Thales (an ancient Greek philosopher) replied:
"To know oneself."
The long evolution of developing procedures to control human behavior all came to a head in the modern world with Pavlov, a Russian scientist. Pavlov made the discovery that you can condition a dog to salivate on command simply by associating food with the ringing of a bell. Once that association is fixed in the dog's mind, the food can be removed and the dog will salivate merely when it hears the bell.
Pavlov carried out the identical experiments on human beings with the same results. Those principles have been adapted to television and motion pictures and can now make Americans salivate in response to a wide array of bells and whistles. We can call it phase one in the evolution of human behavior control.
Phase two was accomplished by the same Russian scientist, Pavlov. Very few people know of this part of his research. During a particularly severe storm in Russia, heavy rains continued for days and Pavlov's laboratories were flooded. Pavlov and his research assistants were able to return to the laboratory only after the flood waters had receded days later. Upon returning, Pavlov discovered something truly remarkable. Before the flood, many of the dogs had been conditioned to respond to various stimuli. Lo and behold, all traces of the conditioning in the dogs had disappeared! Bells, food, nothing could induce the former salivation response that had been so carefully implanted in the dogs' nervous systems. What mysterious influence could account for this remarkable turn of events, Pavlov wondered. So, being a good scientist, he studied carefully what had transpired while he was away from the dogs. They had been left without food or warmth. They had been isolated for days; some of them had drowned. They had been placed in extreme stress, never knowing if they would live or die. These were the factors that had produced the washing away of the previous conditioning from the dogs' brains - brain-washing. Pavlov and other Russians followed up this line of research, but it was the Chinese communists in the 1950s who first saw its real potential for use with human beings. They employed these very principles in brainwashing American and other Allied prisoners of war during the Korean conflict. Isolation, periodic denial of food or water, cold and exposure, extreme stress associated with uncertainty of life or death--these conditions, together with a continual barrage of indoctrination produced the erasing of previous beliefs and behavior patterns in American soldiers in particular. Thus brainwashing became phase two in the evolution of human behavior control. But brainwashing is not very reliable, as the remarkable film, "The Manchurian Candidate," shows. The trigger mechanisms can be tampered with, sometimes even erased, before the desired behavior can be carried out. These procedures are only used now by the CIA and other intelligence services for programming special assassins (see the movie, "Parallax View"). Neither classic Pavlovian conditioning nor brainwashing can produce the general results that black-budget project directors in intelligence services desire: absolute control of a human personality. Phase three occurred at Stanford University in the 1960s, with a scientist named William Colby. Colby was a Freudian psychiatrist whose work was funded by Department of Defense grants attempting to solve a problem outlined by the DoD: controlling human behavior. Colby learned how to capture the belief systems of his psychiatric patients. He then put these belief systems into computer programs. He refined his research until he was able to capture a patient's personality structure in the computer and then used this computer model to control the patient's behavior. B. F. Skinner developed the concept of operant conditioning in which a subject--animal or human--receives reinforcement for desired behavior. The techniques of Pavlov, Colby, and Skinner have been taken over by political campaign managers, television producers, and advertising executives. Today, the average person is bombarded with conditioning messages throughout each day. We are conditioned to believe, feel, think, and act as other people choose. In study after study, cultural conditioning instruments (TV, records, Web sites, newspapers, magazines) have been shown to elicit specific behaviors on the part of the "receiver."
To show to what extremes the CIA is willing to go in developing the technology to control human behavior, they funded the "research" or Dr. Jose Delgado. Delagado was infamous for implanting radio-activated electrodes in animals (and possibly in humans).
In the pictures to the left he is demonstrating that his implants in a bull's brain can stop it even after it starts to charge Delgado.
In the system of thought toward which this book points, it is said that humans have in the past and can in the present break through the robot-conditioning and become real human beings. It is said that these real humans, in every age, make available the knowledge of how to free oneself from robothood and become human.
Under present conditions, the first phase of any genuine self-transformation must be some form of deconditioning. To do this effectively necessitates self-knowledge. In developing our Western culture, we have generally been concerned with only the first of two kinds of knowledge: knowledge of external entities. We have largely ignored genuine knowledge of ourselves. We can distinguish items of these two kinds of knowledge as:
- An electron is an elementary particle consisting of a charge of negative electricity
- "I feel defensive when faced with the fact that I pretend to know things which I don't actually know."
We've been conditioned to feel that we have to defend ourselves against all criticism or self-exposure. Academic learning, dealing largely with external elements, does not ordinarily touch us in a personal way. When we come to learn about ourselves we experience the defensiveness we allowed to be programmed into us. In many of our dealings with others we compete and struggle for supremacy; we try to get one up on them. Defending our image is of crucial importance; to let others see us would destroy us. In the thick of these interpersonal battles, we develop the feeling, understandably enough, that we should try to hide and defend ourselves even against self-disclosure. We feel we can't admit who we are to others, so we dont, even for a moment, admit to ourselves that we are not the glorious creatures we pretend to be.
Before long such deception becomes a way of life. We feel vulnerable when we seriously begin trying to discover who we really are. We feel we will be destroyed if we allow anyone, even ourselves, to see beyond the self-protective facade we create.
Deconditioning through real learning allows us to begin, perhaps for the first time, to discover ourselves. This is a distinct privilege, the opportunity of self-discovery, but we may initially feel it as a burden or a threat, since our lives are generally spent protecting ourselves against just such self-knowledge. It is necessary, therefore, to make an initial change in attitude and to realize that the experience of self-knowledge is a valuable and precious opportunity.
In reference to the robot image above, reflect on these different interpretations of the robot's statement, determining what level of self-consciousness each would involve:
- The words coming from the robot are from a programed tape
- The robot delusively believes that it chooses not to believe it is a robot--when, as a robot, it has no choice at all
- The robot recognizes that it is programed to believe everything it believes--and therefore does not chooose to beieve it is a robot, but is programed to believe it
- The robot has studied its "robotness" sufficiently to understand how its mechanisms have controlled it. But now, with its new self-knowledge, it is beginning to see itself as something other than a mere robot: a robot which could become a human being.
Most of our mistakes trace back to some deeply hidden self-delusion. For all the help we get in creating these delusions we have to take final responsibility for them. Once we learn that there is even one self-delusion we have allowed to cloud our perception or bias our thinking, we then have the responsibility to begin tracing all these self-defeating elements. But we have likely become habituated to hiding these self-delusions from others and ourselves for the reasons mentioned above. So only if we can understand the tremendous value in freeing ourselves from these delusions, will we have any motivation for exposing them.
We usually learn the value of delusion-exposure the hard way: through making some catastrophic mistake. Suffering from such mistakes, we may see the importance of overcoming the self-deception that led to our unhappy circumstance. I say "may" because we possess a phenomenal ability to remain totally oblivious to self-deception, even in the midst of abject failure and destruction.
"Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other."
Enlightened thinking makes it possible to grasp the value of deception-exposure in an easier way: learning how to overcome self-deception before it overcomes us. Unfortunately, many of us much of the time need the impetus of failure and misery before we take the responsibility for self-discovery.
Very often people react to the idea of deconditioning by feeling that they are not conditioned or misinterpret it as an attempt to erase all former training. It's necessary, therefore, to explain that conditioning, in some areas and to some degree, is a necessary human process. Learning to walk is a conditioning of our bodies; to talk is a conditioning of our body and "mind." Without the conditioning into a concept-community we would each live in a schizophrenic, solipsistic fantasy world. We need the conditioning of learning to accept responsibility and to act on principle. So when we speak of deconditioning as a technique of enlightened thinking we don't imply that we're trying to achieve the impossible or absurd: a totally unconditioned, nonconditioned, deconditioned or reconditioned psyche.
Deconditioning is the limited and discriminating process of exploring one's personal habits, patterns, addictions and obsessions for the purpose of making it possible to learn to direct our own lives instead of being directed by our "programs." We decondition only in those areas and instances where it's clear that a pattern or obsession is causing real (not merely imagined) difficulty. However, when we first begin the deconditioning process, most of our mental and physical responses are conditioned, so we have only a programed idea as to what should be retained or changed.
There are many conditioned patterns--from language to cooperativeness--that we do not wish to decondition because they are functional and appropriate. So enlightened thinking doesn't speak of a totally deconditioned person, only a selectively and discriminately deconditioned and self-directing person.
It would be possible to use the language and technique of deconditioning as merely another reconditioning gimmick, as some cults do. True deconditioning avoids the modern sophisticated and almost indiscernible techniques of mind-manipulation as well as the older, more easily detectable methods.
We decondition for somewhat the same reason that we study electricity: to understand something which could destroy us if we remain ignorant of it. By freeing ourselves from prejudices and careless thinking habits, we're able to adopt enlightened thinking.
"Only in one field of human endeavor - in the field of the sciences - has a method of inquiry been developed which utilizes to the fullest the efficacy of reason and of reasoned interpretation; and only in this one field has man attained such knowledge as provides an adequate basis upon which to build for the future. In the non-scientific forms of social and political behavior no such rational understanding and reasoned control prevail at the present. Yet it is precisely in these non-scientific fields that errors in belief and mistakes in reasoning are costlier than anywhere else; for it is in these fields that decisions of policy must be made which affect the very foundation of social living. In our own day, the self-correcting methods of scientific inquiry have led to the unlocking of inexhaustible stores of atomic energy; but our social and political rationality--or lack of it--will determine in the end whether these forces will be harnessed for constructive purposes or whether they will be utilized for the annihilation of human culture itself. Now, more than ever, do the circumstances of our existence demand the application of reason and reasoned analysis to the problems of the day."
W. H. Werkmeister. An Introduction to Critical Thinking
Enlightened Thinking Requires Self-Knowledge
In gaining self-knowledge, we come to understand that we "are concocted from ideas put into us by others" and that what we take to be our self is not our self at all. So we're faced with learning what false and delusory ideas we must decondition from.
Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.
Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.
"Come on, girl," said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. "We monks don't go near females," he told Tanzan, "especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?"
"I left the girl there," said Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?"
From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a collection by Paul Reps
We decondition so that we can remove ideas and obsessions which we carry around with us that keep us from thinking reasonably.
The word "deconditioning" has several different meaning: to adapt, modify, or mold so as to conform to an environing culture. The term can have negative connotations:
Lao Tsu (an ancient Chinese sage):
"In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
"In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped."
Instead of the positive meanings of conditioning--educating, persuading, or influencing--conditioning often involves constraint, forcing the person to conform mindlessly to the environing culture or group. The person is not left with the option of a self-directed response but is limited to a mechanistic conformation, taking on the identical psychological and behavioral patterns as the group. The word, then, can have entirely different meanings:
- persons being conditioned by others
- persons allowing or conspiring in such a process
- persons conditioning themselves
In the first, negative sense, conditioning is not necessary. Granted, most cultures and groups condition (program) their members, to a larger or smaller degree. But there is at least one culture in which coercive programming is both unnecessary and counterproductive. The concept of enlightened thinking introduced in this book, in fact, outlines some of the cognitive principles and procedures of this non-coercive culture and points toward its other dimensions as well.
- a negative process of external constraint to produce mindless conformity (programming) or
- the positive processes of education, persuasion, or influence.
We must first take full responsibility for our conditioning. The past, other people, our culture may have conditioned us, but we're now fully responsible for what we do with our present condition. Most likely we've allowed ourselves to be conditioned to be almost totally other-directed mechanisms who believe whatever our culture or group tells us to believe. Very probably we've allowed ourselves to be conditioned to be persons who do not wish to be self-directed in a real sense--other than according to the myth of "just do what you feel like and you'll be okay." Hence we allow conditioning to take place and perpetuate its effects, the responsibility now divesting to us. So when we refer to being conditioned we mean: ALLOWING ourselves to be conditioned.
The difficulty with trying to understand conditioning is that we are conditioned to believe and feel that we are not conditioned. Or if at all, we believe it is in some minor ways which we either quite consciously chose or which we could easily overcome just by thinking about them. And if we identify culture with conditioning, then we excuse or "accept" conditioning as a necessary process. "Sure I'm conditioned; isn't everyone? So what?"
Plato's Allegory of the Cave
(Plato, Greek philosopher, 6th century, B.C.)
"Imagine men and women living as prisoners in an underground cave. These people have been here since birth, their bodies chained so that they cannot move. They can see only what is in front of them and can see no other prisoners. Behind the prisoners on a raised platform is a series of fires. Between the prisoners and the fires is a parapet, like the screen at a puppet show. Behind this parapet are people carrying various artificial objects, such as the figures of men and animals. The prisoners see nothing but the shadows of the artificial objects cast by the firelight onto the cave wall in front of them. The cave has an echo so that the when the people in back of them speak the prisoners believe the sounds come from the shadow figures on the cave wall. Suppose one of the prisoners became free from his chains. The firelight would be painful to his eyes and the objects in back of him would so terrify him that he might desire to regain his former chained situation.
"If this free person actually crept out of the cave into the sunlight, he would be completely dazed, unable to comprehend ordinary objects. Slowly this former prisoner might begin to understand that it is the sun which is the source of light and life. He would feel sorrow for his former fellow prisoners. If he did return to his chains and speak to his fellow prisoners, they would think he was insane. And if they could lay hands on him they would kill him."
Not only have the "chains" of our conditioning programmed us to mistake the "shadows"--the delusions, the easy answers, the prejudices of our group--for reality, but we're afraid to find out the truth.
"The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to reject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion."
Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Developing self-knowledge involves freeing ourselves from misconceptions. Let's see just how misconceptions start.
You accidentally overhear some of your acquaintances talking about you.
"She's nice, but very conceited."
"She thinks she's smart because she went to college and made good grades."
You realize that those persons, no matter what their intentions, can't fully or truly understand you. They don't know enough about you. Even your friends and family have only a partial picture of the complete reality that is you. Strange how we understand so well how others couldn't possibly grasp the full complexity of our individuality, yet how unthinkingly we assume we do understand the complete truth about other persons and events.
The world of our everyday experience is just as difficult to know as is a single individual difficult to understand fully. Yet we've been conditioned to feel that the world is simple and easily knowable--just as your acquaintances feel that you're easy to know.
Whatever "reality" we're trying to understand, it is too big and too complex to know totally with our rational mind; we aren't capable of dealing with all its subtlety or variety. So to act in our "reality" we reconstruct it on a simpler model. We construct "maps" by which to deal with the world--and then forget that we're dealing with the maps and not the world.
It's these maps, these simpler representations, that we refer to as "myths." Your acquaintances, rather than dealing with all your complexity and variety, put you into a conceptual pigeon-hole--"Ms. Brain'--for ease in thinking and talking about you. You know that category is a myth. Similarly, we construct labels to deal with "reality" and an artificial world results which is partially related to our experience but not totally determined by it. We begin to see the world through our myths, and finally our "world" becomes almost completely made up of this myth-world. And, as Erich Fromm reminds us, "an illusion shared by everyone becomes a reality."
To understand how your acquaintances' view of you could be so far off the mark, you'd recognize that they've been conditioned to think in narrow categories. Each of us believes that others are conditioned, while believing that we're free. Being conditioned by our experiences--our family, schools, group opinions, fads and fashions--is the norm. It would be very unusual if we weren't almost totally conditioned into patterns of thought and behavior acceptable to our families and peers.
Confucius: "When you see a man of the highest caliber, give thought to attaining his stature.
"When you see one who is not, go home and conduct a self-examination."
Understandably, we've all been conditioned into believing that our peculiar configuration of patterns and addictions is the result of our own free choice. A robot that's programmed to believe it's free is a more easily controlled robot. It's only when we deliberately try to change our pattern of conditioning--as in a book which involves radical self-transformation --that we experience the reality of our conditioning.
We've been conditioned by being given the worst examples of rebellion and violence--and told that this is the inevitable result of allowing people too much freedom. It isn't that we have too much freedom, it's that we haven't been taught how to use freedom wisely--with ourselves or others. And until we learn how to use freedom of thought and action wisely, we won't understand its true essence--how it leads to the welfare of all.
You live in a country where you have what are called "free elections." These elections are said to be the best kind any nation could have. Of course, you've never known any other kind.
You once heard a strange rumor about a country where they actually had more than one candidate to vote for in their elections.
In the "free elections" you've always known, there is never more than one candidate. Evidently someone is trying to trick you into believing some kind of treasonous propaganda--for which you could lose your job, perhaps even your life. In a free country such as yours it's your duty to seek out and report any such traitors who spread such lies.
Question: What elements in your culture are similar to the "one candidate" elections in this story?
We live in a country where we're told that the kind of thinking we all do is free and rational. And since we've never heard of any other kind of thinking--any other kind of living--we have nothing to compare it to. This book provides you with just that kind of new conception.
Suppose, hypothetically, that we lived in a country in which a small, moneyed elite was secretly able to select both presidential candidates in a "two-party system" election. Even if all the newspapers and television stations (owned by those same people) said that the election was free, it wouldn't be.
One of the first elements we need to decondition from is the belief that we really understand the nature of freedom. Many people believe that freedom consists in being able to reject whatever they deem unnecessary or outworn in favor of whatever "turns them on at the moment." Rejection of traditions which we find merely personally objectionable is often nothing but the expression of conditioned rebellion. Too often the practice of such "freedom" leaves a person without effective guidelines by which to live. So we have seen the principles of a sound education destroyed on the altars of multiculturalism and leveling. Most music and art become mindless exhibitionism.
"No people can long enjoy more liberty than that to which their situation and advanced intelligence and morals fairly entitle them. If more than this be allowed, they must soon fall into confusion and disorder--to be followed, if not by anarchy and despotism, by a change to a form of government more simple and absolute and therefore better suited to their condition. And, hence, although it may be true that a people may not have as much liberty as they are fairly entitled to and are capable of enjoying, yet the reverse is unquestionably true--that no people can long possess more than they are fairly entitled to. . . .
"It is a great and dangerous error to suppose that all people are equally entitled to liberty. It is a reward to be earned, not a blessing to be gratuitously lavished on all alike--a reward reserved for the intelligent, the patriotic, the virtuous and deserving, and not a boon to be bestowed on a people too ignorant, degraded, and vicious to be capable either of appreciating or of enjoying it."
U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, (1782-1850)
A people devoid of any ability to make rational evaluations teeter-totters from one extreme to the other--from blind obedience to one ideology to rebellion to blind obedience to a different ideology. Instead of learning to understand our world through our own efforts, social conditioning places in our brains a picture of a pseudo-world (the shadows). Our whole lives are then spent seeing that pseudo-world as the only reality. We're no longer capable of real knowledge or self-directed action; we become habituated to believing and doing whatever we're told. If we're told by the nation's "leaders" that it's necessary for our country to become an economic war-zone--idle factories, massive unemployment, homelessness, rampant drug use, and uncontrolled crime--all so that "American" corporations can take their factories to other countries with cheaper labor--then there's hardly a whimper.
All of life soon fits into the pattern of waiting to be told, following the images and directives of others. An entire nation of people conditioned to think and do only what someone else tells them is a nation on its way to catastrophe.
Confucius: "Great Man is no robot."
You are the chief elected leader of a nation in which you're faced with citizens who neither want to take responsibility for their own lives nor work to maintain the order which preserves their lives. They have no interest in knowing what is happening in their world. All they want is a good job, a new house, plenty of leisure to spend with their families and friends, and a completely secure future. "Give us what we want," they say to you, their leader, "and we don't care how you do it."
You see clearly that some other leaders are ruthlessly exploiting the laziness and ignorance of the masses. These leaders realize that all the masses want is ease and comfort--with no responsibility for understanding or directing their own lives. A few of these leaders would like to help the masses become something other than robotized slaves. But every effort to help the people is immediately distorted or ruined.
The people don't want real education--where they would learn how to think and act from their own self-direction. They want the accustomed pseudo-education of being spoon-fed pre-digested, inert "facts" which mean nothing to anyone. They don't want democracy, for that would require constant awareness and the learned ability to make intelligent judgments. They want to be ruled and controlled. In fact, their behavior requires that someone control them, for they won't direct their own lives.
You realize that your people are rapidly sinking into a total addiction to ignorance, delusion and ease. But every effort toward helping them become truly self-directing and aware is met with indifference or attack. They say you're trying to make their life unbearably hard, having to learn, having to find out what's happening.
"Just leave us alone, with all your efforts to 'improve' us," they shout.
As the leader of this country, what would you do?
"Is not that community the best, and, in the widest sense of the word, the most healthy, which has the largest proportion of citizens who have the enterprise, and energy, and initiative, to create new things and new methods for themselves, and not merely to wait to carry out the orders of somebody 'higher up?'"
Lord Lothian (quoted by R. H. Tawney in Equality), 1931
Egomania: The Invisible Pandemic
An unrecognized, invisible killer is stalking the world. The insidious aspect of egomania is its ability to take over the mind and soul of its victims, so that instead of seeing egomania as a disease, we are made to see it as the height of human reason (pursuing our self-interest) and the purpose of human existence (getting ahead). Even when we see its worst apects---its most hideous visages--we are blind to its destructive lethality.
To succumb to egomania means that we become:
- limited in outlook or concern to our own activities or needs; blind to the larger reality
- concerned with self-gratification rather than the common good; focusing on greed instead of fellow-feeling
- obsessed with an exaggerated sense of self-importance; full of conceit instead of regard for others
- controlled by any one who flatters us or appears to consider our needs; followers of whatever cult leader appears to recognize our importance
Christopher Lasch's book The Culture of Narcissism," deals with the ideology "of competitive individualism, which in its decadence has carried the logic of individualism to the extreme of a war of all against all, the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of a narcissistic preoccupation with the self." [emphasis added]
Egomania, narcissism, is the natural condition of the infant; the world exists merely as gratification or denial of personal desires. The caretaker--parent, nurse, teacher, religious authority--tells the infant what reality is and how he or she must behave in response to this defined reality.
It's at this stage of egomania and narcissism where most personalities stop developing; they remain in an infantile state even though they have matured physically. Ego-satisfaction is the only concern, avoding punishment by authority figures and achieving one's individual goals is the life-game, and understanding or awareness is totally unnecessary and boring. The authority figures will tell us what is real and what we're supposed to do, so we have absolutely no need to think for ourselves. Since personal satisfaction is primary, however we achieve our goals is okay. There are no moral values beyond feeling good about ourselves and making others fear and respect us. Any consideration for the good of others is weakness and stupidity.
So we have high school and college students who want nothing more out of their educational experience than credits; they have no interest whatsoever in understanding the subjects they study. They're not even interested in developing skills; if they can get other students to do their assignments and tests for them, that's great. The majority of people in our culture merely want to get along, avoid trouble with authority figures, succeed in their careers, and cram as much personal pleasure into their lives as possible. In short, most persons in our society are grown infants. Showing off, having "attitudes," talking endlessly about oneself, swaggering through life, taking pride in ignorance and violence--these have become the norms.
Egomania is not just an arrested stage of development, not merely a slight malady or a minor social aberration; it is a blindness to reality which leads to death: death of oneself and others. The obsession with self and the grudging obedience to authority becomes so pervasive and consuming that we lose touch with reality and begin to live in solipsistic fantasy worlds. The infantile personality responds only to gross symbols, ideas, and commands: TV images of 200% patriotism, slogans ("dead or alive), bluster ("we'll rid the world of terrorism"); norms ("don't think about what American leaders did which led to the terrorist attacks; vote more money for an incompetent intelligence industry; forget about the workers laid off, give money to the corporate executives"). American immaturity is clear from the unthinking, knee-jerk increase in the approval rating for a president who stole the presidency and can barely read his speeches from his cue cards.
"While in our private life nobody except a mad person would remain passive in view of a threat to our total existence, those who are in charge of public affairs do practically nothing, and those who have entrusted their fate to them let them continue to do nothing.
"How is it possible that the strongest of all instincts, that for survival, seems to have ceased to motivate us? One of the most obvious explanations is that the leaders undertake many actions that make it possible for them to pretend they are doing something effective to avoid a catastrophe: endless conferences, resolutions, disarmament talks, all give the impression that the problems are recognized and something is being done to resolve them. Yet nothing of real importance happens; but both the leaders and the led anesthetize their consciences and their wish for survival by giving the appearance of knowing the road and marching in the right direction."
Erich Fromm. (1976). To Have or To Be?
Persons possessed by narcissism are incapble of loving others, but they are also incapable of loving themselves--because they have not developed the ability to love.
We must rid ourselves of our current truncated, lopsided definitions of personal maturity and intelligence, which consider the "greatest" person the one who owns the most things: money, cars, homes, persons.
The Development of Personal Maturity
"The breakdown of the infantile adjustment in which providential powers ministered to every wish compels us either to flee from reality or to understand it. And by understanding it we create new objects of desire. For when we know a good deal about a thing, know how it originated, how it is likely to behave, what it is made of, and what is its place amidst other things, we are dealing with something quite different from the simple object naively apprehended.
"The understanding creates a new environment. The more subtle and discriminating, the more informed and sympathetic the understanding is, the more complex and yet ordered do the things about us become . . . A world which is ordinarily unseen has become visible through the understanding."
Walter Lippmann. A Preface to Morals
Human maturity should be seen as the capacity to understand what's happening in the world and responding to that understanding in a personally and socially effective manner. Maturity is a quality in human beings which makes them capable of awareness in the broadest possible terms, not mere financial or academic or interpersonal success but understanding which makes it possible to make their lives worthwhile and make their society better during their lifetime. This conception of maturity is in the tradition of wisdom, not the more current ideas of "rich and famous" or "smartness" or "cool."
Viewing human maturity and intelligence in this way, we could no longer speak of an intelligent or mature terrorist who kills without compunction because of some insane ideology or an intelligent, mature corporate CEO who takes American jobs abroad and destroys vast parts of American life--cities, famillies, facilities.
A wise prophet once said (to paraphrase): What shall it benefit a man if he gains all the wealth in the world and lose his soul as it becomes a hell-hole of money-obsession, banality, and ignorance? In other words, you can be ludicrously wealthy and still be stupid enough to destroy yourself. And in including social responsibility in our definition of maturity we can update that same sentiment: What shall it benefit twenty-first century American people if they gain all the money in the world and lose their country as it becomes a hell-hole of obscene wealth for the upper class, wage slavery for the middle class, homelessness and grinding poverty for the lower class, and banality and ignorance for everyone?
"The narcissistic orientation is one in which one experiences as real only that which exists within oneself, while the phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themsleves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one. The opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity; it is the faculty to see people and things as they are, objectively, and to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one's desires and fears."
Erich Fromm. The Art of Loving
By maturity, then, we mean the qualities of:
- seeing through the current social myths and diversions
- understanding the necessity of life-long self-education
- recognizing the necessity of social action, including discerning what the social situation requires and creating a program to realize social reform
- developing genuine feelings of compassion and regard for one's fellow human beings
The world social situation is in such a state of crisis that no other group of qualities qualifies a person to be deemed mature or intelligent. With regard to social awareness, we are fortunate to have the work of many different investigators who clarify this facet of maturity. From Greider's disclosure of the political Big Con to Chomsky's penetrating expose of international skullduggery to Kevin Phillips' uncovering of the disparity between hyper-wealth and abject poverty to Neil Postman's brilliant study of how we are amusing ourselves to death in front of our TV sets to C. Wright Mills' dissection of the power elite's strengths and weaknesses to Paulo Freire's radical pedagogy for the socially illiterate, we have an invaluably broad panoply of sources to diagnose the ills of our society and realize the ways personal maturation and social reform must be carried out.
Maturity includes the whole range of humankind's relationships with other humans and with the world in general. Maturity, in other words, is much broader than political awareness or psychological savvy or enlightened activism. It includes discernment of all social conditioning, from ritual to religion, from MTV to metaphysics, from jet-set to down-sizing, from anti-terrorist legislation curtailing our freedom to the Orwellian crippling of our language and our minds. Thus, in creating a new definition of maturity, we are talking about the whole range of human thought and action. It includes an examination of the mythologies of contemporary science and a review of the work of investigators who are pushing us beyond the current Newtonian-Einsteinian ideologies to new ways of viewing reality.
Part of what we want to accomplish with a new definition of maturity is to distinguish between people who possess this congeries of abilities and attitudes and people who do not possess it. A major difficulty with the commonplace definition of maturity is that everyone is supposed to have it--in larger or smaller doses.
Taking the opposite tack, we can say that only a few people at any given time have genuine maturity or social intelligence. A major element in maturity is the ability to see through the social myths dominant at any particular time in history. And at any given time, only a few people are able to achieve the necessary understanding of their social conditioning to break through the delusions, myths, and fantasies peddled by the people controlling social ideology and behavior. This aspect of maturity has been described by Paulo Freire as critical consciousness and it requires extraordinary abilities to recognize oneself as being a member of an oppressed class and seeing our oppression as a situation which we can transform through informed action.
Part of what we must learn from the horror of September 11, 2001 is that we are now so self-absorbed that we do not even see when our lives are being endangered. Americans today are rapidly losing the intellectual ability to realize or be concerned that their very lives are threatened by globalistic economic policies:
- institutionalizing slave labor
- creating a two-class society:
- the super-rich (the top 1% in America now own more than the lower 90%)
- the destitute poor
- despoiling the ecosphere without any concern for the future
- destroying civil liberties
Our narcissism is actually endangering our lives, making us totally unaware that what our leaders are doing is resulting in death for civilians. We must awaken from our narcissistic blindness if we are to save our lives.