by Sam Buntz
[NOTE: Was this post written with help from a bit of caustic self-analysis? Feel free to speculate… I would say, though, that it isn’t just a piece of nearly morbid self-deprecation. I suppose I noticed aspects of these tendencies in myself, at times, but I based the rest on observations of other people my own age… -Sam]
It’s easy to become self-involved when your survival—or, what you’ve become convinced amounts to your survival—is at stake. The contemporary, self-involved Millennial has convinced himself or herself that his or her position in the world—the correct placement and wiring of the individual human circuit within the greater technological network—is something that can be solved through an intense meditative absorption in the current of self-interest. Sink or become self-involved: those are the apparent options. If you’ve moved back in with your parents after graduation and continually contemplate your future while applying for jobs, failing to get those jobs, and generally occupy yourself with hashing and re-hashing your plans for the future, you’re inevitably going to get stuck in yourself.
However, this is different from being a narcissist (I’ve noticed people abusing the word “narcissist” quite a bit over the past decade or so). If you’re a narcissist, you’re in love with yourself—usually in a nearly physical manner. But if you’re self-involved, you’re something relatively less irritating but more common: just an ordinary egotist, sealed inside yourself, attempting to pick the locks, while discovering that this only leads you into passages that plunge deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of self.
Countless people throughout the United States are suffering this fate. It might be hard to feel bad for them when there are innocent civilians being slaughtered in Syria; at any rate, they’re there. They can’t just tell the world to piss off and then go chop wood alone or find solace living with the bears. They’ve got college loans to deal with, and Mom and Dad’s house is a pretty comfortable way station on the road to finally paying those off. So, one contemplates the design of one’s life within that greater techno-industrial network, attempting to guess what twist or turn it’ll take next—which is a futile task. Your life isn’t something that you’re supposed to find intellectually comprehensible, so much as it’s something that just happens (in or out of tune with the Tao).
This is the predicament of the Self-Involved Young Person of Today. As he or she tries to un-tie the tangle of the self, the knots grow tighter, the mess grows in complexity. One deals with the terror of a labyrinth with no entrances, no exits— not even a Minotaur—just an increasingly perplexing series of passages. This is, no doubt, a false way of seeing things: in reality there isn’t an entrance or an exit, since the labyrinth itself, the specter of the ego, is an illusion: one that would disappear if we could tear our attention away from it. Yet it’s a specter with the capacity to terrify.