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Dr Earl R. Smith II
Mentor and Adviser
If you’ve been following me so far, it will not surprise you that I see the title of this chapter as something much more complex than it appears on the surface. The core question is, of course, who’s doing what to whom. The simple formulation “I envy him” has a seductive symmetry about it. But when it’s deconstructed and the pieces examined carefully, things become far from simple.
Let’s start with that short and most difficult word. What’s meant by the word “I”?
If I say that I poked my finger into my eye which disturbed my mind, then what are we to make of this “I”?
Earlier I have described the corrosive implications of what’s generally referred to as the “self”. Those observations are relevant here. If the “I” referred to is that very “self”, then it’s a virtual representation created by you. In other words, it’s a mask that you present to the world in lieu of your authentic presence. But such a proposition turns the world on its end. It means that the reflection in the mirror is looking out at the reality. It means that the unreal is simulating the real. And what should we make of that?
In writing the last paragraph, I am conscious of the difficulties that the English language presents in describing certain ideas. A casual reading might lead you to believe that I’m suggesting that there’s such a thing as a “self” which is authentic. That’s not the case. There’s no such thing as an “authentic self”. Certainly, the “self” is an authentic virtual creation. There’s little doubt that, for most people, it exists. But its authenticity is the authenticity of a mask or a disguise.
Perhaps the last paragraph has given you a hint of where I’m headed. What’s the fountainhead of the envy? Is it the person or the avatar? It’s not a terribly long journey to the proposition that an avatar can be reflexively envious even though its creator would vehemently deny such a thing. The existence of this virtual representation often rises out of a sense of shame and inadequacy. You offer the world a mask as a representation of who you are because you suspect that, should they see the real person, they would be either offended or disappointed. Such a patrimony virtually guarantees reflexive envy both on the part of the person and their virtual representation. So, if you’ve manufactured a virtual representation of yourself and put it forward to the world as your authentic presence, it’s entirely possible that that virtual representation will contain the characteristic of reflexive envy.
Having stirred that part of the pot, let’s turn to the other end of the sentence. What is it that’s referred to as “him”? Of course, we have the same problem at this end. Is the “him” the person or the person’s avatar? In other words, do you envy their virtual representation; their mask? Or do you know them well enough to envy the person that they actually are? It’s rarely easy to discern. Or do you know them well enough but still envy their mask? A well-made mask is, in some sense, a work of art after all.
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