This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, I-Tunes in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 446 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. I-Tunes.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Hammer or The Key : Exposing the Dictatorship of the Imagined

Copyright: bee32 / 123RF Stock Photo

All of us maintain some kind of relationship between the world as we can perceive it with our five senses and that which we can only imagine.

The approach of science is to study what we can perceive with our senses and deduce from this evidence the laws of nature which cannot be directly perceived but only imagined.

Religious belief often takes the opposite approach. Through our culture we absorb beliefs about something we cannot directly perceive and then allow these beliefs to shape our interpretation of what we can perceive. 

I say “often” because religious belief doesn’t always work this way. Some observe the physical world of nature and from its orderly creativity deduce the existence of a deity of some kind. They may add to this perception moral principles derived from observation of nature or society - a direct assessment based on sensory evidence of what produces a harmonious and creative society and what does not.

The relationship between the real and the imagined is a key issue for all of us regardless of our belief system. Every day we make decisions which mediate between the world we can perceive with our senses and that which we can only imagine. If I’m saving up my money to go on a holiday, something imaginary is effecting how I manage my real physical environment. My holiday will be purely imaginary until it occurs.

The imagination is crucial to our existence as creative beings. A healthy relationship to it is one in which it grows like a plant from the soil of our sensory perception of reality. Let it be as wild and prolific in its growth as it wants to be as long as it doesn’t enter into a relationship of hostility to the world of perceptible reality which gave birth to it.

In the extreme, some insist on the submission of the human individual and society generally to the will of a deity who can only be perceived through the use of the imagination. Yet we can all be prone to just such a tendency - trying to make ourselves or others conform to an imaginary vision of how we think things should be.

Love is the alternative to such an approach. Love arises from the forging of connections within perceivable reality. It is improvisational in its nature. It is the creative process through which the potential intrinsic to any social situation realises itself. Thus it cannot be imposed on the basis of a belief in something imagined, but it can be the key to the realisation of that which has previously only been imagined.

When we attempt to make ourselves or others submit to something imagined - be it a deity or a personal ambition or a utopian concept of how the world should be - it is if we are taking a hammer to reality. We are engaging in an act of violence. This is idealism. It is the root of all evil.

What we need is not a hammer with which to shape reality but a key to unlock its intrinsic potential.

When we gather information and seek understanding we are using a key. When we open ourselves up to listen to those with whom we have been in conflict and engage in civilised debate with them we are using a key. When we accept ourselves as we are as a basis for healthy growth, rather than trying to force ourselves to conform to something we imagine, we are using a key. The path of the open mind is the path of the key. The path of  equal communication is the path of the key. Love is the path of the key.

It is easy to become confused by all of the conflict in the world. The tendency is to chose sides. By so doing we can find ourselves committing complimentary mistakes. We can end up becoming more like that against which we fight.

A wiser approach is not to look for right or wrong sides in a conflict but to look for creative or destructive strategies. On either side of any conflict we might find those who use the hammer and those who use the key. If we seek the people of the key and shun the people of the hammer, regardless of their allegiance, then we will be moving towards real solutions to the problems we face.

Copyright: anyka / 123RF Stock Photo


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Will Policing Our Cultural Expressions Discourage Violence?

Promotional material for X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) (dir. Bryan Singer) (20th Century Fox/Marvel)

Why does violence occur in our society? Clearly the reasons are complex and variable, but by asking ourselves a few questions we may be able to assess the best strategies to tackle the problem.

What has got me thinking about this issue are some recent examples of a particular strategy to fighting the problem of violence - particularly violence against women - in our society. This strategy argues that visual depictions of such violence and jokes about such violence are likely to be seen as condoning this behaviour. The strategy gives birth not just to censure of free expression but the production of media campaigns which try to convince us that this violence occurs in our society because we are too tolerant of it.

Our culture tells us that violence - except in self-defence - is wrong and that violence by men against women and by adults generally against children is especially heinous. As a general rule we no longer condone corporal punishment.

So the problem of violence in our society is not due to moral ignorance - it isn’t because we don’t know that violence of this kind is wrong. Or, at the very least, we know that society generally believes that it is wrong, even if we do not.

For most of us there are two reasons to obey a socially shared moral principle - to have a clear conscience and to avoid the censure of others. A psychopath might have no conscience, but even they might benefit from avoiding social censure.

Violence may occur where a subculture gives the individual greater acceptance because of this behaviour, for instance in a criminal gang. The social censure motive is then working in the opposite direction and overriding the conscience, if there is one.

A powerful physical or psychological need can override moral principles as well, e.g. the need to obtain the next fix of a drug.

And the generation of destructive impulses in the ego through a breakdown in its healthy functioning can propel the individual to act violently towards others, just as, if the impulses are directed against the self, the individual may commit suicide.

There is a great deal of speculation about Omar Mateen - the man who killed 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub. He may or may not have been bisexual or homosexual himself. But his progressive radicalisation and eventual violent behaviour would make more sense if he were, because it would indicate the presence of a double bind - he can’t let go of his religion (which condemns homosexuality) but he can’t rid himself of the desires which are so condemned. His fear of his desires causes him to cling more tightly to the religion which cause him to feel an increasing fear of his desires which causes him to cling to the religion… It’s an untenable situation. Double binds can lead to insanity or suicide. They can also lead to murder. If one interpretation of the religion is that homosexuals should be killed (this is the interpretation given by the religious rulers of countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran) then killing as many homosexuals as possible is one way out of his double bind. On the one hand it lets him express his anger against those who have a happiness he can never have. Secondly it becomes a way for him to atone for his sinfulness. “I may desire to commit sodomy but I can make up for this by ridding the world of more acts of sodomy than I could ever have committed.” If life in the double bind is intolerable then this provides a way out which can be viewed as something other than suicide, because the final shot is not self-inflicted. Of course this is all speculation, but it is a theory which has explanatory power.

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, "Whoever you find doing the action of the people of Loot, execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.". Abu Dawud (4462)

This is a very dramatic example, but something similar happens in less dramatic ways all the time. I’ve experienced it. In my case the double bind led to me being self-destructive, but I can understand how it could so easily go the opposite way and does. A man whose self-acceptance is inextricably linked to being a provider to his family who then loses his job may express his frustration - his self-hatred - in the form of violence against his wife or his children. If he can’t escape his situation by getting another job, then he is stuck with the irreconcilable dilemma that he is unemployed and unacceptable to himself because he is unemployed. The continued love and faithfulness of a sexual partner can very often become an absolute requirement for someone's self-acceptance, leading many men and women to violently attack someone who cheats on them or breaks up with them.

So the issue underlying the problem of violence in our society is one of self-acceptance. The problem to be addressed is anything which undermines self-acceptance. If a philosophy or religion says we should not accept our sexuality, then that is a potential source of problems. If we promote the idea that anyone who does not meet a particular ideal of success or physical appearance or mental health should feel ashamed, then this could be a source of problems. (This doesn’t mean not celebrating people’s success or physical appearance or whatever. It is not a problem to have positive aspirations, the problem lies in backing them up with the threat of shame.) A lack of self-acceptance can lead to each of the problems outlined above - addiction, conformity to a violent subculture or a tendency for the ego to temporarily break down in the form of an violent outburst, something which can also become habitual.

We are presented with public service advertisements which tell us that domestic violence is a terrible problem. If this helps us to have the political commitment to support better methods of early intervention and policing of protection orders and providing more therapy services to both victims and perpetrators, then this is a good thing. But the key issue is the one not dealt with. What are the psychological factors which drive a person to violence and what can we do to help to free people from this compulsion? It isn’t simply a matter of us being too tolerant. At the moment someone lifts their fist or picks up a knife, they don’t care if we approve or not. The key to helping their potential victims is helping them. If the ads were telling us what we should do when we feel like hitting someone they might do more good.

In our impotence we turn to attempts to police culture. A poster for the movie X-Men : Apocalypse (2016) (dir. Bryan Singer) which shows the villain attempting to strangle one of the female superheroes was criticised as something which might promote violence against women. The studio apologised. It is clear that the big guy is the villain and thus his behaviour is not being validated. Big guys who pick on women who are smaller than them are not the heroes in super-hero movies. So critics are saying that to even depict bullying behaviour is to promote bullying behaviour.

This is an important issue because culture - from high art to popular entertainment - is the space in which we give free play to our imagination and by doing so allow our culture to evolve in more creative and effective ways. This is an improvisatory process which requires freedom. If we try to control culture to produce a specific end we will kill it. We will kill what gave us Shakespeare and Jane Austen and Hemingway. And we won’t end violence by doing so, because nobody hits someone just because they saw a picture of someone hitting someone. No-one kills someone simply because they saw someone kill someone in a movie. No-one kills people just because they played a video game where people killed people. Cultural representations may be imitated by someone who is propelled by some deeper motivation, but as long as those motivations remain we will not be made any safer by ridding ourselves of violent imagery.

An image like the one on the movie poster may be disturbing to some people. To someone who has been a victim of violence and is still suffering trauma as a result, such an image may be triggering. And those of us who may have a lot of generalised anger or specifically misogynistic feelings which we are trying to keep repressed may find such an image a disturbing challenge to our repressive strategy. So a major part of defending artistic freedom is addressing the problem of psychological insecurity. If the traumatised don’t find healing for their trauma and the repressed don’t find liberation from their neurosis, then we will continue to have a conflict between the desire to provide them with protection and the need of the rest of us to be free in our expression. Acceptance is the source of such healing. Avoidance, while it may be desirable as a temporary strategy, is not the solution. If something produces anxiety the answer is to expose ourselves to it and wait until the anxiety dies down. For the repressed individual it is important to learn that it is O.K. to have hostile and misogynistic feelings. It is O.K. to have any kind of feelings at all. That realisation that they are O.K. and that there is no need to fight against them as feelings will lead to a drastic decrease in their severity. It is when we don’t accept something negative about ourselves that that thing increases. So the irony is that, by over-reacting to images we feel are misogynistic, we may actually be increasing the hold of misogynistic feelings on many individuals.

Another example of this strategy is an increasing tendency for media personalities to be heavily censured for making jokes about violence towards women, etc. Again the argument seems to be that someone who hears such a joke is going to be more likely to be violent towards a woman or be tolerant of someone else being violent towards a woman.

Humour is a safety valve. It has the ability to release the kinds of tension which, if they build up too much, as in the examples above, can lead to violence. Everyone who knows me would say that i’m a very peaceful person. But I make jokes about killing children, raping women, torturing animals… Taboo humour is a great release of tension and thus a great aid to remaining peaceful. And it is a way to own our own dark side. It isn’t everyone’s way of dealing with things and I wouldn’t argue that it should be. But we should not make the assumption that tolerance of bad taste jokes will promote what they joke about, because the opposite may be true.

Happy Tree Friends (1999- ) (creators Rhode Montijo, Aubrey Ankrum) (Mondo Media)

The problem of violence in our society is a symptom of too little psychological freedom. An individual who has a lot of psychological room will tend not to want to harm another or will be restrained by his conscience or the threat of social censure in those situations where he is. The more an individual is backed into a tight psychological corner by an inability to accept themselves as they are, the more likely they are to do violence to others or to themselves.

So the deeper answer to violence in our society is to promote the philosophy of unconditional self-acceptance and to recognise that cultural freedom is not the problem but part of the solution.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

A Performance Review of Religion

Copyright: print2d / 123RF Stock Photo

Can we identify a purpose to religious belief and practice and assess for each individual believer the degree to which that purpose is being met at any particular time?

There are three key elements of religion - spiritual experience or perception, dogma and ritual.

What do we mean by the spiritual? Some may see this as something supernatural. I don’t believe in the supernatural. Spiritual perception is perception of connectedness. To recognise that acts of kindness and generosity to those around us are beneficial to us all because our lives are intimately connected is a key spiritual perception. When John Donne said “No man is an island” that was the key spiritual insight. An awareness of our connectedness gives us the wisdom to sow that which we wish to reap.

Jesus gave a particularly powerful expression of this spiritual perception when he said : Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” [Matthew 10:37] Clearly he doesn’t mean himself personally. He is speaking as a mouthpiece for universal love - the force he referred to poetically as “God” or “the Father.” Let’s leave aside the issue of whether he actually believed in universal love as something literally personified by a supernatural being. The point being made is that, whenever we make a division within humanity between “us” and “them” and place the interests of “us” above the interests of “them,” we participate in the generation of war and injustice. When the achievement of harmony and love within the whole becomes a secondary consideration then we set ourselves against what Jesus called “God.” This is not to say we shouldn’t love ourselves and our family and those of our own community. We can’t truly love anyone if we don’t love ourselves. But the more we truly love ourselves the more we love those around us, and if we love ourselves in our entirety then we become capable of loving also our enemies. This, as I see it, is the central perception of Jesus’s philosophy.

Dogma is rigid, unquestioning belief. An example of dogma might be the rules in the Old Testament about what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath. You are not supposed to ask why you can’t do something. You are simply supposed to show your respect by blind obedience.

Ritual can include praying to Mecca at certain times of the day, counting rosary beads or lighting candles, etc.

It can be very instructive to compare religion to obsessive compulsive disorder. In both there is a tendency for anxiety to lead to rigid thinking (dogma/obsessions) and rigid adherence to repetitious behaviour (compulsions/rituals). Obsessive compulsive disorder represents a loss of faith in ourselves and/or in the processes of life. We fear a threat which comes either from ourselves (“I might do something terrible”, “I might have forgotten to turn off the gas”) or from the world around us (“There are germs on everything”.) The state of health is one in which we have a reasonable level of faith in ourselves and a rational perception of external dangers which is free from exaggeration.

In religion adherence to dogma and ritual is evidence of a fear of God. This is generally not seen as a negative. It is considered a compliment to call someone “God-fearing.”

But you can’t love that which you fear. Fear produces one of two responses. We either fight back against that which we fear or we cower back away from it. We embrace that which we love. How can someone who fears their God embrace that God?

Just as anxiety and the obsessions and rituals it leads to are signs of the obsessive compulsive’s pathological lack of faith, so fear of God and the resultant tendency to cling tightly to dogma and ritual is evidence of poverty of spirit in the religious individual.

We can assess wealth of spirit by such characteristics as the ease with which someone can forgive trespasses against them and the inclusiveness of their circle of generosity. It isn’t about what one believes, but about what one feels in their heart and the behaviour which is an expression of that feeling. An atheist can be extremely rich in spirit.

If the aim of religion is to increase wealth of spirit then we can use these simple indicators to assess where religion is succeeding in this purpose and where it is failing. Of course, there are other factors which need to be taken into account. Circumstances unrelated to religion can eat away at our wealth of spirit. But we can make some assessment of the degree to which a person’s experience of religion serves to heal those other wounds or tear them open wider.

Belief in an after-life is often important to religious individuals. The tendency to place a heavy importance on this could also be considered evidence of poverty of spirit. It is all about needing something more for ourselves. If the meal of one’s life is truly rich and satisfying then there is no need to worry about whether or not there will be dessert. But, once again, we need to ask ourselves whether this belief in an after-life has the effect of increasing one’s capacity for forgiveness and widening the circle of one’s generosity. If heaven is a reward, we have to ask ourselves whether God would reward with eternal life those who don’t honour with love the world he created and the people with which he peopled it. To what degree does the belief act as an incentive to forgiving and generous behaviour towards others?

Those of us who wish to increase our wealth of spirit can use this method as a way of determining where to go for guidance. Those like myself who don’t believe in the supernatural might yet find philosophical beliefs or techniques in the systems of those who do which are useful in our quest. And some believers, recognising the shortcomings of their current strategy, may come to an atheist to learn something while not surrendering their beliefs in the supernatural.

While I don’t believe in the supernatural, I don’t think it is any less rational for someone to do so than it is for some physicists to believe in the multi-verse - a series of alternative universes which are as invisible to us as any religious person’s God. Arguing over the existence or non-existence of God is a distraction from the imperative to find ways to open up to our true creative potential as a species - something which requires both the courage to assimilate the truths revealed to us by science and the generosity of spirit to heal all human conflict and injustice.

Copyright: niserin / 123RF Stock Photo

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

BOOK REVIEW : Capture : Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Illness by David A. Kessler, M.D.

It means a lot for one’s life experience to be understood - to be able to read a book like this one and say, “Yes, that is what happened to me.”

I’ve written about the way we can get caught up in cognitive negative feedback loops, for instance if we feel guilty about being selfish then the suffering brought on by the guilt causes an increase in our focus on our own situation and thus we become more selfish which leads to more guilt… And we can become fixated on those aspects of our own psyche which we find impossible to accept in the same way that our tongue keeps finding its way back to that sore tooth. I’ve written about these things base on my own experience, but this book puts this kind of phenomenon - that of being captured by something which won’t let go of us because we can’t let go of it - into a broader and deeper framework of understanding.

David A. Kessler, M.D. worked for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in which capacity he studied the problem of cigarette addiction. Later he made a similar study of over-eating. Gradually he realised that there is a mechanism which underlies these forms of addiction which is also present in depression, mania, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and the kind of obsession which can lead to horrific acts of violence. He calls this mechanism “capture.”

When it comes to the subject of mental illness there is often controversy as to whether a condition is the result of an imbalance in brain chemistry, unhelpful patterns of cognition or an oppressive social environment. What Kessler has done is to bring all of these factors together into a coherent holistic framework.

The neurons in our brain respond to stimuli in our environment on the basis of the emotional charge which those stimuli carry for us. A single spot of colour in a grey landscape will attract our attention by its novelty. Our attention will be drawn quickly to a snake because we feel it may pose us a danger. A hungry person’s attention will be drawn to a chocolate bar more strongly than will be the case for someone who is satiated. And our neural pathways record the connections between experiences and the more often we revisit them the more they are reinforced. So if a particular song was playing the first time we set eyes on someone with whom we fell in love, it is likely that we will think of them every time we hear it.

These natural and helpful processes can turn against us in an insidious way. If a particular kind of thinking has a powerful emotional charge because it makes us feel very bad we may find it hard to turn our attention to anything else when some aspect of our experience brings it back to mind. When we talk about triggering, this is what we mean - our brain makes an association between something in our environment and the memory of an experience which was traumatic to us. Because the memory is more emotionally powerful than the other things which could be the focus of our attention, we travel back down that well-worn groove. The same kind of thing can happen with self-condemning thoughts or thoughts of committing acts of violence. The emotional charge captures our attention and the more our thoughts go back down that path the more the habit is reinforced. Or it could be something we powerfully associate with relief from suffering, such as alcohol or food, which captures us in a self-defeating way.

So we can see that the chemical processes of the brain, unhelpful patterns of cognition and responses to environmental stresses are all involved, often feeding back upon each other. According to Kessler, studies show that antidepressants work by inhibiting emotional reactivity to the cues which bring a depressive reaction. In other words, when we are depressed we hang onto negative thoughts because they hurt so much we can’t tear our attention away from them.

An explanation of what capture is and how it works takes up only a small part of the book. The rest consists of case studies of people - famous or anonymous - who have been in the grip of some form of capture. The key example is the novelist David Foster Wallace, who was tortured by self-criticism to the extent that he was driven to take his own life. He is not alone. The lives and obsessions of other writers who went the same way - Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway - are also examined. There are tales of those captured by alcoholism, self-harm, gambling, making obscene phone calls, delusions of grandeur, etc. And then there are those whose capture led to violence, including the murders of John Lennon and Robert Kennedy and the mass killings at Columbine and Sandy Hook, amongst others. A section is also devoted to those captured by Islamic extremist ideology.

Capture needn’t always be a negative though. Kessler profiles some individuals who have been inspired by a spiritual form of capture - Simone Weill, Howard Thurman, William Wordsworth and Martin Luther, etc.

This eloquent and compassionate journey through the inner battles of all these individuals gives the science of capture, drawn from masses of scientific papers cited in the notes, a human face to which we can all relate. There is some discussion at the end of the book on how we might be able to loosen the bonds of capture, taking some inspiration from Buddhism’s techniques of mindfulness and Alcoholics Anonymous’s philosophy of fostering a sense of unity with others, but perhaps the most powerful tool is knowledge itself. If we know what is happening and why it is happening and we can put a name to it, the power dynamic between us and it has shifted.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Can Dogma Drive Out Dogma? : The Case Against Jeremy Griffith and the World Transformation Movement

“Yes, terminal alienation is upon us; humanity has entered end play, a death by dogma.”

Jeremy Griffith, Freedom : The End of the Human Condition

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” 

Matthew 7:5

There is currently a massive publicity campaign in support of Jeremy Griffith’s new book Freedom : The End of the Human Condtion. It has been billed as “The Book That Saves The World.” When an article by Griffith outlining his theory about the human condition was rejected by Scientific American as being “not in the realm of science,” Griffith described this as “the most serious crime that could possibly be committed in the whole of humanity’s 2-million-year journey to enlightenment…”

A central message in Griffith’s book is that humanity is currently facing a “death by dogma” which will lead us to a state of terminal alienation. There is no doubt that there are some dogma’s which may threaten our existence - religious, political, economic… An effective response to the challenges - social and environmental - which face us will require thinking outside the dogmatic box.

But is Griffith’s 799 page opus the answer we are looking for?

Often when we look around at our complex world, we see a pattern in it which reflects our own situation. Griffith sees an all-pervading dogmatism in social phenomena such as the New Age movement, feminism, socialism, deconstructionism, etc. Wikipedia gives this definition : “Dogma is a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.” While there are no doubt groups of individuals within each of these social movements who adhere to some kind of set of unquestionable beliefs, is this really the norm in any of them as a whole? Is there not debate, questioning, disagreement? And what is the percentage of society which is caught up in any of these social movements? It is true that some of them, such as deconstructionism and feminism are very influential in the academic world, and so dogmatic forms of these movements can threaten the place we have set aside for free enquiry. But generally, when they become too dogmatic, there is a healthy resistance put up to them. Probably of more concern is religious dogma which drives violence and oppression, particularly in the Middle East. And that is not a new problem.

So if it is hard to see this death by dogma dragging us all to terminal alienation, what might Griffith be seeing? Could it be a reflection of his own condition? Has his theory about the human condition become a dogma that neither he nor the members of his organisation The World Transformation -Movement - dare “question or doubt”? If his explanation is false but he and his followers cling to it, then that makes it a delusion, and to be in a state of delusion, cut off from the real world, is what we mean by the word “alienation.”

One of the main ways we can tell the difference between genuine insight and dogma is fluidity during debate. If someone has a sound understanding of some topic then they can debate about it very freely using their own words and responding to different questions raised in a spontaneous way. It is clear that they have a good map if they can move around the terrain of the topic without getting lost. Dogma is characterised by a tendency to quote the originator a lot rather than express things in one’s own words. The other party’s disagreement is liable to cause agitation rather than being a challenge smoothly taken up. In a dogma everything has to be referred back to the conceptual framework. Points can’t be debated in isolation from that framework. Also, very often, with dogma, a person who disagrees is accused of being in denial - e.g. a dogmatic Christian might say that an atheist can’t see the truth because he is “a slave to sin”.

Now that Griffith’s writing is reaching a wide audience, the test will be to see how he and his advocates handle criticism. Will they debate freely with their critics? Will they encourage us to doubt and try to find fault, as is consistent with the scientific method? And if they do debate with critics, will their application of their “knowledge” be flexible and spontaneous?

If this is not the case, they have a built in excuse. Griffith lays it out in Freedom :

The danger is that if we study this information beyond what our particular level of soundness and security of self can cope with we risk becoming overly confronted by the extent of our corrupted condition and dangerously depressed… Regarding the degree to which we should each investigate these explanations, obviously it is necessary to sufficiently verify to our own satisfaction that they are the liberating understandings of the human condition that the whole human race has been tirelessly working its way towards for some 2 million years—but we shouldn’t risk investigating them to the extent that we start to become overly exposed and confronted by the truths they reveal. Having lived without any real understanding of human life it is natural to want to keep studying these explanations that finally make sense of the world, both within and around us, but, again, such analysis can lead to becoming overly confronted and depressed by the extent of our own corrupted state, and that of our world… The more intelligent and/ or the more educated in the human-condition-avoiding, denial-based, mechanistic, reductionist paradigm, who pride themselves on being able to think and study and grasp new ideas, will initially be especially tempted to study these understandings beyond what their varying levels of security of self can cope with, but it won’t be long before everyone learns that such an approach is both psychologically dangerous and irresponsible and, in any case, unnecessary.”

Could studying these ideas lead to mental health issues, such as depression. Yes. If we are insecure about our own worth, and which of us isn’t to some extent, then studying Griffith’s books might well lead to depression. Why? Because they are drenched in a very extreme form of idealism which can undermine our self-acceptance and make us feel guilty. Just as a tiny example, in his second book Beyond the Human Condition (1991) he says :

“On the table in front of me is a silver teaspoon with an ornately engraved handle. It is very much an old world teaspoon. The bright silver and the embellishment glorified us when the world unjustly condemned us. It ‘said’ we were wonderful when the world in its ignorance wouldn’t. Without such materialistic reinforcement we could not have sustained our effort to find understanding. Materialism wasn’t bad, in fact it was most necessary, but now it will gradually become unnecessary. The time and money spent digging up the silver and embellishing the spoon can now be spent helping others. We deserved to be glorified but the time and energy spent seeking glory impoverished others. The human condition made us self-preoccupied or selfish. We can now look at that teaspoon and recognise that it is a two or even three starving Ethiopians extravagance.”

So there is a compassionate defence of materialism, but there is also the image of two or three Ethiopians starving to death because we have an embellished spoon. If we were to really take this on board and look around at all the things we own and count up all those dead Ethiopians it could be pretty depressing for us. Of course the aim is not to depress us, but to defend us and thus make us able to face the grim truth. Even if we are as wonderful as Griffith claims, though, do we really want to count that wonderfulness by the measure of death by starvation of Ethiopians?

Griffith could have presented his central thesis without any reference to starving Ethiopians or any of the other “confronting” material which is an expression of his extreme idealism.

Here is the essence of Griffith’s theory :

The human condition began when a conflict arose between our instinctive orientation and the need of our developing intelligence to experiment with self-management. We have a genetic orientation towards ideal, i.e. selfless behaviour. This is our conscience. Most other animals have a genetic imperative to compete, over food or mating opportunities, etc. It was an extended nurturing period in our species which overcame this competitive tendency. This process is called “love-indoctrination”. In caring so diligently for their children the mothers were still following the imperative to foster the survival chances of their own genes, but the offspring were not to know this and would interpret the behaviour as selflessness. Thus they would learn that selflessness was meaningful, and, over time, a genetic orientation towards selfless behaviour would become “hardwired” into us.

But “love-indoctrination” also liberated our capacity for reason. Our reasoning mind had no knowledge of our instinct for selfless behaviour and it needed to experiment with self-management in order to realise its potential. When we experimented with behaviour which contravened our genetic conscience, it criticised us. Unable to explain why we had to go against its programming, we became frustrated with it and the oppressiveness of its unjust criticism. We became angry at it. It’s criticism made our ego insecure and thus embattled. We became egotistical. And we tried to block out awareness of it and the world of wholeness and honesty it represented. We became alienated. All of our selfishness and aggression - our dark side - thus arose from the necessary - indeed heroic - defiance of our soul/conscience/genes’ unwitting attempt to oppress the search for knowledge. We are thus all heroes and good and evil are reconciled.

This theory could have been presented in a brief booklet. There is no great complexity to it. What fills out the rest of Griffith’s books is a mix of self-promotion and his extreme form of idealism. From Beyond the Human Condition :

“Sunglasses aren’t always worn to shade the eyes from the sun. Often they were worn to alienate ourselves from the natural world that was alienating us. They were an attack on the innocence of daylight.”
As with the Ethiopians we can see the compassionate defence for wearing sunglasses, but that just leads us to the (rather absurd) stinger that we are “attacking the innocence of daylight.”
Griffith talks about a phenomena he calls “the deaf affect.” He says that many people won’t really hear what he is saying at first. They will need to re-read the book or watch explanatory videos, which have the reassuring effect of seeing a person calmly talking about potentially confronting concepts.

When I read Griffith’s first book Free : The End of the Human Condition (1988), I didn’t experience any “deaf effect”. I grasped it all immediately. But I had the “advantage” of being a depressed person.
I think that what this deaf effect is is the mind’s defence against extreme idealism. It isn’t profundity per se that we have a problem with, but anything which poses a serious threat to our self-acceptance.
I can’t be sure how others respond to Griffith’s writing, but I have a theory.
If the brain protects itself against the corrosive effects of extreme idealism, then that aspect of the book will be the last part to sink in. At first there will be the effusive promises of an end to all the world’s problems. Then an intriguing, on the surface credible, theory about the origin of our darker side. And only after that will the starving Ethiopians become real.
At this point the individual will be advised to adopt the Transformed Lifeforce Way of Living - simply supporting the “understandings” without confronting them any more. And anyone who does continue to study this theory and expresses criticism of it will be told that they have become overly confronted and are now trying to deny what they know deep down to be the truth. Believers, justifiably afraid of looking at all that depressing idealism, will tend to accept this assessment.
I don’t believe any of this is deliberate. It is just a kind of naturally occurring perfect storm that has grown out of Griffith’s attempt to reconcile his extreme idealism with reality. The fact that he believes that there is a direct correlation between high IQ and alienation means there is a built-in defence against the criticism of those who are more intelligent and scientifically qualified than Griffith. It is not that his science is poor, but that they are too alienated to be able to admit to its truth.
When someone comes up with a theory of human behaviour the tendency is to have a blind spot, to build the theory around an unconscious attempt to normalise their own position. So a competitive scientist may be prone to confirmation bias towards their theory that our competitive and aggressive tendencies are inborn, part of our genetic inheritance from our ape ancestors.

It seems to me that Griffith’s theory is built around the unconscious motive of normalising his extreme idealism. He puts forward the idea that we have an inborn genetic orientation to idealism. On close examination this doesn’t work. He is saying that this genetic orientation to idealism - this inborn demand for selfless behaviour from ourself and others - was intolerant of our conscious mind’s need to experiment with self-management and find understanding. But such a genetic orientation could not have been at the centre of a loving, integrative, cooperative society before this conflict arose, because idealism is not integrative. Idealism is disintegrative. The only kind of genetic orientation which could have been at the centre of a loving, integrative, cooperative society is an instinctive orientation towards loving behaviour, and essential to loving behaviour is forgiveness. Arguably the most powerful example of love in our culture was Jesus praying forgiveness for the men who nailed him to the cross. The evolution of a cooperative society would mean the favouring of individuals who were willing to forgive unloving behaviour, because if unloving behaviour is forgiven the individual is re-integrated into the group. Idealistic intolerance for unloving or selfish behaviour would lead to resentment, which, while it could be repressed for a while, would eventually bring a rift in the integration of the group.

Because to be loving is one of our ideals, it is easy to make the mistake of believing that an orientation which would facilitate loving behaviour would be one which idealistically insists on loving behaviour. But it is an important distinction because idealism has a tendency to undermine the capacity for love of the idealist and those who interact with him. Unconditional self-acceptance is the basis for the capacity to love others. We are born with an orientation towards love, acceptance, forgiveness… No-one is born with an unforgiving insistence that they or others conform to any kind of ideal. Griffith may have been such an idealist as a young man, but if he were born that way then he was born very different from other babies. The fact that they so easily bond with the adults around them indicates that they are not comparing them against some inborn expectation of ideality.

The problem with grand theories of human behaviour is that those who come to believe in them can easily fall afoul of confirmation bias. Evidence which appears to confirm the theory attracts attention while evidence which contradicts it is either not seen or explained away.

It makes sense to me that idealism has been the origin of the dark side of human behaviour. Idealism criticises us, and over time we are liable to hit back at that criticism, and as our self-acceptance is undermined we are liable to become more selfish. But idealism is not in our genes. It is a social phenomenon arising from the thinking of the rational mind. It seems to make sense to distinguish between good behaviour and bad behaviour and to try by an act of will to pursue the former and avoid the latter and to insist that others do likewise. What is not so obvious is that by holding onto idealism in this way we undermine our self-acceptance and thus make it harder to sustainably maintain good behaviour.

In his first book Free : The End of the Human Condition, Griffith says, “Above all finding the explanations presented in this book was an exercise in learning to stand by exactly what my conscience wanted to say, was learning to trust my conscience and not those around me.” This is in the context of talking about himself as a prophet. He is saying that he had to learn to trust his conscience, i.e. to not “question or doubt” it. A free thinker questions and doubts everything, subjects it the test of reason. If obedience to the conscience takes precedence over all else, will the mind not end up finding a way to rationalise the conscience’s preconceptions and thus create a dogma?
Down through history there have been some people who have been extremely insightful and they have sometimes been labelled “prophets”. But others have been labelled prophets who were powerful declaimers of the prejudices of their times. All those rules and regulations in the Old Testament about what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath and how long women are unclean after they have their period have nothing to do with insight. They may be a powerful expression of a learned set of culturally specific ideals, but that is all. Insightful individuals are often not tied down by learned ideals. They can break on through to a bolder apprehension of truth because they are not a slave to their learned conscience.
Now is the time of the big test. It is time for us to see if Griffith’s theory is truth or dogma.