Default settings: avoid and reset with David Foster Wallace.

know thyself‘In the second machine age, the challenge to the human world is mental rather than physical. As the gadgets become more intimate and the scanners more powerful, it is our inner worlds that are being transformed. Perhaps they are even being destroyed. The perpetual connection and distraction of our lives now are the opposite of Stevens’ solitary thinking time or Dickinson’s isolation in her room. Connectivity is replacing creativity on Facebook and Twitter.’

Bryan Appleyard confronts the new reality facing our species. David Foster Wallace, the highly rated American author who was overwhelmed by his depression also tried to confront the more negative consequences of modern connection with technology. He accepts the more desirable aspects that accompany it,

“Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it.”

And goes on to say

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

Wallace was determined to stay as close to his vision of being human as he could, and this involved a deal of confronting the difficult complexities that perplex all of us. How to steer our way through the world and retain a view of humanity that is compassionate left him bereft. It is that willingness to engage with an imperfect world that is the challenge of everyone. What Wallace saw was that a vast portion of mankind refuses to do that, and turns against any view or practise that does not reflect their own. Worse than that, a huge portion of them exploit the greed, ignorance or poverty of others. That view of mankind becomes untenable, and more so when there is recognition of faults within oneself. He was frightened by the default settings that he perceived amongst American culture, and warned against them,

“The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.”

The counter practices to these default settings have been recognised by seers and philosophers across ages and cultures, and include mindfulness and acceptance. They occupy the same emotional and spiritual spaces in our psyches as religion once addressed, and still does. It is a tragedy that he died so young, since he had messages of deep import and was a voice to a generation. Those messages have been handed down by Tolstoy, Einstein, Thoreau, Tagore, but he had the authority of living in the age of now. That is always a powerful hand.

“That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”

Further reading  http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words

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2 thoughts on “Default settings: avoid and reset with David Foster Wallace.

  1. Pamela Baker

    Beautifully written. So often ones gets lost in the daily consciousness of life, that their own being gets lost among the multitudes of what they call progress. We need more people like David Wallace. Thank you for sharing this article, it gives one a lot to think about.

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  2. Dru Farro

    I’m a huge DFW fan precisely because he had such a huge heart. But he also had the courage to face up against everything that threatened to wreck his huge heart. A huge heart doesn’t mean much if it’s just a kind of disguise for one’s willful naïveté or an alibi to calm one’s fear. I never knew him, of course, but I miss him.

    Thanks for a great post and for sharing these quotations and your thoughts.

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