Once I humbled myself and stopped lionizing the idea of my supposedly indomitable free will, I was able to admit how laughably mechanistic I was (most times without even realizing it), and it became much easier to take control.

Musings, Volume 1, available on Amazon Kindle:  Musings, Volume 1

15 thoughts on “Musings

  1. Isn’t taking control a mechanistic delusion? Who takes control? Is not our who a holistic reality with no exact borders? Would not becoming individuated – i.e. holistically integrated – be a more sane aim that taking control, something which implies that we can only ever be at war with ourselves, only ever be in a state of struggle against some chaos within? Better I think to extend the boundaries of our awareness to embrace the chaos as an inevitable and ever changing face of our self.

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      • Maybe it is my prejudice, but when someone talks about taking control, to me that communicates the idea of trying to impose control, rather than surrendering to an integrative process which is greater than the self.

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      • That depends on your definition of “taking control”. As I see it, the only control you have is over the actions you take. Control in pretty much any other form is an illusion… as I see it. You can’t even truly control yourself in many ways. Your body will do things whether you want it to or not – get sick, cancer, hungry, etc. Again the only control you have is over the actions you take. BUT for as little control as that may seem, I would posit that that form of control is significant. It can be very empowering when you realize that you CAN control what you do in a given situation.
        There are limitations, I suppose. For instance, if your tied up, there is not much you can do. Your options are limited. BUT you can still control what you do within those limits. You can simply sit still and be tied up. You can struggle to get free. YOU are in control of what YOU do.
        I would also mention that the “mechanistic routine of our lives” is only such if we allow it to be. I think that’s where DSFB is headed here. We puff out our chests and say that we have free will, but we still get up and go to work in the morning like clockwork. We still form habits of many kinds, very often without realizing it. And yet we still profess to be in control? That is laughable to me.
        By becoming aware of those mechanistic behaviors, we now have control over them as we see fit. We can alter the behavior or not take action at all. We can take a completely different course of action, if we choose. BUT this is only after we we have become aware that we are doing something out of habit or as a “programmed” response to a stimulus.
        Becoming aware of this is both very empowering, but very humbling. You suddenly have the power to control the action you take, but I would argue that you have bigger problems if you won’t look at yourself and laugh at the fact that you had no clue you were letting yourself do things out of habit or influence in the first place. That’s the humbling part for sure.
        Sorry for the long post, but I’m just banging on the keyboard in real time. This thread triggered some thinking. I “took control” and decide to put some words here. Thanks for putting up with it 🙂

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      • Not a problem. I agree with your premises. My approach is about maximizing the exercise of any control we may or may not have. And that requires being the honest about the processes which we have little–or no–control over.

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      • “Sometimes, forceful imposition is the most harmonious approach. Being open to that possibility–to me–is part of being open to ALL possibilities.”

        The problem with this is that a positive belief that this CAN be true in some situations shuts the door to the possibility that it might it be an impossibility. I don’t shut my mind to the possibility that it might be true in some circumstance, but I would have to have the extraordinary scenario demonstrated to me.

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      • Easy. The less mature and the more irresponsible a given population is, the more likely it is that tyranny is warranted. This is the concept behind martial law, and also related to the need for aggression and forcefulness in emergency situations.


      • But you are considering only external harmony, not the turmoil that may be increased in each individual and what seeds that may sow in time. Think of Yugoslavia. The communist dictatorship kept a lid on sectarian conflict, but it was worse than ever after control inevitably failed. It is possible that harmony comes more quickly after people are allowed to slaughter each other if they want to, and that the total of harmony through such a situation is greater than anything which could ever be imposed.

        I’m not advocating such a thing. I don’t want to be a political leader. What I try to do is to avoid imposing control over myself. But I don’t think we can draw conclusive evidence in the absence of a way of taking a picture of the whole psychological system of a society, down through the public behaviour, the private behaviour, the conscious thought and the subconscious of every individual within the society and see how they interact with each other over an extended time frame.

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      • I don’t think I’m just considering “external harmony.” If someone’s instincts have been wired the wrong way for a given situation, it pays to use brute willpower to knowingly force yourself to do something else. Mundane example: Someone has become addicted to refined carbohydrates, and has to go through a miserable induction period where their body switches over to a fat-burning mode. Or in modern war, where outwardly aggressive instructions can convey surety in a chaotic situation and get your troops moving in a constructive direction. There are times to do it and there are times it’s counterproductive, but you seem to imply that it’s always counterproductive. I disagree.


      • Also, we were originally talking about the self, not society. My contention is that the paradigm of “self control” is a faulty one, that the thing to be sought is surrender of the control impulse in favour of surrender to wisdom and reason.

        When you get to a society of individuals who are already locked into the control impulse then it may be unavoidable for others to interact with them from this same sick basis, but it doesn’t make it harmony.

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      • True surrender encompasses all aspects of behavior. As does harmony. If you want to get spiritual, this is referred to when Arjuna is required to kill his people in the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita. It is context dependent, as is everything. I believe here is where we part directions; you are advocating definitions and ideals, while I am advocating the opposite. There are situations where a certain methodology, even though it may be inappropriate in another situation, is the most harmony-propagating approach available.


      • I suppose it comes from my belief that repression never works in the long run. The repressed always returns. That’s what I mean about external harmony. You can see the person obeying because you have imposed your control on them, but you can’t see that they are plotting to stab in in the back tomorrow and will succeed in doing so. You haven’t achieved harmony between yourself and them. That can only happen if you both surrender to the recognition of the value of harmony between you. Harmony can’t be achieved by force. That’s how I see it, but maybe we are differing because harmony to me means a loving relationship and you don’t require that in order to use the term “harmony”.

        I’m not a big believer in “willpower”. Gregory Bateson gives a great explanation for why alcoholics have to admit that they have no control over their drinking and accept the help of a higher power. The thing is that willpower is essentially driven by the reward of ego wins. What we call willpower is really weighing the satisfaction of being able to pat ourselves on the back for doing or not doing something against the immediate satisfaction of giving in to our desire to do the opposite. The problem with the alcoholic trying to use willpower to restrain his addiction is that the value of the back pat for resisting the first day is high, but it steadily declines from there. Eventually, perhaps he is saying : “Well, I’m doing well, but I make sure to have no alcohol close by, it would be worthy of a bigger back pat if I had a bottle but didn’t drink it…” And you can see where it goes from there. So the AA program cuts off that approach by insisting on the admission of powerlessness. Then what helps the addict is surrender to God (if they believe in one) or the support of the community and the community-encouraged habits of seeking support when needed.

        So I think that, if we form new habits successfully it is because we truly believe that they are beneficial and so some reward comes directly rather than the ability to pat ourselves on the back which is all that “willpower” is. Those who claim to do things through “willpower” are just egotists pumping up their own tires. And those tires will go down as soon as their hand stops its up and down motion.

        I don’t think that addiction to sugar is an “instinct”. It is a bodily adaption to a pleasure-driven habit. Psychology is also a factor. Some people may seek sugar to distract them from boredom or depression. If someone goes through a painful induction period I wouldn’t recommend willpower, but rather faith that it will bring improvement. Willpower is just bragging rights. Or maybe it is just me because I don’t get much of a buzz from going around bragging about my achievements. I have type 2 diabetes so I had to give up drinking soft drink and drink more water and tea. I just tell myself that it is advantageous to my health and that there are plenty of other forms of entertainment to enjoy other than sugary bubbles on my tongue. It’s not will power. It’s just doing something differently because it makes sense to.

        To suggest a simpler example to replace your military one – a bunch of people are in a building which is on fire. You run around yelling to them where the door is and herding them towards it. But is this imposed control or simply efficient communication? The people don’t want to burn to death, so you really aren’t imposing control on them. Presumably the same kind of thing applies to troop movements in war, but I don’t like the example because I think that modern warfare is a product of our sick ideas about control on every level. It is the disease I’m arguing against in full-flower.

        I’m talking about surrender to reason and wisdom. All that means is giving up doing things which are wilfully stupid – essentially accepting the reality of one’s situation and doing the thing which is most likely to be in your widest interest, accepting that that interest is embedded in the widest interest of the other members of the community of which you are a part. if reason tells you that it is in your best interest to exercise control over some part of your environment, e.g. repairing a hole in the roof, then you will do that, but it won’t be an act of “brute willpower”. Rather it will be an act of of service towards a system larger than oneself. The leaky roof is giving the orders.

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      • I think what you’re referring to when you say “in the long run” is if imposition is used too much and works against the long-term aim. My position is that if used correctly in the right amount at the right times, it SERVES your long-term aim.

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    • Thanks, Scott. This discussion led to some more thinking for me too. I needed to find a way to clearly express what I was trying to say, so I wrote this piece for my How to Be Free Facebook page :

      Self-control is a good thing, right? It’s what we should aim for. Or is it?

      There is no doubt that impulsive behaviour can cause major problems. But where do we really find the control impulse?

      If we feel angry and we hit someone, if we feel psychological pain and we take addictive drugs, if we feel lust and we act upon it in a way which endangers us or transgresses the rights of others… then, in each of these examples, we are exercising control – or attempting to exercise control – over an aspect of our self. Rather than sit with and accept our anger, we try to exercise control over our experience by taking action which might change that experience. And the same thing with our pain or our lust. Impulsive behaviour consists of attempts at control of our situation.

      What we want is the capacity to be patient, wise and reasonable. Each of these qualities is actually about being willing to surrender the control impulse. Patience is about accepting things we would like to change until such time as a manner of change becomes possible which doesn’t make things worse. And wisdom and reason are patterns of understanding larger than ourselves to which we have to surrender if we wish to receive their blessing. Even the non-religious do well to look upon them as one might look upon a God.

      Who is the self in the “self-control”? If the ego is what needs to be controlled, how can the ego be its own controller? But the ego can surrender to wisdom, something larger than itself.

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