That Fragile Ego

It has become increasingly clear to me lately that the image I have of myself is intrinsically bound up in the tools I control. This fact is clearest when things break, and the repair is not simple.

What are humans really? We don’t see well, nor can we smell well. We have no claws or decent teeth for defending ourselves. Our protective fur has worn off many thousands of years ago. We have hands with thumbs, and brains big enough to control those thumbs. But more than anything, our brains have developed to allow us to work together in groups. That is our strength, and the secret to our success.

The tools I control, be they metal, electronic, or some combination, were not designed or made by me. I control them because smart people cooperated to design and manufacture them, and have made a profit by making them available to me. I have access to many more tools than I can possibly use. Modern man, it seems, has the job to envelop himself in a cocoon of tools of his choosing, and keep them operating. That is the persona I project more than any other I can think of.

Lately, I’ve had a string of bad luck with my stuff. Things have been breaking, and I have not been able to figure out how to fix them. My life is such that without them, I function poorly if at all. And that gives someone a lot of power over me (the generic me.)

I’m fortunate to have enough money for my needs. But what does that mean? During mid-November, 2008, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate was 79.6 billion percent. It could be argued that regardless of how much money you had at the beginning of that month, it wouldn’t be enough to assist you by the end. There were people in charge in Zimbabwe that made decisions that caused this inflation. These people had tremendous power over their countrymen.

Back to my string of bad luck. As things I depended on started going wrong, and I was powerless to fix them, I began to feel differently. I was less confident. I was less likely to try new things. I took stock of the things I had that were working, and cherished them. That is until I examined the roots of why they were still working. I reasoned that it would not be difficult for someone with more power than me to pull the plug on those things too.

Pictures I saw of the people coping with hurricane Irma brought this into focus for me. They looked dazed. You shouldn’t have to walk hip deep in water to cross the road. Your home should be air conditioned. You should be able to call or text whoever you want whenever you want. You should be able to jump into your car and drive wherever you need to go. But they couldn’t.

The Irma affected people had their egos bruised like mine, albeit on a much larger scale. What happens to us when events conspire to make us question the foundations we cherish? In my experience, as soon as things start working reliably again, we depend on them just as we did before, and as our confidence builds back up, we scour the network for newer, better, and more powerful tools, to allow us to do whatever it is we are doing faster and better.

Perhaps that explains my fragile ego lately. I own some property from which I can cut wood to heat my home, and produce lumber for building materials. I grow food in the gardens, and know how to preserve and store it. I think I’ve been skeptical of “the system” all my life, but have clearly been seduced by it. I learned a long time ago I can’t just live in a tipi and hunt buffalo. The tools I am so skeptical about are part of me, and I’d better get used to it.

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