I think most people ask themselves this from time to time. What if I’d lived in the sixties? What if I’d grown up on the corners of West Baltimore circa 2002? Sometimes it’s not a question, but a wish or fear: wouldn’t want to be that guy. At its best, this kind of identity projection motivates gratitude (“thank God I wasn’t born in a refugee camp”) and empathy (“could’ve happened to me”).
As intuitive as it feels to ask these questions, upon some analysis, they don’t seem to be as meaningful as they initially appear.
I have to disambiguate here. I’m not talking about wondering what it might be like to be, say, Björk or Emma Goldman. There’s nothing particularly troubling about that. I assume there actually is some way that it is like to be Dan Harmond (at least for a given moment, or maybe for an average moment within some time range). There’s nothing odd about wondering what that’s like.
What’s odd is for me to wonder what it’d be like for me to be Larry David (my apologies, but I’m going to keep doing that). After all, when I say “me”, that’s supposed to refer to who I actually am. So, to ask what it’d be like for me to be Rasputin is to ask what it’d be like for William Nava (the person he, in fact, is) to be Rasputin (the person he, in fact, was). But isn’t that silly? Because if William Nava were, say, Ed Wood, he would, among other things, not be William Nava.…