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, 10 January 2018

The Problem With Justice

I recently expressed the view that an holistic systems view of human society undermines the concept of free will as any individual’s behaviour (their output) is determined by factors arising outside of them (the system’s input) and playing out within them in the only possible way. This raises an obvious and troubling question. Does this mean that people should not be held responsible for their own behaviour?

What do we mean by “being held responsible”? Do we mean being judged in some kind of ultimate sense? This would seem to be inappropriate. Interestingly, one of the key principles of the Christian religion is “judge not that thou be not judged”. Judgement is something we humans impose on ourselves by imposing it on others. If we don’t acknowledge the mitigating circumstance of bad input in the behaviour of others we will be unable to acknowledge it in our own situation without compromising our intellectual integrity. We may judge others by a different standard to ourselves, but only at the cost of breeding conflict within our own psyche.

But withholding judgement doesn’t mean being complacent to destructive behaviour. Self-correction through feedback is a crucial function of any organic system.

We have a habit of punishing destructive behaviour. Punishment can make sense as a form of corrective input. When we were children we may have been sent to our room for behaving rudely at the dinner table. Our parents know that, if our habit of rude behaviour is not corrected, we run the risk of losing significant social advantage in adulthood. They could simply explain this to us, but sometimes a practical demonstration of consequences adds to the effectiveness, giving a kind of emotional anchor to any explanation.

When it comes to criminal behaviour, prison sentences are often given as a deterrent. Sometimes this may have a practical role similar to the behaviour our parents may have used with us as children. A career criminal will generally factor in the risk of prison when calculating the advantage of committing a crime. Without the threat of prison a lot of people might just steal other people’s property on a whim. But many crimes are crimes of passion and in this case, awareness of the threat of prison (or even execution for some crimes in some places), may have no effectiveness as a form of input repelling the individual from the act. It is our reason which warns us about the potential consequences of our actions, and powerful emotions easily push aside all reason.

This doesn’t mean that prison isn’t useful as a way of containing people whose current psychological structure causes them to be a threat to others. It may also be a way to compel them to participate in some form of rehabilitation.

When we contemplate these issues we quickly come up against the concept of justice. Punishing someone for their destructive behaviour is seen as a matter of justice - righting an imbalance.

Justice is a mechanistic concept which we try to impose on the organic system which is society. We need something more holistic, which acknowledges the connectedness and complexity of all things. Our symbol for justice is a very simple machine - a pair of scales. Scales enable us to make a comparison between two objects in terms of one aspect of their nature. They enable us to find out which is heavier. But objects have many different characteristics - size, shape, colour, consistency - of which the scales can tell us nothing. And the world is not made up only of pairs. Everything is not binary. Of course the scales are only a symbol, but when we think of our concepts of justice we find that they have similar limitations.

Copyright: olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo

Lets look at the most primitive concept of justice - revenge. One person has harmed another person, so that person then seeks to right the balance by inflicting a similar form of harm on the perpetrator. This relationship is extracted from the wider social context and everything is simplified to a mechanical process - a heavy weight was placed on one side of the scales, so the answer is to place an equally heavy weight on the opposite side of the scales. An holistic assessment might find that the aggravating act was part of a gradually escalating negative feedback of offending behaviours between the two. It might find that many others were tangentially involved in the influences which flowed together to lead to that act. And such an assessment would be unlikely to find that the retaliatory act really righted any balance, as aggressive behaviour has a way of negatively impacting the person who engages in it and producing waves of harm that ripple out into the lives of others.

When punishment is not a simple educational technique, as in the example of a child being sent to their room to learn the disadvantages of anti-social behaviour, it is a refinement of the concept of revenge. Suffering, often in the form of deprivation of freedom, is imposed on the wrong-doer, because we feel that this rights a balance. They have inflicted suffering on others, so they must suffer, so that a kind of suffering equilibrium can be restored. But there is no actual equilibrium of suffering. Suffering may have been what drove them to inflict suffering on another in the first place. None of these things can be adequately measured, and, anyway, society can’t be calibrated like a machine, because its processes are organic. Machines and living organisms are different. Think of a television set. If the sound isn’t loud enough, you can turn it up. You can adjust the colour or the brightness. Changing the volume won’t effect how bright the colour is. Compare this the human body. Because it is an organic system, when we make changes - change our diet, get more exercise, take medication - these changes have a wider, and perhaps less predictable, impact than we intended. There are side-effects, because an organic system is dynamically interconnected. Changes in one part of the system lead to changes in other parts of the system.

For a system to function in a healthy way, it is important that the parts are responding spontaneously to current conditions. One of the problems with the concept of justice is that it encourages us to allow the past to have too much effect on our actions in the present. We need to understand the past and use what we learn from it to help us to understand our current situation, but it is our current situation which needs to be guiding our behaviour. The past can’t be changed. What we need to work with is the present, which includes the present manifestations of damage arising from past events. If we look at the revenge example we can see that the widest self-interest of all parties is that they be able to cooperate together to form a healthy community. It is in nobody’s long term self-interest that people continue to extract retaliation for past misdeeds. Now if someone burned another person’s house down, the fact that they have no house is a current reality. It would be better that their friends be motivated by this current situation to help them build a new house than that they be motivated by the past to go and burn down the perpetrator’s house.

Let’s take the example of a man who beat his children. There are two current situations to deal with here - his anger management problem and the trauma still being experienced by his children. Putting a protective distance between the man and his children is clearly important. Then therapy needs to be provided to the children to help them heal, and therapy needs to be provided for him so that he can learn how not to be violent. The concept of justice would distract us from these practical forms of help. It would encourage us to look to the past with the illusory idea that fixing things has something to do with balancing one infliction of suffering with another infliction of suffering.

There is liable to be a strong resistance in us to the kind of withholding of judgement I’m talking about. The concept that there are good people who chose to do good things and bad people who could likewise chose to do good things but, instead, freely chose to do bad things, is like a security blanket. It is part of our character armour. The character armour, according to psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, serves the purpose of protecting us from threats external and internal. When confronted with our own impulses towards malevolence, it may be important for us to keep telling ourselves we are good people and that those who behave malevolently do so by free choice. To recognise that the input we have been lucky enough to receive in the form of moral lessons, wisdom, capacity for clear reasoning, useful information, etc., only stands as a potentially fragile counter to our malevolence is disturbing. We want to be able to take credit for our virtue, and that means seeing other’s vice as a matter of choice. I think we can tend to guess from a person’s rigidity on this question, just how threatened they feel in the face of their own capacity for malevolence. If we have moments of inner peace, then I think our mind can open up to this more holistic vision, even if it may recede when we are caught up in the turmoil of life.

I’m not suggesting any plan for changes to the way our society deals with criminal activity. I wouldn’t know how to go about that. The control structures of society could be compared to the crutches used by a person with a broken leg. Some crutches may be better than others, but what is most important is that the person’s leg heal so they have increasingly less need of them.

I’ve talked about criminal justice, but I should also talk about the concept of social justice. There are many who talk of promoting social justice. This is a much broader application of the justice concept which suffers from the same mechanistic limitations. Social justice is measured reductively and quantitatively. How much money does the richest 1% of the population have compared to the poorest 50%? How many women are there in parliament? Now I’m not saying that these things are not important, but you can’t measure freedom or self-realisation simply in terms of money, and individuals are more than their gender. One of the key dilemmas for science is that there is a need for measurable data to provide objective evidence and yet we may lose the meaning of the whole by reducing it to its measurable functions.

Copyright: olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo

If thinking in terms of justice won’t make our society healthier, what will?

You might think that it’s all impossible. If the social system is so complex and dynamic then how can we know how to increase the health of its functioning? We’ve looked at how changes can have ever-widening unpredictable effects. The important thing is to think in terms of relationship. If we treat individuals as if they were parts in a machine, of course the result is not going to be what we expect.

What does health mean? A healthy organism is one in which the relationship between the parts is one which enables it to thrive. Relationship is communication. Most, if not all, social problems can be understood as communication problems. Violence is a form of communication. Money is a form of communication. The sharing of food and other necessary resources are communicative processes. When we behave in a malevolent way it is because of an internal communication problem. Our mind, which, when functioning in a healthy way, serves the purpose of guiding us towards our broadest self-interest, is providing us with faulty guidance. Think of it as a software problem.

So everything is about communication. Think of society as a circulatory system. Where problems arise it is because the flow of accurate information or needed material goods is blocked. So if we want to improve the health of the system we do so by trying to clear those blocks. Perhaps it is better to think of them as knots to be untangled, because the process is one of setting every individual free to experience the joy of healthy functioning. It is not a process in which one person has to be pushed down in order for another person to rise up.

I suppose there is in this a strong element of faith. If we are mostly tangled in some form of lonely and frustrated state, unable to find a joyful meaningful way to participate in something larger than ourselves, then all we need is for the seeds of a way out of our entanglement to be sown and flower in our mind and heart. All we need is new software able to replace the virus-contaminated version which has been turning us away from our own self-interest, holding us back from what, compared to our life now, would be paradise.

The bloodstream of a healthy society is love. Love is open, honest, spontaneous and generous communication. So untying the knots, clearing the blocks, means removing the obstacles to love. These come down largely to guilt and fear. You could say that selfishness is a major block to love, but selfishness is the natural self-directedness of the suffering or otherwise insecure individual. If we are not suffering physically, our suffering is most likely in the form of compromised self-acceptance. This often takes the form of guilt. Or we may have had our ego wounded by betrayal or some other kind of mistreatment by others. In this case we may be afraid of being hurt again. Any kind of fear may cause us to close off to loving communication in some way.

So a significant part of untying the knots that hold us back from realising a healthy society is learning how to cultivate unconditional self-acceptance. We can heal the wounds inflicted on us. While we can’t live in a world where there is nothing to fear, we can gain the courage which comes through healing inner division. And gradually we can show the way to a society characterised by open, honest, spontaneous and generous communication. Insecurity is the norm and the insecure feel a need for the comfort of numbers. We see so many examples of this. Lots of people want to do something but feel inhibited. Then gradually people start doing it and soon it becomes the new fashion.

Of course I’m not making an appeal to your free will here. I don’t think you or I have one of those. The ideas I express here have a life of there own. I’m only the host. Whether they fertilise your brain and lead to the fruit of action is an open question. If they do, you won’t have had any choice about it. If they don’t, you won’t have had any choice about it.

Copyright: dolgachov / 123RF Stock Photo

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