I am supposed to be awed by the giant buildings, the vast technology and the massive power of our industry, but I can’t find praise in my soul for them. Most products are barely usable, unreliable, inefficient and inelegant. Our technology can’t go a day without screwing up, crashing, exploding, or otherwise failing. The buildings, unlike their forbears, decay in a matter of decades.
Even more the purposes of individual lives are puny. It is great that some are rich, but with most it is a question of putting the rest of life on hold to get through the education, get a business or career started, and then plug away until it succeeds. It doesn’t speak to a particular elan or exceptional intellect — in fact it rewards the obvious, venal and clever but not intelligent — and leaves a sad discoloration to reality when encountered. “Success” often means dedicating yourself to the crowd, to think as it does, and then at the height of pandering to become mercenary.
There are many respectable professions. Who will scorn the community doctor, the honest lawyer, or the reliable business leader? Even that however in itself is the finding of a slot, the insertion of oneself in it, and then following the indicators to pick the “better” option over the “worse” option. Even some of the giants of industry seem to have succeeded through a lack of imagination and purpose, not from it. It seems they often regretted that later in life and showered money on others as their surrogates, or their hired “meaning” emissaries like artists and other cultural types.
In fact, most of what this life rewards is singularity. Pick something, dedicate to it, keep on it and stay with it for most of your conscious hours, and then good things happen. By that point, you are rounding out middle age into the senior years, and have a fascinating three decades of shufflepuck before heart disease, cancer or dementia carry you off. When you look back on it, what do you see? A role, like a product on a shelf, and a grade. It’s high school all over again.
What is not puny seems to me to be the whole person. For this person, a career is part of the goal, but is beaten back as not a noble expenditure of time but a necessary one. In their greater amount of free time, they conquer their own lack of self-discipline, improve their wisdom and focus, become valued members of the community and lead moral lives. They are not focused on singularity, but on many things being true at once. That’s a balancing act. It does not have the rewards of singularity, which like a vending machine produces an equal and opposite reaction, but it has a reward over all else which is the sense of a full life and time well spent.