One day I was discussing peak oil to some folks and the notion of Peak Ego and an Ego Descent Plan suddenly emerged into my consciousness. I thought it funny. And when I mentioned it lightly to people at another gathering it brought forth a hefty amount of laughter. So, I decided to think more seriously about it and explore it.
When I primarily think about peak ego I immediately think of Rene Guenon’s work that I read passionately decades ago. He wrote some very heavy treatises concerning modernity and civilization. Such books as The Reign of Quantity, Crisis of the Modern World & the Signs of the Times and others turned me onto the Traditionalists. He left France and was initiated into Sufism in Egypt (Sheikh Abdul-Wahid Yahya) and also immersed himself in the Hindi Kali Yuga cosmology. His notion of the “reign of quantity” signifies peak “quantity” as compared to the “quality” of life. Of course there are many different paths that deeply criticize modernity using either Traditionalists or various Sacred lineages (or the many prophecies that speak of major planetary changes around 2012). I just happened to resonate with him and thanks to Gai Eaton who wrote a book called “King of the Castle” where he summarized and simplified the work of Rene Guenon. A google search will also give the reader ample material to look into, if you are interested. The point, funny as it may appear, is that we have reached a critical juncture, Peak Ego, a place where ego cannot go any further, if that’s possible. Some of this will be tongue in cheek but I think it’s a valuable exercise just to see where ego can be peaked in one’s life (and the culture) and how one can come down the mountaintop of Peak Ego to let the rest of us know that it aint that much fun at the Peak!
Basically modernity is part of a cosmic cycle and its about to crash. I believe Guenon was looking forward to the collapse and used his scholasticism to explore it and hopefully in some way for us to prepare for these urgent times. Others were in the same camp. They called themselves Traditionalists and it included such people as Jacob Needleman, Frithjof Schuon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and others. My reading of those men, and they were mostly men, gave rise in me a disdain for modernity from a grand perspective. If not disdain then perhaps a healthy bout of skepticism of the modern world with its ugly industrialized foundation. Others came to this conclusion by reading the original environmentalists like Aldo Leopold. The Traditionalists would examine various native American cosmologies and eloquently revere earlier spiritual traditions. Perhaps peak everything is somewhat related to “peak quantity” and peak modernity. Whatever you may want to call it, the momentum is blindly moving us to a point of no return, especially when you add in the finite resources (or I should say “subtract” since most fundamental modernists still assume we have infinite resources to carry on this modernity stage forever; or to discover a new technology that will allow us to return to business as usual).
For me it appears to be a logical result to speak of peak ego, especially since cheap oil gave rise to affluence which in turn gave rise to more separation, separation in the meaning that affluence has offered us NOT to need each other the way tribal communities in the past did but a lifestyle that separates us from the inherent wisdom of interdependence. When we have reached the ultimate separation perhaps we have reached peak ego. How more separate can one become? How much more ego can we have before the level of “happiness” runs out? Can we keep on separating ourselves more and more, living in MacMansions with our egos splattered in every room? Is peak ego that point when you can no longer get enough? If you have the time and the money and the toys and the non stop desire for more and more pleasure, what’s to stop you from going on? If anyone has seen the film “Gamers,” we get a glimpse of where we might be heading: 14 year old obese kids playing computer games that deal with live people in sexual and violent settings… the ultimate gamer, the peak egoist!
One just wants more and more, regardless of what it is: money, chocolate, power, buildings, property, control over people… The question that is required is: are those people who have reached peak ego happy? I sincerely don’t think so. I don’t think continually tapping into our samsara of desires will ever turn us into happy campers… but it will be good to find out at what point will we stop? Just as in peak oil, what point do we begin to consider living a life beyond oil? Can we comprehend this when cheap oil has been the air we breathe much like water to a fish?
But peak everything might just shake up everything and the struggle to maintain ones egoic posture might just explode or at least peak — demanding that we are “entitled” to the life style that we have grown accustomed due to cheap oil and cheap everything.
So what does peak ego look like? And will we entertain the numerous and diverse ways to deny such peak ego like we have with peak everything, even though the data is overwhelming?
Rather than coming at the question from an angle of hardship and suffering I’d prefer to approach it with the notion of happiness. I personally think that people were indoctrinated to believe that happiness equals the maximum of ego’s pleasures (as in doing anything you desire — jumping in the car, flying to that distant vacation resort, buying and buying imagining that accumulating equals self satisfaction, joy and happiness). And it’s not necessarily peoples fault that they became these incessant and indoctrinated consumers, it was politically and economically designed that way. Well, now with peak ego, like peak oil, people are beginning to say, Now what?
If I cannot have the house or property or the various goods that made us typically happy before peak everything then we will have to see how other people have lived before such extravagances, mostly created by cheap oil.
I hear so many stories about people living in abject poverty yet so happy because their community foundation is so well established to help supply so many of their non-physical needs. Its almost as if there’s a trade that took place — we gave up our extended families and communities and our psychic and spiritual lives and invisibly traded them for a physical comfort that we probably never realized would ever become our tomb.
From time to time I have declared that we need a reverse peace corps in that people from the 3rd and 4th worlds ought to come to the developed world to help us with our non-physical dimensional lives so we can create some balance.
Peak ego implies that we have reached the edge of our unhappiness. The edge is knowing that getting happy has nothing to do with: separation from ones neighbors, sitting in front of the TV or computer, working at a meaningless job, setting ones vision board to only satisfy ones whims about glorifying your comfort and status. Talk about peak ego using such spiritual mumbo jumbo! Did you ever see a vision board that ever considered social justice or environmental concerns?
Happiness is intricately tied to service which doesn’t necessarily imply helping others constantly but means surrendering to our purpose for why we are here on this planet at this time. I think we each have a unique role to play and we ought to cultivate the soil so that our purpose can use us. There’s a quote attributed to St. Thomas in the Gnostic Gospels where he writes that “if you do not surrender to what you are supposed to do then you will not be saved. If you do surrender to what is of value, then you will be saved.” Lets remove the “saved” part and replace it with joy and happiness and then you will get my drift.
Peak ego to me also implies that we have reached a point whereby our sense of self becomes so limited and narrow and constricting that it actually draws negative situations.
An Ego Descent Plan
So how does one design an ego descent plan? Like an energy descent plan which gears toward conservation as well as encouraging and supporting renewables and local sources, so too the ego descent plan would initially be a plan toward self conservation, i.e., lessening needless consumption, reducing ones intake of frivolous denying activities (TV watching, engaging in endless “entertaining” activities), observing how our cravings may be actually counterfeit and perhaps discover the real needs behind the so-called desires might dissipate the charge of addictive behavior.
One such plan of action that could be helpful is to discover how we engage in activities that pump up our ego — or pump up the self-righteous Geiger counter. Do we really need to hang out with like-minded people all the time who complain and typically lay blame on a particular group as the “enemy”? This speaks true to me and I feel the need to not just be alone with my videos, books, “friends,” and interests even though I can because a certain amount of affluence has allowed me to.
So, I decided to join an intentional community as a way to help me in my ego descent plan. While living here I cannot solely think of myself and my needs, which creates a loop of ego enhancement. But to engage with others — to listen to others viewpoints and perspectives and reasonings and let go periodically of that self-righteous perspective that “I only know what’s right,” etc.
To be in a situation where there are other needs in the community that need to be taken care of so a healthy interconnected and interdependent community can survive and thrive. Being here has helped me clarify this peak ego aspect as well as being conscious of an ego descent plan that can chip away at my feeling that I’m totally separate from others (which feeds and pumps up the ego). When my mind starts alerting me to other people’s needs rather than insisting that I satisfy everything for me… it proves to me that the ego descent plan is working AND its a helluva lot more FUN.
An interesting note is how modernity has designed our internal lives to actually encourage us to believe that we don’t need people, that living in an isolated apartment eating and eliminating can all be done in total isolation, having nothing to do with others. It’s no wonder we can throw things “away,” since we really believe that there is such a place that is “away”, a landfill that we rarely question its existence.
Also, the major point to this is — do we still have the time to voluntarily accept our individual peak ego and to design a plan voluntarily to reduce our ego needs outside of ourselves [global vs. local and internal vs. external elements of needs]. If we don’t start we might just not have the luxury to do it voluntarily thereby needing to surrender to a power outside of ourselves, like forced evacuation, forced migration, forced housing, forced diets, forced and policed regimens of energy for example. And that won’t be fun!
I think that if we plan our own ego descent plan voluntarily (as ironic as that may sound) it will help us prepare and become genuinely resilient when the difficult times arrive — and arrive they have! They are here. Perhaps the peak ego element has something to do with the cosmic cycles like Kali Yuga and the myriad 2012 prophecies and that perhaps as some prophecies have declared that this period is a cleansing phase by which peak ego has been reached and everything from now on is designed to slip away. Do we wish to design such a plan voluntarily or have an outside agency be pulling the strings? Do we fight and claw our way back to the peak as it slips away or do we welcome it, cultivate resiliency and allow that very real and natural interdependence to penetrate our psyches and lives? And entertain that a true happiness exists on the way down… or as some Transitionists would claim: Lets enjoy life after oil!
This is a draft and would love to hear your comments.
Bob Banner publishes HopeDance, edibleSLO, works with the Transition CA ning site, published the anthology SUSTAINABILITY: Radical Solutions Inspiring Hope (HopeDance Press) and is about to release his new work called ENJOYING OURSELVES WHILE CHANGING THE WORLD & Other Essays (HopeDance Press)