In the 1960s and 1970s the phrase, “Wake up and smell the coffee” was widely used by those in groups whose said purpose was an increased awareness of social phenomena about which they had been clueless and, as well, by those who used the concept as an excuse to get high. What “high” meant to some was a release from stress-inducing responsibilities and ego-driven disappointments. For others, à la Aldous Huxley in his book, The Doors of Perception, getting high on drugs was a means to aesthetic insights and visions of the sacred.
Fifty, sixty years later, we have a lot more data about a lot more subjects but can still have a hard time “getting our heads around” more than what’s on our to-do lists. Yet, as I have said, what we don’t know about the cultural matrix in which we’re embedded is an insidious (and not necessarily painless) form of subjugation.
Of course, in many ways, we are hardly clueless (lacking understanding or knowledge). We “keep up.” We know what bandwagons to jump on and what trends to avoid. We pretty much assume that we know how life works. We give ourselves credit for clear thinking, an open-mind, good judgment and even street smarts. However, this mismanaged ego-driven certainty is part and parcel of our subjugation. Let me tell you what I mean.
In the ’60s and ’70s, the talk was also about “The Man.” The Man was the powers-that-be as well as the coordinated systems “they” masterminded that were outside of our control. The usual suspects were politicians and corporations but it could also be teachers who wouldn’t let you wing it, parents who wanted you to get a job, bosses that didn’t pay enough, talent-based industries, educational institutions or social circles that wouldn’t let you in, etc.
Yes, as I said in my last post, America is saddled with the seriously and perpetually unfinished business endemic to the conditions and circumstances of nationhood and our utility in service of its social needs is a contribution. But let’s also take a closer look at those areas where we individuals have struggled to fulfill America’s philosophy and promise of freedom, i.e., the opportunity to take responsibility for the life lived autonomously.
Think about it. Are our utility, creativity, spontaneity and integrity subjugated by a heedless deference to the Scoreboard? By the hip or tone-deaf bandwagons we jump on? By our timidity? By our resentment-filled anger, by our mean-minded and punitive impulses, by our untutored and untrained responses to subrational instincts and other reflexive limitations and finally, by our lack of accountability for our own biography — the choices, decisions, judgments we made or didn’t make?
Is our responsibility for the life lived autonomously compromised by a mismanaged ego-function that drives us to spend inordinate amounts of time seeking admiration, approval, awards and accolades? Does our sense that our dreams and hopes are somehow more special than those of others allow us to forget that opportunity and reward are competitively framed and promote merit and competence? If our social and financial positions are secure, are we unaware of the rest of the world? In other words, to what extent are we part of the problem?
Yes, some people ignore the civil means for achieving our country. But we who study autonomy and life recognize that we need to be bound to be free. We have attended to the vocabulary, grammar and distinctions that help us to distinguish the liberating practices of America’s philosophy of the life lived autonomously. And we have attended to the philosophic oversight that shows us how to identify ourselves with the behavioral dynamics of the creative enterprise of the executive autonomy practiced in America.
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.