Thought Catalog

Critical Is Sexy

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When I was younger, I rolled with what came my way. I’d drink and hang and eat and consume this and that with all sorts of people, some of whom I loved; some of whom I thought amusing; some of whom I found downright annoying, if not distasteful.

After college, I swore off such things. From then on, I’d lead a highly vetted life. And I’ve been quite successful. I don’t spend time with people I don’t enjoy thoroughly. I don’t go to events that are not absolutely delectable. But, alas, now that I am no longer married, I find myself occasionally dallying with forces and people I’d rather not — that is, if I want to, uh, enjoy female company.

Mind you, I retain my diligence and have a very low tolerance for behavior or events or anything, really, that doesn’t suit me. I can see how old men become curmudgeons. But the other side of this is I can see how old men become wise and blissful: nothing but goodness.

Why settle for less?

Which brings me to my vetting criteria. I like a certain beauty, of course. But I like smart more than beautiful. Which makes no sense as smart isbeautiful. I like funny. Funny is beautiful — and much rarer and hence more beautiful. But, above all, I like critical — not negative; not kvetchy; not whiny: critical.

What is critical? It is a will — a desire — to question everything, to root out one’s own assumptions, to ask if this or that feeling is a feeling worth having, whence it comes, if it should be pursued or not. And I appreciate when this critical eye is aimed at everything — what we call politics, news, films, gender, me, words, life. And even better when its aimed at “us”: what a relationship is and how it can go.

Now, I don’t need or want this to be aggressive. I don’t want someone constantly interrogating me or even interrogating themselves — out loud. And, often, a critique can end with: “Well, I just believe that because I believe it!” Which is a glorious thing. No, what I want is not someone who is afraid to commit to a belief but someone who assumes that critiquing their assumptions is a good thing, a skill worth honing, and is willing to consider the world anew.

Why?

Well, I turn, for a moment, to McLuhan and Foucault. McLuhan argues that we live in what he calls environments — which are very different than what the news and such call the environment. For McLuhan, the environment is the set of invisible assumptions we make, the actions and things and words we use that, in fact, use us: they coerce us, set the limits of what we can say and think and do.

An example he gives is the alphabet, an environment we don’t even know to question. But consider it: each letter is a discrete unit;  to make sense is to move linearly — and to be visually decipherable (as distinct from, say, acoustically). Most people don’t question the alphabet: they’re taught the song at two years old and that’s just how the world goes: A, B, C. But once you do, wowzer, the world brims. Why not acoustic space instead of visual space? Is there a writing that moves in all directions rather than linearly? What was hieroglyphics, anyway?

Foucault writes of discourse. There are words and modes of behavior that are, as Foucault says, “in the true.” Say something outside of this and a) you have to explain yourself ad nauseum, literally; and b) you’re immediately positioned as a pervert, asshole, or lunatic. It’s really a that drives me crazy; b is just part of my life.

It is frustrating and exhausting for me to participate in discussions with quasi-strangers. The discourse that dictates how we talk and what we talk about is so limited and limiting — at best, I find none of it interesting and, at worst, I find it dangerous.  What sorts of things? Well, things like the presidential election; marriage; parenting; movies — pretty much everything.

I just don’t use the same terms so what am I to do?

I can participate on existing terms: “Yeah, Obama let us down but he’s better than the alternative!”  Jesus. I’d rather put a bullet in my head than utter such a thing — not because I have an opinion about Obama but because the very assumptions this utterance enjoys begin from a very different place than I begin.

I can try to change the terms of the discussion: “Well, what do we want from a president? Are these things even possible? What is the role of the government?” But then I’m exhausted and feel like a douchebag — probably because, in that situation, I am one. Such behavior is not socially acceptable.

I’m not saying I know any more than other people. In fact, I know less. I’m just saying that it would be nice if, in general, our collective discourse embraced a certain criticality in which questioning assumptions wasn’t met with so much hostility and, worse, annoyance and befuddlement. Imagine, just for a moment, if you went to a party of strangers and the very way in which people discussed life — love, politics, art — was surprising! And you were invited to have your own strange perspective!

So why do I enjoy — desire — this critical will?

Because it is a will to see the world differently, to shed habit and cliche and engage the world as it emerges, as something to reckon rather than something to be known, mastered, and confirmed.

Because being an individual means being different and being different means seeing the world from your own perspective — and expressing that difference.

Because life is more beautiful and exciting and lively when you don’t know what’s going to happen, when you invite questions not just about the most hallowed truth but about the least likely ones, as well — those truths you didn’t even know were truths you could question.

Oh, to be critical is to be alive, to affirm the flux of life. And what is sexier than that? TC mark

image – Shutterstock
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  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/07/critical-is-sexy/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

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  • michaelwg

    To answer your final question: Boobs.

  • Shannon

    This article is sexy.

  • http://nwairah.tumblr.com Noorah

    Paragraphs 9, 10 and 11 were good.

  • Angeline

    Yes.

    • been

      no.

  • Chris X.

    “It’s really a that drives me crazy; b is just part of my life.” It’s astounding how much people build themselves around not questioning their lives. You’re right–the responses of people who refuse to use critical thinking are so knee-jerk, it’s almost a shot effort explaining yourself. And then they think their brains are working to debate with you when most of the time, it’s really just socialized beliefs telling them A, B, then C.

  • Theo

    Way deeper than a lot of those self-centered texts turned in a way to express some kind of universal idea.you can find on this website.

    Arguably, the first part (until “Why?”) makes you sound somehow arrogant and pompous but the rest of the article is very well written and the underlying questions behind a few sentences are pretty challenging,

    The point you made using McLuhan is implying a lot of things taken from empirism, developped mainly by David Hume and John Locke. If the topic interests you, don’t hesitate to check some of their writings.

    Overall, well done Sir!

  • areluctantparticipant
  • areluctantparticipant

    As I read this it slowly dawned on me that I am going to be you in 5 years, maybe much sooner. Considering that: This is well written and interesting, so that’s cool. You sound terribly lonely though, and so that’s frightening.

  • MihiImago

    Uncanny… Thanks for putting a bit of me into words that most do not understand.

  • me.

    I think I’m in love with you.

  • oheightlemon

    two critical people makes an incredibly dark and unstable relationship. better one critical and the other openminded — capable of understanding what you are saying, but not so easily lost in neurotic thought.

  • http://sugarwords.wordpress.com thesugarray

    Thinking is sexy. I’m glad that the line was drawn between critical and negative. It is so easy to go with what you have heard from several people or a person of respect.
    A lot of times I feel ignorant because I don’t the social ways to talk about stuff. I would piss a lot more people off if they even cared.

  • http://codybrown.name cody brown

    “We want to believe. Young students try to believe in older authors, constituents try to believe in their Congressmen, countries try to believe in their statesmen, but they can’t. Too many voices, too much scattered, illogical, ill-considered criticism. It’s worse in the case of newspapers. Any rich, un-progressive old party with that particularly grasping, acquisitive form of mentality known as a financial genius can own a paper that is the intellectual meat and drink of thousands of tired hurried men, men too involved in the business of modern living to swallow anything but predigested food. For two cents the voter buys his politics, prejudices, and philosophy. A year later there is a new political ring or a change in the paper’s ownership, consequence: more confusion, more contradiction, a sudden inrush of new ideas, their tempering, their distillation, the reaction against them–”

    He paused only to get his breath.

    “And that is why I have sworn not to put pen to paper until my ideas either clarify or depart entirely; I have quite enough sins on my soul without putting dangerous, shallow epigrams into people’s heads; I might cause a poor inoffensive capitalist to have a vulgar liaison with a bomb, or get some innocent little Bolshevik tangled up with machine-gun bullet–”

    – F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • singleexpat

    Critical most definitely IS sexy. I’d never thought to give the adjective of “critical” to what I want in a woman before. However, when a critique ends with “I just believe it because I believe it!” that means that it’s time for the believer to push a step farther. When faced with overwhelming logic or fact, “I just believe!” is intellectually lazy and irresponsible. It requires a brave, intelligent, and open-minded person to actually change one’s belief in response to insurmountable contrary evidence. I’ve never actually seen someone do it. If I met a woman who did, she’d most definitely have a new admirer.

  • http://fatimafindsherwayhome.wordpress.com Fatima

    Reblogged this on In Hope of Being Found.

  • Jen

    Oh yeah, right now everybody agrees they love critical women but when they meet one it’s not always fun. It’s actually very scary to have people question what you believe in and the relationship itself like you mentioned; been there, done that, but I am too much of a cynical person to care about what people can handle. On that note, I think you are all around. Do you want people in general to be more critical of everything or you just want a woman to amuse you by asking a few questions? Am I supposed to know your story? Are you a creep middle-aged man? Are you looking for love or just company? If you are so used to being labeled as an asshole then I doubt it is because you say positive criticism. Is there such a thing as positive criticism? As much as people try to say it in a nice, no one reacts nicely to critics. It seems to me you just slapped some random Foucault ideas, which people read about in a political science class on college, just to make your text look profound. How about you question that? Anyways, I’m sorry if I sound bitter. I’m just trying to convey that even though you think that way, if you really found someone like that, you would not like her.

  • http://twitter.com/spectraspeaks Spectra Speaks (@spectraspeaks)

    My favorite essay of the year.Wow. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Canned rhetoric and PC arguments under the guise of intellectual discussion have boasted normalcy for too long!

  • http://emotionsonedge.wordpress.com emotionsonedge

    Reblogged this on Emotions on Edge and commented:
    “Oh, to be critical is to be alive, to affirm the flux of life. And what is sexier than that?”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/joshua.logan.5268 Joshua Logan

    Aye, you’ve hit it on the head! You are a man after my own heart. I told a friend the just yesterday that all I want is a sweet girl who is scientifically minded. In other words critical. Along the same lines I read recently Bertrand Russel’s essay The Place of Science in a Liberal Education. I wish essays of this sort (yours included) were taught and studied in highschool….

    • iyork

      Josh, we’ll have to have a conversation about the different approaches represented by Bertrand Russel, on the one hand, and the McLuhan and Foucault represent, on the other.

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  • http://destructibles.wordpress.com destructibles

    Another great mistake is to confuse being critical with outright cynicism. It seems that in this era of wearing-hearts-on-sleeves and pride-in-unquestionable faith, the act of doubting itself becomes a social crime. But honestly speaking, meaningful conversations amongst friends (and partners too!) must necessarily revolve around certain ideas, whether in argument or in agreement. And in breaking and rebuilding these ideas, we are exercising criticism in the most companionable way possible! :)

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