Three Existential Choices of Second Selfing
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May 12th, 2022
In my last entry I wrote about second selfing, the art of crafting one’s online identity. I also wrote about the challenges of second selfing, which are challenges I imagine many already feel, making them rightfully hesitant about putting their “self” online. I got some good feedback from that entry and it seemed to resonate with many, validating and honoring the hesitancy they feel.
There are many benefits of being online though. I would not be here otherwise. I probably have grown more during the last two years than any other time during my adult life. I have also been “finding the others.” It is incredible how many awesome connections I have made since starting The Stoa. The quality of super intelligent and good-hearted hotties who find their way here is quite amazing.
I do recommend having a second self. While I have put some considered thought into second selfing, I still do not know how to do it well. We probably should create a “Second Selfing Club” to figure this out. Like many things, second selfing is an amoral thing, which can be heavenly or hellish depending on one’s orientation. I will continue to muse on second selfing today, seeding this aspirational club with what I sense are three existential choices of second selfing…
Your second self can be a work of art or a supernormal stimulus.
Your second self can be a beacon to find the others or for the hungry ghosts to find you.
Your second self can reveal your true self or get you high on your false self.
A dichotomy I quite like is lifeworks versus deathworks. The latter term came from Philip Rieff, referring to works of art that undermine the sacred, separate people, and lead to fragmentation. If there are deathworks then there must be lifeworks: works of art that honor the sacred, bring people together, and lead to wholeness.
You have a choice: you can see your second self as an artwork, a lifework that brings people together and that asks you to become whole while encouraging others to become whole as well. Or you can make your second self into a deathwork, turning your second self into what evolutionary psychologists call a “supernormal stimulus.”
A supernormal stimulus is a more exaggerated - hence much more stimulating - version of an evolved stimulus. For us homo sapiens this includes things like porn and junk food. I would argue that inhumane social media and all the “personal branding” stuff encourages people to turn their second self into a supernormal stimulus.
Just look at how all these super interesting and attractive second selves are trying to extract our attention: Instagram beauty filters, shock face YouTube thumbnails, and an endless stream of the cleverest tweets. Yeah, making people addicted to your second self is silly, but silly works. It gets more attention, and with that you get more subscribers, more money, and more ego.
The next choice has to do with the kind of relationships you want with those who come across your second self. I sense the two broad orientations are communitas or a cult state. The former is using one’s second self to cultivate “social fields,” or create the containers so others can do so, that invoke a heightened and delicious sense of togetherness. The latter, meanwhile, is about creating a cult of personality around your second self.
The latter can be done successfully or unsuccessfully. In both cases they attract and create “hungry ghosts.” The way I see hungry ghosts: people with perpetual “empty stomachs,” filling them in ways that harm themselves and others. This is associated with obsession and compulsion, especially in social dynamics. We all have the capacity to go into hungry ghost mode and a second self can be designed to attract one into that mode, and worse, trap them in it.
The last choice is my favorite choice and perhaps the most spiritual one. Are you creating your second self in ways that will discover the mystery of what your “self” really is, or are you going to move in the opposite direction? Another dichotomy I am fond of is Donald Winnicott’s “true self” and “false self.” According to Winnicott the true self is found in a sense of aliveness, while the false self is a protective façade, a bespoke red herring in the form of persona, unconsciously designed to gain benefit and avoid harm from others. Putting too much focus on the false self eventually deadens the sense of aliveness.
Let’s not get too precious about defining what a “true self” means; probably best to just look at B’s model and disabuse ourselves of all of the other models then go engage in some “self-inquiry” to find out. The false self does like to get precious about the self though, hence the term is often associated with narcissism. There are a few ways to learn about narcissism: psychoanalysis, DSM-5, and the “narcissist support” memetic tribe that pumps out a ton of blogs and videos on how to survive and recover from narcissistic abuse.
The way I like to understand narcissism: a sense of zero sum specialness that is associated with a bodymind’s sense of self. Experiencing a sense of being special is not a bad thing. It becomes a bad thing when you actually start believing it. A narcissist is someone who has their entire relational schema designed to chase this belief. Some studies suggest that narcissism is associated with what academics call “problematic social media use.” Makes sense. One’s second self does seem like a perfect avatar to practice narcissism.
It does not have to be though. Engaging in rivalrous dynamics to win more specialness with your avatar in the spectacle can be momentarily thrilling, but ultimately unfulfilling. Instead, consciously using your second self as a psychotechnology for individuation, sagacity, theosis, awakening, or any other spiritual attractor is way hotter. In theory this sounds super cool, but how does this work in practice?
I am not really sure. Second selfing as a spiritual exercise is pretty speculative. Frank Yang leads the way here and is my go to exemplar. On his Facebook profile he labels himself as a “Fictional Character.” Genius move. Acceptance Commitment Therapy has a related technique called “cognitive defusion,” where you create space for your thoughts and feelings, listening to them without identifying with them or fighting them. It works great in a therapeutic context but one can also engage in cognitive defusion with their second self. Seeing your second self as a fictional character affords room to “self-author” who you are called to become. If there was a first step in second selfing, this is it.
You can fictionalize your second self making it addictive to others, creating a cult of hungry ghosts, using it as a medium to get “narcissistic supply.” This does not sound like an effective choice though. I imagine most people reading here want a beautiful second self, that is experienced as art, serving as a beacon for beautiful people, so what is true can be revealed together.
I do not know how to second self well, but my main practice at attempting to do so is journaling. I am creating a second self here and in turn it is creating me. I agree with my former therapist, journaling is a form of self-authoring and as people in the self-help scene like to say: being authentic means authoring one’s life. Self-authoring in a public way can be a trip, serving as what Grant Morrison refers to as a “hypersigil,” a magickal feedback loop between a second self and a bodymind. So take care: second selfing is like casting a spell of who you want to be.
For myself, I am really just larping here. Am I really a “Stoic” at a place called “The Stoa”? No, I am not, but yeah, maybe I am becoming one. That whole “larp it until you become it” thing. Stoics are into wisdom and it does not seem wise to signal whatever little virtue I have. It seems wiser to signal my genuine foolishness, along with an earnest orientation to become less so. Now this is a spell I can put some thumos behind.
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