We can quickly succumb to irrationality about any issue that may be meaningful to us, from gay marriage to GMO’s, and especially about anything related to our own personal weaknesses. In such cases, our already shaky grasp on rationality may completely break apart from the sheer force of the internal story-spinning we perform to protect our ego. We may have little or no knowledge of the topic we are talking about, but we are sure to speak as if we are experts, hoping that our loud boasting will conceal our ignorance. The biggest egomaniacs, however, are not always CEO’s or pop icons, but rather those who profess to be enlightened or spiritual. Provoking someone’s ego can be like jumping headlong into a pack of hyenas.
Wild hyenas are not easily pacified, so be prepared before you provoke someone’s ego. Handling someone else’s irrational ego, however, is relatively easy compared to handling one’s own. How can you become rational at the very moment when you are not being rational? How can you even hope to be rational if you are lost in a delusional mental prison that denies rationality even exists, or asserts that rationality is the enemy or is unimportant? I can guarantee that someone who tries to deceive me into believing that rationality does not exist would not be very happy if I agreed with them and then proceeded to turn this irrationality upon them.
Our world is permeated with irrationality, which can be found just as easily amongst religious believers as atheists. Religious believers seem inclined to feel morally superior, while atheists tend to feel intellectually superior, although these traits are often reversed or conjoined. In any case, we need many more brave seekers who are willing and able to proceed rationally to the extremes of rational thought, where we are bound to discover the necessity of intuition.
But we can also easily be fooled by what we believe to be our intuition, our “inner voice”. We may intuitively feel that something or someone is not good for us, but such a negative reaction could very well be rooted in, or filtered through, our fears or false beliefs. Indeed, when we talk about listening to our intuition, it is often the case that we are actually speaking from or through the ego. If someone is upset upon hearing this observation, because they believe that intuition is infallible and has no need of rational analysis, then I need only respond that my intuition has told me that they are talking nonsense.
What is this ego that gets so scared of everything that it would prefer its own annihilation to relinquishing its delusion of absolute control? Is it the self? Is it nothing more than a phantasm conjured up by the magical power of brain chemistry? We can be fairly confident about one thing: any denial of the self is the denial of the very being who offers us such denial. Imagine trying to see if you are home by going outside and ringing your own doorbell, and then when you do not answer the door, you conclude that you do not exist because you are not home. This is the essence of the error committed by the eighteenth century philosopher David Hume regarding the apparent illusion of the self. I sometimes wish that Hume was correct about the self being merely a fiction, because then I would not have had to study him, as neither he nor I would exist. (Many Buddhists make a similar mistake as Hume, which I call the ‘paradox of self and suffering’, but that discussion will have to wait for another post.)
Well, I’m sure I’ve provoked someone’s ego. Now I’d better go deal with my own.