Saturday, November 6, 2010


Self-cognizance is a good thing, though few of us possess it. Actually, none of us possesses it completely. Our subjectivity holds us hostage in a prison of our own making. Before I go further with my inane observations, permit me to give you the context. Last night I went to a popular watering hole, the Flying Saucer, in downtown Columbia with a gaggle of fellow officers to celebrate the fortieth birthday of one of our classmates, Cinncinatus. He’s a good egg with a heart of gold. We had finally secured a booth in the crowded bar. Everyone ordered beer, except me, the seemingly sole non-beer drinker in the world. I ordered a Coke without whiskey and quietly thought about the book I left unread in my hotel room.

A couple of gals from our party, for reasons I know not, invited three blue-collar types from Charleston to sit at our table. They said they wanted to do a good deed by offering them a seat in this crowded place, but I, a shrewd observer of humanity when I want to be, suspect they were expecting these dudes to buy them beers as a gesture of appreciation. One of the out-of-towners, Mike, in his early twenties, sporting glasses and a backwards baseball cap, kept going on and on about different kinds of beers. Turns out he works at a bar in Charleston and has aspirations of becoming a big-shot vender one of these days. “I could sell water to a fish,” he assured us, not that we were asking. His friend Brian, a husky fellow likewise wearing a baseball cap backwards, boasted to the females in our party that he “owned Columbia.” Now, these dudes were not impolite or overt jerks. However, after Mulan and Margarita left to go dancing at a different bar, they couldn’t figure out why they left. $hara rather brazenly suggested a reason: “Maybe because you’ve been talking about yourself this entire time?” I don’t know whether these guys understand her point, but this spectacle of such bravado, albeit not untypical of males at that age, had me ruminating on the aforementioned virtue of self-cognizance or the lack thereof.

The unexamined life is not worth living, right? That’s what Socrates said. Moreover, the oracle at Delphi indicated to him that wisdom consists in the recognition of our own ignorance. To be honest, though, I don’t much stock in a contumacious fat-ass with a big mouth who took smug satisfaction in revealing people’s ignorance only to emphasis his intellect, all the while hanging out in the wrong way with Athenian boys. He didn’t take the hemlock soon enough, as far as I’m concerned! For his two cents, Cinncinatus said he detected Mike's egocentrism based on the fact that while he would ask him questions about his life, he never reciprocated and asked about Cinncinatus. I take his point well, but I have only one caveat. Just because someone doesn’t ask about you in the course of a conversation doesn’t ipso facto mean that he—and I do mean he—is egocentric. For instance, I have on occasion found myself in a conversation with someone I do not want to be in a conversation with. This person is asking me question after question in order to prolong the conversation.  Try as I might, this person isn't picking up on body language, as I arch my shoulder away and face off in the distance.  In this situation I will decidedly not ask a question about him or her, lest I prolong the agony.

Suffice to say, self-cognizance should be our goal. We ought to have a proper sense of our self, even if we know we can never be objective about it. I do believe, though, that some people are more objective than others.  I'm reminded of the metaphor of the shoreline.  Imagine everyone trying to jump from the coast of California to Hawaii.  Nobody's gonna get anywhere close, but some will get slightly further than others.  Let's just all walk in humility.