It is the new year, and talk of fresh starts is in the air. 2015 begins and we grasp at the chance to start again and change, to kickstart our sense of agency and self. Of course, it is in reality just one day after another and the changing of the year is not a real fresh start at all – what we are really looking for is a catalyst, a springboard, a spark in which to ignite the finer points of our ego and self-control.
Ironic really, as one of the most celebrated literary examples of this is of Scrooge transforming himself on Christmas Eve and becoming a better man – although anyone who has tried to change their lives whilst mired in the sentimentality of a Christmas morning will testify that would be unlikely to succeed. If Dickens wrote the story today, he would probably have Scrooge hitting the gym on January 1st. But anyway, I digress. So, what is it with our need to reinvent ourselves, to regenerate?
The easy answer is, of course, that the world does it. The planet spins on it's axis and orbits the sun, and this is a constant process of perpetual change and return; the seasons change and are reborn; nature grows, dies, and grows again; effectively the entire ecosystem in which humanity is a part is based upon on crisis and renewal. What separates us is our ability (or perhaps need) to rationalise that process.
We have other points of rebirth during the year – the solstices, for two, based upon the above – and effectively the new year itself is only artificially constructed by the calendar (and they have a different calendar entirely in Iran). But for some reason the neat, easy transformation from one year to another helps us deal with the process. What we are really getting out of it a sense of an ascendancy over the past and a clean, crisp future to work with – when we say 'I want to put this awful year behind us' we literally mean that: the old year is dirtied, worn out, soiled, and we would like a fresh new one. And then is something about the clean, crisp page of the year – much like the literal crisp clean page of our diaries - that is reassuring.
What we are really after, though, is a kind off overcoming of the self. Much like Nietzsche (rather vaguely) pointing to the ubermensch superseding bog-standard man after a process of internal struggle, what we are looking for is a way to convince ourselves that our 'former' selves no longer matter and that we are free of the failures of the past – or even that the reference points of the past are entirely moot. In other words, all bets are off!
This mode of thought is already prevalent in modern culture, in the post-ideology, post-history, post-narrative era of the 21st century. We aren't looking for answers or solutions or conclusions; such things only exist in structures of closed thought that nobody but totalitarian fanatics believe in anymore. There is no grand game or project to advance and nothing means anything anymore. So in a way, all bets are off everywhere. We can all reinvent ourselves as often and many times as we like!
The essence, then, is to cleanse ourselves of our old ideas, frailties and thought systems and rebuild ourselves anew. What often stops us is a sentimental or serious attachment to our old selves, and only by realising that those have no intrinsic merit can we really overcome that. We take ourselves too seriously – we shouldn't.
So, this year don't be afraid or reticent about the purging and changing of the self; instead, weaponise yourself, be ruthless and unsentimental about making the changes you need to make to reinvent yourself, and hurl yourself into the new. It's all a natural process, and although the process of applying your thoughts to disconnect from your own baggage can be long and arduous it is nonetheless vital for all that. And baggage makes a very useful source of fuel in these winter months - so as they say in Jamaica, 'more fire!' And also, a happy new year to you all.