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

Friday, 17 July 2015

Thoughts on Jeremy Griffith's "Freedom : The End of the Human Condition" - Part 4

Plato’s Cave Analogy

Griffth places a lot of emphasis on a passage in Plato’s famous dialogue The Republic where Socrates compares the human condition to life in a cave. Socrates says that what we take for the real world is not the real world. We are bound underground in a cave and what we take for reality is but the projection of shapes cast on the cave wall. There are fires behind us and objects are moved in front of the fires to produce the shadow images we believe to be reality. The role of the philosopher is to leave the cave and discover the truth in the form of the bright sunlight. He then goes back into the cave and tries to tell the rest of us about it. But, having known nothing but the cave existence, we will say that he is crazy and will resist being led out of the cave.

If Socrates had lived today he would have simply said that what we take to be reality is really just a movie. We are sitting in a dark movie theatre watching the flickering shadows on the screen and taking it for reality. No need for us to be bound. If the movie, to us, is reality, where else would we go?

The Matrix essentially turned Socrates’ cave analogy into a blockbuster science fiction movie.

But, if we are not in a Matrix, then what we experience with our five senses is real. There is ground underneath our feet. The sun we see in the sky is the real sun. So what was Socrate’s talking about?

He was talking about psychological realities. Or rather the psychological distortion of reality.

It is interesting that he used the concept of projecting, because it fits well with the concept of projection that we find in Jungian psychology - that what we see in the world around is a projection of aspects of our own psyche.

But perhaps filtering is a better term than projection. Projection suggests that we are seeing things which have no external reality at all. On the contrary, the content of what we see is, more often than not, something which really exists. What is illusory is the shape it takes for us, because our mind exaggerates those aspects which reinforce our armour and blocks out those aspects which might threaten it.

This is why, to see naked reality, we need be unconditionally self-accepting. Then we can acknowledge all aspects of the world around us without fearing that any of them will threaten our self-image.

It is true that if someone told us that we were blind to reality and cut off from life, we would probably say that they were insane. They would be accusing us of being insane, after all, and since they are one and we are many, it would be natural for us to assume that the problem lay with them.

And if we tried to forcefully break open someone’s character armour (how else to drag them from the cave into the sunlight?) they would, indeed, forcefully resist. The purpose of the armour is self-protection. If we feel safe we may take our armour off voluntarily, but any attempt at force will only increase our need for the protection with which we feel it provides us.

Don Quixote

Griffith finds great significance in the fact that Miguel de Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote was voted “The Greatest Book of All Time” by a group of acclaimed writers. He sees in the title character a depiction of the heroism of our species in the face of the human condition - feeble but undaunted in a serious of hopeless battles.

I haven’t read the novel, so I can’t speak about it in any detail, but note that it is a comic novel poking fun at the absurdity of an elderly man giving himself a glorious title, donning a suit of armour, riding a skinny old horse and battling windmills that he mistakes for giants. Is he not like us when our self-acceptance becomes eroded? We lack the healthy psychological underpinning (horse) for our endeavours. We try to compensate for our insecurities by giving ourselves egotistical airs (bogus nobility). We don our character armour. And we go into battle against a projection in the outside world of the denied aspect of our own psyche.

Adam Stork

Central to Griffith’s theory about the origin of the human condition is the story of Adam Stork.

He believes that we have a genetic orientation to unconditional selflessness. This came about through a positive feedback loop overriding the principle of the “selfish gene”. The food-rich environment of the Rift Valley in Africa enabled the nurturing period of our proto-human ancestors to lengthen. The mothers were nurturing their children for genetically “selfish” reasons - because those children would carry on their own genes. But the children didn’t know that. To them their mothers seemed to be acting selflessly, so they grew up believing that loving cooperation and selflessness were the meaning of existence. What was learned by the mind and practiced by the body over many generations came to be encoded in the genes as an instinct.

Unlike Griffith, I’m not a biologist. My understanding of genes and the manner in which instincts are encoded in them, and how instincts interact with the rest of the mind in its relationship with its environment, is negligible. So forgive me if I make some false assumptions in my attempt to make sense of this all.

How could we test Griffith’s hypothesis? I can understand how we could identify a gene for a particular disease by looking at the DNA of people who have that disease and at the DNA of a sample of people who don’t and looking for what the first group have in common that is absent in the other. But how would we find empirical evidence for a particular instinct which we are expecting to be universal to the human species?

Griffith feels that this genetic orientation, acquired through the nurturing process, is the source of our “moral conscience”. But doesn’t morality vary from culture to culture? And don’t different individuals feel guilty about different things?

Griffith narrows down the “morality” of this instinctive orientation to cooperation, love and selflessness. He sees these as the central ideals of the great philosophies and religions.

It is undeniable that most of the great things which humans have achieved have been achieved through our capacity to cooperate. Love is the very essence of the ability to cooperate freely, rather than in the spirit of subservience. And if we take “selflessness” to mean the willingness to sacrifice oneself, if necessary, for the interests of the group, then that also is something which contributes to the success of the whole.

What we have in these values is something analogous to the functioning of cells in the body. A cell cannot exist long on its own, or if it goes against the functioning of the system of which it is a part. So it is in its best interest to perform its function well. If we were, with a little poetic license, to attribute conscious motivation and human-like feelings to the cell, we could say that the pleasure principle motivates it. It feels good doing its job cooperatively, enjoying the fellowship and support of the other cells, and it is avoiding the discomfort which would come from ceasing to do so. Would such a cell sacrifice itself? Of course, if the whole required it, because what is the alternative? Without the whole, it would have no existence anyway.

So this makes sense as a function of healthy living systems. But does it, in humans, require the guidance of an instinct beyond the instinct to seek pleasure and avoid suffering? It feels good to be a part of a healthy system. For humans that state of healthy functioning could certainly have been disturbed by the arrival of idealism, driving a wedge as it did between men and women and their respective roles and preventing us from simply doing what came naturally, taking us from a natural society to an artificially repressive one.

But Griffith sees it the other way around - that the ideals came first in the form of an instinctive orientation to selflessness, and that that instinctive orientation was a dictatorial and unforgiving one.

He compares this instinct to the instinctive flight path of a bird, whom he names Adam Stork. Adam Stork has an instinctive flightpath encoded in his genes. He follows that migratory route every year. But one day he miraculously grows a fully-conscious mind. His mind starts contemplating possible courses of action. Will he fly off course to check out an interesting island? Will he go pig out on some apples he sees growing on a tree? When he tries any of these things, his instincts tell him to fly back on course. They criticise him. But he has a conscious mind now. He has to experiment in self-management in order to develop the powers that it brings with it that the blind instincts don’t have. So he does fly off course and begin experimenting, but the constant whining of his instincts make him angry (at the criticism), egocentric (embattled against the criticism) and alienated (blocked off from aspects of reality which might remind him of the critical instincts). But the more angry, egocentric and alienated he becomes the further his behaviour departs from the expectations of his instincts. It’s a negative feedback loop.

This story does have appeal. Most of us can relate to being punished for being naughty. And the conscience can certainly be a “Sharp accuser, but a helpless friend!” (Alexander Pope)

But is the genetic conscience theory the most accountable one?

A conscience which is a function of the ego and arises from the social phenomenon of idealism - a kind of conceptual virus which has removed us from our natural loving selves - could be just as harsh. And some  manifestations of conscience do not pull us in the direction of cooperation or love, but away from it. Take the conscience of the extreme ascetic. He feels he must whip himself to appease his conscience, but his self-flagellation serves no integrative purpose. His conscience propels him towards self-obsession not selflessness or cooperation with others. The form of idealism which tells him that bodily pleasure is sinful is the complete opposite of the cooperativeness and love we see among the bonobos which is accompanied by almost constant sharing of such pleasure through genital-genital rubbing.

In the Adam Stork story the instinct for loving behaviour is dictatorial in nature. It tells us we must do things its way, and it will brook no argument.

Love is not dictatorial. It is the opposite. It is grounded in acceptance. An instinct for love,  learned in the process of being nurtured, can’t be comparable to a bird’s flight path. There is only one way to go for the bird. Migrating is a linear process. But think of a mother caring lovingly for her child. She can only do this effectively by responding spontaneously to the child’s ever-changing behaviour. There is no fixed course. Love is not dictatorial, it is improvisational. The unconditionally loving mother will accept her child’s behaviour unless she believes it is counter-productive for him.

How can a product of this forgiving process be unforgiving?

Griffith feels that all we have lacked is an ability to explain ourselves, but you can’t explain anything to genes. I suppose he feels that that is not a problem because we just have to explain ourselves to ourselves, then we can silence the complaints of our genes by conforming to their dictates, reconciled to our fate by the knowledge of why we have to do so.

For me this is too much like slavery. I think that, if we cultivate unconditional self-acceptance and dethrone idealism and replace it with pragmatism, we will naturally unleash the capacity for love and cooperation which has, for so long, been buried within us. We will become members of a healthy loving society because it fills us with bliss to cast off our armour and truly be together, not because we have surrendered to some jackboot-wearing genes.

Read Part 5

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