Tinkerbell, Egoism and the Structure of the Self Part 2
Tinkerbell presented me with a problem. She was told to be true to herself and in so doing she did what society wanted.
I wondered what is meant when we are told to be “true to yourself” – whether to do this was ever desireable or wise. If one is going to be “true to yourself” you have to know what “youself” is – therefore an understanding of the “self” is required.
One interesting picture was given by Tony Campolo. He doubted the wisdom of taking time out to “find yourself”. He suggested that:
“The self is not an essence waiting to be discovered through introspection”
The image he used was of a student wanting to discover their true self – by stripping away all the roles imposed on him and accepted by him. Campolo argued that by doing so, the young man would only discover that he was an onion: the sum of these layers – and no more.
I don’t like this picture – I think that someone is more than a sum of their roles, in the same way that someone is more than a list of their activities. Two people could share identical roles and responsibilities and partake in identical activities – but their identities remain separate. Their characters may be entirely dissimilar, I think. (I should of course listen to Campolo’s whole talk, rather than just the preamble… but anyway…)
In the nature/nurture argument – everyone knows that children can be brought up the same way and turn out to be completely different. These differences are apparent from very early on (even from birth?). Whether someone is compliant, wilful, obsessive, reckless – these characteristics for example, I think, are or can be innate.
However, maybe I am wrong. Maybe we are onions, defined by our commitments and choices. Therefore it would be a nonsense to be true to yourself. You would be making a choice to do whatever it was and were therefore changed: your “self” would alter accommodate your commitment and your role. Every commitment and decision would alter your identity and self. Maybe it does. Hmm.
The second picture of the self that appealed to me was from “Dead Again” – a movie I really enjoyed at the time. My memories of it are hazy now. Robin Williams plays a retired/sacked psychiatrist and he meets with someone in a freezer… anyway … and he has this great line about smoking:
“You are either a smoker or a non-smoker. Find out which one you are. And be that.”
This then opposes the onion view. The frozen shrink would have you believe that one’s nature is innate – and finding it is the key to some kind of peace and clarity. This then flies in the face of freedom of choice. (And is clearly nonsense, given the context from which I ripped the quote… but anyway).
Surely, if someone is a smoker by nature, they still have the right not to smoke – because of egoism or because of utilitarianism – there are plenty of good reasons not to smoke. The same with the other innate characteristics – I may have a wilful child – but they still have the right to choose to be compliant – perhaps again through egoism or utilitarianism. As much as I like the quote and use it – I think it is a poor way to define self. *Let’s hear it for CBT!*
A third way of looking at self is the last stanza of Norman MacCaig’s poem “Summer Farm” :
Self under self, a pile of selves I stand
Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand
Lift the farm like a lid and see
Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.
It’s a great poem – full of unusual perspectives. I love the image of the selves being threaded on time – so that the person he once was has been repeatedly superseded. It is something like a stack of Russian dolls, each one contained by a larger, newer version. MacCaig has a “me” within this stack of selves, which I find reassuring. But the first one was much smaller than the outer one – the last farm must have its nature following a pattern established through all the other selves threaded on time.
These are the pictures of “self” I find interesting. I’ll try to post some conclusions in due course. But right now I have to go and liquidise some soup.