When you think back on your life, it’s usually a rugged trail backwards through time, but think again. Modern memory science has shown that fictionalised retellings of the events of our lives constitute a significant chunk of memory. We do this possibly as a way to preserve some dignity when in the mirror we have to stare at the face of our own casual evil. Those who survived the long march of evolution were those who cast themselves in the roles of mythical super selves. This is why during a televised congressional debate, it is inevitable that each member from either side will get up to establish their self importance, while casting herself or himself in the role of a hero while those on the other side are always villains.
There’s that expression that appears on the faces of those with high self esteem when you tell them that you have done something deemed worthy even by their standards. It is a guarded and taut mask of inexpressible defensiveness. You can see their minds at work furiously reducing you to bearable proportions, to whatever stereotype they had judged you to be already. They are careful to ask or seek out samples of your work, so that they can make sure that you are not a threat to their super self. They are trying to ascertain, and make sure that you are not a super self like them.
This super self is everywhere even in our gods, especially in our gods. It is easily threatened by self doubt, presumed insult or the suspected existence of another just like it. No wonder everyone’s god is always mightier than someone else’s and violence inevitably follows.
My country has been home to a thought experiment of sorts these last few years. Social media is a vast treasure trove as all data mining corporations know. On these various platforms, groups of people came on to convince themselves of their own intellectual stature, by creating the super self, sometimes themselves, but more often a great leader. That little project was discharged by conjuring listicles, clever memes, constant pointless arguments that would go nowhere and seemingly scholarly links to studies to prove varying theses.
Once self delusion was achieved, the super self suitably armed, the next step was to attack other super selves, because a super self is always singular, it cannot co-exist with others like itself. For many people it was easier to let their online alter egos go to battle for them, belittling a super self from the other side of the aisle, calling him names to indicate his low intelligence in comparison to their great leader, who was a reflection of them, and hence the worship. Spiteful discourse was subliminal before the public mass coming of the super self, probably because the super self without backing is always uneasy, the names he uses for the other side are his own insecurities.
The great leader too had created his super self. He had formed himself in the image, down to the tone of voice, and even the facial mechanics, of the angry young man, which was in the zeitgeist long ago from a time when he was youthful. And it had worked for him, in campaign after campaign, he memed this super self to great acclaim till it had grown to mythical proportions and taken him to the steps of the great House of the people.
There is, however, a ruinous chink in the super self. It is inevitable that the singular self will meet another, and without humility or what is paradoxically known as thick skin, it will not be able to withstand scrutiny. People react in various ways to scrutiny. Some build an institution of piety around this great self, and guard it with all manner of weapons, literal and figurative. Others go back into hibernation from whence they came to wait out their second coming. But before it goes, it will scorch the earth behind it, so that those who come after will have to rebuild from scratch, a new civilisation.