Maybe it is Erich Fromm’s notion that humans cannot stand too much freedom.
Or perhaps, it is the notion that the fear of freedom in others pushes the panic button in us.
Or perhaps we are so competitive that another’s freedom is illegitimate, because we do not have such a degree, and so we “deconstruct” his freedom for our own neurotic purposes.
Or perhaps it is that we are so enmeshed in the “things” of our possession, and in the possessions of others, as our way of claiming our “worth” and our “value” that we have sacrificed our identities (individually and collectively) on the altar of trophies.
Or, is it maybe the basic concept of “worth” (ethical, moral, altruistic, compassionate, forgiving, loving) that we have been told we lack that has twisted history into a firey forge of bending our iron wills into something more to “God’s” liking.
Or is it maybe that surveying the blood and the bones, the treaties and the official acts of wanton human savagery that crowd the canvas of recorded history, we have concluded that we are a savage and untameable beast so our only path is to inculcate the skills and the tricks of competition and “survival of the fittest” so that our children will at least survive the onslaught of human domination.
Or is it maybe that our reason and our passions are in a constant state of tension, generating both reasonable arguments for and against tyranny, while our emotions are out of reach of those arguments, and we vacillate between moments of disciplined, focused, intensive attention, and moments of abandon and unbridled ecstacy.
Or is it maybe that we have not reached a consensus on the question of the optimum, effective, balanced and acceptable relationship between the individual human and the broader social parameters of inclusion.
Or is it maybe that we vibrate between “joining” and “resisting”…between integrating ourselves into the group and separating ourselves from the group that captures the time-line of our biographies.
And then there is the possibility that “others” are more influential that we are ourselves, on the shape of our individual, and our culture’s narrative history.
Acceptance, tolerance, respect, value….and love…these are the appetites that underlie most of our attempts to define our lives. And whether we are content to please merely what we consider acceptable, or need the affirmation of others, in order to realize self-acceptance….maybe that is one of the critical red lines that divide humans into types. Psychology talks about this dynamic as “internal” versus “external locus of control”…
Authority…. outside authority, including parents, teachers, coaches, the church including God, the rules/laws/enforcement officers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, governments, and places of employment…..these are all symbols and agents of authority and power that tell us much about how we “relate” to the outside world,
Parents want never to be embarrassed by the words or the acts of their children.
Teachers are even more deliberate and determined to “control” their classrooms, and their labs and their gymnasia and their playgrounds, in order to avoid the charge of “unprofessional” comportment.
And while young people need some safety and security in order merely to navigate among the stairways, the kitchens, the driveways, and the pools in which they operate, far too often the fears of the parents are given excessive, even unconscious, license over the child’s exploratory instincts that are a different and more effective “teacher”. Never absent or distant from every encounter between parent and child is the history of the parenting that was operating when the current parent was the child.
The pendulum of over-protective parenting often swings to the laissez-faire parenting of the next generation and vice-versa. Similarly, the notion of evil, as conceived and perpetrated by one generation, depending on its excess, will prompt a swing in the opposite direction, in their offspring. There is a clear influence especially of extremes that generate their inverse operating in our lives.
Religiosity in the extreme often generates separation from religion of any form. Emotional and physical abuse and trauma in one generation will often reverberate in a much more gentle and tolerant parenting model. Similarly, extremes of poverty can often generate a strong motivation to avoid such depravity in the next generation.
Similar to the family histories, the trending cultural norms, (think Dr. Spock in child rearing) will also influence the degree of parental license, freedom, discipline and intensity. Spanking or strapping children who misbehaved half a century ago is now considered unlawful and worthy of legal charges. Cultural integration in choices of family friends, schools, teams and workplaces, once considered unacceptable and intolerable, is now not only accepted but its absence is considered racism and subject to litigation.
The intersection of personal biases with cultural norms, both of which are flowing rivers of personal and cultural consciousness respectively, will generate intellectual debates, academic research and the grants that undergird such research, court submissions, governmental discussion, debates and potential legislation. And while the degree of personal resistance to evolving cultural norms will reflect and monitor each other, though public opinion polls, dinner and water-cooler conversations, young people will find their respective models of emulation and their models of derision in those rivers, of which they are also an integral component.
In their vacillation between models to follow and those to avoid, children will evolve their own picture of what eventually will define their social, cultural, religious, political and potentially their financial and professional profiles.
Under the ground of both the personal and the cultural “consciousnesses” there are other rivers flowing deeply and with powerful currents, at least according to Carl Jung…these are the rivers of the personal and the collective unconscious, comprised of the memories, traumas, denials, avoidances and distortions of both our individual and our shared histories and traditions.
In Canadian historical unconsciousness, the War of 1812 was a victory, a loss, or a draw….to be contended and potentially resolved by historical research, public debate and social policy, on both sides of the 49th parallel. Similarly, indigenous peoples were/are/will be first among equals depending on our openness to genetic history, cultural history and education, present and future healing and reconciliation. And individuals, both privately and collaboratively, will interact with experiences that promote or derail the historic trend lines which themselves will veer toward or away from reconciliation.
In many ways, our choices of identification and emulation will symbolize our, at first, unconscious assumption of personal control. Following in the footsteps of another will first be an attempt to pursue a path of potential identity. Similarly, although much less “desireable” in social and family terms, our choice of models of a negative nature such as gangs, outcasts, rebels, and the other models that tend to resist social and cultural norms, especially if that resistance takes violent expression, will express an inverse motivation to inclusion and social acceptance. And both positive and negative role models together, comprise a continuum on which we project ourselves as belonging, or integrating, resisting or separating. And to the degree that our choices satisfy both immediate and longer-term needs and aspirations, we will continue to seek similar affiliations. Extremes at either end of the continuum, paradoxically, can often induce equally strong reactions in the opposite direction, depending on our experience, and our tolerance/intolerance of extremes.
This inverse vacillation, not surprisingly, can and does occur both in individual and family lives, as well as in cultural, political, corporate models. And reversals will develop in part depending on the innate tolerance for reflection, for critical re-evaluation, and for personal and cultural change. Families that rely on tradition, like social cultures that are steeped in their history, will resist change, newcomers to the family table, new cultural and religious identities, and new ways of conceptualizing the integration of new people, ideas, beliefs and even scientific evidence and theory.
What seems clear, too, is the notion that we are all, individually and collectively, enmeshed in the perceived “security” of our biases, prejudices, convictions, and what we have come to call our norms. Identities, unlike monuments or statues, are a “work in progress” and not a finished product. And yet, in our agricized, industrialized, mechanized, digitized and cloudified white-water torrent of change (relative to our capacity to integrate both our persons and our customs and our laws to the various and changing dynamics) we all seem to cling to something we “know” or minimally “understand” or more realistically, “integrate” into our picture of our person in the world…as both we and the world rotate, revolve, evolve and flow in our eyes, ears, formal and informal education, consciousness, imagination and faith precepts.
As David Suzuki put it in his “Legacy Lecture” delivered when he was 75, in an attempt to link our persons and our environment, “We are air!” The argon gas that comprises 10% of the “air” we breathe into our lungs, simply enters and exits our person, after having flowed throughout our bodies, back into the “air”, a process that includes Joan of Arc, Jesus, Beethoven and all other human and animal and vegetable entities. For Suzuki, there is no separation between humans and the environment, and so our basic need to live (including our need for oxygen in the air) cannot and must not be sabotaged by any intellectual, political, cultural, religious or philosophical separation of human life from the ecosystem that sustains itself, including human existence.
Clearly, this is not a mere metaphor: the identity of human life and air. It is a demonstrable, indisputable and verifiable “truth” or “fact”…and one on which human and ecosystem survival depend. We are mutually interdependent. Similarly, we are also mutually interdependent on our personal/individual choices and our collective conscious and unconscious awareness and acknowledgement.
It is not only that we are “air”; we are also our choices, our tendencies, our attitudes, our convictions and our actions. There is no legal, psychological, spiritual, intellectual, political, economic or military separation in which we can take refuge. Any attempt, indeed all attempts to separate our personhood, our existence, our survival, our identities from the choices and decisions and actions we take, are flawed in the extreme.
And it is our resistance to our mutual interdependence, our denial and our avoidance of that basic and inescapable truth, larger than our families, larger than our towns, schools, churches, provinces, nations and ethnicities that has, does and will continue to sabotage our lives, both in the micro and in the macro planes of those interconnected realities. Self-sabotage, in the most insignificant of decisions, choices, attitudes and perceptions (including self-loathing, self-denial, self-abnegation and self-doubt) not only denies our potential to bloom and to flower as individuals but as societies and cultures and global community.
And our neurotic, and too often psychotic delusions and illusions, are our greatest threat and opportunity facing our shared survival. By denying and avoiding our shared responsibility for our individual choices (and the choices of those around us) and our separation and justification of our non-operative separation from the decisions of our families, schools churches, towns, cities, provinces and nations….we effectively participate in our own potential survival or demise.
Does this act, thought, hope, wish, word, belief, or philosophy contribute to my and our shared global life and survival or not? Do I pursue and seek and find thoughts, words, actions, beliefs and attitudes that give life or not? Do I advance the causes of life in the widest definitions and conceptions of that life in my most intimate, personal, public and political choices or not?
Can we re-define, re-view, re-flect and re-form the notion that “we are all in this together” and that my self-sabotage models such behaviour just as does your’s and the self-sabotage of the political systems, the capitalist systems, the military systems and the belief systems that constrict free breathing, free association, free tolerance of and openness to differences?
It seems to this scribe, we really have no choice!