Monday, January 14, 2013

The Self-Satisfied Individual

Our Modern Society

There is a self-satisfied dogmatism with which mankind at each period of its history cherishes the delusion of the finality of existing modes of knowledge.
Alfred North Whitehead, [1861-1947], 
British Mathematician & Philosopher
They are happy and confident and bright; even well-spoken and thoughtful. They might even speak with the voice of authority, and never display any doubt. But this cohort will never achieve anything great for humanity, which might surprise them. These are the self-satisfied and self-contained individuals prominent in the arts, sciences, academia, media, religion, and politics. They are public figures who have much to say about themselves, but more important, about how others ought to live. Their knowledge and opinions are certain and unwavering.

They might use humour, but they take themselves seriously about what they say and how they say it. They are proud of their accomplishments, often meagre, but magnified by a media ignorant of real accomplishment and quality work. Such individuals, by dint of their inflated egos and puffed-up views of themselves and their work, seek greater and greater strokes. More and more recognition. They bask in the limelight, and give little; this is not surprising since they actually have little to give.

The chief problem is that a self-satisfied individual, often self-contained in his well-mapped world of ideas, is assured that he is right in all things that matter; in his view, the world is fine enough and he's content. A content person cannot view injustices, let alone risk fighting against them; a content person can't see the need to fight against poverty, when he himself has never felt its sting; a self-satisfied individual cannot see the need to improve healthcare for everyone when his healthcare options are fine; and so on. The only injustice that such individuals see as important are those aligned against the Self and its threat to self-importance and worldly recognition.

Thus, such individuals might achieve temporary fame in their lifetime, aided by a media who themselves operate on similar levels; but later on they are quickly forgotten. As it ought to be. Only individuals who truly helped humanity ought to be remembered long after their death. Unfortunately, for the self-satisfied individuals, their greatest weakness is their perceived strength. Doubt and uncertainty about the present condition can operate as a catalyst for a better future; the men and women who achieve greatness are often filled with doubt and uncertainty about the future, and thus want to better humanity's lot. That is to say doubt is not always bad—it can be good and necessary. "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts,” Bertrand Russell once said.

Not so for this group of self-satisfied and self-contained individuals, who focus on their individuality; they are what they have always been: focused on Self.  That makes them selfish. Of course, they don't view themselves that way. How could they otherwise?


  1. Beethoven was a tortured soul with a high opinion of himself. He was mean to his nephew and his sisters-in-law. The world is a complicated place. Are there any people who are at peace with themselves? I haven't met them.

    1. There are no shortage of self-help books that promote that idea; I don't necessarily think that the type of happiness and self-peace they promote is necessarily good. Unhappiness can be a catalyst for change, and for action.


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