Mar 2, 2019

It's Not Your Fault You're Unhappy (or Happy)

I would like to propose a sweeping explanation for why different people's lives turn out so differently. We'll start at the level of sub-minds and end up at the societal and demographic level, then return to the hopeless predicament of the individual, possibly introducing a ray of optimism (I won't make any promises).

Let's start with the idea of internal conflict or harmony.

Internal conflict can be understood as a situation where different sub-minds are fighting among themselves to gain control over the individual's behavior. Internal harmony is when all or most sub-minds are on board with what is happening. 

I'm taking the concept of sub-minds from the book The Mind Illuminated, by John Yates. Here's the definition he gives (p. 429):

"Sub-minds: Autonomous units that have their own specialty and function to perform within the mind-system as a whole… [In addition to sub-minds within the sensory mind], there are, for instance, sub-minds responsible for abstract thinking, pattern recognition, emotions, arithmetic, and verbal logic, to name only a few of the higher-level activities of the discriminating mind. Other sub-minds… are responsible for emotions, such as anger, fear, and love. The narrating mind is yet another sub-mind of the discriminating mind."

In another part of the book (p. 315) he states: "In the ordinary, untrained and un-unified mind, much of the energy generated by individual sub-minds gets used up in inner conflicts, many of them unconscious."

To develop our line of thought we need to accept as a given that: 

  1. People are born with different stable traits or tendencies (though not all traits are stable, and not all stable traits are inborn or "genetic").
  2. Traits and tendencies take the form of a particular configuration or relationship of sub-minds which persistently shape thought and behavior outside of conscious control (though in a minuscule percentage of cases there may be a conscious sense of "choosing").
  3. External forces, whether physical, social, economic, etc., also shape thought and behavior.

Why does one person grow up with conflicting sub-minds, and another doesn't? 

The environment he or she grows up — family, community, society — "rubs" the person's innate traits and tendencies a certain way. The environment sends signals that "you need to think and behave a certain way." If that way (ways) are in line with your traits and tendencies, you get the green light and can largely allow yourself to "be yourself." If not, you get the red light and develop internal mechanisms for "overriding" those traits and tendencies. 

Of course, no one gets to fully "be themselves." We're talking about degrees here. One person might generally get to be themselves, and another generally does not get to. 

Each family has its own internal environment, which is a function of the traits and tendencies of the leading members of the family (usually parents), their particular state of internal conflict or unity, and community, societal, and economic pressures which continually exert an influence on them.

Now we can see that, through no fault of their own, each person grows up with a particular relationship to their environment in the form of: "I get to let these sub-minds to express themselves, but not this one, this one, or this one."

The "ideal" situation is when a person allows nearly all their sub-minds to be as they are and experiences very little internal conflict in their home, community, or societal environment. 

This doesn't have to mean being a "typical" member of society. If the parents have non-typical traits and tendencies, but belong to a subculture or community within society that allows them to express their natural tendencies to a high degree, then they will experience less internal conflict, and any children of theirs with similar traits will also grow up in a similar state. However, there will come a time when these children realize that their traits and tendencies are wanted within that subculture, but no so much in society at large. 

This "friction" with the environment — whether in the home, community, or society — is literally that. Instead of being spent on useful activity, the individual's energy is dissipated as mental "heat," or resistance. People experiencing lots of friction, and thus internal conflict (resistance), are simply less likely to reproduce. Look around and you will see that this is the case. More friction with the environment = less children (on average). Less friction = more children. 

Thus, society encourages some people to reproduce and others not to. High friction means high internal conflict which means conflict among sub-minds which means lowered economic, social, and physical productivity. On a sexual level it usually translates into either blockage of the sexual program, sex with no thought of reproduction, or reproduction with no thought of material responsibility.

And yet "conflicted" people continue to appear in this world. How is this the case if reproductive pressure is against them? Well, society is far from uniform and — despite all the messages it sends us — doesn't actually want everyone to be the same. It doesn't actually need everyone to be the kind of person who is happy working every day from 9 to 6, living in a separate home with their nuclear family, being outwardly rather than inwardly focused, spending their entire adult life consuming, providing, and nurturing like good members of society.

In general, yes, society wants 80% of people to be like this. But it also needs 20% to be different. Most of the people we listen to, watch, or follow belong to the 20% who are "allowed" to express their sub-minds in a different way — by being overtly sexual, aggressive, impulsive, critical, obsessive, creative, outspoken, spiritual, etc. 

Of course, each of these people faced a great deal of friction growing up. Few of them have the degree of internal unity that many of their listeners / viewers / followers do. Often they pay a heavy price for whichever part of themselves they have made dominant (sexuality, aggression, impulsivity, criticism, obsession, creativity, outspokenness, spirituality, etc.).

So how is it that some people with conflicted sub-minds manage to "make it" (materially? reproductively?), while others do not? Does "making it" imply that they've achieved unity of their sub-minds? Far from it! I'm not even sure a focus on "making it" is useful since it prioritizes biological success over happiness. 

Heck, if biological success were so important to you, you wouldn't be reading this blog.

Instead, how about a focus on achieving unity of sub-minds? But is this even possible on a large scale? What if all the 50% or so of society that experiences significant internal conflict suddenly achieved unity of sub-minds? 

Society itself would necessarily change as a result. The current "cookie cutter" would largely dissolve, no longer being fed by aggressive promotion or by active resistance to it. People would feel that they are no longer being asked to be a certain way in order to please an abstract "society." There would be a sense of tolerance and encouraging people to develop naturally that we can only dream of. 

But are these "cookie cutter" forces only cultural in nature? Nope. Cultural wars only lead to one cookie cutter being replaced by another. I suspect forces are mostly economic. The current economic-political-technological system — an impersonal system — hinges upon most people being a certain way. I cannot come even close to fathoming that system and why it is the way it is. I've know some insightful thinkers, but I don't think they completely fathom it either. 

And so we're left, as always, with our immediate reality. The reality of conflicted sub-minds pulling us in this or that direction to the chagrin of our "will," — or rather, our system of beliefs and values, our ideas about the way things ought to be — ideas that were inculcated in us before our critical faculties were developed.

Regardless of what is happening on the societal level, we personally want to experience inner harmony, or unity of sub-minds. We look for subcultures which are friendlier to our particular configuration of traits and tendencies. Hoping to find kindred spirits, we try to share the story of our own conflict with reality, which is rarely appreciated. We isolate ourselves from certain societal forces in order to create a world where we can safely be ourselves. We become interested in spirituality as a way to soothe, escape, or transcend inner conflict. 

Is there a solution, or are all these just band-aids?