I can remember a time in junior high school, walking down the hallway by several cute girls, puffing my chest out in order to look more muscular. I always hated being skinny. I must’ve looked like a complete idiot. I’m nervous now typing this as I’m incredibly embarassed I did such a thing.
Self-consciousness does this sort of thing to you. It’s destructive. It’ll lead you to do stupid things. It leads to shyness. It leads to all sorts of anxieties that you’d be better off without. It even leads to pride. But what is self-consciousness exactly and where does it originate?
According to several philosphers and many great thinkers, the fall of man, as depicted in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve is an allegory to the introduction of self-consciousness into mankind.
If you recall the story, after eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve both clothed themselves as they realized they were naked. I suppose we can infer that before this time Adam and Eve roamed freely about the garden, wearing nothing at all, and didn’t think a thing of it, just as all animals do today. Why clothe themselves? What changed? What does the clothing represent?
Have you ever done something really really stupid, and then look over your shoulder to see someone was watching you? Ever regretfully do something to a friend or someone you love and think to yourself, “That’s not me. That’s not how I treat people.” Ever have someone get the wrong impression of you because of circumstances outside of your control? I know I have. Welcome to the concept of shame.
Shame, or self-consciousness, comes forth when you view yourself as an object before someone else. You see a person looking at you, eavesdropping in on your life via some means: maybe they read your journal, hear gossip from your friends, or run into you somewhere. You see them seeing you, and you believe they have formed a judgment about you, as to who you are as a person. You’ve made yourself into an object. More specifically you’ve made yourself into the object you believe the other thinks you are.
Everyone hates being an object. No one wants to be viewed as an object in any way. The most modern notion is women’s views toward not wanting to be only a sexual object for the man. They want to be viewed for their more authentic aspects. This concept goes much farther than just sexual objects, however.
When I say no one wants to be an object, I mean that no one wants their “self” to be captured in a moment’s glance. We all want to be perfection, yet none of us are that. We look at ourselves, in that reflective mirror of our own mind, and we see a future self. We see what we want to be, and how short we are from all we want to be.
If our self was to be captured by the eyes of another, a still frame to be hung on the wall of all eternity, we’d want that picture to be the perfect image of all we want to be. Otherwise, we want more time to make ourselves into what we want to be before being judged. The feeling of shame comes when you see your picture hung in the gallery of eternity, with your name beneath it, and the picture does not portray the “you” which you want to portray.
Sometimes it’s an aspect of your physical being you don’t like. Maybe you’re not as handsome or as pretty as you’d like to be. Sometimes it’s intelligence. Maybe you’re so busy with the things of life that you haven’t had time to study all the things you’d like to have studied. Sometimes it’s possessions. Maybe you’ve just started toward your life goals and haven’t achieved the financial or other forms of success you’d like to have achieved.
Isn’t it awful when you see someone else looking in on your life, and you haven’t had the chance to get everything in just the fashion you’d like it? Or worse, there’s certain things dealt to you that you had no control over whatsoever that you’re now being judged on by others. You feel misrepresented. You feel wronged. You feel misjudged. What they’re seeing is not “you”.
So back to the clothing allegory. What does it mean? The clothing represents you shielding yourself from these judgments. We want to hide our bodies. We want to say to the other person looking at us, “This is not me. Look elsewhere.” Or “Don’t judge me yet, I’m not ready.”
In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, verse 37, we find the following passage:
(37) His disciples said, “When will you become revealed to us and when shall we see you?”
Jesus said, “When you disrobe without being ashamed and take up your garments and place them under your feet like little children and tread on them, then will you see the son of the living one, and you will not be afraid.”
If God is love, then certainly we’ll experience a lot more of that if we stop judging one another all the time. If a part of love is taken to be accepting others, even when they’re not all they “should” or want to be, then judging the incomplete selves which we all are must cease. Also, fear is when you feel yourself an object and not in control of your life. Christ is likely referring to the elimination of social fears and anxieties that shouldn’t exist. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a world where everyone wasn’t always judging everyone else? Where you weren’t always held to such standards from every angle, constantly being accused of not being what you “should” be? Where we weren’t always walking on a tightrope, with the winds of accusation blowing in every direction?
Techincally, you already live in such a world, though it can be difficult to ignore what others think of you at times. These judgments are not imposed from the outside, they come from the inside. In the absolute sense, you have no access to the other’s mind, or his thoughts. You are actually judging yourself. Sure you hear their words, and see their expressions, but you’re letting their judgments get to you. You’re giving their judgments substance. You’re letting their judgments form your identity or “self”. It is self-consciousness.
What I believe Christ is saying here is that if you can get rid of self-consciousness, and lose yourself through the eye of the Other, and regain what you had lost during the fall of man, you’ll gain an inner bliss you’ve been searching for.
If you can let go of desire for fame, and trying to impress others. Wanting to be important. Wanting to be desired, or thought highly of. Wanting to be special. If you can instead get out of everyone else’s heads and get back into your own, you’ve definitely acquired something worth having.
I’ll give an example of how self-consciousness can create a needlessly awkward situation.
Take a married woman, who has a desire to be important to the man. Say the woman cooks a meal, and the man does not particularly care for what is prepared. He instead looks at the meal, says he’s not in the mood for that, goes to the refrigerator, and fixes himself a sandwich and grabs a can of Coke.
Now a lot of women would throw a fit at such an event. She would say the man does not appreciate all the things she does. Say this woman went to great lengths to prepare this meal. Why is she upset? It’s self-consciousness. She didn’t prepare the meal for herself. If she did, she wouldn’t be worried if he wanted it or not. She wants to be important, and appreciated. She wants to be a provider and to take care of the man. In other words, she’s not completely self-sufficient. She needs the man’s affections to feel complete. She’s looking for the man to fulfull something in her that she should have already filled herself.
This event should not have happened. A lot of times I tell people to become selfish. By selfish, I don’t mean only concerned about you. I’m moreso referring to self-sufficiency and pursuing goals because you want to do them, and doing those things for no other reason besides that fact that you want to do them. I’m not saying she should purposely only prepare enough of the food for herself only. Most of the time it’s not much extra work to throw in some extra for a few more people as well. What I am saying is that this woman should prepare this food because she wants to prepare the food. If she doesn’t want to make the food as a goal in and of itself, then don’t do it. And certainly don’t get upset if someone doesn’t want the food you prepare. Don’t be a slave begging for someone else’s affection. The man doesn’t want the food, and the woman doesn’t want to make it, and now we’re fighting over the entire ordeal! How much more ridiculous of a situation could we have? That’s self-consciousness for you.
Christ said, “Judge not lest you be judged.” This principle exists because people start off as a blank slate. We start off as infants: illiterate, stupid, and morally reprehensible. As we grow, we develop our intelligence, and our moral character. None of us are “there” yet. Capturing someone else, while they are a work in progress, and saying “What I see with my eyes right now, that is Jason” is an awful thing to do to somebody, because it misrepresents the person being captured.
In reality, you’re not even capturing them. It’s like taking a photograph of someone when they are a small child, and trying to keep them there, stopping them from growing. If a person is a being of infinite potential, then judging them in any state they are now is like trying to confine that person to their infancy.
Where people get confused however is the fact that these past “captures” or photographs of the “self” do seem to capture something worthwhile. It is true, what you’ve captured is a past manifestation of the other person. The time they cuss’d you out and hurt your feelings. The time they stole something dear to you. The time they lied and cheated on you. Yes, these are things they did do. We all have to admit, these are things we’ve all done, and are responsible for.
Our past is like a magic spell cast on us. A curse. Everything behind us is turning into impenetrable stone, and this past is chasing us. Even as I type this, my past is freezing behind me. Every movement of my fingers, and every thought running through my mind, set in stone, and unchangeable. We’re fleeing our past, running as fast as we can from it. As we run, we see the Other overlooking the affair. We say, “Don’t look at this hideous mess I’m leaving behind.” We take one short glance over our shoulder, and we see envy, jealousy, hatred, bitterness, and gall. What a nasty trail we leave behind us!
But many of the Others in our world leave their own life for a moment, and decide to take a stroll through your stone garden you’ve left behind. Those digusting, dark, cold figures of stone that you wish you could bury and hide. They take along their camera, and make sure to take pictures of everything they see.
They bring these pictures with them everywhere they go, and make sure to show them to everyone. They say, “Look at Jason”. Look at his poor workmanship. He wishes to be a sculptor but look at him! Look at the work of his hands! He’s not worthy to be in our group.
Sometimes they even come and show these pictures to you. You start to get ahead in life, and start to feel good about yourself. You see you’ve gained some ground on the curse. But what happens? You see the pictures, and are filled with shame. You heart cries, “Yes. That was me. I’m so sorry. Curse you statues! How may I destroy you!” So you turn around and rush the curse! You run with full vigor toward the freezing spell and determine in your heart to change the past. Then, in the blink of an eye you’re frozen as well. You become another stone statue. You have died. Death has captured you and won. No longer can you asset your will, and change the future. You are instead frozen in the past.
Why are we told not to let what others think of us determine our future? Why is this evil? Why is judging the Other a morally unsound thing to do?
This is because the Other can only see past manifestations of you. The Other can only see those old horrid stone statues. They cannot see your future, and their judgments are neccessarily rooted in your past, and your past is that imperfect you which you wish to discard. Human reality is a being of infinite potential. If you ever try to limit what a person is, and try to hold them in the walls of judgment rooted in their past, you have broken the law of love.
Why is it said that love can cover over a multitude of wrongs? This is because love is the union of delight and well-wishing for your neighbor. If you are to wish-well for someone else, you cannot wish them anything but their full potential, which is perfection, and infinity, and to ever say they are anything less is not love. To try to capture them in judgment of stone is to kill them.
Love is the cure to shame, and love has no bounds.
There is another phenenomenon which is birthed in shame, and that is pride. Before coming to this however, we should do a short preliminary study on the common conceptions most people have of pride, so there is no misunderstandings.
I was looking in the dictionary, and saw several definitions of pride. I’ll take these definitions from Microsoft Encarta’s (2004) dictionary.
1. feeling of superiority: a haughty attitude shown by people who believe, often unjustifiably, that they are better than others
Her pride prevented her from mixing with those she considered her social inferiors.
2. proper sense of own value: the correct level of respect for the importance and value of your personal character, life, efforts, or achievements
He had lost all his confidence and pride
3. satisfaction with self: the happy, satisfied feeling somebody experiences when having or achieving something special that other people admire
She felt a sense of pride when she looked at her finished work.
4. source of personal satisfaction: something that somebody feels especially pleased and satisfied to own or to have achieved
His grandchildren were his pride and joy.
I suppose all these definitions capture “pride” to an extent, at least how it’s used by most people in everyday usage, but I don’t feel the first two of them are adequate. Also these definitions make them all seem disconnected and seperate. The last two (3 & 4) almost seem as if they are unconnected with the first two definitions. I’ll show that they are not. I will first examine what I feel is lacking in these definitions, and then I will tell the best definition and conception of pride I’ve been able to find.
Definition 1: The feeling of superiority is oftentimes justified, and if you do not feel it’s justified, oftentimes another thinks quite the opposite. Everyone ends up taking their side, one side thinking they’re justified, and the other thinking they are not. One saying you’re in pride, the others thinking you’re telling the truth. This definition of pride, because it throws this vague sense of “superior” around, leads to perpetual fighting.
I believe we are all, in the ultimate sense, equal as far as our human reality and potential are concerned, but some have utilized this potential more than others in certain respective areas. Sometimes people are correct, and other people are wrong, and to say all opinions and all points of view are equal is not a good idea, as this would eliminate the whole concept of truth, reasonability, and science. To say I have “superior” knowledge of Bertrand Russell, or Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy, compared to most people in the world, I would feel quite justified in making this claim. In the same way, if Dale was to claim to be a superior painter than me, I would be very willing to concede and find him correct. If Luke was to say he is a better shot with a rifle than me, I would surely agree with him as well.
You cannot be “superior” in an ultimate sense, just as someone cannot be “smart” or “stupid” in an ultimate sense. You are superior to someone else in some respect, at this moment in time. You are smart or stupid in various areas of knowledge, at this moment in time. We all currently have our strong points, and our weaknesses. If by superior, we mean that you can currently play a certain role much better than someone else who is currently unskilled in that area, then we find this definition lacking and unhelpful. This definition is the one used by most people to claim pride a negative vice, but we can see it is too vague to be used effectively in any moral argument. We run into wondering when you’re justified in your attitude of superiority, and when you are not. This doesn’t mean that the Others whom you are superior to in your area do not have the capability to reach your same level of excellence you presently have, or even greater, but it does mean that they may not neccessarily be there at this moment.
Definition 2: This definition claims all-knowingness and perfection. If you are to say you have found the “correct” level of respect for yourself, and that you have reached it, you have claimed perfection. You have claimed to be God. This in turn places a limit on human reality’s infinite potential, and this imposed limit will inhibit you from future success.
There exists in no human mind the full potential that we can achieve. I feel this definition is impossible, and can never truly exist in a person. If a person really does feel this sense of pride, they are in self-deception. Nobody feels perfectly content with themselves, or their world at that moment. They can always envison a more perfect world, and a more perfect self. They are always ashamed of at least one aspect of their current self.
Definitions 3 and 4 do not claim perfection, and these are the best of the lot, at least if we are trying to capture that sense of pride in doing a good job. They claim that you feel a joy from your already existent accomplishments. They claim you are partially there, and can start to feel the beginnings of that infinite joy that exists ahead of you in the future. I have nothing against these definitions, which are basically the same thing.
So definition 1 is too vague to be used without causing strife and bigotry, and definition 2 claims perfection. Neither of these are acceptable to me, and the other two, which I have said are acceptable, still could be expounded upon, and I believe all four definitions could be shown to be captured as manifestations of a single concept of “pride”.
At the outset of this section, I said that pride is birthed in shame. What do I mean?
If you recall just a moment ago we were discussing shame. Shame was defined as being the moment we’re objectified by the Other, and we do not like this objectification because we are not yet perfect. Therefore we try to hide our imperfections.
Pride is resistance or an overindulgence to this entire process of being judged by the Other. When a person is judged negatively from the outside, the person stands up in Pride and says, “No, I am not this! That is not true! I am better than what you say!” If the judgment is positive, basically gloating the person, telling them they are more than they really are, Pride also steps in and says, “Yes, you’re quite correct. I am wonderful. I am all you say I am.”
You’ll see it is all rooted in shame. Judging them to be less than they think they are, or what they want to be, they become ashamed and do not want to be what you say they are. Likewise, judging them to be more than what they think they are, they accept, because they are ashamed to be conceived of as less than what you think of them. None of us like to say, “No. I am not all these wonderful things you say I am. I wish I were, but currently, I am not.” We want to be wonderful, and we want to be adored.
Sartre would say that all of this is a “flight in bad faith.” (for info on bad faith, see my old journal entry on Bad Faith and Uncritical Thinking)
Pride, in the correct sense is not claiming to be superior to someone else, it’s claiming to be superior to what someone else has judged you to be. People get prideful when you tell them they are not all they “should” be.
In the ultimate sense then, I suppose we could say that pride is always justified, since we are always capable of more than any judgment makes us out to be. Though we must remember that it is also true that sometimes if someone says we are in the wrong, we may truly be in the wrong. This is where the unjustified, claiming you’re more than you are currently, pride comes into play.
I saw on someone’s myspace page, I cannot remember where, a small kitten looking into a mirror, and in the mirror there was reflected a large, strong lion. Then there was an aphorism, “It’s how you see yourself that counts.”
That sort of thing is dangerous, because you may truly be the kitten, and going out into the world and pretending to be a lion will get yourself killed. You have to know yourself, and your current abilities. Don’t ever overestimate yourself. Know what you are, and know what you are not. The large, strong lion is the future self which you see in front of you, but you must remember that you may not be that lion yet. If you’re not, don’t pretend to be. Get to studying, and training, and become the strong lion you want to be. A kitten claiming to be a lion is in the gloated over-indulgence pride.
There’d be no need for pride if we would not judge each other. Pride denies negative objectification, or gloats in positive objectifications, which are rooted in the gaze of the Other, whether it’s right, or whether it’s wrong. This is why pride is sometimes good, and sometimes bad.
If someone comes up to you and tells you that you are a no good loser, destined to failure, I encourage you to rise up in pride and tell them they are wrong. This is when people are telling you that you are less than what you are. On the other hand, sometimes people tell you that you’re much more than what you are, and it’s time to be “humble”. What really matters is the truth of the matter. Knowing what you really are, and not claiming any more or any less.
I’ve said this before, as I always try to tell people: There is no solution to a lack of knowledge. In this case, knowing who you are, and where you’re going is everything.
When after proper argumentation, with good reasons presented, you are shown to be in the wrong, or that your goals and plans are not the best plans, you should heed the counsel of the advisor. Do not be prideful and say in your heart, “This counsel was not my counsel. Nobody is going to tell me what to do!”
Solomon was said to be the wisest man who ever lived. Whether you believe this or not, I still believe his writings found in the Biblical books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes offer much wisdom. Here are a few verses from Proverbs:
9:7 He who corrects a mocker invites insult.
He who reproves a wicked man invites abuse.
9:8 Don’t reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you.
Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
9:9 Instruct a wise man, and he will be still wiser.
Teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
19:25 Flog a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
Rebuke one who has understanding, and he will gain knowledge.
25:12 As an ear-ring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold,
So is a wise reprover to an obedient ear.
13:18 Poverty and shame come to him who refuses discipline,
But he who heeds correction shall be honored.
15:10 There is stern discipline for one who forsakes the way:
Whoever hates reproof shall die.
10:17 He is in the way of life who heeds correction,
But he who forsakes reproof leads others astray.
12:1 Whoever loves correction loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid.
15:12 A scoffer doesn’t love to be reproved;
He will not go to the wise.
15:31 The ear that listens to reproof lives,
And will be at home among the wise.
17:10 A rebuke enters deeper into one who has understanding
Than a hundred lashes into a fool.
27:5 Better is open rebuke Than hidden love.
28:23 One who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
Than one who flatters with the tongue.
29:15 The rod of correction gives wisdom,
But a child left to himself causes shame to his mother.
29:19 A servant can’t be corrected by words.
Though he understands, yet he will not respond.
13:1 A wise son listens to his father’s instruction,
But a scoffer doesn’t listen to rebuke.
I’ve heard a mindset among the young that says, “Do not care what others think about you. Do your thing, regardless of what people are saying.” This is not always good counsel. I advise you to hear out what people say, and tell them, if possible, why you believe their advice is not sound. If it is sound, then thank them for the advice and you have learned something new. Make your decisions based on reason and knowledge, not willy-nilly feelings and passion. Saying, “Forget what others are saying about you” is too simple.
This may seem to contradict what was said earlier:
“What I believe Christ is saying here is that if you can get rid of self-consciousness, and lose yourself through the eye of the Other, and regain what you had lost during the fall of man, you’ll gain an inner bliss you’ve been searching for.”
There’s a subtle distinction here, however. Self-consciousness only comes through the gaze of the Other. We are not to view our lives through the gaze of the Other, but through our own eyes. Concern yourself with your own life, your goals, and your passions. Basing your life on what someone else wants from you takes away all your power, and will leave you in misery. Don’t be what mom and dad want you to be, or what grandma wants you to be, or what your friends want you to be. There’ll always be someone who wants you to be something. Be what you have your inner passion for, and pursue that. Don’t worry what others are saying about you, or if your dream does not line up with the socially accepted norms. If you want to be a philosopher, yet your parents want you to be a lawyer or a doctor, forget the social pressure and be a philosopher.
Listen to people’s criticism and advice only if it helps you get where you want to go, or to avoid pitfalls, or avoid hurting others during your quest. If people are trying to keep you from the life you want to experience, hear them out, but if they do not give you good reason to give up your goals, then move on. Be quick to hear, and slow to speak.
A good father, if you were going to be a philosopher, and he was advocating you to become a doctor, could say:
“Son, I can understand your desires. You can do what you want to do with your life, but I will warn you of a few upcoming things. Philosophers do not make money. There are little jobs out there which embody the work of a philosopher, and you must find a way to make money outside of philosophy if you ever wish to have your own home, a family, or own any possessions. This life is hard for some.”
If you were to take the advice of many young people, they’d just say, “Ignore your parents! Go for your dream! Do your thing!” I say to listen to what he says, and look into the facts. If it’s true that philosophers don’t make money, then you’re going to have to find a way to make money, or you’re going to live a life as a vagabond on the street. Every decision you make has consequences, and you must look into these consequences and see if you still want what you’re seeking.
I will make a point to consider on this however. Make sure the men and women you seek for counsel are people of integrity and wisdom. Nothing can replace wisdom.
Do not discredit people just because you don’t like what you hear, and do not be the type who is afraid to argue. When I say argue, I mean simply the organized laying down of why you believe what you do, and why I believe what I do, and sorting out all the details, and coming to mutual agreement based on research and evidence.
Some are embarassed to argue, because they do not want to look stupid. This is self-consciousness. Others have strange beliefs they hold in fear, such as religious beliefs that they will try to throw on you. Watch out for those. Don’t let their fears ensnare you as well. Some are anarchic, and will only argue about some vague sense of avoiding “fascism” and being controlled by the “system”. Whoever you talk to, just make sure that their counsel breaks down into the actual actions you’ll be doing, and the consequences attached to each action. Don’t let the argument drift off into the big government conspiracy and how you need to revolt, or any other abstract weirdness. Deal in tangible choices, and the consequence of each individual choice.
If you’re planning to go to college and major in such and such, a real argument would cover things such as the following:
1. Debt and financial obligations. This would include how much debt you’re going to incur, what interest rates, how long it will take to pay off, and the best financial strategy to take toward the affair.
2. Job security. How likely you are to find a job after you graduate, and how much do they pay. Will you have to relocate? You should be looking at statistics from a website such as U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or other source of good solid information.
3. Will you work during your going to college. Consequences of this would be talked about, such as being getting burned out, and the detrimental aspects of not having any time to exercise. Mental and physical destruction.
4. Where will you go to school, and who are the instructors? Are they good teachers? Are you going to be stuck with weird foreign instructors who can barely speak English? Can you stay home, or not? How are you going to pay for all of it?
5. Have you job-shadowed people who work the jobs you’re planning to get? What did you think of it? Could you work the next 20 years working a job like this, because that’s how long it’s going to take to pay off these loans, and once you’re buried in debt, you can’t come home to mom and dad and stay home – you’re going to have to keep working.
6. Are there any types of certifications or cheaper forms of education where you may be able to still acquire the knowledge and get the job, without traditional college? Do you need college at all?
I hear most conversations, and they’re talking about the “experience”. Most of your time won’t be spent partying and dating nice looking girls, I can tell you that now, especially if you’re having to work while going to school. You’ll be either studying, or working. You’ll spend 4 tough years studying, then 20 years reaping the consequences of what decisions you make.
Your conversation should be dealt toward long term effects. The loan will take 15~20 years to pay off, taking maybe up to 25% of your take-home paycheck each month. Is that worth it? Count up your other bills, such as a home mortgage, etc, and see if you will make enough money to get what you want out of life.
Maybe you’ll make $40,000 per year, which is $3,333 per month. 30% goes out to taxes leaving you with $2,344. Pay your student loans, you’re down to maybe $1850. Home mortgage, 30 year loan, on $120,000 at 5%, you’re talking around $650 per month. We’re down to $1200. Car insurance, on a decent car, $200 per month. I’m being benevolent and saying you own your car. Down to $1000 per month. Electric bill, $150. Down to $850. Property taxes, averaged out, maybe $600 per year, divide that by 12… $50 per month. Down to $800. Internet access, $30 per month. down to $770. Groceries, if you’re going to eat decently, $200 per month. Down to $570. Gasoline for car… depends really, but we’ll say you don’t leave the house much: $60 per month. I’d say you’ll have around $400~$500 extra per month, to buy furniture, TVs, computer, go out to eat, etc. If you get married and combine forces, it’ll be a lot better.
You may somewhat like what you’re studying, but could you work at a job doing it 8 hours per day, 5 days per week? You’ll spend around 4~6 hours per weekday, and the weekends in this home and stuff you own. Is it worth it?
It all comes down to wisdom. The person that can tell you the consequences of what you’re getting into is what you need. I say you’re going to have to ignore the bad opinions, and accept the good opinions, but the only way you’re going to know if they’re good or bad is with knowledge.