This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 959 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

It's O.K. If You Hate Me

Photo by Denis Pepin.

It seems that the battle between the conscience and the insecure ego is playing itself out around us all the time. It is the theme of our times and it has been the story of our history from the very beginning. And, surely, it is not just around us but within us that the battle rages.

I feel myself torn. Those who play the conscience of our times articulate the realities of our situation ecologically and socially. While they may not always get it right, they are pointing to things which cannot be dismissed without burying one’s head dangerously in the sand.

On the other hand, when such individuals inspire even violent hatred, that is not something alien to me. I identify with those who feel this way. I feel it in me too. Preach at me. Tell me what is wrong with me. Remind me of the things I deep down know are true but desperately wish were not true. And I’ll wish you were dead.

This dilemma is the story of our species. What we need in order to behave lovingly towards each other is self-acceptance. From this comes our ability to be generous, open, spontaneous and honest. But an unforgiving insistence on such behaviour means that our self-acceptance is progressively undermined by feelings of guilt. Beyond a certain point, the more the conscience insists, the more the ego resists.

Selfishness is the natural self-directedness of the suffering or insecure organism. Thus guilt, far from correcting the totality of our behaviour, makes us selfish.

And the dictatorial demands of the conscience on the selfish individual generate malevolence - the desire to revenge ourselves on the critical voice by doing something ever worse.

Of course we couldn’t do without the conscience. We needed to have some concept of what loving behaviour would look like which could continue to exist in our minds long after the love needed to realise it had died from our hearts. If we had been able to forgive our failures to meet that standard, then that love would never have died, but we have never been able to forgive ourselves enough.

The history of the human race has been one of great courage, determination and initiative. When we think back at the dangers and challenges our ancestors met head on and the terrible suffering they experienced, and inflicted upon each other, it is remarkable that beings of mere flesh and blood could persist through all that.

As Hamlet said, “…conscience does make cowards of us all.” Historically we persisted against the odds partly because we repressed our conscience. Our conscience would tell us that it was wrong to conquer, to steal and to oppress. But we did it anyway. If we had followed our conscience exclusively we would probably be living in huts in the jungle eating nuts and berries - without science and without the benefits of technology.

This doesn’t mean we could or should continue to live a life of conscience-suppressing domination. We just don’t want to lose the spirit and courage which we will need to meet our current crises. If we are to find a new relationship with the conscience it mustn’t be one in which our spirit is broken, crushed beneath it’s unforgiving jackboot.

If we are to have a sustainable new way of living it will have to be an expression of exuberance arising from an unalloyed love for ourselves. It can’t be some humiliating act of penance for past misdeeds.

The courage that brought us through the nightmare of history was the courage of divided beings. We were carrying the burden of a condemning conscience. If we can heal this conflict and all of the social divisions it gave rise to, then we will find a courage and determination we have never known.

How do we do this?

We need an understanding of this underlying human dilemma.

We need to unconditionally accept thoughts and feelings, recognising that they are the inevitable product of our current situation and that, the more we acknowledge them consciously, the more easily we can chose appropriate behaviour in the light of them. To accept a thought does not mean to believe that it is a truth. And to accept a feeling does not mean to act upon it.

We need to be able to honestly articulate our psychological position.

Acceptance is what shrinks the dark side of us. It was inflamed by unforgiving criticism, and criticism open or implied continues to exacerbate it.

So what if someone hates me? I say : “It’s O.K. if you hate me. If I were you I know I would hate me too.”

Hatred is a cover emotion for underlying feelings of guilt or shame. If we can feel that our feelings of hatred, as an emotion, are accepted, perhaps the feelings of guilt or shame can come into consciousness. The idea that an emotion is accepted acts against the impulse towards repression, while criticism of that emotion encourages repression of whatever lies beneath it.

Sometimes sadism masquerades as righteousness. Sometimes the sense of humiliation which we experience when we look at our own sins makes us need to point out the sins of others and glory in their humiliation.

Instead we could realise that we are all in the same boat. If we can feel love and behave benevolently in the world, then we are one of the lucky ones whose situation in that world has not been one that killed our love and drove us to malevolence. If our love is real and our benevolence not a show, then we will have no interest in the egotism which would take credit for it.

The path towards healing for society is the path of honesty. That means acknowledging our own darker emotions and accepting them in others.

Photo by Bram Janssens.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Who Are the Meek and How Do They Inherit the Earth?

Photo by wisitporn.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

There is an old joke that goes : “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (if it’s O.K. with the rest of you guys.)”

Meekness is often exploited. It seems as if the aggressive are more likely to get what they want.

There are different interpretations of this passage.

Jeremy Griffith, the author of Freedom : The End of the Human Condition, says that “the meek” are “the more innocent”, by which he means those of us who have been more nurtured and are thus less insecure and more honest in our thinking and less aggressive in our nature. By “…inherit the earth” he thinks Jesus meant that these individuals will “…have to lead humanity home to a human-condition-free world.”

Jordan Peterson, on the other hand, claims that a better translation of the Greek word ήμερος usually translated as “meek” is “those who have weapons and the ability to use them but are determined to keep them sheathed”. Those who take the right path are those who integrate their shadow, who acknowledge the dark side of their nature but do not succumb to it, gaining strength from their encounter with it. He is afraid that we may assume that meek is synonymous with “weak” :

Here is a guide to how the Greek word is generally translated.

Here is some discussion of Peterson’s interpretation.

One problem I have with both interpretations is the failure to acknowledge the meaning of the word “inherit”. An inheritance is something unearned which falls to us. Now it may have been earned in some instances, in the sense that someone may put us in their will because we have been of service to them or we may be written out of a will because we have done something to offend a family member. But none of this is intrinsic to the meaning of the word “inheritance”. The passage doesn’t say “the meek will earn (or win) the earth”.

I think we have to look at the context to get a better understanding.

This is the third in what are known as the Beautitudes. Jesus tells us that eight particular classes of people are “blessed” or “fortunate”. He then tells his followers that all of them are “blessed” or “fortunate” if they are persecuted because of him.

He first claims “blessedness” for the “poor in spirit” and then for “those who mourn”. Clearly these are not those who are blessed with good fortune in the world as it currently stands.

I think that, to understand the Beatitudes, we have to recognise that Jesus was an apocalypticist, i.e. a person who believed that some event was going to occur which would overturn the established social order and usher in some kind of paradise on earth. (I recognise that it is more popular to interpret the concept of a “Kingdom of Heaven” as some ethereal place we go to when we die, but that doesn’t make so much sense to me.)

The Beatitudes make sense in the framework of two worlds - the social world we know, with its injustices, its dishonesty and its oppressive power relationships - and a potential world of honesty and love which lies buried beneath its repressions.

Sermon on the Mount 1 Le Sainte Bible Traduction nouvelle selon la Vulgate par Mm J -J Bourasse et P Janvier Tours Alfred Mame et Fils 2 1866 3 France 4 Gustave Dor
Engraving photographed by 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 5:3

Perhaps the “poor in spirit” are those who have been very wounded by their experiences of life. They have little spirit left in them. But in a world of love their wounds will be healed and they will be free of oppression. In terms of a transition to the new world, they have the advantage - “the blessing” - of not being invested in the old.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” 5:4

To be in mourning is not a form of righteousness that one pursues. As with being “poor in spirit” it is a disadvantage in the old world, but one which makes us less invested in it. We fixate on loving relationships which we have lost, through the death of the loved one or through a breakdown in the relationship. In a world where everybody loves everybody else, it will be easy to let go of the past and live in the present.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” 5:5

No amount of power or aggression can keep the old world from dying. Terrible destruction can occur. Nothing can necessarily protect anyone. But, only a healthy society will not eventually fall. If such a healthy loving truthful world comes into existence, it will belong to the meek as much as to anyone else. The point is that the powerful and aggressive try to hang onto the world, and, individually, they always fail. They can postpone the new world, but they can never have a world of their own which persists.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” 5:6

Those who long for a world in which we treat each other well, are not invested in a world in which we don’t. So, once again, we have a group of people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain in a transition from the old world to the new world.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” 5:7

Again, things don’t always work this way in the old world. But mercy is clearly the path to the new world. Our divisions keep us trapped in the old world. As William Blake put it : “Mutual forgiveness of each vice, Such are the gates of paradise.”

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” 5:8

I think this is where we come to what Griffith calls “the innocent”. As very young children we were aligned to the world of love. If God is the creative theme of the universe which is manifested in human behaviour as love, then children can “see God”. This is the source of their “enthusiasm”, i.e. “the god within”. It is the wounds of life, which sow the seeds of internal division and breed resentment, which “hide the face of God” from us. In a world in which these divisions are healed with understanding, everyone will live in full awareness that they are manifestations of this creative force.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” 5:9

This is similar to 5:7. Peace between warring factions is keeping us in the old world. Those who can resolve conflicts are architects of the new world. The reward falls to all, not just to those who behave this way. It isn’t about pursuing righteous behaviour in order to pass a test and get a reward, it is about being a manifestation of a social process from which the whole of humanity benefits.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 5:10

The old world is threatened by honesty and is insecure in it’s sense of its own worth, so those who tell the truth or act in a way which shows up the old world’s corrupt behaviour tend to be persecuted. It is necessary to keep the vision of the new world in mind in order to not give in to this pressure.

Another interpretation could be put on this sentence. Some people are persecuted because of a false sense of righteousness (what William Blake called “Moral Virtue”). A good example might be people who are persecuted for their sexuality. Someone who is in a loving gay relationship is being honest and loving - requirements of the new world - and someone who tries to persecuted them in the belief that they are deviating from righteousness, by not adopting dishonesty and suppressing their love, is part of the old world. The new world is for the person being thus persecuted as it is for all who have been persecuted.

So how does this apocalypse, this death of the old world and birth of the new take place?

What makes the most sense to me is that the human race has always been engaged in a kind of collective improvisation to find the path to the new world. Art, philosophy, religion, science… These are all ways in which our minds and our hearts have been engaged in a process of trying to sort ourselves out. We make mistakes, we strive to learn from them and compensate for them. We examine the world around us and try to better understand where we come from.

Photo by smileus.

Think of us as a computer trying to work out the bugs in its own programming. We can even see this in the evolution of different religions. We can see Jesus as someone trying to compensate for the flaws in Judaism, just as Judaism was an attempt to compensate for flaws in various pagan belief systems. It’s all a part of a process of trying to find something which works. And, in the modern world, we have new abilities and new problems not dreamt of in Jesus’ time.

The advantage we have is that this collective improvisation is taking place at an exponential rate. We can share ideas very quickly and with minimum censorship.

What should we do? Participate in the process. Speak what we feel to be the truth. Listen to the ideas expressed by others and test them for flaws. The conceptual framework of understanding which ushers in a new world will be the one which passes the test of such scrutiny. And we will know it because it works, because it heals conflict and spreads wellbeing wherever it is expressed. “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:16

Every day we see evidence of how rotten the old world is - lies and corruption are exposed. It’s time for the new world to find itself amidst the collapse of the old. It can only grow out of open, honest, spontaneous and generous interaction between individuals. Dogmatic utopias constructed through social programming or the impositions of more laws are part of the old world. We will know the truth by the fact that it sets us free from all that.

Photo by Gleb TV.

Monday, 10 June 2019

BOOK REVIEW : The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A beautiful young man named Dorian Gray becomes an obsession for two gentlemen - artist Basil Hallward and cynical socialite Sir Henry Wotton. To Hallward he is a muse, to Wotton an amusement and would-be protege. Hallward captures his beauty in a remarkable portrait. When Wotton tells him that youth is all that matters, Gray makes a wish that the portrait might age instead of him. He is astonished and frightened when he finds that the painting shows the signs of his loss of innocence, while his own face remains the same. Under the tutelage of the witty cynic Wotton, he comes to embrace a life which runs after beauty and pleasure with no regard for the welfare of others. He leaves a trail of broken individuals behind him, his ex-friends and ex-lovers, himself apparently untouched. But there is always a price to be paid.

Oscar Wilde’s only novel begins with a preface consisting of epigrams on the subjects of art, literature and criticism. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book,” he tells us. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.” There is perhaps something paradoxical about this statement appearing in the preface to a book which conforms very much to the conventions of the morality tale, and in which a book plays a corrupting role in the life of the protagonist, at least in his own mind.

So what is the apparent moral? A warning against idolatry. To worship at an idol, we are told repeatedly in the Old Testament, is a certain way to lose our soul. 

The soul of any person or thing is that integrity which maintains its existence as a functioning whole. To place too much emphasis on any part or quality of the whole is to risk the loss of the integrity which gives it its meaning. Dorian Gray comes to give youth primary importance - to worship at its altar - and any worship requires sacrifice. The soul of life is its impermanence. An inanimate object may remain the same. To live is to change, to be affected by others and by our own actions.

Dorian Gray is emotionally affected by life to some extent - he feels fear and self-pity - but something in the resilience of his flesh seems to keep the negative emotions from persisting.

There is a chapter in the middle of the novel which takes Dorian from the age of 20 to 38. It is a florid description of jewels and tapestries and unusual musical instruments - objects of fascination for him, to read about or to experience. This is the way that Wilde articulates his path of decadence. There will, later in the story, be hints at sexual excess, not to mention a visit to an opium den, but everything is left up to our imagination, which works well. Each of us can easily conjure our own personal image of depravity. But the fact that so much time is spent on descriptions of treasures seems significant to me. Someone could devote themselves to social pleasures - the pleasure of fellowship in song or dance, the sensual pleasure of skin on skin - either in a sexual or non-sexual context. Such pleasures might bring them closer to others and encourage them to be open also to their welfare. Or one might take pleasure in communing with nature. But the jewels and tapestries are like Dorian himself, beauties which exist outside of time - beauties cold in the face of human vulnerability.

The character of Henry Wotton is like the public face of Wilde himself taken to the extreme. He too was known for his cynical wit. It seems as if he recognised that his persona - and his philosophy of aestheticism, which championed beauty over all else - could be dangerous if taken too far. This gives the novel its brilliance. There is nothing like a great artist playing out through his imagination something which could symbolise his own possible downfall. As it is, extracts from Wotton’s dialogue are often presented as if they were things which Wilde said in own social life. Within the context of the novel we can see that he recognised the limitations of such cynicism. 

Nevertheless, Wotton’s siren call carries weight with Gray, and with the reader, because there is truth in it. Repression, in order to conform to society’s demands, robs us of our vitality. Virtue, as it is assessed by the current standards of society, can also become a idol which robs us of our soul. In Wilde’s satirical portrait of self-important philanthropists we get a glimpse of the emptiness of respectable society. And, after all, it was respectable society which would put Wilde in prison. The danger is always one of over-compensation. As the Taoists point out, the key is to walk the line of balance. 

In The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Wilde said : For each man kills the thing he loves…” That idea is here also in this earlier work. We see how romantic love can be more about attachment and projection than appreciation of the other person for who they really are. We are bound for disappointment, a disappointment which can be deadly. Genuine love is the spirit of openness to who the other person really is that does not close off if they prove to be something other. It requires openness to being changed in fundamental ways through the encounter. Yet Dorian Gray has prayed to be immune to change, therefore he is not capable of love.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

What Is The Conscience?

Photo by Holger Harfst

Most of us have a tendency to feel the emotion we call "guilt" when our behaviour fails to conform to an internal vision of how we should behave. We call that internal vision our "conscience".

But what is the source of our conscience? Is it an instinct we are born with? Is it something we learn from others? Or is it the voice of a supernatural being speaking through us? There are many advocates of each of these theories.

What inspires me to try to make sense of the conscience is some debate on the discussion board at Jeremy Griffith's World Transformation Movement website. I'm banned from taking part in the discussion there. Dr. Anna Fitzgerald says : Our conscious self does feel criticism from our instincts, we call it our CONSCIENCE. Everyone knows that, and being shared by us all means it’s instinctive – which Griffith reiterated with Darwin’s affirmation that “the moral sense affords the highest distinction between man and the lower animals”.

This concept that the conscience is simply an instinctive program is one of the key problems I have with Jeremy Griffith's theory that our disturbed psychology is the result of a conflict between the conscious mind, and its need to experiment with self-management, and the dictatorial demands of such a gene-based moral programming.

It may be that everyone, with the possible exception of psychopaths, has a sense of right and wrong. But what is right or wrong differs from culture to culture and individual to individual. While the conscience may not be entirely learned, there is certainly a learned element in the way in which it manifests itself.

Let's see if we can learn something by trying to strip human existence back to its basics. What does it mean to be an organism? The key motive of the organism is self-preservation. It may be that the breeding instinct provides a self-preservation motive on the level of species which supersedes that of the individual, but most of the time our base-line objective is to stay alive, all other things being equal. I may be saying "all other things being equal" a lot, because the less basic motives for our behaviour can override the more basic. Our basic impulse may be one of self-preservation, but that doesn't mean that our mind, freed from the task of keeping us alive for a while, may not arrive at a bad idea which drives us to take our own life.

It is hard to argue with sensory experience. Pain and pleasure speak to us directly, free from the clouding of language and concept. All other things being equal, the first repels us and the latter attracts. Once again, less basic factors can interfere with this. We can arrive at a psychological state in which we shrink from some pleasures and glory in something painful. But that isn't where we start.

So our most basic intentions would be to stay alive, to avoid pain and to experience pleasure.

But we are born into a social context in which we are cared for. If we are one of the lucky ones, we are born into a context in which we are loved. But even the most harshly treated are looked after sufficiently to be kept alive.

Clearly there is an instinct for love. A mother abandoning her baby because its care imposes more suffering than pleasure on her is the exception rather than the rule. And, once again, if we wish to understand such exceptions we need to look to factors which interfere with the natural - e.g. drug addiction or mental illness.

What feels best to us as infants? To have our needs met within a harmonious social context in which there is plenty of affectionate touching and verbal communication.

Our myths  have their grounding in our experience. If we experienced a loving infancy, then it is the basis for our concept of Paradise. All-giving mother Goddesses and stern but loving father Gods also are concepts which carry into adult life the infant memory.

So an instinct for love provides parents with the motive to care for their child, and no doubt shapes the way the child bonds with them. I have said that love can be defined as open, honest, spontaneous and generous communication. It almost doesn't need saying that this is the mode of communication of an individual who is operating in a healthy, unwarped manner. It is not hard to understand how the processes of learning and becoming a social being will be impeded if a child is closed off, a liar, habit-bound or greedy.

All other things being equal, we don't want to abandon paradise. Sometimes we can see directly when we have breached the laws of this paradise. It requires a harmonious social context so, if we upset someone, then we may reasonably feel we have breached those laws. We want to be accepted. To be accepted by those around is to remain in paradise. Parents and teachers may also teach us the rules we must seek to follow if we want to remain there. What makes it difficult is that we can't please everybody. There are times when we are damned by someone if we do and damned by someone else if we don't.

So, I think, there is an instinctive element to the conscience - the instinct for love provides the crucible in which it takes form. But that form is socially determined.

The conscience is that part of our ego - our conscious thinking self - in which we store our expectations about ourselves, those expectations very often being an internalisation of the expectations of others. This is to the extent that the conscience is conscious. It is also possible that some of our expectations are repressed to the level of the subconscious by the fact that they are so painful to look at. But I would contend that they have sunk down from our mind rather than risen from some genetic substrate.

Even if we assume that the reluctance to do something we perceive to be harmful were genetically-based, the intellect is often required to tell us what is harmful. We can't feel guilty about our carbon footprint unless the intellect has worked out how global warming works.

Is there a battle with the conscience going on within the conscious mind? Absolutely.

What I call "the human neurosis" is the divided state of the ego. Paradise lay in being accepted and being able to accept ourselves. To not be accepted, in some way, by others, can inflict a wound upon the ego, and the ego will become focused on a counter argument as to why it is acceptable, or not to blame for what has led to the rejection. But even more painful is the sense of self-betrayal, when we find ourselves unable to avoid breaching the rules and so we split into a fiery accuser with the pointing finger - "you fucked it up for yourself" - and the cringing supplicant - "I couldn't help it!" In either case response to the critical voice can go either way - contrite depression or defiant anger.

What is the nature of malevolence? Why are we capable of inflicting cruelty for its own sake? I believe malevolence is conscience-driven behaviour. If our self-acceptance is undermined to too great a degree, we can end up feeling totally backed into a corner, our conscience making demands of us which we no longer have the generosity of spirit to fulfil. The more self-accepting we feel - the more relaxed and carefree within ourselves - the more enthusiasm we have for generosity. But current suffering tightens us up. Think of some time when you were suffering greatly and somebody asked something of you. Did it not make you angry that they would ask for something when you had nothing to give? The darkest place we can go is that corner where we hate the dictatorship of our conscience so much - for having eaten away all the love we have and still be wanting more - that we have to have revenge - we have to try to stab it to death by doing the one thing which it says would be the worst thing we could do.

If our conscience were in our genes it would always oppress us. Our ego and our society are adaptable, they are capable of adjusting to new knowledge. Genes can't forgive, and healing lies in the power to forgive. It is the intellect which has the power to make sense of our dilemma and find the way home. 

When the conscience's criticism causes a level of insecurity which drives further breaches of its dictates, the negative feedback loop which results spreads a social poison far beyond the individual. If we can find an easily replicable way of untying this knot, the world will be swept with an enthusiasm for solving all other problems. 

The Christian religion talks about redemption. Our sins are forgiven and we are instructed to go and sin no more. If following the conscience is an act of will, we will always tire. We need to return to our awareness of how it worked in our first paradise. The joy of accepting and being accepted was the source of our enthusiasm. Our mistakes needed to be both learned from and forgiven. Where things went wrong was when we stopped being able to forgive ourselves and thus became split into prosecution and defence in our own internal trial.

In the scheme of things, those trials are trivialities. We are looking to the past and concentrating on our "sins", giving them primary importance. What really matters is what we want and how we can get it. If we want a world in which we thrive together, then we need to concentrate on finding ways to untie the knots that impede the flow of loving communication between us, and the malfunctioning conscience is the king of such knots.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

BOOK REVIEW : The Murder of Christ by Wilhelm Reich

This book by controversial psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich is unlikely to appeal to traditional Christian believers. Reich theorises that Jesus must have had sex with one or more of the women who surrounded him during his ministry. If Jesus was a naturally loving individual, Reich concludes, he must have exhibited the free genital expression intrinsic to a healthy character structure. 

Reich was not a traditional believer. He views Jesus as a man whose presence had a profound impact on the world because he was so healthy and the rest of us are so sick. The very tendency to interpret his specialness as something otherworldly, something supernatural, and to create myths of magical events such as virgin birth and resurrection from the dead around his memory, is evidence of how alienated we are from the functioning of our own bodies. 

We are born with primary instincts which direct us toward loving behaviour through the pleasurable streaming of the life energy in our bodies. But we are born into a society which is antagonistic to such feelings. The frustration of the primary instincts causes them to be re-channelled into secondary drives. These can take many forms, including various kinds of egotism, aggression, anxieties, etc.

What Reich admits he cannot explain is how this occurred in the beginning. The story of Adam and Eve gives this change from healthy functioning to antagonism towards the free operation of the life force, i.e. God, a mythological expression. We are caught in a terrible trap and that trap is our own neurotic character structure, which alienates us from each other and from nature. In the first chapter Reich gives a description of The Trap and the various ways we try to reconcile ourselves to imprisonment within it. Religion is one source of solace, a promise of a life outside the trap after death.

But Reich presents Jesus as a man who never entered The Trap. A man with a healthy character structure, a man who unselfconsciously gave expression to our original loving instincts. His wisdom was the honest clear thinking anyone would exhibit who was not impeded by the fears and frustrations that come with being divided against one’s own life energy.

Central to this condition is fear of our sexual feelings. This is the hook on which our loving instincts get snagged.

In Western culture things have changed a lot since Reich’s death in 1957. We are more honest about sexuality. He played a role in opening things up. It was he who coined the term “Sexual Revolution”. But that doesn’t mean that the problem he highlighted is any the less with us. What he felt was repressed in us was not so much sex itself but the loving expression of “the genital embrace”. It’s possible to have sex several times a day and still be a denizen of The Trap. Reich uses the term “four-lettering” to describe compulsive neurotic sex - the “wham bam thank you ma’am” kind of copulation that is all the world away from the gentle process which builds slowly and naturally to an orgasm which frees the soul to meld with that of one’s partner.

Maybe attitudes to adolescent sexuality are more enlightened than they were in Reich’s day. He talks of the sexual agony of the adolescent. This is something I could identify with. Even though I had sexually liberal parents, I was greatly disturbed by the onrush of powerful sexual desires at puberty. I remember wishing at one point that my sexual desires could be medically removed, because they were such a source of terrible anxiety. Why? I don’t know. Reich felt that young people were psychologically damaged by the sex negative attitudes of parents, teachers and the church, which caused them to fight against and repress their sexual desires instead of expressing them in a healthy way. Thus one generation of sexual cripples cripples the next.

Once again, the fact that young people today are more sexually active would not necessarily be a positive sign for Reich. Compulsive unloving sex is just another neurotic symptom.

In this book, which was written only a few years before he was imprisoned and died, Reich doesn’t try to make a carefully reasoned or evidenced argument about human nature or about the life and death of Jesus. This is written more in the mode of the prophet crying in the wilderness. His early work was supported with references to case studies and anthropological research. Here he simply states what he strongly believes to be true and it is up to us to either feel that it makes sense of our own experience and what we have read in the gospels about Jesus or that it doesn’t. Given that, in the middle of his career, Reich claimed to have discovered scientific evidence of the life energy, which he called “orgone” - evidence which was taken seriously by very few other scientists - perhaps this less scientific approach is preferable. One need not agree with everything Reich says to gain from the stimulation of his iconoclastic thought. We all need to be shaken up from time to time.

The story of the life and murder of Christ is, arguably, the most important story in Western history. Even those of us who are not Christians know its major events. It permeates our culture. It doesn’t matter that Reich is no Biblical scholar. Even if this were a fictional story, it is one which embodies the central human dilemma. Reich is using the basics of the story as a way of contemplating and illustrating the human condition. And he doesn’t hide the fact that he identifies aspects of his own situation with that of Christ. He too, at least in his own mind, is a speaker of truths unwelcome to the authority figures of his time. He too had reluctantly taken on a leadership role.

Reich presents Christ as a man who only gradually discovers that he is special. He has to learn that others are not free in the way that he is. His psychological freedom and loving nature make him very attractive to those around him. He wants to help them. But he doesn’t understand that their character structure is such that they will suck up whatever love he shows them and then resent him because they can’t be like him. They will seduce him into becoming a leader - into marching on Jerusalem - but it will all be for nothing. He will be killed because those with a sick character structure always have a murderous resentment for those who are still truly alive inside themselves.

It is this tendency which is the central subject of the book. For Reich, the murder of Christ is something that happens all over the world ever day. Christ was an embodiment of our original loving instincts as they are expressed in the body. And the Murder of Christ continues through the stifling of the expression of those instincts in every child. Who is the murderer of Christ? Reich points the finger at all of us.

Like Listen Little Man!, another book Reich wrote in the latter part of his life when he was at the centre of much hostility, The Murder of Christ is often a harshly accusatory book, but we may gain much through our encounter with its thorniness. Today we know more about the chemistry of love. We know that there are forms of intimacy, sexual or otherwise, which cause our bodies to produce the chemical Oxytocin. The experience of this chemical in our blood stream, which produces warm feelings of affection and bonding and thus, no doubt, works to melt the rigidity of our angry, frightened or resentful ego structure, is perhaps what Reich and his patients experienced as the flow of “orgone energy”. Perhaps it is true that a significant element in the dark side of our life as humans - aggression, sexual predation, greed, depression, loneliness - arises through a fear of bodily sensations which, were we less troubled by them, could lead us to a more loving society.

Eva Reich, Jerome Siskind, Peter Reich, Wilhelm Reich and Ilse Ollendorff in Maine

Monday, 13 May 2019

BOOK REVIEW : Selected Poetry by William Blake

This is a great entry point to begin exploring the poetry of one of English literature’s great visionaries. Blake’s poetry can make for challenging reading, especially his epic poems which are full of allusions to the Bible, to history, to famous philosophical works and also to individuals who were important in his own life. And, to make it even more difficult, many of the mythological figures who appear in these poems were Blake’s own creations, the nature of whom we have to try to pick up from the context. (The footnotes help to make sense of the allusions and also explain some of the archaic words Blake uses.)

For a long time I thought of Blake as someone who had a big impact on my view of the world, even though I had only read a handful of his poems. While London, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and The Everlasting Gospel spoke to me like the voice of a friend to one lost in a wilderness, the prospect of reading his epic works was daunting. The beauty of this collection is that it contains much of his shorter work, including the entirety of Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, along with extracts which can be read alone from two of his epic poems - Milton and Jerusalem. This helped to give me confidence that I will be able to read them in their entirety at some time. I was also inspired to buy The Blake Dictionary, The Ideas and Symbols of William Blake by S. Foster Damon and Morris Eaves to help with this.

An argument could be made that the way to read Blake’s poems is as he presented them, illustrated with his drawings and paintings. Still, I think there are advantages to reading the text on its own. His words conjure up images which are more powerful than his pictures, amazing as they are. I would recommend reading the poems on their own and then seeking out the illuminated versions afterwards.

What I relate to particularly strongly in Blake’s writing is his vision of the entrapment of the human soul within the repressive structures of society. “A robin redbreast in a cage sets all Heaven in a rage” was not just some superficial animal rights statement, it was a cry for freedom from repression of the human spirit.

Good and evil, in Blake’s eyes, were not so simple to distinguish. He used the term “moral virtue” to label a form of self-righteous judgement which viewed itself as good, but was the enemy of love and love’s forgiveness. By contrast the vital energy we feel in our bodies might be viewed as a source of sin by the church, but, by Blake, as a source of “eternal delight” for “everything that lives is holy.”

Blake’s was very much a pantheistic vision. The divine was always present in nature, and, while he had visions of angels and demons, he didn’t believe, in a literal sense, in miracles which defied the laws of nature. He didn’t believe that Mary was a virgin (Jerusalem, Chapter III, lines 369-393), and from this he draws his own vision of Jesus as a child of love and of liberation from the law’s oppression of love. Mary was impregnated in an act of love unsanctioned by the law. Joseph, discovering that his betrothed was carrying another man’s child, had to exercise forgiveness in keeping with God’s forgiveness of human sinfulness, and love for life rather than for the law, to marry Mary. Thus, in his very conception and the family circumstances into which he was born, Blake sees Jesus as an embodiment of love supplanting law.

I don’t believe in the supernatural, so that kind of religious belief which depends on belief in literal resurrection of the dead, etc., is not accessible to me. William Blake is someone who helps me to draw inspiration and hope from religious visions in a metaphorical sense. If we can cleanse our “doors of perception” perhaps we can achieve a “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” and “build Jerusalem” in our own “green and pleasant land.”

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

The Psychological Roots of Patriarchy

Photo by Andrey Kiselev

In listening to a talk by Jordan Peterson I found myself once again thinking over the disagreement he has with feminists over whether our society is a patriarchy. It seems to me that this a disagreement which can only be resolved through an acknowledgement of what I have called the human neurosis and the phenomena of the character armour to which it gives rise.

Patriarchy is defined as “a society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.” This has clearly been the case throughout much of our history, but in all areas of our society and government women now play a large role, so one could reasonably argue that our society is either no longer patriarchal or that the patriarchy is on its death bed.

I have also seen patriarchy defined as a “male-role orientated” society. Jeremy Griffith of the World Transformation Movement uses that definition, though I haven’t seen it used elsewhere. If we were to take this definition then I would say that we do live in a patriarchal society and that feminism is doing nothing to change this. Historically the female roles have been nurturing roles arising from the biological fact that women give birth to children. Business, politics, science, medicine, the military, the clergy - all of these have been fields historically dominated by men. Those who fill roles in these disciplines continue to be the individuals who have the most power and respect given to them by society, even if “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Feminism has allowed more women to enter these fields, but it has not changed the dominant nature of these roles. Now I’m not trying to say what should be. Clearly science, medicine, business, etc., are crucial and I’m not suggesting we somehow try to reduce that importance in order to achieve some kind of balance with the nurturing role. I’m just trying to acknowledge that things are not so clear if one uses this alternative definition.

Some aspects of patriarchal organisation arise for practical reasons. Think back to the time of our hunter/gatherer ancestors. In a time of peace between tribes, the nurturers would call the shots, but, in time of conflict, authority would have to be transferred to the defenders of the group. Wherever a task which was performed by males became temporarily more important to the group than the nurturing role, power would shift to the males.

But then we have the neurotic element. When our developing intellects arrived at the concept of idealism, i.e. that it is meaningful to distinguish between forms of behaviour which promote the integrity of the group and forms of behaviour which work against the integrity of the group and to strive to promote the former and discourage the latter through self-discipline and group imposed discipline, our self-acceptance began to be undermined. Unable to fully meet our new-found ideals, we began to feel guilty. This is what is symbolised in the Bible in the story of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and being cursed by God, excluded from Paradise (a state of blissful unity with each other and the natural world) because of “sin”, i.e. non-ideal behaviour. Ironically it was not our behaviour which continued to curse us, but our habit of self-condemnation in the face of that behaviour.

We became deeply insecure about our own worth and this is what made us ego-embattled. Our propensity for selfishness, aggression, delusional thinking, etc., all arose from this pervasive sense of insecurity.

Because women tended to stay closer to the nurturing role and thus could more easily view themselves as “the good guys” engaging in behaviour which promoted the integrity of the group, it was the males who tended to become more insecure about their own worth. The role as group protector was essential, but their newly acquired conscience could tell them that killing people was wrong. They tended to fulfil roles which were more likely to lead to a guilty conscience and thus a greater insecurity about their self worth.

One of the symptoms of this insecurity was the need to control others and to suppress the critical voice. The outer had to match the inner. In the severely armoured man, the critical voice of the conscience is deeply repressed, and this is achieved through inflexible controlled habits of thought. The freedom of others is felt as a threat, partly because it calls out to that which is repressed in the armoured individual, making the maintenance of discipline more difficult, and partly because they may use their freedom to criticise the armoured individual. They are a potential ally to the individual’s own repressed critical conscience.

The patriarchal structure of society historically has been shaped by this psychological condition. There have no doubt been other practical factors, for example it makes sense that, when military conflict arose, men would generally be the fighters, because women, as the producers of children, are too precious to sacrifice, and also men tend to be bigger and stronger. But we can’t understand the way that female voices were excluded unless we acknowledge the fragility of the male ego as a result of the negative feedback loop between egoistical behaviour and the very insecurity driving that behaviour.

Understanding the human neurosis brings a sympathetic understanding to our assessment of our history and to our response to current circumstances.

Our history, horrendous as it has often been, could not have been other than it was. We made the best of a bad lot. It was in the best interests of all that society hang together in a way which allowed us to make progress in our understanding of ourselves.

So where are we now. We still suffer from our neurosis. The fact that women can fill more positions which were once filled by men also means that, if filling those roles makes the individual more prone to the human neurosis, our society probably has an even less healthy base.

The other side of this neurosis is that those who have been controlled, excluded or abused by the most armoured of individuals, are liable, understandably, to build up feelings of retaliatory hostility. And, sometimes, the power of these feelings can obscure the distinctions between the individual responsible and the group to which they belong. So it is not surprising that some will cling to the perception that our society is an oppressive patriarchy, seeing in the complex pattern only that which reflects the shape of their own trauma.

The solution is to open up understanding of this psychological substructure of our society and promote paths to healing for all. Political change on its own can’t assure us a healthy free and productive society. To the degree that we manifest psychological security as individuals, so will our society be characterised by freedom, respect and appreciation for all its members.