Fears of Becoming a Non-Person

By Kevin Doalty Brophy. Kevin, 25, is studying for a Masters of Common Law at University College Dublin. He lives in Dublin, Ireland. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Bravo to Mister Foucault for possessing such a positive trajectory in life; to be able to feel with conviction that he was transforming from one thing into another. On the contrary, at some indeterminate point in my early-to-mid-twenties, my brain began to malfunction, causing me to develop a fear of becoming a non-person, or unbecoming a person. That is to say, I appeared to be doing the exact opposite of what Mister Foucault would have prescribed for the good life.

I had no doubt that this condition – if, you know, it actually was a valid condition – was both chronic and terminal. This phobia was caused by a phenomenon I have since coined inforwhelming, a portmanteau I constructed from the respective splicing of “information” and “overwhelming”.

Having lived with this condition now for many years, I have since inferred that its central cause is rooted in our increasingly augmented reality. It is a mode of living controlled by the flow of information from an origin point to an end point. This information is both omnipresent and omniscient and it has no problem either assaulting or falsely imprisoning the individual with relentless passion.

The system’s primary symptom is a sense of permanent oversaturation permeating throughout all facets of quotidian life. The resultant condition (an active sense of unbecoming in society) appears to thrive amongst the most modern of paradoxes: increasing globalisation to counter socially constructed barriers and borders, brains and bodies unable to keep up with technological and scientific progress, psychological susceptibilities to misinformation and propaganda, worsening climate change in the era of triumphant capitalism. And so on. The DNA of contemporary society is the material and social structures both invisible to us and oppressing us. Living in a world such as this is like attempting to purchase the bare necessities at a supermarket but being unable to reach up to the shelves upon which the items are stocked, with no one around to assist.

I came to view all of the above as contributing to a system of hyperficiality (this is another original portmanteau, denoting “the accelerated communication and acceptance of simulacra in society”). This phenomenon leads to a paradox of choice, feelings of insignificance and fraudulence, and a general sense that the earth continues to revolve around the sun while the individual remains rooted to the spot. This leads to a collective collapse of belief systems, which callously masquerades in the benign and primitive form of an inability to form an opinion on literally anything. It is, needless to say, debilitating.

If a writer is primarily an observer, then my entire life has comprised of one long extended observance for the eventual writing of this essay unbeknownst even to myself. From watching the repeated social processes of many different groups ranging from my own inner circle of friends to international news cycles, I deduced that this hyperficiality is, in actuality, a condition which the twenty-first century suffers from above all else, and that my personal feelings in relation to becoming a non-person were not but a symptom of a wider millennial malaise.

I did, at least, come to understand the oxymoron at play. In the process of becoming yourself, you inevitably turn into someone else. The condition, in all its inforwhelming and hyperficial glory, was not anything else but my trying to hold onto an outdated concept of my own self which now naturally eluded me; and my constant chasing an envisioned future self which in turn escaped me. Therein lay the problem: I was committing to a plane of thought which was the opposite of necessary, wanting nothing to change and everything to remain the same. I was trying to keep the past tense constant, helplessly forced to watch it slip through my fingers with the chronic, onerous tendency of each passing clock to ceaselessly tick and ceaselessly tock. To paraphrase Laozi: “depression is living in the past; anxiety is living in the future”. In order to become a person capable of change, I had to submit to the uncharted waters of a present tense beyond my control.

It seems that most people write memoirs stemming from times of trouble which have since passed. This appears to be accepted convention, allowing the writer to derive a set of meanings from said experience which can then be used to develop one’s own belief systems in accordance with the day-to-day functioning of society. The writer cannot derive anything while actively working things out because the event is not yet over and so any potential lessons to be learned have not yet been imparted to the writer. With this in mind, I have no choice but to go against the grain in this case and write something descriptive rather than prescriptive.

The nature of the literary essay is surely to offer some sort of resolution to the prescribed conflict; and if this were such a utopian essay, it would contain the perfect recipe for reclaiming one’s personhood. Any such closure would be, at best, disingenuous. There is no conclusion to offer you. A cure to the chaos would be contradictory. That is because the essay you are reading right now is still in the process of being written, much like my sense of self is still in the process of being lived. That said, this essay contains an opinion. My opinion. ”Just what I was thinking at the time,” as Shawn Carter would say – which must surely signify a positive step towards the becoming of someone, hopefully, myself.

Becoming is an unconscious and gradual process which can only occur when the individual does not know who they are. It is in our nature to change overtime – attempting to negative or nullify this instinctual drive constitutes a violation of the self and slowly erodes the individual until they are rendered a non-person. To become someone else, then, is the truest mode of living one can aspire to, and the best way to achieve this is to relinquish any grip on both past and future – any notion of control, really – and see what happens in the present tense. Life is, after all, mostly just showing up.

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