from The Psychology of Liberty
by Wes Bertrand © 2000, copylefted 2007

CHAPTER SIX: THE PSYCHOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF FREEDOM

A Mental Shift Towards Independence

By now, it is probably apparent that our cultural/economic state of affairs is relatively simple to remedy politically—if one values justice and rights. But it is exceptionally difficult to remedy if one disvalues these (or at least lacks knowledge of their significance). In order to seek valid remedies for the ills of our culture, people must maintain their independence. Various forms of dependence in many facets of life gradually can become the complacent norm when individuals relinquish personal control.

Dependence for adults—be it financial, intellectual, or psychological—should never be considered beneficial. The real dilemma is that people know this, at least on some cognitive/emotional level, and yet they still accept dependence. Hence, the issue becomes one of honesty, integrity, and self-esteem.

Dependence, of course, should not be confused with another relational term, interdependence, which implies such things as working together, living together, learning together, enjoying each other’s company (through sharing values and getting needs met), and so forth. People in society can be interdependent without being dependent—for interdependence can and should exist among independent people. Such people respect themselves and respect others.

Acknowledging one’s knowledge and knowing one’s value are not automatic processes, at least not consciously automatic. If dependency issues are avoided consciously for emotional reasons, then naturally the subconscious deals with them by its own methods. Dependence may become a predominant emotional theme in one’s patterns of thought and behavior.

We can always question our ability to be independent entities. As a result, we must appreciate the practice of examining both conscious and subconscious conclusions and interpretations, as well as the emotional evaluations that reflect them. Such appreciation plays a major role in the meaning of independence for us as individuals and for our civilization.

The typical psychology that would arise and flourish in a capitalistic society is one that upholds logical thinking. We have seen that this process is necessary for happiness and enlightenment. Contrary to common dogma, logical thinking is a process that ensures a healthy and exuberant emotional state. The literature portraying that reason and logic constrain and limit emotion and passion sets up a false dichotomy between thought and emotion. Such a stance promotes the belief that our inner world is naturally one of contrary faculties. Of course, for thought and emotion to be actually in opposition, mental integration must be disfavored and logic abandoned.

In a capitalistic society, a new independent psychology would arise on account of a continuous flow of ideas that upheld thinking and subsequent mental health as primaries. The free market, schools in particular, would reveal the radiance of a new era in human intellectual evolution.

Independent psychologies flourish in constant interaction with other minds. Vitality for enjoying values is part of their personalities of confidence, respect, and emotional spontaneity. Consequently, such people naturally express excitement about themselves and their experiences. They know that life is invaluable. They also understand that ideas are one of the most important aspects of human existence. They realize that facts are a primary concern for a consciousness whose distinctive form of survival relies on the identification and evaluation of facts.

Capitalism is an attainable reality for the human race. Essentially, it will arise when the contradictory ideas that have inhibited society lose their psychological appeal. Of course, the meanings of these contradictory ideas need to be illuminated on a widespread basis. Intransigent people united by fundamental principles ought not expect anything other than an enlightened society. Really, the kinds of psychologies that would arise and flourish in such a society are also needed today to create it.

 

Financial independence generally promotes healthy relationships. It is typically the culmination of both personal initiative and long range, thoughtful action. Its achievement can be viewed not only as proper, but also as enjoyable. What is sometimes puritanically called “hard work” is really honest effort at achieving cherished values. However, absent true capitalism, this perspective sometimes gets lost.

In today’s societies, financial independence at times might feel like a duty or a burden, rather than a meaningful aspect of one’s existence. Scorn directed at having to work and make money is often accompanied by a daydream of a paradise where no labor is needed. Clearly, fears of not being able to function competently may foster such attitudes. The idea of fully valuing oneself then becomes significant. Yet countervailing forces can interfere with this idea.

People may not expect greatness or excellence in themselves or others, and individuals may fail to broaden their horizons. Our culture also sometimes outlines unthinking and obedient drudgery (and a narrow job description) as a necessary part of work. Some employers even try to prod employees into better performance with rewards (such as incentive plans) and punishments (such as poor evaluations). They thereby bolster the belief that most people need to be motivated by others, externally, to perform well and be creative. However, the alleged merit of these tactics of “pop behaviorism,” has (like in education and parenting) been disconfirmed repeatedly by the evidence. Numerous studies indicate that such external control measures diminish creativity, decrease interest, foster dependency, and beget the perceived “need” for their continued use.48 Additionally, that they are morally repugnant nearly goes without saying.

When people are unwilling to acknowledge the true import of their existence and their relationships, they can be treated as means to other people’s ends. The toxic nature of contradictions tends to seep into all defenseless areas. Following the unexamined and unquestioned routines set forth by others may even generate a feeling of resentment towards the whole of the market system. Of course, this does nothing to change the given psychologies that contribute to this unfortunate atmosphere.

A mixed economy (i.e., one that permits government to initiate force in the market) tends to forward the mindset that most work is unwelcome toil, and that trying to make money is both frustrating and emotionally tiring. Many have the feeling that their work and existence are not about sustained enjoyment; rather, they are about survival—that is, “making ends meet”; basically in the end, death and taxes win.

Because a mixed economy has been coercively throttled, fulfilling jobs and nourishing opportunities may seem scarce, pay may be inadequate, and the future may at times look bleak. Many people decide this to be just a natural part of life. They may proceed to toil in an unscrutinized routine, or they may deny the magnitude of this situation by saying, for instance, “Things are not really as bad as they seem because, overall, life is what you make of it; so cheer up and try to enjoy things.” Clearly, both approaches disregard the possibility that conditions can and will get significantly better. Although both admit that the world could use some major improvements, “politics as usual” will prevent them from happening.

Of course, any of us can escape from the potential immensity of our political situation. For instance, we can involve ourselves in many pleasurable and amusing activities: nights and weekends of relaxation or recreation, and hours spent with numerous treasured avocations. But if our occupations require little thought beyond the immediate environment, we can lose hope of changing our existential predicament. In this issue ignorance is by no means bliss. It obviously cannot alter our social and political context.

Neither depressing pessimism nor unwarranted optimism is the answer to the problems that afflict civilization and affect people’s mental outlook and behavior. Only an understanding of the basic flaws in current political philosophy (and modern philosophy in general) together with a high degree of psychological awareness will dramatically change our conditions. In contrast to a common assumption, what most people experience day in and day out is not all there is to life. It certainly does not represent all the possibilities of human psychology and human relationships.

 

In addition to upholding the virtues of financial independence, a capitalistic society would encourage people to be intellectually independent. The ability to discriminate among the typical assortment of ideas and propositions is essential to achieving inner-peace, confidence, and self-reliance. Instead of just accepting cultural ideas, people would realize the crucial need to go further. They would examine whether or not particular ideas are logical or illogical, and investigate why people readily accept or reject those ideas. Individuals would critically reflect on observable events and theoretical propositions, knowing that at any point one can reach a wrong assessment.

A society that valued correct ideas would value intellectual integrity. People in a capitalistic society would greatly value facts. They would see that their lives and health depended on it. To further confirm this conclusion, they could refer to any history book.

Naturally, people who are aligned with reality are those who benefit from it, because they can adapt to it proficiently. They do not fear what needs to be faced (internally and externally). They are not reluctant to name what needs to be named. To feel comfortable (and in many cases, delight) with identifying and discussing attributes, experiences, and characteristics of our environment and ourselves both expresses and clarifies who we are. It is a main way of making our life completely real.

A psychological climate of avoidance, evasion, and general ignorance diminishes our life. In contrast, intellectual (and psychological) independence allows us to put the whole spectrum of negative emotions into proper context. Feelings of shame, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, guilt, worry, awkwardness, pain, hostility, and so on, become largely understood and are then dealt with appropriately. Individuals in a free society would understand finally, and would have integrated subconsciously, that the human organism cannot truly gain anything through evasion, repression, and rationalization.

Of course, what is presupposed in these predictions is that children are shown the necessities of psychological health, the necessities of self-esteem—such as self-reliance, self-expression, self-assertion, self-responsibility, and self-acceptance. Children would be reared to integrate, for example, the self-esteem enhancing practices formulated, discussed, and illustrated in The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.15

Learning how to make sense of one’s inner world and rely on personal resources to cope with emotional vicissitudes would be customary in an enlightened era. (Contrast this to the social atmosphere in many junior or senior high schools today, in which inappropriate behavior and recklessness (often inaccurately characterized by adults as being “a part of adolescence”) frequently holds sway.)

The social or human sciences would enlighten individuals about thinking in terms of principles, using their minds excellently, and being able to effectively face any hardship, deal with any obstacle, and resolve any conflict—be it internal or external. Hence, the young would develop of a level of confidence and courage necessary for mental and physical health.

Since the humanities would be grounded in logical epistemology and objective metaphysics, the moral values of authentic self-esteem and happiness would be extolled. A conceptual being plainly cannot move forward intellectually in any significant way by denying its power to make the world comprehensible. Correspondingly, it cannot move forward psychologically in any significant way by undercutting its ability to know and affirm its own value.

Teenage individuals would now have the psychological answers to questions that were implicit in all their searches for a mature sense of identity. Since their intrinsic capability and self-worth would be respected by elders, their minds would now be back in their own possession. They could look ahead to a life of unlimited horizons.

Indeed, philosophical and psychological transformations in junior and senior high school may be the central key to relatively swift societal transformation. To effect major cultural and political change in a generation or two, such a systemic approach in education is perhaps best. Adolescence is the time when opinions are being formed, ideologies are being shaped, and psychologies are being modified and solidified.

 

Within a culture of high self-esteem and self-awareness, visibility with others would be common. Feeling visible means having one’s thoughts and behavior responded to in a fashion similar to how one would authentically respond to one’s own self; it is basically about feeling understood. People who react consonantly with reality and appropriately to one’s context of thoughts, emotional conditions, and actions become unclouded and undistorted mirrors for each other.11 They acknowledge and honor the fact that we all perceive the same reality (i.e., objective reality). Though sometimes our subjective contexts or perspectives may be at odds, the underlying reality is still recognized.

So, with nearly everyone we encountered, we would be provided more opportunities for personal growth and significant experiences throughout life. This would be a veritable springboard for realizing our potentials. Undoubtedly, great changes in humans’ understanding of themselves and the cosmos would take place. Such a spiritual awakening would have advantages for virtually every human achievement. The historic nineteenth century Industrial Revolution—and even our present computer and information age—would be viewed somewhat as child’s play.

The ability to be psychologically independent is definitely involved in the preceding description of visibility. Psychological independence entails the realization that each of us is alone in the world, metaphysically speaking. And further, it means that no one from the distant wishes of our childhood is coming to take care of us or fix our problems.15 Ultimately, each person is responsible for his or her own happiness. Emotions, accordingly, are not to be viewed as incomprehensible, unchangeable absolutes—they are not to be viewed as irreducible primaries.

To be mentally healthy, an individual must be cognizant of what he or she thinks and feels. This self-understanding is, of course, an acquired trait. In order to achieve any high degree of self-awareness, one must concentrate on what is emanating from within. This necessarily requires an examination of one’s subconscious premises.

While we have discussed repeatedly the importance of understanding the workings of the subconscious, this can be accomplished only by first-hand experience—actively working with the best methods available. This involves utilization of the techniques of psychotherapy, be it alone or with assistance. Much like staying physically fit, knowledge and use of the proper equipment and activities helps immeasurably. Even though mental therapy does not have to be a constant routine for most people, the acquisition of certain skills is vital.

Some techniques of introspection were listed in a previous section with various psychotherapeutic approaches. A couple more approaches deserve brief mention here. Objectivist psychotherapy, like many other therapies, incorporates useful aspects of various other approaches (Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy being one of them).41 In addition to explicitly viewing one’s thoughts as primaries, and one’s feelings as outcomes of one’s thinking (both conscious and subconscious), this type of therapy addresses the philosophical side of psychology. Belief systems and ethical codes can be examined with the tool of logical reasoning.

Lastly, Nathaniel Branden has devised a powerful technique, remarkable in both its effectiveness and efficiency. Called sentence completion exercises, or sentence stems, they are designed to facilitate self-exploration on a subconscious level.e.g.,13&14 These practices (oral or written) enable circumvention of the perennial psychological problem of conscious censorship of subconscious information. In so doing, they allow one to grasp what is definitely happening just beneath explicit conscious activity, however vague or sketchy or fleeting it may be. This consequently makes it possible for one to work to change various root contradictions——instead of dismissing, avoiding, and ignoring them (which incidentally is a battle one cannot win).

Psychotherapeutic exercises do not so much immediately fix contradictory subconscious premises and evaluations, as allow a person to see and apprehend them. What one thinks and interprets barely below the explicitly conscious level of awareness affects feelings and behavior. By drawing subconscious thought out of the periphery of awareness into conscious light (e.g., by putting it on paper), one can begin to “rewire” subconscious habits—that is, if a person deems it worth the effort; one has to decide to be courageous enough to put forth the effort.

Mental rewiring takes the form of redevelopment and transformation of thoughts and evaluations, via heightened awareness of them. With this comes the implementation of newly understood methods of thinking and patterns of behavior. Emotional troubles and behavior patterns that seem deeply entrenched or “institutionalized” (also called conditioned responses) are usually those carried from early childhood. They are typically the most challenging too, because they have not really been consciously challenged. So, they require continuous at first, then occasional, focus and reworking.

In order to solidify changes and incorporate new psychological knowledge into everyday living, appropriate self-assertion is key—both for causing and maintaining changes. Without self-assertion, it is very difficult to convince oneself that one has indeed changed in any significant way (which is definitely counterproductive to the whole process).

While psychotherapy is still evolving from its infancy, it stands as the practical application of the science of psychology; it is the technology of psychology (its engineering field, if you will). Despite psychotherapy’s capabilities, self-examination, like common extrospection and life itself, is a self-initiated and self-maintained process. To be effective, it requires an act of will, a choice, and many subsequent choices.

Self-examination, at times, can be confusing and emotionally difficult. There may be potent disincentives to begin and continue the inner journey, the voyage into the self. A person may have reservations about where this exploration is heading. Many even think it is a waste of time—time that could be spent dealing with more “real” things. And many may wonder whether it will uncover terrifying or disturbing “deep dark secrets” about self. In fact this is how a large part of the self can remain a mystery, why inner secrets can remain so.

As sentient beings, we have an incredible talent for avoiding aversive stimuli, which means that we often quickly avoid what is unpleasant, painful, or frightening. This avoidant behavior itself is reinforcing: It diminishes the need to deal with discomfiting feelings. However, what is painful psychologically must be treated differently than what is painful physically. Rather than avoid what is causing psychological pain, we must move toward and face it. This allows us to deal with it, understand and integrate it, and hopefully work to remedy it.

Introspection asks that we have self-discipline, and that we develop a knack for identifying subconscious activity, the subtleties in our feelings, and the messages in our behavior. It also entails a healthy appetite for the whole process. Sometimes—depending on our particular situation or circumstance—a psychotherapist can aid much in achieving the desired degree of psychological clarity. Similar to a dear friend, he or she can act as a realistic as well as empathetic mirror for us, so that we may better see, understand, and function with others, the world, and ourselves. As an objective third party, he or she can also help us process thoughts and emotions resulting from various experiences or stages in our life. At times, we may be less aware of what others can see more clearly, and they can offer us valuable insights.

Psychological clarity asks that we not take unwanted or debilitating emotions for granted (or succumb to the effects of the sometimes-painful experiences of childhood). We have finally reached an era in which the importance of psychological clarity has emerged as a prominent theme in popular culture. At no other time has there been so much focus on the self and its need for intelligibility or change. Just observe the abundance of self-help books, lectures, and seminars.

Despite this, many may still think that psychotherapeutic aid is either unnecessary or merely for those less fortunate (something just for psychotics, social misfits, and/or mental weaklings). They might reject the notion that every human being is in need of this respectful treatment of self. This might be an attempt to justify as normal a less than optimal psychological predicament; it might be a way to deny any therapeutic benefits of assisted (or even unassisted) introspection.

Some may think that to admit to having difficulty with introspection and that assistance could be beneficial is undignified; they may think (or intuitively feel) that it somehow degrades the noble and heroic in them. Presumably, the idea of absolute self-sufficiency in this arena may be more important to them than responsible self-awareness. Some may even be more concerned with the perceived psychological disparity between the therapist and themselves than concerned with the particular techniques involved. They may feel that the therapist has “mastered” something they have not.

Effective psychotherapy addresses the ideas of being good enough, capable, and worthy in principle. So naturally, self-doubt can foster a variety of attempts to alleviate the potential anxiety it causes. The anxiety about lacking self-esteem can dissuade us from taking psychotherapeutic action. (Of course, a fundamental self-doubting attitude can be furthered if psychotherapists lack an understanding of their task or make it seem, however subtly, like they are treating invalids. I would hazard to guess that many therapists have, at one time or another, used their services to create an air of superiority for themselves; this may have filled voids in their own self-concept. Moreover, if a therapist advocates a contradictory philosophy, basic self-doubt can become much harder to resolve.)

Instead of viewing anxiety solely from the standpoint of self-esteem deficiency, one can objectify this issue in terms of contradictions in one’s self-concept. One’s concept of self is a vast mental world. One can have a higher level of self-efficacy in some aspects of one’s life and yet be deficient in others. To be sure, parts of our subconscious may need some work. But this says nothing disparaging about the person engaged in the quest of resolving contradictions. What is really required, then, is an enlightened perspective on our self-esteem: We must generate confidence in our capability to resolve any and all contradictions that lie before us, no matter how troubling they may be. This is truly the noble and heroic.

We now live in a world in which we are shown and told that our fundamental worthiness and right to exist for our own sake are actually debatable topics. Consequently, many people spend time trying to prove to themselves and others either that these topics are in fact unsettled, or that they are not important. But this self-esteem issue is not erased by avoiding it; this only impedes reflection on its meaning and disguises the meaning of all the activity that results from its avoidance.

In spite of these potential problems, either assisted or unassisted introspection allows us to concentrate on the psychological processes at work within ourselves—which are bearing on our thoughts and feelings of efficacy and worth. Psychotherapeutic methods can increase our awareness and widen our view of the world and ourselves; hence, they can brighten our future. If we are to advance psychologically in any remarkable way, we must focus on the reality of the situation.

Doubting our worth (or trying to prove that we are “enough”) is intrinsically invalidating and self-refuting. The dilemma we create for ourselves involves self-denial. By virtue of existing, we are enough. By virtue of being parts of the universe, we are worthy of any experience. Any belief to the contrary is contradictory.

To not believe in oneself as capable of functioning and worthy of any experience, undercuts one’s very nature as a rational animal. Since the act of doubting presupposes the use of one’s judgment, in effect one judges one’s own judgment and efficacy as wrong. This is clearly the supreme cognitive dead-end of self-doubt; it promptly stifles consciousness.

Analogous to the stolen concept fallacy, we can use our mind to deny our own mental efficacy. The rub is that, subconsciously, this process can turn into a vicious cycle: We can end up surrendering our self and thoughts to emotions evoked by our initial surrender of thought. This may also lead to relinquishment of self to others, who then dictate and influence us to their liking—although, they might be performing a variation of the same psychological practice.

 

To not know oneself more than superficially is to not fully live as one is capable. Anything that is important involves demands. When we focus on that very entity which ascribes importance and creates demands, we are asked to examine that which examines. Psychology, like all sciences, needs to be grasped in plain and clearly objective terms, so that we can eschew being dishonest with ourselves. Discovering long-kept psychological secrets does a great deal to bring honesty into our life. It promotes alignment with reality, which is the central path to enlightenment.

In an enlightened society that honored the ethics of rational self-interest, feelings of loneliness and alienation—as well as the common reaction to it, a clinging to the group, to others, for support and guidance—would be replaced by authentic sharing of thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Financial, intellectual, and psychological independence would be attainable conditions, because people would understand that rational thought and proper action are needed for achieving good values of any kind.

From an early age, children would be shown concrete examples of this. They would learn that psychological exercises aimed at understanding one’s subconscious and emotional world are for everyone (rather than for “irregular” or “abnormal” people). People would mature knowing that true courage and strength are evidenced by a willingness to feel and think deeply about life—as well as to allow ourselves to be comfortable with expressing our excitement and happiness.

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