On Egomania in CultureOr how internalized hyper-individualism influences culture industries
What do Kanye West and Steve Jobs have in common with one another? You could say the effect they have on popular culture or our society as a whole. But there’s another side to these two major cultural players: their ego. In the Games industry there are similar patterns. What drives participants in these industries to Egomania?
We all know an asshole or two that we have to deal with in our day-to-day lives. Maybe it’s John from accounting. Perhaps it’s one of the players in your favorite sports game. Maybe your best friend? When we talk about people we find to be assholes, we usually talk about behaviors that we find selfish or otherwise immature. When mixing the idea of an asshole with an elitist artist or artisan, things become even worse. We’re no longer talking about an asshole; no, we’re dealing with an Egomaniac.
What is Egomania?
Egomania is, according to DuckDuckGo’s dictionary, an “obsessive preoccupation with the self”. The “self” in this context can be your ego or your identity, meaning anything concerning how you view yourself or internalized yourself as being (e.g. I’m a good soccer player or I’m good at making people laugh). While it’s good to think about ourselves from time to time, it can turn into a toxic attitude under certain circumstances. The key part here, is the word “obsessive”.
It’s the obsessive part that amplifies completely normal behaviors into socially unacceptable ones.
Most obsessive behaviors are obvious, like obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD. When coming across someone with real OCD, it’s clear that they’re bothered by things in a matter that seems out of proportion to most of us. It’s the obsessive part that amplifies completely normal behaviors into socially unacceptable ones. It’s okay to be compulsive, but obsessing can make people around you uncomfortable.
But back to Egomania; what does “obsessive” mean when talking about the preoccupation of the self, and what is that anyway? For instance, we are preoccupied with ourselves when being anxious or when we doubt ourselves. It also appears in situations where we’re forced to make choices and have to make a choice based on something that we (aka “the self”) want. Nothing wrong with that behavior. However, when obsession is introduced to this behavior, we can see a normal person transform into an Egomaniac. Where a normal person might make the occasional decision based on what they want or what they need, we see the opposite happening with Egomaniacs. An Egomaniac makes most of its decisions based on ideas surrounding the self or their ego, rather than other ways of thinking about their choices or the consequences.
An example would be a person solely focussing on their ideas or perspectives, instead of trying to empathize with their peers in a situation in which we would expect them to.
Working with problematic creatives
As some of you might have read around some of my profiles or in other blog posts, I’m a Game Developer that works in the “Games Industry”. This means that besides thinking about people working in this culture, I also get to be one. This also means I get to frequently interact with artists, programmers, designers, writers and other creatives.
This means that some creatives in the industry I work in, sometimes show symptoms of Egomania. There are plenty of egomania-ish characters on every level of the (Dutch) Games Industry, whether it be local, regional or (inter)national. While I’m not here to point out particular people or to state that they have a form Egomania, there are some similarities between their behavior and what we see in the characteristics of Egomania.
It’s the duty of the artist to create culture for their community and greater society, not just for themselves or other individuals.
Then what’s the problem? The problem lies in the purpose of the artists’ work. I think that our work is inherently social and collectivist. Nobody creates art just by themselves. Most (if not all) of the artistic professions are done with multiple people: in music, games or theatre. Yes, there are some examples of solo artists, but even they are dependent on inspiration outside of themselves or tools made by third parties (usually other artists or artisan tool makers). It’s also the duty of the artist to create culture for their community and greater society, not just for themselves or other individuals.1 It’s in these places where Egomaniacs throw a wrench in our creative machine.
Where we have to increasingly deal with Egomania, are the places where the collectivist nature of our work is being put under pressure. When an Egomaniac artist decides that they are more important than the people they work with or the people that consume their art, it undermines the creative industry as a whole. For example, when a creative doesn’t agree with it’s co-creators about a particular choice based on an obsessive preoccupation of the self, it undermines the process of a project and/or the creative capabilities of all co-creators.
Why do some people have Egomaniac tendencies?
Some of you might’ve been wondering “Wait, but I recognize this! Something like this happened at my workplace/sportsclub/community. Doesn’t this apply to all sorts of things outside of your work Bram?". My answer would be: yes, totally. The problem of all sorts of ego related issues like egotism, egocentrism or egomania can stem from a similar problem in our society: internalized hyper-individualism.
… a form of individualism that overpowers ones’ ability to look at a situation outside of the terms presented by individualist values.
During the rise of neoliberalism in the last few decades of our world, there was a certain value being propegated along with it: individualism.2 Since then, the way of thinking about your choices or your life as only the betterment of yourself has claimed close to all facets of society. When I talk about hyper-individualism, I mean a form of individualism that overpowers ones’ ability to look at a situation outside of the terms presented by individualist values. While this can be considered to be bad in most social situations, it’s actually rewarded in the world of bussiness or personal growth.
Where do artists internalize this way of thinking? While honing their skills! Most skills are ones that you can do together with other people in a classroom. On the other hand, artistic skills can be practised when you’re by yourself. We see this during the internet age even more. Artists especially, learn online more then ever. When spending a lot of time alone honing your skills, you are – naturaly – preoccupied with your skillset. While being completely harmless when developing one’s skills, it can be weaponized into Egomania rather quickly. When being met with success, some artists attribute this success to “the self”. Sometimes, especially when someone is weak to egoist thinking or has egocentrist tendencies, you can see this internalizing of hyper-individualism develop into problematic Egomaniac behavior.
It’s important to note that most people don’t know they’re using these rules, or that there are alternative ways of weighing their choices. In other words: people that do this aren’t bad people, but rather internalized something that our neoliberal society propagates in order to function (Similar to Hannah Arendt’s ideas on “The Banality of Evil”3).
I’m not trying to change or call out people in the industry, or want to inhibit anyone’s source of creativity or workflow. However, the problem arises when working together, whether that’s locally on projects or regionally and (inter)nationally when representing the industry. As artists, we are a collective; a collective that creates beautiful works and helps our society move forward. We won’t get there by sticking to toxic ways of interacting with peers in our communities.
And again, let me be extra clear: I don’t blame artists or individuals that show these behaviors. If anything, I admire talented artists, regardless of how they carry themselves. I just wanted to share some thoughts on what I notice around me. I hope you found what I wrote atleast somewhat interesting!
Thanks for reading!
Hey there! My name is Bram Dingelstad and I'm an entrepeneur, developer, game designer and activist.
I write articles sometimes.
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Cover photo by Kelly Sikkema
There are also examples of more private works in the culture industry that are never seen by anyone outside of the artist and an employer. I omit these works because they are only neccesary for artists in our current society, not objectively inherent to being an artist. Personal works that an artist keeps for themselves are still artworks, but don’t contribute anything to culture as long as they aren’t shared. ↩︎
For the purpose of this article I use individualism to mean: “The ideology that every single choice or thing should be weighed by the indivuals interests, not by any other”. ↩︎