Sunday, September 07, 2008

No, Rousseau, No

A friend loaned me the movie Into the Wild recently. I found it to be trite, typical romanticist nature worship, with a thoroughly unlikable protagonist - a spoiled college kid who thinks his parents are just, like, so shallow and materialistic, man, so he runs off on a two-year journey to the Alaskan wilderness where he starves to death, but not before arriving at the stunning conclusion that there's nothing particularly moral or impressive about living a narcissistic life removed from all human contact. Most of us manage to figure that out without leaving our family to agonize for years over our well-being, until they finally get news of the discovery of our corpse, but apparently I was supposed to be impressed by his determination to find authenticity. I was more struck by the way he didn't bother to tell his younger, adoring sister goodbye, nor contact her during his absence. In fact, several wiser people throughout the film attempt to make themselves available to him, but his head is too full of idealistic clichés (and too far up his own ass) to take notice.

In light of the fact that the above review is so inexplicably positive, I thought I'd dig up one written more than a hundred years before McCandless ever picked up a Jack London novel, but which nonetheless is far more penetrating:



You want to live “according to nature”? Oh you noble Stoics, what deceptive words these are! Imagine a being like nature, wasteful beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without purpose and consideration, without mercy and fairness, fertile and desolate and uncertain at the same time; imagine indifference itself as a power—how could you live according to this indifference? Living—is that not precisely wanting to be other than this nature? Is not living estimating, preferring, being unjust, being limited, wanting to be different? And supposing your imperative “live according to nature” meant at bottom as much as “live according to life”—how could you not do that? Why make a principle of what you yourselves are and must be?— In truth, the matter is altogether different: while you pretend rapturously to read the canon of your law in nature, you want something opposite, you strange actors and self-deceivers! Your pride wants to impose and incorporate your morality, your ideal onto nature, even onto nature, you demand that it be nature “according to the Stoa,” and you would like all existence to exist only after your own image—as an immense eternal glorification and universalization of Stoicism!