This is funny: I live in a state of fairly continuous delight. It’s not always the case, but I would paint my state of mind most of the time – and especially when I’m working at something I love – as exuberance. It can be hugely external, and I know I sometimes wear my wife out when I’m playing with ideas out loud. But it can also be almost searingly apollonian – as here, as it happens – and I can sustain a kind of frenzied concentration for hours on end.
Why is that funny – to me, at least? Because it’s just excellent comedy, the radical juxtaposition of two opposites – the expectation that I simply must be angry or dour or cynical and the actual experience of being, for me and for people who spend time with me. I am having fun – deeply satisfying fun – almost all of the time. So much so that I don’t even think about it, except when I consciously direct myself to think about it. And that, thinking about the way my mind functions, is a delight for me just by itself.
Delight, exuberance, searing concentration – these are Mothertongue ideas, and this is the job that art does for us: Poets and painters and playwrights and novelists use abstractions in ways that induce us to see not mere words or images but the essence of being itself. We know we are complicit in an illusion – not real life, just a simulation – but we surrender ourselves to it and live it from the inside, at least in imagination.
I have written hundreds of thousands of words in my life, but I don’t think I have ever gotten even close to communicating what it feels like to be me, from the inside.
If the question in your mind right now is: “Why should I care?” – my answer is very simple:
“Why do you care?”
I told you to go away a long time ago. Why did you stay? If there is another lie congealing in your mind right now, either squash that impulse or go away now. Whatever it is that might lead you to want to read what I write in order to tell yourself that you are rejecting it – while you are actually internalizing it – whatever that is, it’s not good for you.
Perhaps I can’t show you the Mothertongue of Being Greg Swann except in person – or at least on the phone. But I do everything I can think of to explore the Fathertongue of Being Me. I can tell you a whole lot about what it means to be me.
I know you’ve never met anyone like me before. I know this because I never have before – and I’ve been looking hard all my life, and I know what I’m looking for. If you dismiss me with some category in your mind, it’s because you’re not paying attention. Your business. I don’t care.
But I also know that, if you are paying attention, there is a lot that you see in my expressions of exuberance that you kinda-sorta like, in a very quietly satisfying way.
Here is the other half of me, and I think it may be the key to understanding not just me as an individual but to gathering in everything I have to say on everything, the grand unifying theory of Splendor.
Are you ready? What matters most about me, in my relationships with other people, is that I am indomitable – not subject in any way to any sort of dominance. I cannot ever be caused to submit to anything against my will – and I even hate to see the “Submit” button at the bottom of web-based forms. I can’t be coerced, I can’t be threatened, I can’t be bullied, I can’t be bribed, I can’t be cajoled, I can’t be scorned or shamed or ridiculed into doing something I know I do not want to do.
Wait here: I’ve taken on a lot of dominating personalities – some malignant, some benign – at BloodhoundBlog and other sites, and I’m not inviting them back to take another run at me. None of their tricks will work this time, either, but I don’t want to waste my time swatting at flies.
And: I don’t want to portray my indomitability as some huge heroic virtue. It’s not. It’s a survival skill I developed when I was four-years-old and have perfected ever since. In fiction, you see Brother Wille teaching four-year-old Anastasia to say, “Do your worst, I will not kneel,” and you think that is cute and adorable. But from my point of view, he is teaching her the most important ethical principle in human existence:
The purpose of human life is self-expression, and to permit other people to pressure you into renouncing your own will is to squelch and smother your own expression of your one irreplaceable ego. To submit to any sort of coercion – physical, mental or emotional – is, in essence, to commit a small act of suicide – self-slaughter.
I am indomitable because I am an egoist, as the best possible expression of self-love in the company of people who would try to dominate me. Whether you say to me, “Kiss my ass or I’ll shoot you” or “Kiss my ass and I’ll give you ten million bucks,” what I am hearing is the same thing: If I kiss your ass I will have to hate this moment of my life forevermore.
That would be bad, but – what the heck? – it’s only one incident. Except it isn’t. Once you’ve let people know you can be pushed around, they will never stop trying to push you around. Ultimately, in self-defense, you’ll figure out what it takes to “fit in” and surrender everything all on your own, in advance, in abundance, all without having to be coerced.
If you want to despise your life in every possible respect, it’s a very simple thing to do: Give up, give in, give over. Nothing you have will be all the way yours, because you will know you can be met with a demand for its surrender at any moment. Nothing you do will inspire your own admiration, because you will know that you have trimmed and colored and shaded your actions to try to appease the mob – in response to the mob’s irrational demands, which is bad, or in anticipation of those demands, which is much worse. You will love your self best only in those parts of your mind you keep most jealously hidden from other people, and you will hate yourself most when you are forced to see your self bowing – again and again – to any authority but your own.
I don’t do any of that, not ever. Every time those kinds of demands come up, I shoot them down with dispatch, doing my best to expose them for what they are. People who like to dominate other people really, really hate me – ultimately to their own real-life, physical self-destruction. And, whether they see my behavior as a reproach to them or because they hope to appease their own slave-masters, people who have long-ago habituated surrender to arbitrary authority hate me, too.
This is true: I can make enemies just by walking into a room full of strangers, without doing or saying anything. Sometimes I make friends that way, too, but I always make enemies. There is some Mothertongue expression in my mein or manner that dominating personalities identify – and instantly loathe.
And while it is common for me to say that I don’t care about any of that hatred, online or in real life, the truth is I do: I don’t want for people literally to eat their hearts out, and it’s stupid for them to do that, in any case. They are not making war on their minds and bodies because they think I’m wrong. They’re doing it because they know I’m right – and yet they don’t want to be right.
So let’s take a moment to think about what I am saying. If you are rebelling against me right now, even as you are internalizing everything I say, three important things are going on:
First, you are not making any difference to me whatever. I know I am right, and no amount of steaming or glaring or grumbling or scowling or acting out on your part is going to change my mind. Incidentally, it is not possible to make any sort of persuasively-valid intellectual argument in Mothertongue – in attempts to communicate by bodily expression or emotional display.
Second, you are actively making war on your own mind, striving with all your might to shout me down in the silence and solitude of your own thoughts. This is the form and substance of self-destruction: You are destroying irreplaceable moments of your life, expressing nothing of your self in your desperate and futile need to destroy or at least silence my self.
Third, I’ve already won this argument. If I make a truthful claim, an honest person will agree with it. If I make a false argument, a thoughtful person can refute it. But if I make a case you know in every fiber of your being is correct, and yet you insist to yourself that you must reject it – or that you must appear to your slave-masters to have rejected it – by your own irrational behavior your are conceding my argument de facto.
And that is all just what’s happening right now. The self-destructive actions you are taking in this moment will be with you forever in your memory. I have been thinking about exuberance and indomitability all my life, and I know exactly how to get inside your head and to stay there. I am not trying piss you off, and I am not trying to hurt you. What I want is for you to learn how to be like me, as much as you can, as much as you want to. But if you can’t run with me, you should run away from me. I do everything I can think of to help good people become better people. But I don’t have to do anything but be – nothing more than simply to walk into a room – to induce bad people to become worse people.
But: I don’t have any use or need for bad people or bad behavior. I’ve seen every dominance game there is dozens of times, and one of my goals in writing Man Alive was to illustrate how dominance-seeking behavior comes camouflaged. A true fact of my life is that, if you will not leave me alone to live my life as I choose in every possible respect, I will put my self on a total-warfare footing in half-an-instant. But, in truth, much of what looks to me like insufferable dominance is, in fact, either thoughtless error or long-standing bad habit. I want to do a better job of making finer distinctions about the motivations leading to attempted dominance.
But more than that, I want to help you learn how to do the kinds of things I do to resist other people’s dominance games – if you truly do kinda-sorta like my expressions of exuberance.
It’s been fun for me, these past few years, to watch Americans rediscovering their proud history of political liberty. But liberty is not freedom from the leviathan of the state. It is not manumission from the slavery of taxes or inane paperwork. It is not even surcease from the bullying of burly cops and stout, pouting meter maids. True freedom is freedom from other people – all other people, especially the people you think you like and want so desperately to trust.
And what do you get, if you can achieve that kind of freedom? Splendor – or at least a clear path to attaining Splendor. Your mileage may vary, but for me the experience of Splendor is exuberance, an enthralling, almost-continuous, searingly apollonian delight.
I am willing to help you learn what I know, but I am not willing to disguise the nature of your choice. I can show you how to win your way back to the person you were at Anastasia’s age, the person you have always wanted to be, whose self-slaughter you have never stopped mourning. But the tuition I demand is total: You can’t live my way half-way, and I won’t have anything to do with you if you try. The rest of the world loves you when you hate your self. I love your self more than you know. But I refuse to love your self more than you do.
And if you choose to reject my truth, either in silence or with some hideous public display of self-slaughter? Dang. I’m not responsible for what you do with your mind, no matter how much I might know about how it works. I’m going to live my life my way, no matter what you do. You’re free to walk beside me, you’re free to run away, or you are free to destroy your body from the inside out trying to hurt me – or just to shut me up. But none of that will bother me in any way at all, and I’m going to live a life of exuberance and indomitability no matter what you do.
Here is a full philosophy of egoism in three short sentences: Be who you are. Do what you want. Have what you love.
We both know I’m right. I have the guts to say so out loud. I love my life, and there is nothing that you or anyone can do to get me to hate it. If that pisses you off, you’re screwed. But if you think you might kinda-sorta like it, I will be exuberantly delighted to show you what it feels like, from the inside, to live a life of indomitability – a life of total freedom.