Searching for #lastman, and our need for “voluntary reclusion”

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When I was a teenager I sometimes wondered whether my Polish-American grandfather had ever heard of the Beatles. Somehow I never got up the courage to ask him, probably so as not to embarrass myself when he might answer “Of course, everyone has heard of the Beatles”. But if he had answered in that way, I would have known it was indeed true, because my Grandfather would definitely be the last man to know or care about that kind of thing (he was quite a genius in many other ways).

In a similar vein, in 2014 a friend told me about #lastman, a social media sensation, whereby people join a contest to see who can go the longest without knowing who won the Super Bowl of the current year. Now that is difficult to avoid knowing, even if you have no interest in Football, for many trends are against it. Each year the SB tops the charts as the most viewed, most commented, most advertised event on the planet. To not know the outcome can only mean a couple of things: either one’s sensory powers and/or intelligence is limited by a variety of factors, natural or unnatural, or one has voluntarily determined not to know or care about it so much that efforts are made to avoid “the knowledge”. This latter reason is what #lastman is about. It’s all on one’s honor, and once a person knows the result he/she is out (“death”), and announces this to the others. Without officially joining, I gave it a weak try this year, but only lasted a few seconds, as I heard the last part of the game on a car radio. (I will not tell who won, or who even played, so as to not sabotage anyone still “running”).

“Why would anyone want to do this kind of game?” you might ask. A good question, to be sure, and answers must abound, from fun, to competitive spirit, to personal rebellion, etc. I, however, think that there is a kind of inherent desire for, what might be called “voluntary reclusion”: a determined effort to cut oneself off from the world, either partially or totally, temporarily or definitively. I preach quite a few Catholic retreats, and this is one of the conditions of making a good silent “retreat”(hence the name). There is a desire in each person to know things (thanks, Aristotle), but not necessarily know everything all the time, and in particular what “everyone else” thinks is so important (popular opinion). Call it spirituality, call it selective ignorance, but it’s there. I think as long as a person isn’t obnoxious or pompous about it, “voluntary reclusion” has a place in everyone’s life, even the busiest and most “worldly”. #Lastman is simply an expression of this, in a fun sort of way. Ash Wednesday and Lent, of course, is a religious experience of the same need.

It was a pleasure to be asked about #lastman by the New Yorker’s Reeves Wiedeman recently, and he expects to have an article published on it in a few days. Make sure you check that out, though remember, at this moment, there are still about ten #lastman hopefuls “out there”. Blessings to them and to you!

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