This is water

“Greetings parents and congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story thing turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I’m supposed to talk about your liberal arts education’s meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about “teaching you how to think.” If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I’m going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your scepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here’s another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”

It’s easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy’s interpretation is true and the other guy’s is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person’s most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there’s the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being “well-adjusted”, which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education–least in my own case–is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotised by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.”

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of you graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] — this is an example of how NOT to think, though — most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.

音频文件:

旧的时代已经结束,新的时代还未到来。

一开始是看到这张图片:

宣告

于是去找到了这首诗:

宣 告
——给遇罗克烈士
北岛

也许最后的时刻到了
我没有留下遗嘱
只留下笔,给我的母亲
我并不是英雄
在没有英雄的年代里,
我只想做一个人。
宁静的地平线
分开了生者和死者的行列
我只能选择天空
决不跪在地上
以显出刽子手们的高大
好阻挡自由的风
从星星的弹孔里
将流出血红的黎明

然后找到了这个人:

遇罗克(1942年5月1日-1970年3月5日),男,北京人。1959年从北京市第六十五中学毕业。曾在北京人民机器厂学徒工,后做过代课教师等临时工。曾写《出身论》等围绕出身问题的文章。他以“家庭出身问题研究小组”为笔名,写了六期《中学文革报》的头版文章及其他文章,最著名的是第一期的《出身论》,反响巨大。遇罗克于1968年1月5日被捕,1970年3月5日和另19位政治死刑犯在北京工人体育场的十万人大会上,被宣判死刑并被执行枪决。

和他的文章:

《出身论》针对的是社会上流布极广的封建血统论。遇罗克通过对当时一副著名的对联“老子英雄儿好汉,老子反动儿混蛋”的剖析,指出了血统论的荒谬本质。他尖锐地指出,坚持血统论的人“不晓得人的思想是从实践中产生的,所以他们不是唯物主义者。”《出身论》的出现,在当时的社会上引起了广泛而强烈的反响。很多人争相传抄、议论,很多读者从全国各地写信给遇罗克,表达自己的感动之情。

1967年4月14日,“中央文革”成员戚本禹公然宣布:“《出身论》是大毒草,它恶意歪曲党的阶级路线,挑动出身不好的青年向党进攻。”
1968年1月5日,遇罗克被捕。
1970年3月5日,在北京工人体育场里,在排山倒海的“打倒”声中,27岁的遇罗克被宣判死刑,并立即执行。
1978年冬天,遇罗克的母亲王秋琳找到《光明日报》编辑、记者苏双碧,希望帮助为遇罗克平反。1979年11月21日,北京市中级人民法院宣告遇罗克无罪。


真的觉得,一个时代结束了。而新的时代还未到来。

没能放进去的部分

赵由华睁开眼时,仍觉得昏沉。好像头上缠了一圈铁链,太阳穴上的血管被勒的一跳一跳的。
四下里一片昏黑。只有鸭绒枕头的触感无比真实。中央空调的换气声,床单摩擦的沙沙声过了好一阵子才浮出来。而在这一切之上,是重重的的敲门声。
隔着被子和枕头,那敲门声仍轰轰的砸在他耳朵上。让他觉得自己像是被巨浪抛来抛去的小舟。
他从床上坐起来,在起身开门还是缩回被子之间纠结了一下,才不情不愿的伸出脚,踩在地毯上。
站在门外的是刘颖琪。她身上穿着一件鹅厂的外套,头上是顶红色绒线勾的帽子,更衬得她脸色煞白,眼圈黝黑,兴许是冻惨了。她一边喘气,一边发抖。那样子比她在电影里的扮相生动多了。
“姐,你怎么来了?”赵由华揉着眼睛道。
“你是不是想搞我?”
赵由华只觉得后颈上泛起一溜凉意,嗖嗖的就奔着下边去了。然后他下边那玩意就缩了,几乎缩进肚子里。
“姐,这玩笑不能乱开啊!”
赵由华确实被吓到了。
别看两人姐姐弟弟叫的亲密,可要对刘颖琪出手,他还真没这个胆。
出来之前,芳姐就叮嘱过,千万别有借鸡上位的打算,想都不能想。刘颖琪那是自带三千万粉的流量大咖。之前打过这主意的,都被她的经纪公司按在地上摩擦成渣了。
电影整个宣发跑下来,这姐姐的酒店一直是单独订的。确切地说,是剧组先去问了她订的酒店,再给其他人另外订的。
赵由华还没想这么快告别演艺圈,先拉住门把手,往前挪挪挡住进路,心底已经在盘算该怎样有理有节又不失风度的拒绝。是先给她经纪打电话呢,还是悄没声息把人送回去,真得好好斟酌一下。
然后刘颖琪就一脚把他踹进了门里面。跟着扑上来,骑在他肚子上,两手揪着他浴袍,一副死也要拉上他殉情的神情,大吼着:“说,是不是你搞我?”
赵由华还在庆幸这姐姐来的匆忙,没穿下午首映会上那双恨天高,不然刚才那一脚就要出人命了。听到这没头没脑的追问,只能反问:“姐,你说啥啊?”
刘颖琪举起一手机,按下播放键。赵由华定睛一看,屏幕上一对赤裸裸男女在滚床单。女主角漂亮的不像是拍这种片的,五官像刻出来的,曲线像揉出来的。动作优雅,神情投入,一推一就间闪着致致肉光,更让人挪不开眼睛。话说回来,这女主角有点眼熟啊。
等等,这不是刘颖琪吗?
赵由华从屏幕上拽开眼睛,抬头瞪着刘颖琪。大约是他嘴张的太大了。刘颖琪直接一个嘴巴子就扇了上来。
“再看看,给老娘看清楚了!”
赵由华再埋头去看,刚才光顾着看女主角去了,这一看,他才发现,男主角竟然是赵由华!竟然是他妈赵由华!竟然是他赵由华!
赵由华也顾不得被刘颖琪骑在身上了,只抓着手机把男主角露脸的部分翻来覆去看。一边看,一边骂:“我操,我操,我操!”
“操个屁啊。你还没操够吗?”刘颖琪怒吼道。
门口一声尖叫。刘颖琪回头,一个矮胖女人站在门前,两眼圆睁,双手捂嘴,就差把“我看见了什么!”几个大字写在脸上了。
赵由华从她身下探出头,看见那女人,忙叫了一声:“芳姐!”
“我不是芳姐,我什么都没看见,我没来过。我在睡觉!”芳姐嘭的一声关上门。
刘颖琪一愣,猛然醒悟,对着那道门怒吼道:“李贵芳,你他妈的给我滚进来!”
屋里屋外静了好一阵子,门才打开。芳姐仍在门前,连位置都没变过。
“你自己看!”刘颖琪把手机往她手上一扔,“是你们搞的不?”
芳姐就比赵由华冷静多了。她把视频进度条前后一拖,立刻明白怎么回事,抬头就问:“哪儿来的?”
“狗仔王寄过来的。”
“开什么价?”
刘颖琪愣了:“真不是你们?”
她看看赵由华,再看看芳姐,下意识问:“可除了你们,还能是谁?”
芳姐当即反问道:“我们家的后援团可都是小姑娘,跟你搞在一起,她们还不得粉转黑了?”
刘颖琪面色一红,大约是也想通了这茬,就从赵由华身上起来,冷冷道:“反正我们家威廉已经在跟对方谈了。如果没谈拢,这盆脏水也只能泼在你们头上。到时候别怪我没提醒过。”
赵由华的冷汗刷的就冒出来了:“我操你个狐狸精,你惹出来的事,别他妈带上我!”
刘颖琪一脚踹在他大腿上,转头愤愤出门。
赵由华捂着腿,疼的直哼哼,一转头看见芳姐正像老鹰盯着小鸡一样盯着他。
“芳姐,怎么办啊?”
“小赵,你真没跟那个狐狸精上床?”
“操,”赵由华怒道,“刚才那视频你也看了,我比他长啊!”
芳姐下意识朝他两腿间瞥了一眼,又转开头:“我怎么知道你有多长!”

这是leica中文摄影杂志的一张照片。

2008年5月17日,一名家长在北川地震幸存学生名单中寻找自己的孩子。

3524128260_e3d872903b_o

链接在这里:http://www.leica.org.cn/rest_in_peace_512/

 

这里是英国卫报的图说24小时。每天一次的一系列图片。

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/series/24hoursinpictures

 

也可以通过译言的这个小组查看

http://www.yeeyan.com/groups/show/guardian

 

下图是5月11日系列的第14张图

约旦.安曼:在一个露天国际体育场举行的弥撒上,一个女孩在教皇本笃十六世面前祈祷。

Girlinlight

在看了苦难之后,看到这样的图片。有种异样的宁静感。

虔信自有其意义所在吧。

Drop Box

很有趣的小软件,用于多台电脑间的内容共享很方便。

大概15M左右的安装端。安装后会在你的电脑上生成一个drop box的目录。

所有丢到这个目录里的文件都会自动后台上传到网上的存储中保存起来。当然,你也可以在本机的drop box里直接打开。

当你在其他电脑上登录自己的drop box账户后,保存在网上的内容将被自动后台下载到其他电脑的drop box中。

所以上班时制作,保存的文档、图片,音乐之类乱七八糟的东西可以方便的通过这个软件共享。

申请可以点这里

目前每用户2G空间。通过邀请好友尝试可以获得额外空间。

所以,不要迟疑,点击我提供的链接,注册并登录吧……

再提醒一下,申请可以点这里