One of my problems in life is that I have no sense or natural expectation that hard work and quality will in any way be rewarded or even appreciated. Rather, I expect just the opposite. I’m not sure why that is.
The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but the protruding nail gets the hammer. What combination of neglect and abuse foundationed the notion in me that I am a nail and not a wheel?
Why do I identify more with Van Gogh or H.P. Lovecraft than, say, Picasso or J.K. Rowling? Those giants of their craft who died utterly unappreciated and unrewarded speak more to my expectations of my place in this world than any dream of fantastic recognition and success.
“Just be yourself and do what you love” is just as much a recipe for madness and dismal failure as it is for success. It depends on what you are and what you love. Some people do not fit. But perhaps under all the sedimentary layers of garbage and filth in me lies a being that the world will rejoice in seeing.
Perhaps not, though.
Either way, though, I push on. What else is there to do?
Sometimes I have to take a moment to sit back and marvel at just how committed American conservatives are to being awful. Their thorough attention to detail in this regard is incredible. They don’t miss a beat!
It’s not just them selfishly doing everything they can to make the world a worse place, to despoil everything they come into contact with; it’s that they take so much obvious pleasure in doing so. For these people, it seems, their greatest source of joy is causing pain.
However, this is nothing new. We can look all the way back to Rome to see their type at work. Roman patricians at the Coliseum, watching people tortured to death by the dozen, then going home to rape their slaves. Pillars of their community, these people. Fine, upstanding Romans all, who spoke of family, duty, and religion.
We might look back at those Romans, at what they did and what they regarded as entertainment, and ask ourselves: how could they have done that? Who were those people?
Well, they weren’t so different from some of ours. They just didn’t bother hiding who they were. They made a show of it. Took pride in it. Used their cruelties as a stark warning to all who would stand against their might.
Our rulers are a little less honest about it. Our cruelties are done behind closed doors. The bloodletting takes place out of sight, with the output packaged neatly in cellophane for thoughtless consumption. Our slavery institutions are systematized in more subtle ways: through corporate capitalism and the criminal justice system.
Our patricians speak of family, duty, and religion, too. They speak of their faith in Jesus as their friend; taking license from him to do what they want. Ignoring his words that make it clear they and their works are the antithesis of what he preached. That their kind of people were the ones who put him to death.
That their plebeian followers would have been in the crowd cheering the Christians martyred.
No, nothing new, these people. Just different symbols. Different spectacles for the plebs.
At its heart, the world is the same as it ever was.
We are the same as we ever were.
For many, substance abuse is a way to avoid figuring out who you are. It was for me.
To learn who you really are is not easy. You must dig down through all the layers of childhood trauma and the fossilized coping mechanisms you created to deal with it. Dig until you find some little ember; some small part of you that remained untouched, somehow. Then you must care for that ember. Give it fuel, breathe upon it to stoke it up into a flame you can light your way forward with.
This is hard. It can mean letting go of the person many people think you are. It can mean letting go of those people when they can’t accept who you need to be now.
It can make it very hard to relate to people for a while. This can be a lonely, alienating process.
So much easier to grab hold of something external. The bottle. The pipe. The little baggies. These alternatives to developing a personality. Taking this shared experience of partaking as a substitution for a true community. For a family.
When you are on a drug, you become like the drug. When you are drunk, you are a drunk. The drug obliterates the nuances and subtleties of personality that make an individual unique; but in doing so, it gives users something in common with each other.
Your little user squad becomes like a group of shipwreck survivors, each clinging to a bit of flotsam. You have found each other and cobbled your bits of wreckage into a life raft to share. There is camaraderie and the exhilaration of finding other people like you.
Except they aren’t like you, it just seems like they are because you are all high in the same way.
This is not to say the experiences might not be meaningful. For a time. Or that you won’t find a precious relationship here. You might. But as you spend more time in this place, you will increasingly feel the hollowness of it. It will become strained; difficult; unpleasant. As the dabblers become addicts, the pathology of the drug will weigh heavier upon the group. Upon you.
If you are lucky, you will realize early enough that you must leave this place. That you are now creating more fossils to deal with. More weight to drag with you. That you have come no closer to that ember within you. Indeed, you are probably further away from it than you ever have been.
If you are unlucky, though, you’ll have substituted your personality, your essence, with a simple label:
This label can become your identity, and will cling to you like a fossilized exoskeleton. Weighing you down. Dragging you under. It is not an easy one to put down.
Best to avoid it, if you can.
Better to find out who you are.
If you can.
“Humble selfie” is the perfect oxymoron for our times.
I realize that most people who do the whole selfie thing probably have no idea what I’m talking about here. Not just that they don’t know what the word oxymoron means (although most probably don’t), but that they aren’t able to get why it is oxymoronic. It is like saying something like “noisy flower.” It’s just nonsense: does not compute.
The play on words that makes an oxymoron humorous is the juxtaposition of two opposing concepts. It’s funny because there’s no way for a selfie to be humble, but a lot of selfie takers probably have the self-delusion that some of their selfies are. So it’s funny. Ha ha.
Here’s the thing about selfies: they are inherently narcissistic and self-involved. It’s the whole point of them. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad, though. Don’t get me wrong: I like looking at tits and ass as much as anyone, so keep em coming.
Something can be narcissistic and still be okay. It’s one of those things that can be a harmless indulgence if taken in moderation. Like chocolate, alcohol, or murder. It only becomes a problem when it gets excessive.
The problem is, collectively as a society, we have decided that narcissism and self-involvement are not a problem. In any dose. As with so many other things the consensus is: well, if a little is fine, then a whole shit-tonne is just fine too. Just as we have decided that obesity is okay. That mass cyber-bullying is great as long as the target “deserves” it.
However, just because you’ve decided that big is beautiful and you can be healthy at any weight, it doesn’t mean that you really are healthy at that weight. Diabetes, heart disease, and a bevy of other ailments are rampant because of obesity. Society may have moved the goal posts on what is “normal,” in order to make sure that everyone doesn’t feel excluded or upset for any reason, but that doesn’t change our physiology.
So it goes with narcissism, and the problems that come of that are psychological.
The human mind is a product of the brain, which is an organ. There are physiological reasons why some people behave certain ways. Mental illness is real. Just as type one diabetes is caused by a malfunction of the pancreas, schizophrenia is caused by a malfunction of the brain. Sufferers of both these diseases had no chance to prevent or avoid these illnesses; they were dealt a shitty hand by genetics.
There are many illnesses, though, that humans give themselves through their shitty behavior. Get obese and drink two liters of sugar soda a day for a couple of decades and guess what? You’ve given yourself type two diabetes. Work shoveling asbestos everyday without a respirator and you’ve got lung cancer. These truths are now self-evident.
So it goes with mental illness. The most observable and self-evident of these is addiction. Take alcoholism. Someone drinks too much for too long and what happens? They change their brain and their behavior shifts to match the pattern of an alcoholic.
“Oh there he goes! Come on, now! Alcoholism isn’t a disease! Addiction isn’t a disease!” some might proclaim.
I see why you would say that. I used to think the same. But then I went through alcohol recovery and was educated on the physiological process of addiction. So I am no longer ignorant on the matter.
What constitutes addiction, medically, is an observable change in the brain of a user. When scanned, an addict’s brain functions differently than that of an non-addict. With prolonged use of certain substances, people essentially change their brain’s wiring. (Or chemistry, if you prefer. Choose the oversimplified analogy that works for you.) This is observable. This is medical fact.
So I ask you: how is alcoholism any different in principle than type two diabetes? Drink too much soda and you fuck up your metabolic system and become diabetic. Drink too much beer and you fuck up your brain and become alcoholic. It’s just a different organ under attack.
If addiction isn’t a disease, then type two diabetes isn’t either. You can apply whatever moralistic code you want to it, it doesn’t change the science.
See a theme developing here? Imagine two circles. One represents what is. The other represents what we think about what is. They are separate things. Now they might overlap, like a Venn diagram (check my favorite below, included gratuitously because it’s awesome).
In our diagram of reality and perception, where the circles overlap represents where our thinking is correct. Truth is a keytar playing platypus. The problem is, we don’t have access to that diagram in our lives. What we do have is science, which is the surest system yet devised for moving those two circles closer together.
Of course, few of us are scientists, and those of us that are are expert in only a very narrow area, and a lot of humbuggery is presented as science; so we have to put a pin in things at some point, just to get on with it. We decide what is probably true and move on with life, which is the right way to do things. But realizing that what we think and believe might not be correct is important.
Only fools are certain.
There are all kinds of reasons why our thinking might get fucked up. It might be physiological, it might be psychological, or it might philosophical. It’s usually a fun combination of all three!
One of the signs of pathological, willful self-deceit is the blind-spot. That which is glaringly obvious to an outsider is completely invisible to the person with fucked up thinking.
“No, you don’t understand, man! I know what this looks like, but Bob the Sun God is on a higher plane of thinking than the rest of us. He needs all my money because he wants to teach me about the futility of consumerism! Can’t you see that? And he needs to fuck my wife so that she can be elevated as a vessel of his love. It’s a great honor for us!”
Imagine a space alien coming to earth to study us. Or even a human person from a society that has not yet been wired. They stand on a street corner in any bustling city and what do they see? A majority of people wandering around staring at little chunks of plastic they carry with them. When they do put them down, the devices soon beep and chirp at them, pulling their attention back.
What the fuck is going on here? What has happened to these people?
“No, you don’t understand, man! It’s just like a book, or a newspaper, only better, see? Look at this picture of commuters all reading newspapers on a train in the fifties. We’re no different!”
But I don’t remember grandpa pulling his newspaper out at the dinner table. Or at church. He certainly wasn’t mailing photos of himself to the thing to be printed ever day.
And if he had done any of those things, he would have been rightly regarded as a damned lunatic.
Blind spot. The addict refuses to see the clear and obvious source of their problems. We have seen how self-indulgence in other vises lead to genuine illnesses. But what about the selfie? What does an chronic abuse of narcissism give you?
Anxiety and depression.
Do you think Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop comes to exist in a world where people are engaging with technology in a healthy way?
As with other vice induced illnesses, a symbiotic relationship between the industries that cause them and those that treat them has developed. There is a lot of money being made on both side of the equation.
I don’t give a fuck whether you’re happy or not. It makes no difference to me. But do not doubt there are an awful lot people who very much want to keep you unhappy. There are whole industries devoted to exploiting the miserable. Pharmaceuticals top the list in terms of tradition, old-economy industries, but there’s no shortage. Cosmetics. Fashion.
You have been trained your whole life to measure your self-worth in quantifiable terms: what your grades are, how many points you score, how many people come to your birthday party, how much money you make, how much your consumer goods cost, how many “friends” you have on social media.
How many likes your selfie gets.
So you get the same dopamine rush from a “successful” selfie as do from those other, real, accomplishments. But it doesn’t last, does it? Because a selfie does nothing tangible for you. Nothing good anyway.
The selfie is to your psyche as corn syrup is to your metabolism. As alcohol is to your brain. It’s no different. The good news is that it’s no worse. Have a coke. Enjoy! Have a beer. Why not? Post a selfie. Fun!
It’s all good. Just remember that we have learned that junk food, sugar, alcohol, and other drugs, for all their pleasurable benefits, have a serious down side. We have (hopefully) learned that moderation with these potentially dangerous things is important.
Balance is the key. A key to achieving balance is avoiding blind spots about our self-destructive impulses.
Don’t ever forget that a selfie is inherently narcissistic and self-centered. Like whisky is inherently intoxicating. That’s its whole point; it’s why it is pleasurable. So it is important to remember that when we get carried away with our narcissism, as with an alcohol or drug bender, it’s time to take some time off from it and detox.
Or don’t. Then you can explore the fun and exciting world of mental illness. There are so any pharmaceutical options for treating that these days.
Ask your doctor what is right for you.
In the bathroom cubicle of life, it’s sometimes tough to know what side of the gloryhole you’re on.