Tag Archives: fishies

You’re Swimming In It

29 Apr

As you know, we’re out to answer questions of employment and the value of a liberal arts degree. For all the thinking we do on the subject, sometimes it helps to bring in the big guns to help us with these questions. Here’s David Foster Wallace with some prime lines pulled from the “This Is Water” speech he gave at the Kenyon 2005 commencement:

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration.

…And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving… The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

Here’s the condensed version of this speech. It’s good, read the whole thing to understand the title of this post and the title of his speech.

I posit that liberal arts students are good at giving a damn, but I’m not so sure many of us won’t fall into the trap of “comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life” in which we are “dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting.” What do you think? Comments appreciated.