“Today, the habit to renunciation freezes the ardor of desires,” wrote the philosopher Max Stirner noting how our tendency to resign ourselves to norms or to what we are supposed to do ends up burying our illusions and dreams, to the point that we don’t only forget them, but we forget the act of dreaming and desiring.
Almost two centuries have passed since he wrote those words, but society has changed little since then because it continues to exert an enormous pressure on the individual to conform to its explicit and implicit rules, even if for that he has to sacrifice his dreams, his own “ego” and even his life.
Forgotten dreams and undercover pragmatism under dogmas
A decade later, another philosopher, on the other side of the ocean, wrote something similar. Henry David Thoreau did not invite us to be pragmatic and have our feet on the ground, but just the opposite, he encouraged us to dream. “If you have already built castles in the air, your work does not have to be vain; That’s where they should be. Build the foundation now. ”
Both philosophers encourage subverting the way we’ve been taught to do things, as they themselves did. “No way of thinking or doing, however old, can be taken for good”, said Thoreau, “What everyone celebrates or admits in silence today may reveal to be false tomorrow.”
The simple fact that most follow a predetermined path, with certain milestones that must be reached at a certain age, does not imply that this is the best path for us. That is why both philosophers invite us to follow our inner compass, instead of making vital decisions guided only by an apparent rationality, which is only a code name for social conventions.
Instead of asking ourselves “what should I do?”, we should ask ourselves “what do I want to do?” And then look for the means to do so. Stirner thought that “Possibility and reality are inseparable.” However, trapped in that tautological maze, we are unable to see the way out because in our mind the concepts of reality and pragmatism have been fixed so much that we have left dreams to the domain of children – or deluded. And we are proud of it.
We do not realize, however, that the tendency to sacrifice our dreams – applauded by society and often assumed as a kind of initiatory path to enter it – ends up turning our soul into a barren terrain, where no longer flourishes any homegrown illusion, moving away from our “ego”.
“Who is nothing more than what the circumstances or the will of a third party make of him, possesses only what that third party grants him”, one of Max Stirner quotes that summarizes his thinking. When we are unable to desire for ourselves, we can only look outside for the lost cardinal points, to desire what others want, sow what others sow and, of course, reap what others reap. And that is the beginning of the end.
Be all you can be
“What will it serve to man to be able to conquer the universe, if it damages his soul?” asks Stirner. What is the value of a life dedicated to pursuing other people’s dreams? A life full of fixed ideas that end up possessing us as long as they dictate virtually all of our decisions?
The philosopher outlined a possible path: “Oppose the spontaneity of inspiration to the passivity of suggestion and what is proper to what is given to us.” He extolled dreams, illusions and desires as an antidote to social expectations.
He told us, “Know yourself […] Give up your hypocritical efforts, that foolish mania of being anything other than what you are.” His cry of identity still resonates: “I want to be everything I can be.”
Stirner, M. (1976) El único y su propiedad. Pablos Editor: México