I think of the ego as a special program that runs in the physical mind of the “reality spacesuit” our true self wears in order to live and make its way within material reality. This reality space suit consists of both the physical body and mind. This physical mind thinks for itself (analogous to a computer) independent of the true self. Unless practiced, the true self has difficulty distinguishing between its own thoughts and the thoughts of the physical mind. The ego (as I said) is a special program running in the computer-like physical mind and was originally a tool designed for self-protection. Unfortunately, like HAL in Clarke’s / Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the ego became a tool that superseded its usefulness.
There is a point in childhood when a person abandons his true self ceding control of the physical mind to the ego. The child does this strategizing that the ego will provide greater protection from the aggressive forces of physical reality. At some point the young adult realizes that the protection the ego offered was illusory or came with too high a price. Much of adult life then becomes an effort to reclaiming his true self back from the ego (perhaps analogous to the astronaut Dave shutting down HAL in 2001). This process always begins with the realization of the ego’s true nature. Along with this realization comes the awareness of how deceptive the ego can be, how it operates through shame (and pride), and how ultimately self-defeating its methods truly are. The most important realization in this process is that the ego’s thought are not the true self’s thoughts.
One stumbling block standing in the way of this realization is loyalty. Because the ego dominated / shame based mind feels the need to remain loyal to the forces that keep it imprisoned it takes a supreme amount of effort for it to cast this loyalty aside. To do so feels immoral, irresponsible, undisciplined, selfish and brings about more shame. This usually works to create and repeat a cycle of lashing out and then feeling remorseful. Within this cycle the physical mind does not progress past its egoic confines. The cycle itself is the prison the ego creates for the true self and is the mechanism by which the ego maintains control. This is not to say that loyalty is a bad quality, indeed I believe it is good. However, the ego uses loyalty as a means of control and manipulation of its host mind.
Finally, the ego is self replicating. It performs this function through shame. By being shamed, a person feels the need to protect himself and thus creates his own ego (or perhaps cedes control of his physical mind to the ego). Then, having been shamed himself, the ego convinces him that the only way to feel better about himself is to seek out other people to shame. Once he does this new egos are then spawned in the shaming victims’ physical minds and the process repeats itself over and over.
In chapter eleven we come to the Tower of Babel where all the people of the world speak one language and attempt to build a tower so tall that it reaches heaven. God becomes concerned that if they complete this project they will somehow threaten him. God’s solution is to make mankind speak all different kinds of languages thus making them confused and unable to work together. The project is subsequently abandoned.
I find this story similar to the story where Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge. In both stories God does not want man to get too close to God even though God made man in his own image and supposedly endowed him with free will. In a sense God is like the shame ego in Genesis. He is conflicted. On the one hand he creates man with seemingly genuine affection. On the other hand he sabotages man’s efforts to grow and becomes wildly angry and wrathful when man screws up. God seems to be afraid that man might become too powerful. This ancient story of the creation becoming more powerful than the creator is played out in 2001 A Space Odyssey where man’s tools, at first a bone used to break other bones and eventually a computer that controls life support on a spaceship threaten man’s existence.
This conflict can be explained in that Genesis is a compilation of several different sources written by different authors with different perspectives. As such it makes sense that God might appear to have different personalities in different stories. Although there are stories in Genesis where God appears conflicted with himself in the same story.
The Gnostic interpretation of God in Genesis is that he in fact is not God but rather the demiurge, a lesser being who created the world and trapped man within his creation. In the Gnostic world man is trying to wake up within this matrix, understand the true nature of his confinement and ultimately escape through the agency of this awareness. See gnosis.org for a fascinating treasure trove of information on the Gnostic tradition. I especially recommend the audio lectures by Bishop Stephan Hoeller.
In some ways God acts like an alcoholic father in Genesis. He lashes out unpredictably and then becomes apologetic (as with Noah). He never admits fault and man is expected to love him, indeed to worship him. And when man has a problem with this situation, man is to blame. It is no win situations such as these that give rise to the shame ego. In order to be right with God, man has to accept that he is wrong.
In truth, man is innocent. Man did not ask to be brought into this existence under these circumstances. It is curious that nakedness is considered shameful. We see this with Adam and Eve and again with Noah. It is also curious that free will is associated with shame. Nakedness (i.e., man’s true self hidden under his outward appearance) is shameful. Gaining knowledge is wrong. Reaching for the heavens is wrong. It could be argued that in the Book of Genesis God himself is shame.