your ego is the ‘i’ in your identity

Es­ti­mated reading time is 6 min­utes.

THE POOR Ol’ EGO GETS A BUM RAP in the hands of pop psy­chol­o­gists and Zen Bud­dhists but, like, where would we be without it? Or, better—who would we be without it? It is prob­ably too im­por­tant in the make-up of the Western per­son­ality due to our au­thor­i­tarian re­li­gions and many of our philoso­phies, and it is def­i­nitely over-stimulated in our con­sumer cul­ture, but it’s fun having an ego!

Nee­dles to say, for this essay I am not delving into the depths of Freudi­anism and the many labyrinthine en­tan­gle­ments that are pos­sible. For this essay, here is a rea­son­able working de­f­i­n­i­tion of ego:

“The ego is the or­ga­nized part of the per­son­ality struc­ture that in­cludes de­fen­sive, per­cep­tual, intellectual-cognitive, and ex­ec­u­tive functions.

Con­scious aware­ness re­sides in the ego, al­though not all of the op­er­a­tions of the ego are conscious.


The deepest meaning of ig­no­rance is the be­lieving in, iden­ti­fying with, and clinging to the ego, which is nothing.


Orig­i­nally, Freud used the word ego to mean a sense of self, but later re­vised it to mean a set of psy­chic func­tions such as judg­ment, tol­er­ance, re­ality testing, con­trol, plan­ning, de­fense, syn­thesis of in­for­ma­tion, in­tel­lec­tual func­tioning, and memory.

The ego sep­a­rates out what is real. It helps us to or­ga­nize our thoughts and make sense of them and the world around us.” (Wikipedia)

From there to here: ego­tism is “the feeling or be­lief that you are better, more im­por­tant, more tal­ented, etc., than other people.” (Merriam-Webster)

And egoism has two de­f­i­n­i­tions: “a doc­trine that in­di­vidual self-interest is the ac­tual mo­tive of all con­scious ac­tion,” and “ex­ces­sive con­cern for one­self with or without ex­ag­ger­ated feel­ings of self-importance.” (Merriam-Webster)

Both are es­sen­tially negative.




Two ex­am­ples of ego-less Zan-inspired art, then and now: an un­ti­tled land­scape in the splashed-ink style by Sesshū Tōyō from (1420–1506), and “Thought On Bamboo” by con­tem­po­rary artist Marie Taylor. Do we re­ally want to give up the mil­lions of pieces adorning the walls of gal­leries around the world to have to look at this all day long? 1

Your ego is yours so make of it what you will

But even a f*cked-up ego can be fun if you are willing to play with it, ob­serve it as part and parcel of who and what you are—but be willing to ac­cept that it’s just that: a part, and not nec­es­sarily a nec­es­sary part!

In Zen Bud­dhism, med­i­ta­tion and prac­tice can as­sist one to tran­scend the ego and know/be di­rectly one with the universe/world.

“The feeling of a sep­a­rate ‘I,’ which we call ego-consciousness, is di­rectly re­lated to the strength of ig­no­rance, greed, and ha­tred. The deepest meaning of ig­no­rance is the be­lieving in, iden­ti­fying with and clinging to the ego, which as we have seen, is nothing but an il­lu­sive mental phe­nom­enon. But be­cause of this strong clinging to ego-consciousness, attachment/desire, anger/hatred arise and re­peat­edly gain strength.” (Maithri)

And why am I men­tioning the ego (your ego) and where I am I taking this?


Let’s go to heaven in a car

Early this morning, I opened up my Big Geek Daddy newsletter and checked out the Videos of the Day. There was one called Corvette Heaven. Opening the video I was greeted with this blurb:

Corvette Heaven is a won­der­fully cre­ative short video about a young boy who falls in love with a Corvette and spends the rest of his life pur­suing his dream car. I’m sure that more than one boy has dreamed of owning a Corvette when they are a man but some­times life just gets in the way. Having a goal in life to dream about is al­ways worth­while es­pe­cially if it comes true in time for you to enjoy it.”

This sparked a memory of things I hadn’t thought about in years, and I al­ready knew that I was going to write this essay.

This is about as tasteful a plug for a product that I could ask for from any ad agency in the world. And the sight of the beau­tiful red Vette made me flash­back to my youth in the early ’60s when my brother Charles and I were hooked on Au­rora Model Mo­toring HO slot-cars! 2


If the human brain were so simple that we could un­der­stand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.


Need­less to say, Charles and I had dif­ferent tastes in cars: his fa­vorite models were the Ford Thun­der­bird and the Chevy Corvette, while mine was the Buick Riv­iera and the Jaguar XKE.

As this was the first half of the 1960s, I re­member that the Au­rora cars were all early ’60s models.

This trans­ferred to Real Life, where I do be­lieve that Charles’s like of the T-Bird and the ‘Vette and mine for the Riv­iera (the 1963 model with the two scoops on each side) and the X model car­ried over.




So it was that Charles liked the Car­di­nals and Stan “The Man” Mu­sial, while I liked the Phillies and Ted “Teddy Ball­game” Williams. (Yes, he was more con­sis­tent than I).

Liking dif­ferent things was a part of sib­ling ri­valry, al­though we didn’t know the term or the con­cept at that age. We just lived it out.

Which is fine: just as young males (of which I was once and often con­sid­ered) begin defining their selves (their “I”) by breaking away from and re­belling against their fa­thers, so too do male sib­lings un­con­sciously de­fine them­selves by dif­fer­en­ti­ating their wants/tastes/opinions from their siblings—especially their brothers.




He liked DC Comics and the Jus­tice League of America and Murphy An­derson and Joe Ku­bert and Hawkman; I liked Marvel and the Avengers and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and Spiderman.

Hell, we prob­ably had dif­ferent tastes in clothes, but we were guys and didn’t no­tice or much care there!

We also dif­fered in our taste in rock & roll, es­pe­cially on one BIG issue: I have been a life­long devotee of Elvis Presley since I was about 5-years old. Charles hated Elvis. Of course.

Here are a few more differences:




When the British In­va­sion hap­pened in 1964, Charles picked the Bea­tles and I went with the Dave Clark 5 and the Kinks.




In 1966, he was into Donovan and I was into Dylan.

The extent of sibling rivalry

This seems most ex­cel­lent, yes? Two brothers with dif­fering tastes but both with great taste! What an amazing col­lec­tion we must have had be­tween us, right?

Not quite.

Part of the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion process re­quired that I hate what he dug and vice versa. And we did: I rooted for the Car­di­nals to lose, the Bea­tles to lose what­ever the hell magic they seemed to have, I re­fused to see the worth in DC comics, yada yoda blah blah. 3

For­tu­nately, we both grew out of this but the need was there and also, for­tu­nately, that is the ex­tent of the ri­valry. Other sib­lings have seen the needs of the un­der­de­vel­oped ego turn child­hood ri­valry into life­long adult animosity.




He liked Peanut Butter Kandy Cakes; I pre­ferred But­ter­scotch Krimpets (but we both liked them with RC Cola).


There is nothing to transcend

And this could go on and on so I will cut my­self off by noting that which all Bud­dhists know:

There is no ego,
there­fore there is no I,
there­fore there is nothing to transcend.

But there is an ar­ti­fi­cial con­struct called “iden­tity” wrapped around this mortal coil and it can be a hoot if you play with it in­stead of being de­fined ex­clu­sively by it.

It’s your ego, have fun with it be­cause re­member this: you’re born be­fore you know and you’re dead even sooner . . .


EgoIdentity header 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: I found the image at the top of this page ac­com­pa­nying “Hacking Hap­pi­ness with Brain-Machine-Interfaces?” by Thijs Pep­ping on the So­geti­Labs web­site. The artist was not cred­ited. As a cap­tion, Pep­ping used a quote from Emerson W. Pugh: “If the human brain were so simple that we could un­der­stand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.”



1   That’s an at­tempt at irony.

2   We started out with the vi­brator models and quickly moved up to the Thun­der­jets! I re­member that the older guys at Dick’s Hobby Shop where we raced who ‘knew’ these things re­ferred to the older cars as “reed” models, but I don’t re­member what that means and I’m not going to look it up just because!

3   As I was to find out decades later when Charles was dying in the ER and I was living in the ICU waiting room, we had very sim­ilar tastes in women . . .



All comments held for moderation

Notify of
Rate this article:
Please rate this article with your comment.
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments