Monday, 11 March 2013

Egocentricity and attention-seeking.

One of the things that routinely bugs me is when egocentricity and attention-seeking are seen as negative traits - or, more specifically, huge gaping flaws that somehow poke holes in the otherwise perfect moral fabric you have woven.

Here's the thing: we are all egocentric. We have to be. It's part of being alive, and having a single consciousness which is so acutely ours, not someone else's. We are not a hive mind, or a socialist collective - as awesome as that might be. We all live our lives in the first person present: I am writing now, you are reading now, you are experiencing these words now now now. Nobody else is inside your brain, reading this with you. We are all the heroes of our own stories, even though we're the secondary recurring characters in everyone else's. You, by definition, cannot actually know what it is like to be me, or someone else, or really anyone except you, because then you wouldn't be you. You are the centre of your own universe, and the same is true of everyone else. We are each other's little mental galactic neighbours.

So, being self-absorbed might not be the best situation to be in, but it's our standard state. And it's not necessarily a bad one. Think of all the awesome shit which wouldn't have got done unless brilliant people were so concerned with unpacking the jumbled contents of their own heads. Would we have The Great Gatsby if F. Scott Fitzgerald spent all his spare time tending his neighbour's allotment? Would we have Othello if Shakespeare had no had a compulsion to tell stories by committing words to paper? Would we have had the internet? Sure, it was invented with community and sharing in mind - which benefits the people who use it. Almost everything is created for our own benefit, and benevolent creations will still give the creator a nice little sense of moral superiority. Would we do anything if it didn't directly or indirectly help us? I'm not sure we would.

The extreme of egocentricity is, of course, narcissism, but that's a registered psychiatric disorder. Delusions of grandeur and all. You can see yourself as a main character in a narrative without assuming you have all the traditionally positive traits associated with it. It's just how things work.

It's the more mundane egocentricity we dislike, the attention seeking. We all do it. I'm doing it right now, writing this blog. It's just another way for me to scream NOTICE ME! CARE ABOUT ME! VALIDATE ME! into the roaring abyss that is the 'Net. It's why people dislike Taylor Swift and Lena Dunham so much, I think: they're like a mirror of us. When we look at celebrities, we want to see chrome-smooth perfection, all smiles and graciousness and perfectly crafted one-liners fed to them via an earpiece. Instead, with them, we see the ugly side of ourselves we'd rather avoid: the callous need to be noticed, to be complimented, to be loved back.

Most of us would rather pretend that knawing hole inside us doesn't exist. It's the part of us that makes us pine over people we can never have, do stupid outlandish gestures just for the reaction, the part of us we want to keep in the dark in our dingy headspaces. Swift and Dunham shine a light at it, those irritating OOH OOH ME ME! noises we try to keep quiet. And when we see something we don't like, a far easier option to confronting it is to shun it.

I crave attention. There, I said it. I fish for compliments. I post pictures of my hair on Facebook and feel a little warm and fuzzy when people press the like button. I've come to expect texts from certain people and I'm upset when they don't reply. I people to know who I am, and what I do, and have an opinion of me, even if it is that I'm needy and cloying. Because I know that they took the time to think about me, and devise an opinion, and so I took up their thoughts, if just for a little while.

You probably shouldn't have read this. You're just feeding my ego. But thanks. I appreciate it. Now go get on with your own story. This is nothing more than a paragraph in your day, even if it's a chapter in mine.

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