I used to be impressed that there are so many narcissists, because the easiest person to hate in the world is oneself. That is because you are constantly keeping yourself company; keeping anyone constant company is intolerable. I suppose that is why divorces spiked during this period of Covid quarantines: spouses had to start keeping each other constant company. Covid unmasked some things as well as masking some things. Now, the funny thing about Narcissus is that he never actually fell in love with himself. He fell in love with his face, and his body; he quite literally pined away trying to prevent himself from getting to know himself. Your face is a front for something, and a front usually has an interior. Narcissus never got past his front, which is probably why he never hated himself. I said in the last article I wrote that I was going to suggest a solution to the problem of “mankind’s incompetence at living”.
The reason why I started with the talk of Narcissus is because we are now all Narcissus. We are crazily trying to fall in love with a front so that we will be forever content with looking at the front and never going to the inside. We are, simply, trying to escape being present to ourselves. The damaging aspect of this escape from your own presence is that, when you are not present to yourself, you cannot serve yourself. (To use a very stupid example: if I wish to help Ryan move his sofa, I must be present at Ryan’s house with Ryan. Also, please remember that there are many different forms of presence: presence of the body, presence of the voice, presence of the imagination[memory], etc.) The motif of presence is omnipresent throughout the Bible. Whenever God calls someone to service (whether it is Abraham, or Samuel, or any of the prophets) He calls that someone by his name: the answer God always expects translates thus, from the Hebrew, “I am in your Presence, God”. It is an “ethical response” in Hebrew, indicating a willingness and capability to serve God. God Himself claims that He is the sustainer of all creation because He is present to all of it at every moment: “everywhere Present and filling all Things”. His name, YHWH, means “I AM”; it is a claim to eternal and permeating presence. In the Bible, God leads by His presence; He indicates His will by where He is present.
Unless you are present to yourself you cannot serve yourself, and unless you can serve yourself you cannot live life competently. (I used, in the previous article to this one, an analogy between playing the piano well and living life well: I said that your instrument for living life is your own body and mind and emotion-complex. There is a phrase among performers, which is an idiom for playing or acting well, which is “stage-presence”. To be present on the stage is to master it, to serve the play well, to serve the music well, to serve the audience well). There are thousands of ponds in society through which to fall in love with a front, or a mere face: there are television, and politics, and comic-books, and social media, and video-games. All of these genres of distraction allow you to escape from the presence of your own self and therefore they make you more and more incompetent at living life.
I don’t remember that I mentioned the term “identity politics” in my last article, but that was really the evil I was writing about. The building blocks of identity politics are societal flocks: political flocks, racial flocks, intellectual flocks, sexual flocks, etc. I said that there is safety in flocks; you blend in and you are unexceptional; being non-exceptional is non-threatening. If you are non-threatening, society will return the favor by not threatening you. The reason why people flee to flocks is because they have grown and matured (theoretically) while not being present to themselves. They are ignorant of themselves, but they still require some means of orienting themselves in reality: identity politics, membership in a flock, serves that purpose. The devil’s advocate on your left shoulder may ask: well, why don’t people simply begin discovering themselves after they have realized that they have committed a grievous error in not discovering themselves all through their childhood? Because it’s hard. And it is much more complicated to come to know yourself after you have lived eighteen years, or twenty-five years, and your body has matured, and you have acquired a significant repertoire of living experience. Imagine working through school without ever learning a mite of mathematics, then attempting to enter college: you of course could begin learning Math at eighteen or nineteen, but you would have to start at the very beginning and begin the task of comprehending so many years of mathematical principle. Would not most people just decide that it is much too late to start and dismiss mathematics and college in the end? It is a very daunting task to begin to know yourself after eighteen or twenty or twenty-five years of not knowing yourself; you would have to start at the beginning and wander through eighteen or twenty or twenty-five years of living experience trying to untangle and make sense of your relationships, your dislikes, your likes, your capacity for wrongdoing, your awareness of your curiosities.
The very easiest choice left is to retreat into a flock, where your humanity is reduced to a common experience (the black experience, or the rich experience, or the gay experience) and you are told to behave like everybody else (see my trinitarian experience-belief-action in the previous article). Instead of taking up the difficult mantle of orienting yourself in reality, you embrace unexceptionalism to allow another to orient you within reality (this is, by the way, the very definition of slavery). Characteristically of identity politics, you become cheap if you flee to a flock. Every one (especially everyone who has children, or spoiled children) understands that the more you have of an entity, the less you treat the entity with respect.
That is why plastic straws are cheap and Versace shirts are not. Uniqueness and rareness have always been identified with value. Now, if you primarily identify as black or white or brown, you are already less valuable than you could be for the reason that there are millions of white people and black people and brown people in the world. If society sees you primarily as black or brown or white, then society will treat you cheaply because there are a million other black or brown or white people to replace you if something should happen to you (this is the Shakespearean irony and stupidity of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is a bad joke. There is no such thing as a black life, and if that is how people see you, they will always treat you cheaply because you are easily replaceable). If you identify with the self, if you flee not to a flock, but demand by your actions and your words that society treat you and identify you with yourself, apart from the trappings of the body, then society will treat you much more preciously. You, with your own body, with your own name, with your own thoughts, have never existed in the whole history of existence. You are rarified to the point of being single; you are infinitely difficult to replace and therefore you are infinitely valuable, and, therefore, if you convince people to see you accordingly (by the demand of your actions and your words), society will treat you with infinite care.
Identity politics is an attempt to escape from being present to yourself. It is falling in love with a face or a front. It is a begging to be released from the demand of greatness, from the demand of exceptionalism, from the demand of infinite value. It is surrendering your soul for the sake of your body. It is a contentedness with an identity which does not require knowing yourself and being present to yourself because the group identity never moves beyond the face with which you have fallen in love. Narcissus perished because he fell in love with a face and never moved again. That is the other thing about identity politics: it teaches its adherents to be content with remaining where they are because their identity is so simple. They can comprehend themselves all at once and forever. Life, living things, do not remain still and neither do living identities. Living identities seek evolution, like life forms. If you identify with the self, you will never comprehend yourself once and for all. As I said before, good identity is the task of constantly renewing knowledge about yourself.
The answer to these problems of identity is to teach people to become present to themselves. That sounds simple, but simplicity, particularly regarding human identity, is elusive. I suppose, comprehensively, it would require a rejuvenation of how children are raised and what politics and education teaches people, specifically youth. Self-esteem is the enemy of greatness: that is what must go, especially in American education. Group identity is the enemy of uniqueness: that must be banished from the arts and the culture. Politics should be limited in its scope and likewise banished from almost every sector of society where it now dwells: the family, the economy, the arts, education. It would require parents principally to raise their kids to rely much less on the genres of distraction which are a constant in every corner of culture: television, social media, etc. It would require people to begin reading again and conversing with other people face to face again. It would require people to feel life as they live it, and study themselves in the evening. It will start, as every cultural rejuvenation starts, with the individual. Are you willing to do any of those things? Are you willing to be a novelty? Or better yet, are you willing to be an originality?
A link to the previous article on Human Identity: