The Gnōmic: Changing Minds
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Occasionally we’ll dip away from the usual format on The Gnōmic and dig into something specific. This week, we return to the usual format. The thought that has been on my mind is how much we seem to be hell-bent on changing other people’s minds - or are we? We want to be right and we want other people to agree with us. It solidifies our place in the world and verifies our existence and sense of reality. But we also want others to view our ideas as wrong because it means we can have a fight, and fighting verifies our existence too. It is the life and death drive within the depths of the psyche, or Eros and Thanatos as Freud called them, in cooperative exchange with each other.
We can pretend to be Stoic, for example, because it’s trendy, sociably acceptable, and aligns with our ideas of how we should be. But in reality, we deny that darker side of ourselves for the sake of an ideal image. The image is not of our own making. We’ve merely aligned with it so that we are “somebody,” that we feel we belong to some movement or other. To be Stoic, passive, unaffected by the chaos of life is desirable in certain quarters. So we bury deep our outrage, anger and aggression often unbeknownst to ourselves. Call it something else if you don’t like the analogy to Stoicism, say passive-aggressive, for example.
Passive aggression is the worst. If we disagree we disagree, don’t pretend to agree with me or water down your feelings about it because there’s some social ideal you’re trying to hold on to. Come right out with it. Let’s cut the pretence. When we do, there’s a better chance we can find a solution now and avoid more damaging conflict later. And if we don’t resolve it, let’s move on and go our separate ways if necessary.
“The commandment, 'Love thy neighbour as thyself', is the strongest defence against human aggressiveness and an excellent example of the unpsychological [expectations] of the cultural super-ego. The commandment is impossible to fulfil; such an enormous inflation of love can only lower its value, not get rid of the difficulty. Civilization pays no attention to all this; it merely admonishes us that the harder it is to obey the precept the more meritorious it is to do so. But anyone who follows such a precept in present-day civilization only puts himself at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the person who disregards it. What a potent obstacle to civilization aggressiveness must be, if the defence against it can cause as much unhappiness as aggressiveness itself! 'Natural' ethics, as it is called, has nothing to offer here except the narcissistic satisfaction of being able to think oneself better than others. At this point the ethics based on religion introduces its promises of a better after-life. But so long as virtue is not rewarded here on earth, ethics will, I fancy, preach in vain. I too think it quite certain that a real change in the relations of human beings to possessions would be of more help in this direction than any ethical commands; but the recognition of this fact among socialists has been obscured and made useless for practical purposes by a fresh idealistic misconception of human nature.”
― Sigmund Freud
Considering the above quote, I’m recommending Freud’s Civilisation & Its Discontents. It may offer nothing more than you already know or suspect but it may be interesting to consider that these views are over one hundred years old and still relevant. That is to say, nothing has changed other than the clothes on our backs and the technology at our disposal. Or is it that we are disposed to technology?…I can’t decide.
Changing the subject completely, Celeste, Compilation 1.1
See you on Sunday.
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