The State of the Self

From Egoic Identity to an Integrated Self

Cultures create, nourish, and defend modes of identity.

An individual’s sense of self is dependent

on the pathways to identity their culture allows.

Cultures have always maintained a duality between its members and outsiders. The present dominant culture has blurred this distinction. But not in the way we might assume. It has not become more inclusive. It has created a new class of predatory identity. It celebrates those with no allegiance beyond their own narrow and shallow self-interest. It nurtures, perversely, a Narcissistic self-identity that considers everything and everyone outside this alienated identity to be nothing more than a means to a selfish end. This Winners Mentality is an aspect of the defended identity of all who consider themselves a part of the dominant, dominating culture irrespective of whether that individual benefits directly and materially from this belief. This method blocks any other than an alienated and alienating cultural identity from taking root.

Through its overwhelming size, power, and the ubiquity of its cultural symbolism this civilization we suffer under has destroyed what had been refugia where other forms of identity could take hold. Where distinct cultures, each considering the rest to be other, allowed room, however unintentionally, for those others to hold and develop forms of identity clear of the power of any one culture to erase them.

This civilization, as it has done to every other form of life on Earth, has fragmented and destroyed cultural refugia. Anywhere electronic media and fossil fuel hyper-energy has reached has become fatally compromised as a potential refuge. The cultural winds, ultimately powered by these hypertrophied fuels, erode and destroy any other forms of self-identity other than the one that perpetuates the culture itself dominated by this wildly unbalanced access to power. This culture is tied to this power and both promotes it and cannot live without it. Since everyone’s self-identity is dominated by the cultural values that built and support this imbalance it becomes almost impossible for anyone to see their own existence outside of this narrow and destructive form of self-identity. In this way any challenge to the way the culture operates cannot help but be seen as an existential threat to the individual selves trapped in this form of identity.

Anytime we plug in a microphone

or turn on a speaker we have done damage

to the integrity of what is being said,

giving this moment’s creation an augmentation

that cannot be separated from the violence

that makes that augmentation possible.

This is even true of this feeble attempt to be heard

past the tumult of the web.

That this is true asks of us

that we be aware of our complicity

and be ready to deal with the consequences.

This self-regulating feed-back loop is of a piece with every other aspect of this culture of death. What is significant here is that this particular arrangement of a society has been able to block any viable alternative identities from establishing themselves or finding ways to nourish or maintain their existence inside or outside of its bounds. Bounds that now know no bounds.

In return for this tight lock on identity this civilization has also, just as it could not help doing, turned on its own.

Insanity, as opposed to innocuous self-deception, is a virulent form of delusion that disconnects its victims from reality in ways that make them a danger to themselves and to others. The dominant self-identity, one that cannot recognize any value outside of its predatory selfishness, is insane. This obsession forces those who believe in it to destroy the basis of their own continued existence while keeping them blinded to the causes of their growing unease as precarity spreads and overwhelms the means by which this same self-identity maintains itself. As their coping mechanisms, of projection and displacement, increasingly fail to protect them from themselves an even more dangerous condition arises. As it becomes unavoidably visible that the current self-identity is not viable and that there is no visible means of changing one’s identity to one that might be better suited, more integrated, whole, panic sets in. The only available course anyone can imagine is self-destruction.

When a small isolated cult reaches

this point it is a tragedy:

James Jones et. alia.

When a monoculture bereft

of outsiders and refugia does it

we have reached a much more dangerous point.

All the foment around what is termed Identity Politics on all sides of all the so-called issues are still-born attempts at dealing with an untenable situation brought about by the precarity of self-identity. What makes it clear that these attempts cannot bring any remedy to the underling anxiety that brought them about is that all of them are defined by those they exclude. This shows that these attempts are only reiterations of the dominant, divisive, and destructive self-identity and they do nothing to further an integration of the self beyond the norms of identity this culture gives us and enforces. These iterations of identity are allowed to exist because they do not ultimately threaten the culture’s acceptable range of self-identities. Integrated selves, on the other hand, cannot expect to be given any viable space in which to exist.

This seems an impossible situation.

But only if viewed from within the cultural norm.

A cultural norm that holds within itself

all of what any of its inhabitants might consider

abominations of the Left or the Right.

By putting its enormous powers of amplification behind

any voice that, while making a show of rebellion,

maintains its basic tenets,

it has been able to drown-out any alternative

and ensure that any turn-away

decays into a re-turn to its own values.

This does not signal the impossibility of integration.

It makes integration possible.

At the current level of dysfunction this culture’s lessons of futility become more visible and harder to ignore. It is harder and harder to accept any doubt that every one of our culture’s values is totally corrupt. This frees an enormous internal energy that in the past was absorbed by incredulity.

When a labyrinth presents itself as having no exit there are two available responses: despair and clarity. Despair overwhelms and is an invariable sign that one suffers under a toxic identity. Clarity, however fleeting or partial, opens a window onto the possibility of integration. Despair only increases constraint. Clarity illuminates the possibility of movement. Despair keeps us bound. Clarity can be built upon. It presents itself as self-evident in ways that are markedly different from the mechanisms of delusion. Its pursuit leads towards increased integration and generates meaningful contact with reality and all that this increased engagement implies: sanity, effectiveness, energy, strength. It takes the closing of the door to any and all superficial roles and forms of self-identification for one to be able and ready to commit to integration.

Self-integration is not a process.

The entire concept of process is itself an expression

of the Ego-identity.

One that it uses to turn us away from anything

beyond its narrow horizons

and turn us back into

identifying solely with it.

Self integration is instantaneous and it also takes time to be embodied. It can never come to be within psychological time as an identity keeps giving itself time to turn whatever insight might threaten it back into a concept the Ego can use to continue to maintain itself.

Insight is embodied in a particular organism,

embedded, entangled in the particular experiencing

of the moment in which it arises.

Insight is not seduced into the illusion of providing a God’s eye view.

Whatever appears to provide a position outside and beyond the moment is an artifact of an Ego attempting to enlarge itself.

An Egoic Self-identity can only be maintained

by holding onto a posture that only amounts to bad faith.

We would all like to stand for something,

have our lives mean something,

but so long as we are mired in bad faith

that is impossible.

Loosening the grip of unrecognized self-identity

unties us from limiting roles.

We can accept that acting within a role

might have limited usefulness.

We learn to take up and drop roles as easily

as we would pick up a hammer to pound in a nail

and then put it down to comfort a child.

As this new year unfolds

we do have a choice.

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©Antonio Dias, 2010 – 2023

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Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

3 thoughts on “The State of the Self

  1. Great essay.

    Couldn’t help telling you that I’d just jotted down the following note, and was surprised again to see it reflected and expanded upon in your essay:

    In so many ways the culture (and our own personal thinking) is reaching a very significant fork in the road. This is partially shown in the culture’s crisis over whether to go one of two ways in protecting ourselves: One is to become increasingly defensive, border-guarding, ready to fight, seeing everything and everyone as a potential threat; hunkering down, reading the world solely as politics of power, becoming more concerned with oneself, one’s nation, one’s identity. The other way of defending the organism is by becoming more open, less concerned with arbitrary borders, thinking in terms of the health of the whole environment (which raises all boats), becoming less defensive of a portion of that whole, and more inclined to surrender a position, learn and adapt. One is to consolidate the Self, and the other is to dissolve the rigid Self and move to a shifting, temporary and metaphoric identity.

    So for instance, in agriculture, you can focus on killing all the pests with chemicals and GMOs; or you can go the other way and invite the pests to feast on one another, creating a crop embedded in a balanced mini-ecosystem. Likewise there is health protection by focusing almost exclusively on chemotherapies, drugs, invasive surgeries, a war against disease. And there are probiotic approaches that attempt to encourage a rich biota in the gut, a balanced internal and external ecosystem, from which fewer diseases manifest.
    The second of these branches offers a wider vision, and more long term health prospect. Because the narrower approach, the defensive posture, inevitably destroys itself (by isolating and warring on all needed externalities). We gain the world by letting go of ourselves.

    This is really the crisis driving all evolution. Branching. Either we move into a wider world free of nations and dogmatic allegiances, or we die.

    And oddly, you end by talking about choice. And I was thinking about choice on the way in on the bus this morning. I love your essay wholly, but I’m just going to offer a different angle on choice. If it’s a choice, we don’t really have clarity. This “branching” for instance, looks like a choice (and is metaphorically) between moving towards a broader or narrower vision. And we do seem to go back and forth quickly. But when there is clarity we move into the new branch. It doesn’t exist until that moment. The branching looks like a choice in retrospect and can be talked about as a choice, metaphorically. But it’s closer to a tracing of footprints along a path we didn’t know we’d take (which didn’t even exist as a path) until the moment we MOVE in that direction spontaneously, by way of insight (imagination).

    So that’s just another way of looking at it, but looking at it as choice is also a helpful insight. It makes clear that there might be another possibility, and to reflect more.

    Also I was reading Arno Gruen, and your essay reminds me of him a lot! A necessary indication of honesty (intelligence) is the capacity to see the truth in the false and the false in the true simultaneously (as K said) when reading any idea (seeing everything as metaphoric, so that there are only different perspectives, no dogmatic answers). And I noticed an example of how to look at that in these two quotes from the German in one of his essays:

    “However, the ones whose inner psychological organization is most influenced by death, or fear of death, deny the danger and throttle their own (and our own) power of fantasy.”

    Another example: “The worldwide refugee and immigration problem is a further aspect of the loss of a capacity for fantasy and the consequent incapacity to solve this problem.”

    In both cases “fantasy” (or “imagination”) are not being seen as “la la land” or unrealistic, as we tend to use the words in this culture, but as insight itself. They can use the word for both meanings. So for instance, some people get lost in fantasy worlds. But at the other extreme, Einstein used fantasy to conjure up the theory of relativity. Fantasy and insight are inseparable. But so is fantasy and delusion. Depends on whether that gift of imagination is used with clarity or not.

    Anyways, enjoyed and wanted to use the essay as a base to do some reflecting.


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