In time, there are only possibilities. I mention this as we head into a new year, as a reminder that with every stage of our college careers, and then of our professional lives, there are only opportunities through possibilities.
In retrospect, history appears to us as an inevitable series of events in time, perfectly mapped out as a kind of “this happened because that happened” cause and effect sequence. Just think back to high school history class: World War I happened as a result of the execution of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, or so we would be led to believe. There were, of course, many other factors that contributed to the development of the war, though in history texts it seems “obvious” and “inevitable” that a war would follow his execution.
And while we read this, we reside in a country at war. Was the war in Iraq the only possible response to the Sept. 11 attacks?
Not at all.
We could have focused solely on Afghanistan, or Iran, or even North Korea in our efforts to fight the war on terror. But 50 years from now, it is likely that Iraq will be considered one of those inevitable effects. This is not to say that this was a wrong path (I think it was the right one), but it is to say that it was only a possibility, just like the other options were as well.
Why did you choose to attend St. John’s? Was it the only choice, the only possible college for you to attend? Were there not other schools you considered, or at least other paths you could have taken just as easily?
I bring this to light for several reasons.
For one, we need to recognize that life is filled with, in the words of 20th century poet Wallace Stevens, fictions that we have to choose. Do we support the war? Well, that’s an ideology that one buys into, a chosen option.
Are we against it? Again, a selected fiction.
And after we realize that there are only possibilities, that there are only fictions that we buy into, it is made clear that the truths that run our lives, that determine our behavior, are merely validated fictions or widely accepted opinions. Our truths form from possibilities, just like the war stemmed from a possibility.
We all have our reasons for our opinions. I voice mine every week in this column, as if for some reason my opinion is worthy of being printed in a publication for you to read. But again, it’s just as illegitimate as yours (provided we are equally informed) and both my ideas and the opposite ones are products of ideologies created by, you guessed it, fictions, ideas that we chose to buy into over others.
So, it’s time to choose.
I think we, especially college students, tend to choose our fictions too quickly. This isn’t to say that we should abandon our beliefs. It is only to suggest that we are all made aware that we have no claims to the truth, to a supreme fiction. We are not the truth. We are certainly not divine. After all, all this fiction talk stops when you get to God. He holds the truth over all of us. But again, none of us know that truth yet, and some of us don’t even believe He exists.
So again, for all of us, it’s time to choose a fiction.
There is too much casual banter that goes on when speaking of politics, or opinions in general. A wise man once told me that someone that thinks they know everything is scary. Albert Einstein once said that, “Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Our truths are based on our perceptions, our interpretations of subjective material. All that talk about the denotative you hear in English composition classes is a bunch of bologna. In life, there is only the connotative.
Everything suggests something. Everything is bias. Every so called fact you read out of an encyclopedia or even out of a news story in this very paper has a slant or is the product of an opinion. This isn’t to say that everything we learn is useless, for this is the system we have created. We’re already in this system where we accept biases as truths, so we have to work with what we’ve created.
So next time you hear a story on the war on CNN or hear a “fact” from one of your politically active friends, realize that their idea is not unique. It is a mere product of a fiction. It’s our job to choose carefully.
So again I ask, what is your fiction?