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, 19 July 2015

Thoughts on Jeremy Griffith's "Freedom : The End of the Human Condition" - Part 5

The Concept of “Upset”

Because Griffith feels that our conscience is fixed and genetic rather than a learned aspect of our egos, he feels that we have, as a species, lived with a level of criticism which is fixed at the conscience end and variable only according to our behaviour, i.e. everyone feels the same amount of guilt about comparable forms of behaviour, or would do if they didn’t have ways of blocking those feelings of guilt from their consciousness. Since this genetic conscience is fixed in its insistence on unconditional selflessness and had to be defied in order that we develop our conscious mind, a defiance which led to ever greater levels of criticism in a two-million-year long negative feedback loop, it would follow that we must now all be massively angry, egotistical and selfish, and, because we have to make extensive use of mental blocks and transcendence to protect ourselves from acknowledging this, we must also be incredibly alienated. He feels that this 2 million year accumulation of “upset” accounts for our species' capacity for brutality. (This doesn’t mean that he sees brutality as something which has steadily increased. The development of various means of restraining or transcending this rage inside account for variety over the degree of its expression across cultures and over time.)

I do like the term “upset” as a way of describing our accumulated frustrations. It combines the ideas of distress and destabilisation. But I view the process differently. I think that, if the situation were as fixed as it is in Griffith’s theory, the human race would have committed mass suicide a long time ago. We may have lost easy access to the joy of life and we may be capable of finding ourselves in some very dark places, but I don’t believe that all of us, even the most apparently healthy and free-spirited, is sitting on two million years accumulation of murderous rage. A less linear, more dynamic, theory can account for our capacity for apparently demonic cruelty without expecting to find that it is a buried urge within us all.

Our frustrations begin in infancy and they generally begin small. We are frustrated by anything which gets between us and our quest for pleasure. If we are able to express this frustration, cry when our rattle is taken from us, there is no problem. Frustration accumulates to the degree that its expression is impeded. Some expressions of frustration pose an inconvenience to parents, so they may use any of a number of methods of encouraging us to refrain from them. This is fine if we find another outlet which is viewed as acceptable. But eventually it is inevitable that we will begin bottling up some of our frustration in order to meet the demands of society. And, eventually, we are taught some kind of moral system. Learned moral systems vary in how restrictive their brand of idealism is. Our parents may simply teach us to “play nice with others” and not steal, etc. Or we may be exposed to a more extreme idealism-based philosophy such as a religion, with its rigid concepts of what constitutes “sin”.

The foundation of our psyche in infancy is unconditional self-acceptance. This is the basis for love. As we accumulate frustration it is necessary that we have some kind of moral framework to help us to determine fair treatment of others and responsibility in the way we chose to express our frustrations. But the danger is that the criticism of our learned conscience may gradually undermine our self-acceptance and with it our capacity for love. (The Christian religion accommodates this need to maintain self-acceptance in the face of its critical idealism through the emphasis placed on God’s forgiveness, though the success of this strategy is open to question.)

The conscience is the part of the ego which contains our learned moral principles, but it is not the only part of the ego which contains expectations against which we may critically compare ourselves. Our character armour is centred around a fixed self-image. A man may have a fixed image of himself as “a man’s man” for instance. If life presents him with some kind of evidence which counters this self-image it may undermine his self-acceptance, for instance if he is put into a dangerous situation and finds himself fearfully fleeing.

The more our self-acceptance is compromised the more restrictive are the requirements to maintain it and the more desperately we must try to hang on to them. We are like a junkie fighting for our next shot. These restrictive requirements for self-acceptance determine the structure of our character armour. The armour is built out of repressed feelings of frustration. Inside that armour we experience the fear of the deeply insecure. And just as the inhabitants of a castle under siege will inflict any amount of violence necessary on those which threaten it, the same may be the case with the individual whose character armour is threatened.

Let’s think of the case of a man whose self-acceptance is severely compromised and whose concept of his acceptability as a man requires the fidelity of his wife. He comes home and finds her in bed with another man and, before he knows what he is doing, he pulls out a gun and shoots them both dead. He is a junkie and they are taking his shot away from him. William Burroughs, who knew a lot about being a junkie, once said : “The face of ‘evil’ is always the face of total need.” The man who finds his wife being unfaithful to him, in this case, has a total need for this not to be the case. The closest thing he can do to eliminating the unbearable is to eliminate the people involved. Any relief he may feel, however, will be almost instantaneously gone, and his ability to accept himself is even further eroded. He will be either plunged into despair or have to quickly re-configure an even more precarious form of character armour.

We can get an idea of the degree of a person’s self-acceptance by examining their behaviour. For someone to be truly easy-going, generous, forgiving, capable of clear, logical thinking and have a rich imagination, they will need to have a high level of self-acceptance. By contrast we can see that greed, arrogance, cruelty and violence are all fed by compromised self-acceptance with the severity of the symptom, generally, being an indication of how desperately the individual is backed into a self-acceptance corner. Thus “The face of ‘evil’ is always the face of total need.” Whatever the circumstances of Adolf Hitler’s life were, and whatever the corrosive ideas that entered his mind and ate away at his soul, we can know from his behaviour that these things made of him a “junkie” equivalent to those reduced to sticking the needle straight into their eyeball. If we want to conquer evil it is this kind of addiction we need to eliminate, and we eliminate it by cultivating a culture of self-acceptance and using reason to defeat any ideologies which would deprive anyone of that self-acceptance.

What might be Griffith’s own position, from which he is looking at this question? He says that he was very well-nurtured and had an ideal childhood, went to a school which de-emphasised competition, came of age in the idealistic 1960s etc. So he may have been fairly low on the frustration metre. On the other hand, at some point, he became an extreme idealist. He presumably incorporated the ideals to which he was exposed into his conscience as we generally do, but then he appears to have clung to those ideals unusually tightly. Did the concept of himself as a remarkably innocent idealist become his character armour?

We have to remember that, in his worldview, these ideals are inborn. He doesn’t see them as something learned, and he doesn’t see them as a part of his, or anyone’s, ego. So he views himself as a person who, because of the ideal circumstances of his upbringing, has an ego healthy and flexible enough to remain on speaking terms with this genetic conscience which he identifies also as “the soul”.

But what if his worldview is wrong and the one I have articulated here is right? Then his extreme idealism is a part of his character armour. As our self-acceptance is undermined we often tend to cling to one thing to “prove ourselves”. We might pride ourselves on our physical strength, our intelligence, our ability to generate wealth, our sexiness… We come to depend on that more and more as an argument in favour of our self-worth. Due to his ideal childhood, Griffith’s self-acceptance may have remained strong well into adulthood, but at some stage it would begin to be eaten away and he would need something on which to pride himself. What if he came to pride himself on his idealism? What if his way of competing, when competition became necessary to shore up his diminishing self-acceptance, was to be more idealistic than anyone else? Ultimately though that is a fairly empty game, as are all competitive games, so the real way to triumph would be to save the non-ideal from their state - ultimately, to save the world. If this were the psychological strategy underlying Griffith’s crusade (and this is not to deny the validity of it) then it would account for the spirit of defiance and insistence with which he has pursued it.

What happens when someone adopts extreme idealism as the main plank in their character armour? This will leave them seriously exposed to the self-acceptance-undermining potential of those ideals. This is similar to the character type of the saint. These individuals make disciplined adherence to a strict ideology the condition for their self-acceptance. But historically they have tended to do this by concentrating on a particular activity, limiting the free play of the mind and limiting their interactions with the broader community. In this way they would be able to maintain a very precariously balanced self-acceptance. Griffith may not have allowed himself these benefits to the same degree. Certainly he needs to allows  his mind a good deal of freedom.

Has living in service of those critical ideals caused him to accumulate a good deal of “upset” himself? This could help to explain his belief that massive levels of such feelings lie beneath the surface in us all. “Wow!” he might think, when he looks inside himself, “If I have that much upset in myself, and I’m an exceptionally innocent person, how much more must be in everybody else?”

“Unconditional selflessness”?

Isn’t the term “unconditional selflessness” a tautology? The term “selfless” is an absolute, like the term “perfect”. We don’t say that something is “slightly perfect” or “mostly perfect” because an absolute can’t be qualified. We can talk of “unconditional love” because love is not an absolute. There can be degrees of love, and our love can be conditional, it can be subject to being withheld unless certain conditions are met. And what benefit comes from placing the word “unconditional” in front of the word “selfless”? Would anything be lost by leaving it off?

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