Saturday, October 10, 2009

Paths of Liberation - Emancipating oneself from biological and social controls

Hello All,

Hope all of you are well because I am sick at home with a gnarly cold. At least I had a great excuse to just sit around and work on my blog for this month.

In the last few blogs we explored the dynamic between systems - the human operating system and how it relates to the societal system, or shall we say, societal control. I raised the question what do we have to do to calm and control the chaos of our mind? How do we go about creating a healthy independence from our own biological/instinctual impulses and social control?

As Mihaly points out in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience the essence of socialization is to make its members dependent on social controls (or for that matter on the social-economical system).

It’s obvious that we can’t escape “physically” from societal controls, but Mihaly stresses that we can reach “mental” independence from those invisible societal control systems. Let’s take a closer look about Mohaly’s definition of:

1) A socialized person versus
2) an autonomous, system-independent (conscious) person:

He says that a socialized person is one that functions and operates efficiently and successfully within a particular designed social system. The dependence is created through a model of rewards and punishment, which in turn has been crafted based on the nature of our biological needs and genetic programming (pleasure principle). The individual reacts to “biological-rooted” desires, but believes them to be “personal desires”, or “individual feelings / interests” (my inner voice, instinct, gut feeling, etc). The illusion is that these desires are rooted in our genetic programming.

Unless we can understand and become aware of our own biological inclinations that are being exploited at a genetic level, we will remain dependent and caught up in the web of the societal system we live in. I think to “Know Thyself” means studying and understanding one's biological-rooted feelings and desires, and its whole cascade of reflex responses. Seeing yourself in this light you get to realize there is not much conscious planning from your part, but rather you are at the mercy of your neuro-chemical operating system reacting to external stimuli. In short, to reach “mental independence” from both, our own biological impulses and urges and the societal instructions, we have to learn how to override our instinctual reflex responses (reaction pattern) to those forces. (If this is a little out of context for you, please see my last two blogs below).

Talking about "responsiveness", I'm fascinated with people's linguistic response patterns as they are indicators of their "inner world - their mental state". It is easy to differentiate if someone is speaking from a state of consciousness, or if the person is speaking from a state that has a lack of self-awareness. In the context of language someone who is not very self-aware of "his machinery" has a tendency to "react" in an automatic, impulsive, instinctive, reflexive way. Unless the other party is conscious, that behavior seems to trigger that person's impulsive reflex system, and now both parties are tangled up in a fight or argument. In contrast, someone who is conscious over his machinery "responds" from a state of reflection, objective assessment, weighing and evaluating prior to consciously formulating the response.

Having said that, being conscious takes effort, the effort lies in learning how to control one's reactionary machine, those instinctual, impulsive inclinations of ours - in this example one's linguistic responsiveness. In short we could say, one can "respond with consciousness", or one "reacts from a lack of it". The words and tone of voice are the indicators. It reveals your perception of reality and how you walk through life. Remember, without self-awareness or consciousness we are placing ourselves into a vulnerable, helpless position, becoming an easy target for exploitations built on the cravings embedded in our biological needs. That can be experienced through the interaction with another individual, or through the interaction with a societal system. However, I think awareness is evolutionary; meaning that awareness arises as we live and face life with all its facets. Just like Mihaly points out, it comes about from trial-and-error experiences. Some of us learn quickly, others keep on re-living and repeating their blind spots. And some seem to never wake up.

Going back to Mihaly, he got a point, we have been conditioned (programmed) to desire the rewards that have been established by others – a model of rewards and punishment, crafted based on the nature of our genetically programmed desires. Mihaly says, “A thoroughly socialized person is one who desires only the rewards that others around him have agreed he should long for”. How many of your life choices were really your personal/conscious choices? “He may encounter thousands of potentially fulfilling experiences, but he fails to notice them because they are not the things he desires”. Well, yeah, makes sense, we can’t notice potentially fulfilling experiences if that’s not what we have been socially programmed to look for.

The creators of social control did a great job in creating a value system that leads us to believe that happiness can be found in materialistic accumulations; this system provides a great platform for an inter-dependent economy and a great GDP statistic (Gross Domestic Product = a measure of a country’s economic performance). But looking closer it doesn’t seem all that healthy, sustainable or environmentally friendly, does it? In a structure as such we can conclude that we as the members of society are not in charge over the quality of our own happiness unless the original platform has been designed with self-sustainability and happiness in mind. That would explain why the “programmed wanting” of more and bigger materialistic purchases only provide a temporary emotional relief.

Anywhozzy, we can conclude though that a complex society needs to have rules in place, otherwise some of us might go haywire. And who knows how much conscious planning was really behind those powers that crafted them into a strategy. Some of them may have had great intentions for the members of its society, not clearly understanding the unintended impact or aftermath of some of the societal controls that were put in place. Others may have become corrupted along the way deviating from its original constitution and essence. And some may have known exactly what they were designing during the brainstorming session.

The matter of fact is we can’t avoid living “physically” in this system, but Mihaly emphasizes that we can choose "mentally" to become free and independent of societal rewards and punishment. He says, “a person does not have to be turned into a puppet jerked about by social controls. The solution is to gradually become free of societal rewards and learn how to substitute for them rewards that are under one’s own powers. This is not to say that we should abandon every goal endorsed by society; rather, it means that, in addition to or instead of the goals others use to bribe us with, we develop a set of our own.” The same goes for interpersonal relationships, can you become free of personal rewards you are trying to elicit from personal relationships? To face that question it takes fierce and genuine introspection and willingness for deep self-exploration as to "why" you are with someone else.

In contrast to a “socialized” person, a “conscious” person is someone who has a conscious plan that he can accomplish as he has been able to override and control ones genetic programming and biological desires, urges, or needs. He can distinguish his biological desires and now pursue his consciously created personal goals/desires. The person has been able to step outside of one’s own biological and societal limitations and boundaries. He has left the box, or shall we say, his conditioned comfort zone, his old familiar system. He has emancipated himself from those controls. His happiness is now independent from these forces as the rewards are from within, under his own conscious power.

He is an autonomous, system-independent person.

There is a sense of mastery, a sense of being in control over the content of one’s life. We now feel like we are actively participating in the unfolding of and determining the content of our experience of life. Everything now is a conscious-controlled choice (in contrast to a reflex response – biology-based or socially-conditioned).

Mihaly calls this the “paths of liberation”, becoming free and in control of one’s life. Lynn Serafinn, another great author calls it "protecting ourselves against unconscious impacts". Mihaly: “It is no longer necessary to struggle for goals” that were set by others. It is no longer necessary to “end each boring day with the hope that tomorrow, perhaps, something good will happen” (as you are no longer focusing on external rewards for relief). He says “the most important step in emancipating oneself from social controls is the ability to find rewards in the events of each moment. If a person learns to enjoy and find meaning in the ongoing stream of experience, in the process of living itself, the burden of social controls automatically falls from one’s shoulders. (View it as a shifting of importance and what’s relevant to you.) Power returns to the person when rewards are no longer relegated to outside forces”. “Instead of forever straining for the tantalizing prize dangled just out of reach, one begins to harvest the genuine rewards of living”.

Again, we can apply the above also at an individual level, such as interpersonal relationships. To create a healthy independence from a sick, dependence-driven relationship, we got to develop the ability to finding rewards and confidence from within. We can now refrain from reaching for external attention and "needy love" (or whatever we believe we need) if we can distinguish whether our responses are conscious, autonomous and system-independent, or if we are reacting from our biological mechanism - our biological-rooted desires. If we can become aware of our dependence on external models of rewards and punishment, and if we can become aware of our own impact depending on the type of responsiveness we display to those stimuli, we can see that we own the power to perpetuate the vicious cycle, or create a loving, genuine relationship instead. With this understanding and the cultivation of our own self-awareness we can find comfort and confidence from within ourselves. Let me repeat Mohaly's words, "power returns to the person when rewards are no longer relegated through (or needed from) outside forces.

That's it for today. Let the exploration continue…

Tatjana Luethi