The idea of ‘the self’ is alone, a conundrum. Without actually contemplating it, without actually asking the question ‘who or what am I’, it could be argued that the self cant exist.
If the self automatically became a ‘thing’ once we began to exist the moment after birth (even if just an idea or concept), then qualifying it would be easy, albeit at the cost of the diverse and eclectic individual ‘selfs’ that seem to make up the fabric of humanity.
So, how about an embryo: ‘Animal’ enough to be considered a ‘human’ but still, in theory, with no awareness or knowledge of ‘self’. – At what point does the self begin to emerge or evolve? – It certainly doesn’t seem arbitrary (and potentially can’t be).
It might be that our own ideas of self are simply just abstractions of our experiences of the world, and hence non-existent to shallow at the start of our lives, and potentially deep and profound, the longer we live. So, is ‘the self’ constantly evolving, changing, waxing and waning? …
Suppose we never asked the question ‘who or what am I’? – Outsiders might well be able to describe you or I but to them, we would be he/she, him/her, and obviously not – to them – ‘self’.
With this in mind, its easy to see how the idea of ‘self’ is something that is constructed for us whether we like it or not. How we see our ‘self’ is really the real choice in this so-called conundrum, and only when we begin to contemplate ‘the self’ does it truly begin to exist.
Essentially, none of this thinking is really that new though. – The question is, however: what do these ideas mean in today’s society? And how relevant – or even important – is ‘the self’ to our existence?
Perhaps one of the most important functions of ‘the self’, is its mechanism to explain who and what we are. – ‘I’ am motivated, charismatic, ambitious; or ‘I’ am energetic, outgoing, vibrant etc. – Without analysing ‘self’, we wouldn’t be able to make these statements (even if we say, just asked people around us, and wrote down their answers – some analysis would still take place).
Could the self really be nothing other than an idea, existing fleetingly during the timespan of our life, or even just the moment we decided that that is who we are, in order to categorize each individual within an idea or image we can understand?
People and the individual ‘self’ are seemingly being commoditized and ‘the self’, more than ever, diluted, as further and further we are put into characterizing groups.
Today, you hear and see people being called all manner of things – we are hipsters, mods, millennials, gen-x-ers, gen-y; people who are ‘alternative’, ‘indie’, ‘gangsta’, and myriad other labels that are seemingly diluting the self. Labels – of everything, it seems – are an unfortunate by-product of our consumer world. It makes us easier to market to, and whether we like it or not, to ‘sell’.
‘I’ recognize who ‘I’ am – or recognize ‘me’ (‘the self’) – but beyond this, the world around me doesn’t need to, as much as it benefits from saying ‘you are part of a group, and these are the ideas, concepts, products that appeal to you most, or that the rest of society best understands as being associated with what ‘you’ are’…
We sell ourselves (almost literally) as individuals, and then buy back the pieces that ‘make’ us – whether clothing or books, furniture or art, music and cars, even the experiences we have at concerts, or dinner – as marketed to, sold to and implied by social stigma, fashioned and moulded by the dominant capitalist, consumerist ideals that so dictate our lives today, and according to some self-denying group we are apparently a part of. – You didn’t choose this? Too bad.
On one hand, many of these concepts exist to give us the ability to see ourselves differently from the rest, but they simultaneously put us in groups and categories that seemingly throw an umbrella over the individual ‘self’, almost denying its existence.
Describe yourself: Do you see only you? Or do you see a whole bunch of images, ideas, even other people who you align yourself with? Are you not just a part of a group? – A self for just a second of thought, and then no more, further and further dissolving into a world of ever-increasing, ever-changing concepts?
On the one hand, we’re constantly being told to ‘be something’ – but its a ‘something’ that seems invalid, or void, unless it’s a ‘something’ that acknowledges a certain set of criteria, and can be ‘explained’ by them (again, labelled).
On the other hand, that ‘something’ you’re aspiring to be could defy any known, conspicuous explanation? Would you then be nothing? No-one? Non-existent? Until you, once again, did away with your ‘self’, and put yourself amongst another group?
In reality, there are plenty of people around you who need you to realise them. We are insular, self-obsessed, disengaged, as the self is slowly (and surely?) being destroyed by a status-quo that prefers you pigeon-holed.
Perhaps there’s just no point obsessing over ‘self’ any more. ‘The self’’ – a notion potentially based on disconnect (i.e. selfishness), and its ever-commoditized dissolution, is turning us away from being the open, instinctual animals that we were at birth. When ‘the self’ didn’t matter so much.
Written for New Philosopher Magazine and their writer's award V