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 593 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

How Can Erotica Make the World a Better Place?

Kate Winslet as Madeleine LeClerc in Quills (2000) (dir. Philip Kaufman) (based on the play by Doug Wright)

I've just done a guest post as Aussiescribbler (my erotica writing pseudonym) for Naoko Smith's Feminist Erotica Blog. I apply some of the ideas I've expressed here and in my Joe Blow books to the world of erotica as well as to broader issues of sexual desire, anti-social feelings and the need for free social expression of the dark side of our psyche.

The psychological poisons in our souls don’t go away through repression, through cutting off opportunities for their free expression. All that does is to cause these poisons to stay there festering away beneath the surface, becoming more and more dangerous.

Read the rest here.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Me... Or My Disease?

Recently I was reading some feedback comments on Natasha Tracy's Bipolar Burble Blog. The idea was put forward by one sufferer with bipolar disorder that it is important to understand that the turbulent behaviour of individuals with the condition comes from the disease and not from the individual who suffers from it. Unfortunately my manner of questioning the usefulness of this attitude caused some offence to the individual in question. I realised in retrospect that the best way to discuss such difficult topics without giving offence tends to be to speak of personal experiences. So I thought I would use that exchange as inspiration to give a very personal and detailed account of my viewpoint here.

I've experienced bipolar psychosis. To clarify my take on the Is it me or is it my disease?" question, I'd like to look at two examples of my behaviour in a hospital emergency room while experiencing a psychotic episode.

One of my delusions at the time was that an apocalyptic transformation of human society was taking place and that, in this new world which was coming into being, things were acceptable which would not have been acceptable before. I thought it was O.K. for me to grope the bottoms of nurses. It took a couple of experiments before I recognised that I might be mistaken. One nurse responded angrily, another broke down in tears.

Was this me? Or was it my disease? I wasn't to blame for my behaviour, because, had I not been confused by psychosis, I would not have behaved in that way. I had no desire to cause offence or distress. It was the delusion that my behaviour would not cause such feelings which made it seem acceptable to me at the time. But where did the impetus for the behaviour come from? It came from my desire to grope women's bottoms, something which had nothing to do with my psychosis. I wanted to grope women's bottoms then. I want to grope women's bottoms now. I have two reasons for not doing so :

1. Such behaviour would lead to me being excluded from civilised society.

2. It would be liable to cause distress the women involved.

One of the symptoms of the manic phase of bipolar disorder is a loss of inhibitions. When we lose our inhibitions, and thus our tendency to censor our expression of our feelings, what is revealed is, arguably, more our real self than the sanitised version we present when we are concerned about making a good impression.

Something else I did during this wild evening in the emergency ward was to point at a fellow patient and shout : You're not my father!"

Was that me? Or my disease? Once again, I would not have done this if I had not been psychotic. I had no desire to confound or frighten some poor fellow patient. In my confused state he looked like someone I knew, someone from whom I felt a desperate need to declare my independence. (Not my actual father I should point out.)

My disease was the source of my confusion. But the message of defiance, misdirected as it was, was very much my own.

Stability in the personality comes from integration of all of its aspects. If we accept all aspects of our psyche as a part of who we are, then wholeness is possible. If we view some aspect of our thought, feeling or behaviour are something alien and/or hostile which we must contain, fight against or attempt to expunge, then it will tend to become more severe.

Let's look at a hypothetical situation now. One of the major problems we may have if we are suffering from some form of psychological condition such as bipolar disorder or conventional depression is the pressure which may be put upon our relationship with a loved one. No doubt I was a source of distress not just to nurses but to friends and members of my family when I was ill. But I've never been married or had a comparable kind of relationship. What if I had?

When we are suffering it is natural for our attention to centre upon ourselves. If we are depressed or manic we will be selfish. This is inescapable. We may fight against it. We may try to force ourselves to recognise the needs of others. But our heart won't be in it. Maybe we will feel guilty about putting an emotional drain on our partner. If we do, it will make us more depressed or it will add to our mania. The essence of mania is escape. Our situation seems intolerable, so rather than facing it our mind races away into wild dreams or spending sprees or sexual escapades, anything to avoid facing what would otherwise seem to be our reality. I say seem" because often what is so unthinkable is unthinkable only because we have not yet discovered a comfortable way to think about it. Our problems are not necessarily objective problems.

I know I'm treating you terribly," we might say, but it isn't me, it's the disease. I love you."

What is love? It's a form of communication characterised by openness, honesty, spontaneity and generosity. Often what we think of as love is something else - attachment, commitment or sexual attraction. Attachment is when we desire the presence of a person or a thing. When we pick someone to be our partner, we make a commitment to be supportive of them and to try to keep our love for them alive. Love exists when it can. It requires the qualities listed above. If we have to hide something from our partner - be less than open - then that compromises the love between us. The same is true if we lie to a partner, if we fall into patterns of rigidly formulaic interaction or if we are selfish.

If we feel the need to say I love you" then love at that point is at best tenuous between us. Since love is a form of communication, both parties can tell if it is happening or not. A more honest approach might be to say : I want to be with you" or I want love to occur between us".

One of the barriers to love between someone who is suffering from depression and the person who cares for them is the feeling on the part of both parties that they need to be fair.

We all have desires and needs. If those desires and needs are not met it can cause feelings of frustration. This is irrespective of why those desires and needs have not been met. First we feel disappointed or angry, and only after that do we ask ourselves whether we are being reasonable to feel this way. If we come to the conclusion that we are not being reasonable, all the worse for us, because then we have two layers of bad feeling - one the frustration and on top of that the sense that we don't even have a justification for that feeling of frustration.

The loved one of a person suffering from depression can't possibly give them all that they need. And it is unreasonable to expect it. But the unreasonableness of such an expectation only makes it that much harder to bare. This can become a negative feedback loop. The depressed person places a burden on their partner. They know this is unfair to their partner. So they feel guilty. The guilt makes them more depressed. The more depressed they are the more of a burden they put on their partner, which leads to more guilt, and so on.

But feelings are only feelings. Once we have established that they do not conform to what is reasonable, we can see them as a quality of being and not as a message. What hurts is the implication that we are at fault. If we understand that the other party is just letting off steam", i.e. giving vent to the frustration of their position, rather than taking what they say as a criticism to be taken on board, even if that is the verbal form it takes, then we can come closer together. It is the log jam of shoulds" that blocks the passage of love in this kind of situation.

If we were to insist that the bad feelings and the behaviour they impelled us towards were our disease, not us" then we would not be able to come to an understanding of the dynamics that generate them or those which could ease them.

And if I told myself my desire to fondle strange women's bottoms was a symptom of a chemical imbalance in my brain rather than an intrinsic part of my sensual nature, then I might live in fear of an unpredictable fit of glute groping rather than being able to look back with amusement at my moment of madness.

Frederick March as Mr. Hyde

Friday, 28 March 2014

Mailing List

I just designed a flier which looks like this to publicise How to Be Free. Finding a way to distribute it is not quite so easy, so I'm thinking I should create a mailing list. If you would be interested in being on such a list, just send me an email to

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Book Review : Beyond the Human Condition by Jeremy Griffith

Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith has attracted a fair bit of attention over the years with what he claims to be a liberating first principle biological explanation for the human condition, i.e. our species' capacity for good and evil.

For a time I was a supporter of Griffith's theories. Why would I not be attracted to the idea that some great riddle had been cracked which would lead to an end to all of humanity's problems - a reconciliation between the left wing and right wing in politics, between science and religion, between men and women - an end to war, poverty, mental illness? With his first book - Free : The End of the Human Condition - Griffith really laid on the hard sell, but the book was genuinely deep and full of references to the fossil record and primate behaviour. Back then I was prone to depression. Reading that book hurt like hell. They say that the truth hurts, so this seemed to be in its favour.

If you want a brief, concise and well-presented introduction to Griffith's theory and what he thinks it means for humanity, this second book - Beyond the Human Condition - is the one to read.

The first thing to acknowledge is that Griffith spends little of his time in the book arguing from reason. Much of the text consists of quotes from some of his favourite writers, most notably Laurens van der Post, as well as the Bible. He also paraphrases from popular songs the lyrics of which he wasn't able to obtain the rights to quote. This is not a scientific approach. The fact that Bruce Springsteen once said something in a song does not constitute evidence.

As the quotes in this book reveal, all I have been able to add to the perception/soundness of Jesus Christ and Sir Laurens van der Post is the biological reason for the repression of our soul."

So how credible is this biological explanation for the human condition? Let's first summarise its essence.

Most animals compete for food or mating opportunities. Because our proto-human ancestors lived in the fertile environment of the Rift Valley in Africa their nurturing period grew longer. The mothers were nurturing their infants for genetically selfish reasons, because they contained their own genes. But to the infants this seemed like selfless behaviour. Not knowing anything about genetics, they thought their mother's cared more about them than about themselves. And so they learned that this was the way to be - they became love-indoctrinated". This led to the flowering of our ability to reason about the world, because we could think holistically rather than have our view of the world fractured by the us and them duality inherent in competition. It was also the origin of our soul or conscience, our instinctive sense of what was right, because learned behaviour over many generations becomes encoded in the genes.

So now we had a rational mind and a genetic orientation towards selfless behaviour. But the rational mind needed to experiment. Some of these experiments would have led to behaviour which contravened the genetic conscience, which would give the message that we were doing something wrong. Unable to explain our need to experiment with self-management, we became frustrated and eventually angry with this genetic conscience. This led to anger at anything which reminded us of it, such as nature or, if we were men, women. This was the origin of our dark side. And yet we were not villains, we were the greatest of heroes for defying the oppression of our idealistic instincts and taking on self-corruption in order to find understanding of ourselves, which eventually would lead to the understanding of how we became upset" in the first place, and with that understanding would come liberation from our condition.

I'm no scientist, but I can see two problems with this theory on a level which can be examined through observation of behaviour and through introspection.

If our conscience was learned through being exposed to the nurturing behaviour of mothers, then it should share the qualities of that nurturing behaviour. Griffith gives the analogy that our conscience is like the genetically-encoded flight path of a bird. Such a flight path is presumably rigidly dictatorial as it remains the same year after year. But the loving behaviour of a mother is anything but rigid or dictatorial, it is flexible and improvisational. She is engaged in a dynamic relationship with her offspring which is tolerant of most behaviour as long as it is not dangerous for them. So how does the infant develop from this a rigid dictatorial and unforgiving genetic blueprint for behaviour?

Is it really credible that our conscience is stored in our genes? Why is it that what makes us feel guilty varies from person to person and culture to culture? Why do some people appear to have no conscience? Is it not more likely that the conscience is learned, that it is a part of our ego, the part where we store our expectations about ourselves?

Griffith aligns love and idealism. But are these not contradictory phenomena? We say that the purest form of love is unconditional love, and what is idealism but the placing of conditions on our acceptance of ourselves or our acceptance of others? Idealism can all too easily consist in hatred of all that is not viewed as ideal.

He is right to identify idealism as something oppressive, but he does not go far enough.

He has said that his first book grew out of my desperate need to reconcile my extreme idealism with reality." He views much of upset" human behaviour as an attack on innocence", including consensual sex. He believes that recreational, as opposed to reproductive sex, began during the time of Homo Erectus when men, angry at women's criticism of their lack of ideality, began raping them, something which was later civilised into something which could be considered an act of love between men and women. He doesn't seem to give any acknowledgement that orgasms feel good in and of themselves, hence masturbation. This in spite of the fact that he often points to bonobos, who spend a large part of their time rubbing genitals with members of both genders, as an indication of what our Australopithecine ancestors might have been like.


Griffith views himself as an innocent. He says that the rest of us want to attack innocence. He says this has been necessary because innocence is oppressive, and that we are heroes for having taken on the job of fighting back against that oppressiveness. Would it be unfair to describe this as an appeasement strategy?

I think that idealism is the heart of the problem, the root of all evil. This is kind of what Griffith is saying, but not quite. He thinks idealism was the problem only as long as we didn't understand ourselves, and now he thinks he has made such an understanding possible, thus making idealism no longer a problem.

I think idealism is a kind of conceptual virus which has plagued humanity. Now this doesn't mean that we are wrong to want peace and togetherness and kindness and to want to be less selfish. This is the insidious nature of the negative feedback loop that is idealism. It advertises itself as the road to Heaven when it is actually the road to Hell. The harder we strive for the ideals, the further they recede.

This is because the good things we want can only grow out of love, and the foundation of love is unconditional self-acceptance. Throughout our lives our self-acceptance is being undermined by criticism, rejection and by the condemnation implied by those apparently unreachable ideals. The oppression of our conscience, of those ideals we find so hard to meet, or, if we are religious, that perfect God who makes us feel like pathetic worms for our lack of perfection, all of these things can build up a seething pit of resentment in us towards those who seem to be more in tune with the ideals than ourselves. Sometimes, unable to acknowledge this well of darkness in ourselves, we project it onto others, going into battle against the terrible other.

William Blake

If love is the answer, then what is love? Love is a mode of communication characterised by openness, honesty, spontaneity and generosity. Fear, of others and of the darkness within us, causes us to become rigid, to adopt character armour, which is the barrier to love. All we need to open up to the love which will bring us the peace and togetherness and freedom from our ego-prisons that we desire, is to feel safe enough to put aside our armour. Our armour is our egotism. And it is our alienation, that which blocks us from experiencing the world as it really is and from thinking honestly about ourselves and that world.

It is true that we have always needed a way to love the dark side of our psyche. But love is not appeasement. Love doesn't bolster our ego by saying, You're a hero." Love releases us from our enslavement to that ego, by saying, You are forgiven now, and you will be forgiven always." This was the essence of Jesus' message. If God is a mythological figure representing the creative principle of the universe, which in human affairs takes the form of love, then every time we realise we have made a mistake, as long as we are honest about it, God is there to forgive us. This is not some supernatural assurance. The creative principle of the universe works through evolution. Deviations from the norm are what lead to new and wonderful things. Nature is no dictator, insisting on some kind of perfection. And all human discord can be healed by love, which does not judge. At the moment our self-acceptance is conditional and therefore our love for others is conditional too. But in time the barriers to unconditional love will melt away, and then all is forgiven. Love is the sea that refuses no river.

Griffith is a major critic of what he terms pseudo-idealistic" movements - environmentalism, socialism, the New Age Movement, political correctness", etc. He sees them as superficial and escapist, because they don't address the deeper psychological issues. This is fair enough up to a point. But he sees them as being so powerful in the world now and so dogmatic that they might shut down the search for understanding altogether. He quotes George Orwell :

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face [freedom] - for ever." 1984.

To emphasise the danger he also quotes from the Bible (with his own extrapolations) :

'He [the self-deception that accompanies superficiality] will invade the kingdom [of honesty] when its people feel secure [when superficiality becomes popular enough], and he will seize it [the kingdom of honesty] through intrigue...Then they [those pushing self-deception] will set up the abomination that causes desolation [the superficiality that leads to oblivion]. With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant [self-deluding superficiality will seduce the exhausted], but the people who know their God will firmly resist him [the less exhausted will not be deceived].'"

Daniel, 11:21, 31, 32.

'So when you see the 'abomination that causes desolation' (spoken of through the prophet Daniel) standing where it does not belong [claiming to know the way to the new age] let the reader understand... For then there will be great distress [mindless superficiality and its consequences], unequalled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equalled again. If those days had not been cut short [by the arrival of the truth], no-one would survive.'"

Matthew 24 and Mark 13

These passages, and the emphasis and interpretation Griffith puts on them, deserve closer examination. Sometimes we see in our enemies a reflexion of a truth we are hiding from ourselves.

He [an extreme idealist] will invade the kingdom [the establishment] when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue [disguising his insistence on the ideals with a cloak of pretend science]... Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation [idealism]. With flattery [by telling us we are heroes] he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant [technically, those who have broken from the agreement to follow the precepts of the gospel, but probably more broadly those who have been dishonest, judgemental or unloving], but the people who know their God [those who understand the true nature of love] will firmly resist him."

Now lets look at the passages from Matthew and Mark. In Mark it says ...standing where it does not belong..." but in Matthew it is more specific saying ...standing in the holy place...". If the abomination that causes desolation" is idealism, then in what way might it have been put in the holy place"? Holy" means whole" or of the whole". Griffith identifies idealism with holism. He puts idealism in the place of holism. Idealism, being founded on a dualistic split between good and evil, cannot be reconciled with holism. Holism is necessarily pragmatic.

So why the talk about great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equalled again"? Certainly we live in very troubled times. How is this related to the presentation of a theory that we are genetically idealistic?

If idealism has been the poison virus contaminating the human race throughout its history (ever since it arose in the experimenting mind of one of our ancestors), then to nail it down to our very bodies themselves is the final straw. No escape, no defence. The enemy is within!

Just after that in Matthew 24:19, Jesus says : How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!"

Griffith believes that infants are born with an instinctive expectation of an ideal world, thus they will be damaged by their mother's lack of ideality.

In every generation, individual women had a very brief life in innocence before being soul-destroyed through sex. They then had to try to nurture a new generation, all the time trying to conceal the destruction that was all around and within them. Mothers tried to hide their alienation from their children, but the fact is if a mother knew about reality/upset her children would know about it and would psychologically adapt to it."

I'm sure that being a mother is a tough job to begin with without this kind of unfounded pressure. I don't believe infants are born expecting anything particular, and what they most need is a relaxed mother. If love is open, honest, spontaneous and generous communication, it will be impeded by feelings of anxiety or guilt. And being sexually repressed won't help either.

You might say, But how can this bring great tribulation to the world when hardly anyone has actually read it?" Every book written is in some way an articulation of a broader and deeper social current. We could look at Griffith's books not so much as a wind blowing us off course as a weather vane in which the direction of that wind is indicated. They are a crystallisation of the pathology of idealism which has plagued us down the centuries. Job's prayer was : Oh, that my enemy had written a book!" Through Jeremy Griffith, idealism has done just that.

Jeremy Griffith's new book
For more information about Jeremy Griffith check out the World Transformation Movement website.

You can also find a critical review of Griffith's new book, along with some very interesting discussion  between supporters and critics here.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Hurt-Proofing Ourselves

The other day I was having a discussion with a friend about whether or not a particular song in a famous Broadway and Hollywood musical amounted to an offensively racist caricature. I was countering the arguments for it being seen as racist, but I knew that, for me, it was just a game. The song made my friend angry. To me it was just a song in a musical which I enjoy.

I thought about this further to myself, but didn't express my broader thoughts on the topic at the time. Nothing offends me," I thought. As far as I'm concerned someone could do a whole musical in blackface and I wouldn't be bothered by it. It wouldn't make me feel bad personally, and why should I be offended on someone else's behalf. Aren't we all able to be offended for ourselves without any help."

This may seem callous or selfish. I'm not saying that this is how everyone should view these things. But if we examine what is going on here I think we can learn something useful.

We have a saying : Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." But we know that this is not true. Other people's insults and putdowns do hurt us. Often they hurt a lot. But why?

To understand this we need to go back to our childhood. The reason we had greater emotional resilience and a greater capacity for joy when we were young children is because our self-acceptance had not yet been compromised. We seemed to ourselves acceptable because nobody had yet taught us that we might be unacceptable in any way. As we got older we were subjected to criticism by adults and other children. If we understood this as an expression of displeasure with our behaviour alone and not a sign that there was something essentially wrong with us, our self-acceptance would not have been compromised. But this can be a fine distinction for a child to have to make. Also we were taught a value system and a set of social norms. If these were unreasonably harsh then we probably developed unforgiving expectations regarding our own behaviour. We developed a conscience which was less like a friendly guide and more like an oppressive dictator who punished us for all failures to follow his orders by undermining our sense of ourselves as acceptable.

The basis for mental health is unconditional self-acceptance. But what happened as our self-acceptance was eaten away is that it became conditional. We could accept ourselves if we were good. We could accept ourselves if we were successful. We could accept ourselves if other people accepted us. This is a very vulnerable position to be in because others can undermine our self-acceptance at any time by removing the conditions on which that self-acceptance depends.

We may not realise it but we live within a kind of psychological economy in which the traded commodities are the requirements for self-acceptance. Most of the control others exercise over us and of the control we exercise, or try to exercise, over others comes from the application of self-acceptance bribes and threats. When we treat someone well, we help them to bolster their self-acceptance. If we try to control another's behaviour by, for instance, making them feel guilty or shaming them in front of others, we are attempting to blackmail them into behaving in a way which conforms with our own wishes or beliefs about what is right or wrong by trying to take away the conditions for their self-acceptance.

The good news is that we can drop out of this sick economy. Or, if we chose, we can continue to use it against others while being invulnerable to it ourselves. I'm not saying that that would be a healthy thing to do, but it would be possible. The healthy thing to do is to hurt-proof ourselves and teach others how to do likewise. The more hurt-proof individuals there are in the world, the less scope there is for anyone to oppress others.

Of course not all forms of oppression are based on exclusively psychological transactions. Those in positions of power can make decisions prejudicial to those they don't like for whatever reason. And there is always the possibility of violence. But if we are hurt-proof we have a better base from which to deal with problems of organisational prejudice or violence. And there is more solidarity between hurt-proof individuals to stand against such forms of oppression because social relations between such individuals are not compromised by the inherent fragility of self-acceptance exchanges. The less we need the more we are there for each other.

So how do we hurt-proof ourselves?

Let's go back to that saying : Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." Why do names hurt us? If we are black, why does it hurt to be called a nigger"? If we are gay, why does it hurt to be called a queer"? Why does it hurt if someone says we are ugly" or pathetic" or “a  loser"?

Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce in the movie Lenny (1974) 
doing his infamous piece about racist words

The reason is that we don't fully accept ourselves. Our self-acceptance has been worn down by this kind of thing. We've taken the put-downs on board". We have allowed ourselves to get to the point where our self-acceptance is dependent, among other things, on people not calling us these things. When people do so, it upsets our emotional equilibrium. It makes us feel angry or hurt or frightened. Of course the fear may sometimes be applicable if the behaviour is indicative of a desire to do violence to us.

The way to hurt-proof ourselves is to re-learn unconditional self-acceptance. I say re-learn because we knew how to unconditionally accept ourselves as young children. The learning process we went through was that of learning that we were unacceptable or could be unacceptable in various ways. So hurt-proofing can be understood as a kind of unlearning or deprogramming of the unhelpful lessons we learned growing up. We are not brainwashing ourselves to believe that we are acceptable. We are rediscovering a more accountable truth about ourselves.

This may all seem very theoretical, but there is a very powerful and simple strategy which can help us down this path. Unconditional self-acceptance is something we practice, and the more we practice the more proficient we get at it. It is like building up a muscle. This is an important analogy because, while we want to become more like our child self, what we don't want is the child's vulnerability to having its self-acceptance under-mined. Back then we had unconditional self-acceptance because we had not yet been exposed to the harsh realities of life among those whose loss of such self-acceptance also undermined their acceptance of others, including ourselves. For a few years we are usually protected from the full savagery of the neurotic economy of the psyche. We need to regain our state of health, but we also need to know what we did not know as a child, and that is how to protect that state.

Re-gaining unconditional self-acceptance can involve constantly reminding ourselves that we are acceptable irrespective of what we do, what we feel, what we think, what we have and what others think of us. You might question the inclusion of what we do". Aren't we unacceptable if we do something really terrible? The problem with this way of thinking is that we are blackmailing ourselves. We are saying that the reason not to do something really terrible is that we will remove our self-acceptance if we do. But a shortage of self-acceptance is most likely the motivating force behind doing something really terrible in the first place. The natural state of the unconditionally accepting, and thus non-neurotic, individual is one of benevolence, love, clarity of mind and creativity. If we wish to persuade ourselves not to do something really terrible, the best argument is not that it would make us unacceptable, but that it would be against our own best interests. People who do really terrible things rarely have very rewarding lives. And past actions can't be changed, so to view ourselves as unacceptable because of a past action, no matter how terrible, would only be appropriate if viewing ourselves that way was going to make us less likely to do something like that in future. Since lack of self-acceptance is the root cause of destructive actions, this would be likely to have the opposite effect.

We might want to make use of an affirmation. In this case, why not use the simple affirmation : I am acceptable." The problem with some affirmations, it seems to me, is that they can set up expectations. If we say : I am as calm as the lily pad that floats on a tranquil pond," that's all well and good until the next time we lose our temper, and then our self-acceptance is likely to be undermined by the fact that we haven't lived up to our own affirmation. I am acceptable," doesn't seem to have any short-comings and it is a simple expression of the truth with which we are seeking to reconnect.

But this is not the powerful strategy. The powerful strategy is one which we can use when presented by anything which might emotionally destabilise us, especially things others might say which tend to leave us feeling angry or hurt.

In our state of conditional self-acceptance, what happens if someone says something to us which compromises that state? What if someone upsets those conditions on which our self-acceptance depends? The first thing which happens is that we take on board what they are saying. If it were a missile we would say that it hits home. Then, if we don't collapse in a heap, we mount our resistance. We tell ourselves why what the other person has said is not true or not relevant. Or we tell them, perhaps angrily. So we may fight back, but only after having been wounded. The habitual defences, conceptual and or verbal, that we use to defend ourselves in these situations are a fundamental part of our character armour. Character armour is a structure of defensive habits. It tends to come into play when we feel threatened, but it can also be something we hide behind in anticipation of being threatened.

If we think of the words or attitudes which might upset us as missiles and ourselves as a ship against whose hull they are aimed, then there is an alternative to the armour which only comes into play after we have been struck. That alternative involves making the ship itself so invincible that the missiles explode impotently like amusing fireworks rather than doing any damage.

This involves a trick which gives us control over the emotional transaction.

Let's look at an example :

Fred comes up to me on the street and he says : Joe, you're a disgusting piece of shit."

I don't respond. What I say to myself is : Fred is a person who is saying that I'm a piece of shit."

Of course this is a skill which might take a little while to learn. We need to learn to take pause, and that in itself can be a challenge. But the more we practise the easier it gets. It won't protect us the first time, but it will after the point at which it becomes habit.

What are we doing when we take this approach? We are removing ourselves from the subjective situation and giving ourselves a way to look at it objectively.

What we would normally be doing is going through this kind of process :

Joe, you're a disgusting piece of shit."

(I'm a piece of shit. Hey, wait a minute. I'm not a piece of shit. How can Fred say something like that. I'll get Fred for saying I'm a piece of shit.)

Fred has got to me.

Even if my response is modified somewhat by saying Fred thinks I'm a piece of shit", this is still something which might make me feel less acceptable.

By thinking Fred is a person who is saying that I'm a piece of shit" I am stripping the situation down to the bare facts. I am not validating the opinion that I am a piece of shit. I'm not even validating the idea that Fred genuinely thinks I'm a piece of shit. He is a person who is saying that. (Of course, it might be more correct to say "he is a person who said that" but somehow the present tense has a more powerfully distancing effect to the past tense.)

Rather than being a person who experiences themselves as being under attack we have put ourselves in a role comparable to that of a scientist observing Fred's behaviour as if he were an amoeba on a laboratory slide.

From this perspective our assessment of what has been said becomes evidence-based rather than emotion-based. Fred is someone who is saying that I'm a piece of shit. Is there evidence for his point of view? Why might he think this way? Is there something wrong with him? Are there factors not directly related to me which are influencing his current attitude? We have the equanimity to ask ourselves these questions because we didn't take on board what Fred was saying directly as a transaction in the economy of self-acceptance. And the more we practise this approach the more our self-acceptance becomes disentangled from what others have to say about us.

You might think I'm advocating a life-style of cold rationality. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a technique to be used where it is useful, not something adopted as an habitual approach to life. If I'm walking down the street and a pretty girl smiles at me I'm hardly going to say to myself : There is a member of the female gender who is looking at me and curling her lips in a way traditionally associated with friendly feelings." It feels good to be smiled at. This strategy is aimed only at learning how to become invulnerable to social transactions which would leave us feeling disempowered. And it is aimed at disempowering those who would hold us to ransom over our own self-acceptance.

This is also a strategy we can use on ourselves. Let's look at a way it might be used to help us beat addictive behaviour. Maybe I have a problem with chewing my nails. There I am chewing my nails and thinking I just can't stop chewing my nails." I'm hardly likely to learn to stop when I'm arguing so persuasively against my own ability to do so. Let's try that again. I'm a person who chews his nails." Not much better, because I'm tying my self-identity to the fact that I chew my nails. I'm a person who is chewing his nails." Now I'm clearly faced with the situation, with nothing to undermine any strategy I might come up with to help me stop. And the situation seems much less overwhelming.

By following this strategy we can take ourselves out of the defensive position, and this brings tremendous benefits. Over time we find that we don't need our character armour, and it is only when we no longer need it that we discover just how much of an impediment it was.

When we are armoured we can only acknowledge reality to the extent that it doesn't seriously threaten our armour. Where to acknowledge the truth about something would destabilise us, because our self-acceptance is conditional on that thing not being true, we are forced to live in denial.

Let's say that Sally sees a beautiful clearing in the woods and thinks it would be the perfect place to set up a vegan donut stand. People say she is crazy, you can't sell donuts in the middle of the forest. But she goes ahead and buys the land and builds her donut stand. And it turns out to be a big success. She's never succeeded at anything before in her life. Everyone said she was a loser. Now people are travelling all the way into the woods to buy her delicious donuts. People don't call her a loser any more. They love her because of her donuts. But then, one day, an ecologist comes and tells her that the place where she has built her successful donut stand was once the breeding ground of the fluorescent woodpecker. As a result of her donut stand, this beautiful bird has become extinct. We will never see one again. What can she do but put her fingers in her ears and go "blah-blah-blah"? In her own mind her acceptability as a human being is dependent on the ideas that she doesn't harm animals and that her donut stand is a success.

Many of us have our own vegan donut stands and our fluorescent woodpeckers. It is the truths we can't face about ourselves, because they would compromise our fragile self-acceptance, which lead to a spectrum of problems from failed marriage to war. Love is a form of communication characterised by openness, honesty, spontaneity and generosity. If a relationship is between two people whose self-acceptance is not conditional, it will be a loving relationship. But a relationship of dependence based on fulfilling the other party's conditions for their own self-acceptance is bound to be fraught with tension and not conducive to love. Why does marital infidelity sometimes make us so mad that we will kill our partner and risk spending many years in jail? Because our self-acceptance has become totally conditional on having a faithful partner. We would view the incident as a trivial one if this were not the case. It is the damage done to our fragile ego which keeps it from being trivial. And for many patriotic individuals, the belief that their country is a knight in shining armour and any country which would attack it or interfere with its interests could not possibly have a legitimate grievance, is a major feature of their character armour. If this were not the case, peace in the Middle East would not be such an elusive dream.

Let's look at the subject of political beliefs. I'll keep it very simple. I'm not interested in how political beliefs differ, only in how we relate to our own political beliefs and those of others. So we'll just talk about one person who identifies themselves as a conservative and another who identifies themselves as a liberal.

How grounded a person's political belief system is, whether conservative or liberal, is dependent on their level of self-acceptance. If our self-acceptance is unconditional then we will look around us at the world and take in what is going on and listen to all sorts of different ideas. There will be no need to filter what we take in in the way of information or ideas in order to protect us from anything which might contravene the conditions of our self-acceptance. This means that, when we form our belief system, conservative or liberal, it will be founded on a lot of information and a clear understanding of what various individuals on both sides of the political spectrum propose. Such an individual will have stability when it comes to discussing politics as they will in all other areas, as a result of the solid foundations of their self-acceptance. But if someone's self-acceptance is heavily compromised and thus conditional, their political allegiance may quickly become a part of their character armour. I'm acceptable because I'm a liberal. I'm acceptable because I'm a conservative. This leads to two things. If I'm acceptable because I'm a liberal, that means that conservatives are not acceptable. So I am in a strongly adversarial position from the get go, where the vehemence of my opposition to conservatives may become a crucial element in maintaining my self-acceptance. Also, to maintain my position, in the absence of the grounded understanding achieved by the unconditionally self-accepting individual, I will need to filter out or deny any information or ideas which might call my insecure liberal position into question. I may also find myself focussing obsessively on the misdeeds of individual conservatives as a way of reinforcing my liberal-good, conservative-bad dichotomy. And, of course, all these things would be the same if I were a conservative whose conservatism was a crucial part of his character armour.

We can get an idea of how armoured someone is in their political views by how angry they become at those with the opposite allegiance. This doesn't mean that a person whose political views are less armoured may not view the fact that so many people push for an opposite approach as a problem, but they will not feel it as a personal affront. A doctor recognises that cancer is a problem, but he doesn't launch into a tirade about the evil of cancer. He calmly sets about doing something about the problem. When we look around at a lot of the political conflicts that are going on in our society we can see just how many of us are so desperate to hang onto our fragile vision of ourselves as good guys standing in opposition to bad guys that we are not living in the real world.

So lets get back to where we started with the question of protecting ourselves or each other from racist musicals. Being subjected to abuse and prejudice because of one's skin colour can tend to undermine one's self-acceptance. A musical in which white actors wear black face, in this day and age, might be one straw too many for the camel's back, even though all that is happening is that a bunch of actors are putting a particular kind of make-up on their face. The thing itself is trivial. The effect it has may not be. To someone who has learned the art of unconditional self-acceptance, it's intrinsic triviality is clear. It is no skin off their nose how somebody else decides to comport themselves on a theatre stage.

Now I'm not advocating that we reinstate the institution of the Black and White Minstrel Show. I use this example in order to highlight a significant problem and two approaches to dealing with it. Racist musicals are not a common problem in our society, but other hurtful expressions are. There is hate speech and cyber-bullying on the internet. And many of us are subjected to verbal abuse at other times.

The main approach we take to trying to address these problems and protect those most vulnerable to them is by trying to control such expressions. We may legislate against them and/or we may try to shame those who engage in such practices into stopping. But control strategies never actual solve problems. They may contain them temporarily or they may push evidence of them from one place or time to another place or time. Laws and social pressure give us the ability to force individuals to repress expression of their hostile feelings, but repression doesn't make those hostile feelings go away. The roots of hostility can only be healed when everything is out in the open. The road to health is one which leads towards freedom not away from it.

I'm not arguing that we should abandon attempts to control expressions of hostility. I'm only trying to highlight the limitations of that approach.

The other approach is to promote an understanding of how we can hurt-proof ourselves. We can't possibly protect a psychologically vulnerable individual from all of the expressions of hostility or prejudice which might be painful for them, but we can easily teach the skill of hurt-proofing, so that they don't need such protection. And the same technique addresses other problems. Take body image. We can't protect a vulnerable teenager from seeing fashion magazines, but teach them unconditional self-acceptance and they can't possibly develop anorexia or bulimia.

But one word of warning. Don't try using the method I've outlined above out loud with someone. To have one's power taken away to such a degree must be incredibly frustrating. When having an argument with a friend I responded to his expression of a particular opinion with You are a person who is saying that. Why should it effect me?" He ended up physically attacking me. Be aware that, if words cease to hurt you, some may resort to sticks and stones.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Oppressive Religion Among the Poor

Reading the following article about an atheist man who has been granted asylum in the United Kingdom because of the danger that he would be persecuted for his lack of religious belief if he returns to his native Afghanistan led to me thinking about how the cultures of many nations where the people are mostly poor and the living conditions harsh have developed in a way which is so socially oppressive :

The first thing we have to take into account is that the evolution of culture is not linear. There is a chicken or egg element to it. At the heart of the evolution of destructive symptoms in the human system is always the negative feedback loop. So we need to look at what drives specific strategies and what negative effects they have without worrying too much about where it all started.

I don't know a great deal about the specifics of Afghani history and culture so I'm going to try to be very general. What I'm saying could also apply to other countries with other religions, such as a poor Catholic country in South America.

Most of the people who live in Afghanistan are very poor and their living environment is very harsh. One of the ways we humans have developed to bear our lives of quiet desperation is to hope for something better after we die. If our life on this earth is going to be overwhelming one of suffering, then way not just kill ourselves now? Because maybe this is a test we have to undergo to get a decent life after death. There is no factual evidence for such a belief, but it enables people to keep going and society to keep functioning.

Where there is poverty some people turn to crime. And the frustration of poverty can lead to political violence which, in turn, brings retaliatory violence in just one of many interlinking negative feedback loops.

The more desperation and resentment there is the more discipline is needed to hold society together. Religion, as well as holding out hope for something better beyond the grave, provides a structure of discipline for such a society. Where there is hope of reward if one obeys society's laws, there is also fear of punishment if one transgresses them. Many of these laws are about not compromising the religious coping strategy itself.

One element of this situation about which I won't go into much detail here, as I've dealt with it more generally in a number of other articles, is that of sexual repression. All hierarchical patriarchal societies have a fundamental fear of the anarchic power of the erotic. This fear preceded patriarchy and law-based religions, being a major contributory factor in their development. And the more discipline-based a religion becomes, generally the more sexually-repressive it becomes. If it is patriarchal then the emphasis is on denigrating and controlling female sexuality and homosexuality. There is also a focus on the difficulty for the male in restraining his sexuality (a struggle which is emblematic of the patriarchal society's struggle against its natural urges generally), and thus a tendency for some in such societies to excuse rape. (It should also be acknowledged that rape is itself a form of repression of the erotic, a revenge against the one who, usually unintentionally, disturbs the repressed individual's precarious equilibrium.)

Why is apostasy – abandonment of the faith of Islam – considered such a serious crime? Because so many Islamic people have no faith. What do we mean by "faith"? Faith is the kind of trust in something which lends confidence and minimises fear. Faith is not necessarily about believing in something for which there is no evidence. You may have faith in your ability to meet a challenge because you have met so many similar challenges in the past. The fact that you have done so is evidence of a kind, but this is still faith.

We can assess another person's faith by observing their behaviour. If someone makes a big song and dance about a belief this suggests that they are trying to convince themselves, that they are whistling in the dark.

A lot of religions have rituals. What are rituals? Sometimes they are ceremonies which provide the context for a shared and enriching ecstatic or cathartic experience which may be community-building and/or emotionally healing. But some religious rituals are more comparable to the rituals engaged in by those who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder – strictly adhered to, often repetitive activities, the performance of which reduces anxiety.

When, through a negative feedback loop, a society's religious strategy becomes particularly oppressive – discipline leads to frustration leads to the need for more discipline leads to more frustration – it becomes a form of shared obsessive compulsive disorder.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a pathological lack of faith. We may feel that a loved one will die if we don't obsessively tidy our home. Performing the ritual provides some temporary relief but only at the cost of increasing the anxiety when we are not tidying. By contrast, to have faith is to believe that, as long as we take due care of practicalities, things will turn out as well as they can. Faith is that which takes the pressure off.

So it can be seen that oppressive religion of this kind is defensive in its nature. It is both a response to fear and a generator of fear. It is cultural character armour. When criticised we tend to feel the need to cling to our character armour all the more tightly. No-one actually likes living an armoured existence. It's horrible. But we are only liable to come out of that armour when we feel reassured that it is safe to do so. And, in repressive religious societies, the weaker people's faith becomes, i.e. the more their religion becomes a desperate and insecure strategy rather than a belief capable of quelling fear and lending confidence, the more exposed they feel by those who may be walking around naked of such armouring. Such individuals are a constant reminder of their own state of sickness. This is why Jesus was crucified. This is why heretics were tortured to death by the Inquisition. And this is why this Afghani man is not safe in the home of his birth.

Who will bring to the people of Afghanistan the feeling of safety and reassurance which will allow them to come out of the oppressive religion closet?