The Life-Long Project

So I know a lot of you crazy kids with your RSS feeds and Tumblr main page and the hippity-hoppity and bippity-boppity might not have noticed, but we have a new URL here and a snazzy new template, keeping in line with my desire to expand this blog’s focus. But that doesn’t mean we’re abandoning philosophy entirely, and philosophy is what I want to talk about today.*

About a month ago, I and several other past and present NYU Local editors fell into a bout of collective navel gazing on the nature of romantic love. One line from the whole discussion stuck out to me, in Annie’s entry:

With this post-feminist (I suppose?) kind of psyche, a lot of girls my age want relationships, but they also don’t want to seem needy. What results is a lot of cold quasi-relationships, and they forget that maybe there is something to be said, something strong, about a life-long project that isn’t entirely self-centered.

My own thinking and reading on the subject has led me to a stronger thesis: a life-long project focused, in part, on something other than, and larger than yourself is a prerequisite for being a fully developed person.

There are two reasons for this, and only one of them has to do with the expected references to moral necessity. One way in which I suppose you could say I’m sort of Ancient Greek in my thinking is that I do believe that we all share certain communitarian obligations, and an obligation to strive for some form of public virtue (especially in a democratic society).

But there is another argument for this thesis, one which I’ve seen made most eloquently by two people you’ve seen mentioned here a lot before: Simone de Beauvoir and David Foster Wallace. One of Wallace’s greatest insights is, I think, also one of Beauvoir’s: that we must have non-self-absorbed life-long goals not just out of moral necessity, but also personal necessity.

That may seem an obvious point to a lot of people, but I don’t believe in obvious points. There are the things you can argue for, and the the things you can’t. In this case, I think it’s crucial to get the argument out there as much as possible, and so I’m making it a project of mine for the foreseeable future.

(As to why it’s so important to talk about this now, it goes back to what I was talking about in that God Is Dead post: because of the new order I identified, a large chunk of my generation was raised without being given the tools to assemble an internally coherent set of values beyond themselves. Keep that in mind when you read yet another brow-furrowing, lip-pursing boomer’s article about the “Me Generation’s” overweening narcissism. I don’t think these concerns are without merit, but the root causes—the fundamental moral and philosophical failings of prior generations—are usually ignored. And ignored at our peril.)

*I’m consciously avoiding Weigelgate because it’s already been over-commented-on, and my main thing about how this whole debacle is a far greater embarrassment to the Washington Post than Weigel himself has already been pretty well covered elsewhere.

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