More Thoughts on Vanity, and the Genuineness of Character

Photo: Sunrise shadow. North Point, MD. Shot on Fuji 400 35mm via Canon EOS Rebel G.

In a recent post I entered a wrestling match with vanity. There was no victor.

Vanity is strange, because while the word conjures up a distinct state of constant self-assessment in regards to our outward appearances, it could potentially weigh constantly on our relations to others in myriad ways. Vanity also raises a lot of questions about how we relate to ourselves.

One mystery that revealed itself amid my rambling analysis (which Philomath brought up in their response) is whether there is a true self and a self that is desired by our egos – “who we are and who we want to be.”

I would posit that there is a true self and an ego-driven self, but that they are two faces of the same coin. As a consciousness, I feel positioned between my inner self and others. I cannot exist otherwise. If I don’t have a self, I don’t exist, for obvious reasons; if there are not others, I don’t exist, if only for biological reasons (I required parents to be born). Therein, I will always have an inner source of thoughts, beliefs, and desires, and also an outer context that includes the existence of other humans.

From my genesis, I am given to a state that includes an individual self as well as a social self shaped by my position in a world of others. The ego lies between the two, but is basically the advocate for the social self. It monitors the state of the social context and encourages me to want things and do things that will be advantageous for my being in that context. Sometimes, but not always, the ego differs with what Freud called the id, one’s innate set of urges. In these cases, the ego suggests ignoring the id, employing fear of social alienation to get its way.

Unfortunately, the id seems to be on its own. Or perhaps its advocate is not as explicit and dramatic as the ego… or perhaps the ego is meant to justify both the inner and outer selves, but my ego has received more practice in slating social motives.

Anyway, I’m at a bit of a dead-end here, because it’s hard to analyze my own ego, but there are always fewer fucks to give about the opinions of others.

Moving on…

Now, just to make things confusing, I do think there’s an application of vanity that lends itself to the creation of a false self. This is when vanity goes past simply wanting to be highly esteemed, and reaches a point of wanting to not appear a certain way – like weird, for instance.

Weirdness-avoidance motivates you to basically destroy yourself. You assume a fabricated source of creation – another personality in a way – but really a total character that is alive enough to create. This other self can create art, speech, morals, and so on that seem to be more “acceptable.” And so you create them, for what feels like survival. But this other you is incomplete insofar as it is executed from YOUR mind. Therein, your genuine spirit for art, speech, and morals is still reacting to your actions, and suffering the untrue ones.

That is, you create a mask. You play a role. This role is intended to grease your social ventures, and it usually does. But it also masks your true personality and spirit, so your acquaintances and actions are based off of a dishonest projection. The longer the mask stays on, the harder it is to take off because others come to understand you as the role you are playing, not as the actor. And while it’s great to have friends, it’s even better to have friends that really know you – friends that are actually friends with you. It’s also nice to act according to your own nature, and not that of an assumed character.

So yes, I do think another self can arise from vanity and the yearnings of the ego, but I maintain that is artificial. It is built upon the genuine self; it is not independent. The key is to become conscious of that fabricated self, to understand when and how it performs. Once identified, it can be slowly chipped away (or all at once, if you’re a real badass).

I’m done talking about vanity now, at least for the time being. That was tiresome.

What are your thoughts?