We’re here. In the United States. We have just celebrated Independence Day. No matter from where we come, we are included in America’s transformative experiment. Conceived in the name of equality and faith in humanity, this experiment pins its hopes on the idea that its American citizens can learn how to be autonomous without authoritative reference to a monarch. In short, our country expects us to manage our lives independently and to manage ourselves well, through the thick and thin of circumstance.
Studying autonomy and life, we have been enabled to take up the opportunity and burden involved in the American experience. We’ve immersed ourselves in the philosophic framework that houses the forms and processes that shape the responsible behavior expected of the autonomous subject. Our quest is also enabled by a growing ability to place the content or function of our own animal body into the context of the executive responsibility required of an autonomous subject. Moreover, as we embody this overarching identity needed to own and manage our lives in a regulated environment, we find the security of mind and place to make ourselves fit to address both possibility and adversity.
Nonetheless, finding our fit of living system and regulated environment is an ongoing challenge. Driven-by-primal-instincts animals, we are frustrated by the constant demand to transcend our immediacy by directing its energy toward responsibility, competence, perseverance, etc. We need these skills to fit into and enact the form-filled requirements of an autonomous subject in a modern world.
What I say is challenging. However, achieving a good fit of the living system into the regulated environment in which we find ourselves is doable (and demonstrably of great reward) as we become more responsible for being in possession of ourselves. The opposite of this state, the subject I intend to address next, is dispossession—an uncomfortable and agitated misfit of the life we inhabit. Why? Because we can suffer terribly all our lives at the effect of this condition without realizing that we are living in a state of dispossession.
The dysfunctional condition of executive capacity I term dispossession occurs when we surrender our ownership of ourselves, our autonomy, our independence. We may haplessly surrender our self-possession for the sake of an image by which we wish to be known. Or we may “sell out” to fulfill an objective that we don’t have the actual skills and experience to achieve.
Difficulties with behaving responsibly and with achieving confidence in our executive functioning through the thick and thin of circumstance produce disappointment, disenchantment and more. These difficulties also precipitate the unreliability of our self-consciousness (alternately our conscious selfhood) including the unreliable design and oversight of our spontaneous behavior.
When it comes to finding our fit of living system and regulated environment, we need also to emphasize the misuse of the ego-function. This is a dysfunction that emerges from the misconceived application of dualist ontology we know of as psychologism. Engendering a misplaced confidence in a ravenous, reckless and vain egoism, such psychologism is wholly and wholistically out of touch with its regulated environment.
Nothing less than actual sustained effort is required to attain the substantive intellectual, emotional and behavioral skills upon which success with the American experiment depends. Under the influence of the psychologistic egoism, we are in the world with an unreliable perspective on how we need to be and what we need to do to own ourselves.
Our philosophy offers a description of the form of the autonomous subject in America. The implication? If you get the form right and stay true to the form, you will demonstrate the responsible behavior that reflects being in possession of yourself. And what a rewarding life it is. To realize the ownership of your life is to have found security of mind and a place fit for addressing possibility and adversity. You’ll journey through your finitude on the path of your own design and acquire concrete circumstances, i.e., sufficient success with biography and emotional wellbeing.
You will enjoy fulfillment, satisfaction and equanimity as well as earn the grandest of treasure, namely, the gratitude of your nation for the way you behave responsibly—for exercising your autonomy within the boundaries of its regulations. You will have fulfilled the need of a nation bent on succeeding with the experience in individual freedom. And you will have cause to celebrate on the fourth of July year after year.
Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes. Visit autonomyandlife.com for more information.