Sunday, February 10, 2013

Delusions & Successes

The other day I made the following proclamation on Facebook:

"The religious mind cheapens poetry by insisting that it also be literally true; the mountains do not actually hear your cries. Your heart does not tell you who to love. The Sand Man doesn't seduce you to sleep, there are no Gods in heaven, and there is no heaven. Poetry is beautiful because it points to things we cannot describe. It allows us to characterize that which cannot be adequately characterized by plain language. Poetry points to something higher (or lower) without being that higher or lower thing. The lord is truly with us, but that is because the lord is something we have invented."
I believe this statement to be true, but stream of consciousness thinking following the ensuing conversation led me to consider another topic I've been mulling over lately: is a certain degree of delusion necessary for any big success?

Recently my wife and I watched a brief A & E biography on Lenin. According to the narrative it established, no one could have expected him to emerge from the overthrow of the Czar as the leader of a socialist Russia. No one, that is, except for himself. He was regarded as a tool by the Germans, who gleefully shipped him into Russia to help destabilize the new government. He was viewed as an incindiary nut case by the majority of his own marxist party, as well as the opposing marxist party. It was only his own internal, unwavering faith in his own inevitable role as leader of the inevitable revolution that kept him moving.

Another image has been floating around in my mind: a meme that popped up on my tumblr dashboard that I initially saw as only humorous, but began to apply a deeper significance to as time went on. The image shows Kanye West walking past an outdoor diner with his entourage, when someone yells 'No talent!' at him. Kanye responds, 'That doesn't make any sense! I'm Kanye West!'. His response isn't jesting, or self deprecating: it's delivered as a pure, matter-of-fact correction, and it's wonderful. People either love Kanye or hate him, but he has succeeded, and the secret of his success can probably be extracted from that moment.

So, religion cheapens poetry, but is it necessary for some folks on some level? I can tell you, detaching myself from my religious delusions was a painful process, that could have easily ruined me. I believe I am the type of person who has the predisposition for faith; even as an atheist, my first instinct is to instill a lot of significance into dreams, patterns, and coincidences. I still have a strong prayer instinct. There are all kinds of problems with faith-based recovery programs, but many people benefit from them. In these programs, surrender to some kind of higher power is key.

It has been stated by Richard Dawkins and his other horsemen that it is condescending to suggest that oneself may be capable of shedding the vice of faith, but others--presumably 'simpler' folk--may need it. First, many of the religious people I know are far from 'simple'. Many are fare more erudite than myself. But maybe, like me, they are inclined towards faith. Some of them are investing themselves heavily into it, by training to become pastors. The more a person builds on a certain foundation, the less likely they are to abandon it, and the more difficult such an abandonment would be. While another religious characteristic I still possess is the evangelical impulse, I am hesitant to challenge such foundations too thoroughly; partially because it's not really any of my business, and partially because I am beginning to notice the connection between a certain amount of delusion and success.

The world seems to tell those of us with ambition that our ambitions are unrealistic. Foreign looking things scare our essentially conservative nature. We have much more friends and supporters* after we have succeeded than we do before we have succeeded. Therefore to succeed, we need tenacity. We need to believe in ourselves, even if the odds are against us. This kind of faith takes many different forms, but I'm coming to believe it is essential for success.


As soon as I posted this, an alternate thought occurred to me: Maybe I'm wrong. All kinds of examples flowed into my mind supporting the notion that people generally end up doing what they really want to do (I mean *really* want to do). Maybe it's not delusional at all to expect success that you are willing and possessed to work towards. Maybe the real delusion is to give up on your goals because you internalize the belief that you won't succeed if you work towards them.

*and enemies and detractors...before we succeed, the world gives us something worse than enemies: indifferent and apathetic parties who only naysay and condescend.


Lodo Grdzak said...

I think it was your boy Vonnegut who said, "We are what we pretend to be."

Or something along those lines.

Spencer Troxell said...

That's an interesting one to take apart. I'm inclined to believe that we can only pretend to be someone else for so long before the real us comes out.