How Self-Help Is Not Helping

Muvindu Binoy, Scan Single 01, 2020

Self-help implies that you are the problem. And I guess you are the problem, quite literally. ‘You’, your sense of self, your desire to be your ‘best’ self—this is the root of suffering. Attachment to self. Craving for a better self. It’s the mother of all misery. It’s Dukkha.

Self-help, in the western sense, is having a mindfulness closet at your shitty job. It’s sad people aggressively doing yoga. It’s managing your schedule, yourdiet, your life. But humans are not meant to live like this.

It’s supposed to be our schedule, the rising and falling of the sun, the seasons, all the things that connect us to each other. A schedule is not something you, personally, are supposed to optimize. Today we keep individual schedules in our pockets like the sun shines out of our ass, and it doesn’t. It’s fundamentally miserable.

It’s supposed to be our diet. Food is always meant to be shared. Nobody is meant to choose their own optimal diet, it’s information overload. Diets are highly evolved social adaptations, honed over generations. Cultural cuisines are highly evolved adaptations between gut biomes and the climate, with plenty of feasting on delicacies included. Now we feast every day and don’t even enjoy it. We lose control of our bodies and feel guilty eating anything. Consumer culture tells us to ‘eat eat eat!’ and also that we’re going to ‘die die die!’ It’s miserable eating alone.

It’s supposed to be our lives. Not just your family, or your neighbors, or your village, but the jungle, the animals, the creatures, the unknown. We are just one bit of life in a world that’s living, and living together. From our gut biomes to our marriages to our unions, we are constantly intertwined with other lifeforms. We are inseparable, which is why being a ‘self’ is so painful. We’re not meant to live alone.

Individualism is framed as freedom, as power, as control. This is lies, subjugation, and a category error in turn.

Freedom for the individual is a gilded cage. Don’t get me wrong. I like being an individual. You get to move around, you get to orgasm, you get to enjoy food. But then what? We all get sick, we die, everybody we know dies, it sucks. Real prize isn’t first prize in these fuckboi Olympics. It’s Mount Olympus. It’s living forever, and the best way to do that is to give up on this life at all. Then boom, you’re suddenly connected to immortal bacteria, to whatever remant of us ends up clinging to a comet, you go on and on.

Muvindu Binoy, Last Page of the Text Book, 2020

Power for the individual is just being an asshole. You get power over your self, over your hood, over your company, over your country, then what? Congratulations, you’re an asshole now. You’re stressed out all the time and sleeping with a gun. Real power isn’t first place in this game of bones. Real power is not playing. Is being above it all. The Buddha, Jesus, they were all offered earthly kingships and they said LOL. The highest power is giving up.It’s literally right there in the name. Up is where you want to go, and that’s not the same thing as putting everybody else down.

Liberation of the self is a category error. It’s one life-jacket when what you need is an ark. This question is a deep debate in Buddhism, do you put the oxygen mask on yourself first, on one other people. Deeper than that, however, Buddhists everywhere are agreed on what we’re seeking liberation from. From the self. From attachment. From craving. From dukkha. You’re not going to escape the self through the self. That’s like being in a hole and still digging, except this time with awareness. It doesn’t work. It’s the wrong direction.

As you can see, self-help is a category error, it’s subjugation of every other possible self, it’s a lie that it helps us out. It’s just a vast privatization of stress, the idea that you have to manage the hours of the day, the rumblings of your stomach, and the constant fear of death, all on your own. Then it’s the commodification of all that worry into bits of plastic and metal and data that opiate you only briefly and then leave you craving more. The only thing self-help gets right is the name, which in itself contains a contradiction. Take its old-timey analog, ‘picking yourself up by your bootraps’. It’s physically impossible, yet given out as very sage advice, and is the basis of almost all governance and public policy. And it’s just a contradiction. So forget the solution for a minute (we’ll get to that). We’ve got the problem all wrong.