Tag Archives: narrative

Lego my Ego

"if our brains get too smart they will become self aware and take over our bodys"

-Ken M

Ego games

At a party, some friends and I played games around modeling other people. One game we played was ranking superego, ego, and id, in order of most to least prominent, for each person present. This schema is interesting in games because because it’s not a perfectly obvious classification, so it requires original seeing to do anything with.

I’d self-labeled as ego > superego > id, but I was persuaded that I’m likely superego > ego > id. I had thought my ego was the strongest of the three because my self-regulation is fairly flexible and I don’t feel compelled by external rules, but it this is likely attributable to the fact that my superego has achieved self-awareness and taken over my brain. Or more precisely, that my superego is well developed in the sense of having expelled or disendorsed my dissonant, unhelpful, and untrue beliefs and inhibitions, and believes in behaving like an ego. And my ego, in turn, decided to identify with my superego.

I was sleepy 15 minutes ago and successfully managed to get ready for bed, when I was tempted to lie on the couch and “read” or “nap” to "gather my strength” because getting ready for bed seemed like too much work. I climbed out of this hole by asking myself whether the best action would be to go upstairs and get ready for bed. Once I acknowledged that it was the best action, it was easy to muster the willpower.Now I’m in my room, with the LEDs set to red, editing this post as one last task before going to sleep. In hindsight it’s ridiculously obvious that my superego is exceptionally strong.

I have a few friends who I’d describe as having a superego > id > ego arrangement. That’s an unstable relationship where superego and id fight each other directly for control. Superego is usually in charge, but id can seize control for a moment when it’s especially strong. Ego-on-the-bottom is volatile because ego’s special power is mediating among parts, constructing stable narratives that justify and encode trades and compromises between the other parts. If the narrative-spinning ego is weak, id and superego mostly just know how to fight - or, really, how to try to grab control directly. So you see superego, with the occasional flash of id, but no coherent narrative to hold things in place.

What drives the superego > id > ego arrangement? In the case of one of my friends, it looks like what happened was that their id and superego both separately have reasons to distrust their ego. Their superego distrusts the ego for epistemic reasons; the ego is all about spinning a plausible narrative, and that feels like believing things because they’re convenient rather than because they’re true. Their id, on the other hand, distrusts the ego because it believes that it’s dangerous to be seen, that the world is malevolent, that it’s important to hide, that if one can just not exist, one can’t be hurt by anything - and presenting a self, having a strong ego, feels like very noticeably existing. Since neither id nor superego is willing to invest any trust in the ego, this makes it difficult for the ego to smooth out conflicts. It doesn’t have credibility. Continue reading

A still small voice: a method for integrity

This is the story of how playing around with different voices let me give voice to my unconscious, and perhaps my conscience as well.

Playing with voices

A lover once told me that, during sex, I spoke with a different voice, which sounded fake. I reflected on this for a while, and realized that I sounded fake because, for once, I was speaking directly from an authentic sense of caring as I experience it.

Mostly, when I try to show caring for my friends, it’s not a direct spontaneous expression of my inner state. I don’t expect that the mode of caring I feel will be understood. Warm feelings are the kind of caring people mostly expect, but they come and go, and they don’t feel fundamental to me. The kind of caring that feels most real to me doesn’t feel like warmth. It feels hard, like there are steel cables linking my solid core to their well-being, so if they’re tugged off-center it affects me directly. It feels like my well-being is permanently tied to theirs. It feels like a sense of determination. But that’s not the emotional affect people expect from their friends, so instead I’ve learned to throw warmth at them, put on a gentle friendly mask that projects a feeling of, this is safe, I am not judging you, I want to hear how you feel and help you. It’s honest - but it’s not, in some sense, authentic. Because when I actually give people uncensored access to my internal state, they read me as fake. Continue reading

Looking at your story, looking at the world

This is a kind of prequel to Iterated Self-Improvement.

Reading Bonds That Make Us Free, it occurs to me that it, Ayn Rand, Games People Play, and The Last Psychiatrist are all talking about the same vision of evil, and proposing different alternatives to it.

Bonds That Make Us Free calls it self-betrayal, when you tell a story about how you can’t help it, how it’s really other people who are responsible for your failures and if it weren’t for them, you’d be good. It proposes as an alternative a genuine outward orientation of love towards others.

Ayn Rand calls it social psycho-epistemology, where the opinions and feelings of people are what are truly real and the material world is a social construct or matter of opinion, and contrasts it with rational selfishness where you orient yourself towards the world outside, and try to make it the way you want it without worrying about justification or conformity. Other people's thoughts shouldn’t be as real to you as the material world, and the life you want to live in it. You can only pick one - living in your own world, or living in the world of other people's intentions. Similarly, you can trade your need for their justification and vice versa - or you can trade value for value. Rereading Atlas Shrugged was able to temporarily pull me out of a days-long downwards spiral recently - because it suddenly seemed boring to present my needs as a claim check. It seemed contemptible. It seemed like a betrayal of self and integrity. So I stopped - at least for a bit. I started thinking again about how to provide value for my friends, even as it seemed nearly impossible to succeed at.

The Last Psychiatrist calls it narcissism - the desire to be seen as good, and as fitting your role, rather than the intention to be good to others, to fulfill one’s responsibilities, to discharge one’s duties.

Games People Play doesn’t really have a vision of the good, but it talks about how people set themselves up in situations where they can show that they’re justified, instead of acting towards their nominal goals, because what they care about is the justification.

I think I’ve been struggling with this problem. In mid-August I was too worried about how I was failing in one of my relationships to take responsibility for my own experiences. I’ve been too worried about being a responsible, conscientious worker to think about what kind of rhythm of life I actually want and am willing to accept. I wasted thought cycles on how the house I'd just moved into with friends wasn’t good yet and I’d been incompetent, instead of trying to make it good for myself in immediately achievable ways.

But I also seem to have something like the opposite problem more often.

Continue reading