Posts Tagged ‘Egotism’

The Sun Sets in the West #2

December 10, 2018

I remembered something today while trying to remember the title of a book I once read. The book was Stop Time by Frank Conroy, which I liked at the time. I don’t know that I would like it now. The guy who turned me onto it was an interesting conversationalist—well-read, intelligent—and for a few months I sought him out. One day I said something to him about having noticed that some guys think they’re men just because they have a pair of balls. He looked at me straight-faced and said, “That’s what a man is.” At first I thought it was a joke; then I thought he was making some kind of statement about biology—but that would have been almost a non sequitur. Then I realized he meant it. He even repeated it—quite seriously. I knew then that he was tremendously cynical, and it was the beginning of the end of our friendship. His belief was a little unusual at the time, I think. There was still some feeling of the 60s and early 70s in the air. And this was San Francisco.I think his belief is quite common now—so much so that I don’t think it’s a conscious belief for most guys. It’s just “reality”—not worth taking the time to examine. The world is saturated with porn.

A man is someone who disciplines his ego, who doesn’t seek personal advantage at the expense of others, who makes sure that what goes down around him is just. There shouldn’t be any argument with that, and yet I find that people do argue with it. And not just men. A year or so ago I had a long debate with a woman who took the a-man-is-someone-with-a-pair-of-balls side. This is one of the reasons our culture is collapsing.

The World’s Most Powerful Criminal Organization

March 17, 2018

The Republican Party has turned itself into the world’s most powerful criminal organization—a criminal organization with a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons. It no longer has any ideology. Its former ideology, which was really only ever egotism, got pushed and pushed to the point that it became total selfishness. And naturally enough, one of the biggest, if not the biggest, egotists on the planet came to lead them. None of this can end well. Evil has to suck away the energy of whatever good there is in order to keep going. At some point, the entire edifice collapses. I watched this get started under Reagan. I kept saying to myself, “this has got to be stopped before it gets really dangerous.” But it never was stopped. And now we’re in what almost seems an unbelievable, unreal situation. I say “almost” because I’ve been predicting it for so long. The only thing different from my vision was the ludicrous, buffoonish aspect of the man who came to lead them. I always pictured it being someone more blatantly sinister, like John Bolton or, say, Mike Pence…

Egotism and Freedom

February 22, 2018

Wayne LaPierre says that gun control advocates hate individual freedom. Like a lot of right wingers, he mistakes egotism for freedom. They are not the same. People who are tied up in egotism are not free. They are slaves to all kinds of paranoia and suffer terribly when it comes time to die. To die gracefully you have to be able to let go of life. An egotist can’t do it. He inevitably finds death a terrifying experience. To be genuinely free requires a tremendous amount of internal work—work that men like Wayne LaPierre refuse to have anything to do with. They are the real slackers.

Look Out!

May 10, 2015

Around 1978 I heard about a book that had just come out called Looking Out for Number One. I was appalled. The title was completely at odds with what had been going on throughout the 60s and early 70s, and it sounded evil to my ears. I still think of that book as the beginning of the change in this culture’s psychology, one we’re still living out. Reagan became president a couple of years later, and he advanced this idea of looking out for number one, and it has been growing as a national belief ever since. The author of the book was a libertarian, and we see libertarianism gaining more and more traction.

I think that “selfish” is what is really meant nowadays when we say “conservative.” So-called conservatives insist that it’s a virtue, that you’re supposed to look out for your country, your family, and yourself before anything else. People who don’t share this idea are viewed with suspicion. But looking out for number one is not a virtue. It’s a biological view of morality—instinctive, unthinking. And people who follow it are quite capable of turning against their country, their mate, or their children whenever it serves their self-interest. Selfish people don’t care about anybody else, by definition. Selfishness gradually undermines any system that embraces it. We’re seeing that happen in this country now. The general atmosphere is becoming increasingly hostile and argumentative, less neighborly. There are movements in certain states to secede from the union. People live in isolation from one another in general. Here in San Francisco, for example, people seldom see the inside of other people’s homes. Some people point to social media as an example of the continuance of community, but I don’t think so. It’s superficial community, if it’s community at all. The culture has lost its memory of what real community feels like. I’ve lived in a few and I’ve always liked them. The only one I’m in right now is the South End Rowing Club, my swim club. It’s the one place I actually enjoying being. It’s not a fancy fitness club. It’s all volunteer, and you can feel it. There’s something greater than the sum of the parts.

So if looking out for number one is wrong, what’s right? I read once that we should look out for the well-being of everything that lives, not excluding ourselves. I think that makes good sense.

There’s Just One Problem…

November 16, 2013

I spend what often seems like an inordinate amount of time thinking about the world’s problems. But our problems have grown so numerous and so large that it has become impossible not to think about them. They are everywhere I turn: financial trickery, global warming, pollution, resource depletion, species extinction, greed, war, racism, governmental surveillance and control, dishonest and corrupt politicians, dishonest media, and so forth. But all these problems are really just symptoms—symptoms of the only problem this world really has: the egotism of homo sapiens. Take that one away and the world runs perfectly.

Throughout my life I’ve come across people who actually believe in egotism. They think they see deeper than others because of their “strong” egos. They believe that anybody who isn’t looking out for himself first is naive about the facts of life. It’s a big delusion. They have no depth. Egotists, because they don’t see past themselves, have no depth. People talk about someone having a “healthy ego,” by which they mean, of course, a strong ego. But a strong or a big ego is not a healthy ego. A healthy ego is one that is able to see beyond its own desires. A healthy ego understands that there are other people living in this world and that they have needs equal to one’s own.

Egotism creates a vast array of delusions. One of the most common delusions we live under is that competition creates a better world. I’m constantly reading that our schools need to turn out students who can compete in the global marketplace. No one ever challenges this kind of thinking. But all that competition does is create stronger egos. It is extremely difficult to rein in the ego. One has to make a constant effort and living competitively undermines that. What we really need to learn is cooperation, to create a world where every living being has a place to fulfill the laws of its own being, and to do that without sucking the juice out of anybody else.

We’re not anywhere close to this, of course. We’re still on the path to hell, and things are going to get worse before they get better. I don’t know how bad it has to get before we begin to pursue a smarter, healthier direction. When I bring this up with others they often tell me that nothing can change it. It’s just going to keep going in this same direction. I don’t think so. I think that’s actually impossible. One of these days I’m going to have to address the hope that I believe there is. It’s one small thread of hope. But that one thread is stronger than all the others. And it is real.

Some Thoughts on Evil

April 5, 2011

Most people I know are uncomfortable with the word “evil.” More than likely, it’s for the same reason I have some discomfort with it. Evil, like most religious terms, has been in the hands of superstitious and shallow ideologues for so long that the word feels poisonous. But it represents something we have to deal with in our daily lives, and if we refuse to take up the word, to define it, and to use it properly, the ideologues will continue to own it and wield it as they see fit. I’m aware of the Buddhist arguments which say that evil doesn’t really exist. But I believe those arguments are more advanced than our current state of mind. So I will speak here as though it is something “real.”

Whenever something evil happens in a big way—a murder, torture, a rape—we all recognize it as such. It’s at evil’s more subtle levels that the difficulties in recognizing it come about. The one consistent element to evil that I see is egotism. Evil is egotism. There are all kinds of egotisms, some more sinister than others. They’re all delusive, I think. Fundamentalists tend to see evil as “Satan whispering in your ear.” They believe that those who are doing evil know they are doing evil, and they do it because they enjoy being evil. But I don’t think people doing evil necessarily think about it all that much. Doing evil makes you blind. We even have philosophies now which hold that selfishness is a virtue. Around 1978 there was a book published, “Looking Out For Number One.” I was really shocked when I first saw that. It was such a change from the ethos that I’d grown up with. Today, I  see that book and that time as the general starting point to our present age of darkness.

An ego, like a gun, is not evil in and of itself. An ego is simply one’s viewpoint. It’s when the gun goes off that trouble arises. People talk about a person having a “healthy ego,” meaning that the individual gets whatever he wants. Such people are seen as strong. But they’re hard, not strong. There’s a difference. A truly healthy ego does not pursue personal advantage; rather, it makes sure that every situation that he or she is involved in is just. Many people worry that not being an egotist means you let people walk all over you. But to be one who is determined that justice prevails you have to be very strong.

There’s more that I would like to say, and I will. But, as I’ve said before, because of this book I’m writing, it’s difficult to find the time to organize and write long posts. This is intended to define the term a little so that I may use it again in the future. I don’t think it’s a good thing to toss the word around with abandon, and I won’t be doing so. But there are times when it’s the only word that I can think of to describe what’s going on in this country nowadays.