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May 9th, 2022
I was reflecting on The Stoa yesterday and how I have been “stewarding” this place for over two years now. Wow. How did that happen? It feels like it started yesterday. We have done so much here. I have changed so much here. I am pretty proud of its body of work.
I reference people’s videos from The Stoa often, especially after a philosophical coaching call. If the topic of shame comes up, I send A.J. Bond’s presentation on shame. If somebody is looking for a good emotionally-orientated psychotherapy, I send them Doug Tataryn’s talk on Bio Emotive Framework. If their need is to become a better communicator, I send them Luke Archer’s series on Verbal Aikido. And when it comes to grokking the self, my girl B’s integrative model of the self session always comes up.
This is the best model of the self that this self has ever seen. It is a wonderfully integrative model, capturing a lot of the literature about the self and the many practices associated with self-transformation. Her tripartite model consists of the deep self, the whole self, and the unique self. I would say these map over to Andrew Taggart’s “path model”: Path of Awakening, Path of Love, and Path of Wisdom. For those familiar with Ken Wilber’s framings, these map over to Waking Up, Growing Up, and Showing Up respectively. Or Embodied, Embedded, and Enacted from 4E cognition.
The 4E cognition model gestures towards a fourth self, the extended self, which is the self beyond the bodymind that is extended by technology. One subset of the extended self is the second self, one’s online identity, culminating from one’s online activities: Twitter profile, YouTube channel, Substack newsletter, etc. Basically all the things you put on the “clearnet” (aka surface internet) for everyone to see and interact with.
The Stoa is interesting because it straddles the clearnet and the “dark forest,” all the happenings that go on in unrecorded Zoom calls or private chat rooms. This second self theme comes up in The Stoa’s dark forest, as well as my philosophical coaching practice. Stoans are called to bring their unique self to the world, along with their unique gift, and to do this they are often called to put themselves on the internet in some form: a blog, podcast, video channel, etc.
There is usually hesitancy though, and I sense this hesitancy is an intuitive sense that they’ll be faced with many unpleasantries on the internet, especially when they pass a certain threshold of attention. I have put a lot of thought into what I call “second selfing,” so I will share some thoughts that will probably validate people’s hesitancy.
Creating a second self is like putting up a beacon on the internet. You can do it in a way that “finds the others” and you can do it in a way that allows for the “hungry ghosts” to find you, along with the difficult lessons they teach. Here are six difficult interactions that could happen with your second self...
Being criticized for your truth claims.
Being criticized for your behaviour.
Being socially stigmatized.
David Fuller and I have been engaging with a new memetic tribe we dubbed the “Critique Sphere” because we both sense the role and archetype of the critic are needed. Even if a critique, whether of truth claims or behaviour, is delivered in a “good faith” way, it still can emotionally sting, especially if it is delivered unexpectedly, publicly, and challenges foundational aspects of one’s worldview. It is best to honor this: there needs to be a certain emotional agency to receive and process critique.
The thing is, most critique is not done in “good faith,” and a lot of critique is not even good critique. And depending on how and where the critique is delivered, it is usually entangled with the other interactions linked above. Being criticized for one’s behaviour is way trickier than being criticized for one’s truth claims, because professional manipulators and gaslighters choose to “critique” behaviour as a tactic for control. Behaviour critique can also go directly to the foundations of one’s ethical framework, which could undermine how they show up in other critical areas in their life, leading to an existential crisis that could have mental health consequences.
Critiques can cause a person to be ostracized from their social groups, and if done without care they could inspire more unhinged group members to engage in some pretty nasty online harassment. Cancelling - which I define as the attempt to separate somebody from their livelihood - is a different beast, but critique is usually done in such an unexamined fashion that it sets the scene for a cancellation even if the critic is not purposely trying to bring it about themselves.
Then there is that second-order critique - “you are a coward for not responding to my critique” - which does not take any of this entanglement into consideration and seems to be more of an insult to get the person they are critiquing to react to them. Each one of these requires different emotional capacities and wise protocols to be responsive. And for most people they are all totally jumbled up.
I have had to deal with some weird shit during the last two years stewarding this place. I have been critiqued, insulted, and harassed, sometimes in ways where all three of these things are mushed together. It is not pleasant and it is confusing how to deal with. My Stoicism affords me the capacity to emotionally process things like this, and my journaling practice gives me the space to do so, along with propositionally teasing out any signal, and sensing into the context to see how I should appropriately respond. It should go without saying I am not saying people should never be critiqued - or even cancelled - but critiques are often done with a lack of interpersonal (and intrapersonal) consideration.
It would be great for the critics to develop protocols for ethical critique, but we are still in the wild west of being together online, so cultivating responsive protocols, around both processing and responding to each of these six categories, is going to be needed if we want to do second selfing well. These protocols will include things like: emotional processing, finding the signal, engaging in stigma management, having a security mindset, assessing your platform risks, non-impulsive social listening, being mindful of your social media engagement to manage expectations, etc.
So yeah, this is work. And there is more. Some other challenges you could experience while second selfing…
Social media addiction.
People will parasocially project all sorts of stuff onto you, desiring and judging you in various ways. They are not really desiring and judging you though, but whatever they are projecting onto your second self. You could also get caught by “audience capture,” where the desire to meet the attentional demands of an audience shapes your content in ways that will not be daemonically aligned, usually sucking you into the culture war.
Social media addiction sucks. The more content you put out there the more you’ll want to see who is interacting with it, especially given the inhumane design of many of these platforms. You can easily lose personal agency, with unintended consequences like becoming more narcissistic. And then there is that “internalized capitalism” thing, where you become obsessed with metrics and content production, and are haunted by a feeling of never being enough. So yeah, I sense there are many good reasons for people to be hesitant when putting themselves on the internet. My main advice here is to honor that hesitancy and proceed slowly.
I have two other pieces of advice when second selfing. Firstly, you do not have to use these platforms the way people tell you how to use them. Most lame blogging/podcasting/video creation 101 courses optimize for reach and growth, smuggling in values you might not care about. You can do things differently. You do not have to enable your comments. You do not have to ask people to “crush your subscribe” button. You do not have to have the corny copy that everyone else has on your landing page. You do not even have to market yourself.
Secondly, I would advise being mindful of the constructs you use. For example, I do not see The Stoa as a “community.” Instead, I see it as a gathering place, where people come and go. Sometimes people stay for a while, obsessively even, then they find what they were looking for and leave. Sometimes they come back, sometimes they do not. Sure, a sense of community often forms, but it is protean in quality, and a sense of community is a different thing than an actual community.
Thinking of myself as a “community manager” instead of “stewarding a place” brings forth a different set of expectations, ones that do not interest me and ultimately feel unenjoyable. Relatedly, I do not like the term “audience.” I do not really care about having an audience. Sure, I get that people watch the YouTube videos and read my Substack, but I do not really follow the metrics or think about who my “demographics” are. I am not optimizing for audience growth here.
Being really clear on what a construct means to you helps, but also having a good taxonomy goes a long way. Ana Andejlic is my go-to for things like this, and her audience taxonomy is solid, breaking one’s audience into obsessives, fans, customers, commentators, and collaborators. These are all different categories of people who interact with your second self in very different ways. Your relationship with each will be different, hence it is good to be more nuanced with your constructs to help sense the various relational dynamics at play.
This second selfing business is new stuff. It is not like our ancestors had to think about things like red notifications on plastic screens. We got to make space to figure this out. Most people just jump on the internet with no thought to any of this, falling prey to all the failure modes of being online. I sense that just being aware of the second self construct is a great start. Now we can figure out how to wisely craft it.
I am seduced by the way our friend Frank Yang does second selfing. He made his second self into a work of art, in such a way that he managed to cultivate his deep self, eventually becoming awakened. This to me is the true art of second selfing: craft your second self in a way that reveals your true self.
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