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, I-Tunes 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 435 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. I-Tunes.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

BOOK REVIEW : How Soon Is Now? : From Personal Initiation to Global Transformation by Daniel Pinchbeck

Can the human  race survive? That is the question addressed by this book.

I’m not sure when I started thinking that we were doomed. Perhaps some time in the 1980s. It seemed obvious to me. We have an economic system dependent on ever-increasing levels of growth, which means ever-increasing consumption of material goods and energy, the production of which are eating away at our ecological life-support systems. Even before there was much attention being given to climate change, it was clear that we were headed toward a metaphorical cliff, and the fact that very few people, at the time, seemed to want to acknowledge it made it seem as if a solution was unlikely. Then, as now, I tried not to think about it too much, but it hung like a black cloud over my head.

Pinchbeck, after much inner-exploration with psychedelic drugs, has come to the belief that we have unconsciously brought this crisis upon ourselves as a way to motivate ourselves through the process of a dramatic metamorphosis as a species - that it is our initiation by crisis into existence as a specie organism - a fully-integrated global society. A similar idea has been expressed by Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman in their book Spontaneous Evolution (Hay House, 2009), which he credits as an influence.

One of the problems with the ecological crisis (not to mention associated humanitarian and economic crises) is that they inspire feelings of fear and guilt in many of us. Fear and guilt can be paralysing emotions. How are we to be motivated to act? Those who would motivate us flood us with scary facts, but these just make us feel more frightened, guilty and hopeless, and so we turn off and seek some form of comfort in more materialism or superficial escapism.

What we need more than scary facts is hope. We need a vision of how something can be done. And Pinchbeck does a great job of outlining such a vision. Of course he can only sketch in the broad outlines of what is possible. He’s not a specialist in energy systems or farming or economics. He has to point us in the direction of those who can help us in these areas.

This is a consistently fascinating book. Pinchbeck’s hyperactive mind and personal, indeed sometimes confessional, approach ensure that. But I didn’t find it an easy book to approach. There is a bitter comfort in putting things in the “too hard” basket. I start to read that I should give up eating meat and minimise buying new products and a large part of me says, “Let the planet burn. Let the innocent people die. I’m not going outside my comfort zone.” And I don’t even drive a car. What is the response likely to be from those who live far outside the bounds of ecological limits? I’m reminded of Matthew 19:24 “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” There’s no room for excess baggage aboard the specie individual.

What is at the basis of this stubbornness? When faced with a challenge, sometimes we grasp it enthusiastically and sometimes we put our head in the sand. I don’t want it to be implied that I’m not a good person. That isn’t what Pinchbeck is saying, but it is how it feels. And how it feels is what matters to motivation. Why does it give us pleasure to do things which deep down we may feel we shouldn’t? Why does the rich celebrity who travels to Africa and sees people living in poverty (and does some charity work there), nevertheless live in a ridiculously ornate mansion? In our insecure state there is a kind of relief to be found in defying what our conscience tells us we should do. This is also the lure of the forbidden. Are we going to squirm in humiliation beneath the bully who says “You mustn’t!” or are we going to feel the power and release of screaming “I will!” To my mind this is the key impasse to the realisation of the kind of plan that Pinchbeck puts forward. His emphasis on the spiritual underpinnings of the transformation acknowledge this, but I think that there are aspects of this psychological dimension that need to be understood more clearly.

The cultivation of unconditional self-acceptance will need to provide the grounding for change. A fully self-accepting individual need not experience a call for a change in their lifestyle as a condemnation. It is through unconditional self-acceptance that we unleash our capacity for the love of others and thus provide a basis for true community. Without this there is a danger that a spreading cultural imperative to adopt an ecological lifestyle might manifest itself in a toxic culture of eco-shaming, equivalent to some of the examples we see today where political correctness has taken a particularly hostile form - decentralised authoritarianism in which individuals take out the frustration of self-imposed discipline by victimising anyone who doesn’t do likewise, or doesn’t appear to be doing likewise. A healing evolution has to be motivated by warm and generous feelings.

I suspect that some may be very nervous about Pinchbeck’s references to Marx and calls for a post-capitalist economic system. The problem is that we’ve seen capitalism bring us rapid technological development and an increase in material comfort for a larger proportion of the world’s population. And we’ve seen an alternative - communism - produce most of the worst horrors of the 20th Century. Capitalism’s success was riding on temporary trends. Now it’s in trouble. Can we transition to something which suits our needs better while avoiding the catastrophe that was communism? Again, I think a lot hinges on the psychological. Has capitalism worked well because it accommodates our selfishness, allowing that selfishness to be the motive engine that drives it, or is our selfishness a product of capitalism? Are we encouraged to want more and compete more because the system doesn’t foster a sense of community which would be counter-productive to it? Of course the two are not mutually exclusive, but I think new economics will be more likely to succeed if the insecurity of ego which lies at the heart of our selfishness is healed.

Pinchbeck also examines the subject of sexuality. Is our materialistic consumption partly fed by pervasive disappointment in our erotic lives? Are we meant to be monogamous? I think this is an important subject to look at. It’s been a troubled area for Pinchbeck himself. But when we repress any aspect of our being we also end up repressing our capacity for openness, honesty, spontaneity and generosity - our capacity for love. So if we are going to have a community which functions more smoothly and productiveness, it needs to be one which knows what to do about erotic desires as an alternative to repressing them. There is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all answer to this, something which Pinchbeck acknowledges.

When it comes to spirituality, Pinchbeck really throws it all in. He even touches on reincarnation, clairvoyance, tele-kinesis and astral travel. (David Icke’s lizard men get a mention to.) This may lose him credibility in the eyes of many, but he does provide a lot of food for thought for the open-minded. Do these things seem more credible to someone who has taken ayahuasca? Maybe. Since I’m not prepared to take some of these things with a handful of magic mushrooms, I’ll take them with a grain of salt, but it is important to acknowledge that he is only presenting these things as “maybes” and the fact that he has a very open minded on these subjects doesn’t diminish the importance of the bulk of what he has to say. I think he is right that we will need something similar to the religious spirit - a shared vision of something greater than ourselves to unite and motivate us.

He places a lot of importance on the media as a possible way of generating fast change. If new trends spread like wild-fire across television and social media, why not the enthusiasm for this rescue mission along with all the information we will need to bring it about? And look at how the propaganda effort turned around U.S. society to fight World War II. It has to be said though that it is easier to appeal to our hedonism, our paranoia about germs crawling around our bathroom or our latent aggression and xenophobia, than it is to genuinely inspire us toward a community effort. We need autonomous individuals, not sheep, but with that caveat aside I think he is right that both mass and social media can provide us with the network we need to share practical skills and information as well as the kind of vision Pinchbeck provides us with in his book - one of a bright future that yet may be.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

BOOK REVIEW : Character Analysis by Wilhelm Reich

Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century though his ideas have yet to receive the broad recognition they deserve. Why? A combination of two complimentary factors :  his accurate diagnosis of a species-wide form of psychological disorder he called “the emotional plague” was extremely confronting, and his claim to have discovered a cosmic energy called “orgone”, which could heal people if they sat in “orgone boxes” and could make it rain if you pointed a “cloud buster” at a cloud, made it easy to dismiss him as a crackpot.

The challenge of reviewing one of his books is how to deal with the whole “orgone energy” issue. Reich was not a biologist or physicist. He came from the Freudian school of psychoanalysis, which was never based on the strict discipline characteristic of the hard sciences. He arrived at the concept of this cosmic energy from the basis of the physical experiences of himself and his patients. Some may be tempted to interpret what he says in the light of other, more recent, discoveries. A friend of mine suggested that what Reich describes as the flow of orgone through the body corresponds with the pathways by which we now know that the chemical oxytocin travels through the bloodstream. Reich believed that the orgone flowed most strongly at orgasm and orgasm produces oxytocin. Did sitting in orgone boxes help to heal people of their psychological or physical ailments? It seems likely that there would have been a placebo effect. Beyond that I’m happy with my ignorance. There are Reich supporters who claim the accumulators and cloudbusters work, but orgone energy never gained any currency amongst biologists or physicists.

Those who dismiss Reich on the basis of the grander claims make a big mistake. He arrived there by studying human behaviour, and it is in that field that his importance lies. Character Analysis was originally published in 1933 and then greatly expanded in 1948. It’s a book with a split personality which illustrates how much it’s author’s therapeutic ideas had changed over that time. In the main body of the work he introduces two of his most important ideas - character armour and body armour. The basic frame of reference here is still Freudian psychoanalysis, though Reich is already a heretic. He makes the case that Freud’s “death instinct” represents a denial of the responsibility of the psychiatrist to address those aspects of our culture which make us sick. Why does a mentally ill person hurt themselves? Because they have a self-destructive instinct? Today we might blame it on something else internal to the individual - a chemical imbalance. Reich argues that we need to be aware that religious institutions, schools and parents who teach children to fear the natural erotic processes of their own bodies can be the source of the neurotic impulse for them to hurt themselves. We shouldn’t make personal what may be political. The sections that were added later bring in discussion of orgone energy, but also widen the discussion of what constitutes psychological health and introduce the concept of “the emotional plague.”

The validity of Reich’s discussion of character armour is something which each of us can test through our observations of our own behaviour and that of others. Our personality consists of a more or less rigid character structure - a way of looking at ourselves and a mode of operating in the social world. The purpose of this structure is to protect us from threats internal and external. If we are criticised, it is to our character armour that we cling. This explains why even the most well-argued criticism of someone’s political views, for instance, far from leading them to change them, is liable to lead to them asserting them all the more strongly. Existential anxiety, sexual desires or repositories of repressed anger are examples of internal threats which may make us feel the need for our armour. This concept is a very important one because it focuses our awareness on the role of perceived threat on unhelpful intransigence. If we want to help someone to improve their behaviour we may have more luck if we first do what we can to make them feel safe, e.g. from judgement or criticism, and only then appeal to them through reason.

Body armour is the physical manifestation of character armour. The archetypal example is “the stiff upper-lip”. Our anxiety about certain physical sensations can cause us to chronically stiffen parts of our musculature. This may be a response to fear of erotic feelings, “orgasm anxiety”, but it may also be a way of repressing feelings of grief or the anxiety of trauma. Reich developed his own massage methods to deal with this. His discussion of blocks in the flow of “orgone energy” through different parts of the body is very similar to the Eastern concept of chakras.

It is with the concept of the “emotional plague” that Reich links the neurotic frustrations of the individual to the politics of society as a whole. In 1933, when the first part of this book was published, Reich was forced to flee Nazi Germany. What leads to such collective madness? According to Reich, there are three modes of psychological being. We may be healthy, in which case our body’s natural desires to love and be loved and engage in productive activity are being met. Or we may be neurotic, in which case the failure to satisfy our primary biological drives gives rise to secondary drives of a destructive nature which make repression necessary. In this case we may be a resigned, self-destructive, neurotic. But the other possibility is what he calls “the emotional plague” - a form of destructive social behaviour in which the sadistic secondary drives express themselves in behaviour which may range from gossiping about people to supporting an authoritarian political order to murder. Essentially all manifestations of the dark side of human behaviour can be understood as expressions of this form of disorder in which a natural drive is distorted through having to make its way through the character armour and is expressed as some form of hostility. Reich has given us a holistic framework for the process by which the human animal, whose primary biological orientation is toward love - not excluding its bodily erotic expression, comes to be capable of war, torture, rape, etc. From such a viewpoint we can see that we will make little progress in solving our problems by political means unless we also learn how to free up our character armour and reconnect with our original loving nature.

This is not a book to accept or reject as a whole. Some ideas may be well-founded, others may not. Reich, like Freud and Jung, had conservative attitudes to homosexuality, for instance. But if you are looking for answers to the big questions of human behaviour, you’ll find at least some of them here.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Vultures and The Lightning

“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Where there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather”. Matthew 24:27-8

Copyright: ottoduplessis / 123RF Stock Photo

Are we vultures? And, if so, what are the carcasses around which we gather?

So much of our behaviour is an expression of our insecurity about our own worth - a desperate quest for reassurance or to prove ourselves.

Let’s take religion. When we were at school we were taught that 2 + 2 = 4. We were shown evidence that it was true. We retain that knowledge and use it, but we don’t have to be reminded on a regular basis that it is true. The knowledge is secure with us and we are free to only call it to mind when we need it. But if we believe in God and we go to church on a Sunday and are told God loves us, do we believe it? Can we be shown evidence? Is it knowledge that is secure with us? If it were we would not have to keep going to church every Sunday to be told the same thing. Where we don’t trust that something is true, we may feel the need for it to be repeated to us on a regular basis.

Now we may not believe in God, but still we doubt our own worth. We become depressed or we try to prove that we are worthy by the the clothes we wear, the car we drive, our score at golf or the fact that we give money to the needy or fight against injustice. But this world of the ego trying to prove itself is a dead world. It’s a carcass. Not because there is anything wrong with pretty clothes or playing golf or helping people, but because it doesn’t fill the underlying need.

Love is life. Our insecurity is our inability to love ourselves. If we could love ourselves we wouldn’t need to be told every week that God loves us. We wouldn’t have anything to prove.

There is a famous Chinese proverb : “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

If we are unable to love ourselves then we are like that hungry man who doesn’t know how to fish. We are dependent on other people (or other things) to feed our hunger. And, unable to take care of ourselves, we may be easily led by those who throw us the occasional fish.

While there is a famous story of Jesus feeding the multitude with two fish, I think his main aim was not to feed us but to teach us to fish - to liberate us from our insecurity about our worth, and thus to unleash in us the life-giving love that motivated him. The church that grew up in his name - providing reassurances of our worth which need to be endlessly repeated - is just a fish market.

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This is why he gives the above prophecy about a time when we will achieve that liberation. He presents it as a decentralised process. Something which is visible across the whole world - from the east to the west. It won’t be a case of people gathering around some leader. It is only around the carcasses - the dead ideas and those who purvey them - that the vultures flock.

For me, none of this is supernatural, even if Jesus had a tendency to use poetic language which conjures up fairy story images.

At some point in our history we arrived at the concept of idealism. We divided forms of behaviour into good and evil and sought by self-discipline and social pressure to foster the former and restrain the latter. In so doing we unwittingly undermined our unconditional self-acceptance, and thus our capacity for love of others. To the extent that ideal standards became oppressive to us as our capacity to love ourselves and thus be generous to others was eroded, we felt compelled to retaliate against them, sometimes being driven to acts of extreme cruelty. The more we suffered from feelings of guilt the more selfish we became (selfishness being the natural self-directedness of the suffering or embattled individual) and the more selfish we became the more guilty we felt and the more guilty we felt  the more selfish we became. It was a negative feedback loop.

Central to Jesus’ philosophy was “judge not that thou be not judged”. This is a call to self-acceptance. When he says we are not to judge, he doesn’t say that we are to exclude ourselves from this attitude of non-judgement. It is we, not God, who are holding ourselves unworthy. If God is love and love is held back in us by our lack of self-acceptance, our tendency to feel ourselves to be unworthy, then the greatest good is achieved by giving up striving to be good and holding ourselves accountable when we fail.

So how could this dramatic liberation of humanity (“the coming of the Son of Man”) take place? We arrived at this point via the accumulated damage inflicted by a negative feedback loop that began before the dawn of civilisation. The fact that we have lived with it so long without it destroying us shows just what a powerful and resilient force love is in us. Replace the negative feedback loop with a positive feedback loop, which works with what is strongest in us - our underlying capacity for love - rather than against it, and the kind of wall-to-wall awakening of humanity from the nightmare of history symbolised in Jesus’ prophecy doesn’t seem so inconceivable. At the moment the world seems very polarised, but we are driven to our angry condemnation of others by our desperate need to distract ourselves from our own self-critical voice. We will find that the more we come to accept ourselves, the more accepting we will become of others, and in time even the bitterest and bloodiest of conflicts will cease as it becomes clear that there is nothing to gain by shutting oneself out of paradise.

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Sunday, 23 October 2016

Can We Find Anything Useful in Christianity?

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There are many who criticise the supernatural beliefs of the religious. I prefer to take a different approach. What useful and valid ideas are there in a religion which don’t depend on such supernatural beliefs? If we don’t believe in the supernatural, we may be tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater, denying ourselves something profoundly useful because it is presented in a framework which also includes supernatural beliefs. And to take what is not supernatural out and test its effectiveness to bring benefit undercuts the argument that any benefit the religion may confer is evidence for the reality of the supernatural agency or agencies which are believed to lie behind it.

If we look at the philosophy expressed by Jesus in the gospels in isolation from any supernatural belief and outside the context of any particular form of Christian dogma, it centres around the concept of sin as humanity’s central problem and love as its solution.

What is meant by “sin”? This is another word for selfishness. Take the example of gluttony. To enjoy eating is natural and healthy, but if we take more than our share and/or more than is health for us, then selfishness is taking precedence over the interests of others and over our own larger self-interest. Selfishness is not simply self-interest. We are all motivated by self-interest. Our behaviour is driven by our perception of what will maximise our pleasure or minimise our suffering. Selfishness is when our present needs are so powerful that they override our wider self-interest.

What causes selfishness? Selfishness is the natural self-directedness of the suffering or threatened individual. If you hit your thumb with a hammer you will have trouble thinking about anything other than your thumb.

While physical suffering can certainly make us self-directed for the period that it continues, it is not the central source of selfishness. The central generator of human selfishness (i.e. “sin”) is guilt. This is because guilt has the ability to form a negative feedback loop. If we feel guilty about our selfish behaviour then the guilt increases our suffering and thus our selfishness.

It was from this dilemma that Jesus wanted to deliver us. This selfishness generating sense of guilt is what alienates us from our basic loving nature.

What is love? Love is something which allows individuals to communicate and cooperate in a way which brings into existence a larger whole. It is that which allows a group of individuals to operate as a family or, on a larger scale, a community. Loving communication is characterised by openness, honesty, spontaneity and generosity. So clearly selfishness is a barrier to love.

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Jesus gave a name to the ultimate possible form of loving community - “the Kingdom of Heaven”. He saw this as something which exists both within and without the individual. It exists within us as our capacity to feel love and around us in the ways in which love is expressed and the potential that exists for it to be expressed further. The terms “Heaven” and “Hell” do not require a belief in the supernatural to be meaningful. It is illuminating to read each as referring to an imagined potential. Heaven is how the world could be if our natural capacity for love is set free and Hell is a vision of the world of suffering which the guilt-driven double bind inflicts upon us. If we look around at the suffering in the world from war, poverty, preventable disease, mental illness, etc., then we can see that Hell is already with us and that there is the potential for it to get far worse.

Love is driven by pleasure. The pleasure-giving chemical Oxytocin is released into our blood-stream when we engage in loving behaviour, thus rewarding and reinforcing it. Negative emotions such as fear or guilt block this from happening. If we view “God” as a personification of love (amongst other things) then the concept that “God forgives our sins” is a way of acknowledging that what is needed to move away from destructive forms of behaviour is to let go of guilt and fear and reconnect with our love of ourselves and, from that basis, our love of others.

While selfishness is the state in which we thinking mainly of ourselves, bliss is the state in which we forget ourselves. We can see this by thinking about the experience of orgasm. The French refer to it as “le petit mort”  or “the little death” because, in the moment of ecstasy, the ego (the conscious thinking self) is temporarily lost or forgotten. This is a good example because it challenges the puritanical stream of Christianity which saw suffering as being good for the soul and pleasure being harmful. Such a philosophy will tend to make the individual more dependent on belief in a supernatural afterlife by encouraging them to make their current life wretched, but it is unlikely to make them any less self-obsessed, and thus any more loving. Sexual lust is viewed as a sin for the same reason that gluttony is. If someone’s appetite for something is so great that it overrides their concern for the interests of others then it is a form of selfishness which stands as a barrier to love. But healthy erotic desires only turn into lust when we repress them for some reason, often because we have been encouraged to feel guilty about them. Sexual intercourse which consists of the affectionate sharing of pleasurable feelings is rightly described as “making love” (it is accompanied by the release of Oxytocin into the bloodstream). Even where sexual activity may take less healthy forms, repression is generally not the solution. Remove feelings of guilt and behaviour naturally moves in a healthier direction without the need for self-denial.

Creative activity is another example of love at work. While we are caught up in a problem solving exercise or in the creation of a work of art, our attention may be directed towards something outside ourselves to the extent that we forget about ourselves entirely. Only when we are finished do we realise that we are hungry or cold or tired.

The irony is that many turn away from Christianity because all the talk of sin makes them feel more guilty. It seems as if Jesus’ attempt to free us from Hell and admit us to Heaven has largely backfired. But this set of powerful symbols and stories, which has entered so deeply into the collective consciousness of our culture, still holds the potential to guide our transformation if we find the key to unlock it’s potential to do so.

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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

"Toxic Masculinity" or Toxic Idealism?

How often does domestic violence take place because the perpetrator doesn’t know that it is wrong? Assuming that we are talking about violence inflicted upon the physically weaker individual, it is one of the most obvious of injustices. It is true that some highly regarded religious texts attempt to justify it in some cases, taking the same kind of reasoning which has been used to justify the corporal punishment of children - i.e. a theorised larger benefit for the individual through violence-induced self-discipline, so the possibility is there, especially in those cultures still dominated by such religious belief structures. But I think that it is safe to say that educational programs based around telling us that domestic violence is a bad thing will not have a major effect in minimising the problem as they are telling us what we already know.

As with any other form of destructive behaviour, domestic violence is counterproductive to the larger best interest of the perpetrator. Any relief from pent-up frustration experienced in the act of violence is liable to be offset by the longer-term disadvantages - feelings of guilt, possibility of punishment, progressive decline in benefits available from the victim through decrease in physical and emotional health. This may seem very cynical, but I present it this way for a reason. We have to understand that, even from the most clinical viewpoint, the abuser experiences a net loss. Once this is established the emphasis falls on the question of how the individual can gain the ability to behave differently - or, to look at it from a different perspective, what is driving the behaviour which is unhelpful both to themselves and to the victim.

Domestic violence may involve violence by men against women, men against men, women against men or women against women. There is also violence by adults against children, children against children and children against adults. But since a large slice of the problem is violence by men against women, this tends to be the main focus of educational programs aimed at addressing the problem.

One radical feminist approach which is gaining popularity describes aspects of archetypal masculinity as “toxic” and attempts to re-educated males out of them. I think this provides a good example of how an idealistic approach to a social problem can exacerbate rather than help it.

This video discusses the introduction of feminist ideology into Victorian schools as a response to the problem of domestic violence.

Before we take a look at the problems inherent in an idealistic approach to the problem, lets look at what we might achieve through a more pragmatic approach. 

Domestic violence is usually a form of expression for feelings of anger. So, given that anger is occurring, what can we do to channel it into something other than violence. As Bernard Lafayette said : “Violence is the language of the inarticulate.” Anything we can do to encourage people to give verbal expression to their feelings of anger is liable to reduce the incidence of violence. And this applies also to those who might end up on the receiving end of violence. A person who feels able to express their anger outwardly rather than adopt a submissive approach to life is less likely to end up being victimised by others. If walking away or seeking help are options they will be more likely to take them more quickly.

But where does the anger come from in the first place? Each of us has our character armour - our personality structure - the purpose of which is to protect us from threats internal and external. An internal threat might be feelings of worthlessness. We may have particular kinds of behaviour on which we pride ourselves because they carry the meaning for us that we are not worthless. Essentially the character armour is built from the conditions of our self-acceptance. If we use the example of an archetypal masculine persona, a young boy may have been taught that he’s not a real man if he cries. Thus not crying becomes a condition for his self-acceptance. All of us have some form of character armour. Playing on other’s pity by crying excessively and playing the victim, for instance, would just be another form of armour.

Insecurity in the armour can lead to outbursts of anger. When we don’t feel under threat, everything is peaceful, but when we feel our self-acceptance is under threat we will defend it aggressively by expressing angry feelings toward the source of the threat.

The more self-accepting we are, the less prone we are to anger or violence. Of course this doesn’t mean that people who don’t feel angry are necessarily self-accepting. The negative feelings can be directed inwardly rather than outwardly, thus many non-self-accepting people become depressed rather than angry.

Through cultivating unconditional self-acceptance we can increase the integrity and thus the health of our personality structure. If we have many conditions for our self-acceptance then we are like a hollow tree which many things can break. If we are self-sufficient in the maintenance of our self-acceptance then we are like a healthy tree which can resist or bend as required.

We achieve unconditional self-acceptance by learning to accept all of our thoughts and feelings. Let’s take a man who has been violent towards women. Telling him that his masculinity is “toxic” isn’t going to help him be more self-accepting. He feels angry. He wants to beat a woman. So this is the place for him to begin. He needs to accept that it is O.K. to feel angry and that is O.K. to want to beat a woman. He will feel these things whether he thinks they are O.K. or not, but recognising that the thoughts and the feelings do no harm in themselves and can be accepted in themselves will help to take the pressure off. The fact that he has, in the past, been violent, is an indication that his particular character structure and situation have resulted in a level of pressure pushing him towards violence which he was unable to resist. A demand - from the individual’s conscience or from others - that they be different from the way they are when they have no way of accommodating this demand can be a source of unbearable pressure. Drawing a distinction between the deed and the thoughts and feelings which lie behind the deed can be enough to free the individual from a good deal of this pressure. If they are made to feel that they are unacceptable for feeling like beating a woman then there is far less motive for resisting that urge. And if insecurities about self-worth are what lie at the heart of the character armour then we are hardly helping someone to free themselves of a destructive form of such armour by insisting that they are a bad person.

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Let’s look at a little myth or parable about the masculine and the feminine to see if we can put that aspect of the issue into some kind of historical context. The virtue of this format is that it allows for simplification.

A tribe live in the jungle. Both men and women spend time looking after the infants. Leopards from time to time eat one of the infants. The men make spears and head out into the jungle to kill the leopards and protect the women and children. (As child bearers the women are too valuable to be hunters.) Hunting requires the cultivation of competitive and aggressive abilities. The hunting culture comes to clash with the nurturing culture. The women tell the men not to be so macho when back amongst the tribe. Suppressing the voice of the nurturer within was a necessary part of becoming a successful hunter, so giving in to the critical voice of the nurturers would endanger the group, but resisting that critical voice means an increase in the behaviour which is being criticised. It is a negative feedback loop. This cultural divide between men and women determines the structure of our character armour with some of those made most insecure by the negative feedback loop feeling the need to exercise more and more control over society.

We can’t know if things actually happened like that, but I think that the pattern of criticism leading to an increase in the thing criticised is something we can see in society today. Constructive criticism is helpful to the secure individual, but if the negative behaviour arises from a state of insecurity then reestablishing a state of security is a prerequisite to being able to change for the better, and in this case criticism can be counterproductive.

While idealistic criticism leads to insecurity and retaliatory hostility, idealism itself is driven by insecurity. The more someone doubts their own worth the more addicted they may become to “proving” their worth by championing “the good”. If we have a lot of psychological room then we can think about all the shades of grey regarding any moral issue and we can recognise the underlying psychological issues which need to be addressed if we want an improvement in people’s behaviour. But if we are so insecure - so backed into a corner by our own dark side - that only a simplistic division between good and evil is possible and no strategy more complex than an insistence on the good can find a hold in our mind - then idealism is the result.

Which brings us back to the idea of trying to educate young men out of their “toxic masculinity”. This reminds me of the Chinese Cultural Revolution or the discipline and “consciousness raising” approach of religious cults. Education should be about giving people facts and tools, not trying to shape intentions and personalities. The shaping of intentions and personalities should be an autonomous process. We may be able to “educate” people to be submissive to our demands, but a society of such people is a dictatorship waiting to happen. If we want a truly healthy society it needs to be made up of individuals with the kind of integrity which can only grow naturally.

The concept of unconditional self-acceptance is very simple. At its heart is the idea that thoughts and feelings, in and of themselves, do no harm, but, no matter how apparently sick, may be steps on the way to a healthier mode of being. It isn’t an attempt to “educate” anyone out of anything as it is offered as a tool to be used only if the individual finds it useful.

Carl Jung said : "The healthy man does not torture others - generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers." If we apply this to those in our society who are given to violence, we are left with the question : “What is the nature of the violence which has been done to them?” Is it not possible to conceive that that violence is/was a lack of acceptance of some kind - a message conveyed by those around them (from parents to peers to religious teachers) that they were, in some essential way, unacceptable? Is it not the same kind of invisible violence that drives so many to suicide?

Of course here we find another negative feedback loop. The more violent acts a person commits the further recedes the possibility of the acceptance - both from themselves and others - they might require to lose the violent impulse.

It may be easy to lose hope for our society - torn as it is between those whose insecurity makes them cling to various forms of idealism and those who are driven to hostility by the wounds that that idealism’s lack of acceptance inflicts upon them (neither of those positions being mutually exclusive). But each of us who learns - through unconditional self-acceptance - to achieve reconciliation between the warring factions of our own psyche is an island of strength in a sea of weak and frightened individuals. The advantage lies with us.

Friday, 14 October 2016

BOOK REVIEW : Transform Your Life and Save the World - Through Living In Support Of The Biological Truth About The Human Condition by Jeremy Griffith

I’ve been studying the writings of Jeremy Griffith for over 25 years. You may wonder why I would take such an interest in the writings of a man whose books I give one star ratings to. If his ideas are no good, why waste my time on them?

The truth is that I agree with much of what Griffith says and I’ve always felt that there is something in his theory which is essential to addressing humanity’s most serious problems. On the other hand, I think he is wrong in many ways. If he presented his theory as a theory to be assessed like any other, I would give his books five stars, because they are a passionate and original exploration of very deep issues. But he doesn’t present it as a theory. He claims that he is presenting the holy grail of liberating knowledge which all humanity has been striving towards since the dawn of human consciousness. Anyone who has dipped into his books or even read the blurbs on the back covers will know what I mean when I say he goes the hard sell. And he sometimes gets carried away when expressing his disagreement with others. He has labelled fellow biologist Edward O. Wilson “the anti-christ” and described the rejection of one of his articles by Scientific American : “…the most serious crime that could possibly be committed in the whole of humanity’s 2-million-year journey to enlightenment…” This kind of behaviour may lead many people to view Griffith as some random nut-case, but there are those for whom the combination of the self-hype and the fact that Griffith genuinely delves deep and acknowledges aspects of human psychology most of us would be more comfortable denying leads to an unwavering commitment to these ideas. So I value his writings as a catalyst for my own thinking, but have to rate his works with a single star because I believe that, while he has the best of intentions, the way he presents his ideas is wrong and dangerous.

If you want to know what his central theory is you are better off reading it here than trying to wade your way through his massive tome Freedom : The End of the Human Condition to which this booklet is intended to be an introduction.

The basic concept is that we have a genetic orientation to selfless behaviour which is what we experience as our conscience. Most other animals are genetically selfish. The change in our genetic orientation from selfish to selfless occurred through a process called “love indoctrination” whereby the mothers of our proto-human ancestors nurtured their infants for genetically selfish reasons, but to the infants it seemed like selflessness. Thus they were “indoctrinated” into the idea that selflessness is the meaning of life. Over many generations this orientation to selflessness became encoded in our genes. But, as our conscious mind developed, it needed to experiment with self-management, rather than blindly follow the guidance of the selfless instincts. When this led to us acting in ways which our instincts interpreted as selfish, they criticised us. Our conscious mind became insecure in the face of this criticism - we became angry (against the criticism), egotistical (always needing to assert our worth in the face of our instincts condemnation of us) and alienated (blocking out any aspects of reality which might seem to support the criticisms coming from our conscience.) Thus we had a loving cooperative beginning as a species (which we mostly retain an orientation to in our genes) and our dark side since then has been a psychological byproduct of the emergence of consciousness.

I’m willing to believe we had a cooperative beginning as a species and I definitely believe that our propensity for selfishness, competition and aggression is a psychological phenomenon. I also believe that the critical nature of idealism is the root cause of the psychological insecurity (or neurosis) which drives our dark side.

Where I disagree with Griffith is on the source of idealism. He sees it as something genetic, whereas I see it as a social phenomenon - a product of the conscious mind, not the instincts.

A clear distinction has to be made here between idealism and love. I don’t feel that Griffith makes this distinction and thus he goes very far wrong. He identifies our conscience with this genetic orientation, but at the same time he says that this genetic orientation is the source of our capacity for love and cooperativeness. The conscience is something which tries to control our behaviour by making us feel bad if we go against it. Love on the other hand cannot be forced. If it is not freely given then it isn’t love. Cooperation in a superficial sense can be forced. People can be made to cooperate. But this isn’t cooperation in the fullest sense of the word - to work with - they may be with us physically, but if there is compulsion then they will not be with us in the relational sense.

I have no problem with the idea that we have a genetic orientation to being loving and cooperative. We see these qualities in young children and we can often see the evidence that emotional disturbance of one kind or another lies behind deviation from such a nature. But, unlike the conscience, love is not dictatorial. In it’s purest form it is all-accepting and all-forgiving. The conscience is certainly not that.

It seems clear to me that the conscience is a part of the ego - the conscious thinking self - in which we store our learned moral principles. How else do we explain that what makes us feel guilty differs from person to person and culture to culture? If our conscience were genetic we would see no such diversity. Guilt can be understood as the sense of psychological pain which accompanies the withdrawal of self-acceptance.

I see no need for the theory of “love indoctrination”. Nature at base is integrative - competition occurs within a cooperative framework. The motivation for we animals is the pleasure principle - to seek that which makes us feel good and try to avoid what makes us feel bad. (In humans this gets very complicated because of our ability to make decisions based on predictions about the future, our psychological needs and our metaphysical belief systems.) For animals, good and bad feelings are the messengers for the genes. An animal which experiences maximised pleasure when mating with a healthy member of his species and is willing to compete for that pleasure may prove more fit in the process of natural selection. And a female member of a species who feels enough discomfort at the prospect of losing her infant to fight to protect it will also be likely to have an advantage. And where there is not enough food for everyone, those who are most motivated to compete will pass on their genes. But these animals compete when there is an advantage, in terms of achieving pleasure or avoiding suffering, in competing.

Griffith places a lot of emphasis on the bonobos as an example of what our cooperative past may have been like. Bonobos are peaceful, cooperative and matriarchal, while chimpanzees are more aggressive, competitive and patriarchal. The chimpanzees developed in an ecosystem where food was less plentiful. The bonobos spend a lot of their time rubbing genitals with each other fairly indiscriminately. Why would the bonobos not be cooperative and peaceful? Everyone has enough food. Living cooperatively means living in a peaceful supportive community and spending much of your time rubbing genitals. Where is the pleasure advantage in competition?

As for our ancestors, if they lived in an environment where there was plenty of food to go around, then the only source of competition would be mating. But would competing for mates in such an environment confer a significant evolutionary advantage? It would in a more hostile environment with a high infant mortality rate. There it would be a numbers game. But if most infants grew to adulthood, then environmental advantage would go to those who were best nurtured and thus healthiest. In this kind of ecological niche, genetic advantage would favour nurturing as it does with the bonobos. And there would be no genetic drive to compete which needed to be “indoctrinated” out of us. All that was needed was a space where competition was not advantageous. Maybe the chimpanzees too would like to be living cooperatively and spending their time rubbing genitals, but if there isn’t enough food to go around they have to stick with their less pleasant lifestyle.

So how did it all go wrong? I think Griffith is right that a conflict arose between the instincts and the intellect, but not in the way he thinks. If our instincts are to be loving and cooperative then they would have to be forgiving and uncritical. Forgiveness is essential to love and necessary if ongoing cooperation is to be facilitated. Idealism on the other hand is unforgiving and is a divisive influence. Idealism encourages us to judge ourselves or others against a standard which is, by definition unreachable. Ideality and reality are opposites, thus ideals can never be achieved in the real world. The ideals produce just the kind of response in the insecure ego that Griffith attributes to them. But they originate in the conscious mind, not in the instincts. They are a product of the conscious mind’s attempt to understand the world and manage it’s own behaviour.

How did we arrive at the concept of idealism? To have an idea of good and evil we would need something with which to contrast our loving cooperative behaviour. The behaviour of predatory animals would have provided that contrast. The role of protecting the tribe against them would have fallen to men as women needed to concentrate on nurturing the infants. In hunting against them we would have had to cultivate our own competitive and aggressive potential. While necessary, this would have had a disruptive effect on the group, something which the women would have had to try to control. So we have behaviour labelled “bad” and other behaviour labelled “good” and social pressure to restrain the former and cultivate the latter. A moral system. In time individuals would have begun second-guessing criticism. They would have internalised the moral system. They would have gained a conscience.

Of course this was necessary, but the problem is that idealism has a tendency to undermine self-acceptance. We end up feeling guilty about our transgressions and the resultant insecurity makes it harder for us to open up to our deeper loving nature. Our wounded ego becomes a bigger and bigger barrier to improving our behaviour. We become, as Griffith says, angry, egocentric and alienated.

Griffith likes to use his theory as a way of explaining the myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but there are some aspects of that story which can be explained by what I have just said which he does not attempt to explain. Eve was the first to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and she was tempted to do so by a snake. If predatory animals were what led us to the origin of idealism, then that explains the snake. If women were the first ones to insist on a moral system, that explains how Eve ate first. And it was not simply the Tree of Knowledge (as Griffith often says in support of his theory that conscious thought in general was the key factor), but the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (i.e. knowledge of morality or idealism). We can quite safely use our minds to explore and experiment wherever we don’t arrive at hurtful self-criticism. It was not the search for knowledge which corrupted us, as Griffith claims, but the idealism which we played with along the way.

Griffith’s placing of idealism in the genes leads him to this absurdity : “…but we have never before been able to ‘heal our soul’, to truthfully explain to our original instinctive self or soul that our fully conscious, thinking self is good and not bad…” If our instinctive self resides in our genes, then how can we explain anything to it? How can genes listen and understand? But if the split is one which idealism has caused within our conscious mind, then a healing integrity of understanding is possible.

I could go on and on analysing and criticising Griffith’s attempt to explain the human condition, and I have done that elsewhere, but here I just wanted to deal with the central issue as all other failings proceed from there.

I care about Jeremy Griffith and his followers and I care what happens to the human race. My motivation is the pleasure principle. It would be pleasant for me to see the members of the World Transformation Movement liberated from the impasse caused by their support of a faulty theory. And it would be pleasant to live in a world where the human race has a chance to survive, whether they are a part of making that possible or not.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Selfishness is Self-Denial

The key problem in human societies has always been selfishness. It puts us in the position of competing with each other when cooperation is the way to maximise our creativity and make sure that the needs of all are provided for.

But how well do we actually understand selfishness?

Selfishness is the natural self-directedness of the suffering or insecure individual. If you hit your thumb with a hammer you find it hard to think of anything else. It is a natural process that our attention focuses where there is a need or a threat.

Sometimes we are encouraged to feel guilty about being selfish. This doesn’t help. Guilt is a source of pain and pain makes us more selfish. It’s a negative feedback loop.

We may think that we have to chose between selfishness or self-denial. This is a false dichotomy. Selfishness is self-denial.

The fact that we want pleasure for ourselves is not a problem. It may very well be the solution. Selfishness consists less in the seeking of personal pleasure than it does in lacking the courage to truly maximise that pleasure.

Copyright: melnyk58 / 123RF Stock Photo

Think of the society within which we live as a garden. Each of us lives in a hut within that garden. The garden has run to seed. It is a tangle of weeds.

We can hide away in our huts most of the time. We can spend our time and resources putting up new wall-paper, shag-pile carpet, decorating with fancy adornments, buying a new 4K television… Our hut provides us with a place to hide from other people and from looking at the weeds. Sure we have our pleasures, but they are meagre.

With more courage we could learn to spend more time outside of our hut. Instead of decorating it we could be pulling weeds and planting flowers and fruit trees. Instead of being alone we could be doing this with others - talking and joking.

The more we transform the garden and the closer bonds we form with our fellow garden-dwellers, the longer we will want to spend outside.

Eventually we won’t want to return to our huts unless it is cold or rainy. We will wander around tending to the plants, eating the fruit, smelling the flowers, singing and dancing and making love with our neighbours.

And finally we realise that our selfishness was really a perverse form of asceticism. All we were doing was shutting ourselves out from paradise.