A Pleasant Sociopath
Part of being Bowen is being philosophical. Deet is no exception, and so last night in Pasadena he expounded on the spiritual ramifications of the journey of self-discovery in Krakauer's story of Chris McCandless. I haven't read the story but my take on this dude was that he was a pleasant sociopath.
We have a number of physical journeys in our contemporary life that substitute for moral journeys. So whenever I hear stories about people who are bound and determined to discover the world and go adventuring in any sort of extreme or 'authentic' way, I am always drawn to the conclusion that it is some part of rejection. It is a trope in the modern West we have seen. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of which of the classics in our literature stands as the best accounting of this impulse although I suspect Rudyard Kipling is close to that mark. Whether it was Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet or Forrest Gump jogging across America or W. Somerset Maugham's character, someone is always searching to live on the razor's edge and thus prove that they are more alive than their slugwort contemporaries. I imagine myself in younger days attracted to that selfsame social rejection, seeking a higher moral order than seems accessible or even possible despite our privileged upbringing. However self-serving, it is a journey better taken than ignored.
The pleasant sociopath is a personal revolutionary. He has the good sense to understand that his reconciliation with society must begin with himself. Sometimes a physical journey can initiate the purification, but it is the idea that isolation in extremity from society is the sine qua non of spiritual purification that gives me a headache. That is why I suggest such an adventurer is sociopathic. There is an implicit cynicism that suggests that this can only be done without assistance. It implies that nobody else has similar desires. Ultimately is is a rejection of one's one social circle which is an admission that one has lived too close to home. Inevitably, those sojourners, having found Truth or Enlightenment or whatever golden epiphany they were chasing returns home to find in the very people he rejected some true measure of humanity. Suddenly, he is more sure of those things he only had a vague sense of propriety about and he becomes in deed the man he thought should have been there in his own youth. In the end, such journeys are about a crisis of faith, not an absence of truth. It would be more noble to resolve one's crisis of faith in community with one's fellows rather than in splendid isolation from them.
For much of my younger days, I lamented the absence of the 'noble arena'. I too, wanted men to be men and women to be women instead of dudes and babes. I have always sensed an imbalance in myself as I strove to exemplify what I desired to see in others. I have always feared becoming completely isolated within society as the last moral man left on earth, doomed to obscurity for following my conscience to spite the ignoble throngs around me. But I have somehow regained my faith in mankind and have found in simple ways and manners the means by which I can believe the best about my neighbors while being prepared for the worst. Perhaps this is a lesson sunk into my head subconsciously from 'A Man for All Seasons', because this is the essence of the Law. Let me find the quote:
"So now you'd give the devil the benefit of law?"
"Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the devil?"
"I'd cut down every law in England to do that."
"Oh, and when the last law was down, and the devil turned on you, where would you hide, Roper, all the laws being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, man's laws not God's, and if you cut them down -- and you're just the man to do it -- do you really think that you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?
"Yes, I'd give the devil the benefit of the law, for my own safety's sake."
In this regard, should we disregard every man and be faithless in our fellows in order to make some journey to perfection, how will we be to them upon our return? We have cut them all down in turning our backs to them.