Even the most hardened sociopath, in the most viciously Darwinian of domains (like, say, a Wall Street trader, or an academic studying “critical theory”), has a self-image with a precious-snowflake aspect to it. This is the part of you that you see most clearly when you stare into a mirror. You see yourself as you were when you were a child. You don’t notice the extra chins and jowls that come with age, or the extra padding in the wrong places. You don’t notice the stray gray hairs, the tiredness in the eyes, or the wrinkles. You stare into the mirror, and the face of the child you once were stares back, through the worn shell of the adult. You might even strike a pose or make an expression that exaggerates the illusion. The child is not idealized or romanticized, however. It is the real past-you,whether you were the resentful and angry kind of kid, or the happy-go-lucky kind. It takes conscious effort to snap back to reality and see and feel yourself as you are now. This is why it is particularly jarring to watch video footage of yourself. Unlike the image in the mirror, the person on the video playback screen is not a puppet you can control. Video playback breaks the illusion of being the child within, because it is footage of you at a different time, performing adulthood without the child on display, or active in awareness.

So you think, do I really look and sound like that? Or if you’re in a more maudlin mood, is this who I’ve become? It’s not just in-head acoustics versus how you are heard, or the posture you feel versus the posture you strike. It’s the fact that the person out there, performing, is not the person you feel when you look inside. There is something it is like to be you, on the inside, and it is not that person out there. This child — a sort of Freudian id++ — embodies the precious snowflake.

It must be killed periodically if you are to keep on living. It will almost always come back to life, so it must be killed every few years, as it steadily regains strength. So long as you do this with disciplined regularity, the precious snowflake part of you will remain a valuable part of your psyche, but never in control. But if you let it grow unchecked, it will consume the rest of you, driving you to clueless, self-absorbed, uncreative narcissism.

Venkatesh Rao, Crash Early, Crash Often