The aim of this argument is to crush who you think you are. I want you to consider who you are, not only in an existential way, but also in a pragmatic one. By the end, unless you comment otherwise, you must learn concede that you are nothing more than an ignorant, hopefully lucky, relatively intelligent mammal and self-proclaimed human. But I’ll love you anyway because I’m trying to be one too.
To accomplish this weighty challenge, I’ll attempt to carve out great portions of this thing called an ego from your flesh (not literally, don’t look at me that way). But I’ll try to be nice and start with myself. If I were to begin to think about the things that make up “me” I wouldn’t have a very long list. As Descartes famously put in the Cogito, “I think therefore” I’m using an overly quoted line. While I find his point interesting, the valuable aspect of the Cogito is to demonstrate what you are not. Descartes stripped his identity down to the simple certainty that he “was”, whatever he “was”. Friends and family call me a philosophy major and while it’s fine to say this lightheartedly, I’m just a philosophy major contingent on my university’s records. Let’s say that I’m a neon pink house cat, this would be true based on facts about the universe that include me as a neon pink house cat. My being a philosophy major ends the moment we take away the university from the equation, so it’s not really about me rather a title bestowed upon me.
While this doesn’t appear too detrimental for the title of a certain college major, an identical issue occurs in most attributes people commonly use to describe themselves. One of the most apparent fallacious claims to identity are careers. It’s obviously a social construct, contingent on an institution or knowledge that you presume to have by which you may call yourself a professional. Let’s take football players for example, they are “football players” so long as the game of football exists. It’s very easy to imagine a world in which professional football leagues are forgotten relics of the past. In that world there would be no football players, so to identify one’s self as such seems more like a momentary idea. If you don’t believe me, how many gladiators do you see today? Surprisingly few… The gladiator was a socially constructed term used to describe people who fought in the Colosseum, it’s the ego that took it on as part of itself. The same can be said about the concept of football players, it’s quite literally a tool used to describe those who play football. This term, as I see it, is nothing more than any other adjective such as tall or cold. It’s society that has allowed the ego to absorb Football Player with a capital narcissist.
Let’s pick on doctors next. This is more interesting because even if there were no hospitals, clinics, health-tents, etc., it seems to me we can still identify the doctor. In this case, the doctor is a doctor based on a particular set of skills and knowledge acquired through study and experience. However, even the knowledge and skills are part of a social demand for them and not really part of the identity. Imagine a (glorious) world in which universal peace was established and medicine was automated to perfection. Nobody would fall ill from bacteria/viruses/microscopic asshole particles/ etc. and it would be rare for people to get hurt. If they did, thankfully mankind is advanced enough to have the automatic healing machine and if the wound was too grievous, the conscious could be digitized. There may still be doctors in that world, but what do you think that title would mean? No doctor would perform surgery, diagnose patients, prescribe medicine, perform regular checkups, etc. That doctor would be something completely different from what we refer to as a doctor today. My point is that a doctor in today’s world, like a football player, is a term that is used to describe skills and knowledge someone may have, but nobody is a doctor. They simply have the doctor title for as long as that knowledge is necessary.
So why isn’t this just semantics? It certainly seems like an arbitrary point whether someone is a title or they have a title. However, we can easily let go of the things we have, but we cling dearly to what we think we are. Being a doctor sounds a lot better than being an ignorant “human”, but it’s simply not the case. It matters because it’s a common scenario to have one doctor butt heads with another over who has the correct diagnosis. Every Law and Order episode seems to include police officers engaging in a metaphorical pissing match to see who has jurisdiction. The fact that it’s a TV drama is irrelevant, it’s the possibility that I’m concerned with. It’s this thing called an ego that engages in the pissing matches, biggest dick contests, and who-is-right arguments. It inflates not only competitions, but also people’s heads. If you couldn’t tell by now, it’s hard for me to hide my annoyance for the inflated ego. I believe it’s important to have as a sense of self awareness, but in today’s society it’s allowed to grow wildly out of proportion.
Why does this matter past my own irritation? Why does the thought of a lonely island (lol) sound so wonderful? I’m not a loner and because an inflated ego is a real problem to human progress. It helps to have to get competition going, but that time has past when Europe was able to advance past a shit-hole and catch up with China hundreds of years ago. It was a necessary quality, but now is the time to start cleaning it up or major consequences will follow. I’m referring to the hatred called xenophobia. America is a perfect example of the necessary cycle of an ego. Born in 1776, it has an incredibly short history to rally a people together behind compared to countries like China, England, India, and Egypt to name a few at random that go back a few thousand years. To compensate for a lack of history and culture developed and refined over time, a sense of hyper-nationalism was needed. That’s all fine and good; apparently it worked and America was able to exert it’s authority on the world stage in less than 200 years, but patriotism has its ugly side as well. With so much “American” pride, any threat to the country or people is treated as an unspeakable act of terror. That part is fine. What’s remarkable is converse side to nationalism and how easy it is for these hyper-nationalists to dehumanize non-Americans. Let’s support a minimum wage so that everyone may afford their cost of living… or we can say fuck it and outsource jobs to foreign countries where we don’t have to give a damn about health issues and minimum wages. The 2nd amendment allows citizens the right to bear arms, but if anyone else walks around holding a gun, let’s destroy them with ours. Should we donate to end poverty in America or around the world? I don’t even understand how that can be a valid question. How can anyone consciously judge people’s lives by distance from their toilet?
So let me just get a few things straight: you are not any kind of professional because you really don’t know much to begin with. Even something like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, it’s only knowledge if it’s true and there isn’t (at the moment at least) a way to tell if it’s objectively true. We could never know that we are all brains in vats, but as long as it’s a possibility nothing is really known. You aren’t a race or ethnicity, it’s just an adjective that can be used to describe you, it’s the same as being tall/short/blonde/brunette. Things like man and woman don’t even really exist, unless you’d like to provide in the comments section why men and women are correct and transgender, transsexual, and genderqueer are not. You could say it’s a romantic idea to accept them and men and women are evolutionary required, but aside from the not understanding the terminology who is anyone to say that people are wrong for being? I am male based on nothing that I’ve done and by my society classifying me into the “male” category, there’s no reason for me to be proud or feel anything at all about it. It would be like feeling like a lower class citizen because of the color of my skin. Only recently (relative to history) are we beginning to drop skin color a demonstrator of anything. For society to progress as we’ve seen with the decline of racism (not good enough, but not my point), we must drop the concept of being these nationalities and accept that they are simple, arbitrary descriptions. By all means continue to celebrate culture and use history to remember the past, but to give in to the ego and let it assume superiority is reckless.
We are ignorant humans at the very end of the day. We are things things that fancy ourselves human, and we don’t know a whole lot about anything. We are lucky in the sense of being born into certain titles that have higher standards of living at the moment, unlucky if we’re not, and we’re intelligent relative to every other living thing on Earth, and that’s assuming you buy that we’re actually people and not brains in vats. All the titles beyond those are arbitrary; while they may be nice to have for cultural purposes or serve useful as special skills, they’re just things that we have and can be drop. I just ask that you think of a world in which we have tamed the ego and imagine how it would be different from ours.
Being an ignorant human is in no way a bad thing. It was Socrates who called himself ignorant because he was aware of the fact that he knew nothing. Striving to fully understand our ignorance in the world should be our goal, I believe the process would be humbling and maturing. It would also lead to a world with significantly less hatred. Think of all the times you may have gotten angry because someone called you immature or an SOB, what if you replied with either, “yea I know, I’m working on it thanks”, or “dude, do you really think my mom’s dog?” Seriously though, with the ego placed in check, nobody’s pride could be wounded. Competition will undoubtedly suffer, but thanks to the information age technological advances are possible thanks to self motivated people around the world that can find the information. If poverty was ended and everyone had Google at their fingertips (a long ways away, but again not the point) would humanity still need to rely on something so reckless as competition to motivate advancements? I don’t know, but I really hope not…