Both the religiously inclined and secular types strive to acquire a splendid false self. Between the two groups, the terminology may differ, but the game remains the same.
The case of C. S. Lewis reveals that the desire for a splendid false self leads to self-alienation. (Photo: public domain)
English author and academic C. S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) experienced a sudden religious conversion while still a young man. He went on to become one of the 20th century’s best-known religious writers at a time when faith – in Europe, at least – was decidedly on the wane. Whatever one might say about his beliefs, Lewis is a superb example of how a skilled writer can win a following and find substantial success by going against the dominant trend. Conservative writers take note.
In this post, I want to present another example of the associative workings of the unconscious mind. Years of strenuous psychotherapy and much “soul searching” have made me sensitive to the meaningful little clues and useful responses the unconscious scatters through our lives. We all have these experiences, but many of us, not understanding their potential value just shrug them off. I recorded this simple incident in one of my notebooks. To set the scene, I should mention that I was living the hermit’s life in a forest shack on the edge of the Canadian wilderness at the time.
The human mind has two aspects, one of which can be a nag and the other a source of great wisdom. (Image: Gutenberg)
When reading literary biographies, one is wise to examine the worldview of the biographer as well as that of the subject. In his superb George Orwell: A Life, biographer Bernard Crick says a lot of perceptive things about Orwell, and while doing so, inadvertently illuminates humankind’s chronic problems with the discrepancy between the false persona we create to impress the world and the authentic self that we truly are.
George Orwell was driven hard by what one biographer has called his “Puritan daemon.” (Image: BBC)
English literary critic Cyril Connolly lays out the ground of the conflict. He saw George Orwell as standing for independence and offering intelligence as an alternative to character. This view draws a sharp distinction between authenticity (character) and the intellect (ego and its attendant false persona). The idea that one can dispense with character or submerge it beneath intelligence is dubious to say the least, but such thinking reveals the way ego prefers the false persona, identifies with it, and hopes to shield genuine behaviour from view. The intellectual often presents himself as a paragon of moral virtue.
Sartre had an exaggerated need for freedom, which may have come from his experiences in Nazi-occupied France. (Photo: WPClipart)
Sartre proposed that “nothing” is both the ground of human existence and what makes human existence possible. Unfortunately, this strange reality also generates an anxiety so unbearable that we all yearn to fill the nothing with something. From the psychological perspective, arbitrarily filling the nothing with something is an attempt to falsify ourselves and become what we are not. The something with which we choose (using our freedom) to replace the nothing is the foundation of our personal inauthenticity. In other words, there is nothing within us so we must “fill the vacuum,” so to speak, with an artificially constructed sense of self. Sartre’s motive for taking this unusual line is his desire to eliminate the old notion of dualism and replace it with a new monistic vision. To eliminate the perceived inside versus outside duality of the human being, he had to propose a situation where there was but one thing.
Being these days a regular curmudgeon, I am always getting upset about the ceaseless attacks launched against reason and logic in these foolishly emotion-drenched times. The disciples of feeling would reduce human beings to unthinking bags of hormones. The taste for irrationality is growing.
The current popularity of intuition and irrationality says the left brain is inferior to the right brain. In reality, there are two sides to this question! (Image: public domain)
Annoyingly, I came across just such an “attack” in G. L. Rico’s, Writing the Natural Way. Rico lists two sets of very different character traits, inferring that each set resides in one hemisphere of the brain. A careful examination of these sets (the items in bold below) reveals a clear bias in favour of those traits associated with the right hemisphere, often considered the seat of feeling and other irrational – or non-rational – aspects of the mind. Traits associated with the thinking left hemisphere are couched in ways that sound negative by comparison. To amuse my(nasty)self – and to turn the tables on an unsuspecting G. L. Rico – I typed up the lists in bold and then set out my own alternative interpretations in plain text. Do not take what you find here too seriously, but at least think about what I am rather strenuously suggesting. Take a minute or two to compare Rico’s original lists.
When feelings such as loneliness, loss, and placelessness assail them, people often get into serious emotional trouble. It is interesting to note that, when some people experience such feelings, they do not turn inward for an explanation of their own emotions. They do not even turn to psychology or philosophy, external knowledge bases which would give them some inkling of what is happening to them and are therefore relevant to their condition. Instead, they turn to spiritual belief systems. With Christianity, the West’s traditional religion, now fallen from favour, troubled individuals feel they must look elsewhere for spiritual comfort and understanding. With increasing regularity, they turn to godless belief systems such as Buddhism and Taoism. The absence of any moralizing god and the possibility of solitary spiritual practice are powerful attractions. That is, people prefer a godless belief system with no churches or temples and no organized religious service. We might call this, “do it yourself” spirituality.
The authentic self is real, constant, and stable. Once found and accepted, it can provide a centre, still point, and anchor in life. (Image: public domain.)
Most folks just buy into the consensus worldview of their time unquestioningly adopting it as they grow to maturity, but this means we have a second-hand worldview made by others. (Image: public domain.)
Human beings have an inborn need to make sense of their lives and the world around them. The drive is stronger in some (such as artists and philosophers) than in others, but generally, we all want to know what things signify. Knowing the meaning of something means knowing how things fit together. To make sense of our lives, to give them meaning, it is essential that we possess a comprehensive, consistent, unified worldview.
Worldview is defined (by COED) as “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.” At first glance, this suggests an objective view of things, something you could study in a book and learn, either by rote, or by understanding. Ideologues do just that, adopting viewpoints like the cultural Marxism currently so popular with the left. Religious people do the same, converting to one sect or another’s standard declared creed. Most folks just buy into the consensus worldview of their time unquestioningly adopting it as they grow to maturity.