To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
Over the last few days I have posted a series of articles I wrote way back in 2004. I put them up, unedited because I believe that they had something useful to say. Something relevant to our ongoing discussions. And that they said things in such a way that I would ruin if I tried to edit them into my current worldview. However, all that means is that now that they are up and available I need to readdress some of the motifs.
In A New Set of Metaphors , I introduced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and specifically, his concept of Self Actualization. In doing so, I almost immediately altered my terminology from Self Actualization to “Self Fulfillment.” Perhaps rightly so, JimFive quickly called me out on that, as these may not be the same things. In fact, I did it very intentionally, but without explaining how I got from point A to point B.
“Self Actualization” is a state of being. Maslow describes the characteristics of a Self Actualized person as:
They embrace the facts and realities of the world (including themselves) rather than denying or avoiding them. They are spontaneous in their ideas and actions. They are creative. They are interested in solving problems; this often includes the problems of others. Solving these problems is often a key focus in their lives. They feel a closeness to other people, and generally appreciate life. They have a system of morality that is fully internalized and independent of external authority. They judge others without prejudice, in a way that can be termed objective.
In Jim’s comment, he described the self actualized man as “The ideal man, per Maslow, is an autonomous, intellectual stoic, comfortable with his own imperfections. This may be an ideal person, but I wouldn’t want to say that it is THE ideal person.” That’s not a description that I would aspire to, either. But it is also not the image I get reading through the characteristics listed above. The person I see is honest, with self and others; in tune with the world around them; caring and compassionate – willing to assist those they care about however they may; self secure in their beliefs, morals, and general attitudes; and above all, joyful in life. They are “nobody-but-themselves.”
As I see it, a person that has found joy and compassion, honesty and sharing, self security and security in the sensual world cannot make life choices that are anything less than self-fulfilling. When one is truly nobody-but-themselves what could cause them to make a choice that is contrary to their own nature? And what is self-fulfillment but doing that which affirms ones own self?
Moving on, this week Dave wrote another article about the Cult of Individualism. After his previous post on the subject, I wrote Sublimate in response. I stand by that response, but I also realized that there is more to be said and it relates directly to today’s topic. Dave writes:
The cult of individualism is likewise the cult of materialism and consumerism – our ‘value’ is a function of what we own and how much we consume.
Exactly. The “cult of individualism” is a replacement, a piece of candy created within/by the civilizational system to keep us focused on the trees, thereby missing the forest. We are all looking for that which makes us feel Self-Fulfilled. Something that makes us feel as if we have a purpose. Like there is a place in this world that only we can fill, make whole. Like there is more than just “Life Sucks and then you die.” Civilization is fundamentally an economic/political system designed to make things. To produce. So, of course, it preaches that getting things is the ultimate good. Unfortunately, since things rarely (if ever) give us an honest sense of purpose, of place, that leaves us with two choices. The obvious one: get more things (ie, refusal to question the initial premise) and the less obvious: maybe things aren’t it at all. (ie, fundamentalist religion) Those of us looking beyond civilization have come up with a third option – community.
Later, Dave writes:
It’s hard to accept that this intolerance of difference and diversity, this xenophobia, with its undercurrent of racism and every other –ism, is truly the inherent nature of our species. When we were a steady-state species in a world of abundance without growth, this constant dynamic of separation and reconnection was sustainable (if disruptive).
I would submit that it is Dave missing the forest for the trees, here. I do not believe that our species is inherently xenophobic, intolerant, focused on -isms. In our distant tribal past there certainly was a sense of in-group/out-group dynamic. There was your immediate community(band), there was your extended community (tribe) and there was everyone else, human and non. Generally, other humans were far more of a perceived threat than the non-human persons outside of your community. But think about that for a second. Is that any different from a pack of wolves? Or a herd of elephants? I don’t see this as disruptive. I see this as recognizing the honest-to-gods challenges one faces in the world, as opposed to our modern fears of everything and anything other.
So to pull it all together, I would suggest that the modern “cult of individualism” is at the far end of the spectrum from the nobody-but-yourself, self actualized, self -fulfilling human being. Community needs self actualized persons to be strong, but petty individualism will always weaken it. So why is community so hard? Because most civilized human beings are still caught up in mistaking the one for the other. Because most civilized human beings want a quick fix, now. Because we live in a world that does not support (or in some case even allow) self actualized beings. This is hard work that we need to do for ourselves before we can honestly contribute strength and resilience to a group, no matter how like-minded or cohesive that group might be.
There is a point of light, however. I honestly believe that one person, finding this path for themselves, can contribute greatly toward helping others find their own. Perhaps this is the root of becoming the change. The ability to look beyond individualism and shine the light on individuality. Nobody-but-oneself.