Walker Percy Wednesday 152


For us, consciousness of self is no different from consciousness of anything else. A self here is an individual self yet also a self among other selves. C2 selves vary from moment to moment from self-grandiosity to self-refusal, from being the infinite great self in the world to being the worst and the least self—because C2 selves don’t know who they are.* Perhaps your difficulty comes from the sensory mode which you call “seeing.” You “see” things. But can you “see” yourself? Who are you?


They are sentimental, easily moved to tears, and kill each other with equal ease. Uncognitive of their predicament and pre-help. Paranoid mind-set. Two superpowers, ideological combat but not yet a nuclear exchange. They like wars too, pretend not to, but get in trouble during an overly prolonged peace. Right now they are bored to death and spoiling for a fight.


The question is not meaningful. There is no hard evidence that there is such an entity as consciousness, let alone “three types of consciousness.” In the behavioral sciences, we have discovered that we do very well indeed without recognizing such a thing as consciousness; in fact, by so doing, we have avoided the whole can of worms of subjectivity which has plagued psychology for hundreds of years.


Accordingly, you have five crews available from whom you must choose one.
(1) A pair of good-humored and well-qualified astronauts, a man and a woman, who have no religious scruples and no marital or emotional attachments, a Burt Reynolds and a Shirley MacLaine type, each highly skilled technically, each sexually experienced and happily and actively and somewhat casually heterosexual, and who, though not well known to each other, find each other attractive—but who, let us admit it, are a little dumb and know next to nothing of Western civilization, literature, or history, beyond last year’s winner of the Super Bowl and the comparative ratings of Snyder, Carson, and Letterman during the last ratings sweeps.


(2) A pair of lesbians, an inseparable couple, pleasant, fastidious, housekeeping, “married” middle-aged homebodies with a low sex drive and a high toleration for closeness and intimacy. Besides being excellent astronauts, both are highly cultivated. One is by avocation a historian, the other a poet.
(3) A pair of male homosexuals from San Francisco. Strangers to each other before training, promiscuous as chimpanzees, they find each other attractive. Outside their technical proficiency, they have a range of interests; one was active in San Francisco politics, the other a Rhodes Scholar in medieval studies.
(4) A lapsed Catholic, Irish, Midwestern male chauvinist, and a militantly feminist woman. Despite, or perhaps because of, their differences, they get along famously. The male is perhaps the best qualified technically of the lot, his marriage is on the rocks, and he is highly sexed, humorous, and salacious as only a Christian or ex-Christian can be (as horny as a preacher, as the saying goes). The female is a handsome Gloria Steinem-Radcliffe type who subscribes to the NASA view that sexual drives and needs are normal biological properties of the human organism, and is willing to satisfy hers and his on the basis of an equality between the sexes—i.e., it must be understood that she is as free as he to initiate sexual behavior. (Her insistence on this point at the first interview made the male astronaut’s eyes sparkle with anticipation.)
These two were technically the best qualified of the crews, but one thing troubled the NASA project manager. In the standard questionnaire, the male astronaut responded to questions 45, 46, and 47 in the following fashion:
Q.: Do you now or have you ever professed a religion?
A.: Yes. But not now.
Q.: What was it?
A.: Catholic.
Q.: Do you regard sexual intercourse outside marriage as sinful?
A.: Technically, at the most. But in the interests of God and country I will make the sacrifice.”

What bothered NASA was not that he might be compromising his principles—indeed, he seemed gleeful at the prospect—but rather a certain irony and flippancy in his answer. Beware of smart-ass ironical types, warned one of the older astronauts, the last of the line of un-ironical men beginning with John Glenn and Neal Armstrong. The NASA psychologist noted that the irony might conceal a deeply rooted scruple which might surface later in the mission. One thing the mission didn’t need was a guilty astronaut. Imagine an adulterous and penitent Catholic looking for a priest and a confessional on PC3 like a character in a Graham Greene novel.
(5) Two Nobel Laureates, both male and past middle age, who, though just barely competent as astronauts, expressed a willingness in the interests of humanity to masturbate regularly during the ten years of a mission, saving and freezing the ejaculate for the insemination of millions of suitable if intellectually inferior women toward the end of upgrading the human gene pool.
Which crew would you choose? State your reasons.