If we watch the news today we see an enormous amount of suffering, usually elsewhere. We see soldiers risking their lives in Ukraine, we see Gazans being harassed by Israel, maybe we se riots in Bangladesh or France or farmer protests in Holland. It all seems very chaotic and sometimes it breaks our heart to learn about it.
This is all quite unnecessary, but a result of the general immaturity of people in the western world. Not only that but you could say that to keep people in their jobs and preoccupied with their mundaine lives, a spectre of uncontrollable suffering out there is a good backdrop, a reminder that your life is not so bad. Dutch kids are not being drafted to support Ukraine, they are at home, safe, and for sure dutch parents want to keep it that way.
So why the question “do we need an ego?”? Well, if we did not have some incredible challenges to mankind as a whole (climate change) the lives of people today would not be too different from that of a couple of generations onwards. Of course there are serious changes ongoing, mostly driven by a desire to be more efficient, which is driven by the finite supply of fossil fuels. With an infinite supply of renewables, or before with a finite supply of people, efficiency was important but did not change things that much.
Where am I going with this? Well, if you where born in 1500 and you wheren’t one of the now famous scientists or inventors, your life was pretty much standard. You would in the best case aquire skills from a master and then use them and teach them until you died. The skills where from a standard set, be it farming, shoe making, smith, baker. Quite a variety but still a finite and of course depending on your location, social circumstances etc.
A live lived that way would not be extraordinary. Most lives in those days would be odinary, quite normal. You’d have a family, kids, grow old and die. Your fights would be to be good at your job, maybe to get and keep your wife, to protect your children. You would usually not set yourself apart from the community of other people, except when you saw some advantage. Working class people are always the first to tell themselves their ideas are shit, and you should not try to be special, this is what industrialists taught them to keep them in check. But usually people are just people. being mediocre is quite safe and healthy.
There have been ages in human evolution where a life never really mattered, and you could spend it or sacrifice it without much consequence
Just to continue with characterizing this flow of generations of mediocre people, you can say that if they where religious, it would all work perfectly. You go to church, you pray, you try to be good to others and not sin, and your death is not a disaster, you just fade away and disappear, and believing you will be in heaven until then might as well be your choice. Society is not dislocated when you die. You might also have sacrificed your life in a war, no matter how senseless that would be. Your life and that of another could be indeed interchangeable, society none the worse for your demise.
All the above may be true, but humans can make a difference some times. It was often the well to do or those with special talents that would develop their own identity, high self esteem, a unique method to stay alive, and those where the people who’s name we can still remember. Kepler, da Vinci but also Caligula the Borgia’s people who we all learned at some time made a difference to our lives (even if that difference was being bombarded with their works by art teachers). These people had ego’s and it was a good thing. Stalin was of course very ego driven. Steve Jobs as well..
So what is that Ego? It is the awareness of your own abilities to secure your life and that of others, and the feeling your life therefore matters more than that of others, so that what you want becomes more important (to you) than what anyone else wants. You become self dependend, self obsessed, and feel terrible when your freedom is somehow restricted. Of course we all have some ego, but in most cases we don’t really need to assert it. In a rural community where you go out to sow the fields, or fix the cart or churn butter in what way is your freedom obstructed? You don’t want to do anything exceptional. Your ego will be there just to fight off muggers or someone that tries to seduce your husband (to weaken the illusion this text is only talking from a male perspective).
Today you have many people with a massive ego that don’t really contribute to society. Being a Tik Tok celebrity is not contributing to soceity. Entertainment is in fact a cost to society, in several ways one could argue. First of all people’s thoughts become similar, second their attention to their own lives suffers and third they may give up developing their talents. So being world famous say for example Beyonce is great but a bit over the top. What happened was that Beyonce and her sisters had a love for singing, and really specialized in it, until they where way ahead of most people in ability. This was picked up as a product and commercialized (she did it herself mostly, the distributors just take a lot of money), she believed she was important, protected “that thing”, was assisted and shaped the dreams and behaviour of many millions of little girls around the world. You could maintain for no real reason at al.
But say you are born in a situation that is quite harsh, and you may be a bit autistic, and be loving reality more than people’s soothing voices. You may feel you can solve problems that are just part of lives drudgery for other people. Your ego tells you “that’s not acceptable, I don’t want that”. It may be that you are actually too weak so you start to think of ways to avoid a quite normal thing. Or you just get fed up with women dying in child birth due to infections, even though nobody has ever seen a bacterium yet. You develop a unique perspective not shared by others, which allows you to imagine actions not thought of by others to reduce suffering or increase wealth. Your ego will tell you to work on it, to make room for it at the cost of the room given to others. Often if you share your insights you will be given room, a lab, a workshop, money, instruments by people that understand you’re one of the talented people.
If you ask “do I need an ego?” today this is about your ability to drive changes all of humanity needs. Of course if you’re a struggling artist you are not alone and you need ego, and society will tell you where that ought to stop (they will not support you), which is also related to what you may believe art should be, a different topic. If you want to be safe by getting rich you are not alone in showing a looot of ego. It all has to be about you and what you take from the world. To be honest you can be a big distortion and do aboslutly nothing that is usefull to anyone that way (except keeing them bussy), we all know who is an example of that atm.
But if you live in a world that looks a bit different from that in which others seem to live, and they don’t see what you see, or understand what you find obvious, then you may need to protect that perspective. It may be a first shadow of a route to a better world for everyone. You propose something which has obvious benefits to everyone and there’s no real counter argument that can be identified. You get negativity and flack and are maybe even insulted. This is where you need that ego. You’re not water under the bride, you may be a new stream, you may know about a way to educate better or secure the world against the ravages of climate change or reduce accidents in your factory or be able to create compelling visualizations of new ideas, or for example Thad Roberts, think of a way in which all constants of nature are connected.
Today talented lives matter, and we should be assertive if we have usefull talents, maybe not remain subservient to an academic world that never solves real problems
I think we live in a time where we should not try to blend in, go with the flow, relax and be automatic, accept our fate and lay down our lives for the greater good, as the dominant thinkers (those in government) are still only marginally aware of the challenge climate change is becoming. A challenge to the survival of humanity. Once this sinks in to a person that is not taught to always put himself secondary to the community or other interests, it may drive a conviction of self importance, of being essential. Of ego. And this is exactly what we need right now.