Despite the political rancor that dominates the news and seeps into our cognitive, communicative and emotive experience, it is important to remember that we are all Americans and we share the right and the burden of autonomy and life.
Autonomy and life is a performance and more than that, it is an enterprise. In recent years, this American enterprise has been described by some as a life-long, risk-taking, entrepreneurial venture. Why? Because the extremely rapid pace of change that now characterizes working life in America demands that each of us be prepared to refocus, reeducate, retrain, rebrand, readapt and recover repeatedly over the course of a lifetime. This applies to employer and employee alike as well as to the parents and teachers who must introduce young adults to the parameters of the demand.
Interestingly, risk-taking doesn’t begin in the workplace. It begins with the enterprise of autonomy and life. Life being what it is, all of us can expect novelty, contingency, bad fortune, bad news and bad behavior to at least temporarily thwart the entrepreneurial journey of our autonomy and life no matter how well we prepare. Autonomy and life is a serious business.
America is a country whose governing philosophy is based on what for many is a good bargain. The bargain? We are expected to live individually, resourcefully and freely. But we are also expected to live socially, thoughtfully and morally.
Culture matters: we locate ourselves in the Declaratory and Constitutionally supported American nation. History matters: we recognize that we were civilized in America’s subjective and civic ecosystem. Biology matters: we recognize ourselves as the sciences do, i.e., as instances of the species of humanity. Nature matters: we recognize ourselves as one among many and encumbered by the worldly conditions and circumstances that all humans have in common.
In turn, for our practical acquiescence to the bargain, ideally, we will enjoy the cooperation of the nation, the protection of the state and the rewards of the life we see fit to design.
But what more fundamentally gets in the way of our success with the bargain is neither the pace of marketplace change nor the inevitability that contingency will impede our well-laid plans. We have always had trouble making the enterprise of autonomy and life work because of the contradictory and often sub-rational claims of human nature.
Happily, we are coming to understand enough about the complex and competing motivations that live in the DNA of human nature to help us adapt socially, thoughtfully and morally to the idea of American citizenship. We who study autonomy and life believe it is a serious mistake to blame what is not working on the intractability of “red in tooth and claw” human nature—the uncivilized behavior and the stress, anxiety, cruelty and psychologistic pain it affords.
We think human nature is to a large extent plastic, amenable to the experimental mechanics of the emancipatory enterprise. Adhering to these mechanisms is paramount to our acceptance of ourselves as well as our civilization’s acceptance of us. To be sure, we make living easier on ourselves when we understand this—when we grab the bull by the horns and stand on the authentic structure of the American experiment. In short, the fate of our transformation into the subjective and civic manifestations of life pivots on our ability to place our freedom in the framework of the responsible autonomy offered by America.
Let me close this post by saying that it is a mistake to withdraw from the effort to make a difference with our lives. It depletes our energy, promotes a psychologistic or victimized stance and derails the hope, commitment and activism that can help to reform what does not work. Life is actually easier and far more rewarding when we marshal the full force of our nature to support both our personal authority and the social, thoughtful and moral responsibilities that become a positive factor in the possibilities for others.
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.