What is an individual?

What is an individual? An interweaving, ever-changing fabric of emotions, actions, interactions, relationships... Where do these weaving threads come from? In the present world, mostly from the social context into which I was born, where I was raised and educated, and where I continue to carry out my roles and functions.

The activities through which I and other people survive - working, buying, selling - are products of this context. They take up most of my time in activities and interactions that are not my own. Consider the amount of time wasted waiting in lines, the amount of time spent in tedious motions, the endless banal verbal exchanges with strangers about whom I couldn't care less.

These activities and interactions inevitably affect my emotions, for the most part by watering them down to a pathetic mediocrity. But then I consider how most people use their so-called free time (the time not devoted to social obligation and survival, which in this society are the same thing), being entertained (going to movies, watching TV, listening to music - particularly pop music). Every form of entertainment plays with the emotions. But beyond this, movies, TV shows, pop music and other forms of entertainment also have the function of defining the acceptable parameters of emotion, giving examples of how to feel them in specific situations, how to express them. So if I remain passive in the face ot the influence of entertainment, even my emotions will not be my own creation, but a patchwork of givens that I have gathered from movies, television, pop songs and so on. This is why it is so easy for so-called passions, relationships, aspirations and individual endeavors to fall into cliched patterns that are repeated over and over again, not just by specific individuals, by you and me, but all across the social wasteland in which you and I live.

To break from this, I need to learn to willfully create my passions and desires, to develop a capacity for intentional spontaneity, recognizing that without conscious choice, there is no spontaneity, only reaction and habit.

It may seem paradoxical to talk about willfully creating my own passions and desires. How could I possibly create my own impulses willfully? Well, it is often said that the passions and desires of individuals are created by the social context, but an abstraction cannot create anything. The concrete reality behind this is that specific individuals who have an interest in defining the passions and desires of all use certain techniques to define and channel passions and desires. This is not a conspiracy theory; it is simply a description of advertising, public relations, political propaganda and, as I already mentioned above, passive entertainment. To give an example, say that I suddenly get an intense yen for "Ben and Jerry's Funky Monkey"*. Obviously there is nothing innate about such a desire, since this company for exploiting the hippy sweet tooth has only been around for three decades. My yen for this would have been artificially created using a combination of advertising, labeling, identity and related techniques. On a less blatantly commercial level, what if I had a fetish for rubber, leather or high heels? Once again, this is an artificial passion, something created through a series of social processes - that is to say through the specific activities (however conscious or not) of specific individuals. No one is born with these fetishes. They, in fact, do not exist as fetishes at all until they are identified as such by the authorities in identifying sexual deviance who change what may have been a momentary excitement into an identity.

But the point I am making with these examples is that passions and desires are not innate, but created, and there is no reason why I couldn't willfully create mine for myself. If I don't, it is because I fall into the expected channels of habit and social norms. So in order to begin willfully creating my own passions and desires I need to decisively break with habit, bursting through the channels of social expectation and experimenting with intentional spontaneity.

Spontaneity can really only exist as a conscious, intentional choice. When I act unconsciously (and this is how most people act most of the time in this society), my actions will tend to be limited to habit, role, identity and mere reaction, none of which involve genuine self-creation, being instead submission to what is expected, to what is created to keep me enslaved. This is the very opposite of spontaneity. Where there is no will, there cannot be spontaneous activity.

I look upon desire - as opposed to the mere "ghost of desire" (William Blake) - as the impulse to create. Thus, it moves me to act upon my world, to experiment and explore. This impulse can only exist in its full force to the extent that my life is not already created for me. This means that it can only exist in conflict with the present social order, since that order usurps my capacity to create my own life, forcing me to submit or rebel. What is called "desire" in that order is merely the longing for an already defined, external object that is not my own creation, even if I produce it myself. Self-creation is rebellion against that reality.
*Fortunately, it will never happen since I am allergic to milk...