June 15, 2008

Enemies In The Mirror

Today's big intellectual stimulation was a thorough dissection of Taxi Driver, the 1973 Robert De Niro - Martin Scorcese movie. De Niro's character, Travis Bickle, is a mass of irreconcilable contradictions, driven past the edge of psychosis by the demons fighting one another in his psyche.

My friend made the point early on in our discussion that everyone is self-contradictory, at least to some extent. All of us, despite our best efforts to focus our lives and our energies and our goals in one direction, sometimes find ourselves working at cross purposes to what we want. That is, I think, something inherent in the condition of being human. The psychiatrist leading our discussion agreed enthusiastically -- everyone is like that; but most of us learn how to keep things under control and keep ourselves more or less focused. And if we didn't, if we might be thought of as obsessive.

It makes me wonder about my own contradictions. Certainly I cannot hope for 100% consistency in all of my writings. I write what I think, and sometimes the way I think about something changes. Maybe not permanently, but based on recent experiences, based on different developments in my life, based on new things I learn or new opinions I hear, I may find my own opinions and preferences changing. I didn't used to like olives. Now I kind of do.

("I didn't used to like olives." That just seems like really bad grammar. But how else should I phrase that idea?)

Now, whatever internal contradictions I might have I can keep under control enough that I don't wind up behaving like De Niro's character did in that movie, but on the other hand, it's hard to say. De Niro's character thought he was behaving in a perfectly reasonable way. And it's in the nature of a self-contradiction to not perceive that one's behavior is truly contradictory.

In some cases, it's easy. I say I want to lose weight, and vow to eat less and exercise more. Then I turn around and have beers and brats with my neighbors instead of even going to a yoga class. I say I want to save money. Then I try and score Green Bay Packers tickets for an already-expensive vacation.

These things may be more on the order of "failures of willpower" than self-contradiction, though. I wonder if I'm also party to more subtle, and more powerful, kinds of self-contradiction.

I think it's almost impossible for someone to make an accurate assessment of oneself that would reveal that kind of thing, at least about something important. It's easy to watch a movie or even observe a friend's behavior and think, "Gee, you want X but you turn around and do everything imaginable to prevent X from happening." A friend of mine really wanted -- wants, still -- to meet a nice guy, fall fantastically in love with him, get married and have kids. But she seems to do everything imaginable to make herself distant from men, to make herself emotionally unavailable to them or to pick men who are emotionally unavailable themselves; to find a minor problem with the man and elevate it to a "deal-breaker;" or something. It's frustrating to see this. It's more frustrating to know that she can't see it herself; to know that if confronted, she would offer elaborate and reasonable-sounding justifications for her behavior.

Maybe we can never really know ourselves if we're behaving like that. How does one even know that one's every reasonable-seeming move really lays the foundations of one's own destruction? Hopefully a friend can point this out before it's too late. Maybe we don't all go to the very edge of the precipice -- and, in the case of Travis Bickel, all the way over before being pulled back from the fall by a bizarre twist of fate -- but surely, there are things within all of us that make us our own worst enemies.


bobvis said...

I didn't like olives. (I assume this isn't what you were trying to say though.)
I used to have no opinion on olives.
At a time, I had no care for olives.
My love of olives had not yet blossomed...
You get the idea!
Just an attempt:

1. Ask what it is that you want. For yourself, your family, society, etc.
2. List all your beliefs. Do any of them contradict any of the things you came up with in #1?
3. List all of your actions. Do any of them contradict anything in #1 or #2?
4. If you come up with any contradictions, consider whether you left out anything that you want. e.g., you want to be able to enjoy the Packers on occasion. If you can't come up with *anything*, consider a neurological explanation or getting psychiatric help if it really bugs you that much. :)

Arnie said...

More importantly, did you score the Packer tickets?

Burt Likko said...

No. Got busy at work today.