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Be Yourself?

[1]1,739 words

Andy Nowicki’s Counter-Currents article “In Defense of ‘Squares’ [2]” has prompted a reply from Ferdinand Bardamu, “Can You See the Real Me? [3]” Both articles raise important questions about identity in connection with the “game” or “PUA” (pickup artist) phenomenon.

Nowicki argues that the gamesters are right about female psychology, namely that women are primally attracted to “alpha” male traits. Gamesters teach beta males to mimic alpha traits to get laid. Nowicki’s objection is that betas pretending to be alphas is fundamentally false, inauthentic, and self-alienating. Nowicki, who describes himself as a proud beta, instead counsels men to be more concerned with discovering and being themselves, as opposed to pretending to be somebody they are not in order to conform to female expectations and desires.

Bardamu’s reply does not really address the essential premises of Nowicki’s argument, namely that there really are alpha and beta males, and that betas pretending to be alphas is just that, namely pretending, and is thus inauthentic, self-alienating, and fraudulent.

Instead, Bardamu argues that the advice to “be yourself” is an excuse for complacency when self-improvement is in order. As an example, Bardamu tells of his own transformation from obese nerd to fit, socially-competent hipster. He claims that if he followed Nowicki’s advice to be himself, that transformation never would have happened.

Justifying your unwillingness to improve your life by claiming to be “authentic” or “being yourself” is just a lie you tell yourself to protect your ego. . . . his argument is fundamentally a loser’s argument. You almost never hear this kind of argument coming from anyone who’s accomplished anything real in life. You don’t hear it from athletes, you don’t hear it from musicians (real musicians, not kids living on trust funds), you don’t hear it from international travelers. You hear it from fat girls, feminists, and nerds. “Have another Snickers bar, you gorgeous girl, you!”

This is a good argument so far: If you take “be yourself” to mean “remain as you are at any given time,” then self-improvement is not necessary. It is not a reply to Nowicki’s argument, but it is a good argument nonetheless.

But then Bardamu adds a very questionable metaphysical statement:

Here’s the truth — there is no “real” you. You don’t have an inviolable, unchanging identity that defines you from the day you’re born to the day you die. Your identity is just who you are at this particular moment in time. You’re not the same person you were ten years ago, and you won’t be the same person ten years from now. You won’t even be the same person six months from now. Oh sure, you may have the same name and see the world through the same set of eyes, but events in and out of your control permanently and slowly change you. Getting married and having children, losing your job, moving abroad, graduating from college, the death of your parents — all these and other events leave lasting marks on your soul. Game, along with self-improvement methods like the Paleo diet, are nothing more than ways of guiding your intellectual development in productive directions, taking charge of your life instead of just letting things happen to you.

In other words, being yourself is impossible, because there is no fixed self. Being the real you is bad advice, because there is no real you. Bardamu denies that there really are alpha or beta males. There are just alpha and beta performances. And if one performs the same role long enough, it becomes “nature”:

A funny thing happens when you do something over and over again — you get good at it. In fact, you eventually get so good at it that it becomes second nature. You no longer think about it consciously; you just do it without thinking or hesitating. If you practice the guitar for fifteen minutes a day, every day, eventually you’ll be able to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from memory. If you eat soup and tap water for dinner every night and jog/walk three miles a day, eventually you’ll be skinny and fit. If you play the part of an asshole consistently and convincingly, eventually it stops being a persona and becomes who you are.

He goes on to add, “There was nothing fake about me . . .” Which follows from his basic premises: There is nothing fake about him, simply because there was never anything real about him. He cannot betray himself, because he has no real self to betray.

Now this is a very common viewpoint. Indeed, it is the deep metaphysical presupposition of modernity. The modern worldview sees man as the master of nature, which requires that nature be malleable to the human will. This means that all fixed and immutable natures must be discarded as impediments to human power.

This is the metaphysical presupposition of modern egalitarianism, for instance. There are no inherent, immutable differences between the sexes and the races, because such differences would frustrate the egalitarian project. Therefore, all racial and sexual differences must be socially constructed and socially mutable in the direction of equality. There are no objective standards of beauty. They are all socially constructed and mutable, so ugly people can feel good about themselves too. (But the differences that the Left wish to maintain or excuse, such as homosexuality or fatness, are genetic and cannot be changed.)

One can, however, preserve Bardamu’s essential argument – and harmonize it with Nowicki’s — by dropping this false metaphysical presupposition.

Bardamu is assuming a false dichotomy: either the self is what is actual at any particular moment — or there is no self. The third possibility is Aristotle’s view of nature as potentiality. For Aristotle, everybody has a self, but it is not necessarily the person one is right now, for one’s self can be more or less imperfectly actualized.

For the couch potato, “be yourself” translates as “remain as you are now, in your degraded, unhealthy state.” For Aristotle, “be oneself” is equivalent to “actualize oneself,” which, for the couch potato, translates as: turn off the television, stop eating chips, and start exercising. Bardamu’s story of self-transformation is completely consistent with an Aristotelian metaphysics of self-actualization.

Aristotelian self-actualization is, moreover, consistent with the acquisition of various abilities through the repetition of certain actions until they become “second nature.” But for Aristotle, second nature is grafted onto “first nature,” the nature one is born with, and for the graft to take, the two natures have to be compatible. You can practice guitar or piano all you want, but if you lack innate musical talent, you will never rise above mediocrity.

This brings us to Andy Nowicki’s concern with honesty and authenticity. For an Aristotelian, there is a self, thus it is possible to be true or false to oneself. Being true to oneself means actualizing oneself: living in accord with one’s potential for excellence. Being false to oneself means living in a way that is indifferent to one’s true nature or in conflict with it. Health, mental and physical, can be defined as a life in accordance with one’s nature. Ill health, mental and physical, can be defined as a life in conflict with one’s nature.

To adapt an example from Schopenhauer, imagine two men, one brawny but not bright, the other brainy and weak. The brawny man would be most satisfied with a physically active life, say being a lumberjack. The brainy man would be most satisfied with an intellectually active life, such as being a math professor. Now switch the two men’s professions. Send the math professor out to cut down trees, and put the lumberjack in the classroom. Both men would be miserable, because they would be required to live in a way that conflicts with their natures. And even if, through a massive act of will, it were possible for both men eventually to perform the other’s job competently, they would still be miserable, because they would be constantly going against rather than with the grain of who they really are.

Nowicki’s concern is this: If there is a real self, then there must be negative psychological consequences to pretending to be somebody one is not. If there are alpha and beta males, then there must be negative consequences for betas pretending to be alphas. Yet that sort of fundamental falseness is being sold by the PUA community, as well as such pop-Nietzschean swill-mongers as Tony Robbins and his ilk, who promise success — defined in the basest materialistic terms — in exchange for what is often fundamental self-betrayal. I think Nowicki’s concern is completely valid and defensible.

My own concern with “game” and allied phenomena — as well as the metaphysics of the will that often accompanies them — is that they appeal to and empower narcissists, pathological liars, and sociopaths.

A narcissist is a person whose identity and self-worth are not anchored in the reality of his own nature and achievements. Indeed, he may be profoundly alienated from himself. He may even believe that he has no real self, just shifting desires.

A narcissist is a fundamentally dependent, parasitic personality. To satisfy his desires, the narcissist does not change reality, he manipulates others. The narcissist’s identity exists in his reflection in the minds of others.

The narcissist spends his time acting — projecting a persona — in front of an audience in order to manipulate them into satisfying his needs. When others believe his act and reflect his persona back to him, he feels a sense of self. When they approve of his persona, he feels a sense of self-worth. When they question or dislike his persona, he feels rage. Thus narcissists are pathological liars and manipulators.

The most successful narcissists are also untroubled by their parasitic, manipulative relationships with others because they have no conscience. They are sociopaths or psychopaths, incapable of human empathy even as they are highly astute at reading and manipulating human psychology.

For such men, “game” is merely another tool of manipulation that they can use to get women into highly vulnerable situations.

I have met three men who were really into game, and two of them were narcissists, pathological liars, and possible sociopaths. I would feel a lot better about the ethics of the game “community” if it not only offered men advice on how to pick up women, but also offered women advice on how to see through and avoid narcissistic sociopaths who are trying to bed them, or worse.