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Why Homo Sapiens Still Can't "Have It All"

July 15, 2013, 2:40 PM
Nyc

"Homer was wrong," wrote Heracleitus of Ephesus. "Homer was wrong in saying: 'Would that strife might perish from among gods and men!' He did not see that he was praying for the destruction of the universe; for for if his prayer were heard, all things would pass away."
-Aldous Huxley 

Human beings are constitutionally incapable of "having it all".

Last summer's Atlantic piece by Anne-Marie Slaughter entitled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" started a national and international conversation about the Catch-22 pressures of being a modern woman. In particular, it highlighted the supposed impossibility of having a high-powered dream job and of being a good mother simultaneously.

I have not walked a mile in any of those shoes, so I will not hazard a comment on whether that is true (though I hasten to note that Slaughter's high-powered job was in a city that is several hundred miles from her home, which makes me doubt her credentials as an analyst of modern career women universally).

Needless to say, there was massive response to the original Atlantic piece, including plenty of dissent. The most interesting of which dissent, to me, is Esquire's recent "Why Men Still Can't Have It all", which is interesting largely in that is is not as reactionary and self-congratulatory as its title suggests.

But we have lost a certain perspective in the conversation about what opportunities woman and men do not have relative to each other. Namely, we have love perspective about what opportunities none of us have. 

None of us can "have it all" because it is inhuman to be satisfied with the status quo. My data for that claim? I have seen each of the following things: A Billionaire waking up to go to work. Somebody cheating on a supermodel. Architects planning to add to the size of New York City's buildings.

To have it all would be to have enough. Can people ever really get enough to be satisfied? 

Tennyson described something uniquely and essentially human when he used the phrase "to seek, to strive, to find, and not to yield." (Emphasis mine.) The most charming characteristic of human beings is that we are never happy with what we have, and can therefore never have "enough".

Anyway, the only thing worse than not having it all would be having it all.

Right? Isn't there something perverse in the desire (much less the expectation) to "have it all."

What is perverse about it? Let's consider Slaughter. It can't be her perfectly noble desire to be successful in her career and also to be a good parent (though I doubt that the popularity of an article about what a taxing pain in the ass to raise they are did Slaughter's kids much good). No, what is perverse about it is that if she, or anyone, really did have it all, that person would be, in a quite horrible and bleak and inhuman way, done.

But humans are never done.

Take a second to really think about what went into building New York City. It is a beautiful and absurd project, and its one that has never finished, and that never will, because no matter how much we have, we still can't "have it all".

More from the Big Idea for Friday, January 10 2014

Work-Life Balance

Debora Spar, the President of Barnard College, takes a fresh look of what is possible and and not for the woman of the 21st century in her new book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Per... Read More…

 

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