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About Amit Varma

Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.




Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

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31 March, 2010

Self-Esteem (and a Puddle)

In a marvellous essay on self-esteem, Theodore Dalrymple writes:

Self-esteem is, of course, a term in the modern lexicon of psychobabble, and psychobabble is itself the verbal expression of self-absorption without self-examination. The former is a pleasurable vice, the latter a painful discipline.

Indeed, that might also be one distinction between bad and good novelists. The bad ones just do the self-absorption, while the good ones begin their journey towards producing good work with self-examination.

I’d imagine, though, that any honest self-examination would necessarily erode self-esteem. In his essay, Dalrymple defines self-esteem as ‘the appreciation of one’s own worth and importance.’ When I look at the larger scheme of things, it is clear to me that we have no worth or importance, except perhaps to ourselves, which is circular and temporary. We are just one species in one tiny planet in one small solar system in a universe that has galaxies without end. And a short life span that ends when it ends, despite widespread irrational belief in souls and suchlike.

Despite that, most of us see humans as being the center of the universe. For example, we speak of global warming as endangering the earth. But we forget one thing: we are not the earth. Even if the most alarmist claims about global warming are true, then all that it endangers is humankind. The earth has been much hotter and much colder than it is now, and will go on merrily without us.

Our foolish collective self-esteem reminds me of this great quote by Douglas Adams:

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

Indeed. And how absurd is the notion of the self-esteem of a puddle?

(Dalrymple link via @tunkuv. The Adams quote is from Richard Dawkins’s book, A Devil’s Chaplain.)

Posted by Amit Varma in Arts and entertainment | Personal | Small thoughts

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