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..:: Control ::..


Alan Schneider


              Human consciousness often appears to be a “work in progress” – a mosaic of many influences and trends that do not always work well together. The outcome of behavior in either the literal sense of physicality, or the implicit sense of deliberation, is frequently the result of habit or proxy as much as informed decision, and a severe enough internal conflict can all but immobilize us. This essay considers the coefficients of what is in many ways the primary human motive of existence – control – over each other, the environment, the personal mind, and ultimately the collective social mind. And we must also consider here the limitations of the human consciousness that seeks to exert that control. However extended our conscious presence may have become on the higher planes, the affect on the outcomes of our control-oriented efforts here on this Physical Plane of turbulent manifestation remain transitory.  

            If we begin with the unenlightened, base mind typical of most individuals existing in many of the world’s contemporary cultures, the organizing principle of psychological hedonism must be considered first. In its simplest construction, this principle states that the biological organism will tend to seek out pleasurable experiences, and avoid uncomfortable ones. This can easily be observed in lower zoological life forms such as domestic cats and dogs, and behaviorists have repeatedly demonstrated the effect of conditioning as a control modality on these creatures, and others such as horses, parrots, whales, sea lions, and dolphins, to name a few of the “highly malleable” species on the planet. There can be no contesting that human beings also seem to conform to this principle of behavior, at least in general terms. But we humans also possess the capability for highly complex, abstract thought and concept manipulation that can generate conflict on many perceptual levels, including those which are specifically spiritual in their form and expression. It is the role of acculturation to resolve the potential conflict and confusion inherent in human perception by offering behavioral maps of agreed upon definitions and prescriptions for action that are learned during maturation, and will result in the eventual formation of that integrated sense of self mentioned so often in these articles – the ego. And although this mechanism cannot eliminate conflict entirely, it can and does tell us what to do when it occurs, at least within the boundaries of a specific culture, and this is highly useful by itself – an effective medication to an admittedly incurable condition – the condition of life.  

            Cultures themselves exhibit a wide range of what are generally called control orientations in psychological science. At one extreme are the more technological societies that have used their command of science to develop many internal and external strategies and methods of determining outcomes – the root meaning of control – in the human arena, with the United States unquestionably leading the pack. At the other are fairly technologically primitive cultures that often seem to have little or no use for controlling behavior at all – natural Australian Aborigines come to mind as a good example in this case. It is most interesting that personal control is such a focal condition in America, and most other Western societies, while collective control is much more stressed in Eastern and so-called Third World cultures. Communication theory refers to these two poles of the control spectrum as individualist and collectivist, respectively.  The individualist culture tends to emphasize personal responsibility and achievement as the means of control, while the collectivist society emphasizes kinship and social bond relationships as the means of control – a personal verses group approach to the accumulation and use of available resources. Consequences are usually very clearly defined on the basis of personal action and responsibility in individualist cultures, and are also clearly defined on the basis of conformity to group norms and social expectations in collectivist ones.  

            Control is about something – it is focused on some external or internal object of achievement – garnering and developing physical resources, learning new intellectual skills, gaining a greater degree of understanding regarding processes at work in the world. In the individualist paradigm, the maximum degree of personal empowerment is created and subsequently channeled into decision making that can take place as quickly as possible to produce a desired outcome as rapidly as possible. If mistakes are made, these can be learned from with great rapidity, and the personal effort modified quickly to make additional attempts. The net outcome across history of this orientation is that individualist cultures have tended to monopolize resources, and emerge in dominance in intercultural conflicts with the more collectivist cultures that process transition and information less efficiently.  The price paid by the individual for this level of achievement in individualist cultures is that of the automation of perception – one becomes a fundamentally insensitive robot bent on acquisition, and supremely uncomfortable with most levels of feeling or emotion, particularly those which arise in consequence of the moral implications of the acquisition(s) in question.  Lower animals are instinctually driven to perform the behaviors they exhibit – they have little or no choice in the matter – and represent behavioral mechanisms for that reason.  Human beings have at least the capability for introspection, emotion, and compassion – if these qualities have been encouraged and allowed to develop by their cultures.  Sadly, the emphasis on materialism and material acquisition in many Post-Modern cultures has produced a lop-sided mental process unaware of any other motive for existence.  

            Objects, and the use and possession of objects, is perfectly acceptable as long as the clear distinction is made that those objects are only the accessories of existence, not the end goals. If human beings are ever to attain real happiness in this life, they must learn the additional side of the equation – people are not objects however finite and discreet they may appear to be, and we must treat each other with love, compassion, and positive regard to experience true depth of meaning and purpose in our condition. Objects are to be used, other people are to be loved.  It is the primary symptom of Post-Modern decay all over the world that we have learned to love objects and use other human beings to obtain those objects, as we blindly stumble forward in the existential vacuum of dead-end materialism.  

            The logical outcome of the woeful misperception of another person as an object of manipulation is the inevitable attempt to exert control over that person. This may take the form of the aforementioned manipulation – a very common social scenario in many cultures today – or may take the forms of outright coercion, domination, or extermination in the more extreme cases where the insulation of social grace has worn thin, as it does under conditions of extreme intolerance or scarcity of resources.  In many such cases, a virtual culture of control will develop, one characterized by ingroup recognition mechanisms including uniforms (and other conventions of appearance), verbal cues, gestures, and specific behavioral norms. Once a sufficient level of ingroup recognition has been achieved, the oppression of all other persons and groups is inevitable, as they become dehumanized objects of discrimination and repression.  This is the modality of fascism and exploitation that is becoming predominant around the world today, as the dwindling resource base brings out the absolute worst in everyone, and sets us all at each others throats. We can attempt to deny or ignore this ugly situation if we please, but I would wager that we will not succeed in the attempt indefinitely. We have reached the eleventh hour of the human condition – we have practiced blind consumption with the utmost efficiently, without regard to the affect of that practice on this planet, and are standing on the absolute verge of a global catastrophe of unparalleled proportions. We must find a better way to live together amid what remains of this plundered Post-Modern world! 

            A beginning is to make the personal decision to struggle to find and acknowledge the worth of the other people around us, no matter how worthless they may appear to be. Because we are all lodged in our personal organisms, and the selfish perspectives on life that accompany that condition, it is always easy to find fault with others.  It is the mark of someone who has made significant strides in self-development to recognize that the tendency to criticize others is a direct reflection of one’s inner criticism of oneself.  We tend to most disparage in others what we secretly despise in ourselves.  This is the core concept at work in the human control obsession – a deep inner sense of frustration, impotence, and helplessness that generates a frantic opposing reaction in our consciousness. What the control fanatic most disparages in others is overt or covert displays of weakness and vulnerability – the primary unforgivable sins of fascist ideology.  Well, my friends, the truth is that we are all weak, flawed, vulnerable, mortal creatures who were created in the Karma of human flesh to be challenged by those conditions, and succumbing to the control obsession really constitutes the greatest human failure of all! The truly powerful individual is the one who confronts the inevitable fear and loneliness of the human condition with love, acceptance, and compassionate understanding – not violence and condemnation. 

            The human challenge – of consciousness subtended by a mortal body of flesh – certainly appears to be the ultimate challenge conceivable. Our stress-ridden condition always seems to militate against the formation of any state of spiritual grace that could transcend our inherent weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The ego is a wonderful but flawed coping and survival mechanism that will first attempt to reject the inevitable wounds of Karma, either by repressing them into the subconscious realm, or by developing mental scar tissue around the traumatized regions. A sufficient bulk of traumatic experience that is not treated with effective therapy will eventually produce an obsession with control as a standing defense mechanism present in personal psychology, ultimately resulting in all manner of fascist atrocities when the condition becomes socially collectivized, as it so often does.  

            It is quite possible that the appearance and development of human beings on this planet was a cosmic experiment in consciousness – an attempt to see how much turbulence was required to create awareness from otherwise inert matter on one hand, and subsequently destroy it on the other.  And the experiment may have an automatic failsafe mechanism built in to terminate it when the needed data has been acquired, possibly whether or not the needed data has been acquired. Even if it is our unavoidable fate to finally pass into chaos and extinction, we can at least try to live lives defined by grace and compassion while still present in the flesh. This is our greatest challenge, and opportunity, as sentient creatures. Ultimately, we are spiritual beings having the physical experience of Karma in this continuum of turbulent expression called life!


                                                                                - With Love, Alan -

                                                                          (CR2008, Alan Schneider) 


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