Heyoka’s Workbench


Photo: Detail from an entry my »Book of Thoughts«

As a twenty-something, I had a »Book of Thoughts« into which I would jot down my reflections – sometimes scribbling rather journal-like entries but at other times brooding over the big questions of life and the meaning of everything. Discussing the possibility of a God preoccupied my younger self quite a while: Is it thinkable that there is an active God somewhere, one who would have a tangible meaning for us and to whom it would be wise to devote some regard? Can the non-existence of such a God be logically proven? And what implications would proving it have?

I wrote a lot on these questions. Only for myself. No one ever read those musings and no one ever will. Not even the concluding entry in my »Book of Thoughts« concerning the God question and answering it for good (or so I thought). Back then I was totally content with just having put my reflections down in my book. And today?

Some months ago, I read a thankfully short and comprehensible summary of Baruch Spinoza’s key reasonings. Spinoza pondered on the nature of God and his relation to the world and humankind. There was a chain of arguments that sounded familiar to me. Very familiar – at least for my philosophical caveman’s understanding. I digged up the old »Book of Thoughts« from the depths of my drawers.

Whoa, I had those thoughts, too! Just exactly like him! – I should blog about it!

And now we’re at what this article is really about: What was so exhilarating for me? Why was it my first impulse to let others know about me and Spinoza? Because it would help other people? Inspire them? Entertain them? Be of the slightest interest for them? These questions suddenly popped up in my head and there was only one valid answer.


Who does not want to be special? Be of consequence not only for the few people closest to them but to a greater audience, to the world?

I cannot prove it but judging from myself and from what I perceive, I contend that one of the evils the internet had brought us is that more people than ever crave for significance, fame even. The web gave us the illusion of a world-wide audience and of being able to reach out for them almost without cost. We can see that it’s possible, can’t we? There’s all those »influencers«, those YouTube and Twitter stars, the columnists who earn money and gain reputation by writing things – that … – that we could write ourselves! We could even do better! All too often they are totally wrong. Or what’s much more vexing: they utter thoughts that we had years and years ago and for which they are celebrated now!

Does this sound familiar to you? To me, it does. But I concede that I might be extrapolating unduly from my own shortcomings.

In any case, this desire for fame, this variant of narcissism is nothing to be proud of and nothing about which one should be too lenient toward oneself. Rather, it’s quite a preposterous habit. To assume that one has come up with an idea, with arguments, with speculations as the only person among 8 billion contemporaries or even as the first one ever in history and to take it for granted that one’s blog posts and tweets were desired and important and of any consequence – what else can you call this than ludicrous?

And not to forget: you can get quite bothersome and boring for your fellows, too, the more so the fonder you grow of your self-perception as a very conspicuous specimen of humankind (just so short of a genius).

What now?

As said above, I’d list vanity and craving for attention among the evils the internet has brought (along with a lot of good things, to be sure). And isn’t it thinkable that these two vices are the decisive or at least accelerating forces behind what may be considered the main problems of our time: the almost total loss of will and ability to discuss, to compromise, to empathise? The ever-increasing degree of hysteria? The popping up of ever new and ever more specialised or radical factions (the smaller your peer group, the bigger your chance to shine in it)?

It sounds probable to me. Oh – and I’m trying to remind myself right now that these very thoughts have with all probability been thought by others, too. And that they rest on inspirations I’ve acquired from plenty of sources many of which I’m not even aware of. I even consider that they might be wrong or silly.

But again: what now? Stop publishing stuff on the internet for good? No, that would be childish and deprive us of many, many great stories, thoughts, ideas, jokes, pieces of artwork, tutorials and good old nonsense. Perhaps it’s enough to try and be less of a wiseacre and more of a wise person, to try and keep in mind that one’s just one among billions (though surely unique!). And to follow the principle: shine and let shine.