In the beginning there was nothing but the void. This was the last time you did nothing. All of your needs were furnished without even knowing you had needs. The void was a warm, soft, fulfilling existence free from desire, stress, or suffering. The universe was a safe and constant existence. You’d probably have sent us postcards saying how great things were if the concept of outside made any sense.
Then, holy shit, everything changed. The void itself groaned in pain and the ends of the universe collapsed into you, shoving you into an infinite abyss. This was the first change. Fear, if it had a name, was the first emotion.
Confusing sounds grew louder as existence painfully pushed you through the tight abyss. A speck of light appeared. Pain, the first feeling, shot like daggers through your eyes. The bright light burned brighter as you hurtled toward the shining star.
Freezing air burned your warm, moist skin. A giant god unceremoniously slapped your ass. One stuck a finger down your throat. Others poked and prodded you. It was violating, but you were too tired for anything but crying.
Congratulations. You’re born. From your parents’ perspective, this was the first moment of your life. From your perspective, you’d just been ripped from a peaceful existence and thrust into a loud, confusing, painful world of hunger, thirst, sound, and color. But others refer to this as your birthday. For simplicity’s sake, you go along with it.
At this young point in life you soak up everything you can about the material world. There isn’t much room for metaphor, simile, or abstract thinking. Attempting to understand everything from language to emotions is more than enough for you to handle. It takes years before you can express ideas in a clear manner.
By the time you start to express ideas in a coherent way, the Big Idea enters your head. The Big Idea is that you’re fundamentally different from everyone else. You’re special. You’re unique. What else could explain the fact that you’ve been at the center of all meaningful existence your entire life? The seed of the Big Idea germinates in us for years and blooms in our teenage years.
Say hello to the ego.
Yet, these are all just ideas. The concept of the ego is no more real than the faux universe in which we’re created. In reality, the universe was just the womb of our mother. Nothing special in the cosmic scheme of things. Similarly, our egos, which represent the glorification of the self, are little more than delusional ideas. Our egos inflate our sense of place in the universe.
If the ego is just an idea, then why do we take it so seriously? Why do we attack those who insult our egos? Why do we take our pride so seriously? What is an idea? Are ideas just moments of inspiration that flitter across our chattering minds?
Ideas are universal and are the only things that actually outlive us. You may pass but your memory remains. Ideas are universal. We share the idea of democracy. We share the idea of America. These are not tangible things, but collective delusions that we all agree exist in some ephemeral state of being. And since ideas are just figments of our imagination, they’re just as lifeless as a portrait of a Renaissance noble.
But are ideas really lifeless? What is discourse if not the mortal combat of ideas? Do we not pit ideas against each other in order to see which survives? Do ideas not evolve as they are subjected to analysis and criticism? Do ideas not lead to more ideas, multiplying in the tempest of a brainstorm? Are some ideas stronger than others? Some die in infancy, others live on as gods.
Who are the gods of ideas? Democracy is a pretty good candidate. It’s been around for a few thousand years. It’s withstood the wearying criticism of thousands of scholars throughout the ages. Democracy has been debated and practiced continuously. Democracy, ideologically speaking, will outlive all of us.
Assuming democracy lives, then what is its lifespan? It seems like an idea’s life is only as long as those who remember it. As an abstract, democracy depends on us humans in order to talk about it, keep it in the real world, and continue giving it power. This is true of any deity as well. Gods exist as abstracts for so long as people in the material world keep them in their minds. Hercules, Jesus, Buddha, and even Luke Skywalker all depend on sentient beings for their continued existence. No wonder our God is a jealous God; he’s genuinely concerned for his long term safety.
And what of our ego? Is it just an idea? If so, then should we treat it as just as jealous of a god as democracy and Hercules? If the ego has its own needs, is it possible that the needs of our ego may contradict our personal needs? This is a tough concept to understand. If you accept that you and your ego are one and the same then the idea that your ego’s needs do not serve your own needs makes no sense.
Here’s a thought experiment to help you understand that you and your ego are not one in the same. When you ask yourself “Who am I?” ask “Who hears the question?” Are you certain that the voice asking the question is the same as the entity trying to answer it?
If your ego is the construct of an idea and that idea has needs and wants divergent from yours, then it’s possible that your ego will get you into trouble. Countless wise storytellers over the years have described ego and its doppelganger, Pride, as the first sin. Look at the whole story of Lucifer in Paradise Lost as a great example. The glorification of our egos separates us from the universe. Our egos separate us from each other. Our egos separate us from ourselves.