The Brighter the Stars

‘The darker the night, the brighter the stars. Or, so they say. 

I just try not to dwell on the light from those stars being the last embers of violent thermonuclear furnaces that died a long time ago. A bit like my social life.’ – INTJ birthday tweets: a concept.

As someone who has spent the overwhelming majority of my life alone, at least in the figurative sense, today shouldn’t really bother me. That it does is largely to do with a degree of social-conditioning that creeps through the veneers of my psyche and flirts with my value system or, my weak mode of internal feeling. Birthdays are by and large something that have never really bothered me. Birthdays are not so much a cause for celebration for the person whose birthday it is, but for everyone else surrounding them and a chance for those people to enjoy themselves. From the perspective of a Leo, if we are to believe the horoscopes and the stars that tell us that Leo is the most gregarious and outgoing of cats, then practicality and a lifetime of experience would tell us that even from childhood, a Leo child will always likely be surrounded with fewer people at the time of their birthdays than those who have their birthdays throughout the school months. From childhood, only a small handful of people would attend my birthday parties. I recall only one person from school showing up for a birthday party when I was six, the others were cousins. People would be on holiday, or they would forget. Others may have been largely indifferent anyway, but I shall offer the benefit of the doubt.

That I am upset over spending the day alone today is somewhat unusual. I did receive a rather nice gift, I received a small number of messages wishing me a happy birthday through the night, one saying ‘happy birthday gorgeous’ and someone else drunkenly sent me a Snapchat of herself topless. One person from work – who has in the vicinity of 800 followers, a number of whom I work with – wished me well in a post on Instagram, I do find it somewhat contentious that of these, only four people from work actually liked the fucking thing, one of these likes everything anyway, so I’m not sure that it should even count, and of these, only one of whom, actually bothered to comment with happy birthday. As I have spent the last year going frankly against my nature and making a concerted effort to push myself to be friendly and sociable to people, this is therefore something I am unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Truly, aside from this affront I have little reason to be unhappy, or for that matter, be having the kind of internal existential crisis my INTJ mode of weak and underdeveloped mode of internal feeling has brought me. ‘Woe is me, no-one cares about me.’ By the same rationale, 99.99999% of people couldn’t give a shit about me the other 364 days of the year either,  and it doesn’t cause me to assess my entire internal value system and my reasons for living. At the root level, it is an upset caused by the socially-conditioned notion of how it is somehow wrong to spend a birthday alone, and over the notion that no-one wishes to celebrate my birthday with me. An acceptance of this point means that there is no reason for me to break out the Nietzche books.

My first existential crisis was an odd one. I spent most of my early life struggling with a sense of identity. I was a somewhat sensitive child who didn’t particularly enjoy the company of others. I had exactly one friend at primary school. He was extremely bright, but a troublemaker who my parents avidly encouraged me to avoid. He however left my school when he was eight and I finished primary school with only a friend I subsequently made in the other class who was even at a young age brilliant intellectually, but somewhat disturbed emotionally, for reasons I won’t go into. At secondary school I would befriend these people again at intervals, until the aforementioned was thrown out of the school for making an album which he was selling to students, in which he insulted teachers and various students throughout the school. While he was summarily expelled for this and a number of other demeanours, – obviously due to content of his album, his position was completely untenable amongst teachers and certain students – the headteacher did tell him that his album had remarkable production values. The last I heard of him, he was despite finishing school without any actual qualifications, actually working for a small independent record label.

As I largely struggled to adapt to fitting in, and even the people who subsequently adopted me into their friendship groups, I always found it a challenge to have and maintain friendships. I have never really had the experience of a close connection with anyone or a sense of mutual understanding in the truest sense. In my late teens after I discovered booze, I continued to struggle with a sense of identity. I had read a philosophical essay by the French author Albert Camus called ‘The Myth of Sisyphus.’

Though it was a small work, it made a big impression on me. In the essay, Camus introduces his philosophy of the absurd: man’s futile search for meaning, unity and clarity in the face of an unintelligible world.

Does the realisation of the absurd require suicide? Camus answers: ‘No. It requires revolt.’

The final chapter compares the absurdity of man’s life with the situation of Sisyphus, a figure of Greek mythology who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a rock up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. The essay concludes, ‘The struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.’

At the same time, I had been reading ‘The Fountainhead’ by Ayn Rand.

‘The Fountainhead’ is the story of Howard Roark an architect. The book starts with a bang as Roark is thrown out of school for refusing to follow the standards of traditional architecture. This is one of the main points of all of Ayn Rand’s writings. The only way for men to be happy in Rand’s view is for them to live only by their own standards, values and judgements. Men are certain, set their course and find the work that makes them happy. Howard Roark is the living embodiment of Rand’s philosophy. Throughout the book he is punished for his commitment to excellence, his vision and his ability to produce and enjoy his production. He is opposed by the second raters, the worshippers of death who want to see man as a slimy lowly creature, to be dominated by means of lies, and distortions.

Roark’s certainty in his standards is one of his most amazing traits. In fact throughout the book he is called upon to help his polar opposite Peter Keating with various architectural tasks. Early in the book as Roark is helping Peter to decide on what job to take. Peter asks how Roark can always manage to decide. Roark responds by asking him how he can let others decide for him. You must have your own standards and be able to make decisions. You must know what you stand for and consistently make decisions moving towards that.

Roark is described by Rand in her initial notes for The Fountainhead as follows:

‘Howard Roark- The noble soul par excellence. The man as man should be. The self-sufficient, self confident, the end of ends, the reason unto himself, the joy of living personified. Above all-the man who lives for himself, as living for oneself should be understood. And who triumphs completely. A man who is what he should be.’

Furthermore Rand shows the sufferring and unhappiness caused by not living by your own standards and doing things to appease the masses. Everything from Peter worrying about whether or not he really loves his mother, to Gail Wynand coming into power by giving the masses what they want, and becoming miserable along the way. We’ll get more into both of those guys and how they perverted their standards in order to get what they think they want.

This is why it’s important to know who you are and what is important to you. This and this alone causes you to come off certain, passionate, dynamic, and alive. If anything, living by your own standards and not looking externally for validation you become more attractive as a person. But in order to really be like this, you have to stop looking outside of your own standards of right and wrong for validation. You have to stop seeking the approval of others. In short you have to stop giving a fuck. Or, to put it another way, become internally validated. As a man you are responsible for creating and maintaining your own state of being. That means you have to step up, and learn to draw validation from who you are, not what you have accomplished or how much you’ve read.

Later in the book is where Rand ties in the idea of being selfish. It is a form of selfishness to elevate your beliefs and standard above all others. It is something of an arrogance to believe you know best. But it is what being a man is all about.  According to Rand who certainly adheres to ‘The Great Man Theory of History,’ and I personally do not subscribe to this line of thought – the men who have shaped history have been men that believed in their own abilities, reason, and virtue. One of the main characterisations we see throughout this book and also in Atlas Shrugged is the idea of heroic men without guilt for their virtues. Roark refuses to feel bad for his selfishness and instead feels nothing for it. The act of following his values is as second nature to him as breathing. He knows no other way.

Due to my identity struggles, which was aligned with a struggle to discern my values, what I wanted out of life and what kind of person I was and who and what kind of person I wanted to be, these were concepts which resonated with me, but created a lot of internal conflict. I wished to be a man like Roark, but to aspire to be a man like someone else was antithetical to the whole fucking point of the ‘The Fountainhead.’ I had to find my own way. It was also rather antithetical to the girl I was dating at the time who was an avowed communists that I was expressing ideas based on principles put forward by Ayn Rand.

Still, I was both entirely directionless, and my mind was being pulled in various insurmountable directions. It was around this point, that due to the mounting neurosis and anger, I actually, literally gave up on thinking for a number of years. My life didn’t actually really suffer for this as much as one might expect.

From the embers of Rand, I considered that while I struggled to reconcile my own value system, the way to live truest to myself was to embrace a form of Hedonism. This actually runs counter to the Randian philosophy, yet it was paramount to me, that to discover who I was and what I wanted out of life, that I must discover and indulge in the things I actually liked. To this day, I still indulge in a mild form of Epicureanism.

‘Epicurus believed that what he called “pleasure” was the greatest good, but that the way to attain such pleasure was to live modestly, to gain knowledge of the workings of the world, and to limit one’s desires. This would lead one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear as well as an absence of bodily pain (aponia). The combination of these two states constitutes happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism insofar as it declares pleasure to be its sole intrinsic goal, the concept that the absence of pain and fear constitutes the greatest pleasure, and its advocacy of a simple life, make it very different from “hedonism” as colloquially understood.’

From these experiences, I know that I am capable of getting over the disappointment of this day. After all, the brain is a pattern-detecting device. It can find shapes, designs and meanings in almost anything. I am not necessarily prone to thinking about the past. I am very much a person who thinks only about the future, but on this day it has been interesting to look inside my mind and how it has worked from a young age. To see all the hopes of magic, dreams, hopes, memories, broad vistas, blind alleys, and hour-by-hour, guided by a peculiar form of intution, heading somewhere even if I have absolutely no conscious awareness of where where actually is.

There is actually no clear dividing line in the brain between inner imaginings and perceptions of the physical world outside. Reality and fantasy are actually built into the same neural circuits. My approach to writing and creating stories has always been quite similar to how JG Ballard described his own approach. He rejected the notion of outer space in favour of what he called inner space, ‘An imaginary realm in which on the one hand the outer world of reality, and on the other, the inner world of the mind meet and merge.’  So we come back to Sisyphus and from this we can gain the true understanding of what it means to imagine Sisyphus happy. What can I do about this birthday experience? I will just imagine that next year will be better and happier.

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