We are all our most interesting subject. For a great many, there’s no self-awareness or humility attached to this at all; self-absorption is the name of the game, and it’s fun to see this at work in friends, colleagues and workmates because there’s usually not one iota of healthy self-reflection involved. These people just are. They react with what’s before them like the dumb beasts of the field, devouring every experience, depleting every resource, snatching every opportunity that presents. I call these creatures ‘homo sentiens‘ not because they’re a separate species from us sapiens, but because they’re so different and so terrifyingly in the majority.
Unthinking humans (homo sentiens) or, if you want to be kind, feeling humans, unquestionably won Donald Trump the election. They’re behind the surge in popular support for the xenophobic One Nation party here in Oz. Our latest me-too politician, Senator Cory Bernardi, is opportunistically tapping into the groundswell of anti-Establishment sentiment: “It is not in the interests of our nation to yield to the temptation of personality politics which shrink the debate to the opinion of the few whilst compromising the good sense and values of the many.” With this thin appeal to the horde, another demagogue is born. Bernardi would never have been elected on his own merit as an Independent, so while his mid-term abandonment of the LNP is an act of gross betrayal, it’s hardly a surprise. For Cory, its always been all about Cory. Even his wife agrees, crediting their happy marriage not to shared Christian values or somesuch nonsense, but to the fact that they’re “both in love with the same man” unquote. Tempting as it is to dismiss Senator Bernardi as just another alt-right clone, I’ll bottle him up for later, because he may prove more useful than we think.
Back on-topic, something that can’t be so offhandedly dismissed is my odd mood. Six weeks into 2017, this ennui that has slowed me to a crawl has not abated, if anything, it’s grown another head. If I recall my Houellebecq accurately, this latest manifestation might best be described as a ‘failure to individuate’. What does that mean? Without getting too Jungian, it’s the depressed feeling that I’m inexorably becoming less the person I really am. Do I just need a holiday, or a change of pace, or is this a more profound malaise? I’m probably just tired and bored, but the latter sounds sexier, so I’ll run with that!
I rationalise my dis-individuation as follows: We’re constantly telling people what we stand for, as if publicly parroting our opinions defines us to the world. This is a trap, because self-labelling works the same way a roadblock does: it prevents you from escaping a place you may have come to hate. Hemmed in by an ill-considered stance on this, or a public declaration on that, and before you know it you’re stuck being who you say you are. Perhaps forever! And while this is a sweet deal for some, it’s a shit-sandwich for others. So, am I suffering some wussy First World problem, or is this a genuine Nietzschean existential crisis?
Let’s pick a trait and see if it takes us anywhere. For instance, I am famously, absolutely, rigorously, painfully, unsympathetically, almost neurotically honest. I am not the guy to take with you when you’re shopping for new jeans. If you have something dangling from of your nostril, I will tell you. If you’ve put on weight, don’t go looking for kindly euphemisms from this boy. In theory, honesty is an admirable trait, but which in practice serves no better purpose than to alienate you from your so-called friends. Even friends that ask for the truth don’t appreciate it. Homo sentiens don’t want the truth, they can’t handle it, but this is a problem for sapiens as well. If you don’t believe me, begin pointing out instances in real-time of their hypocrisy or double-standards and see what happens.
Can’t handle it. So what consequences for being honest? I don’t get invited to many parties because my answer to the inevitable question, ‘How are you enjoying the party so far?” is, ‘Well, Steve, I’m only still here because you’re not drunk enough yet to fail to notice that I already left.” Likewise, I’m an avid lifelong bushwalker, yet most of my treks end up solo because former companions learn that my brutal descriptions of our upcoming adventures are not, in fact, likely to be exaggerated at all. I won’t mention the false allegations of contrarianism I face at work, or the effort I put into steering my boss and peers towards doing the right thing, and not just the thing that feels right. Homo sentiens don’t understand the distinction (and don’t care) but we do, right? So riddle me this: is honesty really working for me?
Senator Cory Bernardi wants us to believe he’s honest; is it working for him? He has formed a new political party, the Australian Conservatives, because he truly believes that his pro-life, homophobic, Islamophobic burka-banning and halal-hating Christian fundamentalist views are ‘traditional Liberal values‘ abandoned by the LNP. Curiously, perhaps tellingly, instead of repudiating Bernardi’s claim to represent grassroots conservative values, the LNP have instead attacked him for being the first (honest) rat to desert the ship. While Cory Bernardi is far from poster-boy material, he is perhaps onto something. We can all suffer in silence, circumspect and obedient, or we can strike out on our own, slings and arrows notwithstanding.
Cory Bernardi won’t teach you shit you don’t already know. But he has reminded me that you won’t grow if you’re not prepared to change. What I’m less sure about is whether growth really means throwing away all the things about yourself that make you proud? I hope not, but there’s honestly only one way to find out.