I don’t expect that many of you ever read – or remember reading – the two earlier posts in which I quote one of the most insightful, though misleading, phrases I have ever read : “We are all born originals; unfortunately most of us end up as copies”. I recommend that before you pursue your reading of the present post, you read “Think for Yourself” (September 11, 2015) and “Four More Years” (July 25, 2018). You will discover, among other things, the surprising origin of the quotation.
O.K. Whether you read them or not, you might be wondering why I attach such importance to the quotation. We were, indeed, once originals and in one sense still are : no one else ever had our fingerprints. But we share our DNA with lots of others, including chimps. In fact, if we are not born deformed or handicapped, our bodies resemble very closely a full half of the human race. The size of our brain and other physical characteristics differentiate us; the gifts we may have inherited may make us stand out later from the crowd. But by and large we know that we end up the way we are today more because of nurture than nature. From the gitgo, our parents, our environment, our social status, our education, our life-experience made us what we have become. It is difficult to determine how much we personally contributed to, and are responsible for, the final product we are.
You are already asking yourself where I am going with this nombrilistic introspection, these elucubrations of an octogenarian (we have a lot of time between siestas to analyse our past experiences). We may bore family and friends by inflicting interminable accounts of events in our lives that we think are interesting and even significant, which they are too polite to point our they have heard before, and are too kind to say that they remain as unimpressed now as then.
As we approach the end of our life, many of us, sufficiently compos mentis to remember events from the past (usually more vividly those in the distant past) and having filtered out the unpleasant, embarrassing ones we never share and prefer to forget, take pleasure and often even pride in our past accomplishments. The reason is obvious. We need to feel that our lives made sense, that we made our mark, that we made a difference in our family, social and professional environment. We know that others may succumb to despair when they realize how empty their lives have been, how unjust, even egoistically cruel, they were to family members, the failures they have been. We are not of that stripe. At the end of the day – and of our lives, moving forward to the end of our existence – we tend to paint the lily. Having repressed the negative aspects of our life, we are, all things considered, pretty proud of ourselves, forgetting too often how much we owe to those who educated and influenced us, as well as the sheer luck we have had. We may even harbor the illusion that we deserve credit for our originality. We are ready to proclaim, if not sing : “I did it my way”.
I hope I am more honest than that, and that this blog – with its obvious limitations – is recognized as one man’s effort, having profited from others’ example and insight, to share the truth of atheism that he was lucky enough to discover and promote in the latter half of his long life.