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Forrest Gump and Philosophy: Tradition vs Modernity

How "dumb" can be smarter than "smart" when it comes to the important stuff in life

by LiveReal Agent Thomas, based on a commentary by August Turak

The Oracle of Delphi is supposed to have once said that of all men, Socrates was the wisest.

But according to the story, Socrates himself seemed to be surprised to hear this. He thought he knew nothing.

He thought he knew nothing.

After investigating this quite a bit, he eventually decided that his original opinion was indeed, correct; he really did know nothing. But he also came to discover, however, that to his surprise, the Oracle was correct as well.

He went searching for a man who was wiser than he was, and questioned everyone who stated any kind of claim on wisdom. But what he came to discover, however, was this: although no one seemed to truly know much more than Socrates did, many thought they knew.

Socrates was wiser than other men because he knew nothing, but he knew that; other men, he found, also knew nothing...but they thought they really knew something. Socrates was, at least, aware of his ignorance. Most men, it turned out, were not.

Forrest Gump, the man, starts from a place of humility. He doesn't think he's smarter than everyone else. So he's humble. And so what he constantly says throughout the movie is "Mama used to say..."

"Mama" represents "tradition" - the collective wisdom of humanity down through the ages. Forrest Gump is humble enough to realize that he's not smart enough to re-create the wisdom of the ages in one lifetime, so he's going to accept the wisdom of the ages - he's going to do what he's told to do by the wisdom of the ages, represented by the archetype of his mother.

And as a result of that, he accomplishes what Zen says - "Walk, don't wobble." He just walks in a straight line with his life. He lives according to principles. And then . . . miracles happen for him as a result. He goes to Vietnam and becomes a war hero, he captains a shrimp boat and becomes a millionaire, he meets several U.S. presidents, and so on.

Meanwhile, you've got his girlfriend, Jenny - who rejected him. She represents "modern" mindset.

And she's too smart, too clever, her morality is modern and evolved, she's not going to be bound by all these old traditions and old-fashioned notions about "right" and "wrong" and sexual norms and all that - she's going to finesse life and take all the shortcuts...

- and it's a classic tortoise and hare story. The tortoise - Forrest - just keeps plodding along, and when he comes to a brick wall, he just puts his head through it. Jenny - after going through a lot of hell, to the point of being suicidal - eventually comes back around to realizing that for all his other disadvantages, Forrest was on to something.

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