The March 2023 Philosophy Book of the Month is Rediscovering the Wisdom of Human Nature: How Civilization Destroys Happiness by Chet Shupe.
An elaboration on how judgemental moralizing and the superstition of 'moral law' infringes on free-spirited inner peace
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An elaboration on how judgemental moralizing and the superstition of 'moral law' infringes on free-spirited inner peace
To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw: Freedom means self-responsibility; That is why most people dread it.
Imagine a person who is eating some delicious ice cream, but instead of enjoying the wonderful delicious ice cream with free-spirited inner peace, the person instead yells hatefully at themselves in their own head, "I shouldn't be eating this! I am such a bad person. Why do I always do bad things like this?"
Imagine a different person who chooses to go on a no-ice-cream diet, and instead of embracing discomfort and enjoying their diet with free-spirited inner peace, they resentfully say to themselves with a miserable frown, "I so much want to eat ice cream, but I can't because I'm on a diet."
Imagine perhaps that each person unexpectedly drops dead a few minutes later for unrelated reasons. That would mean that yelling hatefully at themselves was how they spent their last few minutes on Earth. As one of many aspects of my self-chosen behavioral diet, when I temporarily part ways with another person, I do my best to speak my goodbyes to them such that I would be happy knowing those were my last words to them if one of us unexpectedly died before the next time I get to see or speak to that person. You really could die any moment, but it's not just about having insurance against that; it's about making the most of every moment and every conversation and having that inner peace that comes with not only having insurance against death but more importantly in making the most of life, of each and every moment of it, of speaking words of love and truly living to the fullest. While sometimes it's actually the harder of the two, the same self-chosen rule applies to how I speak to myself. Everything I say to myself is predicated on the unspoken question, is this the last thing I want to say to myself? Do you want your last words to be a kindness or cruelty? Do you want your last words to be a lie or the truth?
The dieter who resentfully says to themselves they "can't eat ice cream" is lying to themselves in the same way the alcoholic is lying when the alcoholic says, "I want to stay sober, but I had a rough day, so I need a drink." Same goes for a diet-breaker who says, "I am so stressed today, so I have to eat some comfort food." Same goes for the angry repeat physical abuser who says, after punching their spouse or kid in the face, "look what you made me do".
As the book says, I believe all humans are on the addiction spectrum. Some are more on one side towards one more unrealistic perfection, some are on the other side towards some other unrealistic perfection, but none are fully on the tips of the perfect ends, and the majority are in the middle like a bell curve. All are on the spectrum.
Human minds are great at creating self-deceiving illusions. An imaginary cage or enslaving oppressive tyrant can be as effective as a real one. The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.
Many with a loud nasty rushed anxious mean endlessly talkative voice endlessly blabbering in their head don't even have the space in there to realize that they are the listener, not the speaker. As much as it may torture them to believe it, they sadly believe the mean voice is them, which brings yet more pain, and gives them more reason to believe the mean resentful judgmental things the mean voice may say. You won't even ask the question of whether you believe what the mind believes if you believe yourself to be the mind. It's hard to the point of possibly impossible to question false thoughts and inner lies when one is still in the trap of identifying with those false thoughts and inner lies, and by extension still identifying with the thinking mind that thinks them.
We cannot control what the voice in our head says, at least not fully and especially not in the present. The wonderful transcendence of realizing it is not you, and of becoming spiritually liberated, can happen seemingly instantly and spontaneously. Others seek it out. It is sometimes called "spiritual awakening" or "finding your true conscious self". I personally prefer the word lucidity to awakening, but there is countless ways to describe it. Regardless, once you find it, then you seem to have an infinite amount of space in there. The mind may still be blabbering away, but it's as if you walked out of the cramped cage you were trapped in with the thinking mind, and now you are standing free in an endless beautiful grassy field looking back at the cage with its door open and your talkative unconscious human mind still sitting in there by itself blabbering away, its silly little sayings and endless words coming out quietly to you through the open door into the field where they float away with the clouds... each beautiful, interesting, and unique in their own right, like the actual ever-changing clouds and weather themselves. Rain, sunshine, thunder--It's all so different and all so beautiful.
Compared to the mind's blabbery and typically judgmental inner monologue, we seem to have more control over what we actually literally say out loud with our human mouths or literally write with our human hands. Scientific experiments on conscious willpower show that it appears to work more like a vetoing system. It's like a passive CEO, or even a silent partner in a business, with thousands of employees, who is great at delegating, but who can interfere last-minute sometimes, and who perhaps does initiate and oversee big-picture long-term projects. Despite misleading intuitions and the dubious ego's tendency towards false authorship, at least almost all of what the body and mind does is done on and by autopilot. It's not as groundbreaking a scientific discovery as it may seem, especially for anyone who has ever daydreamed while driving home and then been shocked when the fact that you are home enters your conscious perception. How the heck did I even get here, one might ask oneself. The real illusion (pun intended) is the illusion that it is much different when you are driving otherwise. The real illusion is that you are ever not on autopilot. If your conscious experience is the one window you have open on your computer screen or phone screen, and your conscious will is that one little mouse icon or finger on the touch screen, then almost all of what your body, brain, and mind does is all the other many tabs and windows behind running in the background, and all the hidden background processes going on in the computer at the lower (and thus realer) levels of abstraction that you could never understand, rather than at the level of the graphical user interface (GUI). And most of the time there isn't even a hand on that mouse. Usually, the computer is just sitting there going along with its business. The mouse is more of a just in case, so the conscious captain can hop on occasionally and make a few high level adjustments or interferences. The effect is teeny tiny in a way, if anything, but the butterfly effect is an interesting thing.
In any case, there is a little bit more chance to use that veto power when it comes to out loud words falling out your literal mouth than silent ones popping in your brain's inner monologue.
Despite the limits of what we can control, mindfulness can be strengthened and exercised.
Consciousness itself is a given, and with conscious life comes a certain degree of minimal mindfulness. But mindfulness, mental endurance, and conscious willpower can all be refined and strengthened, way above that minimum, via use and exercise (e.g. meditation, cold showers, or learning to walk calmly on hot coals) in the same way physical strength and physical endurance can be strengthened by physical exercise such as lifting weights or running on a treadmill. Although, owning one of those literal torture machines myself, I'd say the treadmill is harsh enough to be put in the same category as walking on hot coals. Yet, I do it. I think of my treadmill workouts as a spiritual exercise more than a physical one.
For my part, I generally don't use words like 'should' or 'ought' at all. Anything I believe actually exists or is actually true can be expressed without those terms and thus without their unnecessary moralizing connotations and without the risk of unacceptingly saying reality 'should' be different than it is. Avoiding the words 'should' and 'ought' is thus a much more clear and much more precise way to speak, in my opinion.
"Should be" is heavily correlated to the opposite of "will be", thus making it seem inherently antagonistic to actual unchanging reality and eternal truths. To illustrate, imagine two people are in a room and one says, "we shouldn't kiss", and the other replies "I agree; we really ought not kiss." I bet they will probably kiss. "Should do" is not correlated with "will do", but rather the opposite.
Likewise, "should have" is heavily correlated with "did not". The spouse who says, "I should not have cheated" almost certainly did cheat.
While it can be very hard to gather what someone actually means by 'should' or 'ought', in part they mean whatever "should have happened" didn't and whatever they "should do" is precisely what they won't do. It requires much more of that dreaded self-responsibility to let go of the 'shoulds' and 'oughts' and take ownership of choosing what to actually do out of what one can do. It takes more self-responsibility to not blabber about what you "should do" whatever that means and instead say what you will do. When you have a choice between A and B, it's nonsense to talk about what you "should be choosing" while you then almost certainly choose the other. It takes more self-responsbliity and honesty to say, "I will study right now" or "I won't study right now" than "I should study right now". Actions speak louder than words, but if you are going to talk it out then you can do so truly and simply: You can say I choose A, or I choose B, and leave the inner-peace-stealing lies and nonsense out of it.
Whether it is eating ice cream, dieting, or whatever, it takes more self-responsibility to say "I choose X" or "I choose Y", versus blabbering about confusing and seemingly meaningless 'shoulds' and 'oughts'. It takes less self-responsibility to stand at an alter and say, "I ought to be faithful" than to say, "I will be faithful" or to admit you won't and aren't. Whether you eat the ice cream or not, self-responsibility (a.k.a. freedom) requires owning your choice and letting go of the inner-peace-stealing illusion that you are under the impotent authority of some kind of 'shoulds' and 'oughts'. You don't have to choose anything because must and choice are incompatible. Either you have a choice or you don't. It takes more self-responsibility to unconditionally accept the proverbial cards you are dealt and put all your energy into playing those cards, compared with putting your limited resources towards complaining nonsensically by making up ideas about how the unchangeable cards 'should' or 'ought' to be different than they unchangeably are. And self-responsibility is freedom. Spiritually speaking, it's spiritual freedom (a.k.a. self-discipline). It's price can be hefty by many measures, but it's reward is the consistent true happiness that is unwavering invincible free-spirited inner peace.
When people do use the terms 'should' and 'ought' to describe something that I actually believe exists and is true, I frequently misunderstand what they mean or just don't understand what they mean at all. In other words, I may technically agree with what they actually mean by what they say, but I will misunderstand and think they are saying something with which I disagree because of the equivocal, confusing, and seemingly moralizing terms. I take the terms 'should' and 'ought' to generally be either moralizing and/or prescriptive, particularly in the sense of being prescriptively unaccepting or resentful towards some unchangeable aspect of reality in some way (e.g. "X happened but shouldn't have happened", "Y will happen but shouldn't happen", etc.). As I see it, and as I understand the terms, one cannot have inner peace if one believes and says that unchangeable reality 'should' be different or 'ought' to be different than it unchangeably is.
Insofar as one does believe in some kind of 'moral law' (which I don't believe in and see as a superstition), then there is a significant sense in which that judgemental moralizer seems to be lacking what I call spiritual freedom (a.k.a. self-discipline). Granted, as I explain in more detail in my book In It Together, technically any such lack of spiritual freedom is actually an illusion or at least dependent on illusions, namely self-deceit or denial of some kind. Either way, illusion or not, a lack of what I call spiritual freedom also entails a lack of what I call inner peace, for the reasons explained in my book in detail. As I say in my book, a nightmare can torture the dreamer even if it's not real. And an imaginary roadblock can be just as effective as a real one.
In a sense, the very definition of resentment is the superstitious perception that there is some difference between what unchangeably is versus what allegedly "should" be. In other words, it's the reality-denying illusion that somehow unchangeable reality 'ought' to be different than it unchangeably is, whatever that means.
No matter how many prescriptions you issue against unchangeable reality, it won't change. No matter how aggressively you issue your prescriptions against unchangeable reality, it won't change. No matter how much you scream and swear and curse and try to make unchangeable reality obey your prescriptions to change, it won't. The more you prescribe against unchangeable reality, the more you will be spiritually disappointed, frustrated, resentful, unforgiving, and hateful. The more you prescribe against unchangeable reality, the less inner peace you will have. That is the sense in which when you fight unchangeable reality it fights back. That's the sense in which you can find inner peace simply by choosing to stop fighting.
Inner peace is in large part simply having the serenity to truly, fully, and unconditionally accept that which you cannot control, meaning that which you cannot change. In other words, inner peace is in large part simply the surrender to truth.
Human minds are great at self-deceit and great at obscuring simple truths, like the truth that, whatever it is, it is what it is.
Choice is limited by the boundaries of ignorance. To illustrate, imagine you are on a game show, and you get to choose which door to open out of three doors. Two have no prize, and one has a prize. In that situation, you do not have the choice between getting a prize and not getting a prize at all. Talking about trying to get a prize or such makes no sense. That is not something you control at all. That is what it means to say choice is limited by the boundaries of ignorance. You have to know and be able to predict and intend an effect for it to actually be an aspect of choice. Just because something is indirectly influenced by something your fleshy body does, doesn't mean it was affected by you, the real you. In the grand scheme of the universe including everything you would consider the past and everything you would consider the future, as an individual human being, you control almost nothing, if anything. Even if we limit the consideration to Planet Earth alone, almost everything that is going to happen on Earth tomorrow will happen exactly the same regardless of what you do today. It's not that hard to play the cards you can play because you have so very few of them. The choice to stop resenting or fighting unchangeable reality, and instead choose to enjoy the inner peace of self-responsibility and spiritual freedom (a.k.a. self-discipline), is one of those few cards you do have.
The consistent inner peace that is simply having the serenity to accept that which you cannot control (i.e. what which you cannot change) entails also having the wisdom to know the fundamental difference between what you can control and cannot control. The only thing you truly and directly control is your choices. If you control it, it's a choice; if not, it's not. That's true by definition. When it comes to your choices, you get exactly what you want, meaning what you choose.
In the same way it is inner-peace-stealing nonsense to not accept what you cannot control, it is even more absurd to not accept what you do control, which is your own choices in your own present. In the same way it is inner-peace-stealing nonsense to not accept what you cannot control, it is even more absurd to say, for example, "I have the choice between A and B, and want/should/ought to choose A but am choosing B." That is why actions speak so much infinitely louder than words.
When it comes to your choices, it is what you choose for it to be, and then thus it still is the case that it is what it is which is what you chose it to be.
When it comes to anything and everything, a choice or not, it is what it is.
As the book says, do your best, and accept the rest.
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"The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master."
I believe spiritual freedom (a.k.a. self-discipline) manifests as bravery, confidence, grace, honesty, love, and inner peace.
Return to “Discuss "In It Together: The Beautiful Struggle Uniting Us All" by Eckhart Aurelius Hughes”
2023 Philosophy Books of the Month
Mark Victor Hansen, Relentless: Wisdom Behind the Incomparable Chicken Soup for the Soul
by Mitzi Perdue
Rediscovering the Wisdom of Human Nature: How Civilization Destroys Happiness
by Chet Shupe
2022 Philosophy Books of the Month
Mary Jane Whiteley Coggeshall, Hicksite Quaker, Iowa/National Suffragette And Her Speeches
by John N. (Jake) Ferris