Vivian Gornick wrote a review of the book “Why Grow Up: Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age,” and hiding in there I found a few great observations, and several golden sentences that beautifully express the great contradiction of human nature: that we are both full of virtue and potential, yet also perennially evil and powerless to do what we know is right. For Christians this is understood in the tension between the image of God and common grace on the one hand set against original sin on the other.
“The desire to submit to the constraints of established authority at the very same time that we long to break loose of them seems to me a fair account of one of the major miseries of the human condition.”
She also talks about the human tendency toward revolution and says that throughout history, “the cycle of submission and rebellion repeats itself, without much permanent progress having been made.” Consistently today’s revolutionary liberator becomes tomorrow’s oppressive tyrant.
Gornick also says, “The catch is that learning to think for oneself is not a given; it is an ideal, one achieved only with immense effort. We resist making the effort as it involves damned hard work.”
“The Hebrew philosopher Hillel urged that we do unto others as we would have others do unto us. Kant urged, similarly, that we not make instrumental use of one another. With all the good will in the world—and remarkable numbers of people have it—we have not been able to make these noble recommendations carry the day. Not because we are lazy or venal or incompetent but because most of us live in a state of inner conflict that makes purity of behavior an impossibility. Every day of our lives we transgress against our own longing to act well: our tempers are ungovernable, our humiliations unforgettable, our fantasies ever present. We cannot stop ourselves from scorning, dismissing, challenging, and discounting. We spend years on the couch struggling to make our reasoning intelligence subdue our impassioned outbursts. When given a recipe for the good life, we want these realities on the ground incorporated in the mix.
“Aside from that of our own permanently conflicted selves, another unchanging reality is that the world as it is has been decried since time immemorial. Throughout history women and men have been writing—letters, diaries, poems, and novels—claiming theirs the worst time ever. While many have been truly horrendous, not one is without some redeeming feature.”