Thursday, February 21, 2013
The Problem with Identity: Us
I'm frankly amazed by the number of people who are depressed because they "can't find myself" (Nietzscheian language) or they leave on this year(s) long tour of the world to "be alone with myself." Dude. Are you seriously that interesting? Can you not find yourself? Where has your "self" gone? How are you functioning if your "self" is not in you? What "self" is operating your body? As Sweet Brown would say, "Ain't nobody got time for that!" Nobody, for sure, has time for people "finding themselves." I know I don't and that, to some ears, is tough to swallow because they don't want to be insensitive to the person's feelings, but is the insensitivity toward the person wrong? I don't think so. The person needs to realize that he has found himself because he *is* himself. I'll try to explain.
The philosophy of the self is a difficult philosophy to condense in a blog post, especially when the author barely has his hands on the subject so please don't consider this to be an exhaustive treatment especially since this is more of a rant than a philosophical argument. I'm persuaded that when people use the language of the self in this way: I need to find myself; they are taking a dark, German side of the soul and twisting it into American self-help, egotistical language. This German philosophy has been broken to pieces by the American self-help wrecking ball then put back together by Joel Osteen and Tony Robbins. It's annoying. At the same that it's annoying, it's also quite fascinating that these American self-help bafoons have taken Nietzsche and other German philosophers' "higher" thoughts and made them digestible via 5-step self-help books. I'm surprised we haven't seen a book titled "Nihilism: 5 easy steps to crawl out of the abyss and be a new YOU!" or "Nihilism and the New You." Gross, right?
The high philosophy of the self has become a low, base, self-help guru recipe to fill the whiny void of the unsatisfied arrogant who are so absorbed with themselves that they think they can't find themselves while the whole time they know who they are, but they're just not satisfied with reality of they truly are. They think, "Surely this isn't me," or "Do I really like this job? I can't like this job. I need to find myself because surely this can't be me." These people are bored. They're bored because, I think, they have a false view of happiness. I've blogged about happiness before. There is a false idea of happiness floating around the U.S. that man is entitled to it because of the idea we have a natural right to pursue happiness which I agree with, but the founders had a different idea of happiness than we do today. The happiness in view today is one I think that is wrapped in consumerism. "If I don't have the newest X (whatever x is) then I'm not happy" or "If every need I have isn't being met then I'm not happy;" this happiness I call childish happiness. It's a happiness that is grounded by self-centered spoiled-ness. That isn't happiness. So, what did the founders have in mind when they declared that man has a natural right to the pursuit of happiness (notice they didn't declare a natural right to happiness)? I think they had this in mind: to make oneself content whatever that may be within the realm of the natural and civic law of course. They had in mind, I think, vocation, marriage, religion or lack of religion, and place to live in view when they declared the right to pursue happiness. The "old" view of happiness was contentment with life instead of the "new" view that happiness is having your "gimmies" met regardless of the cost. Greg Koukl critiqued the current view of happiness: "In the pursuit of happiness, human institutions are valid not because of transcendent ethic but because of temporal fulfillment, which is essentially self-centered. For example, marriage is a valid commitment as long as you're happy. If you're not happy anymore in the marriage, then you have reason to dissolve the marriage. But I would contend that if you're getting married to be happy, then you're getting married for the wrong reasons. Not that personal fulfillment is not a valid goal in some measure, but that's not what it's all about."
This current view of happiness and attachment with the "self" is destructive. Think of the lives lost due to suicide because the person has in mind that he isn't living a happy life, but who really can when the standard set by the "new" happiness is unsustainable? These people who took their lives when looked at rationally probably had a good life that was one of contentment. Happiness (the happiness that gives goosebumps and arouses the passions) is like a flighty friend. You have a good time with the friend when he is around. You laugh, play games, take adventures then you wakeup one morning and he is gone. He flew off. You don't know where because he didn't leave a note. You know he'll be back because of his track record of coming back to visit every now and then, but the *not knowing* when he will return is what is unbearable. It's unbearable to those who cling to the flighty friend and can't let go. They can't trust he will come back so they spend days or months trying to get the feeling they had when he was around, but they can't recreate it because only the flighty friend (happiness) can create that atmosphere the clinger wants so desperately. The one who recognizes the friend is flighty and that he will return when he does is the balanced and contented person because they let happiness take care of itself. When it comes around I say enjoy it, but when it leaves let it be so. Don't cling to it because clinging to it only brings disappointment and despair and sometimes a lost life. I've heard that the good life is one that doesn't expect anything in this life to sustain him at anything like a blissful level. That might be so.
Anyway, I think it's time to end this rant at the obsessed clinging to the self and false happiness that has plagued and is plaguing people telling people they need to find themselves when in reality they are themselves. I'm persuaded learning contentment can stop the plague.