September 30, 10:30 p.m.
This is a very late post for me.
It’s 10 p.m. here on the beautiful West Coast.
My mind is sorta working, chugging along, not smoothly, but persistently and vainly. Cause I’m like that. Vain. Maybe a little more egotistical than I wish to be.
Ego. I’ve been thinking of the human ego, intellectualizing it, dissecting it.
Ego, that elusive sense of self.
It is an ethereal and shaky concept which means many things (to many people).
Whenever I wish to deconstruct a human characteristic and slide it under the microscope slide of intense scrutiny, I like to default to my favorite hypothetical situation for such a task.
The situation being: “imagine” you are the last living person on Earth.
Extreme, isn’t it?
Yet it offers a useful mental exercise that helps tease out the intricacies of human behavior under the prying glare of intense illumination.
So, imagine you are the last living being on Earth.
Given these circumstances, do you have an ego?
Explain the ego’s response to such a scenario. How does the human’s ego react?
How does the ego respond to this sci-fi scenario in which there is not one single living being on the planet other than our test subject?
Despite the utter and unspeakable solitude, there still is an ego.
It is alive and kicking as long as there is consciousness.
The ego is simply a product of the various equations which spell out our relationship to the world around us…to our environment. Consequently, if you are the only living person left, your ego’s predicament is rather simple by virtue of the fact that its structure and appearance is dictated by the physical landscape only.
The ego is an expression of that vague and indecipherable measure, or interplay, between our sense of Self and our sense of our Environment. Our environment can thus be defined of composing 2 primary elements: 1) People, and, 2) Non-human physical objects. Within each of these broad categories there are probably an infinite number of subcategories, but for the sake of my point, “1” and “2” function well. Obviously, in a last-person-on-Earth scenario, the ego’s role is eviscerated and tenuously paper thin. The element of “people” is removed and the ego can only define itself within the context of the immutable nature of physical terrain and artificial structures. I suppose it may be argued that many of the remaining structures of human engineering create a vibrant playing field against which the ego can reflect, but in the absolute absence of people, the ego will naturally retreat into unidimensional and confined status. If the last man on the planet was egotistical during the recently ended normal existence of civilization, his ego will, over time. as the last man on Earth, shrink in size due to lack of life-sustaining human dynamics.
The environment feeds and starves the Self, and it is this innate conflict and contiguous existence we think of when we are asked to contemplate the ego. Of the 2 environmental elements I mentioned earlier, the Human contribution to our ego state is the larger and more immense.
What do we mean when we describe someone as “egotistical” or of their motivations as “ego-driven?” How do we fashion this concept into something comprehensive? Ego, as it exists in sentient humans, varies in intensity from nearly non-existent to the excessively influential.
The question is, given that the ego is a representation of the environmental role in our sense of self, to what degree does this parasitic relationship extend? The larger the role our environment plays in the maintenance or fulfillment of our ego, and the greater its effect on the shaping and molding of it, the greater sense of inflation we can attribute to this same ego. In a circumstance where the environment largely controls and dictates the direction of one’s ego, the more egotistical we would describe that person. An egotistical person is one whose sense of self is intricately wrapped up in his environment.
In addition, there is a fine distinction between describing someone as “egotistical” versus asserting that they have a “strong ego.” I was once told by a psychologist that I had a very strong ego. Her basis for telling me this? The willingness and ease with which I did many things alone; things most people might shy away from doing if they had no one else to share them with. I’ve possessed that self-directed sense of comfort as long as I can remember. I’ve never minded doing many things alone (which probably explains much about me). Even when my self-esteem was at its lowest and self-doubt and self-hate loomed over my days like dark clouds, I still possessed that resolute sense of personal sovereignty.
The distinction is that the Egotistical person allows environmental factors to intrude upon his sense of self to the degree that they are both disruptive and weakening. The strong ego, conversely, is the ego which is able to withstand the powerful influences of the environment.
Many mental illnesses are a prelude to the manifestation of a disproportionately large or small ego. If one’s relation with his environs is pathologically disconnected (a common facet of serious mental illness), the ego is similarly tainted, and in many cases is undeveloped or inhumanly subdued in the face of an environment perceived (in a diseased manner) as harsh, threatening and encroaching. In other cases, mental illness is marked by an exaggerated role of Self at the expense of the environment’s representation in one’s essence and the ego appears boundless and even reckless.
The ability to calm the ego, ie, subdue/neutralize/transcend environmental influences, is the hallmark of tranquility. A Zen-like focus which can be aimed inwards in order to tunnel out external, meddling factors.
The 21st Century is shaping up to be the Age of the Ego for as technology draws us closely together, in a communal, not physical sense, the environment presents us with a rich, teeming sea of stimuli and input; to escape the incessant barrage of environmental detritus is increasingly difficult. As technology allows us to link to the collective mind of knowledge and awareness, we are ruthlessly drawn out of our complacent hermetic slumber.
An awareness and acceptance of self within the boundless seas of a global environment is a treasured notion. With ensuing discoveries which tie us together in a tightening cocoon of stifled humanity, our self-prescribed senses of identity must contend with unprecedented levels of spiritually dampening agents. Our self-awareness is no match for the onslaught of external data, and equilibrium is lost. And social society teeters on the precipice of the ledge of engulfing entropy.