Thanks for sharing, Michael. I think you’re onto something with the overuse of the word ego. When we use it to mean the part of ourselves that desires things for ourselves, it’s pretty impossible to kill the ego. You’re always going to want something, if only food to stay alive.
I’m currently reading Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism is True. His first big realization is that desire in and of itself isn’t bad. It’s when we desire things for their own sake that we go down a rabbit hole.
Desiring donuts isn’t bad. But if you always desire donuts in the moment and divorce yourself from the long-term consequences of living off donuts, you’re going to have health problems. Wanting be a millionaire isn’t bad. You could give a bunch of money to charity or use your increased leisure time to spend time with people you love. Wanting to be millionaire so you can flaunt a millionaire lifestyle or use it to keep score against other people is a recipe to unhappiness.
He also addresses the idea of the selfish gene and our brain’s desire to reproduce. Because we know that about ourselves, we can ask ourselves honestly whether the mental and emotional scripts that are hard wired in us are the best thing for the modern world. A lot of us won’t have children at all. And once you’ve done the job of reproducing, the selfish gene motivations make us more insular and tribalistic. That parallels to your taming the id idea.
It’s in taking control of that active ego part of ourselves and directing it purposefully that we can lead a good life, however you define that.
My biggest push back is on your dismissal of Jung. Based on this piece, it feels like you bristle at the mysticism that comes with Jung, but I’d urge you to take a look at some of the recent work on the Placebo Effect or mindfulness. The concept that humans are story telling animals (homo narrans) and construct at least some of their reality through myth and meaning is well documented in neuroscience and cultural studies.
It thinks it’s a dangerous path to think that any part of ourselves is a purely rational actor. There’s nothing in modern economics or psychology that suggests that humans have a purely rational bone in their bodies. It’s equally untrue that any amount of belief or ritual is going to make a stone turn soft or the rain suddenly stop. As with all things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but to deny the meaning making parts of our brain is to be wholly subject to them.