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on Prospects and Projection

Potential is a hell of a thing

Jean-Paul Sartre was a real son of a bitch. We all know a guy who is actually really smart and funny and all but whose ego about everything is so toxic you mostly wanna push him into the river. Dude woulda been canceled as hell if heeda been kicking around today (he was the editor of a smartibritches magazine who epically and very publicly feuded with friends and enemies alike) and he’d earn every bit of it for sure. But the catty betch croaked in 1980, so he never got to see the internet. And I think we are all worse off for that.

As big a butt as he was, he is among the most influential and important critics of the modern world we find ourselves in. He said a few things that made a huge impression on me back in the days when such a thing was possible, before my brain was simmered in a brine of booze and drugs and I had the will to give a damn. In his way of thinking, one of the biggest problems we have as people in the world is that we carry around some really messed up ideas about who we are and who others are and what is important and free will and such.

You take a guy like Devin Mesoraco. He was a great baseball player. He was one of the most talented catchers in the history of the Reds. He did things that only a handsworth of other human beings can claim to have done (but not in the gross frat boy David Cameron skullfucking a pig kind of way).

But is there a single one of you reading that paragraph and nodding along uncritically? “I mean, yeah, he was good, but he could never stay healthy. He had that one all-star season that earned him a good contract extension and then every one of his limbs fell off one after the other.” When we think about him and talk about him he isn’t generally thought of as “the catcher that OPS’d nearly .900 and got MVP votes,” though that is undeniably who he is. In the public consciousness (or at least as far as one can say Red Reporter is conscious at all) he is merely “that dude who fell apart” if we are even thinking about him at all these days.

That’s weird isn’t it? We don’t think about what this guy did, we focus on what he didn’t do. So much so that his identity - who he is in the public world - is actually rooted in who he is not.

I don’t know him and can’t speak for him nor do I claim to, but I bet it is difficult to not let that get at you sometimes. I think about all the woulda-coulda conversations he’s had with friends and family or the long nights spent sitting alone weighing dreams unlived. I know I wrestle with my own demons of this stripe and I sincerely hope he is of stout enough emotional and psychological character to healthfully face and overcome such things, in the event.

Lotta projection in this here thing.

This is one of the revelations that Sartre illuminates for me. The human condition in the modern world is novel in that who we are, the very essence of what differentiates us, is subject to forces far beyond our control in so many ways. As increasingly social animals, the perceptions of society can exert increasingly more power on our self-making processes. And now that we aren’t all living in caves or villages and our social lives are exponentially bigger and so much of it is so far beyond our actual control, it gets weird.

But we have free will, right? You are what you make of yourself, right? This contradiction is the spanner in the gears of the modern world: we are humans and we are free to make our own choices about who we are and what we do in the world and we are solely responsible for those choices. But at the same time, we are social animals who need each other and we are bound and restrained by these relationships and obligations and expectations. And these relationships are all abstracted in so many complicated ways that we don’t even really think of them as relationships in the proper sense. I have a relationship with a number of peasant coffee growers in Guatemala but the sum total of it is a series of commodity exchanges (a most impersonal and abusive kind of relationship imvho).

What people think of us matters. Whether or not you care what people think about you, that spectre follows you around in the world. But it’s like Peter Pan’s shadow. You can’t always control what it does or how it looks to other people.

Think about the shortstop and the dork in the lunch room. The shortstop is fit and attractive and has incredible hair and totally threesome frenched with Jaddison and Daffiny. The dork reads actual paper books and subscribes to every PBS Digital Studios show on YouTube. The shortstop is much more popular and highly regarded (or regarded at all for that matter) than the dork, but every teen movie I’ve ever seen leads me to believe that the dork is morally and spiritually a better person than the shortstop.

The way your essential self and your public self can so easily conflict and be so difficult to resolve is literal hell on our poor cavedweller brains. Understanding how all that shit works and what parts are really up to you and what parts aren’t worth wasting psychological energy on is a big deal for me. You know that line about having the strength to change the things you can, the patience to endure the things you can’t, and the wisdom to tell the difference? It has been really useful wisdom for me lately.

Now I look at a guy like Jonny India or Tyler Stephenson and I wonder who they are and who they will be. As prospects, so much of who they are as ballplayers is wrapped up in their potential, what they might be in the future. The most important thing about them (at least as far as the discourse on a baseball bloghole is concerned) is what they aren’t. They could be all-stars, they could be wash outs, but the point is that we rarely focus on the essential humanness of others and instead we think about them and interact with them as if their public selves were their actual selves. That ain’t a baseball point so much but this bloghole is the only one on the internet that lets me write this kind of shit.

My kids are six and three. They are both exceptionally bright. Their raw abilities of comprehension, pattern recognition, and deductive reasoning are 70+ across the board. They have some serious potential. Watching them read books or solve puzzles is like watching Austin Hendricks slug 450-foot homers. What is so remarkable, what really catches your eye, the thing that makes you bug out your eyeballs and catch your breath is your own imagination and has very little at all to do with them. You watch a kid do something like that and it isn’t the feat itself that bewilders you, it’s the thought that “if they can do THIS at this age, just imagine what they might do ... “ And the imagination writes the story from there. And those stories are the ones that seem to stick. But that ain’t really fair to the kid, is it. They got enough goin on they don’t need your expectations following them around like a precocious shadow.