November 16, 2018

Interlude | Finding Wisdom in Cosmic Cows

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One must still have cows within oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Okay, so maybe that isn’t exactly how the quote goes. Maybe I’m grossly misrepresenting the intentions of good ol’ Friedster. Maybe I’m committing some kind of appalling literary vandalism that’ll get me blacklisted by any PhD program I might one day deign to apply to. Maybe I’m just illiterate, who’s to tell, really?

Alright fine. If you must know, the real quote goes something more like this:

One must still have chaos within oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Sounds a lot prettier, and more profound, doesn’t it?

The thing is though, I’d argue that, while it is certainly important to have chaos within oneself, it is just as important to have cows, if one is ever to give birth to a dancing star.

Hear me out.  

I was born and raised in a rural town in the middle of nowhere, Missouri. It’s the sort of classic Midwestern small town where “hanging out” constitutes loitering (i.e. selling our souls) at the friendly neighborhood Walmart Supercenter or loading up someone’s mom’s SUV and driving in circles on the country roads. Nothing really happens—we go to school, we get pizza at Casey’s, and everything is quiet and soft (the most exciting thing that’s happened in the past decade is that my high school got on national news for being “racist” but that’s a story for another time).

There’s nothing glamorous about living next to a wheat field or having to roll up the hand-crank windows to avoid the smell of manure while driving, but it was (is) home. Living the heartland life was so easy and simple; it never occurred to me that I might ever be able to lose touch with it.

When I first landed at Cornell this fall, I was eager to learn about things that matter, engage in deep philosophical conversations, whatever. We are at an “elite” university after all. Most of us are here to get the best education we can, become people who will have an impact on the world, and I’ll always be grateful for that. Yet, sequestered up on this campus on a hill, constantly surrounded by academia and brilliance, I can’t help but feel like we run the risk of becoming alienated from the vast majority of humanity, the blue collar workers, the farmers, the taxi drivers, the gas station clerks, the people who fry your chicken and scrub your dirty Balch showers. Most people are never going to read The Poetics of Imperialism or The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Representation, and you could argue that that’s the problem. But if you, like me, want to spread stories and improve the quality of real people’s lives, you can’t create a narrative that is only comprehensible to the academically, educationally elite. We can’t build a future for the whole world built only around the life experiences of Ivy League students.

Okay, now back to the cows.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I don’t necessarily mean that we need literal cows within us or that we need to eat more beef (the opposite actually). Neither am I trying to insinuate that people not in the Ivy League are cowlike. Rather, I’m just saying that we need to have an appreciation for the mundane, the ugly and the smelly, the oft overlooked yet undoubtedly genuine human experience. While we continue our search for meaning, for higher purpose, in the stars and the abstract and the top shelves of the Uris stacks, let us also remember all the tiny, boring things that piece together our everyday, and turn to the cows once in a while too. You’d be surprised at the gravitas of a moo.