It has to be said that one of the big hangups of our time is the constant state of projection a lot of people have. That is, the idea that if one projects a certain image, acts a specific way or thinks like someone else – they too will get the same rewards as those that they seek to emulate. For some it is “Too live the (insert county here) Dream”. This is why you will be best selling books about the habits of billionaires even down to the meals they have and their sleeping patterns. They are essentially guides to others who want those results and feel they need a guide on what to emulate to achieve this. And yet there are two distinct faults to this kind of thinking.
Firstly is survivorship-bias, the concept that people are focusing purely on those that have achieved success and ignoring everyone else that has failed along the same anticipated path. If one is determined to emulate the successful individuals there may be some vaguely reasonable concepts and ideas in there but it is also excluding large chunks of valuable information. By not analyzing why others have failed trying to achieve the same things then a large part of the lesson is already gone. There are more lessons to be had in failure than there are in success.
Secondly, is that this is putting the cart before the horse. It is trying to run time itself backwards. It implies that the outcome determines the cause rather than the cause becoming the outcome. And this is the real crux of this issue. There are army’s of people that are desperately trying to project a curated vision of themselves based off of others, thinking that those same other people can give them what they desire. At the same time, those that are being emulated are doing the exact same thing back at the people projecting. This is perhaps why this kind of thinking allows for some initial gains for a lot of people but long term most fall short.
If people look and talk like business people and those same business people are reflecting back the same ideal, both sides can be trying to exploit the other for personal gain. Both have a chance of succeeding, at least for a little while. This is the back bone of large business. One cannot think differently, but have to follow the status quo to do so. The joke of it all is that most of these people do not know what they really want, or if they do get it, they figure out that it was all an illusion to begin with.
There are hoards of people that are desperately trying to achieve this nowadays. Folks that are living middle class lives, running up mountains of debt, trying to keep up with the Jones’s. That is, they are being a mirror to everyone else around them as those being reflected are also reflecting the world around them. It is like rain drops on a spiders web, every drop reflecting every other drop around it. People that feel like, once they achieve a great thing, that thing that was someone else has originally determined, that will get them the admiration of their peers and true happiness – and yet it almost never happens. Because once you realize that you have become the Jones that you seek to emulate, you realize just how shallow and hollow it really is, how shallow and hollow it always was.
It is astounding to see folks that will eventually despise the world around them that they created by trying to copy. A lifetime of energy trying to be someone else rather than to be themselves, almost always to get power, sex, money or all of them at the same time. This has to be one of the greatest psychological waste of energy that has ever existed. Almost the entire advertising industry is depended on this and actively tries to drive people to strive harder for these ideals. I do wonder what the myths and legends of our time will be like in hundreds of years time; I do not think they will be kind to us and few people will envy our ways. A zombie like hoard of consumption to fulfill something that is ultimately meaningless, destroying the world along the way to get it.
It is a lesson that has been learned and forgotten countless times before. Folks that feel “If I sit and act like a Buddha, then I shall become one”. Ritual dances done with the sincere hopes of changing the world around them in ways far beyond conceivable physical means. Melanesian Cargo cults, who desperately built airplane and runway replicas trying to summon back the wealth and goods of eras gone.
As much as we think we are beyond the realm of myths, rituals and superstitions, they run so deep to the character of most people and the very structure of civilization itself that we do not see it for what it is. It is like the air around us in that it is rarely noticed and even then only in extreme situations like a storm.
There is nothing immediately wrong with emulating those around you, it is how babies learn, people learn the laws of the land and how to interact with each other. It is the drive that allows folks to be good citizens and to co-operate. But when it becomes the defining feature of a person and personality, that is when it goes too far and the original creative spirit of the person is lost to the frantic desperation to be something more, even though it is ultimately meaningless in the scope of deep time. There is nothing wrong with being meaningless but only so much as when people are completely aware of it and know that they are just playing a role, for no good reason. There is nothing wrong with that at all.
And so as folks try in desperation to keep their desires of visions of themselves together, the more the cracks form as the mounting pressure of the real world comes into view, the more desperation is felt trying to make the world conform to their vision. The cracks have to be hidden from others and the internal tension becomes unbearable until breaking point.
One just needs to see the mounting debt that has been growing the world over for the last half century to see this in action. It isn’t just people, it is countries, borrowing to make everything look good in the hope that it will attract the new business and people to save them. If only they knew that everyone else was in the same boat and that there will not be any last minute savior. If they could only face up to that then they can start to make real changes rather than symbolic ones.
To some degree this is the Diderot effect. That is the idea based on the French philosopher Denis Diderot in his works “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown”. It is about how when he came across a significant amount of wealth, he bought a new Dressing Gown. With that one choice, everything else he owned suddenly looked poor by comparison to his now fancy clothes and he had realized he had to purchase new furniture and clothing so that everything matched in terms of quality. It can be said that he feared projecting the wrong image, not just for himself but for others to see. And the problem there was that he practically drove himself into poverty trying to appear to be more wealthy than he really was. Many people are going this today only without the philosophical prestige.
For most people are there are only two ways to continue forwards. Either they keep going with the projection, hoping that they will come out the other side victorious, like so many billionaires chasing more money hoping to fill the whole in themselves. Or they walk away from it all, to set themselves on a new path, one that works with what they truly want and not what they are told to want.
Which path do you choose?
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