Self-Improvement is Masturbation

This is one of my favorite quotes from Palahniuk, because he’s right isn’t he?  We’re all just playing with ourselves.

On a cop show I saw once, there was a detective who was in a therapy session having the following conversation:

Detective: “There is a school of thought that says self-awareness leads to transformation.  I don’t believe that.”

Therapist: “So where does self-awareness lead?”

Detective: “To self-justification.”

This seems right to me.  People don’t really change.  I don’t know a lot about childhood development, but at some point, maybe around puberty,[1] we just become who we are going to be.  I was negative, skittish, introspective and liked to push the limits of authority when I was on the brink of adulthood.  And what do you know?  Nothing changes.  Though it is becoming more difficult for me to get along in the world as an adult.

I think maybe I’ve always been somewhat self-aware, maybe hyper-aware is more like it.  But this does not mean I have enough self-knowledge to not try to justify some of the choices I make or to not make excuses for myself.  I’m not even remotely close to having self-knowledge.  I like to think that we all have some idea of who we want to be, but it’s a lot easier to make excuses than to actually try to change.

We don’t ever really know who we are or how we work.  And I’m starting to think that I have no idea of what I even like or dislike anymore.  Sure, I can rationalize every choice I make, big or small, but at least 95% of the time, I have no clue what I’m doing or why I’m doing it.  This is why you’ll see me wandering confused around the grocery store wondering what to put in my basket, trying to picture my future self actually wanting to eat anything that I’ve chosen.

The reason why you can’t really gauge a person by their journal or their blog or about who they think they are, is precisely because self-awareness only leads to self-justification.  We are warped about who we think we are.  And if we are self-aware at all, we try to make sense of it, and we can never make sense of it because we can’t remove ourselves far enough to understand.  Or maybe we just can’t hold that kind of knowledge in our brains.  But we want to.  So we end up trying to build a complete story, and we end up having to justify in order to close the gaps, to cover for the things about ourselves that we just don’t like or just don’t know.  We can never fully explain, so we justify.

I can give you a story of who I am.  I can probably even tell you my favorite food, my favorite book, my goals in life, my current profession, but all of this is foolishness.  To continue to quote Fight Club:

You are not your job. You are not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.[2]

When you get down to it, there might not even be a “you” left at all.  So maybe the only plausible goal is not self-awareness, but instead awareness of self-justification.  But where would that get us?

Some nostalgia:

–If the video doesn’t work, click here.


[1] I think perhaps it might be even younger.

[2] This is not a direct quote.  I don’t feel like digging out my book.

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6 thoughts on “Self-Improvement is Masturbation

  1. I don’t think awareness of self-justification would get us any closer to our “true selves,” but it would still be interesting. (e.g. Why do we justify certain things in certain ways? What are the beliefs we hold that make us feel the need to justify certain things and not others?) Maybe I’ve just been hanging around Mike for too long, or maybe anthropology has made me a po-mo, but the stories we tell about ourselves and about others – those are all we have. I don’t think there IS a “true self” to be found (and maybe that is the conclusion you were also drawing?).

    I’m loving the blog! Keep ’em coming!

  2. I’ll have to agree with my wife here (she wishes I said that more). I think of Nietzsche (I had to look up the spelling…bad pomo bad) and not being able to look around your own corners. Only God can be truly and fully self aware. And since we all know that God is DEAD…the pursuit of such is not only masturbation, but the achievement of it is death.

    According to some, the self is merely the loosely connected string of ideas, remembrances, illusory absolutes, etc. Self awareness then becomes the reflected self in conversation and interaction reflected over and over again to infinity. So maybe it’s not masturbation but intercourse. Or since most people I talk don’t care what I have to say (and lets admit it, sometimes the feeling is mutual) it becomes rape.

    Of course this all begs the question…are we simulating sex through masturbation or are we simulating masturbation through sex?

    Personally, I think there is something eerily Frankensteinian (pomos can make up words as long as they are sensicle…oops did it again) involved in the ritualized processing or reprocessing of the self (or the journey towards self “real”ization). We constantly destroy our “mental corporeal” selves, sew it back together with new pieces, and proceed to reanimate it – over and over again.

    Dr. Frankenstein was the first true Deconstructionist.

    Whew! I haven’t ranted like that in a long time! Thanks Heidi!

  3. I think I read something akin in Deleuze, where his claim was much like the Frankensteinian pomo move above. We die a thousand tiny deaths and then we rebuild our “selves” anew each day. And sure, I don’t think there REALLY is anything like a self in any egoic (oops, now I’m doing it) sense. But this rhetoric of the self is so permeated in Western culture, it seems like it exists enough such that it can be overcome in some way. I mean, in the grand scheme of things we are all really just slight variations of the same story.

    But then again, I don’t really know anything about anything. I’m just trying to find a way to make it through a day without the voices shouting at me in my head.

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