Narrative in Sociology

I teach a sociology 100 class (actually named Sociology 287) and I use a textbook (Steckley 2020) that takes a “non-traditional” approach to teaching sociology. By that I mean the text leans heavily on the use of narratives, which are personal stories and anecdotes, to help introduce and teach about Sociology. In the past, narratives were something actively excluded from scientific activity. The point of science, we were told, was to remain objective and to look at just the facts. It was assumed in all this that scientists (sociologists included) would keep their personal stories out of their scientific activity. They would write their papers in the third person, keep their predilections at bay, and generally keep their own personal “I” as far away from their science as they could possibly get it. This sanitation of the “I” out of science was supposed to keep science as objective as possible.

The proscription that we keep the “I” out of science, that we keep our personal stories to ourselves, seems sensible at first glance. After all, science is about truth and the truth is objective and pure, right. However, there are problems with notions of objectivity and that you can sanitize the “I” out of science.

One problem is that this presumption that one can keep one’s perspective at bay is wrong. You cannot keep your location out of science. Who you are, where you come from, what you believe, the experiences you have had, and the choices you make, all figure into not only what you select to study, but how you study and report it as well (Bochner 2014). I can use my own personal narrative as an example to illustrate this point. The things I have looked at over the years, the things I have researched and studied, have been the things that I am passionate and motivated about, and I suspect this is true for many other scholars as well. When I was a young lad I worked in the service industry to survive. While there, I observed some interesting things about the work we did and this led me to do a case study on the emotional labour of service workers (Sosteric 1996). Later on while doing my PhD, when the Internet was really beginning to boom, I looked at scholarly communication and the emerging World Wide Web. My work with scholarly communication made me a bit of a technology expert so when I began work at Athabasca University, I was heavily involved in the sociology of technology. In all this I wasn’t at all interested in human religion or human spirituality, but then I had a series “mystical experiences” of the kind many people have, and that some scholars (Bucke 2006; Forman 1986; James 1982; Maslow 1962; Stace 1960) have studied, and since then I’ve been interested in them and their potential as well (Sosteric 2014; 2017; 2018). The point here is simple. Pretensions to the contrary, you cannot remove your biography, your “I,” from the scientific process. Who you are, your life experiences, and what you are passionate about often informs what you do and how you go about doing it. Your subjectivity, your experience, lies behind the choices we make and the things that you study.

Another more serious problem with this notion that you can keep the “I” out of science is that sanitizing science of the “I” silences already marginalized voices by excluding certain experiences from consideration. As you will see when you read over the section in your text on the history of sociology, up until quite recently, science in the European and North American academies was mostly conducted by white men from the upper middle classes of society. As such, the system, as you would expect, reflected mostly white male thinking and values. The prescription that people not bring their stories in had the profound effect of maintaining an implicit (and explicit) status quo, either through the direct exclusion of certain life voices, or via the sanitation of these voices as they are filtered through the consciousness of the at-one-time mostly white male intelligentsia doing the observing.

It is easy to understand how this works. Consider the personal narrative of Malidoma Patrice Some (Some 1994) who was stolen by Catholic priests from his home when he was a child and raised in a Catholic seminary. His personal story is interesting for sociologist, psychologists, and others interested in understanding human experience and human spirituality, and the way aspects of Western culture, like religion, are used to colonize and control Indigenous spirituality and Indigenous populations. When we read Patrice’s personal narrative, when we admit his story into consideration despite its “biased” perspective, we learn a lot about colonial mechanisms of oppression, the operation of colonial Christianity, Indigenous spiritual experience, and how Indigenous folks are psychologically and spiritually colonized by European Christian actors and the dogma of the colonial arm of the Christian Church. There is biography and perspective in Some’s story, and he is speaking about his personal life experiences, but this does not invalidate the narrative or diminish the truths he reveals. In fact, quite the opposite is true. His story adds to our understanding of religion, colonization, and European society. If we exclude it because of some misplaced notion of “objectivity,” our understanding is restricted and our colonial mentalities preserved, which is perhaps the point. It is easy to avoid challenge and maintain a white, European, liberal, Capitalistic view when you do not have to listen to other people’s colonial stories. We might even ask the question here, how can sociology ever be truly sociology while it focuses only on the things important to certain social demographics, or excludes the stories of others? How can it claim to have depth and breadth of knowledge when it excludes personal narratives from its field of study, or filters its knowledge through the mindset of the upper middle class academics in the field?

If we admit the need to allow narrative and “I” into the researcher’s field, an immediate question becomes, how should this notion of narrative, social location, and “I” influence your approach and study of sociology? There are a couple of ways this might impact you.

For a start, recognizing the scientific and sociological significance of narrative should help foreground the fact that your voice and perspectives, and the voices and perspectives of others, matter, not only personally, but scientifically and professionally as well. As the textbook I use says, your location gives you a unique perspective, and this perspective is important. Adding this perspective does not take away from science; when done properly, it contributes to it. This might not be obvious to you at the start, but it is easy enough to demonstrate. Read the following short article on residential schools in Canada and watch one or two of the personal narratives provided on YouTube.

Learning Activity

After you completed the activity, pause and consider. What things do you learn about residential schools by listening to the voices of the survivors? Are these things you learned invalid because they were not couched in a version of science sanitized of personal narrative, or filtered through the words and writing of researcher working in a post-secondary institution? Of course not. These narratives enhance our understanding by adding depth and breadth.

Another way narrative might influence your approach to sociology is that it brings front and centre the significance of your social location or standpoint, which is your place in the fabric of the society you live in. Opening up to narrative encourages us to look at our own narratives to see where we’ve come from. Once you do that, you begin to see how your own social location and life experiences impact you. Who you think you are, the way you think about things, and the sorts of things you do, are influenced by your social location and the experience and events that social location exposes you to. Are you a young person? Then you are more likely support legalization of psychedelics (Margolin, Hartman, and Margolin 2020). Are you a white male from Alberta? Then you probably support the oil industry. Are you an Indigenous person? Then racism has been a part of your life experience. Creating spaces and opening the doors to narrative makes the impact of social location easier to talk about, and consequently, easier to see.

Personally, I think that being sensitized to the importance of narrative, and becoming aware of your own social location through reflexive analysis of your own personal narrative is one of the biggest things you can get out of an introductory course in sociology. Indeed, when you think about it, sociology is all about social location. Sociologists try to understand the world and how it works for different groups, and one of the ways they can do that is to encourage and then listen to narrative, particularly when it is informed by sociological concepts and theory. Introducing narrative here is not a weakness, and it is not going to lead to the collapse of science. If anything, it is going to strengthen it.

Keep all this in mind moving forward and remember, your story is important. As you read through your sociology text and course commentary (or lectures, depending on where you are going to school), take the concepts you learn, like intersectionality, standpoint, social class, stereotype threat, and so on, and use them to develop your own personal narrative. Use sociology to understand and explore your own social location. As you develop your own personal narrative, learn to tell your story and, just as important, learn to listen to the narratives of others; if you truly want to understand the world, their stories are important as well.

References

Bochner, A. P. (2014). Coming to Narrative: A Personal History of Paradigm Change in the Human Sciences. Left Coast Press.

Bucke, R. M. (2006). Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (Kindle Edition). The Book Tree. https://amzn.to/2IjxuaC

Forman, R. K. C. (1986). Pure consciousness events and mysticism. Sophia, 25(April), 49–58.

James, W. (1982). The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature. Penguin. https://amzn.to/2l4UyR7

Margolin, S. H., Madison, Hartman, S., & Margolin, M. (2020, October 23). First, It Was Weed—Now, Voters Have a Chance for Legal Psychedelics. Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/lsd-psilocybin-psychedelics-legal-ballot-election-1079488/

Maslow, A. H. (1962). Lessons from the Peak-Experiences. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 2(1), 9–18. https://doi.org/10.1177/002216786200200102

Some, M. P. (1994). Of Water and the Spirit. Penguin Arcana.

Sosteric, M. (1996). Subjectivity and the Labour Process: A Case Study in the Food and Beverage Industry. Work, Employment, and Society, 10(2).

Sosteric, M. (2014). A Sociology of Tarot. Canadian Journal of Sociology, 39(3). https://www.academia.edu/25055505/

Sosteric, M. (2017). The Sociology of Mysticism. ISA ESymposium for Sociology, July.

Sosteric, M. (2018). Mystical experience and global revolution. Athens Journal of Social Sciences, 5(3), 235–255. https://doi.org/10.30958/ajss.5-3-1

Stace, W. T. (1960). The Teachings of the Mystics. Mentor.

Steckley, J. (2020). Elements of Sociology. Oxford University Press.

Mike Sosteric (Dr. S.)

Just another loud mouth sociology professor, teaching sociology courses at Athabasca University. Check me out here at the Socjourn, over there at The Conversation and at academia.edu.

All Mimsy were the Borogroves

[Published in Literally Literary]

All mimsy were the borogroves, and sadly swam the air,
As  Vorpal blade came snacking, trailing famsy Bander’s tail.
And in the morning yarrow was the feckless crowd warned fair.
But dimmed and daily waggled, they ignore prophetic tale.

And daily wind and rain and violence grew the rankled snatch.
And more the queries, drama grew, as fate imposed the latch.
And panic ‘neath the surface began to birth a Beast anew.
And Jaberwock came snapping, apocalypse is what we view.

And the magazines raise questions, and the “prophets” prowl about,
And the pedophiles spin spider’s web, and politicians spout,
And another violent shooting ends the life of kids we knew.
And the soldiers march ‘neath Satan’s arch brings another bloody coup.

And rage and fear and sorrow begin to bubble from the depths.
And chaos spreads his boney wings, and you’re put to the test.
It’s a choice ‘tween love and hatred, a choice now ‘tween life, and death.
A choice between selfish silence or acceptance of the quest.

And let’s be clear, control your fear, please don’t delude the Self.
The time is near, the end is here, you can see it for your self.
A choice you make ‘tween right and wrong is what will save the day.
But in the end, I have to say, the innocents will pay.

It’s the children wearing bullets, the children facing down the storm,
The children crying with extruded belly,  working fingers to the bone.
The children raped by friend and family, or by trusted Church’s brand.
It’s the children that will suffer, if you stay Creator’s hand.

So make your choice, then raise your voice, and let the world rejoice.
For end is here, the time is near, and nothing stays the course.
The line is drawn, the arm is strong, that wields the angel’s sword.
We will not fail, will not forbear, to ring Creation’s chord.

Allegory of the Blindfold

Dedicated to priests and prophets of the world.
May the people of this earth find no more use for you.

Imagine for a moment a society like none that you have ever seen before. Imagine a civilization of love, peace, and compassion where nobody goes hungry, nobody wants for anything, and everyone is equally loved. Imagine a perfect society with few worries, no suffering, and no wants. Imagine a society where a wise and shining population dance out their days in peace, prosperity, and joy. Imagine a garden paradise, an Eden Shambhala. Now imagine that one day, everybody starts to wear a blindfold. One moment, the people are dancing in the Light, and the next they are plunged into darkness.

As you might guess, being suddenly blindfolded in this fashion made life a lot more difficult. With a blindfold on the people struggled in the darkness. They crashed into each other. They dropped stuff. They broke things. As you can imagine, it was not too long before the bumping and the crashing caused them frustration, pain, suffering, and anger. It was bad and it got worse every day.

You would think that as things continued to deteriorate, these people, these Dwellers in darkness, would take off their blindfolds, but they did not. Eventually, they forgot they were wearing blindfolds at all. As the generations passed, these once shiny people gradually transformed into angry, bitter little ogres who no longer had the time or the energy to care about anything or anybody other than themselves.

Still, no matter how bad the pain and suffering became, no matter how many generations passed, there were always stories. Elders would tell tales of a shiny, happy place that had once existed, where the people danced and played. In this happy place, the elders said, there was no poverty, no war, and no disease. In this happy place, everybody smiled all the time. That is what the elders said, but most people thought these were just stories. Everybody knew, and everyone accepted, that life was a bitter pill. Still, some did wonder if maybe, just maybe, the stories were true. As they wondered these people, these “searchers,” began to ask more questions.

“Why is everything so dark and confusing?”

Why are we always bumping into things?”

“Did something happen to us?”

“Has it always and forever been this way?”

Some of these searchers, let us call them the existential depressives (EDs), came to the conclusion that there was no explanation for the darkness and confusion. They assumed the tales were simply stories and they accepted the dark as status quo. In their typical manner, these depressives droned on and on about how the universe was empty and dark, how it had always been this way, how it would always be this way, and how it would eventually end in an inevitable and eternal dark. The best the people could do, said the depressives, was to simply accept this cold, bitter truth.

The existentialists were depressed, that’s for sure, but not everybody settled into their funk. In fact, most of the Dwellers were not satisfied with their “truths” and so they kept searching. Eventually, some of them, let us call them the priests, came up with different answers.

Some priests said that the people were stumbling in darkness and confusion because they were evil, dirty, and deserved it. Other priests said that the world was the way it was because the people had done something wrong and were now being punished for their past lives of sin. Still others said that people were fools and that this world was a school of suffering meant to teach them some grand cosmic lesson. Some even said that if you did not obey and learn your lesson, you would suffer in eternal fire. Yes, the priests said many ridiculous things, but perhaps you can understand why. Like everybody else, their life was a suffering in darkness. Who could blame them for thinking the world outside sucked?

And of course, just like some people believed the existential depressives, some people believed the priests. Indeed, some even gave the priests money, and lot of it. And really, what was wrong with that? The Dwellers were desperate for an explanation that would give meaning to the darkness, and the priest’s answers at least offered that.

But of course, not everybody settled in with the depressives or the priests. These Dwellers were unsatisfied with the emptiness of the depressives and they were suspicious of the now wealthy priests. They gazed at the priests in their castles, they saw the troubles in the world, and they sensed a certain hypocrisy. Unsatisfied with the priests and depressives, these Dwellers continued to search. Just like everybody else, they struggled in blindness and confusion, yet they kept searching until finally, they stumbled into a forest where, hungry and alone, they ate from a Burning Bush, after which, their blindfolds fell surely away. Suddenly, the prophets could see!

Which, to be honest, was not as great as you might at first think. One minute the prophets were walking in total darkness and the next they saw with full light. One minute they could see nothing at all, and the next the entire world was revealed. The revelations were not an easy thing to deal with. To eyes accustomed to the darkness, the new light was blinding. There was no reference point and nobody to talk with. Out there in the forest and facing the light on their own, the prophets were confused and quite scared. Instinctively, they reacted and snatched the blindfold back on, thereby returning themselves to the “safe” familiarity of Darkness.

Or at least, that was what you hoped would happen. Unfortunately, a safe return was not always the case. The new light was quite bright and with minds and emotions weakened by generations of trauma, some faltered, some fell, and some, quite unfortunately, went mad. But even those who did not falter or go mad, even those who successfully returned to the dark, struggled. They had gotten a glimpse and it was so different from what they expected and at such variance with what the priests and the depressives had taught that they struggled to process and ground. For many, it was simply too much to bear. So, out of fear and self-preservation, they left the forest, vowing to never return.

Of course, refusal to go back into the wilderness for another glimpse did not stop some of the prophets from exploiting their “greater knowledge” for money and power over others. The prophets had seen the priests in their castles and tempted by the money and power they said, “I gotta get some of that.” So, the prophets said to the Dwellers, “Follow us because we’ve seen the light”. They spoke about “presence”. They proclaimed the “power of now”. They said, “Live in the moment.” Tey said, “It’s all about ‘attraction’.” The Dwellers who had not visited the forest were easily dazzled by the partial glimpses and limited “wisdom” of the prophets. Desperate for meaning and purpose, they willingly handed over their cash.

And who could blame them? The existential depressives saw only an empty universe, the priests called them weak, stupid, and evil, but the prophets had sure seen the light, if only for a moment. The Dwellers could see that the prophets provided more and so, desperate for meaning and purpose, they followed, which was great for the prophets who bought fancy cars and big houses, but bad for the Dwellers because, despite lofty claims to the truth, nevertheless the prophets remained mired in darkness, and it showed in their thin and trite knowledge. Still, as you might expect, a few of the Dwellers grew unsatisfied, and they began to question. Having seen the prophets enter the forest, the Dwellers asked the prophets, “what happened to you in the forest,” but the prophets, well, they refused to tell!

And why would they?

The prophets knew that if the people went out into the forest and found the same bush, the blindfold would fall off and they would have no more use for the depressives, the priests, or the prophets. In order to protect their profits and privilege, in order so that the Dwellers would not go out into the forest and find out for themselves, the prophets lied. They said, “Don’t walk in the forest, you’re too weak. Don’t eat of the bush, you’re not ready. We did it because we are God’s special, chosen silver seed. You just have to have faith and believe.”

And of course, some of the dwellers had faith and some found it within to believe, but others, let us call them the Visionaries, did not. Dissatisfied with the depressives, the priests, and the prophets, they continued to search until one day, just like the prophets before them, they stumbled into the forest and ate of the bush. And just like the prophets before them, the blindfolds fell fast from their eyes. And as you might expect, initially, they were scared and confused, and they snatched their blindfolds back on. However, having seen the prophets had survived their first “test,” they did not run away. They put aside their deep fear, they worked through their confusion, and they ate of the bush once again. Once again, the blindfold fell off. Once again, they were scared and confused, but not as much as the first time, and so blindfold stayed off a bit longer. As a consequence, the visionaries saw more. Excited by their progress, they tried again and again and again until one day, after much trial, tribulation, and practice, the fear and confusion were gone and their sight was fully restored.

And what a great day that was, because with the blindfold off, the visionaries did not have to suffer the depressives, bow before the priests, or attend to the prophets. Nor did they have to bump and grind their way throughout life. Now, the paths before them were clear. Now, they could tell the full truth. Now, they could see for themselves. The people were all wearing blindfolds. The darkness was completely unnecessary. The answers were all so darn simple. All the people had to do to make everything better was to simply take their blindfolds off. If they could do that, the laughter and the dancing would return.

Excited by what they discovered, the visionaries ignored the depressed existentials, the greedy priests, and the dissembling prophets. Putting aside powerful temptation, they began to teach.

They said, “Don’t be afraid, eat this bush.”

They said, “Take some deep breathes and stay calm.”

They said, “Soon you’ll see as clearly as us.”

And though there was much fear, confusion, skepticism, and doubt, the visionaries persisted. Slowly but surely the blindfolds came off, the Dwellers were healed, and the whole entire world was transformed. And the joyful dancing began one again.

The Trouble with Atheists

Let's face it, these hidden laws [of mysticism] are hidden, but they are only hidden by [your] own ignorance. And the word mystical is just arrived at through people's ignorance. There's nothing mystical about it, only that you're ignorant of what that entails." ― George Harrison

The trouble with atheists is that they are fighting a battle with a delusion, which is not that surprising. Atheists pride themselves on their rational, secular intelligence. Atheists can see the patent absurdity of God as a violent, abusive, and controlling patriarch (Church God), and the untenability of belief based on blind faith, and so they reject the whole thing. They feel it is foolish to believe in something “just because,” and so they do not. They reject the patent absurdity and settle into a lifetime commitment to the Church of Secular Humanism.

This is not an unreasonable position to take. However, as a former atheist myself, I would like to say that rejecting the violent and patriarchal church god is not the same, or shouldn’t be the same, as rejecting human spirituality in toto. There is something more to human spirituality than what you find presented at the pews in the churches of the big-name ecclesiastical brands. Frankly, I’m not the only scholar to say this. Consider that Einstein (Hermanns 1983), several famous physicists (Wilber 2001), not a few psychologists (Arthur Hastings 2010; Maslow 1969; Stace 1960a), and a small handful of sociologists (for example, see Hermanns 1983; Rowbotham 1980) have suspected, participated in, and even researched this “something more” for quite some time. Despite what polemicists like Richard Dawkins (2006) would have you believe, there has been a significant amount of reasonable scholarly interest in the “something more” of human spirituality for a very, very long time.

If this is true, then the immediate question must be, what is the something more. In two word phrases, the answer is “mystical experience,” “religious experience,” “transcendent experience,” or what I simply call Connection Experience (Sosteric 2018a). Connection experience is an important aspect of human spirituality, and a few scholars have recognized and noted it as such. Founding psychologist William James took mystical experience seriously when he called mystics the “pattern-setters” whose experiences established religious traditions (James 1982). Psychologists (Heriot-Maitland 2008) have noted that “mystical experience… constitute[d] the very essence of religion, such that the origin of a given tradition can often be traced to an initial transcendent encounter, moment of revelation, salvation, or enlightenment.” Abraham Maslow, founding father of humanistic psychology, spent the bulk of his career looking at “peak experiences,” which is a secular name for a secular type of mystical experiences. Like others who have studied these, he felt that mystical experience was the “intrinsic core” and essence, the universal nucleus of every known … religion #(Maslow, 2012: 339)#. Stace, an early pioneer in the study of mystical experience, said that mystical experience was "a psychological fact of which there is abundant evidence." He further went on to say that, "To deny or doubt that it exists as a psychological fact is not a reputable opinion.” It is ignorance and "very stupid" (Stace 1960b:14). Indeed, spiritual experience has been a central feature of all human existence. From the earliest emergence of humanity (Hamer 2005) to our current modern experiences, mystical experience is a psychological and neurological fact. With modern brain scanning technologies we can observe the neurological reality of mystical experience (Newberg, d’Aquile, and Rause 2001; Newberg and Waldman 2009).

Is this true? Is connection experience really the authentic root core and essence of human spirituality. It is possible. Certainly, it should be considered. Connection experience is a common human experience that has been recorded and discussed for thousands of years. Not only that, but just about everybody has them (Sosteric 2018a). What’s more, connection experiences are significant human experiences that lead to a wide range of positive and transformative psychological, intellectual, and emotional outcomes (Bien 2004; Hanes 2012). A single connection experience can heal (Hawks 2002; Mahoney and Pargament 2004; Vaillant 2002) and dramatically transform (White 2004) an individual, and not just emotionally or psychologically. Mystical practices and mystical experience have political implications. They can lead to social class realignment, a so-called “turn to the left” (Sosteric 2018b), meaningful social change (Erika Summers-Effler and Hyunjin Deborah Kwak 2015), and even revolutionary social action (Harvey 1998).

The ubiquity, significance, and obvious reality of connection experience might go along way to explaining why secularization has not significantly progressed as some sociologists had predicted and hoped for (Berger 1968, 1999). Human beings are unlikely to simply dismiss something as significant and ubiquitous as human experience, despite what some academics might say. Despite the fact that church attendance continues to decline, atheism has not expanded significantly. Only about three percent of American’s identify themselves as committed atheists, and the numbers aren’t that impressive anywhere else. We have nine percent in Canada, twelve percent in Norway and Germany, and a “staggering” nineteen percent in France (Hunsberger and Altemeyer 2006). Clearly the world is not beating a pathway to the “higher rationality” of the atheist perspective. Certainly, suggesting that the empirical reality of connection experience is what keeps the majority of humans tuned in to human spirituality is a more satisfying explanation that an explanation than one that disparages believers as irrational, illogical, and even stupid.

In any case, the point being made here is simple. It is reasonable for thoughtful people to reject the notion of Church God; however, it is not reasonable to reject humans spirituality in toto just because we find one aspect of it is questionable. Clearly, there is more to human spirituality than what you find represented in church pews. As briefly intimated in this research note, this more is connection experience. Connection experience is a class of human experiences that are powerful, transformative, healing, and empirically verifiable. Connection experience is a significant and fascinating aspect of human experience and one that we, and by “we” I mean scholars, cannot simply dismiss.

References

Arthur Hastings. 2010. “William James, Conversion and Rapid, Radical Transformation.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 17(11–12):116–20.

Berger, Peter. 1968. A Bleak Outlook Is Seen for Religion. Vol. April 25. The New York Times.

Berger, Peter. 1999. The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.

Bien, Thomas H. 2004. “Quantum Change and Psychotherapy.” Journal of Clinical Psychology (5):493.

Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The God Delusion. New York: Mariner Books.

Erika Summers-Effler, and Hyunjin Deborah Kwak. 2015. “Weber’s Missing Mystics: Inner-Worldly Mystical Practices and the Micro Potential for Social Change.” Theory and Society 44(3):251–82.

Hamer, Dean H. 2005. The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired into Our Genes. New York: Anchor.

Hanes, Karl. 2012. “Unusual Phenomena Associated With a Transcendent Human Experience: A Case Study.” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 44(1):26–47.

Harvey, Andrew. 1998. Teachings of the Christian Mystics. Kindle. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Hawks, David. 2002. “Quantum Change: Bridging the Schism Between Science and Spirituality, Ordinary People Tell Their Stories of Extraordinary Change: When Epiphanies and Sudden Insight Transform Ordinary Lives (Book).” Addiction 97(6):763.

Heriot-Maitland, Charles P. 2008. “Mysticism and Madness: Different Aspects of the Same Human Experience?” Mental Health, Religion & Culture 11(3):301–25.

Hermanns, William. 1983. Einstein and the Poet. Boston: Branden Books.

Hunsberger, Bruce, and Bob Altemeyer. 2006. Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America’s Nonbelievers. New York: Prometheus Books.

James, William. 1982. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature. New York: Penguin.

Mahoney, Annette, and Kenneth I. Pargament. 2004. “Sacred Changes: Spiritual Conversion and Transformation.” Journal of Clinical Psychology (5):481.

Maslow, A. H. 1969. “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature.” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 1(1):1–9.

Newberg, Andew, Eugene d’Aquile, and Vince Rause. 2001. Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. New York: Ballantine Books.

Newberg, Andrew, and Mark Robert Waldman. 2009. How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. New York: Ballantine Books.

Rowbotham, Sheila. 1980. “In Search of Edward Carpenter.” Radical America 14(4).

Sosteric, Mike. 2018a. “Everybody Has a Connection Experience: Prevalence, Confusions, Interference, and Redefinition.” Spirituality Studies 4(2).

Sosteric, Mike. 2018b. “Mystical Experience and Global Revolution.” Athens Journal of Social Sciences 5(3):235–55.

Stace, Walter Terence. 1960a. Mysticism and Philosophy. London: Macmillan.

Stace, Walter Terence. 1960b. The Teachings of the Mystics. New York: Mentor.

Vaillant, George E. 2002. “Quantum Change: When Epiphanies and Sudden Insights Transform Ordinary Lives.” American Journal of Psychiatry: Official Journal of the American Psychiatric Association (9):1620.

White, William L. 2004. “Transformational Change: A Historical Review.” Journal of Clinical Psychology 60(5):461–70.

Wilber, Ken. 2001. Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists. New York: Shambhala.

What is Money?

Various types of money

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Competition – bad for you, bad for the planet

The Big Lie

Through the medium of kinship, early humans developed cooperative arrangements that, according to Marshal Sahlins, were apparently mandated by virtue of the conditions of life. In his words, “The emerging human primate, in a life-and-death-struggle economic struggle with nature, could not afford the luxury of a social struggle. Co-operation, not competition, was essential…. Hobbe’s famous fantasy of a war of ‘all against all’ in the natural state could not be further from the truth.” (Sahlins quoted in Kohn, 35).

The Case Against Competition

First published in 1986, Alfie Kohn’s book No Contest: The Case Against Competition provides a carefully researched and documented antidote to the idolatry of competition that passes for common and scientific sense in our Western societies. In this 324 page book Kohn painstakingly takes on, and dismisses, all the cherished myths of competition that make our modern nations go round.

Is competition inevitable?

Is competition a part of human nature?

Yes say the pundits; but no, says Kohn. In fact, says Kohn, proponents of competition who argue that competition is inherent in nature often ignore evidence to the contrary (i.e. that nature is far more co-operative), conflate biological definitions of competition (i.e. natural selection) with the human practice of competition, and even use deceptive rhetorical twists, drawing erroneous and faulty conclusions, just to prove their point. Continue reading “Competition – bad for you, bad for the planet”

The Toxic and Repressive Culture of the Catholic Church

Read on Medium

I’m just about 90% of the way through a rewrite of my Sociology of Religion course. One of the arguments I make in the course is that religion is an institutionalized attempt to answer life’s Big Questions, but that it is hijacked by special interest groups, like ancient Persian high priests, Roman Emperors, and even the boys in your local Freemason lodge, for venal financial and political purposes. I’m not going to go into details about all that here except to say, I’m not the only one who thinks that way. Enter Father Juan Carlos Gavancho, a priest who was fired from his job in LA after he delivered a sermon critical of the Catholic Church.

What did the good father say to get himself canned? He basically called out the abusive culture of the Catholic Church. He called those who aided and abetted pedophiles traitors to the Christian faith. He called out their toxic culture of silencing and abuse. He appealed to the laity to take action and rise up. You can find the full homily here. As he says:

Speak out! Do you want the Gospel? Do you want Christ? Do you want heaven? Do you want the truth? Or do you just want what we find everywhere in the world, which is what we really want to hear, what is pleasing to our ears. Demand change in the Church. It’s not going to be enough, just adding a couple of policies to this taking care of the children. It’s not going to be enough just to see three, four, or five cardinals resigning, and ten bishops resigning — it’s not going to be enough. We need to see real change. We need to go back to be faithful to Christ, to Our Lord Christ, not the world. We are here to change the world, not the world to change us. We are the light of the world; we are not equal with the world. We have Christ. We have the truth.

His sermon is really quite remarkable. In it, he points to a pervasive toxic culture of abuse in the Church, where the men in power use economic sticks and psychological tricks to punish the priests and bishops who speak out and speak up. He says priests and bishops who speak, who “make waves,” who do not “go along with everything,” who are instead faithful to the truth and to Christ, “live a life of great suffering” that is “difficult” and “not fun.”

You need to pray for discernment, to pray for the Church, to pray for you, for your children. To pray for your priests, especially for so many bishops who are good, still, and priests who are good, faithful. Who have suffered greatly all these decades, and all these years, being moved from one parish to another because they were preaching the truth, and the pastor or the bishop didn’t like that, so they moved to another place, and another place, living a life of great suffering — they are there. And it’s not fun. It is difficult. You cry a lot, because you feel lonely. Forgotten. Despised. Only because you wanted to be faithful to Christ, but your speech, and your homilies didn’t fit with the ideas of these people who wanted to destroy the Church, and who wanted you to say nice things to the people. Don’t make waves. Just go along with everything. Don’t make people nervous. Just, you know, speak about general things, so people are not aware of what’s going on.

He makes this sermon and he knows he’s walking on thin ice by doing so. He wants to say more, but he is afraid to for fear that he will be kicked out.

“There are more things I want to say, but I don’t say it because I want to be here next week.”

The Church’s response to this priest is abrupt, demeaning, brutal, and pretty much exactly what Father Juan Carlos Gavancho expected. Two days after his sermon, he was literally thrown out of his home. His ejection was so fast, he barely has time to collect his things. It was so abrupt, he was forced to spend the night in the hotel.

The pastor of his parish, Our Lady of Sorrows in Santa Barbara, asked him to meet privately at 6pm on Tuesday, two days after delivering the homily. The pastor told him that he had to get out of the rectory that evening. The parish will pay to store your things for one week, Gavancho said he was told, but after that, you’re on your own. Gavancho spent that night in a hotel, with as many of his belonging as he could stuff into his car stored there.

Unfortunately, the abuse didn’t end with his termination. His story was picked up initially, it seems, sympathetically by The American Conservative, but he suffered character assassination as a consequence. In the hopes that readers would not take his story seriously, he was described in way that patriarchs talk about women, as “difficult to get along with,” “not good with money,” full of drama” and “ just looking for people to feel sorry.”

Father Gavancho’s experience may be horrifying, especially coming at the hands of a Church that is supposed to represent the love and compassion of Christ, but is it really so surprising? The Catholic Church’s protection of abusers is well known, and to this day, they continue to avoid real solutions. Any institution, any culture, that tells its members they will go to hell if they do not follow the rules, any institution that finds a way to protect adults that sexually abuse children, cannot have a healthy core. It should come as no surprise, therefore, to find that the authorities inside lack empathy. It should come as no surprise to hear that priests who speak out “live a life of great suffering.” It should come as no surprise to hear Father Gavancho is afraid to speak out with the full truth.

I mean, wouldn’t you be?

If you thought that speaking out would get you fired from your job and kicked out of your home, if you thought your character would be assassinated and your voice mercilessly silenced, would you not be afraid to speak out? As the collective record clearly shows, the answer to that question, if you are like most people, is yes. Yes, you would be afraid. Given a choice between speaking out against abuse or staying silent as the proverbial lamb, if you are like most people, then no, you would not speak out.

But who can blame you? Who can blame anyone? I mean… this is not a game. Just look at what they did to Juan Carlos. Our reputations, our jobs, our families, even our personal survival is at stake. Step out of line and sing a different rhyme and they will crush you into a financial and psychological pulp. It is not cowardice that prevents us from standing up, it is prudence. We are not wrong to think about ourselves, our children, or our family; we are smart, and wise, and true. Who wants to end up like Father Juan Carlos, after all, a fired and feminized wreck.

Australia burning, Christmas 2019

Still, when you look at the bigger picture, you see, the Earth is literally on fire, and children are probably still being abused within the Church, so at some point real soon, alot of people are going to have to stand up, and allot of things are going to have to change — else I fear we’ll end up like Plato’s Atlantis.

It won’t be easy, of course, and there may be some struggle, but in the long run, standing up is the only way to take back control of the planet from the abusers, and save ourselves from almost certain disaster.

As Father Juan Carlos says…

We are here to change the world, not the world to change us. We are the light of the world; we are not equal with the world. We have Christ. We have the truth.

To that I’ll just add, if we work together, we have the power, the skill, the ability, and the truth we need to get the job done.

Further Exploration

Abraham Maslow’s Two Hierarchies of Need

Did you know, Abraham Maslow, the psychologist who proposed the original Hierarchy of Needs, actually suggested two hierarchies of need?

It is true.

Maslow’s first hierarchy, which everybody knows about, and which appears in all the introductory psychology texts of the world, was the Hierarchy of Basic Needs. This hierarchy, which he introduced in his 1943 article “A Theory of Human Motivation,” started off with just five categories of need, the physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization needs.

The physiological needs were your needs for food, water, air, exercise, and so on. The safety needs were your needs for safe and stable environments. Safety included the need for financial security (a good job) and physical security (a house where all your bills were paid). The love needs were your need for unconditional love, support, intimacy, and belonging. The self-esteem needs were your needs to feel good about yourself, to have status, recognition, and respect, and to feel powerful and efficacious in the world. Finally, you had your need for self-actualization. According to Maslow, this was your need to be your Self, to be who you truly were deep down inside. As he said in his original article.

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a [person] can be, [they] must be. This need we may call self-actualization. (Maslow, 1943).

Later on, Maslow (1962, 1969) added a sixth need, “transcendence” to the mix. “Transcendence can be a confusing word and so, for reasons I’ll elaborate on at a later day, I’ll just use the word connection. As humans, we have a need for transcendence, or connection. You can see Maslow’s updated and complete hierarchy of basic needs in the illustration below.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs

 

Maslow’s second hierarchy of needs, which he also proposed in his 1943 article, but which psychologists and others almost always ignore, is the Hierarchy of Cognitive Needs. In this second hierarchy, Maslow placed two cognitive needs, our need to know and our need to understand.

Maslow defined the need to know as the need to “be aware of reality, to get the facts, to satisfy curiosity…to see rather than to be blind” (Maslow 1943:385). For Maslow, the need to know was a driving need. As he said, “even after we know, we are impelled to know more and more minutely and microscopically on the one hand, and on the other, more and more extensively in the direction of a world philosophy, religion, etc” (Maslow 1943:385. Italics added).

Maslow defined the need to understand as the need to understand the reality that we came to be aware of. According to Maslow, it was not enough just to know things, to accumulate mere facts. We also had to understand these facts. As he said,

…the facts that we acquire, if they are isolated or atomistic, inevitably get theorized about, and either analyzed or organized or both. This process has been phrased by some as the search for ‘meaning.’ We shall then postulate a desire to understand, to systematize, to organize, to analyze, to look for relations and meanings (Maslow 1943:385. Italics added).

Maslow’s hierarchy of cognitive needs is illustrated below.

Hierarchy of Cognitive Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Cognitive Needs

Like the hierarchy of basic needs, Maslow felt the human needs to know and understand were powerful and important needs. Maslow directly suggested that these needs be placed in a second, related, hierarchy of needs. As he said, “once these desires are accepted for discussion, we see that they too form themselves into a small hierarchy in which the desire to know is prepotent over the desire to understand” (Maslow 1943:385).

The Hierarchy of Cognitive needs is no doubt important, and it is a curious question why this second hierarchy of needs never gets discussed along with the first. Maybe it is because Maslow does not spend much time in his seminal article talking about it, and so psychologists have just missed it all these years. Maybe it is because inclusion of this second hierarchy has uncomfortable, even revolutionary, implications for self and society (Sosteric and Ratkovic 2018).

Who knows, and who cares, really. In my view, it is a waste of energy to focus in on the oversight. What is important is to bring into collective awareness the existence of this second important hierarchy of cognitive needs, to integrate it into our understanding of human development, and to explore its implications for human health and well-being.

References

Maslow, A. H. 1943. “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Psychological Review 50(4):370–96.

Maslow, A. H. 1962. “Lessons from the Peak-Experiences.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 2(1):9–18.

Maslow, A. H. 1969. “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature.” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 1(1):1–9.

Sosteric, Mike and Gina Ratkovic. 2018. “What Does It Mean to Be Human: Abraham Maslow and His Hierarchies of Need.” (https://www.academia.edu/35635479).

The Seven Essential Human Needs – Basic Statement

The Seven Essential Needs

The Seven Essential Needs are the seven needs that all human beings must meet if they are to grow up healthy, happy, whole, and connected.1 Because our modern society and social fabric has been so thoroughly destroyed by Capitalism, most of us exit adolescence and live our adult lives as bundles of unmet needs. As an LP therapist or coach, or even as an LP practitioner, it is your job to scan your client’s life space to see if their essential needs are being met. If they are not, you need to help them figure out ways to meet these needs.

Note that the Seven Essential Needs are organized into a circle with three layers. Essential needs include the Basic Needs (outer circle) and also the core inner circle needs for alignment and connection.

The circular arrangement reflects a basic premise of LP Theory that in order for humans to be healthy, happy, and fully developed, all their basic needs must be sufficiently met and all “deficits...must ordinarily be fairly well satisfied” (A. H. Maslow, 1968, p. 33) before the needs for alignment and connection can be meaningfully and successful pursued. If hungry, that need must be satiated. If you need a hug, that need needs to be satisfied, sometimes even before you eat. If you need support to develop self-esteem, that need needs to be satisfied. If you need help with a sense of power, that need needs to be satisfied.

Basic Needs

There are five categories of basic needs.

Physiological Needs – Physiological needs include the need for substances (like healthy food, water, vitamins, air), the need for physical activity (exercise), the biological drives for sex, and so on. Meeting physiological needs keeps the body healthy and growing. Physiological needs also include the absence of physical pain.

Environmental Needs – Environmental needs include the need for a safe and secure environment but go further and include the need for protective, nurturing, and aesthetically pleasing environments at home, work, and everywhere. Note that safety includes the absence of assault of any kind, including physical assault (e.g., spanking, pushing, slamming objects, shaking etc.), emotional and psychological assault (screaming, name-calling, racism, sexism, shaming, passive aggressive assaults). Stability includes financial stability, which removes anxiety about work and survival, but also the emotional and psychological consistency of emotionally and psychologically stable parents and stable familial relationships. Sufficient environments are environments free of chaos and uncertainty, where all essential needs are met. There is sufficient evidence to assert that safe, calm, stable, and nurturing environments are a prerequisite to psychological health, well-being, and growth, and that lack said environments leads to various forms of distress and disease (Sosteric & Ratkovic, 2016). Ultimately, we need an environment that is safe, nurturing, secure, calm, aesthetic and that encourages “free, uninhibited, uncontrolled, trusting, unpremeditated expression of the self ” (A. H. Maslow, 1967, p. 197)and the expression of “pure spontaneity.”

Cognitive Needs – Cognitive needs include our need to know and understand ourselves and the world. Our human needs to know and understand are self-evident. We see these expressed in children as soon as they begin to talk and ask questions. In healthy individuals, these needs are impossible to satiate. Healthy growth requires continuous learning. Cognitive needs are thwarted in environments where lying and neglect are common, or in environments soaked with propaganda and ideology. Parents can often interfere with the satisfaction of cognitive needs by failing to attend to their children’s questions. Schools can thwart satisfaction of cognitive needs when they do not allow space for free inquiry and exploration, or when teachers are driven by ideology, racism, or other forms of blindness. The mass media often lies by omission, failing to report certain stories while focusing attention on others. Forms of toxicity like gas lightning also figure in here. Gaslighters divert your attention from the truth of their own behaviour by focusing your attention back on you. There are a lot of different ways to avoid truth and understanding. As an LP practitioner, it is your job to help the client sort this out.

Emotional Needs – Emotional needs include our “love and belonging needs.” This includes our need for love, support, acceptance, and inclusion in family, friend groups, and in society.

Emotional needs almost always go unmet in our modern society because most people have only ever experienced, conditional forms of love and acceptance, even from their parents. Add to that the fact that many of our basic and essential needs go unmet and we find that interactions with others, even parents and intimate partners, become transactional, meaning you only get love when you do something for them, or they only get love when they do something for you. This is the same for peer groups and others who are often so deprived of needs satisfaction that they become needy little narcissistic vampires whose only conscious and unconscious goal is to find and use others to meet their own unmet needs.

As an LP Practitioner, it is your job to help an individual learn to identify those situations and people where interactions are primarily transactional and where, as a consequence, emotional needs stand little chance of being satisfied. This can be difficult since clients can often be so desperate to find authentic human connection and healthy human relationships that they will sacrifice their own emotional and mental well-being and even the well-being of their partners and children. It is important to raise the client’s awareness of the simple fact that participating in transactional relationships will never lead to authentic satisfaction of basic needs and in fact will only deplete their energy and life force.

Psychological Needs – Psychological needs include our self-esteem needs, our need for freedom, and our need for power.

Esteem needs - according to Maslow, esteem needs contain two subsidiary sets of needs, “these are, first, the desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and freedom. Secondly, we have what we may call the desire for reputation or prestige (defining it as respect or esteem from other people), recognition, attention, importance or appreciation” (A. H. Maslow, 1943, pp. 381–382).

Power needs – Power is the phenomenological sense that one can change the world in accord with one’s desires. Power is “the feeling of having some control over fate, of not being a helpless tool, a passive object, a cork on the wave which is tossed here and there by forces out of control” (A. Maslow, 1961, p. 2). Power is the sense that one has control over one’s environment and can modify it to suit predilections.

Freedom needs – Freedom includes “Such conditions as freedom to speak, freedom to do what one wishes so long as no harm is done to others, freedom to express oneself, freedom to investigate and seek for information, freedom to defend oneself, justice, fairness, honesty, orderliness in the group are examples of such preconditions for basic need satisfactions” (A. H. Maslow, 1970, p. 47); Freedom is the need to explore, grow, and develop in line with one’s preferences and predilections. As Maslow says, we need to be free in environments where permission is granted “to gratify and to express” (A. H. Maslow, 1970, p. 276). In order to be in a healthy psychological space, we need to feel confident in our abilities and have the power and freedom to grow and learn in line with our own needs and any community predilections.

Note that developing a sense of power in children involves action on the part of parents, teachers, and others who are more powerful. Protective parents who monitor the environment for threats provide children with the freedom they need to explore, that they would not otherwise have. Overly controlling parents thwart a child’s abilities to express and experience freedom.

Need for Alignment

Within the outer circle of basic needs are two inner circles. The first inner circle is the need for alignment. By alignment, we mean alignment with the inner self (actualization of one’s inner self, as per Maslow) but also alignment with what is right and proper in all areas of life. One aligns with one’s community, one’s ancestors, with ethical and moral systems of right thought, right action, and so on.Note that alignment, like connection, requires a healthy Physical Unit with strong and healthy Bodily Ego, strong self-esteem and a strong sense of power and autonomy, since staying aligned often involves the ability to stay centered and aligned in various settings, like marketing firms, the military, exploitative workplaces, etc., which may not be supportive of alignment.

Need for Connection

Finally, we have the inner circle or core of the human being which is the need for connection. Connection here involves the weakening/dissolution of the Atomized Individual Self and the development of greater connection to the world, to our children and friends, and to other human beings. As Maslow says, when “the distinction between self and not-self has broken down (or has been transcended) [there is now] less differentiation between the world and the person because he has incorporated into himself part of the world...His self has enlarged enough to include his child. Hurt his child and you hurt him....[he has fused] with the non-self..[which includes]...not only...the world of nature...[but] other humans beings...[to the point that]...’selves overlap” (A. H. Maslow, 1967, p. 103).

Connection also includes connection to the spiritual realms, as indicated and developed in traditional shamanic practices, Catholic mysticism, Aboriginal dream times. Connection to the spiritual realms may include connection to your own Highest Self (your soul/atman/) but also connection to nature, the cosmos, and even to divine union with “God” (Ernst, 1997; Kalisch, 2006; St. Teresa of Avila, 2007; Steeman, 1975; Underhill, 2002). Psychologist William James reflects the notions of alignment and connection perfectly when he says "Were one asked to characterize the life of religion in the broadest and most general terms possible, one might say that it consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto” (James, 1982, p. 53).

We realize there may be objections to including the concept of “spirit,” which we would simply conceptualize as consciousness independent of physical matter, in the discussion. If one is not prepared to take seriously what humans have known about and experienced for thousands and thousands of years, i.e., that there are realms of consciousness and aspects of reality that are non-material and beyond our day-to-day normal consciousness, and that the goal of human development is to connect with these realities, one can reduce connection to activation of brain neurology and leave it at that (Andew Newberg et al., 2001; Andrew Newberg, 2006). However, we would argue that failure to recognize this basic truth of human existence and experience necessarily hamstrings the eupsychian project by excluding the possibility of this highest attainment of human health, well-being, and development.

Footnotes

1For a discussion of the Seven Essential Needs in the context of Eupsychian Theory, and to see how the LP theory builds upon the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow, see (Sosteric & Ratkovic, 2020)

References

Ernst, C. W. (1997). The Shambhala Guide to Sufism. Shambhala Publications. https://amzn.to/2SoFmun

James, W. (1982). The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature. Penguin. https://amzn.to/2l4UyR7

Kalisch, I. (2006). Sepher Yezirah: A Book on Creation. The Book Tree. https://amzn.to/2WPnklN

Maslow, A. (1961). Eupsychia—The Good Society. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 1(2), 1.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396.

Maslow, A. H. (1967). A theory of metamotivation: The biological rooting of the value-life. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 7, 93–127.

Maslow, A. H. (1968). Towards a Psychology of Being (2nd Edition). Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and Personality (2nd ed.). Harper & Row. https://amzn.to/2OSRmlX

Newberg, Andew, d’Aquile, E., & Rause, V. (2001). Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. Ballantine Books.

Newberg, Andrew. (2006). The neurobiology of spiritual transformation. In P. Hefner & J. Koss-Chioino (Eds.), Spiritual Transformation and Healing: Anthropological, Theological, Neuroscientific, and Clinical Perspectives,. Rowman & Littlefield.

Sosteric, M., & Ratkovic, G. (2016). Toxic Socialization. https://www.academia.edu/25275338/Toxic_Socialization

Sosteric, M., & Ratkovic, G. (2020). Eupsychian Theory: Reclaiming Maslow and Rejecting The Pyramid The Seven Essential Needs. PsyArXiv Preprints. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/fswk9

St. Teresa of Avila. (2007). Interior Castle (Kindle). Dover Publications. https://amzn.to/2GpC7NG

Steeman, T. M. (1975). Church, sect, mysticism, denomination: Periodological aspects of Troeltsch’s types. SA. Sociological Analysis, 36(3), 181–204. rfh.

Underhill, E. (2002). Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (Kindle). Dover Publications. https://amzn.to/2C91xNY

 

Are you a toxic alpha wolf or a connected human being?

In a previous article, I looked at the scientific error that is the alpha male. There, I noted that alpha behaviour, at least in wolves, was unnatural behaviour created by wolf biologists when they ripped wolves from the wild and stuck them in an artificial zoo lab. In their natural environment, wolves act nothing like the cartoon caricatures Hollywood and the mass media offer up as your arch-typical alpha male.

The enlightened realization that “alpha” wolf behaviour is toxic behaviour is interesting. However, what is most interesting is what modern wolf research indicates about the importance of the environment. As clearly demonstrated in that previous article, environment determines wolf behaviour, wolf personality, and wolf mental health. If you rip wolves from their home, throw them into captivity, and force them to live with a bunch of strangers in an unnatural environment, they develop toxic alpha behaviors. On the other hand, if you leave them alone in their natural environment, they stay healthy and whole.

The obvious and undeniable truth of this basic fact begs three important questions. The first question is academic and follows upon the realization that environment is an important factor in wolf behaviour. The question is, “what exactly do we mean when by the word ‘environment?’”

The second question is more practical and is simply this: if wolf environment determines wolf behaviour, and if toxic environments can elicit toxic behaviour, then “what exactly is a healthy wolf environment?

Finally, a third question relates to human society: if environment can determine the personality and behaviour of even “simple” creatures like wolves, surely human environment is an equally important determiner of human personality and behaviour. If this is true, and there is no reason to suspect that it is not, then the obvious question becomes, “what kind of environments are natural and healthy for humans.

What is environment?

The first question, what do we mean by the word “environment,” is easy to answer. Environment, or perhaps more appropriately, Lived Environment (i.e., the environment you live in), consists of two things, the physical environment and the social environment.

The physical environment of an organism includes the trees, bushes, rivers, lakes, mountains, and so on In the case of humans, the physical environments also contains the walls, beds, bathrooms, bathtubs, televisions, doors, yards, and all the other “so on and so forth” of the material world that surrounds them.

The social environment of an organism includes all the other animals that the organism interacts with in the physical environment. Obviously, what the social environment consists of depends on the type of animal involved. For wolves, the social environment is primarily their family grouping (i.e., their pack). Other animals may have a wider social experience.

All animals have a lived environment, obviously, but humans have the most complex physical and social environments of all. The complexity of the human physical environment is obvious. You can see the complexity of the human social environment when you consider that humans are symbol-making-social-animals. The human social environment includes the biological pack, members of other biological packs (e.g., friends), and members of the various Artificial Packs pacts organized practically around work, or symbolically around things like ethnicity and culture.

Healthy versus unhealthy environments

Now that we have answered the first question, the second question, what is a healthy wolf environment, is easy to answer as well. Quite simply, a healthy wolf environment is an environment where all an organism's Essential Needs are met. For wolves, this is an environment where wolves have enough free space to hunt and feed themselves, and where their pack, which is really just their family, is healthy, whole, and intact.

Rather than viewing a wolf pack as a group of animals organized with a “top dog” that fought its way to the top, or a male-female pair of such aggressive wolves, science has come to under-stand that most wolf packs are merely family groups formed exactly the same way as human families are formed. That is, maturing male and female wolves from different packs disperse, travel around until they find each other and an area vacant of other wolves but with adequate prey,court, mate, and produce their own litter of pups. David Mech

On the other hand, an unhealthy environment for wolves is one where they are unable to meet their needs to hunt and socialize with their family.

Healthy environments are important. As we saw in the previous article, when you rip wolves out of their natural environment and put them in an unhealthy zoo lab, they become emotionally disturbed and develop toxic “alpha” behaviours.

Healthy human environments

At this point we know the answers to two of the three questions posed. We know what an environment is and we know something about what makes for a healthy wolf environment. The third question, what kind of environments are natural and healthy for humans, is a bit harder to answer.

Obviously, we can rule out jails and residential schools right away. If there is any lesson that wolf research can teach us about humans, it is that incarceration causes emotional and psychological disturbance.

Beyond jails, however, it can be very confusing to sort out, not because philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, and others concerned with human society have not speculated or provided prescriptions, but because so many of them have. Everybody from Plato to Abraham Maslow to Karl Marx have had something to say about what would make for a healthy human environment. We could spend a lot of time trying to dig out what they said, but I think we can cut through the static by simply stating that just like a healthy environment for wolves is one where all their essential needs are met, a healthy environment for humans is one where where all our essential needs are met.

If you put a human in a healthy environment where all its essential needs are met, that human will thrive. If, on the other hand, you put a human in an environment where their needs are not met, that human will stunt, become damaged, and may even grow ill and die.

I think this is true for all living organisms. Put any organism into an environment and meet all its needs and it will thrive. Deny it satisfaction of its essential needs, and it will not. It is not rocket science. It is as simple as simple and straightforward as that.

I want to say at this point, just because you have experienced an environment that is less than ideal does not mean that the damage and disconnection are irreparable. They are not. As modern neuroscience is showing, you can teach an old dog new tricks. However, before we get to the question of undoing damage done during a Toxic Socialization process, a couple more questions need answers.

Number one, we need to figure out what our human essential needs are. Personally, I theorize that humans have Seven Essential Needs. Number two, we need to figure out exactly what happens when the seven essential needs of humans are not met. We will tackle the first question, "what are humanity’s seven essential needs?" in the next article, and the second question, "what happens when you do not meet human needs?"  in the article straight after that.

Next up: The Seven Essential Needs of all human beings
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