This is a dumb thing to say, but at the same time, I think it’s the essence of everything, the one thing that most needs to be said:
I love life. I love living. I love being alive as a human being — a genetic homo sapiens within whom has been cultivated a self — and I love, love, love being that self with a deep and abiding adoration. I don’t want to be anyone but me, but I want to be me to the utmost, to the evermost — without shame, without hiding or disguising myself in any way and without one word of apology to anyone, ever.
This is fact, obvious and dumb to say but utterly necessary to understand: We are each of us all alone inside the mind, and the self of atoms, actions and events that others see is the physical expression of the self of the imagination that each one of us sees only of his own self and only alone, within that perfect solitude of the mind.
Just that much is breathtakingly beautiful, if you take the time to think about it: A reflexively recollecting mental process, by iteratively expressing itself — in the observable world, of course, but first and most and almost continuously in purely introspective activity — essentially becomes itself and then, over time, progressively recreates itself — learning, changing, growing — over and over again. The self is its own self-abstracted abstraction, and your relationship with your own unique self is by far the most important relationship in your life.
The self is the song of itself, and each one of us is his own song, his own soul, unique and incomparable and fundamentally inexpressible to others. Without human upbringing, we are bad imitations of animals, at best. But with it, by age five each one of us is his own song, his own soul, his own ego, his own “I am.” Are we but ghosts, lost and horrified in a lurching, chaotic machine? Are we mindless fleshy worms squirming without purpose across the fertile fields of time? Or is each one of us an artifact of his own devising — each one of us unavoidably a work of art — a poem, a sonnet, a song, a symphony? The life that is the true life of a human being is the self, the self-sculpted mental image of itself.
But even beyond that, to live the fully-human life is to express with your mind, your body, your time and your efforts how desperately you want to live the human life. The world you see inside your mind is a map of the world you’re looking for in the physical world, the place where your own unique self will fit perfectly, the world that matches your expectations, the world that makes sense to you. If you maintain your self as a thing of beauty, the world you find outside your mind will be a thing of beauty and wonder and ever-abundant delight. If your mind is functioning, and if you’ve trained yourself to use it properly, then the world is yours to remake as you will. You can perfect what’s working and reinvent what isn’t. Every animal must suffer, every one but you, for you alone among animals have the power to identify and then to correct or eradicate the causes of your miseries.
Does that sound like you? If it does, I like you sight unseen. That’s the world that I see when I’m alone, staring at the horizon or visiting and revisiting my own words on my computer’s display, and that’s the world that I love best to live in, the place I love most to be on my best days.
But let me tell you about another world, a darker place where nothing works, where everything is wrong, where every motive is ugly and yet nothing is so ugly as the guilt-drenched, pain-wrenched faces of the people, each one of whom is either doing something vicious or stoically dreading someone else doing something even worse. In such a place — and don’t think I haven’t lived there, too, on the days when I’ve been bad and on the days when I’ve been worse — in such a place it might make sense to ask, “Who am I to throw stones?” But, pathetic though it may be, what everyone does, when they see a world like that, when they see a human race that despicable, is to relay to humanity — patiently, repeatedly, frequently, at length and in excruciating detail — everything it is getting wrong.
In that world, when I am there, when you are there, virtue means nothing. All that is necessary is to lack — and to deplore with appropriate venom — the other guy’s vices. This might seem to be a comfortable place to live. After all, no shirt is too dirty, no stance too disreputable, provided the next person is dirtier still. Whatever vestigial need you might feel to look up to the things you value in life, it is more than sufficient — satiating, at least, if not satisfying — always to look down.
Each one of us felt enormous once, back before we learned how to lie to the self, as unique in the mind’s eye as each of us truly is unique in reality. But any one of us can feel himself free to become as small as he might like, so long as there is someone to be pointed at who is smaller still. We begin the human life as everything, as the utmost and the evermost, and yet most of us spend most of our lives chipping away at the self-sculpted image of the self until there is nothing much left of it — nothing to be saluted or even acknowledged, much less worshipped, exalted, burnished to a golden glow.
In that dark and ugly world, we spend every ounce of energy we have striving to become everything we’re not, anything we’re not — anything we can never, ever be, so long as it’s not anything at all like what we must be, to be human. You have a self, the uniquely human consciousness, as an ontological fact, as the unavoidable consequence of a past series of choices, with the first and most significant of those choices having originated with your parents. But to be a self, to be your own self, this is a matter of choice — teleology — your own continuous, on-going, internally-originated choices. But even then, you can only avoid being that gorgeous and irreplaceable self you have created for yourself by progressively soiling and scourging and dismantling the self-sculpted image of the uniquely-human life you worked so hard to make — from the instant of your conception to that strange awakening of the self-conscious mind at the age of four or five. To be human is to be a self, yet and it is the self that each one of us — myself included — often seem to want most desperately not to be.
This is an error. This is the source of all human errors, the wellspring of every crime, every atrocity — and of every sneaky, smarmy little lie. Every purposive human action is taken first by the self upon the self. To strive — in vain — to soil and scourge and dismantle reality, you must first soil and scourge and dismantle your own self-abstracted self. The world is what it is, but your soul is what you make it — gorgeous or hideous, omnipotent or impotent, a thing of glorious, radiant beauty or the object of your own unforgiving, unrelenting spite. You cannot ever destroy reality. But you can destroy your self, if you work at it long enough, and in destroying your self you will succeed in destroying everything you love and admire and look up to, everything you wanted to be when you were four or five years old.
You are a self unavoidably, through no choice of your own. By the time you were capable of making conscious choices, the job of becoming a self was already fully done. But the self you are is entirely your choice, and no one else can even see, much less cause or prevent your choosing. You can choose to live in that dark and ugly world of fear and doubt and misery. Or you can choose to live in the world as you saw it on the day you first woke up as a self-sculpted soul, the world of beauty and wonder and ever-abundant delight. But you will choose. Being is ontology, and it is unavoidable. Choosing is teleology — but it is inescapable. You can choose the light or the darkness, or you can run from one to the other, wasting your life in a lather of dithering. But you cannot be alive as a human being and yet, somehow, choose not to choose. You cannot choose what you are. Your only choice is who you’ll be.
Is that a curse, a crushing burden no one can carry? Or is it the most heartbreakingly beautiful thing that could ever be? You are the god of your own existence, the alpha, the omega, the without-which-nothing. To be a self is such an amazing thing, such an unprecedented thing, the fountainhead of meaning that gushes riotous meaning upon everything else. The universe is everything there is, and yet it is nothing without you — without your seeing it for what it really is, without you taking it and making of it the world you choose for yourself — the place where your own unique self will fit perfectly, the world that matches your expectations, the world that makes sense to you. This is the power you have within you — if you choose to exercise it.
That’s what I’m doing. I’ve wasted too much of my life avoiding this chore — putting it off out of fear of the consequences, but putting it off, too, out of shear laziness. But I want more than this from my own life, from my own self. I want to live to the fullest extent I can. As a reverberating consequence of my own expressions of my own unique self, I want to hear my ideas echoed back to me in your expressions of your self. I don’t want to see my own reflection. I don’t want to hear my own voice, echoing in the uninterruptible silence of my mind. I want to see my soul’s sister, my soul’s brother reflected back to me, voicing not my own thoughts but thoughts like mine, thoughts about the fully-human life, the life that is worth not just living but loving, rejoicing, the life that reveres nothing above itself and that reveres itself to the utmost, to the evermost — without shame, without any disguise and without even the hint of an apology.
This is what we can be, and this is what we should be. We can make less of our selves, each one of us alone in the perfect solitude of the mind. But we cannot ever be other than what we are. It is foolish and tragic and completely unnecessary not to make the most of the unrepeatable, irreplaceable gift of human consciousness. But if we choose to honor and cherish and exult in that incredible gift instead, there is nothing that is beyond our reach.
I wrote this in July of 2010. There were a number of other weblog posts in this series, and those are linked below. –GSS
Reasons to be cheerful: Defying the specter of ugly fates.
- Part 0: The ground we stand upon is firm and the lever of the human mind grows ever stronger.
- Part 0.5: Sleeping giants can’t sleep forever.
- Part 1: Things rarely change as quickly or as dramatically as we expect them to.
- Part 1.5: Who cares about the tunnel? All I can see is the light…
- Part 2: If we are wise, and if we are lucky, we won’t “meet the new boss” because there won’t be any bosses.
- Part 2.5: It’s raining soup and all you can do is piss and moan that Big Mother hasn’t given you a free bowl.
- Part 2.9: Marksmanship is a perfectible praxis.
- Part 2.9.5: Carrying a concealed firearm is the first step to reclaiming responsibility for your own self-defense.
- Part 3.0.0: While it may be implausible that western civilization could collapse, this much seems certain: You will not be prepared for what happens next.
- Part 3.0.1: You are ungovernable: Other people have power over you only because you have surrendered your own sovereign authority to them — and they can’t stop you from taking it back.
- Part 3.0.2: What has it cost us to have been so wrong for so long about selflessness and self-adoration?
- Part 3.0.3: When you resolve never to let other people dominate you, you come to be indomitable.
- Part 3.1: The song of the self.
- Part 3.1.1: Psalm.
- Part 3.1.2: Redemption is egoism in action, so do the world a favor and catch your self doing something right.
- Part 3.1.3: Praising Cain: Change the world forever by learning to love your life the way you actually live it.
- Part 3.1.4: “Get me rewrite!” How to revise the script of your life — writing yourself a happy ending.
- Part 3.2: Yuppie love: The egoist’s guide to mastering the art of frolicking naked with the one you love.