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a note on self valuation

Appropriations posting

revised 10.10.10 and 11.21.10

‘Ego’ has become such a common word, we might forget (or never knew) that it just means “I”. Egoism is just a concept of I-ism or selfism, which tends to be selfish in the worst sense: exclusive much more than inclusive. But ‘ego’ itself was initially a technical notion of selfidentification or active self conception, but narrowly: apart from fleshed-out instances of full persons who may be variably interested in their own (or ownmost) life.

In recent months, I’ve claimed (more or less) that self-interest (hyphenated: reflectivity of self interest) can be easily (or naturally) not selfish. So, I want to make a distinction between the [a] self-centrism or selfness of very good individuation (wanting inclusiveness) and [b] egoism or selfism (wanting exclusiveness). I’m not especially interested in using ‘ego’, but I’m very interested in differences between [a] and [b]. Rather than talk in terms of ego centrism, I’d rather talk in terms of very good selfidentity or high sense of selfness or self centrism in an inclusive, integrative sense of ‘self’. But it’s good, to me, to use ‘ego’ relative to focusing on the [a]/[b] difference because—here is the point of this posting—so-called narcissism might be confused with a validly high self absorption (e.g., in art or research) that is actually inclusive. Also, I want to get away from the term ‘narcissism’ when considering extreme (willfully suppressive, if not pathogenic) holds on selfness or very defensive self absorption.

But we all relate easily, due to cultural legacy, to ‘narcissism’. In theory of child development, it’s normal to proffer “healthy narcissism” (or constructive self absorption) when focusing on good self development, also called “positive narcissism.” I don’t like ‘positive narcissism’, because it’s a misleading inheritance from psychoanalytic notions of pathogenic child development, where Freud drew from a folktale for a concept of self-possession (hyphenated: an extremism of healthy self formation or self possession) intimately related to pathogenic family dynamics. Though the genius of psychoanalysis was to establish the life-long importance of early child development, its clinical interest has required later generations of developmental psychologists to formulate better (non-compensatory) senses of healthy self development.

Relative to a use of ‘ego’, we see in daily life all degrees of egoism, from little episodes shown by generally inclusive persons (with good self-centrism or flourishing sense of inclusive selfness) through egoistic persons (e.g., extreme vanity) that isn’t yet apparently pathological (but is easily felt by others as an egoistic person) to, rarely, pathology or egoistic personality disorder, in the clinical sense (classified as “narcissistic personality disorder”: NPD).

Egoistic personality disorder is actually unusual, though egoistic personalities are common. In my view (and experience), egoistic personality disorder which is clearly that happens with persons born highly sensitive who have been dominated by extrinsic appreciation and exclusiveness. I’ve known persons that are unbearably egoistic (and can cause others so much difficulty); they all (it seems to me) have high sensitivity—but they tend to be pathogenically social: exclusive and easily demeaning in their “politeness,” etc. At heart, they are (or were as children) “highly sensitive persons,” as therapist Elaine Aron puts it in several books. Her most recent book, The Undervalued Self, calls to mind a keynote of egoistic personality disorder: an emptiness of “real self,” which therapist James Masterson theorized very usefully, years ago, in The Search for the Real Self and other books. Masterson especially focused on “abandonment depression” (re: chronically-underappreciated inner self sense), which is easily associated with the recognized risks for NPD, especially “causes in the family of origin” (halfway down that page), such as egoistic parents; e.g., careerist parents who don’t have time for regularly good-enough parenting (which is about caring time, not about being an Ideal Parent). [I mention Masterson and Aron because they are typical of a large literature on difficulties of self development. I’m not intending to soon focus on Masterson’s very practical work. I was quite influenced by him in the mid-‘90s. I’m aware of Aron, but not especially influenced by her practical books intended for wide readership. But their book titles are useful here—appropriately evocative.]

Generally for my Project (and my development), I’m pursuing senses of self development beyond normal concerns for merely-healthy self development to such a degree that I need to emphasize my sensitivity to avoiding implications (if not overtones) of egoistic personality. I’m very drawn to a highly inclusive sense of self absorption, but brief discussions elsewhere can be misleading. Understanding overt narcissism is a good way to distinguish and emphasize the opposite: very desireable and enabling features of highly inclusive self development (especially lacking in egoism).

So, eventually, I’ll focus on egoism as such, in terms of some resources on egoism and NPD. But not soon. Focusing on NPD is especially useful for understanding egoism as it’s broadly evident in daily life (not obviously pathological). But it’s important to appreciate that NPD is the extreme on a continuum that includes the great plurality of persons who don’t have a good sense of self at all; and show that dependently or needily (e.g., through “medicative” consumptiveness), rather than egoistically (the vanity fair).

I’ve inquired into healthy self development (little so far shared online) for the sake of developing a conception of selformation that is quite beyond normal concerns for thriving lives in daily society. I’m especially intersted in understanding highly creative individuation. But that isn’t meant to connote that I’m theorizing my self understanding (i.e., that I presume myself to be some exemplar). One may be very interested in creative individuation because one wants to understand one’s own lack of that, in wishing to understand as well as possible what one does not exemplify. One is not claiming to be an Olympian just by being interested in understanding Olympians. That said, what I’ve shared so far online (the entire website, as of 11.21.10—you may be reading much later) is precursory for a large-scale philosophical project. But I hope for some usefulness to others of what draws me; I don’t presume some evident exemplarity. Philosophy idealizes exemplarity. In light of ideals, one does the best one can. Others may find exemplarity in that or, usually, not.

In one far horizon of usefulness, democratic theory idealizes the individual who not only speaks well for their own interests and potential, but does so inclusively and with a good (warm, broad-horizoned) sense of belonging in one’s (our) humanity.

By the way, my interest is coincidently mirrored, delightfully to me, in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged definition of ‘ego’, which is primarily indicated in terms of philosophers!: Descartes, Kant, Fichte, and Hume (none of whom especially interest me)—very unusual for a dictionary. The standard meaning of ‘ego’ expresses an intellectual legacy of interest in self, soul, and mind. I think that’s lovely. The capability of oneself to inquire into one’s own nature is a keynote of our nature.

The subject of self valuation is ultimately boundless, necessarily never completely fulfilled, because the horizon of curiosity and inquiry, into which one may expand one’s sense of Self-to-World habitation and an Appeal of manifold interplays, can be as endless as a life—which, of course, ends; but what a mind can do builds on what minds have done, so we grow on, in our evolving, via threads in a weave, if not a vining with telic clarity.