Monday, November 21, 2011

What do we Mean When we say “Freedom”?

Giobbi Photo, 2010.

As a child I can remember seeing a man on the television, I would later come to know him  as Jimmy Carter, talk of this word that I would repeatedly hear as the reason proclaimed for many actions. I came to wonder if we were all talking about the same thing when we spoke of freedom?

Somehow the words deliverance, salvation, and grace seemed to resonate with this idea of freedom. Eleven years before my birth (to the date) Martin Luther King Jr. declared his dream for freedom in a march on Washington. Listening to that speech, I began to understand just what people mean by those enigmatic words like deliverance.

Bondage, another word of Old English origin, refers to “anything that binds” –meaning sticks together. But the etymology of the word bond originally refers to both householder and husband. The Proto-Indo-European (known as PIE to linguists) origins of free is pri, which connotes to love. In fact, all of the etymological tracings of the word free, including the French and Latin equivalent liberty, eventually leads to the term love.

So, what is it that we mean when we utter the word freedom? What is this state that so many folks seek, the longing for deliverance, salvation, redemption, and grace? When you ask folks in the United States what they mean by freedom, they usually are talking about economic freedom. If you ask the rebel on the streets of some Middle Eastern state of the Arab Spring, they are speaking mostly of political freedom. The majority of folks, when asked about their idea of freedom, regardless of their geography, nationality, or ideology, will presume one of these two types of freedom in their response.

A third kind of freedom is personal freedom and is often what those in spirituality, philosophy, or psychotherapy are seeking. Personal freedom has been referred to as free will, autonomy, awakening, and enlightenment. It is this third category of freedom that might be what those who speak of deliverance, salvation, redemption, and grace are after. When asked what precisely it is they are looking for, these people tend to describe what seems more like a personal feeling or emotional state, than a right to act, as is central to political and economic freedom.

Political freedom and economic freedom are demonstrable, tangible, and physical. One can identify political or economic oppressors, oppressive systems, and oppressive policies and laws. Political and economic freedoms are the most visible and understandable to people. For the worker who scrapes together enough money to feed and shelter her family, economic freedom is easy to comprehend, and her oppressors seem right at hand. For the person marginalized for his physical features, or beliefs, political freedom is understandable and his oppressors seem easy to name. However, with personal freedom there is a difficulty that is not apparent (however present) in bothpolitical and economic freedom. The bully here is not so easy to identify and the effect of the oppression is often not understood in an expressible way. It is, rather,  felt as an emotion. Both political freedom and economic freedom are systematic and physical manifestations of the frustration of personal freedom.

Instead, the mechanism of personality, this thing we call the I or the me, is the very thing that we are simultaneously attempting to make free and be free from. This concept is difficult to penetrate, but is the quintessential link between all strivings for freedom as well as an answer to the curious search for transcendence, redemption, and salvation.

This intersection, where the restlessness for personal freedom finds its voice in the spiritual, political, economic, and the artistic, is simultaneously manifested in the personal relation with the self. In this way a person does not express themselves or their beliefs through an economic, political, religious, or philosophical ideology, nor do they adopt an ideological system to define themselves. Instead, the mechanism of personality, this thing we call the I or the me, is the very thing that we are simultaneously attempting to make free andbe free from. This concept is difficult to penetrate, but is the quintessential link between all strivings for freedom as well as an answer to the curious search for transcendence, redemption, and salvation.

There are a few words that appear when folks are asked to express their desire for redemption, deliverance, and forgiveness –e.g., personal freedom. Guilt and responsibility seem to be what most are seeking salvation from. In many religious systems, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions in particular, the guilt and salvation are pre-established. One is guilty for being born and must submit to God in humble acknowledgement for the gift of being created. In other words, one is born into sin and can only be freed by God’s grace. Both transgression and transcendence are prearranged for the religious experience.

It seems to me that what the most adamant of the adherents  to these traditions are seeking is some kind of freedom from. I am not referring to everyone who is involved with religious practice, most of whom are involved nominally as a cultural or family tradition. I am not convinced that most feel guilty for their own existence. I do believe, however, that people with very real feelings of guilt and responsibility, over very real tragedies and experiences, find an outlet for those feelings in the religion’s system. It is not uncommon for people who have suffered through great abuses and traumas to feel a sense of responsibility for the event, especially when experienced as a child. The structure of the dogma of religion serves as a system of symbols that represent the multi-dimensional person themselves, offering a path towards transcendence and forgiveness through sublimation.

Personal freedom is not as conspicuous as political or economic freedom. What we find in the strivings for political and economic freedom are ideological systems that promise a state of freedom that is broadly defined as a freedom to. In political freedom we might find the freedom to speak or the freedom to vote. With economic freedom there is the promise that freedom to possess and to consume is being free. Whereas these two forms of freedom require some sort of doing, personal freedom seems to be some sort of freedom from, be that a memory, condition, or the very idea of I or me.

When those who seek freedom through the political or the economical achieve that system, it is not long until it is found that the state delivered is not exactly the freedom they were seeking. We see this in the massive occurrence of depression and lethargy in Communist states, and the anxious, manic-crazed need-to-consume in Capitalist systems. Each of these systems fails at the promise for economic freedom.

The promise of political freedom through a democracy or a republic, too soon becomes a façade that only those whom the system serves well, or those who do not look too closely, continue to believe in. What then, do we really mean by freedom?

Starting from the etymological origins of freedom, in both the Latin andPIE lineage, we arrived at love. As we saw, bondagebond, and binding all refer to a holding together into a whole. In the Old English, man became bound to his wife and home. This binding was experienced as freedom in that he was oriented towards the household or union. In this way, Freedom is not a right to act, a hesitation in doing, or autonomy from; rather, it is a feeling one gets when acting in accordance with an ideology that one holds deeply.

The Communist feels a great deal of freedom in putting community before capital, the Capitalist feels free with the fluctuations of the market (especially during the downturns, when there is a sense of honored commitment to the system), and the servant who believes in their monarch, feels free when they can serve that monarch (theologically as well as politically). The worker who gets his fair-price for his labor feels free within the system he believes in (after all most union protests are not against the system, rather for a sense of modest pay within the system).

Freedom, for most, is not the ability to act in any way, but rather, the love of a system that one believes in, or the satisfying of a personal desire through that system. The woman, who defines herself as a worker rather than as a person, will find freedom in a system in which she can work. Freedom is accepting and loving a system and the experience of freedom is an emotional state that one experiences when their desires align with a system. This is the core of both patriotism and dogma.

The feeling one gets from these systems is an emotional experience. Reduced to this, freedom is pleasure and control in displeasure. The feeling often described as freedom is not being able to choose what to do, but rather, not having to choose what to do. Freedom is felt when the system, environment, and people in our lives accord to our pleasure. When those things interfere with our pleasure, we feel a loss of freedom.

An illustration of this is the experience of freedom some describe in being controlled by others. There is a certain safety that some find in fascism, dogma, and masochistic abuse. A common example is found in abusive relationships between lovers.

In asking the question, what is freedom; we have arrived at a place where we understand freedom as an emotional experience that is less about the ability to do something and more about the ability to not have to do something. The experience can manifest as a political or economical endeavor, but ultimately reduces to a personal state that attempts to satisfy the constant tensions between me and myselfFreedom is, ultimately, a disregarding of the I.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why changing the world can never be achieved on its own

It typically takes years of frustration, sadness, and despair before a person decides to become a patient of psychotherapy. The life situation finally becomes so unbearable that they are willing to change anything to escape the pattern. The patient (one who suffers) will often come to realize that their options are to either change their own worldview, or to change the world they live in. Both of these options are like a serum -at once curing and poisoning.

Changing one's worldview is the task of calling in to question each belief, understanding, and ground in which one understands themselves and their world. It is a frame of reference, the grounds for reality, or the context in which the information of life is integrated into. This worldview (known in psychodynamic theory as Weltanschauung) is the basis of how we, individually, organize information into systems of knowledge. Theorists describe how information becomes knowledge only when organized by a given framework. Knowledge must be contained within a certain system of rules that govern how the information may fit together to form, what is regarded as, facts. Facts cannot exist in isolation; a fact can only exist within a contextual grounding.

This insight is typically attributed to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein but has existed long before his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The idea that fact can only exist within systems of knowledge -a concept which Wittgenstein called language games- finds its origin much earlier, in sophistic and "Eastern" thought. From the sophists and thinkers to the East of Greece, the history of language games leads through to the mysticism of Western and Eastern hermetic alchemy. This mystical alchemy treated the transmutation of base metals into gold not literally, but rather symbolically, as the transformation of Platonistic bronze and silver personalities into gold, philosopher kings. This is the project Freud made manifest from Plato, the desires of das Es (bronze) and das Über-Ich (silver), controlled by das Ich (gold). Freud's dynamics of the soul (psychodynamics) is partly based on the system Plato laid out in the Phaedrus dialogue as well as in The Republic

From Hermetic Alchemy we find the thread that runs through much of continental philosophy, including Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Freud, Sartre, through to Jean-Francois Lyotard. We find a brief emergence in experimental psychology with figures in the Gestalt movement including Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, Kurt Kofka, and Rudolf Arnheim. The postmodern philosopher Jean-François Lyotard discussed much of the idea of contextual dependence of knowledge in his texts The Postmodern Condition and Just Gaming.

The influence on psychotherapy, primarily through psychodynamic theorists and "existential" philosophers, soon branched into the existential-phenomenological movement. Irving Yalom, Rollo May, Victor Frankl, Karl Jaspers, and Otto Rank are just a few of the pioneering researchers in this form of psychotherapeutic change. Although today's popular cognitive-behavioral therapy describes something called cognitive reframing, this method is grossly superficial and does not probe into the deeper soils described by psychodynamic and existential thinkers. CBT typically remains centered around and privileges behavior and cognition over emotion and can be understood as the morbid fear of the necessary significance of emotion in humanness (intellectualization).

This intellectualization has been considered to be the plague of modernity, and long before Max Weber spoke of disenchantment , Friedrich Nietzsche was describing the very same affliction. While Martin Heidegger was managing a convergence between the end of metaphysics and the leap into mysticism (Caputo), Carl Jung was exploring the clinical wisdom of alchemy at Bollingen. What he found regarding the metaphor of change in the human psyche was outlined in three, thick, texts: Psychology and Alchemy, Alchemical Studies, and, Mysterium Coniunctionis.

Whereas Jung openly (and not without ridicule) explored the model of alchemical change, Heidegger chose to represent the turn towards the mystical through linguistic alchemy. Heidegger had the foresight that Jung either lacked or disregarded -that the richness of the mystical could only be folded into contemporary life trough a process of reconfiguring itself. This is the ultimate ending (and beginning) of Heidegger's turn towards poetry.

At some point the patient (the student too) arrives at personal change. Oftentimes the personal change that the patient experiences, through psychotherapy, results in the changing of their environment. Seldom is the person who has achieved personal transformation willing to remain in circumstances that were established before the transformation. Quite literally, this is a new person that will necessarily form a new Gestell (or Gestalt) -the grounds by which the system is organized and grounded upon for under-standing.

The second option for the patient is to change the world they live in. This kind of change is illusory and brings only a temporary sense of newness through novelty. It is not long until this person finds themselves, once again, in their repeated narrative. Freud called this the repetition compulsion, or the tendency for us to play-out, over and over, the same scenario with different people and situations. This is the reason why changing the world can never be achieved on its own. The change is always temporary and ultimately the self (as Weltanschauung, personality, or ideology) forces the new objects into the old narrative. The only way to change the world is through collective personal transformation.

This has been outlined by many traditions of philosophy and spirituality. But it was not until Heidegger that a systematic approach beyond metaphysics was explored. The ideas of Heidegger, passed down from Meister Eckhart and the hermetic alchemy, was applied to society, politics, and economics by Erich Fromm.

Fromm's thinking is a conglomeration of Judeo-Christian theology, Marxist economic theory, Freudian psychoanalysis, Buddhism, and the thinking of Meister Eckhart. If one reads Fromm chrono-logically one can see the weavings of these five groundings converging into a unique life-philosophy.

After World War One Sigmund Freud turned his attention towards cultural psychoanalysis. In texts including Totem and Taboo, Civilization and its Discontents, and Moses and Monotheism, Freud became increasingly interested in understanding culture, politics, and economics through psychoanalysis. This is where Erich Fromm started, not from the standpoint of individual psychodynamics, but from the view of a social psychoanalyst. Fromm's doctoral dissertation was a psychoanalysis of the Jewish diaspora. He then went on to publish his first psychoanalytic essay on Judeo-Christian dogma. Although Fromm diverted greatly from Freud's psychosexual foundations, he did continue where Freud left off, developing social psychoanalysis.

Fromm diverted from Freud in a very simple, but enormously consequential way. His claim was that at some point culture becomes a greater influence on the individual than biology. This shifts the project of psychoanalysis from a psychosexual to a psychosocial conflict. As thinkers including Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, and Wilhelm Reich were expanding psychodynamic theory, to varying degrees, on a social versus biological continuum, each were discussing social manifestations of the psyche. It was Fromm who, perhaps, became the most accessible to the layperson and who was able to turn very complex theories into workable life-philosophy for the everyday person.

What Fromm taught is important to us when we attempt to understand how to enact social change by considering the therapeutic models of individual change. Erich Fromm's social psychoanalysis offers insight into how to make social revolution happen, what that change means, and how to maintain that change after it has occurred.

Individual Change as a Model for Social Change

There is an old joke about psychotherapy and change:
"How many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb?"
"One -but the light bulb must want to change."
This joke illustrates one of the fundamental rules of psychotherapy; change is first and foremost an individual choice. This is why therapists find that court-ordered psychotherapy seldom works. The individual who enters into therapy, usually after years of personal struggle, chooses to make volitional change with the help of a therapist. The therapist does not convince the patient to change, nor do they change the patient, the therapist offers a facilitating method of effective and lasting change to the patient.

If we look at social change through this principle something becomes apparent. Any change that is forced upon an individual, institution, or society through law may temporarily effect change, but eventually will manifest as symptoms within the society. For example, hate crime laws may temporarily diminish violent crimes, but they do not eliminate hatred. The hatred remains, suppressed, and will eventually manifest as a pathology of culture. True social change must come, like the individual change, from a social desire to want to change.

How does one get a society or institution to want to change? Individual psychotherapy offers a model. Psychotherapists understand that there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to therapeutic change. Each patient establishes their own identity through their own structure of desires. Sometime the therapist must assist the patient in understanding what their desires are, and accurately defining those desires. Oftentimes what we think we want turns out not to be what we wanted at all, but rather a less threatening substitute. It is through this initial process of therapy that the psychotherapist helps the patient to establish exactly what it is they want.

Now this offers us two lines of thought regarding social change. We can explore each by using the corporate institution as an example. If we view the corporation as the social institution that we desire change (e.g. as the patient), we realize firstly that it is we who desire the social institution to change, not the social institution itself. This is an important difference in that it brings to our attention that meaningful, lasting change comes from the desire of the subject to change, not the desire of the facilitator of change. This means that significant, indissoluble change can only occur if the subject (corporation) itself desires to change.

In the current situation of oligarchy and corporatocracy, we find that protest and occupation can effectively bring attention to a social injustice, but the laws and regulations that could potentially result from such political pressure are typically short-lived, nominal, or legally sidestepped. The relationship between the government and the corporations is simply too enmeshed for this to be an effective option for social change.

The strategy for durable social change must include a blueprint for motivating the institution to want to change. In one-on-one therapy the psychotherapist would use the method of elenchus to guide the patient towards certain conclusions, including the sensible resolution and desire towards a specific change. But with institutions the method must be different, for the social institution, which we desire to desire to change, is not a willing participant in our dialogue. We must meet the institution on its terms and understand the dialogue that is present.

Every corporation produces a product or service that the population consumes. The dialogue that exists is that of producer and consumer. The corporation produces not only what the population desires, but also manufactures desire in the population for products made by the corporation. As long as the corporation can dictate a populace’s desire it has accomplished its goal of retaining the consumers’ resources. If the corporation produces a product that is not desired by the population, or cannot manufacture the desire within the population for the product, the producer willingly desires to change its behavior by ceasing to produce that product.

This is the key to changing the behavior of all institutions -the consumer holds the power over the producer of products, services, and laws. The key to changing the behavior of these institutions is by speaking within the dialogue of producer-consumer or government-citizen.

We complain of the oligarchies and inflated costs of their products -but continue to consume those very products. We complain about the manufacturing of desire through marketing and propaganda, but we continue to desire. The only way to initiate meaningful and lasting social change, over political and economic power structures, is to first control the political, economic, and libidinal desires within ourselves. We must want to change ourselves first, before the change in the corporatocracy will follow.

The institutions will cater to the desires of the masses, and this is power over the producer. But for this to be effective the masses of consumers must organize to firstly control their desires and secondly set the terms of their demands. Only when the terms of their demands are met will they enter into the production-consumption dialectic.

The language that is spoken is the language of commodity. Economic boycott (voluntary doing without) and buycott (targeted consumption) are two of the most effective methods of initiating the desire for change in a producer. This is true of both producers of goods and service providers. Setting the terms and conditions  for consumption might include a demand on price reduction, a self-imposed social contribution to the community, or a social justice tax which ensures that part of the producer's profit is invested into the community that is consuming (supporting) the corporation.

Boycotts and buycotts are effective but have not been utilized efficiently. A mass boycott on housing, health care, education, and insurance could redefine the economic landscape of today. For example, if university students en masse boycotted tuition or loan repayment, the institutions would be forced to reconsider their tuition fees. It is a simple method of the manipulation of supply and demand. For years producers have been using advertising to manufacture desire in consumers, the empowered consumer will now effectively use the same techniques to orchestrate and pressure the behavior of the producers. This can be done in any product or service provider. It is a matter of mass action of the empowered consumer. At the end of the day the consumer holds the purse strings of our economy.

Boycott can also be effective in political institutions. Mass boycott of a political election is one of the most forceful displays of democracy. Mass withholding of tax revenue is another potent option that the citizen has, albeit with potentially higher consequences. The key is mass action. Effective influence can only result from mass, orchestrated, action.

As individuals we possess the power over economic, political, and existential freedom. Over time we have become complacent, indifferent, fearful, and irresponsible with these three freedoms. We have wrapped ourselves in a cozy blanket of compliance that demands an exceedingly high price for its comfort. If we desire true social change, true social justice, and a society free of the social classes that come to plague it, we must first make a personal commitment towards sacrifice through freedom of desire and want. We must unshackle ourselves from desire of material goods and services, making do with the bare necessities, in order to take control of the powers which have come to enslave us through the manufacturing of desire through greed, jealousy, power, and licentiousness. The power that institutions have gained was not given by the hands of government or business, but rather, by the hands that are our very own. If it is political and economic freedom that we desire, we must begin with personal liberation -freedom from ourselves (desire).


Friday, November 4, 2011

The Time Question

This week a student in my psychology class asked, "Dr. Giobbi, is time travel possible?" My answer is "yes, but when it happens we call it psychosis."

If there is one, fundamental, issue that alienates us from the majority of thinkers on psychology today it is this: we begin from the position that language & grammar shapes thought. This is not to say that thought does not exist without language, but that language & grammar is the jig or mold for how & what we think. In this consideration, at the very least, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is the starting point for all contemplation. In the words of Martin Heidegger, "we don't do grammar, grammar does us."

Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception and Suzanne Guerlac's text on Henri Bergson, Thinking in Time are excellent places to start, as are the Buddhist and Vedic traditions.

"In Aymara, a language spoken in the Andes, the past is said to be in front and the future behind. And the Aymara speakers’ body language matches their way of talking: in 2006 Raphael Núñez of U.C.S.D. and Eve Sweetser of U.C. Berkeley found that Aymara gesture in front of them when talking about the past and behind them when discussing the future." 

If one considers that the memory/past-tense, fantassy/future-tense is a linguistic phenoemenon, we come to understand how, since the end of the premodern, time perception has been established by grammar.

The Gestalt psychologists, including Rudolph Arnheim , have written a great deal on all matters of perception, unfortunately only some trivial anectdotes of visual perception are kept alive by textbooks in psychology. A remarkable book on perception, by Arnheim, is The Power of Center which could be read as an essay on time, framing & defining the now (center) in past & future.

What do we mean by  t  ?

In addition to current neuroscientific investigations of the phenomenon of time are the cultural studies in experiencing time. Quite possibly one of the best explorations of time travel is Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

"The Kuuk Thaayorre, however, did not routinely arrange the cards from left to right or right to left. They arranged them from east to west. That is, when they were seated facing south, the cards went left to right. When they faced north, the cards went from right to left. When they faced east, the cards came toward the body, and so on. We never told anyone which direction they were facing—the Kuuk Thaayorre knew that already and spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time."          -How Language Shapes Thought, Scientific America 

Finally, for those who truly love to read, there is Marcel Proust's six-voume In Search of Time Lost.

This short paper is nice introduction to how time is experienced by different cultures (contexts)