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

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Will Policing Our Cultural Expressions Discourage Violence?

Promotional material for X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) (dir. Bryan Singer) (20th Century Fox/Marvel)

Why does violence occur in our society? Clearly the reasons are complex and variable, but by asking ourselves a few questions we may be able to assess the best strategies to tackle the problem.

What has got me thinking about this issue are some recent examples of a particular strategy to fighting the problem of violence - particularly violence against women - in our society. This strategy argues that visual depictions of such violence and jokes about such violence are likely to be seen as condoning this behaviour. The strategy gives birth not just to censure of free expression but the production of media campaigns which try to convince us that this violence occurs in our society because we are too tolerant of it.

Our culture tells us that violence - except in self-defence - is wrong and that violence by men against women and by adults generally against children is especially heinous. As a general rule we no longer condone corporal punishment.

So the problem of violence in our society is not due to moral ignorance - it isn’t because we don’t know that violence of this kind is wrong. Or, at the very least, we know that society generally believes that it is wrong, even if we do not.

For most of us there are two reasons to obey a socially shared moral principle - to have a clear conscience and to avoid the censure of others. A psychopath might have no conscience, but even they might benefit from avoiding social censure.

Violence may occur where a subculture gives the individual greater acceptance because of this behaviour, for instance in a criminal gang. The social censure motive is then working in the opposite direction and overriding the conscience, if there is one.

A powerful physical or psychological need can override moral principles as well, e.g. the need to obtain the next fix of a drug.

And the generation of destructive impulses in the ego through a breakdown in its healthy functioning can propel the individual to act violently towards others, just as, if the impulses are directed against the self, the individual may commit suicide.

There is a great deal of speculation about Omar Mateen - the man who killed 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub. He may or may not have been bisexual or homosexual himself. But his progressive radicalisation and eventual violent behaviour would make more sense if he were, because it would indicate the presence of a double bind - he can’t let go of his religion (which condemns homosexuality) but he can’t rid himself of the desires which are so condemned. His fear of his desires causes him to cling more tightly to the religion which cause him to feel an increasing fear of his desires which causes him to cling to the religion… It’s an untenable situation. Double binds can lead to insanity or suicide. They can also lead to murder. If one interpretation of the religion is that homosexuals should be killed (this is the interpretation given by the religious rulers of countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran) then killing as many homosexuals as possible is one way out of his double bind. On the one hand it lets him express his anger against those who have a happiness he can never have. Secondly it becomes a way for him to atone for his sinfulness. “I may desire to commit sodomy but I can make up for this by ridding the world of more acts of sodomy than I could ever have committed.” If life in the double bind is intolerable then this provides a way out which can be viewed as something other than suicide, because the final shot is not self-inflicted. Of course this is all speculation, but it is a theory which has explanatory power.

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, "Whoever you find doing the action of the people of Loot, execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.". Abu Dawud (4462)

This is a very dramatic example, but something similar happens in less dramatic ways all the time. I’ve experienced it. In my case the double bind led to me being self-destructive, but I can understand how it could so easily go the opposite way and does. A man whose self-acceptance is inextricably linked to being a provider to his family who then loses his job may express his frustration - his self-hatred - in the form of violence against his wife or his children. If he can’t escape his situation by getting another job, then he is stuck with the irreconcilable dilemma that he is unemployed and unacceptable to himself because he is unemployed. The continued love and faithfulness of a sexual partner can very often become an absolute requirement for someone's self-acceptance, leading many men and women to violently attack someone who cheats on them or breaks up with them.

So the issue underlying the problem of violence in our society is one of self-acceptance. The problem to be addressed is anything which undermines self-acceptance. If a philosophy or religion says we should not accept our sexuality, then that is a potential source of problems. If we promote the idea that anyone who does not meet a particular ideal of success or physical appearance or mental health should feel ashamed, then this could be a source of problems. (This doesn’t mean not celebrating people’s success or physical appearance or whatever. It is not a problem to have positive aspirations, the problem lies in backing them up with the threat of shame.) A lack of self-acceptance can lead to each of the problems outlined above - addiction, conformity to a violent subculture or a tendency for the ego to temporarily break down in the form of an violent outburst, something which can also become habitual.

We are presented with public service advertisements which tell us that domestic violence is a terrible problem. If this helps us to have the political commitment to support better methods of early intervention and policing of protection orders and providing more therapy services to both victims and perpetrators, then this is a good thing. But the key issue is the one not dealt with. What are the psychological factors which drive a person to violence and what can we do to help to free people from this compulsion? It isn’t simply a matter of us being too tolerant. At the moment someone lifts their fist or picks up a knife, they don’t care if we approve or not. The key to helping their potential victims is helping them. If the ads were telling us what we should do when we feel like hitting someone they might do more good.

In our impotence we turn to attempts to police culture. A poster for the movie X-Men : Apocalypse (2016) (dir. Bryan Singer) which shows the villain attempting to strangle one of the female superheroes was criticised as something which might promote violence against women. The studio apologised. It is clear that the big guy is the villain and thus his behaviour is not being validated. Big guys who pick on women who are smaller than them are not the heroes in super-hero movies. So critics are saying that to even depict bullying behaviour is to promote bullying behaviour.

This is an important issue because culture - from high art to popular entertainment - is the space in which we give free play to our imagination and by doing so allow our culture to evolve in more creative and effective ways. This is an improvisatory process which requires freedom. If we try to control culture to produce a specific end we will kill it. We will kill what gave us Shakespeare and Jane Austen and Hemingway. And we won’t end violence by doing so, because nobody hits someone just because they saw a picture of someone hitting someone. No-one kills someone simply because they saw someone kill someone in a movie. No-one kills people just because they played a video game where people killed people. Cultural representations may be imitated by someone who is propelled by some deeper motivation, but as long as those motivations remain we will not be made any safer by ridding ourselves of violent imagery.

An image like the one on the movie poster may be disturbing to some people. To someone who has been a victim of violence and is still suffering trauma as a result, such an image may be triggering. And those of us who may have a lot of generalised anger or specifically misogynistic feelings which we are trying to keep repressed may find such an image a disturbing challenge to our repressive strategy. So a major part of defending artistic freedom is addressing the problem of psychological insecurity. If the traumatised don’t find healing for their trauma and the repressed don’t find liberation from their neurosis, then we will continue to have a conflict between the desire to provide them with protection and the need of the rest of us to be free in our expression. Acceptance is the source of such healing. Avoidance, while it may be desirable as a temporary strategy, is not the solution. If something produces anxiety the answer is to expose ourselves to it and wait until the anxiety dies down. For the repressed individual it is important to learn that it is O.K. to have hostile and misogynistic feelings. It is O.K. to have any kind of feelings at all. That realisation that they are O.K. and that there is no need to fight against them as feelings will lead to a drastic decrease in their severity. It is when we don’t accept something negative about ourselves that that thing increases. So the irony is that, by over-reacting to images we feel are misogynistic, we may actually be increasing the hold of misogynistic feelings on many individuals.

Another example of this strategy is an increasing tendency for media personalities to be heavily censured for making jokes about violence towards women, etc. Again the argument seems to be that someone who hears such a joke is going to be more likely to be violent towards a woman or be tolerant of someone else being violent towards a woman.

Humour is a safety valve. It has the ability to release the kinds of tension which, if they build up too much, as in the examples above, can lead to violence. Everyone who knows me would say that i’m a very peaceful person. But I make jokes about killing children, raping women, torturing animals… Taboo humour is a great release of tension and thus a great aid to remaining peaceful. And it is a way to own our own dark side. It isn’t everyone’s way of dealing with things and I wouldn’t argue that it should be. But we should not make the assumption that tolerance of bad taste jokes will promote what they joke about, because the opposite may be true.

Happy Tree Friends (1999- ) (creators Rhode Montijo, Aubrey Ankrum) (Mondo Media)

The problem of violence in our society is a symptom of too little psychological freedom. An individual who has a lot of psychological room will tend not to want to harm another or will be restrained by his conscience or the threat of social censure in those situations where he is. The more an individual is backed into a tight psychological corner by an inability to accept themselves as they are, the more likely they are to do violence to others or to themselves.

So the deeper answer to violence in our society is to promote the philosophy of unconditional self-acceptance and to recognise that cultural freedom is not the problem but part of the solution.

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