I’m always looking for the simplest way to explain our psychological disturbances and social conflicts.
In our early years we are focused on learning. We absorb a massive amount of information and integrate it into a framework from which we can communicate with others and interact with our environment.
Research has shown that young children are orientated toward fairness. They want things evenly shared, even if that means less for themselves. This suggests a preference for a harmonious environment.
There is conflict in the world around us as we grow up. People have different opinions about many things.
As learners, we will soak up those different opinions without knowledge about what is right or wrong or how to reconcile them.
Because we favour a harmonious environment we will want that reconciliation.
Thus we will take into ourselves the conflicts we experience around us, and it will be important to us to find an answer, but at that age it is beyond us. Thus each child is a potential saviour who fails.
To survive we create for ourselves a worldview which incorporates some of the ideas we have absorbed, whatever provides us the most stability. If there is more stability in conforming to aspects of the worldview of our parents then we will do that, if more stability comes from conforming to a greater degree with peers our own age, we will do that.
The view of ourselves which arises from this worldview is our character armour.
As Wilhelm Reich pointed out, the character armour is a defence against threats from within and without.
That which we absorbed, and to some extent continue to absorb, which doesn’t fit into the worldview which underpins our character armour is still a part of us. The contrary arguments we didn’t incorporate, become a part of our subconscious. This gives an extra charge to social conflicts, because there is often something within ourselves which is at least partially on the side of those who express views contrary to our own.
We become ego-embattled because we lack an all-inclusive framework which would allow us to integrate what is valid in that which we had to exclude in order to give ourselves a relatively stable base from which to manage our lives.
I’d like to compare this to the ideas of Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, whose theory has been an inspiration for some aspects of my own.
Griffith believes that we are born with an instinctive expectation of an ideal world, a world in which we will be perfectly nurtured and in which people will behave selflessly towards each other. Obviously we are disappointed, and so we spend our childhood trying to work out why people are not ideally behaved. Unable to solve this riddle, during our adolescence we go through a very disturbing crisis in which we accept that we have to adapt to the imperfections of society. He calls this “resignation”.
He gives an explanation for why we are the way we are – a defence for our non-ideal state. But, because he sees us as having been born expecting ideality, he says that full recovery from what he calls “the human condition” will not occur for a few generations, because it will take that long to return to a state where children receive perfect nurturing. In the meantime he recommends a form of transcendence in which we put aside our differences even though we are still psychologically disturbed.
If we are born with an genetically-encoded template for what constitutes ideality and a demand for such ideality, then the requirements for satisfaction of that demand will be quite specific. Every aspect of everybody will be subject to judgement as being either right or wrong in the eyes of that inborn demand.
By contrast, if what we long for is simply harmony within and without, then all we need is a framework of understanding which can enable us to find agreement between all parts of our own psyche and between all individuals in society. No essential right way or wrong way to be, but an end to the demand that anyone be different from how they want to be as long as it doesn’t negatively impact on others.
If such a framework of understanding can be achieved – something I try to contribute towards with my writing – then it can bring a state of inner peace and strength wherever it is absorbed and put into practice, and can be a centre from which harmony can spread throughout society, without the need for anyone to insist that it is the absolute truth or for it to have the backing of any form of authority. We will know it by the rich fruits that grow from its seed.
You can find out more about Jeremy Griffith’s theory at his World Transformation Movement website :
And you can find out more about why I think he is wrong on my blog.