I hope I don’t seem to be a scold.
It suits my ends to poke around in the trash can inside your brain, but I’m not doing it to be mean — nor to induce you to feel bad about yourself. I know a whole lot about the interior mental processes that motivate the pursuit of values and disvalues — and about the subsequent and secondary consequences of those mental processes — but it’s not as if I can actually read your mind.
So how do I know so much about how your mind works? I don’t, not by any means except inference. What I know about is how my mind works. We are alike as things — we are ontological equals — so I know that your mind works the same way mine does — no less than and for the same reasons that your heart works the same way mine does. Moreover, I can look you in the eye and tell you the truth of your life in excruciating detail, working from nothing other than past experience with myself and other people. Our differences make us unique and beautiful, but our similarities make us comprehensible to each other.
So without intending to scold you, I need to say something to you in the gentlest way I can:
You’re getting everything wrong!!
Wrong, wrong, wrong. All the time, for all your life. Everyone, everywhere, for all of human history. Wrong, wrong, wrong — always and everywhere wrong — with wrong heaped upon wrong in twisted, corrupt dogmas of wrongness.
Do you want proof?
It could be you’re all hunched up in resentment at being called wrong. Or maybe you’re folded in on yourself in guilt, revisiting all of your past perceived sins. But here’s how I know that you’re wrong, and that you’ve been wrong about nearly everything, for almost all of your life:
Because being wrong doesn’t matter. Being right is the only thing that matters.
We all tell lies, the worst of them to ourselves. We all shirk our responsibilities, crafting sullen silent soliloquies to justify our laziness. We all hurt other people, and we are all hurt by them. We all do things we know are wrong when we’re doing them, and we all live with the pain of those errors forever — silently, in a stolid solitude, but forever.
The things you have done that are wrong are not to be dismissed, shrugged off. They can’t be, no matter how much you might wish they could. But redemption is egoism in action. There are limits to how much of the past damage you have done to your self you can undo, but we redeem our errors not by penance and not by renunciation but by acts of splendor.
All you need is an idle moment to catch your self doing something wrong — in the past. What you need instead is to catch your self doing something right — right now.
In due course, I’m going to talk about the world and about everything that can go wrong with it — wars and diseases and tyrannies and cataclysms and catastrophes unending — but what I am really talking about, what I am always talking about is self-love, the all-but-unendurable worship by the self of the self, this as a matter of simple justice, in appreciation for past and present physical and purely introspective expressions of mental and moral greatness.
You are too much aware of your past sins and failures because you have too little greatness in your life — too little splendor — to be conscious of instead.
Do you see? Your self is your life, and your awareness of your self is the source and the sink of every other awareness you have ever had. Your relationship with your self is primary and paramount in any other relationship you might have with other people or with things outside your mind. Every purposive action you take is taken first by your self upon your self, and there is nothing you can think, say, do or experience that is not felt first, most and always by your self.
Your self is the star of every scene of every act in the drama of your life. So here’s an interesting question: When your self takes the stage, what do you see?
The same thing I see, for what that’s worth. Your body is the physical expression of your self, and your every triumph, your every disaster and your every delight and terror is written on your face, on your skin, in your posture, in your movements and in your speech for any observant person to see. But the self of the mind, your true self, is visible only to you. I can see how your past has inscribed itself into the cells of your body, but only you can see the self you would have and could have and should have become.
This is the dirty little secret I know about you, the one I refuse to keep quiet about: I know you’ve betrayed the self of your imagination in just about every way possible. I know there are things you are burning, burning, burning to do — and yet you talked yourself out of doing them, again and again. I know there are things you want desperately to have achieved — but not desperately enough to dig in and do them. I know you have been pressured, again and again, into doing things you knew were wrong when you did them, and I know you have done other things you knew were wrong purely out of spite, frustrating yourself more than anyone else.
I know that when you were four or five years old, you imagined for yourself a glorious self, a thing of illimitable goodness. And I know you have smudged and smeared and soiled and sullied and chipped and chopped away at that image of your self ever since. I know that you’ve never stopped mourning what is in fact a gradual and persistent and ultimately fatal self-annihilation, and I know that you hate your own self-abnegation so much that you would do almost anything to make it stop — except stop doing it.
How do I know all this? Duh.
I’ve understood everything I’m talking about at progressively higher levels of abstraction since I was very young, but that doesn’t mean that I have been spared the horrifying and mentally-permanent spectacle of self-induced error. Too much the contrary, alas, and with less of the self-serving self-righteous self-justification other people might lay claim to.
But guess what? None of this matters at all. I am lucky, in my own error-ridden past, in this way: I try to pay attention to everything, so I’ve learned a lot from my own past self-destructive actions. But still more importantly, self-destruction does not matter, except to the extent that one must learn to stop doing it. What truly matters, all that truly matters is self-construction, realizing — making real — that image of your self you crafted for yourself when you were four or five years old.
The world outside your mind is just so much weather — sunny one day, rainy the next, meaningless almost all the time. Other people matter to your self only to the extent that you yourself matter to your self. All that really matters is your self and what you are doing with it.
Do you see your self as being ugly, small, of no consequence? That’s because that is how you behave. You see your self all the time. Every thought you have is hugely about your self, and every purposive physical action you take is your self manifesting itself in the world outside your mind. What you see of your self in your mind’s eye is the accumulated reflection of what you have seen of your self — today and on every day before this one.
Do you want to see your self as being beautiful? As a thing of uncontainable enormity? Do you want to see your self for what it really is, as the most important thing that could ever exist within the universe of your consciousness? If this is what you want, then you have to behave that way. In the world outside your mind, you have to manifest the self you have imagined for yourself inside your mind.
What is it that you want to do? What is it that you want to have accomplished? You have to do those things. You have to see yourself doing those things. When you feel pressure to betray your self, from other people or from some doctrine of self-annihilation, you have to stand up to that pressure — you have to be the hero you loved to imagine for your self when you were young.
Making mistakes does not matter. Acting deliberately in error does not matter. Being evil does not matter. Failing your self — refusing out of spite and laziness to be the self you would have and could have and should have become — does not matter. What’s one more zero on the scoreboard of time, after all?
All that matters, all that matters, all that ever matters is being right — for an instant, for an hour, for a day, for a year, for a lifetime. As a matter of ontology, being right is the only way to achieve anything, but, even before that, being right is the only way you can live with your self. You have the power to choose who you will be, but you do not have the power to escape who you have become — not and remain conscious as a living human being. You cannot wish your way to greatness, you cannot erase your memories of your past evils, and you cannot worship your self in appreciation for the accomplishment of nothing. You can choose always to build upon and burnish your self, or you can choose instead to soil and dismantle it. But you cannot love who you are without behaving lovably in the actions of your existence.
Just that much is the most amazingly, wonderfully inspiring thing you could ever think about, if you make it your business to think about it all the way through. But there is a level of inspiration beyond this one, if you stop to consider that you are just like me and we two are just like everyone else.
If you have habituated self-destructive behavior, you have to stop. But merely not being wrong is not sufficient. All that matters is being right. So you self-identify an error and set about to correct it, making up for past injuries to yourself and other people, as much as you can, and doing better going forward. And you do that again and again, one bad habit after another, each one as you discover it. And after a while, the habit of self-improvement becomes the defining metaphor of your life — improving not your mind or your body directly, but improving your self in ways that result in improvements in your mind and in your body — and in your behavior. That much is remarkable: The more greatness you see in your own real-time and remembered behavior, the more greatness you will see in your self, in the silence and solitude of your mind.
Now think of this: Your next-door neighbor is just like you. So is your brother-in-law and the nice lady who cleans your office on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We are each one of us identical, ontologically, to all the others, and there is nothing that you can do to improve your self that your neighbor cannot do as well. Imagine what could happen if your neighbor and your brother-in-law and your cleaning lady and everyone you know were to commit themselves to a lifetime of continuous self-improvement. Imagine if every human being on the face of the planet, living now and yet to be born, were committed to the idea of being his or her best possible self, committed to being good, to being great, to being better every day.
Imagine a world where each living human being has chosen to live for nothing other than self-adoration — to being everything he desires, everything he admires, everything he aspires to — all day, every day, with not one second lost to self-betrayal, self-abnegation, self-destruction.
Do you think that might be a world worth living in?
Do you think that might be a world worth working toward?
You live in squalor, and there is an extent to which you worship that squalor. As long as everything is wrong, wrong, wrong, as long as everything is bad and ever and always worse, you can absolve yourself of any responsibility for your circumstances — it’s all out there, all of it beyond your control. But you hate your life, to the extent that you do, because you hate what you see yourself doing with your life. And you love your life, when you do, when you see your self living up to itself. The world you want to live in is not one where everything out there is perfect, but where the world of your self is perfectible and steadily more perfect.
On other days, in other essays, I can talk about how the world conspires against your self. But that doesn’t really matter, nor does anything else you might name. All that matters, all that ever matters in the context of your own life, is what you yourself are getting right. If you want to change the world, this is within your power — but you can only change it from the inside out. Do that, and nothing that happens outside your mind will matter very much. And if we can persuade enough other people to pursue self-adoration along with us, the world outside our minds will change for the better for all of us.
I have many more reasons to be cheerful still to discuss, but this is all the reason you need to be filled to bursting with optimism. You don’t need to change the world. What you need to change is your thinking, your habits of mind and your behavior. Make those changes and, regardless of any squalor still to be found in the world, your own life will be a paradise of illimitable splendor.
How do I know all this? Duh…
Reasons to be cheerful: Defying the specter of ugly fates.
- Part 0: The ground we stand upon is firm and the lever of the human mind grows ever stronger.
- Part 0.5: Sleeping giants can’t sleep forever.
- Part 1: Things rarely change as quickly or as dramatically as we expect them to.
- Part 1.5: Who cares about the tunnel? All I can see is the light…
- Part 2: If we are wise, and if we are lucky, we won’t “meet the new boss” because there won’t be any bosses.
- Part 2.5: It’s raining soup and all you can do is piss and moan that Big Mother hasn’t given you a free bowl.
- Part 2.9: Marksmanship is a perfectible praxis.
- Part 2.9.5: Carrying a concealed firearm is the first step to reclaiming responsibility for your own self-defense.
- Part 3.0.0: While it may be implausible that western civilization could collapse, this much seems certain: You will not be prepared for what happens next.
- Part 3.0.1: You are ungovernable: Other people have power over you only because you have surrendered your own sovereign authority to them — and they can’t stop you from taking it back.
- Part 3.0.2: What has it cost us to have been so wrong for so long about selflessness and self-adoration?
- Part 3.0.3: When you resolve never to let other people dominate you, you come to be indomitable.
- Part 3.1: The song of the self.
- Part 3.1.1: Psalm.
- Part 3.1.2: Redemption is egoism in action, so do the world a favor and catch your self doing something right.
- Part 3.1.3: Praising Cain: Change the world forever by learning to love your life the way you actually live it.
- Part 3.1.4: “Get me rewrite!” How to revise the script of your life — writing yourself a happy ending.
- Part 3.2: Yuppie love: The egoist’s guide to mastering the art of frolicking naked with the one you love.