Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sorry, I Have To Call Bullshit

Here's where I shit on something apparently wholesome, but I'll explain why I must. You may have heard of the phenomenon ("muhnahmunnah"?) of Randy Pausch, the Carnegie-Mellon computer science professor who has pancreatic cancer and is expected to die any time. When he found out, he decided to give a "Last Lecture" about what he wanted to say/share about his life/views/etc. That has apparently really taken off and is now one of those cliché idiotic "who moved my cheese" groupthink movements that seem to exist just to piss me off.

Now, keep up with me here- I'm sad this 47 year old father of 3 is going to go away, but that's not the story. The story is this Lecture business. I've seen the deal, and I have gripes. In no particular order:

* Arrogant to the end. A lecture. This is the pollution that organized education allows into the mind. That a big room filled with people listening attentively is the way to inspire learning or enlightenment. The Dalai Lama is coming to town, and while he interests me, I'm loathe to go pack myself in somewhere with a bunch of people and not be able to interact or ask questions. Ironic that someone discussing matters of living and dying would choose such a lifeless approach. The best and most significant impressions we make on people, we do directly. This guy and the Dalai Lama will not be listening or reacting. Have these learned folks never heard of Aristotle's Lyceum? Peripatetics? Buehler?

* His flavor of optimism. Yes, there is no doubting that there is a valuable message here- that it is indeed amazing what you can accomplish if you are determined enough to make the effort. I hope that in some backhanded manner I'm able to impart to my babies the gravity of this message. It takes too long in life to realize this, (at least it did in my case) and by the time it's sunk in and registered, so many opportunities have gone by. I'm in total accord with him this far. Here's where I take issue: he has this goofy "dreams will come true" mantra and disposition that grates on a pragmatist such as myself. Do I believe the world is fucked up, and getting worse? For the most part, yes. Do I take that as a reason to give up trying to make things better? No. MLK had a "dream" and it was poetic and beautiful. Did he get to see it? Will my children? No. It's still well beyond our reach, but it's just as worthwhile as it was 40 years ago, and is not diminished even a little bit by not being something that we can realize in this lifetime. His pedantic language about dreams coming true is made for Disney, not the real world, and the dreams of the real world are the ones I treasure.

* Ego trip, party of one. I'm ego-centric and then some, so I'm tuned in to this sort of character flaw. What the fuck does this well-to-do, middle-aged white man know that could mean shit to a poor black kid in Flint, Michigan? "Oh, keep dreaming and bust your ass little fellah, and one day you might not get shot." There are no allowances made in the spirit of "your mileage may vary". The world offers no equity and for some, it's a miserable and pointless slog. I don't point this out to contradict the idea that it is amazing what we can accomplish- I bring this up to help set the scale for what accomplishment is.

* Sadness and happiness are two sides of the same coin. Eventually he (as all of us) will die, and that's how it goes. It's good that he's not living to die, and I credit him for that, but I suspect he may be taking that too far. It's okay to be sad. When did we all decide it wasn't? I don't need anti-depressants, and I bet neither do you. Sometime something is going to really break you down, and you'll be sad. That's a natural part of living, and it inspires a lot of amazing things. Like Rock music? Great, it came out of Blues. You know why they call them Blues? Yeah. It's not my place to tell anyone how to live or how to die, but if I were certain I was due to go soon, I think I'd accept some sadness- more that this guy appears to, for sure. Sadness means something, and to deny sadness is to rob something of it's meaning.

A number of years ago I had some serious troubles with my heart (not cured, but better managed now, thank you) and I was forced to consider what my own mortality meant to me. In the end and selfish as I am, it wasn't for me that I wanted to keep on living- it was for my children. I love my wife and kids dearly, and treasure the time I get to be silly with them, but that's not the same thing. I'm indebted to my kids to try and provide to them what little wisdom I've collected and give them the best start in their lives that I can. I need to try and spark their minds and ignite their free thought and potential. If I was to be told that I had six months to live, I'm sorry gang, but you and the Dalai Lama wouldn't be invited to my "lecture". I'd be with my kids.

I hope Pausch's kids get enough time with him, and yes- his mileage may vary.



Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

Yeah. I don't have anything more eloquent or profound to say than that, really. You're on it, 100%

12:16 PM  
Blogger Scott from Oregon said...

Coincidentally, ABC had a special on this guy tonight.

Having watched this guy in action, describing how he and his beautiful wife huddled in bed for three days crying when they got the diagnosis delivered to them, I gotta call bullshit on your bullshit.

He said the same thing you said. His kids- not being able to catch them as he sends them over the cliff by his death, is his biggest pain that haunts him....

11:24 PM  
Blogger Stucco said...

Scott- You'll notice that this human attribute somehow gets left out of the "Lecture". I maintain my call of bullshit, although it's nice to see he is in fact, human.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Scott from Oregon said...

I've only seen snippets of the lecture, but I gather he gave a lecture that went viral, in which he said he intends to spend his dying days as happy and positive as possible?

My sister starts chemo in a month. I would hope she takes his message to heart and does the same...

7:35 PM  
Blogger nic said...

on a totally different note, I am reminded of what my friend said about professors:

for a good majority of them, a lecture is just mental masturbation.

Thought you'd like that. I don't know if he was quoting someone else, but whatever.

also, love the john cleese pic as upperclass twit of the year. One of my favorite MP sketches.

muhnamuhna. ;)

11:23 AM  

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