Recently, a friend said something about struggling to reconcile private desires with public obligations.
Another way of saying this is: what right do I have to freedom of self-expression?
We in the educated West are led to believe we have no right to freedom of self-expression. Our parents won’t allow it. Our school teachers won’t allow it. Our peers won’t allow it. Our romantic partners won’t allow it. Nobody will bloody well allow it!
You think I’m wrong about the conditions placed on peer-acceptance? Well… we learn early on that our worth among our school friends is judged on which clothes stores we shop in, which tv programs we watch and which musical acts we worship, but they – and we – only repeat what has been learned at home: that love is conditional, that we should expect others to judge us harshly, that we should judge ourselves harshly (that makes us ‘good’ people), and because said judgement is always about where we, or they, are wanting and there’s an attitude in our culture that want of character is deserving of harsh punishment, then expect harsh punishment (usually in the form of ostracision… one of the greatest of our hard-wired fears).
In this earlier post of mine, in which I reposted a blog post by John (I don’t know his surname) from his blog Full Catastrophe Living and Loving, friendship is described as “searching for others who share our particular peculiar version of neuroticness and have a penchant for the same anesthetants and distractions that make up our neurosis.” We simply don’t get much experience, in Western culture, of being loved and accepted for who we are; instead we are accepted (not necessarily loved) for the costume donned by our ego.
And, you think I’m wrong about romantic partners, too? Well, being in a relationship is certainly is better than being alone. Or is it? At least when you’re on your own you have the freedom to choose your own friends, to spend your time as you wish, to think – and feel – whatever you like without feeling guilty about your thoughts and feelings being a betrayal, and you have the right to use your own body as you choose… because, when you are not in a special relationship you have not given away ownership of your body and soul – and don’t forget that private ownership of another’s body is slavery, which – in theory, anyway – isn’t supposed to be acceptable in civilized society. It’s a bit of an inconvenient truth that monogamy is slavery, innit? Of course, most gloss over this little inconvenience in their relief at finding someone who’ll take them on, and are more than willing to make the sacrifice, and then cling to the other as if s/he were a life raft, which they kind of are in an environment where choices are limited when it comes to finding an empty basket we can sink all our eggs into.
In civilized society – at least among the educated civilians – we have allowed ourselves to believe this idea that we have no right to personal freedom because it will lead to anti-social behaviour.
[Hmmm, originally I wrote this differently and changed it, which means the next bit is a bit of a leap… but it linked well enough before… I need to think of a new link and come back to it.]…
So, what is Stockholm Syndrome? This is what Wikipedia describes:
“a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them”
“strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other”
“victims… mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness”
“a form of traumatic bonding… the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim”
“identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be a threat”
(NB: I would say that neglect is as much abuse as physical or verbal violence.)
Reread that list and think about this: What parent / child relationship is not characterised by the threat of punishment or abandonment and is therefore not intimidating, and where compliance is the most viable survival option? What membership of the in-crowd at school is not similiarly intimidating with threats of explusion for non-compliance of behavioural expectations? And ditto with romantic relationships?
In fact, isn’t the whole fabric of our society held together by a web of the fear of rejection, in which the sacrifice of self-expression in favour of conformity is a survival necessity?
So, what is your relationship with yourself like, in this environment? Is there punishment? Self-recrimination? Abandonment through escapism? Self-hatred? Self-mocking? Shame?
It is via this psychological phenomenon, as described by Stockholm Syndrome, that we learn our belief systems and learn how to navigate our way in this world. Relationships with others, and with ourselves, are based on fear: the fear of censure, the fear of rejection, the fear of being found out we’re not the person we pretend to be, the fear of existence itself.
Why pretend to be someone we’re not? Because we’re too intimidated to be ourselves. Freedom of self-expression is squashed in the Stockholm Syndrome-like relationship we develop with ourselves and the world outside ourselves.
You don’t believe me? I don’t believe you don’t believe me.
Why do I say we have a Stockholm Syndrome relationship with ourselves? Well… we internalise our experiences, and from this we create our beliefs about the world and about ourselves. We’re kept in line by our consciences, aka our interal parent or internal critic or superego, which is an artificial construct comprised of our acquired beliefs. We are, in effect, held captive by our internalised beliefs, which are usually tyrannical. Elsewhere I refer to these beliefs / ideas / memes as ‘conquistadors’ (here are links: one and two). And this blogger, Peter Michaealson, refers to them as the Politburo in Your Psyche.
Our belief system is our operating system. In the West, it’s one seriously dodgy piece of software. And it’s impregnated with viruses (a good read on that is Richard Brodie’s Virus of the Mind).
Further reading of the Wikipedia entry on Stockholm Syndrome led me to this entry about symptoms of victimization. Read it and you tell me this: are these not considered to be desirable characteristics to have in the civilized West? Are these characteristics not deemed proof of goodness, proof of having learned well the lessons of right and wrong, proof of a good conscience that keeps us on the straight and narrow, proof that our parents did a good job of raising us? Are these feelings not characteristic of how we respond in interactions with others? And with ourselves?
- Shame: Deep embarrassment, often characterized as humiliation or mortification.
- Self-blame: Exaggerated feelings of responsibility for the traumatic event, with guilt and remorse, despite obvious evidence of innocence.
- Subjugation: Feeling belittled, dehumanized, lowered in dominance, and powerless as a direct result of the trauma.
- Morbid hatred: Obsessions of vengeance and preoccupation with hurting or humiliating the perpetrator, with or without outbursts of anger or rage.
- Paradoxical gratitude: Positive feelings toward the victimizer ranging from compassion to romantic love, including attachment.
- Defilement: Feeling dirty, disgusted, disgusting, tainted, “like spoiled goods,” and in extreme cases, rotten and evil.
- Sexual inhibition: Loss of libido, reduced capacity for intimacy.
- Resignation: A state of broken will or despair, often associated with repetitive victimization or prolonged exploitation, with markedly diminished interest in past or future.
So, what can we do about it? We have two choices, as I see it: continue to be tryannised by our own minds, or change our minds. Re-arrange our belief system. Re-imagine our existence (because beliefs are nothing other than imaginary concepts). Rebel against the bollocks we innocently allowed ourselves to believe in. Peter Michealson, in the blog post I linked earlier, says we must “liberate ourselves from [our] self-defeating mentality.”
This isn’t easy, and we’ll receive A LOT of resistence. No one will want us to enjoy freedom of self-expression: not our parents, not our peers, not our partner, not our boss, not our kids. No one. Why? Because they’re scared of us being free. They want us to remain dependent on their good will… because they depend on our good will, and they – like us – have never learned emotional self-sufficiency. They – like us – have become habituated to their enslavement and derive a distorted comfort in it. Also, people don’t want you to be any different from who they believe you are – people don’t want their illusions shattered – we’re all dependent on our illusions for our sense of knowing what’s what, which helps us feel safe.
You might wonder what you’d do with your freedom. Good question. You can’t know because you haven’t been free during living memory. The last time you were free was when you were an infant but back then you didn’t have the wherewithal to utilise your freedom… you couldn’t walk or talk… the moment you began to master these skills was the moment the world began to control you and stifle your freedom in a systematic program of praise and humiliation, reward and punishment. Eventually you came to believe that personal freedom is a bad thing.
I think it’s too much of a leap of imagination to predict what we might do with our freedom – will we murder, steal, strip off our clothes and run amok, fornicate with all and sundry? Maybe. Probably not, though. What then? Who knows. Imagining the alternatives to those that have been used as justification for our subjugation requires us to imagine being in a different dimension we have no experience of. I think we have to trust that it will all be alright. Start by believing in the concept of our natural right to personal freedom and the rest will unfold.
We need to wake up from our beguilement of the draconian rules of Civilization, and of our belief in the ‘unreasonable selfishness’ of personal freedom. We’ve been hoodwinked, and, in so being blinded, have agreed to our own enslavement. We have to get off the merry-go-round of Westernized ego-consciousness that makes us obsess about our imagined victimhood, makes us pathetically dependent on others’ approval and – worst of all – makes us hate ourselves. We have to stop being tyrannized by an ideology that cares nothing whatsoever about our personal well-being, and in which “an abominable crime against nature” is committed (ref Alan Watts below). And we must – we simply must – emerge from our infantile, pathological attachment to parental approval (which was an appropriate survival response when we were children under the thumb, but ought to have outgrown its usefulness as an adult… but, alas… is thriving like bindweed in our subconsciouses and strangling our joie de vivre), which we project on to all our adult relationships to the detriment of all, if we are to have any hope of a sense of personal freedom and its accompanying peace of mind.
If the last paragraph resonates with you, you might like this little talk (about 9mins) by Alan Watts, the 20th-century British philosopher.
And here’s a great inspirational video I watch quite often (about 8mins), called Breaking the Illusion of Limitation.
And on the point of fear of liberation, and colluding with our own enslavement, here is a quote I love. It’s from August Strindberg in his A Dream Play:
angelic enquirer: Why was [Christ] crucified?
earthly respondent: Because he wanted to set people free, I think.
Who wanted to crucify him?
The great and the good, the law-abiding citizens and the hard-working families.
(This post really does need a good edit – I haven’t properly made my point. I called it Fear of Liberation to make the point that most people don’t have the guts to be free – we’re afraid to be ‘different’ because we’re afraid others will look down on us, ostracise us, persecute us. This is a rational fear because we recognise that we live in a hostile world, not a loving one, not the one Jesus (one among many other philosophers) talked about.)