On the privilege of being a nobody

I’ve reflected a few times recently on Jim Carrey’s existential invitation to realize that there is no Jim Carrey, which has invited a number of comforting possibilities for me about what the heck is really going on here. For instance: Rather than live with self-doubt, why not finally doubt the self? Because until you do, you will always be clinging to an image of your fundamentally complex, irreducible being; you will be chasing a thingness that isn’t real, reducing the infinitude of You to some identifiable object that we can all point at and go (in my case), “Lou.” There’s reassurance in this pointing, or at least that’s what I’ve learned to believe. But what comfort is there really in being a thing? How dare I belittle my multitudes and force them to converge on some “ideal” version of me that gets to participate in this bewildering masquerade we call “the real world?”

Although this spiritual vantage point – that suffering comes from attachment, and since our primary existential attachment is to the concept of “the self,” we suffer most in struggling to be ourselves – is not new to the human experiment, I felt compelled to pause and problematize it within the current context of its emergence.

Jim Carrey believes that he is not Jim Carrey, which conveniently wipes away the exceptional privilege his Jim Carrey-ness embodies in this country (yes, he’s Canadian, but his presence is heavy here). As a straight white male, there may be no clearer way to exemplify the intersection of his privilege than to deny it all by dismissing his very existence. If he were to admit that he’s still somebody, he would have to see (or rather, he would still be in the position to see) the historical weight of his identity and recognize his complicity in the endurance of suffering that stems from the visible (albeit constructed) markers of who he is and of what that means in reality.

I’m not sure if it’s unfair to make the leap to say that he’s basically arguing “no lives matter,” which is just as devastatingly ignorant and dangerous as “all lives matter.” Both end up preserving things as they are, except that in Carrey’s perspective, there are no things to preserve in the first place. Were we all to adopt his “transcendent” vision, then there would be nothing to problematize, but insofar as we still function in a world where suffering exists – and not as passing weather patterns in the mind that can’t touch you, but actual physical, psychological and spiritual torture – then is this abandonment of the self ethical irresponsibility? It’s one thing to zoom out and see the root cause of your own suffering and find the escape hatch, but in “self”-abandonment, there might be a more insidious self-centeredness at play. If you don’t believe that you exist, you’re likely engaged in a freedom that no one else benefits from, and so is it really freedom? Or are you just hiding? Because if you don’t believe you exist, you don’t believe I exist; you don’t believe anyone exists. In saying that, you’re mocking the truth of experience and chalking it all up to some game the Universe is playing through all of us (well, with Itself…except that It too must not have a Self, right?). If we’re temporary geometrical patterns of energy that depart just as soon as they come, why bother getting caught up in the illusion?

Carrey argues this mindset allows him to be more present, and maybe so. But what of all the lives he’s permitting himself to ignore as a result of his “awakening?” I want to believe him; in fact, I vibe with most of the philosophy he’s been spitting recently. And then I check in with my self, the one who’s here playing the game, and I wonder what it means that a white guy is scrambling for spiritual awakening, likely at the expense of waking up to present physical reality…

In working on my self, or rather, in working through it in order to transcend the “self” altogether, what of my fellow human beings who are ostensibly “stuck?” What condescending nonsense am I buying into, and who am I selling out as a result? If we truly are all One, then my freedom means nothing if I’m not working toward everyone’s freedom. The problem is, I’m not sure which freedom to work toward, although perhaps the duality I’m conceiving is misguided. Perhaps spiritual and physical freedom aren’t mutually exclusive. To be fair, I’m not sure how to define either anyway, and so I’m tempted to just write Love in here and safely assume it as the panacea I frequently tell myself it is.

Perhaps there is no “down here” and “up there,” since I’m effectively calling out Carrey for being “up there.” Really though, I’m calling myself out with Carrey as my proxy. I’m the one who’s not sure how to reconcile social justice with spiritual awakening. Because if there is no self, a concept that only makes sense in a social context, there is nothing on which to understand social injustice, and therefore no ground on which to do anything about it.

So what’s the difference between “awakening” and becoming “woke?”

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