Premise— Iterating the Obvious Can Resolve Identity Insecurity and Conflict
We all know that the world’s in trouble, but we shy from the full understanding of the mechanisms partly because of our shame and our fear, but mostly because in our rushed lives, the words simply elude us.
Also, the seemingly obvious isn’t always so easy to understand, and sometimes a double take is needed to get to the heart of the matter. A little persistence, however, can go a long way, and it doesn’t seem tooobvious to say that it’s the writer’s job to find the words — for himself and for his readers.
Life is what you make of it, it is said, but on examination that statement really is too obvious and overly simplistic. The truth is that some possess the tools to engage with it and others do not.
There are those who click with life and those who fail. In between are the vast majority, and much of the time, they are ill at ease. This large pool of unrest, alone, provides the groundwork for much of the conflict in society.
Strength of identity and a clear purpose are the most significant factors contributing to the success of those who are at one with life, whereas even modest levels of doubt and confusion can ultimately lead everyone, not merely the ill-at-ease, into the deadliest of battlegrounds. They may be immaterial factors, not innate to anyone, but doing away with them is one of the most difficult tasks anyone can face.
Given the extreme contrast in potential outcomes that people can experience whether in parenting their children, in business negotiations or in competition, it’s very surprising that a clear and easily accessible guide to creating a more positive self through cultivating identity integrity has not yet been established.
Yet if we look again, this cultural deficiency is only to be expected. In light of the catastrophic lack of respect for the individual demonstrated by most of our governing bodies and organized religions throughout recorded history, it would seem more intelligent to conclude that they’d prefer we remained confused.
Organized religion has long pretended to serve the spiritual and, therefore, the mental needs of humanity when, in fact, its primary purpose is to repress and control, which has been made clearly evident by the many ridiculous and unreasoning demands it places on people.
This cultural standpoint has naturally engendered predominantly uncritical dependence on authority of any type, and the most representative manifestation of this in society in modern times is the widespread belief that only experts can fix things.
With respect to the mind or identity, in which we are particularly concerned here, this means the majority believe that only psychiatrists, psychologists and perhaps sociologists can effectively comprehend the causes and cures of psychological and social problems.
Such dependent ignorance is particularly profound in this area of the mind but is also demonstrated in many others; even in basic matters of daily life like home or vehicle maintenance. Getting in the expert and relying absolutely on his knowledge is increasingly the way in western societies, as it has been for some time; but if the expert stuffs up your mind or body and not simply your carburettor or wheel bearing, the chances are your life will be ruined.
You might say that non-experts would have an even better chance of wrecking things, but I can only say that, especially in this day and age, relying on culturally obsolete conformist values in a seriously degraded society will be much riskier.
If it’s hard to find a good mechanic, how much harder will it be to find a good psychologist? Given my experiences with the former, there isn’t much hope for mental care in professional hands. In a world where such fundamentals as the quality of our air, the flavour of our food and the very existence of natural wonders from bees and polar bears to phytoplankton and coral polyps are all under threat, how can you expect an overworked and under-thinking professional of any kind to provide you with the best answers?
Attaining the relative freedom of a strong identity, in any case, must require you to take control of your own destiny. For this, you have to become an expert in your own mind, or at least to take on the role of an interested, committed amateur.
To do this, you’ll have to assess your own mental state and this can be difficult.
Yet there is reason to take heart. At the very least, if you have some consciousness of what constitutes a lack, the right sort of questions will present themselves, either in the presence or absence of professional advice.
For some, however, the need may be more urgent, and for them, the message will be most difficult to hear. Given the great dangers inherent in mental instability, everyone, carer or otherwise, should think well on the matter. No one should assume that everything’s all right, whether with respect to themselves or to any that they love. Prolonged anguish, doubt and poor decision-making hold grave potential for harm.
Clearly, there are different indicators for different people, and it serves well here to consider the matter of crutches — alcohol, painkillers, illicit drugs and even addiction to pathetic soap operas or random, meaningless sex — but, most importantly, it serves well to examine that fundamental truth: the first step to seeing is asking the right questions.
First of all, confront your own issues, feel the pain and ask why it’s there. Invariably, such pain will arise from some form of insecurity, and when you home in on the apparent source, the most useful realization will be that the key contributor to identity security is not some innate or external quality like intelligence or wealth. It’s actually something much easier to control — nothing more or less than the quality of your internal dialogue. This will be harder to assess in another but, again, if you’re aware of that basic need for inner verbal clarity, the right questions and observations concerning that person will come.
While it’s clearly not so easy to apply this criterion to someone else, it is crucially important to learn to do so effectively given that there’ll always be troubled people to deal with. If approximately half of the human race has suffered significant episodes of depression, it’s safe to say that someone you know will be labouring under the dangerous burden of serious identity issues.
Back to the primary concern.
If we are to judge ourselves effectively in this matter, we should ask if our thought cycles habitually run their course, or if we cut ourselves off without reaching salient conclusions. Do we answer our questions about things or do we leave them hanging? Can we make meaningful observations or do we always seem to come up with half-baked conclusions that turn out steering us in the wrong direction? Are we left feeling depressed with each successive failure?
In any case, is there necessarily a link between depression and poor inner verbalization/identity resolution?
The answer lies in the observation that depression is most frequently associated with the lack of a sense of direction. With a sense of purpose — I mean something that we’re truly interested in — we can endure almost anything and without it, even many good things can seem bad. Without a coherent and consistent sense of identity, making choices becomes difficult, other peoples’ priorities will sway us unduly and it becomes difficult to see the latent good in outcomes that might initially seem adverse.
Soon, we lose our sense of direction and it can become all too easy to resort to sensual obsession in the form of drugs, alcohol or sex. Eventually, we even become jaded with those experiences and that’s when depression strikes.
Knowing that there’s a problem is always a critical phase in engineering change but given that so many folk struggle even with such basic problems as excess weight or smoking or alcohol, it’s clear that finding the exact behavioural modifications and instituting consistent change will never be as easy as it seems.
No single magic bullet exists that will deal with the individual factors behind these problems — only a tool that’s available to us all.
Rational analysis is the beginning.
Reason based self-analysis is something that almost everyone can do. Even better, since even professionals in the art of psychoanalysis seem to be mystified by many of their clients (given the low success rates of treatment) we can get great benefit simply from applying reasoning more consistently to our everyday choices. The key is to keep things simple and at the very least make reasoning work at that concrete level.
Once you have that under control, and I will talk about the processes in detail in later chapters, you’ll be able to shift up a gear and look closely at what’s the most complete and accessible reflection of identity integrity — your thoughts. Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough, it’s a question of monitoring the resolution of inner verbalization.
Knowing the problem is there is one thing but coming up with a way to ensure coherently verbalized and consistently resolved thoughts is another. It ought not to be a difficult thing but in reality, because thought incoherency is a symptom and a consequence of what lies behind you, turning that around demands substantial identity restructuring.
This is where you begin to examine habitual modes of behaviour, fundamental attitudes and even long held belief systems. For some, it might necessitate the ushering in of a whole new social paradigm.
All sorts of things promise assistance when we set out on such significant life quests but ultimately most disappoint until we at least see the need for a secure and resilient identity.
A clear and certain sense of self is the outward manifestation of the fact that dozens and dozens of crucial little boxes have been ticked in the process of your development. There’s no easy way to tick them off if you don’t already have them, and the chances are that you won’t even know you need them or even what they are, but once you become aware of them, then at least you’ll have a chance.
A lack of wealth and intelligence are undoubtedly primary risk factors for their absence and it would be safe to say that these two things rank highest in shaping popular belief about what defines and promotes personal wellbeing. After all, most would agree that eliminating their opposites, poverty and ignorance, is the holy grail of building a better world.
Wealth does allow people to set their identity limits and easily remain within them, while good intelligence facilitates expansion of the range of available identity shaping choices. If a person can acquire sophisticated skills and happily reassure himself that he’s, say, a great computer programmer, a keen devotee of the ballet, an accomplished pianist or a talented sailor, his life will be easier and his self criticism less carping.
Everything else being equal, such identity-shaping elements help people maintain emotional equilibrium. They arepart of a prosperous picture, but even the most limited analysis will determine that strong skill sets are no guarantee of happiness and, paradoxically, an excess of wealth can, under some circumstances, be a hindrance to building anything but the most basic identity.
The ease and comfort that wealth can provide on one hand can also do much to shield people from crucial life challenges and a wide range of associated stimulating experiences. Under those circumstances, too much emotional equilibrium can translate into ennui and become much more of a curse than a blessing.
Questions of degree and unusual circumstances aside, since poverty and ignorance are clearly associated most closely with ongoing social misery, it has to be acknowledged that huge efforts have been made in attempting to eradicate them.
Yet, many people have seen loved ones suffer from acute forms and manifestations of identity insecurity, and have remained powerless to make any difference, except perhaps to make money available to professionals attesting their ability to find cures.
Efforts in the fields of psychiatry and psychology towards dealing with this problem indicate considerable altruistic intent but the failure of these professionals to effect real and lasting change should long ago have made us question the validity of their approaches.
Certainly, drugs have been developed to ease the burden of pain, and much has been done to attempt to ease the burden of social expectation by promoting acceptance, but few talk about cures, nowadays, whether it is for social ills or personal ones.
Dealing directly with the twin evils of poverty and ignorance has been regarded popularly as the key to a better world but, in the 21stcentury developed world, it is becoming increasingly apparent that they maintain, forgive the pun, a vise like grip on society.
In view of the tenacity of the twin evils, it would seem that at least some of those who would seek to build a better world have placed the cart before the horse, by which I mean that they’ve treated symptoms rather than fundamental causes.
While poor thinking skills can be attributed to chemical issues or to supposedly more permanent issues like brain damage or retardation, if you believe in the fundamental standpoint that mind rules over matter then even brain damage need not be seen as final and irrevocable. Improvement can always be found with effort and focus.
Yet even relatively minor things can balk us. One only needs to see the effect that nerves have on some of us, say when we’re called upon, unexpectedly, to make a public speech, to understand that stress and or bottled up emotions can make fools of anyone.
Obtusely, in the face of diminishing verbal skills and abilities in society, not to mention ongoing poverty and ignorance, rather than simply attributing these things to treatable emotional causes, many hold the view that they exist because the innate nature of the poor and ignorant is unalterable.
In the age of science, genetics does initially appear to support that view by demonstrating an apparently clear-cut and predetermined influence on individual behaviours. It could be said that genes program both hormonally driven responses and performance potentials, therefore we are what we are, no matter what.
Grimly, this conclusion shouts that there is no cure — no practical means of dealing with the wayward because they can be nothing else.
Yet genes are only half of the nature, nurture dichotomy, and even the most basic division of this ‘twin-evils’ problem suggests that the matter is not quite so black and white.
The existence of poverty assumes a lack of intelligence yet, as we ought to be stunned to see, many of those who suffer poverty in first world societies are neither dull nor ignorant.
Inaction in the face of this might be excusable if it were only the ignorant affected by poverty, given that it would be easier to conclude little could be done about it, but that’s simply not the case.
Even the smallest additional consideration of the issue reveals that intelligent, creative people all too often find the various tasks of basic survival difficult while some of the most intellectually challenged seem able to survive quite well in material terms.
Even if there were not so much to gain, it would be inexcusable to ignore such a curious anomaly. Yet there are some very important potentials at stake. These minds might be the ones that find a sure path to world peace, find a cure for cancer or discover some inexhaustible source of pollution-free power.
Can we really afford to leave them in a state of poverty and suffering, simply because they’re ineffectual at looking after themselves?
Given the above observations, it would seem that lack of intelligence is not the sole and possibly not even the principal determinant of first world poverty. Since many very intelligent and creative people have found themselves in difficult circumstances, it would seem productive to consider, instead, that their emotional shortcomings might have been the true cause of their poverty.
Emotional issues may appear more difficult to address than intellectual ones, but surely the relative difficulty of a problem matters less than perceiving whether, or not, it is in fact the root cause.
In the absence of the true cause being identified, a lasting cure can never be found. All questions of relative difficulty then become inconsequential.
So, if this is the true cause, why has it not been identified or at least widely touted, before? No one can definitively answer that question, but it’s true that the problem isn’t simple.
It’s quite counter-intuitive to separate poverty from its traditionally accepted cause of ignorance, which could explain the lack of insight so far. After all, we’ve been bashing away at the pair for so long that they might well have become welded together in our social consciousness.
In any case, it hardly matters why the cause hasn’t been widely identified. It only matters that we identify it now, and act on it. Even without the ramifications for long-term social engineering, the absence of emotional health stands out as a weakness hardly to be borne in any rational or caring society.
Personal resolution to change things for the better is the first desired objective, but this is less likely to happen in the absence of an adequate definition of the problem and without structured facilitation in society.
To that end, if there is cause to believe that emotional insecurity is the primary causal element in material poverty, not to mention ongoing mental anguish, it might be constructive to define the overall social problem as emotional poverty — the primary driver of the phenomenon of society being so at war with itself.
Two simple words, emotional and poverty, not often used in the same context, clearly specify both the cause and the primary symptom of the problem, and feature the fringe benefit of presenting the issue as a matter of social justice deserving of publicly organized change.
Given that emotional poverty so frequently leads to existential destitution in measures of confidence, career, friends, spouse and health, there’s every reason for society to get involved.
Indeed, if we truly wish to engineer a better world for our children, and ourselves, not to mention bring back basic professional competence, such matters should be dealt with urgently and decisively. No other field of endeavour could come anywhere near it in terms of potential for yielding positive change, and without addressing it, we can hardly claim to have any meaningful control over our destiny.
If emotional poverty is the ultimate underlying cause of material poverty, working on transcending it will have far greater potential for gain, in all areas of human endeavour, than any other strategy, including directly addressing poverty by material means.
Emotional behaviour is largely determined by social influences. As such, it is a product of nurture rather than nature, and should be alterable by clever strategies of social engineering. In other words, there is clearly a significant potential for curing diverse social ills and directly enhancing life experience.
Emotionally scarred people are undermined in so many ways by recurring negative emotions that they can be left feeling chronically fragmented, and in some cases barely even human. These recurring negative emotions comprehensively sabotage a person’s ability to grapple with the daily challenges of the world. Even relatively simple problems can seem hopeless when in the grip of constant emotional pain.
Society addressing the matter of emotional poverty could make a difference, but how can society hope to plan a policy program when few within it have any idea how the deficiency comes about, let alone how to deal with it?
To shed some light on the extent of the problem, it might help to observe that even those who possess great emotional strength generally don’t know why they do. Nor would they generally be scientifically studied. So, if we don’t know much even about the positive extremes of the behaviour range, what hope have we of understanding the negative ones?
Emotions are at the core of human experience and perhaps, given that they lie so deep, it is easier to think of them as being unalterable, whether they be good or ill.
Wrong. It’s simply more difficult to change them than we’d like, and it is possible that we don’t know much about emotional strength because when we have it we feel no need to explore the issue.
Also, when we don’t have it, our social standing dissipates and few can spare the energy to help us even though it’s perfectly doable. There’s no use clouding the issue with loose presumptions of impossibility. That, after coming so far, is not the way. Hard, after all, isn’t anywhere near impossible, and the ramifications are vast.
Programming determines unconscious behaviour whether it’s genetically or culturally sourced. For a mind to cause someone to behave in any particular way, programming must exist. We’ve long known that culturally sourced programming can be changed. The question is, can this also be done sufficiently well with genetic programming to improve lives?
If we are to reasonably assess that probability, we need only consider the basic strengths of the human mind — those characteristics of adaptability and ingenuity that have allowed us to develop into beings capable of dominating the planet despite our physical frailty.
We are subject to the instinctive drive to eat yet some repress it to become anorexic or to participate in hunger strikes. We are apparently hard-wired to survive yet some will sacrifice their lives or endanger themselves to help others in need. We’re compelled by our basic biological urges to have sex as frequently as possible but most of us, for one reason or another, keep our instincts well in check.
It is quite possible to alter the most basic of behaviours to suit our circumstances, so even the most counter-productive emotions must be subject to control or fundamental alteration.
Greater intellectual ability might be called upon at will, in view of increasing evidence that the mind can actually alter DNA — switching genes on and off in response to changing needs amongst other things.
Also, greater facility with emotional expression will further intellectual capacity, affecting emotional freedom in turn, and ongoing research could reveal a range of other factors.
Certainly, developing a more integrated view of the relationship between emotions and intellect should facilitate self-expression and thereby minimize the manifestation of destructive conflict between society and the individual.
Traditionally, emotions have been seen as innately disturbing, and as competing with intellect — a vague collective conception that the more there is of one, the less there will be of the other. Yet in truth, positive emotions are more likely to support intellect rather than compete with it — the greater the emotional strength, the more powerful and lucid the intellect and therefore the self-expression.
My basic contention is that in the 21stcentury, we face personal difficulties and collective dangers far greater than ever before, but that substantial reordering of priorities at both social and personal levels and the re-examination of fundamental presumptions can provide the means to combat these difficulties and dangers no matter how intransigent they seem.