Archive for the ‘Values’ Category
ERE’S a thought, Dearie, that I give to you because I haven’t a very firm grasp upon it myself. In order to clarify my mind I explain to you. And thus, probably, do I give you something which is already yours. Grateful? Of course you are — there!
The thought is this — but before I explain it let me tell of what a man saw in a certain cottage in Denmark. And it was such a little white-washed cottage, too, with a single, solitary rosebush clambering over the door! An Artist, his Wife and their Little Girl lived there. There were four rooms, only, in this cottage — a kitchen, a bedroom, a workroom and the Other Room. The kitchen was for cooking, the bedroom for sleeping, the workroom for work, and the Other Room was where the occupants of the cottage received their few visitors. When the visitors remained for tea or lunch, the table was spread in the Other Room, but usually the Artist, his Wife and their Little Girl ate their meals in the kitchen, or in summer on the porch at the back of the house.
Now the Artist painted pictures, and his Wife carved beautiful shapes in wood; but they didn’t make much money — in fact, no one seemed to know them at all. They didn’t have funds to accumulate a library, and perhaps would not if they had. But still they owned all the books written by Georg Brandes. These books were kept in a curious little case, which the Artist and his Wife, themselves, had made.And before the case of books was an ancient Roman lamp, suspended from the ceiling by a chain. And the lamp was kept always lighted, night and day. Each morning before they tasted food, the man & his Wife read from Georg Brandes, and then they silently refilled, trimmed & made the lamp all clean and tidy.Oho! why, your eyes are filling with tears — how absurd! — & you want to hear more about the Artist and his Wife and the Little Girl! But, bless me! that is all I know about them.
However, I do know that Georg Brandes is one of the Apostles of the Better Day. His message is a plea for beauty — that is to say, harmony. He would have us live lives of simplicity, truth, honesty and gentleness. He would have us work for harmony and love, instead of for place and power. Georg Brandes is an individualist and a symbolist. He thinks all of our belongings should mean much to us, and that great care should be exercised in selection. We need only a few things, but each of these things should suggest utility, strength, harmony and truth. All of our actions must be suggestive of peace and right. Not only must we speak truth, but we must live it. Our lives should be consecrated to the good — lives consecrated to Truth and Beauty. Consecrated Lives!
And so this Artist and his Wife I told you of were priests of Beauty, and their Little Girl was a neophyte; and the room where the Roman lamp burned was filled with the holiness of beauty, and no unkind thought or wrong intent could exist there.
Consecrated Lives! that is the subject. There is a brotherhood of such, and you can reach out and touch fingertips with the members the round world over.
Beauty is an Unseen Reality — an attempt to reveal a spiritual condition. Members of this Brotherhood of Consecrated Lives do not take much interest in Political Policies; and all the blatant blowing of brass horns that are used on ‘Change, in pulpits, or by Fourth of July speakers are to them trivial and childish. They distinguish at once the note of affectation, hypocrisy
and pretense in it all. They know its shallowness, its selfishness and its extremely transient quality.
Yet your man of the Consecrated Life may mix with the world, and do the world’s business, but for him it is not the true world, for hidden away in his heart he keeps burning a lamp before a shrine dedicated to Love and Beauty.
The Adept only converses at his best with an Adept, and he does this through self-protection. To hear the world’s coarse laugh in his Holy of Holies — no! and so around him is a sacred circle, and within it only the Elect are allowed to enter.
To join this brotherhood of Consecrated Lives requires no particular rites of initiation — no ceremonial — no recommendations. You belong when you are worthy.
But do not for a moment imagine you have solved the difficulty when you have once entered. To pride yourself on your entrance is to run the danger of finding yourself outside the pale with password hopelessly forgotten. Within the esoteric lines are circles and inner circles, and no man yet has entered the inmost circle where the Ark of the Covenant is secreted. All is relative.
But you know you belong to the Brotherhood when you feel the absolute nothingness of this world of society, churches, fashion, politics and business; and realize strongly the consciousness of the Unseen World of Truth, Love and Beauty.
The first emotion on coming into the Brotherhood is one of loneliness and isolation. You pray for comradeship, and empty arms reach out into the darkness. But gradually you awaken to the thought that you are one of many who hope and pray alike; and that slowly this oneness of thought and feeling is making its impress felt.
Then occasionally you meet one of your own. This one may be socially high or low, rich or poor, young or old, man or woman — but you recognize each other on sight and hold sweet converse. Then you part, mayhap, never to meet again, but you are each better, stronger, nobler for the meeting.
Consecrated Lives! You meet and you part, but you each feel a firmer impulse to keep the light burning — the altar light to Truth, Simplicity and Beauty. No other bond is required than that of devotion to Truth, the passion of listening in the Silence, the prayer for Wholeness and Harmony, the earnest desire to have your life reflect the Good.
All man-made organization would be fatal to the sweet, subtle and spiritual qualities of the Brotherhood. For organization means officers, judicial robes, livery, arbitrary differentiation, and all the vile and foolish claptrap of place and power. It means the wish to dictate, select and exclude, and this means jealousy, prejudice and bitterness — fifteen candidates for a vacant bishopric with heartaches to match! No organization ever contained within its ranks the best. Organization is arbitrary and artificial; it is born of selfishness; and at the best is a mere matter of expediency. The Brotherhood of Consecrated Lives admits all who are worthy, and all who are excluded, exclude themselves.
If your Life is to be a genuine consecration, you must be free. Only the free man is truthful; only the heart that is free is pure. How many compose this Brotherhood — who shall say? There are no braggart statisticians, no paid proselytes with their noisy boastings. Two constitute a congregation, and where they commune is a temple. Many belong who do not know it; others there be who think they belong, and are so sure of it that they do not.
But the Brotherhood is extending its lines;
and what think you the earth will be like
when the majority of men and women
in it learn that to be simple and
honest and true is the part of
wisdom, & that to work
for Love & Beauty is
the highest good?
AM an Anarchist.
All good men are Anarchists.
All cultured, kindly men; all gentlemen; all just men are Anarchists.
Jesus was an Anarchist.
A monarchist is one who believes a monarch should govern. A Plutocrat believes in the rule of the rich. A Democrat holds that the majority should dictate. An Aristocrat thinks only the wise should decide; while an Anarchist does not believe in government at all.
Richard Croker is a Monarchist; Mark Hanna a Plutocrat; Cleveland a Democrat; Cabot Lodge an Aristocrat; William Penn, Henry D. Thoreau, Bronson Alcott and Walt Whitman were Anarchists.
An Anarchist is one who minds his own business. An Anarchist does not believe in sending warships across wide oceans to kill brown men, and lay waste rice fields, and burn the homes of people fighting for liberty. An Anarchist does not drive women with babes at their breasts and other women with babes unborn, children and old men into the jungle to be devoured by beasts or fever or fear, or die of hunger, homeless, unhoused and undone.
Destruction, violence, ravages, murder, are perpetuated by statute law. Without law there would be no infernal machines, no war ships, no dynamite guns, no flat-nosed bullets, no pointed cartridges, no bayonets, no policeman’s billies, no night sticks, no come-alongs, no handcuffs, no strait-jackets, no dark cells, no gallows, no prison walls to conceal the infamies therein inflicted. Without law no little souls fresh from God would be branded “illegitimate”, indelibly, as soon as they reach Earth. Without law there would be less liars, no lawyers, fewer hypocrites, and no Devil’s Island.
“The Cry of the Little Peoples goes up to God in vain,
For the world is given over to the cruel sons of Cain;
The hand that would bless us is weak, and the hand that would break us is strong,
And the power of pity is naught but the power of a song.
The dreams that our fathers dreamed today are laughter and dust,
And nothing at all in the world is left for a man to trust.
Let us hope no more, nor dream, nor prophesy, nor pray,
For the iron world no less will crash on its iron way;
And nothing is left but to watch, with a helpless pitying eye,
The kind old aims for the world, and the kind old fashions die.”
~ Richard Le Galienne, ‘The Cry of the Little Peoples’
I do not go quite so far as that — I’m a pessimistic-optimist, Dearie, — I believe that brutality tends to defeat itself. Prize fighters die young, gourmands get the gout, hate hurts worse the man who nurses it, and all selfishness robs the mind of its divine insight, and cheats the soul that would know. Mind alone is eternal! He, watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps. My faith is great: out of the transient darkness of the present the shadows will flee away, and Day will yet dawn.
I am an Anarchist.
No man who believes in force and violence is an Anarchist. The true Anarchist decries all influences save those of love and reason. Ideas are his only arms.
Being an Anarchist I am also a socialist. Socialism [note: i.e., as a political party] is the antithesis of Anarchy. One is the North Pole of Truth, the other the South. The socialist believes in working for the good of all, while Anarchy is pure Individualism. I believe in every man working for the good of self; and in working for the good of self, he works for the good of all. To think, to see, to feel, to know; to deal justly; to bear all patiently; to act quietly; to speak cheerfully; to moderate one’s voice — these things will bring you the highest good. They will bring you the love of the best, and the esteem of that Sacred Few, whose good opinion alone is worth cultivating. And further than this, it is the best way you can serve Society — live your life. The wise way to benefit humanity is to attend to your own affairs, and thus give other people an opportunity to look after theirs.
If there is any better way to teach virtue than by practicing it, I do not know it.
Would you make men better — set them an example.
The Millennium will never come until governments cease from governing, and the meddler is at rest. Politicians are men who volunteer the task of governing us, for a consideration. The political boss is intent on living off your labor. A man may seek an office in order to do away with the rascal who now occupies it, but for the most part office seekers are rank rogues. Shakespeare uses the word politician five times, and each time it is synonymous with knave. That is to say, a politician is one who sacrifices truth and honor for policy. The highest motive of his life is expediency — policy. In King Lear it is the “scurvy politician,” who through tattered clothes beholds small vices, while robes and furred gowns, for him, cover all.
Europe is divided up between eight great governments, and in time of peace over three million men are taken from the ranks of industry and are under arms, not to protect the people, but to protect one government from another.
Mankind is governed by the worst — the strongest example of this is to be seen in American municipalities but it is true of every government. We are governed by rogues who hold their grip upon us by and thru statute law. Were it not for law the people could protect themselves against these thieves, but now we are powerless and are robbed legally. One mild form of coercion these rogues resort to is to call us unpatriotic when we speak the truth about them. Not long ago they would have cut off our heads. The world moves.
Government cannot be done away with instantaneously, but progress will come, as it has in the past by lessening the number of laws. We want less governing, and the Ideal Government will arrive when there is no government at all.
So long as governments set the example of killing their enemies, private individuals will occasionally kill theirs. So long as men are clubbed, robbed, imprisoned, disgraced, hanged by the governing class, just so long will the idea of violence and brutality be born in the souls of men.
Governments imprison men, and then hound them when they are released.
Hate springs eternal in the human breast.
And hate will never die so long as men are taken from useful production on the specious plea of patriotism, and bayonets gleam in God’s pure sunshine.
And the worst part about making a soldier of a man is, not that the soldier kills brown men or black men or white men, but it is that the soldier loses his own soul.
I am an Anarchist.
I do not believe in bolts or bars or brutality. I make my appeal to the Divinity in men, and they, in some mysterious way, feeling this, do not fail me. I send valuable books without question, on a postal card request, to every part of the Earth where the mail can carry them, and my confidence is never abused. The Roycroft Shop is never locked, employees and visitors come and go at pleasure, and nothing is molested. My library is for anyone who cares to use it.
I fix my thought on the good that is in every soul and make my appeal to that. And the plan is a wise one, judged by results. It secures you loyal helpers, worthy friends, gets the work done, aids digestion and tends to sleep o’nights. And I say to you, that if you have never known the love, loyalty and integrity of a proscribed person, you have never known what love, loyalty and integrity are.I do not believe in governing by force, or threat, or any other form of coercion. I would not arouse in the heart of any of God’s creatures a thought of fear, or discord, or hate or revenge. I will influence men, if I can, but it shall be only by aiding them to think for themselves; and so mayhap, they, of their own accord choose the better part — the ways that lead to life and light.
Source: Elbert Hubbard (aka Fra Elbertus), ‘The Better Part’, in A Message to Garcia, and Thirteen Other Things, East Aurora, NY: Roycrafters, 1901. Republished in 1910 and 1939 under the title, ‘Jesus Was an Anarchist’.
Written by John Uebersax
March 9, 2017 at 2:05 am
Posted in American Transcendentalism, Americana, Anti-war, Idealism, Land Reform, Libertarian, Literature, Love, Militarism, modernism, Occupy Movement, Occupy Wall Street, Peace, Political parties, Politics, Renewing America, Social philosophy, Statism, Transcendentalism, Values, War
ONE definition of Yoga is the integration of the spiritual and material realms in the human being, making a union of Heaven and Earth.
Given this definition, it is possible to approach politics as a form of Yoga. This would of course be very different from the usual practice of politics today. Rather, it would try bring into social affairs and institutions of government divine and eternal principles of Truth, Beauty and Goodness.
While we’ve grown accustomed to think of politics as selfish and egoistic, in truth it is something that can glorify the Divine. Among the animals only human beings have devised such things as governments and elections — methods with which, if used rightly, we can greatly improve our lives and planet.
Today the world is in great peril, with a dangerous combination of growing populations, militarism and materialism, combined with threats to the environment and climate. But since we believe in a benevolent and superintending Spirit, we remain confident that solutions will reveal themselves in due time.
Putting these two thoughts together, we may see that political institutions like elections and voting, if approached rightly, give us a means of shaping a positive future.
What does it mean to approach politics rightly? Some basic guidelines are evident. First we know that our choices should be governed by unselfish rather than selfish or egoistic aims. Our goal as ‘yogic voters’ should be to better the condition of all, not only of some. Further, it follows from the principles of Yoga, that our actions should seek to unify, not divide members of society. In addition, right politics and voting should leave our mind more calm and peaceful, not agitated and angry. These principles alone would exclude perhaps 90% of usual politics.
Today we are faced with one great need above all, which is to end the terrible program of constant war that our country (that is, the government and corporations) has pursued. To help you exert a countering and correcting force of Love, I have placed my name on the ballot in the June 7 primary as an independent peace candidate for US Congress in our district. A vote for me will be recognized as a vote for peace. In this way the ordinary process of an election is turned into a referendum against war and for peace. Since we do not have direct referendums on war, this means of producing one appears promising and I hope others will follow the example in future elections.
Every vote for peace will have a positive karmic effect, helping to improve our country and world. It is to enable you to gain positive karma for yourself and others that I am running. The direct goal is not to win the present election, but to begin the journey to peace.
I may add that the alternative — to vote for a Democrat or Republican politician — would, in my opinion, have little effect, as both represent materialistic values and the differences between them are negligible; I also believe they habitually promote divisive issues with the aim of diverting public attention from more fundamental needs for change, such as ending war.
Therefore please let me ask that you visit my campaign website and consider voting for peace.
If you should like to share this information, that would also be appreciated as I am relying on grassroots means of reaching voters.
Written by John Uebersax
May 20, 2016 at 3:50 pm
Posted in 2016 election, Culture, Culture of peace, Drone strikes, Gandhi, Humanism, Idealism, Imperialism, International Affairs, Love, Materialism, Middle East, Militarism, MLK, Moral philosophy, News, Occupy Movement, Peace, Philosophy, Politics, Prayer, Reform in government, religion, Social philosophy, Values, Voting, Yoga
ELECTION 2016 can be a tragedy or not, depending on how we approach it.
I mean ‘tragedy’ here not so much in the colloquial sense of simply something bad, but in a more technical sense associated with game theory: a terrible outcome that develops almost inexorably, though it might have been easily avoided. (One example of a tragedy in this technical sense is the prisoner’s dilemma, about which I’ve written previously.)
The tragedy of 2016 would pit Hillary Clinton against some yet-unnamed Republic opponent, in a bitter struggle in which Hillary would win a close race, and where 99% of voters would vote Republican or Democrat, neglecting third parties (as in the previous two elections). The real loss would be to further engrain the two-party (and Wall Street) hegemony of American politics, with the result of further degradation of our economy, foreign policy, and quality of life. And, because nothing would change, in the 2020 and 2024 elections the same thing would happen again, and so on ad nauseam.
Let’s be honest. Hillary, while she might be arguably be marginally better than a Republican opponent, is per se not a good candidate for President of the United States (as even many more enlightened Democrats would agree). Beneath a veneer of concern for the welfare of the community is a huge amount of personal ambition, egoism, and arrogance. She is also beholden to corporate special interests, and eager to use war to benefit US commercial interests (as evidenced by her support for the vicious military ouster of Qaddafi in Libya).
Please understand, the point here is not to bash Hillary. Hillary, personally, is incidental to the main point. But her defects must be honestly noted in order to substantiate the real issue here: that many Democrats will vote for her knowing and despite these things.
What prompts this article is that the other day it occurred to me, in a sort of flash of insight, how this impending tragedy could and should be avoided. The concept relates to how we view what an election is, and what our duty and role as voters are.
The Power Theory of Voting
What I would propose is that there are two possible models or theories about what voting for a political candidate is all about. The first model corresponds to the status quo — what has happened in recent years and what will potentially happen again in 2016.
We’ll call this the pragmatic theory or power politics model of voting. By this view one sees voting as a means to exert ones personal force in an arena where all other voters, with various value systems, do the same. To the extent that this is a strictly pragmatic activity, it is a-moral: the end justifies the means. Such is characteristic of a Hobbesian society: the bellum omnium contra omnes, or war of each with all.
While at first glance this may seem a normal and obvious way for one to promote ones preferred social agendas, its basic wrongness — or wrongness in principle — can be easily shown by carrying the same principle to more extreme levels. If voting is supposed to be a pragmatic exercise of personal power, then one should logically use any means possible to sway an election towards ones desired end (so-called political realism). Mudslinging, propaganda, lying, or even cheating — casting two votes, bribing others, ballot-box tampering — are fair game. And, in fact, all of these have been used by both parties and justified based on the end justifies the means principle.
Yes people instinctively know these things are wrong. And this common knowledge calls into question the underlying principle: whether the legitimate and intended purpose of an election is in fact for people to attain an end or to exert selfish power.
I grant that the reader may not see where I’m headed at this point and the preceding statement may seem puzzling, but it will become clear momentarily.
The Idealism Theory of Voting
I wish to suggest that there is another viable and plausible approach one may take to voting. We’ll call this the Idealism theory. According to this view, an election is like a vast national opinion poll or referendum, in which each individual is asked, “What do you believe should happen? What are your true beliefs concerning fundamental political and social principles?” One then expresses ones true beliefs by endorsing the candidate whose platform is most similar to them.
Let’s note the great virtue of the Idealism model: unless voting is approached in this way, there is virtually no other means by which the collective Ideals of a society can find themselves ultimately expressed in political institutions and programs.
Voting is arguably the one and only chance you have as an individual to bring your deepest hopes, aspirations, and instincts to bear on the deeply important issue of constructing, however gradually, a more Just, Good, True, and Beautiful world. It is the only means by which the common moral vision of humanity can contest the juggernaut of blind social forces, Wall Street, and government corruption. This voting your Ideals is an incredibly important, even a sacred task. You are God’s emissary in the social sphere, your vote a divinely appointed task.
But voting is mere egoism if conducted at the level of selfish pragmatism.
What would the Idealism model imply for the 2016 presidential election?
For Democrats, I believe those who vote according to Ideals and conscience would find the Green party candidate the best choice. For Republicans, the Libertarian or possibly Constitution party candidate would be the true and honest choice. Voting for these candidates, then, would manifest true Ideals, and contribute to the long term common good; voting expediently, against ones principles, for the Republican or Democrat status quo, Wall Street, pro-war candidates would be unethical.
Most of all, anyone who rejects US militarism in principle should not vote for any candidate who does not publicly denounce war. War is insane. Any candidate who does not publicly denounce war publicly announces their moral derangement. It is immoral in the utmost to vote for a morally deranged presidential candidate!
The Practical Value of Idealism
By Idealism here we don’t mean the starry-eyed, Pollyanna kind. Idealism in its finer sense — that which expresses our greatest aspirations and hopes — is the highest form of pragmatism. It is by the actualization of our Ideals that we become most happy and satisfied. Mere practical considerations, when detached from Ideals — and even more when they are antithetical to them — are self-defeating, because they ignore, deny, or even oppose the integral connection between moral virtue, truth, and happiness.
As tangible evidence of the practical value of Idealism in this context, consider this. If third-party presidential candidates, collectively, gained as little as 5% of the popular vote (in 2012 the number was 1.7%) , then in the next election we’d say greater respect paid to third parties. It would create pressure to include third-party candidates in the televised debates. The range of issues and options discussed during the campaign would be greatly widened. Suddenly, ideas like clean air or peace would become topics for public discussion again!
Further, if any individual third-party candidate received 5% of the vote — far from an unattainable result — that party would become eligible for federal campaign financing in the next election. A snowball effect would commence.
Thus, even beyond its moral implications and consequences, the level at which your vote becomes numerically meaningful — or even individually decisive — is much lower than you suppose. Yours could be the vote that pushes a candidate over this critical 5% threshold.
Written by John Uebersax
April 26, 2015 at 1:46 am
Posted in 2016 election, Anti-war, Culture, Election, Idealism, Imperialism, Militarism, Moral philosophy, News, Occupy Movement, Peace, Political parties, Politics, Public opinion, Reform in government, Renewing America, Social philosophy, Third parties, Values, Voting
HERE’s my take on the ‘state of the union’ as we appear to be headed towards another 10 years (at least) of war: Our domestic politics is nothing more than a lot of highly circumscribed but fierce battles being fought by indignant special interests, and equally indignant groups that oppose them: gay marriage, Obama-care, fracking, etc.
Now if I were gay, sick and poor, living amidst fracking, etc., no doubt I would have similarly strong feelings about these issues. That’s normal human nature. And all of these are, in any case, legitimate social issues we should be trying to address. BUT the reality is that we are ALL being hurt MORE by having a failed society generally than by any one of these issues, or even by all of them put together!
It’s a matter of priorities. Things will get worse for everyone UNTIL more people place social unity and the ‘bonds of mutual affection’ AHEAD of these more limited interests.
“I demand gay marriage! And immediately! And everything else must come to a standstill until I’m satisfied!”
“Because I want my rights!”
“Because I deserve to be happy!”
Certainly. But would having gay marriage, but all other conditions unchanged, produce happiness?
“Well, I might be happier, relatively!”
Would it reduce the cost of living, create more jobs, end war, cure cancer, solve the environmental catastrophe, improve schools?
Would you be happy, gaily married, if all these other problems remain unsolved; or would it be more likely you’d experience the same ambient level of unhappiness, malaise, discontent, poverty, frustration, ill-health, stress, pessimism, and near-despair as those who are heterosexually married or single evidently experience today?
“In honesty, the latter.”
Another question. Which would be better? (1) To substitute “civil union with the same rights as marriage” for “gay marriage” as an acceptable, if perhaps temporary, compromise, but with the results of achieving national unity and ending war; or (2) to have “gay marriage”, disunity, and perpetual war?
“The former, of course.”
Can we end war, or solve any of the other desperately urgent social problems already mentioned, without greater social unity?
“It would seem most unlikely.”
But if we were to achieve social unity, would it be likely we could solve these problems?
“There’s a good chance.”
And is it *possible* to achieve social unity?
“I don’t see why not. It seems in human nature to do so.”
If everyone placed as their *highest* social priority the achievement of unity, without abandoning their commitment to their individual interests, do you think it could happen?
“Yet I must ask: why do you choose gay marriage as your example to illustrate this principle?”
Partly the choice is arbitrary. And partly because it seems to me that, unlike these other issues, the whole essence of “gayness” involves love and affection; so that, on the assumption that gay people have love and affection more salient in their minds generally, they should more readily grasp the importance of unitive, communal love.
Written by John Uebersax
February 25, 2015 at 5:09 pm
Pitirim Sorokin is best known as a sociologist. However he also developed a fairly detailed and interesting theory of human personality. Unfortunately, no psychologists seem to be aware of this theory, even though it dovetails nicely with modern subpersonality theory (Lester, 1995, 2007; Rowan, 1990; Schwarz, 1995).
Sorokin first systematically presented his personality theory in 1947, in Society, Culture and Personality (Chs. 19 & 48). He revisited the theory in 1954 in The Ways and Power of Love (Chs. 5 & 6). It is the later version that we will consider here.
Sorokin didn’t like Freud’s personality model, and, in part, developed his own to remedy the deficiencies of Freud’s. It will be helpful, then, to begin discussion with a review of Freud’s model.
Freud’s Personality Model
Freud’s well-known personality model postulates three principle entities (Figure 1). First is the id, which contains our instinctive, biological drives (food, aggression, sex, etc.). Because we are social organisms, such that to act on every instinctive drive would conflict with other human beings (who similarly wish to gratify their instinctive urges), society conditions us to certain norms, restrictions, and inhibitions. These taken collectively Freud calls the super-ego.
The id and the super-ego are in perpetual conflict. For instance, should one give in to an angry impulse to yell at an unruly teenager, or should restrain oneself and set a good example? To resolve such conflicts is the task of the third entity, the ego. In Freud’s model, the ego is the level at which we consciously operate most of the time, at least if we’re functioning healthily.
This simple model has become so engrained in our cultural consciousness that it’s easy to overlook some very serious problems with it. One is fairly subtle: Freud is almost sneaky in labeling the normative component of the scheme the super-ego. The adjective super suggests that it is somehow above the ego, but in reality it isn’t. It’s basically on the same level as biological instincts or id: merely an accident of the material world (in this case, the social world, which, in Freud’s materialistic theory, is simply a product of evolution and chance). The norms of Freud’s super-ego have no spiritual or ultimate moral basis; they are relative, and differ in each society. In some societies, for example, the super-ego may insist that it is right to aggress. The super-ego, in other words, is nothing like the traditional concept of a moral conscience; but by naming it as he does, Freud, whether intentionally or not, creates the illusion that it is more like moral conscience than it really is.
So the first criticism is that Freud’s model has no place for a genuinely transcendent dimension of the human psyche. Second, Freud is certainly mistaken in assuming that our normative social constraints are mere arbitrary conventions. Rather, many of our social inhibitions derive from genetically determined instincts. For example, parents nurture and protect their children not simply because society teaches these behaviors!. These are also familial instincts, found in other animals besides humans. Similarly, if we look carefully, we’ll see that many social inhibitions similarly derive from instincts: to act in a dignified way in public, to share in necessary work and not be lazy, to win the approval of others, etc.
A third criticism is that Freud’s model makes it look like we have only a single ego. This fails to account for the fact, fairly plainly evident, that we actually have many different egos. These egos come and go as circumstances change. We have a work ego, a play ego, a family ego, a citizen ego, a church ego, and so on. Importantly, these egos, or sub-egos as we may call them, may themselves conflict with one another. Indeed conflict among sub-egos is one of the most difficult aspects of our mental life, yet Freud’s theory doesn’t directly address them.
Figure 2 shows Sorokin’s personality model. Like Freud, Sorokin allows that we have biological drives and instincts. Unlike Freud, Sorokin argues that individual biological instincts may have their own ‘dedicated’ egos. For example, the aggression instinct may give rise to an aggression ego. Alternatively, we can call this a sub-ego, to acknowledge the fact that our ‘ego’ in general (the large circle) consists of many different sub-egos which may take charge of our actions at any given time. Biological instincts and biological sub-egos together comprise the realm of the bioconscious.
In a similar way, we have many different social instinct and drives. Some are innate (parenting instincts), and some are associated with cultural roles. These create unconscious pressures on us to behave in certain ways, and we develop social egos or sub-egos in order to do so. Our unconscious social drives/instincts, together with our socially-oriented sub-egos comprise what Sorokin called the socioconscious.
But in allowing that we have not one, but many (in fact, potentially a very large number) of alternative sub-egos, any of which may be ‘in charge’ at a given time, we are faced with a huge problem: how to decide which sub-ego should be in control. Freud largely ignores this problem, which is the very essence of the human condition and the problem of free will.
What in us chooses the operative sub-ego in the current situation? And by what criteria? Is this a skill which can be consciously developed, and if so, how? It would seem that this speaks directly to the art of living well, yet it’s absent in Freud’s mechanistic model of personality.
Using examples drawn from his impressive mastery of many fields, including philosophy, religion, history, and art, Sorokin argues that there is a level above the bioconscious and the socioconscious, which he calls the supraconscious. We could, if we wish, simply regard this as a “black box”: an unknown entity whose existence is inferred from considerable empirical evidence (such as the reality of artistic genius), but the exact nature of which we are ignorant. Alternatively, we could allow that this is the traditional conscience or higher Reason which traditional religions claim human beings possess. Mostly either view is compatible with Sorokin’s theory. The important point is that there is something within us, a deep moral sense, which guides our actions. Thus, unlike as with Freud’s model, there is something outside and truly above ego which guides ego’s choices. (A major practical problem with Freud’s model is that, by failing to teach people that they have a moral conscience, they fail to direct their attention to it, and might as well not have it!)
We should mention that for Sorokin the supraconscious is oriented to love, understood as a universal principle and a transcendent fact of the universe. Sorokin ‘mysticism’ in this regard is very rational, and well connected with established philosophical and religious traditions of humankind. Nevertheless he showed a great deal of courage and integrity in insisting the love be taken seriously by scientists — and this uncompromising position certainly contributed to his lack of popularity in his own time and since.
Sorokin’s Model Revised
Sorokin’s interests in personality theory were clearly subordinate to his greater interests in sociology and culture. Partly for that reason, many details of his personality theory are not completely elaborated, some important features remain only implicit. Here I’d like to sketch a slightly more complex version that articulates some of these implicit principles. Figure 3 shows the revised model.
The concept of ego pluralism, and the bioconscious and socioconscious levels remain as with Sorokin’s explicit formulation. The first innovation is to divide the supraconscious realm into a non- or unconscious (abbreviated ucs.) component, and various conscious egos which act on intuitions and inspirations supplied by this higher unconscious. For simplicity we call these the religious (sub-)egos, but understand them to include a variety of sub-egos associated with moral growth, spiritual development, artistic creativity, and the like. That is, we use the word religious here in a very broad way to mean all that by which we re-connect (re–ligio) ourselves with ourselves — i.e., with attainment of inner harmony, integrity, individuation, etc. Regardless of what we call them, just as we have multiple biological sub-egos and multiple social sub-egos, it’s fairly clear that we have multiple religious/moral/creative sub-egos as well. (For example, I have a yoga sub-ego, a Christian sub-ego, and a Roman Catholic sub-ego, and so on.)
In addition, Figure 3 postulates the existence of a unique, central sub-ego, whose responsibility it is to decide which sub-ego — be it religious, biological, or social — is in charge at any given time. Initially we can call this the governing ego, although the Greek term hegemonikon suggests itself as an appropriate term. One main implication of this model is precisely that for optimal personality integration a person must develop a hegemonikon sub-ego in the first place (this might not happen by default, but may require conscious effort and special education), and, secondly, the hegemonikon must become skilled at what it does.
I would propose that one form of effective hegemonikon is what we could call the philosopher sub-ego. That is, at some point in personality development, at least if all goes well, a person realizes that they need an inner philosopher to guide them through life. This is a momentous event, and in a sense marks the boundary between psychological childhood and adulthood. Without going to far into it here, I would propose that what Plato is seeking to do in his writings is precisely this: to awaken within readers the realization that they need such a guiding sub-ego, and that the best form this can take is that of a “lover of Wisdom” — a philosopher sub-ego in the truest sense. This sub-ego becomes a new fixture of the personality and then helps guide psychic integration and growth.
That all for now. I’m not invested in this model, but it does seem scientifically plausible and consistent with certain empirical and literary evidence. Whether I’ll allude to it again remains to be seen. In any case, now it is available for reference. It may prove useful in further explorations of psychological symbolism in the Bible.
But at the very least we’ve given Sorokin credit for his valuable innovations as a personality theorist.
Lester, David. Theories of Personality: A Systems Approach. Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis, 1995.
Lester, David. A Subself Theory of Personality. Current Psychology, 26, March 2007, pp. 1–15.
Rowan, John. Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us. Routledge, 1990 (repr. 2013).
Schwartz, Richard C. Internal Family Systems Therapy. New York: Guilford, 1995 (repr. 2013).
Sorokin, Pitirim A. Society, Culture, and Personality: Their Structure and Dynamics. New York, 1947 (repr. 1962).
Sorokin, Pitirim A. The Ways and Power of Love. 1954 (repr.: Templeton Foundation Press, 2002).
Written by John Uebersax
February 24, 2015 at 12:48 am
On November 25, 2014, Pope Francis addressed the members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, exhorting them to greater concern for what he called man’s transcendent dignity. The next day one newspaper ran the somewhat misleading headline, “Pope Calls for End to Hunger.” Now clearly ending hunger is a good thing, and the Pope did mention it. But this was not his core message, which considered not so much man’s needs and dignity at a material level, but man’s transcendent dignity.
What, then, is man’s transcendent dignity? This is clearly too large and involved a topic to pursue in detail here. Rather it is more fitting to call attention to the fact that it is a question. Our first task, that is, is to come to a more clear and explicit understanding of this term, transcendent dignity, which we seem to collectively intuit has some valid meaning even if we cannot at present say exactly what it is.
Here I would simply like to offer an example — a thought experiment, perhaps we could call it — that helps establish that human beings do have what can be properly called transcendent dignity.
Suppose, then, that some form of cosmic radiation were to kill all human beings on earth except one, but leaving all buildings, machines, plants and animals, etc., intact. Although this person would suffer aloneness, he or she would also be able to go anywhere and do anything. He or she could read every great book, see every magnificent building, painting, or sculpture, listen to every work of classical music ever recorded; visit every corner of the globe, see every magnificent spectacle of nature, learn about every animal and plant. Let us add the further premise that this person could by some form of in vitro fertilization or cloning and advanced technology produce exactly one other human being to carry on after he or she died — so that the planet would always have one human being alive, and living the same kind of life.
What I propose is that the world would be a completely different and better place because of this one person. This single person would supply a depth and dignity to the world — a level of intellectual, moral, and spiritual meaning — that would be absent otherwise. Without this person the world might exist materially, but it would be spiritually and morally lifeless. In short, this example implies that the transcendent dignity of man is so great that a single human being is enough to supply moral, intellectual, and spiritual meaning to the entire universe!
The example also implies a moral mandate to give human beings the time, freedom, and opportunity to cultivate their higher nature. The hungry must be fed. But man does not live by bread alone. The European Parliament must also promote policies that allow man to nourish his soul.
A Transcendental Humanism
I will also add that Pope Francis’ remarks about Plato and Aristotle in Raphael’s ‘School of Athens’ were quite interesting. They are worth quoting in full:
One of the most celebrated frescoes of Raphael is found in the Vatican and depicts the so-called “School of Athens.” Plato and Aristotle are in the centre. Plato’s finger is pointed upward, to the world of ideas, to the sky, to heaven as we might say. Aristotle holds his hand out before him, towards the viewer, towards the world, concrete reality. This strikes me as a very apt image of Europe and her history, made up of the constant interplay between heaven and earth, where the sky suggests that openness to the transcendent – to God – which has always distinguished the peoples of Europe, while the earth represents Europe’s practical and concrete ability to confront situations and problems.
The future of Europe depends on the recovery of the vital connection between these two elements. A Europe which is no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life is a Europe which risks slowly losing its own soul.
What the Pope is suggesting is a form transcendental humanism which integrates the spiritual and the material dimensions of man’s nature. This philosophical view has a long history, and a name: Idealism, or Platonic Idealism. It also corresponds to the Integral or Idealistic cultural mentality described by Pitirim Sorokin.
It also needs to be clearly stated that modern humanism — which views man only in material and biological terms — does not affirm man’s dignity, but arguably reduces it.
Philosophers today, in Europe and elsewhere, need to direct their attention to these issues. As always, we must begin with a careful consideration of terms and definitions. Conventionally a distinction has been made between a religious or spiritually based humanism on the one hand, and what is called secular humanism on the other. This terminology immediately paints us into a corner, because it supposes that secular culture and institutions must exclude anything having to do with religion and spirituality. But secular doesn’t actually mean non-spiritual — it only means, in this context, that which pertains to institutions that are public, universal, and not affiliated with particular religious institutions. In other words, it is perfectly feasible to envisage a humanism that recognizes dimensions of human experience beyond the material, but which is public, universal, and suitable for incorporation into our civil and government institutions. The actual contrast, then, is between a purely materialistic humanism — which defines man only in terms of biology and physical needs — and one that allows for elements of man’s nature which go beyond the merely material.
We can, in other words, have a humanism that is both secular and transcendent. To articulate and develop such an integral humanism should be our goal. The Dalai Lama of Tibet has made repeated pleas for a universal secular humanism based on such principles as compassion and social justice. But this suggestion is not, at least as it has been generally interpreted, sufficiently distinct from a merely materialistic humanism: after all, other animals also have compassion for each other; there is nothing unique to man’s dignity in that he cares about the hunger and suffering of other members of his species.
Distinctly European is the Renaissance heritage of a humanism that is truly secular and transcendent. This development came to a halt when Enlightenment rationalism pushed it aside. Now that the perils of unbridled rationalism are evident, we must again seek the more balanced and integral view of man. We can do this by re-examining Renaissance philosophy, and even more so the classical philosophical underpinnings of the Renaissance, especially Platonism.
Also noteworthy is that the theme of individual responsibility, which is easily undermined by state nannyism, has been repeatedly emphasized by papal communications. For example, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio, states the following:
15. … Endowed with intellect and free will, each man is responsible for his self-fulfillment even as he is for his salvation. He is helped, and sometimes hindered, by his teachers and those around him; yet whatever be the outside influences exerted on him, he is the chief architect of his own success or failure. Utilizing only his talent and willpower, each man can grow in humanity, enhance his personal worth, and perfect himself.
In 1987, marking the 20th anniversary of Populorum progression, Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. The encyclical was critical of the so-called liberation theology which seeks to improperly prioritize man’s material advancement ahead of his moral and spiritual advancement:
Development which is merely economic is incapable of setting man free, on the contrary, it will end by enslaving him further. Development that does not include the cultural, transcendent and religious dimensions of man and society, to the extent that it does not recognize the existence of such dimensions and does not endeavor to direct its goals and priorities toward the same, is even less conducive to authentic liberation. Human beings are totally free only when they are completely themselves, in the fullness of their rights and duties.
- Text of Pope Francis’ address (Vatican Website)
- Populorum Progressio (1967)
- Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987)
- Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486)
Written by John Uebersax
December 4, 2014 at 1:03 am
Posted in Art, Christian, Cultivation of the Intellect, Cultural psychology, Culture, Europe, Globalization, Humanities, Idealism, Materialism, modernism, Moral philosophy, News, Philosophy, Reform in government, religion, Self-culture, Social philosophy, Statism, Transcendentalism, University of California, Values