14. Humanity in Hiding
One of the strange things about humans is that we hide ourselves away. If you were an intergalactic ET studying humanity, you would find this a very incomprehensible matter. It causes us a lot of trouble. It brings a loss of much of the richness of life and an acute tendency to misperceive reality. Nevertheless, this is what we do: there are mountains of ideas and feelings, memories, experiences and even sources of happiness which we suppress and keep secret, even from ourselves.
If this had no great consequence it might perhaps be acceptable. However, it affects our behaviour, our relations with fellow humans, our participation in nature and our conceptions of our past and our future. It is eating up the world. The collective unconscious even has a finger on the nuclear button.
The subconscious is that area of the human psyche which we choose not to include in our awareness, perceptions and behaviour – yet it is there. We close away memories, knowings, truths and impressions in a cupboard. Then we proceed even to forget or ignore that the cupboard is there, stacked full of fascinating, painful, graphic, fearsome and blissful contents.
Forgetting is inculcated into us from birth, even from conception, onwards. It is deeply ingrained into the collective psychological patterns of our societies and into the rules and norms which regulate them. As we grow up we absorb and assume these collective patterns, not fully knowing or questioning that things can be different from the way they are presented to us. The psychological impact of historic and modern childbirth methods, of upbringing methods, of education and social experience leads to a profound forgetting and ignoring of the reasons why we are here and of the wider, deeper realities which pervade all existence.
Unawareness is nevertheless a choice, a rejection of promptings from within. Even if such a choice has been made unconsciously (often in response to pressures to fit in with social normality) it is still a choice. If such a choice is made as a result of lack of stimuli to help us awaken, there is still something within us that has chosen not to peep out of the door or look to the far horizon, beyond our own little life-domain. Ignorance does not arise from lack of information or education – people without education frequently have an astuteness of understanding which surpasses that of educated people.
Ignorance arises from blocking off major elements of reality. It arises from redefining and re-editing reality according to the ideology and filtration-mechanisms of whatever culture, time, circumstances and individuality we live in. Virtually all humans are born with the inherent capacity to make intelligent, aware choices, yet much of this is successfully bred out of us. Throughout our lives we each and all encounter choice-points where, to maintain our comfortable positions, we elect to collude with this culture of unawareness.
Much of what we call 'education' is actually geared to creating and maintaining ignorance – ignorance of the full extent of our natural responsibilities, of the real causes of our manifest life-situations and of genuine ways to relieve our woes and predicaments. The crucial part of the word 'ignorance' is ignore. This idea isn't new: Sakyamuni Buddha enunciated it 2,500 years ago, and enough time has now passed for it to be common knowledge. But it isn't. Wisdom has been heard, yet not noted. Every culture has its wise aphorisms which are nevertheless disregarded behaviourally – 'many hands make light work', 'love your neighbour as yourself' or 'the best way to find a friend is to be one'.
The subconscious is a sectioned-off or constricted repository of awareness, a stack of cupboards hidden in a shadowy corner of our field of awareness. The contents of the subconscious arise from our experience and also contribute to it. This is a personal process affecting each and every one of us, yet it is also a social-cultural matter inasmuch as we all share learned responses and rules which determine what is deemed to be admissible and inadmissible in the way of actions, thoughts and feelings.
This has its advantages. If a society adopts a moral rule such as 'thou shalt not kill', then if it becomes institutionalised, individuals will tend to conform to it without further thought. Any breaking of the rule will lead to strong reactions of fear or conscience within, as well as to possible social sanctions imposed from without. To succeed in the longterm though, such rules need to have sense and genuine justice attached to them – otherwise the moral codes of a society become complexified with a variety of unhelpful views and responses toward them. Which is what has happened with many traditional Christian teachings, so visibly flaunted for so long, even by their advocates, that they have lost their meaning and power.
However, such a rule has many disadvantages too: what happens if a society has a rule which is then quietly qualified with the parenthetical statement 'however, you can get away with it if you don't get caught'? Here, a clear rule takes on a double edge, leaving it to the individual to form their own conclusions and act on them. This leads to a variety of responses and gradually-unfolding attitudes toward other rules as well. A sly message is hereby conveyed, suggesting that rule-breaking can be advantageous to some. In such a case, society has officially addressed a major human problem – killing – yet unofficially it has avoided addressing it fully, leaving loopholes open. This leads to the oft-said slogan 'rules are there to be broken' – a disastrous notion born of a long history of ill-wrought rules and of evasion of them, even by rule-makers.
The root problem here is that rules inculcate a certain blindness, an omission to examine the full issues at stake. Rules are hard-and-fast statements which cannot apply equally in every case. They are inherited or imposed from the past, backed up with moral codes or punishments which might or might not reflect the experienced reality of a person as she or he grows up. So addicted can a society be to its rules that their original protective guiding purpose is lost, generating all manner of consequent evasion-tactics, guilt-building beliefs, inappropriate sanctions or adherence to authoritarianism – counterproductive in the long run. A healthy society reassesses its rules regularly and applies them wisely and with discretion in individual cases. Unfortunately, not many societies are healthy in this way.
Civilisation of any kind requires a training and tempering of the wilder, innocent, spontaneous, natural-born part of us – up to a point. For a complex society to function, procedures, norms and protocols need to be in place so that masses of people may coordinate their behaviour effectively. However, rigidity leads to inevitable social deterioration – as was evidenced in Europe during the medieval period, where religious rules and daily realities became dangerously at odds with one another. This situation prevailed to such an extent that the changes which emerged during the Reformation came too late to effect a fundamental social healing across European culture – instead there grew a new Protestant fundamentalism which sought to impose stronger rules on top of the previous ones or, conversely, to permit an increasingly mercenary evasion of them, creating a very self-centred social scenario still unfolding today.
The natural-born part of us is very visible around the age of 2-6. Gradually it becomes corrupted and sent into confusion as we observe and take on the behaviour and rules of elders from whom we take example, and who take it upon themselves to educate us into 'good' behaviour. Too often, our naturalness is suppressed, leading us to lose touch with it – so seriously that some ineptly perverse attempts to come into contact with it (such as paedophilia, violence, drug-abuse or overemphasised sexuality) can become extremely secretive and elicit fierce punishment. Healthier ways of reclaiming naturalness – such as psychotherapy, music or childlike playfulness amongst adults – can also be sometimes judged as undesirable or criminal, even when they are helpful and healing.
The manner and extent of our training and tempering varies from period to period, place to place and upbringing to upbringing, depending mainly on the degree of emotional-spiritual openness and tolerance in any society. This openness bears little relation to the sophistication of a society, since some simpler tribal societies can have strongly disciplinary upbringing-regimes while some urbanised societies or periods can at times be quite liberal, permissive and open-minded.
The true meaning of the word educate implies the drawing out of a person's innate capacity to learn and to form healthy conclusions from its experience. Yet our civilisation and many civilisations before it have omitted to draw out such innate intelligence. Instead they have imposed values and ideas which dull, undermine and pervert our innate knowledge and capacity for wisdom and sound judgement. A balanced outlook is easily covered over by acquired beliefs, guilt, fear and learned and institutionalised tendencies to shut off natural, free psychological functioning. The work of modern psychotherapy and inner growth in most of its variations is to retrieve this innate authenticity and naturalness, by helping clients come to an awareness of the aberrated nature of their life-responses and thus of the causes of consequent life-problems which arise.
A healthy and truly sustainable civilisation would concentrate, therefore, on establishing social patterns whereby such aberrations did not occur – Aldous Huxley's book Island and many other 'utopian' works have attempted to address this. Such societies would set out to assist the individual in learning all-round lessons from life and in forming balanced conclusions, which themselves would tend to build an organic energy-field of shared social behaviour removing much of the need for rules.
A loss of intuitive-instinctual and survival ability, a diminishing of our sense of enquiry, of understanding, sensitivity and open-mindedness thus arise from our conditioning patterns and education. Basic sense is substituted with programmed factual knowledge, inculcated values or even utter lies. Thus, the boys of many societies are taught that toughness is good while crying, weakness and vulnerability are bad – with consequences which are deadly for humanity and nature. Westerners of today are taught in school that life has evolved from pea-soup and lightning as a fortuitous product of random chance, with no inherent guiding intelligence or evolutionary purpose behind it – divine intelligence has been killed off, even though nature has clearly endowed us with an instinctive spirituality.
While this mechanistic idea of 'chance' suits a modern industrial society such as our own, itself schizoid and amoral, scientistic materialism and modern secular relativism remove the enchantment and awesome mystery from life. This renders people more lost and disoriented, thus more controllable, more dissociated from the life-process of nature and even from ourselves. It removes all sense of natural limits to what we may do in the world, with ourselves and with other people and species. If there is no inherently-recognised divinity or meaning to the world's forms and situations, licence is thereby given to treat them as one wishes, with little thought of consequences. Yet the adverse consequences of this educated notion are enormous. 'Chance', like the notion of 'fate', is but one of many root-ideas by which we have rendered ourselves ignorant.
Thus, artificial consensual ideas or 'conventional wisdom' are built up to an extent that we forget that we once believed or knew otherwise. Our fundamental baseline of human behaviour is lost, substituted by a false set of parameters and norms. In some societies and periods killing can thus become a holy act, women can be regarded as a source of evil or depravity and God can be believed to be distant and fearsome. Many such beliefs compound into an accreting edifice of blinkered social existence and narrow perception.
Rudolf Steiner called such a consensus of unawareness the Ahrimanic force, after a Zoroastrian deity who acted to induce sleep of the soul. Consciousness-sleep is a nifty way of bringing people under control. Such sleep is induced through routine, drudgery and humdrum meaninglessness, of which vast quantities exist in our world. Uninspired living is historically a normal situation! This waking sleep is induced by an incremental shutting-down of important elements of awareness and conscience. Atrocity, injustice and all manner of ills are thus permitted by collective somnambulence: if there is something you don't like, shut your eyes and it isn't there. Make sure you live on the right side of the tracks. It is a defence-mechanism for avoiding responsibility and blinding oneself to the full educational impact of life's experiences.
Silently-fearful public complicity during repressive or dishonest periods of history, when immoral or unjust actions are either overlooked or falsely justified, is the very means by which powerful social elements obtain licence to carry out what, in the end, are nothing less than crimes against humanity. Public psychological collusion with untruth allows extreme totalitarian regimes to thrive. It also facilitates the surreptitious growth of concealed outrages in affluent liberal societies such as our own, where soft forms of repression are institutionalised in law and common practice, internalised in the hearts of compliant, increasingly self-regulating, self-serving people living according to rules and norms others have set for them.
Seeing through these multi-layered glosses involves a process of unlearning and awakening which can be painful and lonely while the problem continues to exist. In modern societies social conscience becomes judged as a cowardly irrelevance practised by people regarded to be inefficient, marginal and unsuccessful. Goodness is looked on as a fantasy, a fool's game or at best a charitable diversion.
Nowadays, outright repression with soldiers and secret police no longer works the way it did – in many countries. People the world over have become increasingly aware of their situation and more self-determining as a result of their accumulated life-experience and arising from general world changes. People are today nevertheless tricked and cajoled into self-repression by increasingly subtle means – consumerism, advertising, opinion-manipulation, gentle bribery, incentives and laws which appear to guard our freedoms while actually achieving the opposite.
Thus, instead of imprisoning nonconformist individuals, society simply gently stigmatises and marginalises them, depriving them of income and social respect – with the result that such people become isolated and uninfluential except by dint of extreme heroism or exceptional PR skills. Pacifists thus become portrayed as traitors and spiritually-awakening people as cranks. People following a path of transformation and authenticity find their jobs and social positions increasingly difficult to sustain under the pressure of a false persona of 'respectability'.
Meanwhile, compliant citizens are offered comfortable cars and houses on payment instalments spread over much of their working life. This is the new slavery. The prison-camps, lashings, death-sentences and inquisitions of old have given way to more subtle psychological pressures today. If we fail to meet given standards and norms of behaviour we risk disadvantage, powerlessness and loss – and worse, we are told that it is our own private choice, responsibility or 'bad luck' that we got into that situation.
So, out of fear of marginalisation and exclusion, many people conform to the prescribed and unstated rules, believing themselves thereby to be free and powerful. Freedom has somehow become identified with superstores, and power with occasional elections. Our prison walls have taken on a soft-and-creamy consistency, mixed with permitted, scientifically-tested colour and preservatives. The keys to our cells are called credit cards and bankloans. Psychologically, suppression of our greater selves has become institutionalised – we have become our own repressors. Outright social control is necessary only in extreme cases. Disney and chocolate do the rest.
In other words, the subconscious, the unconscious and the super-conscious have been elbowed to the side. Their corrective promptings have been made to seem evil. They are disapproved of in the prevailing social order. In terms of traditional Freudian psychology the id – the natural-born self – has become but a disruptive influence on the otherwise-rightful rule of the ego.