Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ideology? Personal choice! We are the people.

The essence of the Atlas syndrome is that we feel more responsibility than we can bear. So we have to balance our burden and our carrying power at the highest level of both impact and satisfaction. We should bite off as much as we can chew, while staying healthy. We should not stretch our load to the limits of our carrying capacity, or we would grow too tired, and deteriorate our future carrying capacity.
Our challenges should be really challenging, making us want to confront them, to exert ourselves, not to waste ourselves. We should not become frustrated and unhappy in carrying out our responsibilities. Stimulation and happiness are great sources of energy. Solving problems, meeting challenges, offering successful responses, provide at least as much energy as they take. And that is what we need - plenty of energy. We should carry our burden ‘with a light step, as gentlemen go’.
We can try to increase our understanding of the problems we face, our sense of discrimination to sift the important from the less important, the essential from the accidental, and to distinguish causes from effects and identify the loops by which effects become causes and vice versa. We need to gain a helicopter view, a global view, without losing sight of the particulars. There is no sense in becoming aware of more problems if we cannot map them, both practically and meaningfully. This approach takes both intelligence and guts.
If we lack one of those qualities, we may end up with merely an ideology, the poor man’s substitute for a vision. An ideology makes us aware of the problems of the world in terms of simple causes and effects, good people and bad people, clear-cut do’s and don’ts. But instead of becoming aware of the facts and problems first, we get a package deal, becoming aware of problems and their solutions simultaneously. Then we may feel that unless we buy this package deal, we will be doomed to ambivalence and impotence and therefore irrelevance.
So ideology appears to be an attractive offer if we are willing to pay the price of exchanging an independent mind for a program. Such an exchange is akin to selling our birthright for a pottage of lentils, something civilized people don’t do (nor have done to them).
In looking at the world, we cannot escape personal viewpoints and therefore subjective choices. But we can put these personal views to empirical test and critical review and still be strong and effective in our action. We can, that is, if we have guts. In this case, that means guts of mind.
A personal and flexible viewpoint differs from an ideology, like a personal dress differs from a uniform.
Now if you need a uniform, or if you think that uniforms are needed, or if you simply like a uniform, choose one that fits you and make sure it is of good quality. I will make some suggestions to help you choose. Think of these suggestions as a consumer guide to picking social or political ideologies. I recommend judging such ideologies by five criteria.
The first criterion is the extent to which social and political appeals are based on negative emotions, on fear, anger, hate, envy, contempt or despair. The more that such emotions are present, the more we should avoid these appeals. Such suspect appeals may take many forms: from contempt for opponents, to establishing order by inspiring terror in opponents; from envy and anger toward those who are better off, to fear for foreigners (xenophobia); from prophesying doom unless the prescribed solution is taken, to ascribing vile and base motives to those who refuse the solution.
The second, related criterion is how much understanding and empathy are extended to those who do not adhere to the ideology or oppose it. Be suspicious of scapegoating. Such an attitude is the main indicator for lack of empathy. Of course we may oppose outrageous and barbaric behavior, as long as we do not see such behavior as coming from inherently wicked people.
The ultimate in this lack of empathy occurs when those in power exterminate people instead of certain types of behavior. Throughout history, entire peoples have been decimated or exterminated for their alleged behavior or alleged characteristics. Beware when leaders portray other people as inhuman barbarians, and their own followers as a noble herd, full of goodwill. Carl Gustav Jung and Erich Neumann have explored the destructive psychology of scapegoating. Politics is full of scapegoating, but it is not a political disease. It is rather a social and individual disease, and a malignant one at that. Scapegoating has to be overcome, and every sign of overcoming it is welcome.
Joe Camplisson, a community development man who was in the thick of ugly sectarian heat and human misery in Belfast, wrote in 1974:
It is not these people
Way out there
We are the people
Here and now
And we are the people
That have the finger on the trigger.

The third criterion for judging ideologies is their appeal to positive emotions such as hope and joy, as long as these ideologies do not need to direct negative emotions toward scapegoats. An ideology better promises pie in the sky than the destruction of enemies. Still, the use of hope is dangerous. What will happen when hope is not fulfilled? Hope is especially dangerous with a collectivist approach.
The fourth criterion is the presence or absence of great collectives, staging great events, be they marches, rallies, or even mass prayer meetings or mass peace demonstrations. Mobs are dangerous political foundations, even when they are full of goodwill. The distance between ‘Hosanna!’ and ‘Crucify him!’ is disturbingly small.
The fifth criterion is the extent to which an ideology appeals to personal freedom and responsibility.
These five criteria suggest the presence or absence of incumbent destructive and fanatical elements. The twin criteria of appealing to negative emotions, and scapegoating, I find most helpful in analyzing political statements. These criteria offer a simple and powerful tool to weed out useless and even dangerous ideas, proposals, politicians and sometimes even parties.

Limitation of one’s own response seems an easy way out, but it usually is not for sensitive people. The world with its problems is each day encroaching into our lives through television, internet, radio, and newspapers. You may find it difficult to concentrate on your immediate surroundings instead of diluting yourself on the world. If you find that the world is still weighing on you, but you do not have the energy and talent to improve it, there are still ways to contribute. I will return to those ways in the last chapter.
If you have attention to spare, or cannot ignore the problems that you see, don’t bog yourself down with problems that keep staring you in the face, or you will only feed negative emotions. Think rather about the people who try to fight or to solve those problems. If the fact that people are still being tortured is nagging at you, become informed about the people who are fighting such torture. Think of them and support them. You can more easily walk about with feelings of sympathy for those who fight atrocities, than with feelings of hate for those who commit atrocities, or with feelings of hopelessness when thinking of those that suffer atrocities. If you cannot beat the problem, you can at least mentally join those who try to beat it. Such a choice will boost your energy rather than drain it.
A simple gift of money to a worthwhile cause is better than endless pondering about the ugliness of the world. Such pondering just makes us misers, adding to the ugliness. We should direct, not fragment or dilute our energy. It is better to give small sums repeatedly to the same personally and consciously chosen cause, about which we stay informed, than to contribute to many things that we can hardly can tell from one another. We will still be aware of a world full of problems, but perhaps then we can stand it, because the small things we do may grant us some satisfaction.
The difference between people with small talents who really use them, and people with great talents who use them, is small. The real difference is between people who care and those who do not. Some people do not care because they cannot, others because they will not. That difference is also great, but difficult to perceive.
Satisfaction brings the energy to do some more small things. It works more effectively than does overshooting yourself, as people with inflated egos are apt to do. They set goals for themselves that they can never reach, and by that habit they screen themselves from failure because they can always blame the circumstances, if not the world. So their superiority feelings are protected and they live on, barren, with elevated, but vulnerable self-regard. Ostentatiously trying to make deals that overrun his credit is the way a showman buries his talent. Let us trade with what we have, whatever the amount. ‘The rest is prayer, observance and discipline’.
What then - apart from writing or reading books like this one - is the profile of a civilized, humane, rational, effective citizen who feels responsible for the world, makes a contribution and does not turn away or suffer from being Atlas? It is someone who has found the golden mean:
1.     between optimism and pessimism;
2.     between passivity and frenzy;
3.     between meaningless and powerless political engagement.
It also means submitting private interests to the public interest without abandoning private interests or private judgment. Socially, it means common sense and responsibility; politically, it means statesmanship.
No matter how crushing the circumstances, if we find the role that really suits us, we will have, in several respects, the best of both worlds. We will find the peace of mind of contemplation in the midst of action. We will enjoy ourselves while exerting ourselves. We will be tremendously conscious of ourselves while forgetting ourselves. We will carry the world, with a light step.
These are diary notes of Winston Churchill. The date is May 10. The year is 1940:

‘As I went to bed at about 3 A.M., I was conscious of a profound sense of relief. At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.’

Relief. The opposite of an Atlas syndrome. We may not have Churchill’s stature, nor will we be ever in his position, but every man or woman can reach such a point in a task that fits like a glove. First we must discover our destiny, which means we have to know both the world and ourselves. This may not be easy.
Around 1936 the political role of Churchill seemed to have finished. Most saw him as an opinionated and cantankerous old man who drank too much. If acute, professional political commentators were so mistaken about a man who had already been so long in the public eye, how can we be sure that we know our own destiny?
So let us find our destiny and be resilient and resourceful.

We are the people
Here and now
And we are the people
That have the finger on the trigger!

From: The Ten Global Challenges: How People Make the World. An Essay on Politics, Civilization and Humanity. Ordering the book

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