Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Myth of "You can be whatever you want to be"

"For Freud human life was a process of ego-building, not the quest for a fictitious inner self. Looking for your true self invites unending disappointment. If you have no specific potential, the cost of trying to bring your inner nature to fruition will be a painfully misspent existence. Few human beings are as unhappy as those who have a gift that no one wants. Anyway, who wants to spend their life hanging around waiting to be recognized? As John Ashbery wrote:

A talent for self-realisation
Will get you only so far as the vacant lot
Next to the lumber yard, where they have

The Romantic idea tells people to seek their true self. There is no such self, but that does not mean we can be anything we want to be. Talent is a gift of fortune, not something that can be chosen. Imagining that you have talent that you lack turns you into a version of the composer Salieri, whose life was poisoned by the appearance of Mozart. Salieri was not without ability. For much of his life he enjoyed a successful career. But if we accept how he has been portrayed by Pushkin and others, Salieri was consumed by the suspicion that he was himself a fake. A society of people who have been taught to be themselves cannot be other than full of fakes."

Page 110, 'The Silence of Animals, On Progress and Other Modern Myths', John Gray

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