Tuesday, September 2, 2014

To Keep (and Expand) or Lose Freedom – On Joy and its Relation to the Self

One of the greatest definers of differences amongst humans is their characteristics of what they find pleasurable, enjoyable, how they go about attaining pleasure and how they respond when it is denied of them.  Also a key feature in a human being is how much pleasure and how much pain they have had in their lives – and perhaps more importantly of what sort.  For though of course our genetic makeup, our rearing by our parents and our education are crucial factors of our being, one factor that is frequently ignored is how hard a life one has had, what type of anguish one has suffered and how much and what sorts of pleasure an individual has experienced.  Pleasure is both necessary and detrimental to the self, as is pain. 
If one lives either a life of constant torment or blandness then one cannot honestly say that one on a visceral level enjoys or prefers anything opposed to anything else which is one of the key factors of humanity that no matter how animal also has aspects in the intellectual.  For what is daily life if not the human being acting on his preferences of taste, style and entertainment?  For the intelligent and those who possess a psychology to wish to objectify or rationalize their tastes there is the desire to either explain the preferences and opinions they have whether they are rational or not, or to actually search for either the truth or “the Good” and ideal in any given art-form or craft whether it be music, movies, ethics or physics.  The Aesthetic merge with the Scientific in the human psyche in the sense that both are viewed as an aspect of the individual’s reality.  The individual who wants to found his tastes on something rational and explainable will be the same to wish to ground his reality on some form of scientific method or explanation, while there are always those who pursue pleasure regardless of any rational criteria and believe either what suits their desires and psychological needs (even if said needs are hazardous to him) or simply what they’ve been told without critical reflection out of the compulsion to take the Path-of-least-resistance.
It is the pleasures we attain as a child that define much of who we are later in life.  If we attain much joy through reading and the childhood version of cerebral activities (e.g. puzzles, riddles, pranks, education, etc) then it is these joys that shape us into thinkers – or Rationalists, to use the word in the Kantian-Freudian sense of someone who is primarily a “Rational Actor” in his very psychology rather than in the epistemological sense, or rather someone whose Super Ego and Ego are far-more attached to their Id than the latter case.  However, those who attain pleasure in the pursuit and activity of social endeavors (for their own sake rather than to have a intellectual conversation with a colleague for example), sport and more explicitly or conventionally understood Hedonistic activities (there are of course a cross-section of all these traits in essentially all individuals, however many if not most can be largely categorized into one group I’d insist nonetheless) will be those who will develop into adults who will become those whose emotional continuity and sense of Self overrides the rational – otherwise known as Psychological Romantics.  These individuals possess a Super Ego and Ego that is not as closely attached to the Id and is attached in a different way.  The Rationalists sense of self and pleasures are intrinsically attached to his conception of reality, the Good, the correctness of his tastes and ultimately to the conviction that he or she is is a creature whose very existence is grounded in Reason and therefore is valid.  Those whose perception of the self is more closely attached to the Super Ego will become either scientists of some sort (and if their career is not in any field of science or Reason than their mode of thinking and interests are) or ethicists, while those whose sense of self is more closely attached to the Ego will desire instead societal validation for its own sake (e.g. money, power, sex as social status, marriage, etc) and whether they are Rationalists or Romantics will only differ largely their more specific attributes and how they go about in nourishing the Ego which not only their conception of self and self-worth is attached to but the Id intrinsically.  Then there are those whose Id is more of a “radical free-agent” not attached to either the Ego or Super Ego but no person as a completely unencumbered or unattached Id.  The very nature of the intellect no matter how malnourished or deficient it is requires the psyche to achieve some forms of pleasure and validation from non-immediate or non-Hedonistic pleasures such as sex, drugs and Rock n’ Roll.
Not only is it impossible for the self to be entirely defined by the Id, or rather the Id (the primal nature of Man) to be unattached to other aspects of the personality, to the extent that the Id is unattached to the Super Ego or Ego the individual suffers.  The pursuit of pleasure unattached to rationality or morals (Super Ego) or to aspects of the personality and craving for validation even it is simply self-validation (Ego) is pleasure that is unbecoming of the ideal individual and in-fact corrosive to him or her.  One could mention that sex is an essential element of the human psyche and physiology, and those who prevent themselves from pleasure are to be stunted and repressed.  This is true, but when the Id operates outside of the areas of Super Ego or Ego there is typically not only a corrosive effect in the character and aspects of the person, but there is a detriment to their societal well-being.  What I mean is is that those who pursue pleasure through drugs or random sex with strangers not only creates a character that is unbecoming of Virtue, but also one that is can create more immediate and “matter-of-factly” problems or detriments to the individual.  Drug addiction and STDs are the most obvious but there are numerous more.
Though all have an Id that is attached (in-part) to their Super Ego and Ego to varying degrees, we all also have an Id that is pure or “raw” and unattached to the two.  This element of the Id is not only corrosive to the health of the Self but the very nature of the Self as a complicated constitution within the individual.  For one is pursuing or enacting in the Id purely there is not self; this is what people are referring to when they say they “lose themselves” in drugs and sex.  They in-fact are losing themselves, both the Ego (their individual characteristics of personality and preference in forms of sublimated pleasures such as movies, paintings etc) and in the Super Ego (scientific curiosity, morals, desire to ground one’s existence in Reason and objective criteria rather than purely pleasure) both in the moment (obviously) but also to varying degrees in the long-term based on the nature of the human brain and whatever synapses being triggered being the “strongest” or most frequently active.  For though people largely are innately “who they are” we must also remember the large degree to which human beings are malleable particularly in their years of development.  So we see that what one finds joy in both in terms of potentiality and actuality both defines and destroys the self – this is a major reason why some have far-more individuality than others, though genetics and social factors such as education and general conditioning play their part as well.
But just as joy is necessary for the health and very existence of the self, so pain both is necessary for a healthy and definitive psychology.  It is our most painful moments and aspects of our selves that define (in-part) who we are, not only in that individual moment but for all time.  The Existentialists say an individual is the sum totality of his or her actions; but not only does this truth embody a notion of the Self that involves how we respond to trying circumstances, we are not merely in-part defined but molded by our lives torments as we are by life’s joys – both how much of them we’ve had and what kind we’ve experienced.  There is only so much pain a human being can endure both of the physical and psychological variety before there is serious damage done to the psyche – particularly the Ego and Super Ego and the Id’s relation to them.  But no one is spared from some amount of life’s pains and so we all develop coping mechanisms and psychological scabs to cover our wounds eventually.  These are sources of many individual’s strengths and weaknesses – the difference depending on the individual, the type and severity of the wound and the relation of the two.  And those who have suffered no difficulty or more specifically adversity (the differences between the individual and society being made apparent and the individual suffering for his or her individuality which is a common element in growing up) in life are typically the blandest and most incompetent beings on this planet – the sons and daughters of the incredibly rich are evidence to this fact.  Nietzsche, whose life was one of great deals of hardship and tribulation, was a genius in this particular aspect, as he was despite his flaws in Psychology in-general.  He acknowledges that how we respond to hardship and how it changes us is (the two having a cyclical relationship) just as significant a factor in our development and even more so in our individuality and notion of self than our education or rearing by our parents which is largely a universal experience.
This understanding comes to the conclusion of a more robust and nuanced notion of freedom that involves a degree of suffering and sacrifice as well as a justification and expression for the need of Positive Liberty not only to express and widen Negative Liberty but to curb and to the extent that it can dispel the more dangerous and detrimental aspects of it – that is to say of the human condition.  A mouthful I know but let me compartmentalize and explain.  Freedom can never be the simplistic “do what thou will” as long as one has a segmented self – as it seems human beings will always have.  Plato despite his numerous flaws and totalitarian nature understood this.  The Self is in constant struggle with itself, with the elements of the Id that are connected to the Ego and Super Ego (the two themselves being in conflict much of the time though this isn’t a main aspect of this essay) and the portion that is simply self-serving in the most base and immediate way and disconnected from the more human aspects of the mind.  If we are to be truly free, we must be free from unhealthy and burdensome desires – which are the desires of the pure Id when unsatisfied.  For though Man may desire knowledge, to justify or rationalize his choices or to be entertained by film or books these desires do not curtail his development or are experienced as pressing in a dire or desperate manner upon the Self – unless one is incredibly bored though this is not typically the case since any half-way intelligent individual finds manners naturally of entertaining or distracting one’s self even if (and typically in the case of distraction) the nature of the entertainment is non-intellectual in nature. 
Now let me explain something of paramount importance.  Nowhere in here am I saying that in a legislative or judicial sense a notion of Positive Liberty and the Self has a right to curtail the individual’s freedom – this would be in direct violation of the Non-Aggression Principle.  Instead, it should be understood by the individual that his or her freedom (in the more immediate and non-political sense) and conception of self is largely defined by what I speak of.  However they are completely within their rights to deteriorate their freedom by becoming drug addicts or destroy their minds through drugs or constant Hedonistic activities just as they are within their rights to end their very lives if they so choose.  I hold this to be the height of irrationality, for just as Epicurus points out the nature of frivolous pleasure seeking creates far-more pain typically than it does pleasure, but an individual most seek Reason and be wise of their own nature and volition (though they deserve and in some sense require help from society certainly) and this is the reasoning behind a main element – very-likely the main element – of Anarchism and a reason why it is so wise and superior to the ethics and conceptions of religion, Liberalism, State Socialism and all other conceptions of morality or politics that involve force.
Sacrifice then is necessary in the sense of one having to abandon some desires in pursuit of others.  This is a main reason why human beings require education and proper social institutions (correct parenting included) to help them be molded into cultured and complex beings that can filter their joys and pains, the effects of their blessings and sorrows and in-general their psychic energy (in the Freudian sense) in rational, productive and intelligent ways as well as have their resource of intelligence, knowledge and skill rise.  It is to this extent and this extent only that human beings become human in a meaningful way and leave the nature of Hedonism and primitive animal nature behind – or at the very-least are not encumbered by or limited to it and nothing more.

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