from The Psychology of Liberty
CHAPTER EIGHT: THE MENTAL ESSENTIALS OF CHANGE
Throughout this book we have discovered that there is more to liberty than a logical political philosophy; there is more to politics than just politics. Emotional barriers to truth in issues such as ethics are indeed important factors concerning freedom. A failure to identify and face various feelings shows the impact that evaluations can have on mental clarity.
If a person were to feel uncomfortable with the earlier discussion about selfishness, for instance, he or she might reject the whole argument based on a subconscious signal that it does not feel right. In order to avoid inner disruption, he or she might conclude that the problem lies with the others argument (or even person). After all, to dismiss another persons ideas as wrong requires less effort than to find exactly what the truth is. Additionally, such a maneuver does not upset ones view of things, which one might interpret as a challenge to ones ability to deal with reality effectively (which one knows is imperative to live). So safety may mean adjusting many things to ones feelings and at the same time ignoring the real causes of those feelings, taking them as absolutes.
As we have seen, estrangement from ones inner world represents a pattern of disowning any feeling that is not consistent with ones belief system. Feelings often are not completely experienced, understood, and respected by the person. Hence, they are not seen as indicators of certain value-judgments that reveal aspects of self. This policy of course makes it difficult to utilize feelings to ones advantageto allow ones subconscious to convey what it actually thinks and feels. A numbing of feelings runs in accordance with denying the truth about some aspect of reality.
The methods by which a human being is able to protect itself from internal turmoil are quite numerous. Most can be reduced to the idea that defense of ones beliefs and subjective view of self is more important than identification and integration of the truth. Yet for well-being to be ensured and potentialities realized, peoples beliefs should always be validated by logic. Reality determines what our beliefs should be. This is essential to objectivity and, accordingly, to life itself.
Each of us is a complex integration of cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems. And in essential philosophical terms, in concert with our memories, we are the particular values and virtues we seek to actualize. The healthy values and virtues for human beings are those that maintain and benefit each person. Values can be considered the ends and virtues the means, and their suitability depends on how well we integrate reality.
As rational organisms with a mind that perceives reality in order to sustain ourselves, we all need to discover who we really are. We need to see why questioning aspects of who we think we are at times (like our beliefs) is extremely important to believing in ourselves; again, we are entities that perceive.
If we doubt our ability to perceive and, further, to conceptualize aspects of reality correctly (be they internal or external), we can end up doubting the very faculty that is doing the doubting. The contradiction here needs little elucidation: It is the dead end of self-doubt.
We ought to question what we believe when sound evidence or sensible arguments are contrary to those beliefsthat is, we ought to disagree with our past opinions when they prove incorrect. Strong feelings about ideas that run counter to our views are important indicators. In order to discover where the problems lie, we must scrutinize the issue. If we are opposed to these practices (or just apply them selectively), we are putting more trust in who we have been than in who we are. Yet we rely on our faculty in the present (i.e., who we are now) to distrust its own ability to formulate new opinions and beliefs. This is definitely the dead-end of self-distrust.
As individuals, we have to learn how to listen to our internal signals. They have much to tell us about ourselves, about others, and about the world. In order to understand we have to inspect. Since at any waking moment we are (among many other things) that which perceives, how we treat our ability to perceive will influence how far we excel in the process of conceptualization. How we deal with our past observations and conclusions (and feelings based on them) reflects a part of who we are and who we think we should beour self-concept. The beliefs supported by our self-concept can be questioned at any point in our existence.
Life should not entail defenses of pretenses. Contradictions are definitely not worth guarding at the expense of happiness, an enlightened self-concept, and a brilliant future. Because that which thinks, feels, acts, and judges in the present is the part of self in control of our life, we are constantly open to change and evolution. We change by letting go of that which resists change.
When we are seemingly overwhelmed by an emotional conflict, our assessments and evaluations of reality should be at the center of our attention. To allow emotions to dictate how we examine ideas is to basically negate the importance of that which perceives and thinks.
One can, for example, define and label oneself by the negative or unwanted emotions one experiences. To believe that bad feelings are who one is is an effective prescription for depression. But such a belief is certainly not accurate. Although feelings are a vital part of who one is, they certainly are not a person in total. Yet one can lock ones self-concept into a narrow view. One may even think that any outlook not consistent with this narrow view should be avoided or rejected.
So, we have the ability to cheat ourselves out of an optimal life. We can in a sense sell ourselves to others who really are clueless about how to live optimally. We can give this dreadful process all sorts of misleading names, such as: fitting in, being accepted, getting along, not hurting other peoples feelings, being considerate, caring for others, and so on. But some part of us will always make the betrayal known. The vision we glimpsed in childhood of what life could be is often too strong a force in our soul to be lost.
Seeing beyond our surface physical appearance and into our complex anatomy as an organism can help us to objectify the meaning of who we are. Looking further into the cells we are composed of can give us another perspectiveby showing all the amazingly diverse and complicated chemical processes occurring in each of us every second, keeping us alive. Inevitably though, we are that which exists, perceiving and thinking and feeling, having infinite worth based on this.
Our real self beckons to be exposed. It is past unwarranted fears and debilitating feelings, because it has understood and integrated the obvious: It is not afraid of the Law of Identity. One could call this part of self the sage self.14
By comprehending that ideas matter, we realize that life is not a transient game. Rather, life is that which creates all possibilities; it is the ultimate end in itself for each individual.
Since happiness is our highest moral purpose, we need to know what generates happiness.82 We have seen that an important task is to perceive and conceptualize reality in a noncontradictory fashion. This includes being in touch with our feelings, grasping and accepting their meanings. The positive emotional benefits of such introspection are commensurate with the eventual positive political effects that we have explored.
As addressed, a dominant theme in our culture involves taking human nature for granted. Many do not take the time to really question the culture, and many consider the given set of circumstances to be normal. Many, in a more or less frenetic and unthinking effort, simply follow the lead of others, who follow the lead of still others.
We have a definite choice whether to fall into the trap of a subjective cultural outlook that dissolves any meaningful hope of positive change. We can choose against settling into a semi-tolerable life that represents the dominant lifestyle of the age. However, some may find comfort in the belief that so many people certainly cannot be so wrong. Some may even seek refuge in majority opinions, such as public polls.
To put blinders on and perform our work and play, forgetful of new possibilities for ourselves and the world, can be both easy and enticing. After all, development of an exciting vision of life can sometimes be tough in a society that sometimes favors security over challenge, avoidance over inspection, dogmatic beliefs over facts. Any step forward in attaining this vision is a heroic achievement; it demands that one focus on the essentials of existence, instead of the endless particulars of the day or week or year.
In the hustle and bustle of everyday living, surrounded by a myriad of artificial conveniences, we can also lose sight that we are mortal beings on a magnificent planet, a planet that spins through space within a spiral arm of a colossal galaxy. A powerful feeling of wonder remains about these common and yet often trivialized facts. They stand in stark contrast to all that is inconsequential and insignificant in our life.
A change in the current conditions means a transformation in human psychology. To see ourselves mainly as members of a particular organization, race, religion, or country oftentimes invites trouble. It can lead to distinguishing and judging ourselves based on superficial standardssuch as how we look (our gender, our color, our size, the clothes we wear), where or how we live (our class or status), who our ancestors were (our heritage), or our communitys beliefs, language, and rituals (our ethnicity). These collective notions tend to identify us by nonessentials. They basically diminish what it means to be an individualwhich denies of the Law of Identity.
The United States has been called The Great Melting Pot precisely because of its great diversity of people, most of whom are able to live in harmony. A society that has a relative degree of free trade eventually acknowledges that all sorts of people are individuals seeking to improve and enjoy their conditions on Earth, regardless of their physical appearances or backgrounds. Our essential similarity is our reasoning mind.
Currently in America we are witnessing a general reversal of this enlightened viewpoint. As the size of government continues to grow, more rights (in the form of unjust laws, regulations, benefits, etc.) are granted to groups of people. To be a recipient of governmental special favors and privileges, one must identify oneself as a member of a group. Hence, insignificant group distinctions are claimed to be personally and politically significantin order to obtain what one wants and make people play fair (usually by force).
Notice that many individuals lobby for various minority rights instead of individual rights. Some prefer to coerce people to accept particular goals with the force of law, than to persuade them with ideas and examples. Yet psychological changes for the better do not happen at the threat of a rights-infringing lawsuit, fine, or jail cell. Psychological changes must happen within each person.
A life and a society of mediocrity cannot be considered an honest aspiration. It is the result of people denying their value and lacking trust in their mind. Actualization of our potential, no matter what our present level of knowledge, skills, and abilities, demands that we question what we feel we cannot do and be. To strive for greatness, irrespective of the outcome, does not mean to settle for less. Since we do in fact have only one invaluable life to live, we should stand by our own judgment with the conviction that nothing else is fully human and fully right.
The willingness to pull ourselves out of everyday consciousness and everyday reality is key. We have to see beyond the minor details and the daily happenings in our life. Yet to depart from the status quo can demand every possible resource from us. Many may think that any type of shining new society is just the wish of idealists and dreamers. Such pessimism upholds the status quoand avoids the realization that one has settled for less, psychologically and politically.
Those who resolutely say that true capitalism would not work are exposing not only a flawed sense of life but also an inaccurate conception of themselves in particular and human beings in general. The rationalizations persist about why force is preferable to persuasion, why coercion is better than trade. But one theme is common: the fear of freedom.
Often, fear of freedom translates into fear of fully actualizing ones potentials. And sometimes, a fear of self translates into a fear of people not being able to control themselves and obey the law. In truth, a fundamental lack of confidence in self-regulation promotes many irrational mentalities and unlawful actions (as well as the corresponding ineffectual responses to them).
Acceptance of the fact that we are in control of our future can help us believe in ourselves, and in others, to make the right decisions. What is entailed in this acceptance is the achievement of genuine self-esteemwhich entails psychological awareness and self-examination, as well as mental and behavioral alterations.
Thus, self-concept is connected to the idea of liberty. Yet, like many other philosophical ideas, liberty can be championed with various levels of self-esteem; full integration is not an automatic process. The task for us is to establish a congruence between the ideal society and the psychologies that should reflect it. In order to be psychologically convincing to ourselves and others, we must learn to practice what we preach; we must learn to believe in ourselves.
Believing in ourselves and the right to be free may sound simple, but like any acquisition of knowledge and skills, it requires effort. Because what is in question is the person who acquires knowledge and exerts effort, it can be one of the most demanding integrations. People sometimes elude this topic in a vain attempt to convince themselves and others that they have somehow mastered it. However, we all know that mastery does not come with evasion. Similar to athletics, one needs to concentrate on the fundamentals and practice thoroughly so that one can perform successfully. We have to prepare ourselves for what correct apprehension of reality entails.
Just as the Law of Causality cannot be bypassed, we do not acquire genuine self-esteem all at once. We may have strong feelings of efficacy in many areas of our life, which generate a high level of competency and proficiency. We need to begin with where we are psychologically. Using our various competencies (such as at work or with people) for support assists in making further global changes. Of course, to admit and accept all aspects of our present self-concept affects these actions. Choices can involve emotional factors that help or hinder. The choice to focus or not sometimes depends on our emotional disposition. So, an act of sheer will can be courageous.
The more often we choose to take necessary actions, the more we can enjoy the process of self-discovery (and vice versa). We can reach a point where healthy and adaptive choices become automatic. When our self-concept is aligned with reality so that we can listen to and interpret our internal signals properly, then we have attained a very important and realistic aspect of enlightenment.
Throughout this book we have seen how ideas and feelings shape the life and psychology of every human being. In effect, for human beings, ideas rule the world. They are involved in virtually any mental process, and serve as the means for further understanding. Actions are typically generated and accompanied by a set of ideas and images about the necessity and outcomes of those actions. Even actions that have become automatized were initially in conscious focus; only gradually did they become integrated and performed subconsciously.
As seen in other animals, simple perception will take an organism only so far. The sensory-perceptual mechanism is the foundation for all animals and is the precursor to the conceptual mechanism for humans. If perceptions are the stepping stones to all that is specifically human, then ideas are our bridge to the land of infinite possibilities. If our bridge is to be stable and trustworthy, and if it is to lead us to lands of delight, it needs to be inspected logically for flaws.
A system of the broadest ideas concerning human beings and reality, a philosophy, acts as the most profound guide for us. The effectiveness of this guide depends on how explicitand, therefore, how well thought-outit is. However, its usefulness and beneficialness depends on how logical and objective it is. Those who shun a large part of the intellectual realm rarely make their philosophy explicit. Nevertheless, like those who do, they can usually articulate some of the key points. Articulation of the key points in ones own philosophy (or anothers) can be done with calmness and clarity, or with authoritarian belligerence; with a respectful tone, or with hostile defensiveness; with a persuasive assurance, or with an unconvincing meekness; with a brilliant sense of life, or with a cold or mocking attitude; with a hopeful enthusiasm, or with a depressing cheerlessness. All of these presentations are, of course, effects of ones personal psychology.
The certain illogic of a particular philosophy may also directly hamper or support some of these presentations. For instance, explicit false premises about the nature of knowledge (such as, No one can be absolutely certain of anything) or of human beings and society (such as, The individual is just a cog in the whole system) or of morality (such as, Being selfless is a virtue) can affect the emotional state of the person overtly. Unsure premises about the meaning of reality can influence emotional states too (such as, Things will be better in the next life). Of course, various feelings tend to influence the formulation of such premises too.
In actuality, emotional effects and causes rely on how the premises are utilized by the person in his or her psychological context. Each person has an enormous network of identifications and evaluations about countless aspects of reality. In order to make relevant connections, he or she must view the process as beneficial, and therefore be motivated to do so. Personal context largely determines the meaning of parts and/or the whole of a persons philosophy. How one interprets the significance of ones fundamental ideas typically affects the degree to which ones psychology, and thus behavior, will be influenced in any particular context.
Philosophys primary role in psychology is mainly one of validation, justification, and explanation of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Ones view of self and reality is thereby outlined. Obviously, the political branch of philosophy could not be discussed coherently without attention given to the branches upon which it dependsmetaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and even esthetics (the fifth and final branch). By ascertaining where we are, how we know it, and what we should do as a consequence (and what is beautiful about life), we can learn how we should live together; we can understand the best ways to interact harmoniously on this planet.
As we have noticed, acceptance and integration of the logical political philosophy can be challenging; many obstacles can impede clarity. Philosophies with much divergent views of self, knowledge, and reality can be used for the exact opposite of what philosophy was properly intended. The purpose of philosophy is mainly to offer an integrated, comprehensible system of ideas to facilitate mental growth and happiness. Instead, philosophies oftentimes are used to uphold and reinforce unhealthy psychological states as well as inappropriate or harmful behavior. In other words, they are used as systems of rationalization.80 Philosophies of this sort do not truly benefit the individual. Implicitly (or explicitly) they are designed to deny aspects of reality and the nature (and therefore, the requirements) of a rational organism. This leads us directly to psychologys role in philosophy.
Since psychology comprises all the processes of the mind, it necessarily encompasses the study of how (and why) an idea or system of ideas is used by a rational organism. The way in which ideas affect emotions and emotions affect ideas has been one of the central issues in previous chapters. We have seen how fallacies and mistaken premises can lead a person to minimizing the meaning of logical identification. We have also seen how an initial lack of knowledge can lead to acceptance of various fallacies and mistaken premises. Accordingly, emotions such as anger, fear, or anxiety can impel an individual to accept and advocate mistaken ideas that seem to diminish (or to strengthen) those particular emotional states. Of course, contradictory ideas can never remedy the root causes of the emotions. Contradictions only prevent inspection of the root causes. But beneath all the complex debate or exhaustive excuses is a certain psychology with a definite view of life and view of itself.
At times, we can try to protect ourselves from the real psychological issues. In a variety of ways, we can attempt to allay our reservations about asking and then answering certain questions: Do I (or should I) believe in myself? Am I a truly independent being? Do I have a right to exist for my own sake and my own happiness? Am I an end in myself (as opposed to the means to someone elses end)? Is reality solid and realand knowable? Is my life finite and therefore of the highest importance? Can I know things for certain? Are there ultimate truths? Are there absolutes, such as life and death? Can I trust my mind? Can I rely on my own judgment? In the end, these are the real topics, the essentials, of any political or philosophical discussion.
Numerous defense mechanisms can be exercised to disregard mistaken identifications and evaluations. If one has preexisting doubts about ones worth, the realization that one has not been functioning optimally can be agonizing. Consequently, one may replace the search for truth with avoidance of truth or pretense, which is clearly the dead-end of the denial of self-worth. A rational organism can only gain and prosper from honesty, because falsehood is the antithesis of mental integration and reality.
We have observed that in order to make sense of our ideas, we need to understand how emotions are created and how they can influence us. Learning how to deal with our feelings concerning any experience (especially in the realm of our beliefs) marks a kind of evolution in psychology that has been mostly absent throughout human history. The denial and disowning of feelings and being controlled and driven by them depict two sides of the same problematic behavior; both avoid comprehension of human evaluation. Without a doubt this behavior has been most responsible for the retardation of societal progress (both psychological and political).
The best, most logical ideas in the universe are often useless to a person who is out of touch with his or her inner self and emotional world. Deep (often unadmitted) feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and self-doubt are costly. Yet I dispute that anyone in this age can mature without experiencing at least some aspects of these feelings. First, they can arise from the nature of a volitional consciousness and, second, others can provide quite negative influences (especially for children) in regard to reaching the right conclusions. Accordingly, we all need to learn what to do about them, which requires us to admit to ourselves that they exist. This simple activity is the first step in aligning ourselves with realityand therefore with the truth.
Enlightenment hinges on the quantity and quality of identifications (both emotional and intellectual) that we make. Ultimately the quest for enlightenment becomes the real crux of the idea, because human conceptualization is limitless. We will never have thought or envisioned enough in our life. The mindset for this quest can only be acquired by much thoughtboth introspective and extrospective thought. Such thought is necessary for any great achievement an individual or the human race makes.
The ideal society is basically one of liberated and enlightened people. Self-Governing Capitalism will arise because it is an ideal that is attainable. It is a visionand integrationof the proper and the practical.
So this is the psychology of liberty: to find the best within us and direct it into reality, project it onto a society. A turning point in humanity will occur as a result. So many things can be said about this occurrence and about what can cause it, but what matters are the basics. One of the basics is that we have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Another basic is that drifting along in a mental fog will definitely not bring any of us enlightenment. Nor will it help us to survive and prosper in a society of justice. Yet another is that mental and political transformation in our society can only happen through an intellectual and psychological revolutionthrough active education of ourselves and others.
The Age of Logic is within our grasp. It should happen in our lifetime, because we deserve it. No lives are more precious and no other time matters for us. As with any kind of change, it must start with the individual. And this always involves that which is distinctively human: a choice.
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