why or how my Guy-ness operates in the world. I’ve got about 25 yrs left on the planet: it’s as if some sort of psychic continental drift has occurred as a product of knowing this – a product of my current biological stage of life. It mutes many anxious wants in me that once were loud and I suppose enlivens other focuses, although I’d be hard-pressed to say what they were – or maybe more to the point, I feel no overweening impulse to confess them. I think a great untruth resides in the 12 step programs’ general espousal of the saying ‘You’re only as sick as your secrets.’ My secrets are treasures, and I encourage me to care for them.

None of this is to pronounce any of these categories of inquiry as virtuous or inane or evil: as William James said (sort of: what follows is a dumb paraphrase), try it out, if it works then keep doing it. If it doesn’t, try something else. I have undergone wonderfully productive years of life under what I believed while I was undergoing them were the sway and influence of 12 step programs and psychoanalysis. Then and now, I had and have my opinions (cf. the ‘secrets’ business above) of each – but they don’t strike me as urgent to express, nor have I any interest in defiling what I perhaps erroneously see as their source. All I know to do is keep my eyes open. And, if possible (as Quentin Crisp said), remain calm.

Many cases can be made for why we change or don’t change, why we think this and not that, why we do what we do or don’t. I’m waving a white flag in front of this human conundrum of motive and behavior. Who knows? What does it really matter? Actually I’ve quit flags altogether, including the white: put them all down. Now I wander as easily into what one or another hypothesis tells me is enemy territory as I do into the sunlit vales of discernment of which they approve. This does not make me “better,” unless it’s better attuned to whatever the morass purporting to be unity in me requires, or rather permits me, with a largely disinterested eye, to think or do. That approach suits me “better.”

And it’s not like I don’t have my premises. Hooeee, do I ever. Here’s one.

We are very much stranger than any one scheme of self-assessment can do enough justice to explain. It is in the nature of the numinous to be preternaturally sneaky, elusive. I find that to be my current take on ‘truth.’ It meets two requirements I suppose I do set for “truth”. It’s hilarious and delicious. Which generally means I want to have more of it.

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