I don’t really know anything

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Paul Smith – The Corsair

Orson Welles once said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” Well, after several semesters spent writing for the Corsair, this is where my story stops. This will be my last ever piece written for this wonderful ol’ rag – and I consider this ending a happy one.

I’ve spent most of my time writing for the Corsair by dishing out opinions on various issues: identifying problems whether political or societal, analyzing the situation, and offering possible solutions. And though this may be the role I’ve played here for some time, I’ve never been totally comfortable with the rigidity such a role demands.

In fact, in my mild-mannered normal life, I don’t at all see myself as one who holds very strong opinions on “matters of consequence,” to quote Saint-Exupéry, for my psychological palette is a malleable one.

And as a result, I have at times felt a bit like a charlatan peddling snake oil from the back of my wagon for two bits a jar.

In these pages it was my job to at times come off as a know-it-all, but my real perspective on life is informed much more by what I don’t know rather than what I do. I consider myself an agnostic about most things, not just religion, but also science, politics, philosophy and pretty much the entire breadth of human knowledge.

When it comes to the big pertinent mysteries of life on this blue rock, I prefer to dwell comfortably in the gray area.

So, if I can leave you with any departing wisdom I have accumulated over the years it will not be pearls of dogmatic truth, but rather a handful of cautious suspicions.

For example, I suspect there is a world external to and independent of my senses. Therefore I have no real use for René Descartes’ postulation that we can never prove our reality is not a dream or merely the product of our imaginations. I have no empirical data to prove such a suspicion, but intuitive common sense leans me in this direction.

However, when it comes to what we as human beings can ascertain about this external world, I suspect the data and ideas we have on the matter are circumscribed by the faculties we possess in order to observe the world. Basically meaning this: I suspect that we can never know what the universe is, but only how our minds perceive the universe (my suspicions agree with Descartes on this one).

I suspect that there is no real logic in assuming the human being is capable of receiving, much less comprehending, the totality of existence, and I also suspect the quicker we abandon such assumptions the better off we will be as a species.

I suspect the ego (or sense of self) is a mental construct we create and represents only a tiny fragment of the mystery of consciousness. I suspect the more we identify wholly with the voice and thoughts in our heads, the closer we get to insanity. I suspect the more we try to place our life story, past troubles, emotional baggage, and habitual thought patterns into a little box our call it our “self,” the further we get from the reality of who we really are.

This is a troublesome suspicion to some, because we live in a culture where it is very en vogue to pretend to know who you are and to be proud of it. Most everyone thinks they are real.

Ram Dass once said, “The game is not about becoming somebody; it’s about becoming nobody.” I suspect he has a point.

I suspect that not only do we not know who we are, but that rejoicing in the mystery of non-identity is perhaps one of the keys to mental liberation. 

I like to view the ego as a repetitive song and dance routine performing for an empty theater, while outside the theater there are rapturous symphony orchestras playing within every molecule of existence… but maybe that’s just me.

And as for all of life’s other great mysteries, my suspicions oscillate somewhere between “I don’t know” and “maybe.”

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “There’s only one rule that I know of….damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

I suspect, as for how we treat our fellow humans, Vonnegut’s rule is about the best we can muster: be kind to each other, let go of judgments, have empathy for all, and ultimately – let us not take ourselves too seriously and try to have a sense of humor along the way.    

So in the end, that’s the best I’ve got: no truths, no opinions, and no real solutions – just a bucket full of half-baked suspicions treading water like a lotus flower in an ocean of uncertainty.

But then again, what do I know? I’m just a charlatan whose story here has ended. So, I bid farewell to The Corsair and to PJC. I’m restocking my wagon with snake oil and hitting the ol’ dusty trail…  C’est la vie.

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