Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Let us start with two definitions. Secrets are mental contents that are of great importance to the mind concerned (since we are talking about personal secrets) but that the individual concerned finds it difficult or impossible to reveal. Self confidence is belief of the self in itself, in its identity and capacities; the apparent self-confidence of the conman is simply a self-confident persona covering up secrets.
Self-confidence is considered a desirable human trait; and indeed for good utilitarian reasons, it probably is. It helps the well adapted individual achieve the success associated with his or her chosen role in the human group. It is associated with such virtues as reliability, stability, decisiveness, honesty, personability, and, of course mental health. Secrets, on the other hand are regarded as something rather grubby, something less than honest, something to be treated with suspicion. The contention here, however, is that self-confidence and secrets are intimately and fundamentally related. In order to possess self-confidence, the self concerned must have a firm sense of who and what it is. It must be some recognisable thing. It must say with firm conviction ‘I am a policeman’, ‘I am a doctor’, ‘I am a politician’, ‘I am a boss’ etc. When the self identifies all its functions and capacities with those of its principal role, self-confidence is automatically guaranteed and established. The other little functions that may not entirely fit the principal function of the persona – and there are always such things – may well exercise an underground life of their own and emerge in odd dark moments; but as long as they are kept secret, they need not trouble the self-confidence of the dominant self-system and may happily co-exist with the latter, even though they might negate its values. They may come out in dreams, reveries, parapraxes and suchlike; but since they remain unofficial, they are of no great consequence. They may be so secret as to be entirely outside of the range of the individual’s awareness. Sometimes the values of the one side of the self even require the antithetical values of the other, perhaps unconscious self; and a cosy symbiosis is assured.
This tidy relationship is, however, rendered impossible as soon as the self realises that all social roles, all personae, all successful adaptations to the demands of the human group by the individual fail utterly to satisfy the self that is in search of a more authentic and intrinsic identity, an identity that concerns its essential nature and dynamics. (One could use the phrase ‘essential identity’ here if it did not evoke all the pitfalls of essentialist conceptions of the self and the attendant dangers of a restrictive or reductive conceptions of selfhood.) If the self, on account of its refusal to accept limitations, has no firm conviction concerning its function and role, if it teeters on the edge of a bottomless abyss of possibility – continuously and uninterruptedly – self-confidence is impossible and uncertainty in all things is its normal state. Now nothing undermines self-confidence more than lack of certainty. The self can in certain configurations be so completely uncertain of who and what it is that it doesn’t know, for example how to characterise itself at all. Such a state has been called ‘ontological insecurity’ and it is intimately related to the state of ‘existential anxiety’ described by the Existentialists. The uncertain self, insofar as it continues to function and to reflect upon its status, insofar as it continues to make use of its intelligence and acquired knowledge in order to obtain the certainty it lacks, works at its own structure night and day and, if it observes a rigorous honesty, discovers something essential about this structure. It discovers that this structure can no longer be provided by any purely relative set of characteristics or identity-elements. The structure cannot be that of any of the roles that human society provides for an individual. The structure, on the contrary, has to reflect nothing less than the whole universe if it is to be of any use. And this is indeed what the rigorously honest self that has abandoned all relative identities discovers about itself: it discovers an intimate relatedness between itself and the entire world. Such a self has to begin to identify itself with the entire universe and to see itself as a reflection of the entire universe rather than as the representative of any particular type of creature within it. Such a state is one of mystical identification that is often considered to be incompatible with the robust practicality that human society requires from its members. With this mystical state of self-identification with the whole comes an inability to use language in the easy referential manner that goes along with an identifiable role and an identifiable persona. The self concerned cannot express itself in a language, the words of which have self-evident reference and meaning. Such a self uses language allusively, indirectly, poetically , ironically – in a word it cannot embody the so-called virtue of directness or frankness. Not that such a self is dishonest, far from it. It is simply that its consciousness is no longer structured by a set of responses to the world that are unproblematic and straightforward. It has abandoned convention altogether. It is no longer capable of that other indispensable accoutrement of the identifiable persona: common sense. It loses its common sense, because common sense is no more than the evolutionarily determined response of the human to the environment that the self does not question as long as it does not identify itself with the entire cosmos. Necessarily, then, when directness and common sense leave the self, self-confidence goes out of the window, secrets, masks, irony and indirectness come in. But individuals remain members of human society whatever their identity and the building of a total self requires a mask in order to maintain normal concourse with everyday people, everyday, self-confident, functional people, who quickly sniff out the dizzy abyss within a person for whom the ego-governed persona has ceased to be of use, but who nevertheless wears an ego-mask. Such masks are, however, indispensable given the undeniable fact that selves that have left behind the ordinary, everyday roles and personae of human beings and the ordinary consciousness of the world that goes with them potentially bring an enormous creative contribution to mankind that contemporaries may be unable to recognise, but that those of the future may appreciate. Why are artists and poets ironic? Why are philosophers and prophets mysterious or obscure? Why are the wise self-effacing and authoritative and why is their language allusive and sometimes delphic? The reason is obvious: such selves no longer speak the readily understandable language of the socially identifiable self because they are not structured by the exigencies of identifiable roles. Such selves are structured by nothing less than the structuring principle of the world as a whole that they sense operating at the very centre of their being. Such selves, to use the old language of ancient Greek metaphysics and Christian theology, hear the voice of the Logos within. They may not grasp this fully themselves, but they may nevertheless speak with the authority or the depth of such a principle. Such selves are the nodal points of the human world, the growing tips of the new creative departures within that world. It is for this reason that they are at one and the same time both consummately confident and hidden, sometimes arrogant and enigmatic, but always worth listening to.

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