After I read “Up Simba” I couldn’t help but think back on DFW’s thoughts on freedom in his Kenyon commencement speech.
The crux of the commencement speech is that you have the freedom “to exercise some control over how and what you think.” You can either rely on your brain’s hard-wired default setting: being “hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head,” or you can choose something else. Something more empathetic, compassionate, mature. To not revert to the automatic thoughts you have about a situation or a person, but actually take the time to think, to put yourself “in their shoes.” It’s not easy, that’s for sure. But you have the choice between the two, and that’s for sure also.
In “Up Simba” there is a similar choice to be made. Either we can dismiss McCain as another lying, conniving demagogue or we can believe that he is genuinely trying to inspire a nation to be the best it can be. For the latter DFW makes a strong case, which primarily relies on McCain’s choice to follow POW code as testament to his selflessness. It’s uncertain whether this fact is enough to push voters past their cynicism toward politics. It’s certain, however, that you can choose whether it is enough.
As DFW says in the closing lines of the essay, “whether [McCain’s] truly ‘for real’ now depends less on what is in his heart than on what might be in yours.”