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Self Indulgent

6 min read

This is a story about vanity projects...

3D printed girl

Do you really and truly believe in altruism? Do you really do random acts of kindness for the benefit of strangers? Are you truly charitable and selfless?

It's fairly obvious that charitable giving and sponsored fun runs are all about the warm fuzzy feeling you get, thinking of yourself as oh-so-beneficent. You're reading this page in English on a computer, smartphone or tablet, so you must be amongst the wealthiest 10% on the planet. Don't you feel a little guilty about that? Quick... give away a tiny fraction of your wealth to make yourself feel a little better!

What about that sponsored skydive or abseil?

"It was so scary and I raised so much money"

Yes, it was scary, but you still wanted to do it, didn't you? It was a tick in the box: something that was on your bucket list. You basically emotionally blackmailed your friends into paying for you to do something you've always wanted to do.

"I ran the marathon and it was really hard"

Yes, but you wanted to run a marathon so you could tell people you've run a marathon. You might like running, or even if you don't, you like telling people that you did something that was really hard. I bet you tell people that you eat things you really don't like the taste of, because they're healthy. You're a real martyr, aren't you?

The point I'm making is that all projects are vanity projects. We can't help but wonder how we're going to be perceived at any moment. Every photo you share on Facebook or Instagram, every word you write on your CV, every time you get dressed... it's all driven by vanity.

"Oh no, not me. I don't care what I look like"

Actually, you do. Perhaps you wear scruffy clothes and leave your hair all messy. But, that's your identity: you like telling people how much you don't care about your appearance. In fact, you've very deliberately cultivated a look. You care very much that people think "hey, look at that person who doesn't care about their appearance" but those people have been duped... you care as much as anybody else. It takes effort to not care as much as you do.

What do we have to do if we want to avoid being accused of being self indulgent and vain? Sit in silence, naked in the corner of a room facing the walls? Never have a personality of our own, an opinion or tastes and aesthetic preferences? Are we supposed to step aside and let the writers, artists, musicians, photographers, actors, dancers, models, poets, interior designers and everybody else do their good work because they're humble and authentic, but anybody else would be vain and self indulgent if they were to attempt self-expression?

I write a lot about my thoughts and feelings. I write a lot about my personality: who I am and where I've come from. I write a lot about what makes me tick. I relate every part of the human condition to my own experiences. I'm totally egocentric, aren't I?

How else are we supposed to understand and relate to the world, except through direct comparison with our own unique set of experiences? Am I supposed to only talk by sharing dead philosophers' quotes and dry academic articles, full of meaningless statistics gathered from faceless opinion polls and psychological tests? Am I supposed to bury my whole personality and shut the fuck up, because only great minds have the right to write and publish, and the hoi polloi exist only to buy and read their great works?

I've given a few university lectures and done a bunch public speaking and let me tell you: it feels good. They say that public speaking is as terrifying as anything you could ever do. I've jumped out of aeroplanes on my own with no instructor holding my hand, and it's true, that first time you stand up and speak is quite scary, but then you relax into it and enjoy it. When people laugh at the right moments and you look at all those attentive faces in the room, lecture theatre or debating chamber, it's a rush; it's a buzz.

If a teacher doesn't have a certain theatrical flair and a desire to be adored by their audience, are they going to be a good teacher? It's always a little stressful, standing up in front of people and performing. There's always a chance that you're going to say something wrong and have a whole bunch of people laughing at you. There's absolutely no way that anybody would put themselves through that kind of ordeal unless they were getting a kick out of it.

I'm not saying teachers and lecturers are bad people; I'm just saying that there's a certain amount of vanity involved. We wanna be adored.

We all want an audience. We all want to be rock stars. We want Twitter and Instagram followers. We want people to read what we write, look at our photographs, like, comment and share. We want to be noticed.

I'm kind of an introvert. I get tired of people and the social performance. I get tired of being on show and playing a role: good boyfriend material, an attentive and loyal friend, a well behaved schoolboy, an obedient slave. Sometimes I just want to draw the curtains and be alone with my thoughts.

However, we all need a stage. We need to feel smart and funny and likeable. If you're sharing passive-aggressive memes on Facebook, you're cultivating the image of somebody shy and introverted, dryly humorous, ironic, witty. If you're putting videos of yourself on Youtube, pulling funny faces and talking nonsensically, you're broadcasting your carefree extrovert big personality. Either way, you want to be adored and you care what the world thinks.

Show me one person who's not self indulgent. Show me one person who's not vain.

Even the most quiet and stoical are well aware that they've become known for being quiet and stoical. We grow into roles, and we feel like we have to maintain that image, because it's so integral to our identity: it's what people expect from us and we don't want to let our audience down.

So, I make no apology for the lack of utility to my writing. I've given up on the idea that "if I can help just one person with my writing, it will have been worth it". Fuck that. I want readers, and millions of them. I want fame. ADORE ME!

What the actual fuck is wrong with a little vanity? Vanity props up self esteem. Vanity makes us feel self-confident, which allows us to get good jobs, attractive sexual partners and be popular amongst our friends. What the fuck is wrong with that?

Excuse me. I now need to go and stand in front of the mirror for a few hours, staring at my own reflection.