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I envy you, and I don't.

Ben Folds, talking about the song Underground on his band's 1995 self-titled release, said:

The "Underground" thing is just an observation that if you don't have any friends and you're kind of a geek...there's something you can do about it. You can just put a nose ring in and you have instant friends. It's its own culture. There are rules to the subculture and alternative cultures, and if you abide by them, they'll let you in.1

I envy them because it must be so comforting to have a mental image of everything they embody, a comfortable label to live in like a broken-in sweater. It's one of the attractions of subcultures - a sense of community, an immediate feeling of acceptance. If one is comfortable slotting oneself into a particular mindset, the possibility of hanging out with people they don't need to work at fitting in with is...safe. It's like extended family without the genetics, people connected to them in some obscure and convoluted fashion who like them because they share some wholly random connection. I'm all for that - if I weren't, I wouldn't hang out here.

There's a danger, though. There's nothing scarier than that guy at the bar who, after ten minutes of conversation, makes it abundantly clear that they have only one interest in life.2 Doesn't matter what it is - cars, 18th century pornography, World War II, hell, even noding. No one wants to be that guy.

The danger lies in applying mathematical principles to oneself. Knowing everything about one subject and identifying with that subject does not equate to knowing oneself. Truly knowing oneself in that case would mean also knowing that one's life is a pretty empty thing, but the analysis never seems to stretch quite that far. It doesn't take into account what that knowledge means.

It also seems to me that one of the truly wonderful things about being human is the ability to discover new things about oneself, whether good or bad. Self-revelation is a powerful force, capable of strengthening or redirecting a personality towards new experiences, altering who one fundamentally is with every new piece of acquired information. I feel sorry for those who have themselves figured out down to such a minute detail that nothing comes as a surprise anymore.

It also seems to me that having a personality so rigidly constructed around the total ownership of an identity leaves very little room to change and to grow into something new. Who wants to be the same person at thirty that they were at sixteen? Who wants to be remembered as the Willy Loman of the 21st century?

1. Quote taken from an interview with Georgina Toland. Pop Culture Press #42, 1997.
2. I cribbed this line from an interview on This American Life of Jonathan Morris, the guy behind Gone and Forgotten (http://ape-law.com/GAF/), a website devoted to short-lived and lost comic book heroes and villians. My apologies, but hey, it fit.

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