No Way of Knowing
“Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that people (including myself) will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I’m bullshitting myself, morally speaking?” – David Foster Wallace
“I don’t know what I am,” the artist said. “I don’t know if I’m a good or bad person. I don’t even know if there’s an objective way of knowing.”
“Have you ever worked in a noxious environment? With noxious people?” his barber asked.
“Yes,” the artist said.
“Or seen malignant families? Malignant family dynamics?”
“Yes,” he repeated.
“Many times, the difference between function and dysfunction are the people that compose the systems,” the barber said. “It might be that simple.”
“As simple as to which you belong. As simple as knowing or feeling that you do or don’t belong. As simple as feeling at ease with function, and such unease with dysfunction that you turn your back.”
“What if I don’t belong to anything, only myself? How am I to judge my own internal function or dysfunction?”
“Well, yes, that doesn’t much solve the problem now, does it?”
“Perhaps I could force myself into what appears to be a functional system, then see how I blend.”
“Ah,” the barber said. “Approach the problem as more the scientist than artist?”
“Yes,” the artist said. “But then I am only an onlooker. I am only the observer and notetaker of flocks and herds, remaining distant to either.”
“Still, you may find they embrace you. Out of a shared kindness and trust. Or, of the other kind of flock, out of a shared appetite for bitterness and spite.”
“It is very confounding,” the artist said. “Any flock is bound to feel and believe in things that I cannot. As an interloper, I will feel like a fraud. I don’t like being a deceiver, either to others or to myself. I would have to live with the anxiety and displeasure of being a deceiver.”
The barber brushed the barber’s neck.
“It is a difficult problem,” he said.
“Perhaps too difficult,” the artist lamented.
“Yes,” the barber said. “But you are looking for a definitive answer when all you may ever find are clues.”