The Sickness of Self-Consciousness

Had a conversation with Mr A Moore yesterday which suggests there might be a return of Dodgem Logic over the horizon. Anyway, having no time to write a blog, here is another column from Dodgem Logic. I think this was from issue 6.


An ape with self-consciousness is a ridiculous idea. What could have come up with such a thing?

There the problem lies. Nothing came up with it.

It relied on replication, mutation and natural selection, which is a frankly shoddy idea. This is not a manufacturing process that can be relied on, as you may have already observed in your infuriating life.

Many people have decided to refute the idea of evolution preferring to think the self-consciousness oddity and everything else was created by something all-powerful and all knowing. It is surely a mind with malevolent intent that would come up with the idea of being aware of yourself and your death. The only reason they came up with the deity hypothesis in the first place was because of that darned self-consciousness. Mindful of our own mortality, we refuse to believe that eventually we just stop being conscious and so stop existing. We are finite. Bullfrogs, Chaffinches and Gliss Gliss don’t need gods and explanations because they just dart around with their hard-wired survival instincts unaware of themselves as selves and unaware that one well-cleaned window around the corner can lead to a brain smashed death (that’s predominantly for the Chaffinch obviously, I have no idea if a Bullfrog or Gliss Gliss is likely to confuse glass for just another patch of thin air and propel itself into it with such gusto it would break its brain).


So it shouldn’t be surprising that after these billions of years of evolution, years that have led to humans being the only known creature in the universe to comprehend that they are in a universe and to have the wherewithal or misfortune to ponder on why and what the cosmos is, many people declare “oh, I just want to switch off”.

By switch off they do not mean a journey to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end their life, that’s the last stop in the unbearableness of being. This switch off is to immerse yourself in glossiness, emptiness and trash; to enjoy the thoughtless. Even to enjoy the thoughtless might be too much, perhaps it is to be joyless but also without any other emotion hampering you. Where once we were told that humans retreat into busyness to avoid thought, now we hide inside trashiness. The human brain is the most complex thing in the known universe, which can only strengthen our hope that some other living thing is out there. Though if there is something else out there, as Rod Serling and 2000AD have warned us, it might put us in a zoo or have us for lunch.


I spend much of my life on trains. I like trains, I see them as a ‘bring your own’ library and pondering caboose. Three hours of sitting and reading while sipping tea, occasionally looking out of the window to be impressed by a lonely church or hectic scrapyard. On my journey from Exeter to Leeds (my tour booker does not have a great grasp of geography), a bespectacled woman sat opposite me and took out her copy of Closer magazine. An adult Bunty, it is filled with wizard japes about women who wed psychopaths, lose an eye and learn to live again, and soap actors who hide a secret sadness. After two hours of traveling, somewhere near Wolverhampton the woman put down her half-read magazine, removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes saying, “I need to give my brain a break”. I think I failed to conceal my wince. Even a magazine that had surely been created to ‘switch off’ from the day’s hubbub and pesky thoughts, has become something to switch off from. When even the switch off needs to be switched off it seems we are in trouble.


A crab may not have self-consciousness, but equally it never looks at its reflection in a rock pool and thinks “oh no, my claws look really dowdy, I better get some glitter spray and a shitty thong”. The trouble with self-consciousness is that it makes you so self-conscious.


When a supermodel such as Elle Macpherson tells her public that she might not like what she sees in the mirror or that some of her features are gnarled and twisted in her eyes, the people scoff or throw scorn upon a woman. She must be pretending she is aware of how very beautiful she is while secretly laughing at the true uglies such as you and I. But that is the wonder of self-consciousness, the majority can only see their imperfections save for the few occasions they might be so drunk as to think they are attractive or as interesting as everyone else. I still can’t listen to my own recorded voice making editing radio programmes a tricky business. I am not a child though, it is not the horror of hearing my voice, I am used to that garbled man-child mumble, it is now what it says that annoys me.


That is why ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ is such a belligerent instruction. This would require most people to look at the man at number 17 with derision and sneer at their failure to become what they had dreamed of in their youth.


Self-consciousness is the brake that makes us mute and talk too much polite conversation. Have you ever wanted to break into a brief dance move while browsing in a bookshop? Have you ever wanted to start a discussion about cannibalism at a polite drinks evening? Have you ever wanted to stare in the face of a bureaucrat uncomprehendingly in their face as they tell you that you cannot do what you’d like to do, then plant a kiss on their forehead, smile and depart?


But you haven’t because you thought “but what will they think of me? I might get a reputation and find myself only able to wander the backstreets after midnight, hooded and surreptitious”. There’s a reason Stanley Milgram got 65% of people to apparently administer lethal electric shocks to an unknown man who had merely failed to correctly answer a few questions. “oh dear, what will this smartly dressed professional scientist think if I don’t kill this man upon his instruction?”


So should we all say to hell with self-consciousness an self-lobotomise with our trepanning tools?


Weighing it all up I think now I’ve got it I’d rather not lose it, even though I know one day I will. And after all those years of worrying about the day it goes, afterwards I won’t feel a thing.


Rather then switch it off, I think I am going to try and make sure it stays on, even if the inner monologue that does come with it can be a little grating and psychotic, at least it sometimes impersonates the voice of Herbert Lom or Carl Sagan.  Now I better get down to understanding the triune brain that might suggest that some of my decisions come about from my inner Veloceraptor bickering with my inner ground sloth. I certainly wouldn’t have punched that computer monitor hard in the screen if the ground sloth had its way, bloody dinosaur brain.


NOTE: this whole piece is a warning to avoid reading philosophy. It might not bring you joy realizing that you know nothing. Even if it brings the strange pride and superiority for knowing that you know nothing while the others, the more confident ones, stupidly believe they do know something.  Perhaps it is best to live like the consciousness despiser Schopenhauer, without people by with a poodle or two to comb. And even if he did find life defined by pain more than joy, he still went on with it, so we might as well, poodle or no poodle.




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1 Response to The Sickness of Self-Consciousness

  1. It’s interesting that you consider an inner journey, of self-awareness, as the precursor to religious thought, when I’ve always considered it the opposite, i.e. the need to understand and find reasons for the outer universe. I can just imagine some stone age bullshitter explaining why the rain falls, only to find himself with a skull on his head, worshipped by all. I’m on to a good thing here, he thinks. And so it begins. Or at least, that’s where the alchemists come in.

    Glad to hear about Dodgem – the mix of the Northampton mindset, which I’ve found to be unique in the universe, and talented contributors makes it a top read. Will it remain a rag or go into an online format?

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