Ego Sickness

We're hand in hand in Aftermath
the age of what will be
Horizon smoke is rising
from the wreckage that is We
And in the smoke what shapes will form?
What phantoms will we make?
For we are made of form and formula
but also dross mistake

 -from Hand in Hand in Aftermath

You know how a virus works? It goes into a cell and changes the code so that the cell only produces more virii. In a way the virus steals the cell's identity, making it a part of a viral system.

If you ask me, the worst phase of being sick is when you've been sick for so long you forget what it's like to be well. In a way, you've lost a bit of yourself and become the virus.

People catch and spread memes like viruses. They're contagious, self-replicating little buggers. Like any virus, their goal is to spread themselves, to become a large, healthy, self-sustaining colony. We have to be careful how we handle memes because at a certain point its difficult to tell the difference between when we're using the memes and when the memes are using us.

This is not to say that memes are harmful diseases. But some of them can be if you get infected, infested, obsessed and invested.

One of the most pervasive and prevalent memes in this modern world is the meme called I Am. We live in an overpopulated era, floating in a sea of interchangeable people. In this ocean our biggest life preserver is a sense of individuality - the notion that each and every one of us is unique, distinct. One wants to say "I am not the crowd. I am not the group. I am not just another cog in the machine."

We jump through personal hoops to distinguish ourselves from the others. We customize our identities so as to retain a sense of self, a buoy bobbing in the tide of the collective.

But this ego meme can become a disease. In moderation, it helps us understand ourselves. In excess, we define ourselves. In time, these definitions become rigid, inflexible.

Consider, for example, the "C student". In his attempt to understand himself, he internalizes "I am a C student." Armed with that identity he has no drive to do better. He accepts "who he is". Or consider the average voter. He identifies with a political party and probably agrees with them about many things. The party tells him which sides of any given issues to support - no need to think for oneself there!

It can be a sickness.

The Machine, of course, is programmed to capitalize on this sickness. There are a variety of memes available to customize your identity. What color iPod do you want? Which TV shows are YOUR TV shows? What brand of cologne smells like YOU?

I am not suggesting that people abandon their sense of self. But I do think that people get addicted to self-definition and it leads to inflexibility. That's the Con talking - convincing each individual that she's composed of the ordinary dross we wade through every day.

Well turn down that noise -- when I get off the plane I'm skipping the baggage claim.

      "Your father knows everything about you", he said. "So he has you all figured out. He knows who you are and what you do, and there is no power on earth that can make him change his mind about you".
      Don Juan said that everybody that knew me had an idea about me, and that I kept feeding the idea with everything I did. "Don't you see ?", he asked dramatically. "You must renew your personal history by telling your parents, your relatives, and your friends everything you do. On the other hand, if you have no personal history, no explanations are needed; nobody is angry or disillusioned with your acts. And above all no one pins you down with their thoughts".
      (...) "But that's absurd", I protested. "Why shouldn't people know me ? What's wrong with that ?"; "What's wrong is that once they know you, you are an affair taken for granted and from that moment on you won't be able to break the tie of their thoughts. I personally like the ultimate freedom of being unknown. No one knows me with steadfast certainty, the way people know you, for instance". "But that would be lying". "I'm not concerned with lies or truths", he said severely. "Lies are lies only if you have personal history".
                              -Journey to Ixtlan, Carlos Castenada

"You see", he went on, "we only have two alternatives; we either take everything for sure and real, or we don't. If we follow the first, we end up bored to death with ourselves and with the world. If we follow the second and erase personal history, we create a fog around us, a very exciting and mysterious state in which nobody knows where the rabbit will pop out, not even ourselves."