By about the age of twelve, I had become extremely proud of my mastery of sarcasm. Through my teen years, irony protected me from people that didn’t appreciate my intellect.
In my early twenties, I read David Foster Wallace’s essay about how televisual culture co-opts any criticism leveled against it with ironic self-reference, and I recognized the tactic. And I was moved by his idea that earnest feeling and unselfconscious truth-telling could be more constructive.
Not long after, I read some of Bucky Fuller’s books and interviews and again encountered the idea that naiveté and integrity could unlock growth and positive development in ways that irony and sarcasm could only close off and guard against.
I’m still pretty bad at this stuff. Sometimes, I’m still a little boy who needs to prove he’s special with displays of caustic wit.
But I’m learning to be stupid and ignorant.
It takes balls, because I can’t hide behind irony. There’s no way to brush it off when I screw up.
I can’t say it makes me a better person or that it’s going to result in amazing innovations that change the world. But it’s honest, and it gives me the freedom to learn from and explore life more fully.
That’s what happens when you don’t have to be smart anymore.