The Disfigurement of the Human Spirit

The following is my contributions to a LinkedIn discussion entitled, “Does Adherence to Rationality Lead to Atheism.” Comments of others are in Italics.

Celine, I agree with your thoughts on spirit. I too equate our spiritual nature with our emotional nature. Every feeling we have is an expression of our spirit. Our emotional nature, and thus our spiritual nature, expresses the survival wisdom of our species. In other words, we eat, copulate, and mothers care for their children to satisfy feelings that inspire the behavior required for our species to flourish—yes, eating is included, because, if we were not possessed with feelings of hunger to satisfy, our species would not exist.

However, when we find that we value wealth and privilege, more than the intimacy of interdependent relationships, then our spirits have been hijacked by our having adapted to a culture in which we purchase food, shelter, and our other needs, instead of depend directly on the other members of an extended family to attain them. This hijacking has disfigured us spiritually. Consequently, not only do we no longer seek happiness through the unconditional love of interdependent relationships, but our feelings no longer express the survival wisdom of our species.

By subjugating ourselves to money and law in our well intended effort to control the distant future to personal ends, we have, I fear, projected ourselves into a never-never land from which there may be no return. 

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 John Cairns:

Chet, if your or anybody’s unconscious will is towards the possession of riches, it may be in need of correction but it hasn’t been hijacked. What might have hijacked it? Another will? From where, whom? And why would it?

You have a point there, as hijacked is probably too strong a word. In my view, our spirit, and thus our emotional nature, is an expression of our genes, and therefore, except for dementia or other brain disorders, is fixed for life. It cannot be stolen. Though it cannot be hijacked, it can be gravely miss-expressed. When having to survive a culture in which virtually our only access to basic needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter is through the market place, to value wealth and privilege over the unconditional love of interdependent relationships is a matter of personal survival. Our spiritual disfigurement, therefore, is not an issue of right, wrong, good, bad, or evil, but results from having to survive a culture in which we must serve self, instead of life, to just exist.

Our spirits evolved to serve life through interdependent relationships, not serve self through money and law. Happiness requires a number of things. Because we possess the spirits of a social species, the greatest and most essential element of our happiness is the unconditional love that bonded extended families in the natural world. This is probably why, when our wounded Afghanistan soldiers are being interviewed in hospitals, they often talk of little other than getting well so they can rejoin their compatriots in the line on fire. They have experienced the happiness of unconditional love, a phenomenon so natural and powerful that placing one’s live at risk to experience it is of little concern. Unconditional love is natural because, in the world as it was before institutions, interdependent relationships were the key to everyone’s, and thus also to our species’, survival. Our spirits are devoted to our species’ needs by virtue of evolution, and thus rewarded us with unconditional love every day of our lives.

Sadly, in the civilized world the interdependency that inspires our spirits to reward us with unconditional love occurs only on the battlefield. Little wonder that our soldiers have such difficulty returning home. I suspect their main problem isn’t shell shock. It is the shock of finding themselves in a place where, by virtue of a legal and monetary identity, they exist to serve self, instead of being in a place where they value the lives of those around them more than their own.

Because our monetary and legal identity renders each of us personally responsible for our survival, it separates us from the relational intimacy of interdependent relationships in a profound way. I have come to see my abstract identity as the greatest affront to my spiritual life. As long as I have one I will never experience the enduring happiness of relational intimacy, nor will I serve life. True happiness, and being true to life, go hand in hand. How else could things possibly be? True, soldiers do have legal and monetary identities. It’s just that, on the field of battle, those identities are of little significance relative to what else is going on. 

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Martin Moe:

On the spirit, Chet, I wonder if the concept of a spirit was something related to Sigmund Freud’s development of the id, ego, and super ego structure of the mind. Freud was a strange one, but his work opened up the “soft” science of psychoanalysis. To me, the brain is like a TV set, all “hard” structure, while the mind is like all the various programs on TV. It’s what genetics, heredity, and culture make of the individual given the particular structural base of the brain. Maybe somewhere in that volatile mix is the spirit, perhaps a combination of all the elements of the mind, but if so, its potential is born in the individual, developed by culture and the developmental experiences of the individual, and then dies as the brain of the individual dies.

Well put, Martin. Thanks for your comment. I particularly like your bringing up Freud. His insights reveal basic features of the brain that I do not believe are fully comprehended to this day. As I explain in Eden, to me, the brain possesses three elements of awareness—innate awareness, learned awareness, and conscious awareness. I see Freud’s id as what I refer to as innate awareness. Id is expressed exclusively through feelings, and contains the awareness required for our species to flourish. Super ego is learned awareness, which contains the information required for an individual to manage the regular, and thus repetitive, features of its environment. Ego is conscious awareness, the thinking element of the brain. It enables individuals to think about unique situations that, because they are unique, the behavior required to manage them could not have been learned.

Looking at the brain in this way reveals how little “we,” that is, our “conscious minds” are in control. In other words, we can’t think ourselves hungry, nor can we think ourselves in love. Those, as well as all other emotions, reveal the survival wisdom of our species and are under the complete control of id, or in my terms, innate awareness. The only thing we can think about is where to find food, and whether we are going to be true to the romance.

In a natural culture there would normally be no reason to not fully embrace a romance. As such, there wouldn’t be much to think about. But we are about to see how super ego, or what we have learned, can disfigure our spiritual existence. In the modern world, humans are subject to institutions, not to life. Consequently, we have learned that being true to an extramarital romance could well destroy our social standing. Instead of embracing the romance in honor of our species’ needs, and thereby experience the emotional rewards that are intrinsic to being true to life, as subjects of institutions we have a lot to think about. And, because innate awareness/id is also concerned about our social standing and honoring our promises, whatever action we decide on will not bring full resolution to our emotions—that is, it will not completely satisfy innate awareness.

So we, that is, our conscious minds are in control of very little. When we live as subjects of life—no monetary or legal systems—we have no choice but to be true to life for the sake of satisfying id, as only in its satisfaction do we experience peace of mind. When we live as subjects of institutions, on the other hand, we cannot satisfy id by normal means—whatever action we choose, it will never completely quiet our emotions. In our endless effort to find peace of mind when we can’t achieve it by doing something that serves our species, we retreat to a world of pure reason where abstract truths are created to eventually manifest themselves as belief systems, rendering us all true believers in one fashion or another.

Why do we seek resolution in truth, despite the fact that there are countless versions of it? Our spirits are desperate. Only by finding satisfaction in something can we know peace of mind. As subjects of institutions, instead of life, we embrace truth, not because it exists, but because of the illusion it provides that we are in control. We are addicted to finding salvation in truth, be it religiously, politically, institutionally, or scientifically inspired, for the same reason anyone is addicted to anything—it is essential to our peace of mind. In the face of encroaching disorder that threatens to overwhelm us, as it has civilizations in the past, only through the illusion that “we” are indeed in control, can people who are not free—that is, not free to be true to life—find peace of mind.

Regarding the matter of from where the spirit arises “in that volatile mix,” as you so interestingly put it, here is how I see it. Innate awareness, which contains the survival wisdom of our species, manifests the individual’s soul. This applies to humans and animals alike. Spirit, as expressed through emotions, is the means the brain—actually the mind-body—uses to reveal the soul’s awareness to the conscious mind. Though a hundred billions neurons are required to realize it, from the perspective of the three elements of awareness, the whole process is quite simple. And, as evident by the number of species able to flourish in the natural world, it works quite well.

But, when subjects of institutions, instead of life, our spirits turn against themselves, and thus also against life, in surprising and remarkable ways, affecting our spiritual wellbeing much as an autoimmune disorder affects us physically. This universally experienced spiritual sickness results not only in endless notions of truth, but also, among other things, bewilderment, mindlessness, the self-aggrandizement of temple building and conquest, economic and social classes, loneliness, depression, habitat destruction, and eventually, I fear—unless we are able to regain our spiritual freedom—our self-annihilation.


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