The problem has to do with the lack of confidence of the “self” in its own existence. The problem has to do with questions that don’t get asked. For example: From where does a thought come into consciousness? Why did a certain thought arise − and not another thought? Why do I assume “ownership” of a thought even though I did not import it?
Not just thoughts, but feelings, too: Does this thing that I feel really belong to me? Is it a collective feeling that has been imposed on me? Do I feel a certain emotion because I am ordered to feel it? Is the feeling in its present form an urge that was refined by society without my knowledge and without my permission? Have I been deprived of even greater enjoyment?
Not just thoughts and feelings, but actions, too: Is what I do what I want to be doing? Or do I perhaps do what the times and what society order me to do? Is the sense of free will actually an illusion that was instilled in me so I would serve a greater system? Am I merely a small cell in the tissue of an organ in someone else’s body?
The questions that don’t get asked boil down to wondering about one basic thing that is usually not given conscious expression: Do I exist? (In other words, is there a direct correlation between the “self” and the collection of actions, thoughts and feelings that are realized by me?)
It is customary to think that ours is a narcissistic era, one defined by the growing power of the “self.” The evidence of this generally relates to what is termed “self-actualization” − that is, a person invests most of his energy in actions that have to do with augmenting personal pleasure: via money, a master’s degree, money, a black SUV, money, yoga on Friday afternoons, money, Chinese lessons for the kids, money, sex in various positions. Oh, and of course: money.
Except that this self-actualization is made possible precisely because there is no actual connection between it and the “self.” The “self” that is actualized is really the “social” one: A person earns lots of money, drives an SUV, bends a leg behind his neck every Friday afternoon, eats regularly at some restaurant of Rochfeld’s − and still zealously and unconsciously obeys institutional dictates that are inculcated in him. Indeed, the more a person has greater freedom to “actualize” himself in terms of an SUV and getting an MBA − i.e., in investing energy in trifling effects of existence − the easier it is to blur in him the connection between his “self” and the array of actions, thoughts and feelings with which he identifies.
Blurring the connection between the person and himself is society’s guarantee of continued control over its individuals (lack of awareness). Blurring the connection between a person and himself is also the reason for the great yearning for shows like “Big Brother” (45 percent ratings). “Big Brother” wishes to present − to viewers blurred and consumed by doubt, and viewers who have lost confidence in the existence of their “self,” viewers who no longer exist as individual entities − a host of prototypes for “self,” a host of “types.”
Why is there a longing for “types”? Because man is no longer a “type,” because the person has become an entity with a replicated consciousness: Someone who gets a mohawk haircut because on television someone got a mohawk haircut. Man has become generic; he misses the unique bulges and bumps that characterized him before he underwent treatment by society’s giant polishing machine. He longs for authentic, actual, unmediated existence, even if he never knew it: that is, for raging urges, original thoughts, spontaneous actions. He asks for the prototypes presented on “Big Brother” so that he can go on living the way he lives today: in comfort (the reigning religion).
The peculiar figures on the screen are actually an exaggerated form of those same bulges and bumps, which were flattened and made to disappear in his prehistory (infancy, childhood, adolescence) to allow for optimal friction between all components of society. The sadistic snicker at the sight of these figures is another form of sadness: The person realizes that he is living his self through someone else. The addiction to “Big Brother” is a longing for that thing called life.