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Morality and Self Realization

by on July 3, 2014

                                               Morality and Self Realization

                                                     by Marco M. Pardi

“We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for in our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.”  Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) Reflections, 195, ed. Volker Michels, 1974

Social science classes, including Anthropology, have a tendency of enculturating the young while seeming to talk almost exclusively about the enculturation of other people.  Some instructors may probe more closely into the individual constellations sitting in the seats before them.   But largely the individual student is left to infer his own reality from depictions of the reality making process for others.  Societies, and the cultures they share – albeit at a superficial level are peopled with faceless beings more conveniently labeled as members of a group than as wondering, doubting, safely conforming individuals living a public veneer over a private life.  The message, especially in the West seems to be, “Look, you can use our conceptual tools to box the others. Of course, you yourself are free.”

That the enculturation process is vital to human (all Primates) development is beyond question.  Through this process, lengthiest in humans, the infant is developed from a helpless organism to a – relatively – autonomous individual.  Ethology has helped us to understand the permutations of this process in non-human animals we hitherto had dismissed as ruled entirely by instinct.  Anyone who has rescued orphaned wildlife has sadly discovered the role learning plays in the maturation process.

In my early college years I was part of a pre-med class touring a State facility for what we now call “severely developmentally disabled.”  Suffice to say this facility, little more than open bay barracks with a few isolation rooms,  has long since been closed and is quietly spoken of only by those who remember; more recent generations apparently do not need this information.  Within the several barracks distributed over a broad campus one could see crowds of entities that, to varying degrees, challenged the definition of Human.  Although the facility was called a Training Center, it was immediately evident that even the most rudimentary training was, for the most part, deemed irrelevant and/or impossible.  These entities spent their days milling about, getting fed and having diapers changed and bottoms wiped. Graduate Psychology students from the nearby university moved about gingerly, writing notes and, if they were new, trying to communicate in some way.

But what of us, what of the “normally developed” people of this world?  Never mind the origins of the hoops through which we daily jump, why do we jump at all?  Enculturation provides us with not only the act, but with the justification for the act – the sense that “it is the right thing to do”, “everyone does it, and they do it this way”.  One must not harm others, unless they: wear a different uniform; speak a different language; worship a different god…….. and all that. But that’s a later lesson.  For “Our nation’s finest.”

Enculturation, then, is deeply permeated by reasons for and reasons against thoughts, words, and deeds.  One test of the depth of your enculturation is to spend time with children in the “Why years”; see how far you get before yelling, “Because I goddamned said so, that’s why!!”  Ah, now it’s clear.  Perhaps different from the bar of soap one gets in the mouth for repeating words one was allowed to hear but not say.  Or the hot water filled enema plunged up the rectum to purge whatever unapproved thoughts, words or intentions might have sought refuge there.

Enculturation erects for us an Idealized Other, the big boy who doesn’t cry, the big girl who smilingly defers to all, especially male, authority, the young person who strives to work hard so one day he or she might rest, the young man who throws himself on a hand grenade to save his buddies.  The message, particularly for males in Western cultures embodies a profound cognitive dissonance; “Stand on your own two feet; be your own man; do not depend on others” while at the same time saying “Be a good citizen; obey the law; be a good example for others to follow.”  If everyone’s a leader, who are the followers?  Undeveloped children.   

What of the children who, from the start, see through the process, the children who have been to Oz and have seen behind the curtain?  How do we classify children who listen, observe, and come to understand that the enculturation message variations from one adult to the next and the apparent, if subtle, conflicts between what an adult says and what they do betray a superficial validity to the game which throws the entire endeavor in doubt?  Such children learn to “game the system”, perceiving situational correctness and modeling it externally while living privately, even covertly.  For them, a visible deviation from the norm brings correction or retribution from the authority figures perhaps including severe punishment.  But that is not the real threat.  The real threat is the disclosure of the child’s true persona, the persona for whom enculturation is only skin deep.

I have said, or indicated in other posts how displeased I am at the casual application of very specific terms, the “common usage.”  Perhaps the most frequently misused psychological term is paranoid, deriving from the ideational spectrum classified as paranoia, a spectrum which may have any of several root causes.  And, I do not doubt there are many who would consider the child I have thus far described and conclude I am describing someone on their way to becoming a sociopath, or even psychopath.  Interestingly, Webster’s 9th Collegiate Dictionary can cite only a circa 1885 lexicon entry for psychopath and a circa 1923 lexicon entry for psychopathic personality (“….clear perception of reality except for the individual’s social and moral obligations…..”).  Similarly, the same resource cites a circa 1944 lexicon entry for both sociopath and sociopathic (“relating to or characterized by asocial or antisocial behavior or a psychopathic personality”)  Nice loop back to psychopathic.  When in doubt, cover all the bases.  My copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, DSM-IV-TR (text revision) 2007, provides no entry for either sociopath or psychopath.  To be sure, I checked the DSM-V, the latest and most controversial edition.  As with DSM-IV, the closest you can get to either of these terms is “anti-social personality disorder.”           

At first this seemed odd.  How could an ostensibly exact science based document simply gloss over or leave out asocial in favor of anti-social, not contradicting this confabulation, especially when the general public is far more likely to encounter simple dictionary definitions rather than science based definitions?  Could it be tacit admission that the dictionary entry, based more on commonly accepted usage than on science itself, is improper and thus deserving of a quiet averting of the head?  Or could it be that we are saying, albeit quietly, that asocial is not a pathology?

Indeed, asocial and anti-social are two very different things.  Asocial, like asexual or amoral, is a stance which simply recognizes, as in sexuality or morality, that the dictums of enculturation are socially based, not intrinsically applicable to the individual,  and therefore individually irrelevant.  It is not against as in anti.  The philosophy of Buddhism includes marvelously insightful sayings used in guidance.  One of these reminds us that the degree to which we dislike something is the degree to which we are attached to that something.  However, when like or dislike do not apply, that something is simply present but irrelevant.  When walking across campus, if I hear someone yell, “Hey, stupid!” I do not turn around.  I do not look for the speaker and answer “Yes?”  Nor do I object to the utterance.  I know I’m not stupid, so the utterance is irrelevant to me.

But is every social dictum irrelevant?  No, not if one wishes to survive.   The child born into this awareness or the adult arriving by effort learn, sometimes painfully, that while they live individually in a transparent cocoon, its outside surface scrawled and graven with social claims to what is right and wrong, good and bad, peering out at the judgmental society closing around them they, in almost all cases, do not have the power to live alone.  John Donne was right: No Man is an Island.   The appearance of conformity is required for survival.  And, since people are largely so shallow and imperceptive, this generally works. 

But this cynical view can carry the seed of its own destruction.  A “healthy” individual recognizes his ultimate connection to others, albeit oblique, when he understands the meaning of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  A healthy individual realizes the ultimate paradox: That successful life for the individual is successful life for the group.  Records abound of individuals either lost to society by accident or locked away from society by intent devising their own internal society, of their own construction, and surviving through their interactions with these phantoms.  While this may seem a case for the DSM,  how is it different from what each of us does in our daily interactions with flesh and blood people?  Do we not imbue them with likes and dislikes and personality traits and failings as we define them?  Ever “been wrong” about someone?

The self realized person walks in a nimbus, a social cloud jointly made by others and himself.  That the others may be largely unconscious of their role in the creation and maintenance of this cloud is irrelevant;  the nimbus is vital to survival. 

In Strategic Air Command I took the eye test for combat pilots.  A part I distinctly remember was a thin shaft of glass, like a ruler, laid on a white tablet in front of me.  Thin black zeroes were marked at intervals on the glass.  My job, timed, was to quickly discern those on the top of the glass from those on the bottom of the glass.

The self aware person is able to gaze out from the glass of his cocoon and discern the mores, the rules, the assumptions placed there from outside and to understand what drove him to scribble his philosophy of life on the inside.

“We do not yet know when being alone will lead to creative ‘social, artistic, philosophic or characterological performances’ and when mental illness will be the outcome.”  Gregory Zilboorg (1890-1959) As paraphrased by Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy: selected papers pf Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. 23. ed. Dexter M. Bullard. 1959.



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  1. Very deep. It is going to take several reads to process.
    Dare I ask, is Sunland the institution you refer to here? A place that still haunts me in my nightmares. I only visited once, and that was more than my brain and emotions could handle. I vomited when I left. I’m sure it is just one of many similar places. Fortunately, I think most are closed. How these places could continue to operated with the horrendous treatment of patients in plain view is something I will never understand. “Some humans ain’t humans” (John Prine).


  2. Thank you, Mary. I knew you would recognize the place. I spent an entire day there, knew a family that worked there, and was appalled by the place. It was like something out of the 18th Century.


  3. P.S. Mary. I’m really looking forward to your analysis.


  4. Well, Marco, I am a bit at a loss to make any relevant comments here. It really took the air out of me … feeling very close to a … deflated balloon 🙂
    It just fills me with sadness to know that that sort of facilities still existed just a few years ago. Physical illness is terrible in itself, but I don`t think anything can beat a mental illness in its self-inflicted atrocity or maybe, at the end of the day, just `self-atrocity`. and that people take advantage of that …. just makes me want to cry .
    Anyway, it doesn`t help to look the other way and simply desire not to know, so thank you as always for letting me know of a world I had no idea really existed.


    • Thank you, FOAL. Yes, places like this were common throughout the U.S. and still are. They are just more secretive. And, the rapid development of psycho-active drugs in the ’60’s turned many of these places into more like quiet greenhouses than the buildings that were throbbing all day with moaning, crying, screaming and hallucinatory vocalizations. Interestingly, studies at Harvard in the late ’60’s clearly showed that mentally healthy volunteers immersed in these environments quickly adopted behaviors and even ideations that were indistinguishable from the bona fide patients. The effects on the “caretakers” were never really studied well. I knew two graduate psych students who, after doing months of work in a similar facility in another State, came out very close – in my opinion to suitable guards at Auschwitz-Berkenau.


      • Perhaps this is where the expression “the inmates are running the asylum” originated. Normal is defined by the norm in any given situation, and so crazy becomes normal in these places, with everyone finding their comfort zone within the “normal range of behaviors” to be found there. It is very much its own type of enculturation.

        I am also reminded by your comments of the Stanford prison experiment (August 14-20, 1971) in which students were randomly assigned the position of either prisoner or guard. The study was planned to last two weeks, but was ended in six days because the “guards” had become sadistic, subjecting the “prisoners” to psychological torture. The “prisoners” passively accepted the guards authority, but were showing signs of extreme stress and depression.

        It explains, but does not excuse or forgive, what so easily becomes the norm. Human animals can be such horrid creatures, given the proper stimulus and permission to do so.


  5. “In the world, not of it”; your phrase, but none is more accurate when describing someone who manages to escape becoming fully enculturated.

    “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” Some of live right on the edge of the box; either peering in to try to find a way to fit, or out to find a way to become out true selves.

    “Because I said so” and “do as I say, not as I do” were the phrases I was given as a child. Even the youngest child comes to know that the “rules” change from one situation to another; Grandma allows what Mama doesn’t, and vice versa. A thinking child learns to manipulate this to his/her advantage. Because of this, an intelligent child can only be guided, not controlled. I’ve long said that it is more challenging to raise a strong-willed child (AKA one who, from the beginning, knows their own mind), but also, what a delight to know they will be fully functioning adults if that will is not subdued in the process.

    “The appearance of conformity is required for survival.” Yes, indeed, the “appearance”, but not necessarily the reality. When in that long-ago hospital, I quickly learned that to give them what they wanted -to conform- was the quickest way to just be left alone.

    Each of us lives in our own little bubble; the nucleus of our own world around which orbit those many of few who inhabit that world with us. I have always found it difficult to find people who could accept the “real me”, so I’ve learned to stand on the sidelines and watch as others “play the game”. It could have been a lonely life; fortunately, I like my own company, as well as those which I’ve found here. The mask I wear here is accepted; the masks you show me look like friends. Rose


    • Rose, that was awesome !!!


    • Thank you so much, Rose. It is not possible to express how glad I am you survived what could have been – during your hospital stay – a chemical and/or electrical assassination of your mind. True friends enjoy each other precisely because they see through the delusions we are given and still find each other. Marco


      • No one is more aware than I how fortunate I was to have the ability to enter the resort environment that was my hospital stay. Even with that, I entered only with the understanding that I would not accept any sort of chemical intervention. Had a state facility been my only option, I would have found a way to fight my depression without the “help” that offered.


  6. Rebecca Work permalink

    I always learn so from each post and the comments. I am humbled and in awe of each of you who share. I thank you for that.

    As you point out, Marco, barbaric facilities still remain, usually under the guise of something different. A family member was an inpatient for depression/suicidal ideation in one of the ‘good’ facilities, on lockdown. Observed staff behavior/interactions with the patients DURING visiting hours were questionable. I wondered what happened when we were not there. Seems staff behavior was similar to what you describe, Marco, both in experiments and real life. Staff were vindictive, cruel , held meds, for starters and targeted certain patients with other behaviors as well. Then it comes down to ‘he said, she said’. Difficult to substantiate. Even as she reported staff behaviors, I found myself, a health care professional (with some mental health background) wondering what, if anything said, was true. She was the ‘sick’ one’ they the ‘caregivers’. Ha! The truth didn’t come out until much, much later. There may be some prisons less cruel. This was in 2007.


  7. Thank you, Becky. I’m sorry in reading the experience of your family member because I can empathize with the feeling of being singled out and not believed. That must have been a horribly dark and lonely period for this person.

    Your comments are always very well appreciated, and I certainly hope to see more. Thank you, Marco


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