Man Alive elucidates the ontology of human social relationships, but it’s dense, tough sledding. Appended below is a easier-reading summary of some of these ideas. I wrote this as a speech for my Toastmaster’s Club in August of 2001. In the blog.world, I’ll throw out details about our lives, but that’s really just so much plastic fruit, local color. This is the world that I live in, the world I wish everyone lived in… –GSS
Shyly’s delight: Manifesting the secondary consequences of splendor.I have a Labrador mutt named Shyly. She’s about three years old, but because she’s a Lab, she’ll always be a puppy. Always busy, always involved, always eager to be right in the middle of everything.
Shyly is the world’s greatest master at expressing delight. She has a fairly limited emotional range — sadness, boredom, territoriality and contentment. But at expressing delight, Shyly is unequaled. When I come home, even if I’ve only been away for two minutes, Shyly races back and forth through the house, her every muscle rippling with undiluted delight.
It’s an amazing thing to watch, funny and charming and sweet. Shyly’s joy is clean and whole and pure and perfect. Uncontaminated by memories of past pain. Unfiltered by guilt or shame or doubt or self-loathing. Untainted by envy or anger or malice. Unaffected by affectation. Shyly’s delight is impossible to doubt, and the day she fails to express it will be the day she has scampered off this mortal coil.
“What,” you may ask, “does this have to do with me?”
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “god is dead.” By this he did not mean that there had once been an omnipotent universe creator but that he had since expired. What he meant was that the manifestations of modernity had rendered religion unable to provide significant moral guidance to educated people. Unexpurgated religion had become inoperative as a moral lodestone.
This is actually non-controversial. When we make reasoned arguments about what one ought and ought not do, we do so by reference to philosophy or psychology or practical consequences, not to religion. Even members of the clergy do things this way, precisely because it is not possible to motivate educated people to take certain actions and refrain from taking others with promises of heaven and threats of hell. Received knowledge is no longer well-received.
I have a problem with this, actually. Reason is a much better guide to rectitude than is divination, surely. But half a truth can be worse than a lie.
I think god is not dead.
I think god has never yet even been discovered.
I know god. I have an on-going experience of god. I live in a state of the most devout, most enthralling worship of the one true god of human existence, the god humanity has always yearned to know and yet has never found. In the best and most perfect minutes of my day, in the cleanest and purest and most exquisitely splendorous days of my life, I am one with my god…
This is a fact: You are alone. This is the horrifying Existentialist wail, “The Scream,” the badge of honor of those who rationalize their lack of honor. But their despair and ennui notwithstanding, human beings are organisms, and all organisms are discrete, separate, unattached, unconnected. This is true of an amoeba and of my dog Shyly and of you. What is unique about you, compared to Shyly, is that you have a reasoning, recollecting mind, and therefore you can discover and acknowledge that you are alone.
Here is another fact: The “you” that is the real you is invisible to me. Shyly is who she is, and she can’t hide who she is. She can’t conceive of disguising who she is because she can’t conceive that she is. She just is.
You, by contrast, exist most fundamentally as you only within the silence and solitude of your mind. You have a body and I can see it. You do things and I can observe them. But I can only observe you doing those things that you choose to do in my presence. I can know you only by what you make manifest, reveal in your actions. Anything that you might choose to conceal or withhold is unknowable to me.
The you that is you most fundamentally — your soul, your spirit, your self, your ego — is never evident to anyone but you, by your own introspective consciousness.
Moreover, the actions and behaviors that you do make manifest — these are never more than secondary consequences of your life.
Every action that you take in your life is first taken by your ego upon your ego.
Not only are you alone with yourself, the sine qua non relationship of your life is with yourself. With your self, with the you that is the essential you, which only you can see, only you can know, and only you can act upon.
You are all there is to your life. The universe is everything there is, but the universe of your experience starts at your skin and goes inward. The actions you bring to the world outside of you are secondary consequences, and all of the events that happen outside of you are only as significant as you make them. By your choices, inside your mind.
Clouds don’t darken my mood. I darken my mood, then blame it on the clouds. Shyly’s delight doesn’t cause mine.
Do you want to see god? Close your eyes. Imagine yourself clean and whole and pure and perfect. Imagine yourself completed, burnished, glowing in exaltation.
Do you want to worship the god who is clean and whole and pure and perfect? Then be it. Be that god.
My Shylygirl can do things that are wrong, but she can never do evil, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because evil is taking an action that you know in advance is wrong. I’ll say that again: Evil is taking an action that you know in advance is wrong.
But I’m not here to threaten you with hell but rather to bring you the promise of heaven. So I’ll give you the complementary definition of rectitude: Rectitude is doing everything you know to be right.
In every choice you make, in every action you take, in each of your thoughts and in each of your deeds, you are acting upon your self. By your attitudes and your habits of mind and your internal and external behaviors, you are acting either to complete and burnish and exalt your ego — or to dismantle and deface and destroy it.
This is an inescapable ontological fact. This is what it means essentially to have a reasoning, recollecting mind. Skyscrapers and symphonies, on the one hand, and squalor and slaughter, on the other — these are secondary consequences. Every action in every human life is first taken by the ego upon the ego.
So do you want to worship your god, the only god who can exist in the universe of your experience? Then be that god. Behave always, constantly, in such a way that you will have earned and deserved your own self-adoration. Act always to complete your self and never to dismantle it, always to burnish it and never to deface it, always to exalt your ego and your body and your mind and your life — never to destroy it.
You’ll have to do this by yourself. The world outside your mind is at war with these kinds of ideas. Your pain, your guilt, your shame, your doubt, your self-loathing, your envy, your anger, your malice — these are the attributes of your character the world loves to see you manifest. These it will support and rationalize and subsidize. But to argue that self-destruction is not a worthy use of the precious gift of human life, to argue instead that the purpose of human life is to love one’s own self and to be a self worthy of one’s own unlimited adoration and devotion — merely to utter these words is held to be the worst kind of heresy.
And don’t be fooled into following false flags. Self-worship does not imply the abuse of others. This was Nietzsche’s egregious error. To the contrary, rectitude is doing everything you know to be right.
Nor is the modern canard, “self-esteem,” a substitute for self-love. Self-love is the joy and reverence you earn and deserve by the relentless pursuit of everything you admire, everything you desire, everything you aspire to. Self-esteem is the high regard in which you presume to hold yourself in appreciation for the accomplishment of absolutely nothing.
We are talking about self-adoration, not self-absorption. Egoism, not egotism.
But we are not talking about religion or philosophy or psychology. We are talking about ontology, what you actually are, in fact, irrespective of what anyone thinks about it.
I stand before you as witness to my god. I speak not from divination, not from revelation, but simply from direct introspective observation:
If you want to know Shyly’s delight, live it.
If you want to manifest splendor — unlimited, uncontaminated, untainted, unfiltered joy — then be the person who has earned and deserved undiluted delight — mental, physical and emotional — earned it and deserved it as the enduring secondary consequence of your choices…