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You Do Not Have the Luxury of Not Being Transformed
I reached out to a local “philosophical therapist.” I wanted someone to hold space for me outside my social circle or extended network. Having new people hold space has pros and cons. The pros are that I have to explain myself from first principles, cannot rely on the lingo or presuppositions, welcoming a fresh perspective. The cons are that catching them up with the relevant parts of my life story takes time, disabusing any pattern-matching of being placed in atypical client profiles.
When I hold space for people, I always schedule 90 minutes, but the session can go shorter or longer. A true inquiry needs to have a sense of spaciousness, a loss of time, and real leisure. Besides, the juicy clarity starts to open up around the 60-minute mark. With professional guides, therapists and coaches, you get 55 mins. I usually disliked this because it invoked a sense of pressure, and frustration, leading to philosophical blue-balls; if I had five more minutes, some juicy clarity would occur.
However, this time the pressure helped; I approached the inquiry with speed, aggressiveness, trusting the spirit of the inquiry, which led to the insight I was looking for five minutes before the 55-minute mark.
The “existential knot”I brought forward is my discomfort with consciously seeking attention online. I am at the point with my “online career” where it seems wise and strategic to court more attention; I am confident I can, having strategies to do so.
I agree with the philosopher Alexander Bard that “attentionalism” is replacing capitalism, and the more attention one has, the more resources one will have, which can be directed in more or less foolish ways. Bard refers to a netocracy, a portmanteau of Internet and aristocracy, as a new attentionalist class:
The decisive factor governing where in the hierarchy an individual ends up is his or her attentionality: their access to and capacity to absorb, sort, overview, generate the necessary attention for, and share valuable information. Attention is the only hard currency in the virtual world. The strategy and logic of the netocracy are therefore attentionalist rather than capitalist.
One common feedback I have received regarding seeking attention is that I have been “playing small” online, or as a friend recently told me: “You went too far in the opposite direction of selling out.” I want to say there are only noble principles guiding me in this direction, but this would not be entirely true, as there is a slew of unexamined fears. Here are some things that bring me discomfort with seeking more attention:
Being captured by culture war dynamics
Being captured by the “special-feeling,” aka becoming a narcissist
Being captured by addictive impulses online, aka “internet dependence”
Being captured by an audience, leading to being online in uninspired ways, aka “audience capture”
Being captured by the games played by “sneaky fuckers”and other challenging characters in online “communities.”
Being captured by the terror of unwittingly becoming a meme, a joke, a laughing stock to “the world,” for all the trolls and snarky commenters to make fun of.
I have reasoned replies to each of these, and seeing them written out brings a Stoic indifference. Yet, internally, the felt-sense toward receiving more attention is best voiced as: be careful, bro. I do not fully trust myself to receive attention, especially attention that comes too fast. Playing small has advantages; a “second self,” one’s online avatar with which people’s eyes interact, has greater malleability with less attention, bringing a sense of control over it. Once a threshold of attention is received, a second self is unleashed into the wild of the “noosphere” (our collective mind), and the ownership of shaping the destiny of a second self, which influences a “primary self,” becomes collectively shared.
In the session, I brought up my former therapist, Jordan Peterson, who I first experienced as an eccentric and relevantly obscure academic and Jungian therapist, to witness him become a culture war Rorschach test, settling on being a famous/infamous anti-woke pundit. Depending on your metaphor, having a second self is like playing the lottery; one never knows when they'll win, attentionally speaking. Or perhaps Marshall McLuhan's "global theatre"metaphor is more apt; one never knows when they'll be drafted into the performative culture war.
I brought up my former therapist to make the following point: I have no good role models for being online. I am not inspired to copy the ways of anyone. Something feels off about most second selves who pass a certain attentional threshold. This off-feeling is understandable. More attention equals more praise and hate, corrupting in ways challenging to notice. The philosophical therapist suggested invoking Socrates as a role model, which was interesting; responding to all praise and hate and anything in between with aporia-filled inquiry does seem less foolish.
However, I am cautious with larping as Socrates because that can quickly go awry. One can weaponize aporia, a deep sense of unknowingness, secretly believing they know the proper direction their interlocutor should take. Genuine inquiry requires a mutual transformation, with the person leading the inquiry also hopping on the aporia train. This contrast helped unlock the insight I needed: you do not have the luxury of not being transformed.
Yes. That's it. There was this subtle premise buried in unseen places that Peter could remain the Peter he is now, with the addition of more attention and the benefits that come with it. Transformation may not happen. Yet, it is foolish to think one can hold on to their current self, unchanged, with unknown eyeballs praising and hating in ways one is unaccustomed to. A commitment to remain the same, albeit unconsciously, will only result in greater foolishness for oneself and the whole.
If Bard is correct, then attention is replacing capital, making attention a form of power. Power without wisdom is foolish at best and evil at worse. All else being equal, it is better for the powerful to become wise and the wise to become powerful. My approach to becoming wiser is acknowledging I am a fool who is becoming less so.
The less foolish path is clear: create courageously, allowing attention to come if it shall come, ready to be transformed less foolishly if it does.
“An existential knot is an issue that feels deeply personal, most saliently experienced in the felt-sense, accompanied by great difficulty in coherently describing what the issue is. The person’s mental models are extremely entangled, with thought loops that lead to difficult emotions. When trying to “solve” the issue they are met with disappointment and confusion. When trying to inquire into it on their own they are met with frustration and a sense of stuckness. The common reaction is to escape into some kind of cope. If the existential knot is left tied, an “existential crisis” awaits.” - “Untying Existential Knots,” Feb 22, 2022
“The word narcissism is thrown around way too much. When writing about an overused word, it is good to own your definition, aka have a "based definition." Here is mine: a zero-sum sense of specialness in oneself.” - “Your Writing is Not Special: A Guide on How Not to Become a Narcissist,” Aug 15, 2023
Also known as "internet addiction disorder," "problematic internet use," pathological internet use," or "extremely online person." I prefer the internet dependence phrasing because I find the inverse phrasing aspirational: “internet independence.”
“Audience capture is the proposed phenomenon where an online creator gets shaped by chasing their audience's approval, and their personality contorts in ways that pull them out of their integrity.” - “Audience Release > Audience Capture,” Jun 15, 2023
"Sneaky fuckers" refer to males who employ indirect (commonly known as "nice guy") mating strategies with women, leading to unscrupulous tactics in their interactions with other men.
McLuhan substituted “global theater” for the more known phrase “global village” later in his life.