March 4th, 2013
You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?
Without a doubt, many of the decisions I’ve taken in my adult life were driven by ego. It’s a dirty word, despite the reality. The reality is that – at least in the majority of the Western or Westernised world – society is driven, people are driven, decisions are driven, by that sense of self. The etymology of the word ‘ego’ leads us to the ancient Greeks; the Greek word for I/me is ego.
The questions that drive ego-based decisions are the following:
- How will this benefit me, either now or in the future?
- Does this fit the image I have of myself in my mind, or that I wish to project to others?
- Is my reasoning for taking this decision predominantly based on the last two questions?
Ego has taken the limelight as the world has moved from family, patience in a career, and small pleasures, to one in which our children all seem to grow up wanting to be celebrities.
For me personally, this has led to incredible destruction in the professional and personal lives I’d built. At some point in my childhood, probably around early puberty, I decided my life wasn’t good enough for me. I set my sights high and decided to take on the world and use whatever platform I could to pursue a life of fame and success and wealth. First I was going to be a rock star, then a successful entrepreneur, then I discovered politics and it was like cat-nip.
I developed an incredible amount of drive and focus, though not enough focus to keep me to the path which may have actually delivered my ambitions to me. As the world of politics opened up, I became like a drug addict in some sort of utopian drug shop where the crack and heroin are free. Access to power, a small amount of fame, being desired; these were the drugs on offer. Although politics doesn’t come for free, I seemed to manage to find traction and meaning and some sort of sense of place. It was sketchy though, and never quite enough to make me feel secure in my trajectory.
This was reflected in some of my decisions. For example, the decision to ‘defect’ from Labour, where I’d built something of a base and following among like-minded pro-market, pro-enterprise, socio-capitalists, to the Conservatives. Even though on the most part I think Cameron means well and that he is trying to finish off a lot of what Blair started, the main basis of my switch was the furthering of my own career in politics. The Tories offered me a below-the-table deal which would give them a news cycle and some embarrassing quotes to throw at Ed Miliband in Parliament. I’d be on the way to a Parliamentary seat in 2015.
How the bloody hell does somebody as insecure yet as ambitious as me say no to something like that? I should have listened to the counsel I had at the time. Instead I embarrassed the people in Labour who had trusted me (Alex…?), and gave up a chance at a life of engagement within the Labour Party which could have led to something potentially useful to others.
Ego drives sex too. I’m reflecting a great deal at the moment on sex addiction in the modern world, as part of the research for a book I’ve written on that subject. It’s no coincidence that powerful men (and sometimes women), who have built careers based on enormous amounts of ego-based drive, end up destroying it all with sex. Sex is the ultimate ego satisfier; another human is consumed at that moment with you, and nothing but you.
The hacking of my email account, which exposed my sex addiction and other embarrassing things, marked a point of change in my life. I spent December and January as a hermit. I wasn’t able to give up on life as I have children and others who care for me. So I had to choose life, but it was easier said than done. I was completely broken down. My ego was well and truly shattered. You may have heard it explode on December 7? However, I believe in the Schumpeterian concept of creative destruction. All of the unhealthy, ego-driven paths I was on previously have now come to an end. I had to – and still have to – find a new way in life. The old life has been cleared out and there is space for a new, hopefully healthier one.
I’m working on it, but I suspect it is going to be a very long work-in-progress.
I have been given a new chance on life. Because decisions driven by ego – as common as they are – can’t be healthy. A bit of ego is useful, of course. Self-centred drive is what fuels capitalism, markets and the desire to survive. Without it we would be amoebae. To base one’s entire life and career on it is folly.
The picture above is a painting by one of my favourite modern artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat. The title of the painting has always meant a lot to me: Now’s The Time 1985. I was born in 1985, ‘now’s the time’ is a saying I use when I lack confidence. Just pull your finger out and get on with it. Basquiat’s life was one of tragedy. He was born into poverty in Brooklyn in 1960, but was fiercely intelligent and talented, and he found art as a way to express his own internal torment. He died at 27 of a drug overdose in New York. He is one of the most celebrated neo-expressionist artists of the 20th century.