In contemporary culture there is a phenomenon known as fake deep. What tends to result in this is that someone fancies themselves to be making some sort of serious statement only what they are saying is not nearly as profound as they think they are. Without naming any names, it is a common affliction of those who model themselves after others they see as having something significant to say but who do not manage to say something authentic or demonstrate self-awareness about their own foibles and flaws. Some people think that to bring art criticism or social issues into art is to make the art itself or the artist somehow deep without any sort of understanding of context or of ways in which the artist themselves may be at odds with their message, and the response to this is usually somewhat savage. Even those who enjoy lighthearted and unpretentious naive art are likely to have a great deal less fondness for something that pretends to be deep and fails at it. While it is no great achievement to meet a very low threshold for ambition and achievement, it is less of an achievement to aim at the deep end and end up in the kiddie pool.
Earlier this evening one of my friends asked if I had any sort of Bible studies that I was doing, and I was admittedly feeling in a rather meta mood. Often I ponder the context of knowledge and how it is transmitted. My reading of the Old Testament leads me to see that for the most part, the faith of ancient Israel was never sustained at a high level of godliness. Periodically there would be revivals where the same ancient truths would be rediscovered and there would be a short-lived period of national repentance that would not last. The end result was that barring those who had direct insight from God, there was not a great deal of depth in the knowledge that most people appeared to have about God’s ways. When we look at the Talmud and its speculations about God’s laws and the interpretations of them, we see this same level of superficiality as the sages of the Talmud demosntrate that they are human and not often particularly godly. This is especially true when we read of a great many laws that work counter to God’s laws in scripture, such as when various rabbis show themselves to be hostile to shepherds and consider them to be dishonest and unworthy of a fair hearing when Jesus Christ and David were both proud to be considered as trustworthy shepherds of their literal or metaphorical flocks.
In this world there are clearly people who are obviously slaves to tradition, who view something as good simply because it is old. There is a feeling of safety in traveling familiar and well-trodden routes. Being someone of a rather conservative temperament, I totally get the appeal of this even if I am also a person who is given to being critical of the traditions I have received. Most of the time, fake deep comes from being aware of others as deep thinkers but cutting oneself off from tradition. Those who are aware that they are part of a tradition that goes back a long time do not consider themselves particularly deep for being influenced by the paths of those that came before them. They know that others were there before and that there is nothing for them to brag about because they possess some sort of knowledge and insight that they recognize came from others. It is only those who are cut off from tradition and cut off from a knowledge of and recognition of the past that think they are doing anything particularly novel. And to those who do know that context and tradition, those who claim to be deep and original are often neither of those, but rather are reinventing the wheel to a less satisfying degree than it was done before. At best such efforts are viewed with patience and benevolence but they are not viewed with a great deal of respect and honor. Even those who come from existing traditions and who deepen and expand those traditions are aware that they are only standing on the shoulders of giants and are not worthy of being given credit as innovators and creators when they are clearly involved in a tradition much larger than themselves alone.
So, how does one cure fake deep? The same way one cures small rain puddles, by bringing them in touch with the larger water system of lakes and rivers and underground water that shows that the puddle is shallow unless it connected as part of a larger water cycle. Isolated, we are fake deep because all of the effort it takes for us to get any depth at all by ourselves pales in comparison to the depth that comes from being part of vibrant and living traditions that go back generation after generation. None of us, no matter how smart, can get much depth without engaging with others who have trod at least somewhat close to the same path that we have trodden. If we find much to differentiate ourselves and much to critique about others, we are at least engaging with them, trying to understand them, and relating to them. On our own, without drawing insight from others, all we have is our own misguided perception of how much smarter we are than everyone else, and that sort of attitude is only going to embarrass us when we are found to not be as deep and as insightful as we fancied ourselves, and worse, as deep and insightful had we been had we been connected to a larger body than remaining isolated in our echo chamber of people who benefit by flattering us and telling us that we are better than we know ourselves to be. If we are really shallow, it is better to know that than to fancy ourselves to be deep when we are not.