- Oct 6, 2008
I had already been thinking about similar ideas somewhat, and of course elements of it have been recurring themes of mine where philosophy intersected real life for many years.
It was in therapy yesterday that it just began to coalesce, several disparate ideas coming together as part of the same general concept.
I'm starting to think that our core philosophical ideas and outlooks, vague general things which we aren't likely to be conscious of, have enormous effects on real everyday things.
It began because he complemented my progress, how far I had come from the time I started going.
(You no doubt remember the state I was in around the time I first went)
It wasn't so much about being able to be self-reflective, let things go, or make positive changes.
It was about being willing to try. Being willing to look at myself in the way necessary to do these things, to be honest about my faults.
To me this sounded like a very strange compliment.
There is no courage here.
This is to my own benefit.
I can see how changing implies admitting you aren't perfect already, and if you aren't perfect, then in a sense there is something "wrong" with you. We don't want to believe there is anything wrong with us, and rather hurt self-esteem (ego, pride) we hold on to our destructive habits and personality traits.
But he suggested that it may be tied in with not just self-esteem, but the very sense of self; with identity.
I have heard this recently. An unhappy person I spoke to recently said she has been a mother and a psychiatrist for so long... who is she if she isn't those things anymore?
He (my therapist) suggested if a person has been depressed their whole life it may become part of their definition of self so that they don't know who they are if they aren't depressed, don't know what to do with them selves I guess.
Perhaps a lot of us type-cast ourselves, and expect everyone else to as well.
I don't understand why we need an identity, what purpose it serves.
I feel, and always have felt, that I am defined as that which is aware of the experiences and sensations which happen to me, that which is doing the thinking.
I look back, and whatever age, whatever stage I was in, it was never "someone else" because I hold memories of that time. Even if I was different in some ways, no matter how dramatically different, it was me, because I am me. I am not the collection of my qualities. I'm just me. So the concept of "identity crises" (oh my god! I don't know who I am!?!?) seems silly, and the idea of changing who you are does equally so. You can't change who you are. You can change opinions, beliefs, preferences, behaviors, but you are still you, and always will be (barring massive head trauma or degenerative neurological disease).
I think if a person is centered in their own mind, focused on their experiences, it might never occur to them to question who they are. Identity only becomes relevant in the social context of comparing self to others. So then identity ties in with self-esteem, in that it also has meaning only relative to others. Having self-esteem, high or low, means you are focusing on yourself relative to everyone else. With low-self esteem you meet someone new and imagine they must think badly of you. With high self esteem you meet someone new and assume they think well of you. When I meet someone new I am too focused on what I think of them to imagine what they might think of me. To have self-esteem, or, possibly, any identity at all, is quite self-centered; its as if we go through life with our eyes outside of our heads, turned around and focused on ourselves.
I think it may be healthier and more productive to have our eyes inside of our heads, focused out on the world. I suspect it is healthier to have no self-esteem than high self-esteem.
In this case the philosophical idea is the way of looking at people, feeling it natural to categorize and define people has the real life personal effect of limiting potentially positive changes.
Perhaps also the society wide valuation of freedom for its own sake has implications for individuals too. I suspect part of why so much is made of freedom has a lot to do with the capitalist model, giving the wealthy, the elites, and corporations the freedom to do what they like while assuring everyone else that freedom means the hypothetical possibility of upward mobility.
Of course it wouldn't do to say it that way, instead one of our most cherished values as a nation is freedom in general. Many of us feel indignant about retaining the right to do even stupid, self-destructive things, (driving without a seat belt, for example) not because there is any personal benefit, but just on general principal.
(digression: I used to feel strongly about principals, but I think now that any principal which doesn't consistently lead to some positive result for real specific individuals is not a valid principal. In other words, nothing should ever be don "just on principal". If there isn't another reason behind it, then the principal itself is invalid.)
No one ever tells us freedom is valuable. Its talked about as if it goes without saying. Its what makes America great so obviously it must be great.
As a result we don't really like being told what to do, even when we know there is a good reason or that the advice is sound. People resent any intrusion on their personal freedom, especially when (ironically enough) it comes from the very people who promoted the idea it was inherently valuable in the first place (and all of this of course ties into all the people I have spoken to the past few months promoting anarchy).
I think societies views on sex, marriage, and relationships is changing due not only to additional freedoms and liberties, (feminism, decoupling marriage from religion) but also due to technology, and it had been so for long enough (multiple generations) that its internalized to the point that some things seem to go with out saying, so we aren't even aware we are thinking a particular way.
I think all of these individual components are good things, but all combined there seem to be unintended consequences which profoundly affect how each of us as individuals view our own relationships, and therefore ends up having a profound impact on individual life choices, and ultimately, happiness.
But I have already begun working on the essay that will expand on that example, so I will leave it at that for now.