There are many problems in the world which often seem insoluble - ecological collapse, poverty, war, political oppression and disease, to name some of the obvious ones.
Many have made a great effort to fight these problems, but, at times, it seems futile. As with depression, sometimes it seems as if the more we try to do something about the problem the worse it gets.
Psychology is a huge factor in these problems.
The key factor in our ecological problems is consumption, whether of food, manufacturing materials, living space or energy. Population is also crucial. Itís a case of how many of us there are and how much we are using of which resources. Our basic physical needs are, for most of us, a very small subset of what we consume. Our psychological needs determine most of our consumption. And, similarly, how many offspring we have is a psychological decision, unless the condom broke.
Poverty is a symptom of a malfunctioning social system in which the basic physical needs of some are not met because the resources which could meet those needs are being directed towards satisfying the psychological needs of others.
So ecological problems and poverty are highly dependent on consumption, and this is something which varies according to our psychological needs. Iím not saying we should strive to consume less. But when we are armoured we canít get as much enjoyment out of the things that we have and therefore we need more. And we are less flexible in what we chose to consume. Materialism is a poor substitute for other more social forms of enjoyment. When we are not locked up within ourselves we will find that we can have more fun interacting with others - partying, creating, having sex - than we can polishing our trophies. When we felt worthless, our possessions told us that we were not, but when we no longer feel that way, we will have little use for many of them.
While there may be many specific contributing factors to war the underlying driving force is neurosis. The desire to use violence to change the behaviour of others is a symptom of a divided self. To directly protect ourselves when attacked is a natural function of the healthy organism. And it is natural to feel anger when we are treated unjustly. But to believe that we can improve our lot in life by invading Poland, that killing people in a foreign land will make us safer at home or that we can free ourselves from an oppressively hierarchical global political structure by flying planes into the economic centre of the nation at its peak, are irrational conclusions driven by the divided individualís need to find a target for his or her self-contempt. But, even if one does not accept this assessment, one has to admit that someone who is not in a healthy psychological state is not going to make good decisions in an activity as dangerous and prone to backfiring as waging war.
Political oppression is something which is only easy to maintain when the confidence of the majority of members of your society is compromised by internal psychological division. Tyrants may resort to murder and torture, but they are always outnumbered when the population doesnít consist mainly of individualís predisposed to submission. Wilhelm Reich, in his book†The Mass Psychology of Fascism (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1933), put forward the theory that the phenomenon of Naziism could only occur in a society which was sexually repressive. If there is some part of ourselves which we are not accepting then this makes us vulnerable to manipulation and intimidation. This is also something which is understood by many leaders of religious cults. Encourage an individual crying out for acceptance to feel ashamed of masturbating or desiring material goods and you can get them to do anything.
Great progress is being made in fighting disease, but it is still with us. Now I would not claim that the emotional benefits of self-acceptance are going to cure diseases. But how well our bodily system can fight a curable disease or cope with an incurable one depends on how well it is functioning. And the repression of emotion through bodily armouring places immense stress on the body and decreases its ability to deal with problems. And there is evidence that mood plays a tremendous role in making us susceptible to some diseases and affecting our ability to combat them. There is much anecdotal evidence of ďfaith healingĒ. While this can be a popular con job practised in some religions, in other cases the results appear to be genuine. Where this does occur the key is clearly not some magical intervention by a cosmic spirit, but evidence of the role of expectation on physical ailments in some individuals. In a case discussed by Laurens van der Post in his book†About Blady : A Pattern Out of Time - A Memoir†(Morrow, 1991), the faith was faith in a surgeon, rather than a deity. A doctor did an exploratory operation on a peasant and found him to be riddled with cancer. All he could do was sow him up again. But the peasant thought the doctor, who very much impressed him, must have removed the cancer. When the doctor returned to the village a number of years later he found his patient still alive and now cancer free. And Wilhelm Reich, who believed that emotional and sexual repression caused cancer and that sitting in one of his orgone accumulators could cure it, found that it worked for some of his patients. Once again the results were probably due to the patientís faith in Reich rather than the effectiveness of his accumulators. The placebo effect, in which some patients get better when given a sugar pill and told that it is medicine, is another example. The point is that, while a positive state of mind may not cure an illness, it isnít going to hurt.
The other factor in dealing with all of these problems is our ability to co-operate. When armoured our ability to work together on problem-solving is limited. In our insecure state we are prone to find ourselves in conflict with others and the process can be frustrating. But in the non-armoured state, not only are we able to co-operate in problem-solving, it becomes the most enjoyable activity imaginable. What we really want is to be in a state of loving communion with others. We strive for something like this at parties by getting together when relaxed and maybe reducing our inhibitions with some alcohol. The results are pretty variable. But the point is that, in the un-armoured state, we are in a state of loving communion with our friends all of the time regardless of what activity we are engaged in. Life, even a life of problem-solving, becomes a non-stop party.
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