A Pundit Loses His Head
An idea for a movie, a daughter who likes painting, and a crisis of faith.
I have this idea for a movie. It is about a pundit who has views on seemingly everything and can be reliably counted on to produce them on demand. One day, he wakes up and finds that he has lost his ability to do so. At first, the pundit enters into a state of bliss and is struck by the sensation of “having no head.” Where ideas might have once been, there is now just consciousness, and, as it happens, he is conscious of not having to think. This frees him up to do the things he always said he would do but never quite did.
In fact, the pundit had written a book about being happy, which was ostensibly about finding meaning not in work but in family and community. But he was so busy helping others work less that he ended up working more, which was a source of irritation to his family. His family loved him—he was a good man, after all—but they wondered why he spent his life telling strangers how to find meaning when he himself had that meaning right in front of him and didn’t seem to realize it. Or worse, he realized it.
Freed of the burdens of his calling, the pundit now spends several hours a day conversing and playing with his young daughter, who is at the age where she loves, and probably will still remember, the attention that her father is presently devoting to her. She likes to paint. He doesn’t know how to paint, but he likes watching her making a mess of it on the canvas. He is intrigued by the way the colors clash. It reminds him of something. For now, she is uninhibited. She has no one to impress, not even her dad. She has not yet created expectations for herself, and others have not created them for her. These are the last years when she will feel this way.
He is happy. He has found a fixed point and somehow avoided that most human of impulses, what Hobbes called “a general inclination of all mankind.... a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.”
But the pundit, to his distress, finds that this state of affairs is difficult to sustain. His devoted, if long-suffering, wife initially found his renewed focus on family endearing, but she has begun to grow impatient. They had enrolled their daughter in an arts-focused private school that was diverse but not too diverse. Naturally, it was expensive. The pundit funded such luxuries mostly through the exorbitant fees he charged for speaking to sad people. (It never quite occurred to him that if he kept on making sad people happy, there would be less need for his services).
Because he wrote about happiness, he was often asked to speak about anything related to happiness, which, as it turned out, was nearly everything. But that all changed when he woke up that one morning. Where his thoughts, obsessions, and hopes had once been a source of chaos and creativity, on that fateful day, he fell silent. He found that he couldn’t summon any distinct perspective. He no longer cared about “woke” versus “anti-woke. But it wasn’t so much that he didn’t care. It was more that he had lost his grasp of what they even meant in the first place, a fact that dawned on him after watching the new Super Mario Bros. movie with his daughter. He was cutting down on his Twitter habit. But that didn’t prevent him from occasionally sneaking a peek for anthropological purposes.
One of his 1.2 million Twitter followers posed an innocent question: had he liked the movie? He said, yes. He was there with his daughter, after all, and he now felt that that alone would transform even the most mundane act into something that nearly overwhelmed him with feeling. But that’s not what this fan—who had bought all of the pundit’s books at a steep discount at the last remaining used bookstore within a 30-mile radius—was asking. Twitter was divided between two firmly entrenched camps, each egging on the other about whether Nintendo’s bold foray into filmmaking signaled the dawn of a new era.
The pundit tried to recall the key plot points—and largely succeeded—but he was no longer sure if a movie “about a plumber who fights a turtle on behalf of a princess” suggested a stirring return to chivalry and family values or whether it was plea for intersectional solidarity and the kind of volunteer, vigilante justice that could invite a small but significant decrease in funding for the local police department.
Through sheer intellectual force, he tried to come up with a stronger, more definitive “opinion.” It might have been weighed down by that bit of reflexive contrarianism that was always his forte, but at least it would have been something. But it didn’t seem to be working. He didn’t have an opinion, and opinions (apparently) weren’t things that could just be fashioned out of thin air.
The pundit was frustrated. He shut down his Macbook Pro. By now, it was early morning. It happened to be a Saturday, and it had just been snowing, which struck him as unusual in the middle of March. Groggy and uncertain, he took the stairs down from his office to the family room. He saw his daughter. She was sitting there quietly, seemingly deep in thought. She was painting. She smiled at him. And he smiled back.
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*Furiously checking to see if Medhi Hasan has 1.2 mil followers on Twitter*