Mind Over Matter

The point at which the study of politics and economics ends is where psychoanalysis begins. Given that the mind is often analogized with a dark pool of uncharted depth, the expression of “politics ends at the water’s edge” is indeed fitting. What appear to be physical constraints to human action such as the zero-sum paradigm and scarcity are actually mental constraints that either intentionally or inadvertently affect everything in the world. Thus, many people resort to making a living out of the zero-sum paradigm and scarcity. Without the continuation of these conditions, many people would be bored or broke.

Given that our thoughts, words, and actions shape reality, the blame game going on between the United States and China regarding the origins of the coronavirus is not only non-scientific and non-sensical given that the virus originated in nature, but it is also dangerous and irresponsible due to the fact that global stability depends on relations between these two major powers. As civility becomes more and more scarce, mass surveillance becomes a growing trend and is used as a veritable tool of hyper-centralized power to consolidate its expansive power. Anything that happens can serve as a potential pretext for further hyper-centralization and further societal fragmentation, as is occurring with the coronavirus pandemic.

Technology, data, and high-tech operations become smoke and mirrors used to obfuscate what is in reality a very small group of power brokers in an Orwellian world. Given that the traditional power elite of the mainstream media, academia, medicine, and finance are already subservient to the military, the next to fall in line will be big tech companies like Facebook and Twitter. Only this level of control over data would enable power brokers to have at least a semblance of insight into the inner workings of the minds of those they seek to surveil. Whoever ends up overseeing this mass surveillance program that is developing stealthily will wield virtually absolute power over the world. As odd as it may seem, the power elite want to know everything about you, no matter who you are.

            While the world has become highly interconnected in a virtual sense, there is also an effort to interlink and connect people in a physical sense through projects such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). One key component of China’s BRI is to connect the most eastern part of Russia to Alaska through a sky bridge that would in essence create a physical connection between Asia and North America. The thought of the Chinese or Russians being able to drive into American territory creates a sense of discomfort for a largely isolated and xenophobic society, and as a result the United States and Japan are the only two countries who refuse to sign onto the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. While interconnection and global transformation is the inevitable outcome, there are psychological barriers to even a tempered approach towards the inevitable transformation of both virtual and physical reality.

Complacency is further compounded by the present challenge facing humanity, which is the coronavirus pandemic. Many have come to the conclusion that people will continue to die and we will fail to overcome the pandemic unless a vaccine is concocted to defend people against the coronavirus. Another position taken by some scientists is that natural immunity must be developed in order to end the pandemic. As Dr. Ray Obomsawin has suggested: “Natural immunity is the only true immunity. Everything else is an artificial attempt to cheat nature, and nature is never cheated.”

It is why Sweden adopted the policy of “herd immunity” in order to flatten the curve. By acquiring immunity through exposure as was done in Sweden, it was a way of building immunity in order to avoid freezing human life until a vaccine was concocted. Herd immunity is a path that is much different than the one taken by the majority of countries, which was to lockdown economic and social life for the sake of preventing exposure and transmission of the virus.

Yet, the lockdown approach has not stopped the virus from re-emerging as in the case of South Korea. Each time South Korea has eased its lockdown restrictions, there has been a recurrence of the virus’ outbreak. Each country’s luck is different than the other in dealing with this virus. There is no single approach to dealing with this virus. It would take an immense amount of courage to adopt the Swedish approach, but in most cases, there is a tradeoff to be made between health and economics. There is a lot that is still unknown about the virus, according to America’s top disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Many have yet to decide whether health and well-being or economic productivity is more important to the vitality of individuals and societies. According to some analysts, it will take approximately 10 to 12 years to get back to pre-pandemic productivity levels. But perhaps some level of sacrifice to economic productivity is needed to preserve health and well-being in the long run. The suffering that stems from poor health is arguably worse than the suffering that stems from economic contraction.

The current economic situation in the United States is reminiscent of the one experienced by the former Soviet Union in the early 1990’s after its long and grueling war in Afghanistan. Both the British and Soviet experiences in Afghanistan ultimately led to the same outcome, which was the collapse of an empire. If economic contraction continues in the United States, the result will be a contraction of the American empire and an inward focus to salvage America’s domestic economy. Bureaucratic obsession with Afghanistan in the United States is a sickness that has to be brought to an end. The American experience with Afghanistan is not exceptional, and it should not be different than the experience had by the British or the Soviets, given that Afghanistan is “The Graveyard of Empires” according to Milton Bearden.

What prompted America’s idea of being able to conquer Asia through occupying Afghanistan is what Thomas Sowell called the “unconstrained vision” of politics. This vision is obviously different than the opposite vision of politics which Sowell espouses, namely, the “constrained vision” of politics. Those who espouse the unconstrained vision of politics have a sense that human potential and capabilities to change the world are unlimited, whereas those who espouse the constrained vision are aware of the limitations of human nature and potential. According to Sowell:

“Visions rest ultimately on some sense of the nature of man – not simply his existing practices but his ultimate potential and ultimate limitations. Those who see the potentialities of human nature as extending far beyond what is currently manifested have a social vision quite different from those who see human beings as tragically limited creatures whose selfish and dangerous impulses can be contained only by social contrivances which themselves produce unhappy side effects.”

We are now experiencing both the limitations of human nature and the unhappy side effects resulting from our experience in Afghanistan. Yet on the other hand, there is the power of the human mind and its imaginative capacity as shaped by what is known as the “law of attraction” and the ability to acquire all that one wishes in life. As Sigmund Freud suggested in the past, one’s physical condition is not shaped by something physical or tangible. Rather, the physical condition is the byproduct of an idea stemming from one’s earliest memory in life. What Freud was basically suggesting was that both reality and fantasy stem from one’s earliest memory in life, and the mind creates defenses around this particular memory and makes it the mind’s deepest secret. In turn, the mind’s earliest memory shapes one’s personality for an entire lifetime.

Freud also created what can be called a “topography” of the mind by identifying three components of the human mind: the superego, the ego, and the id. However, each mind is different given the fact that one person’s earliest memory is invariably different from another person’s earliest memory. As David Hume suggested, human nature is shaped by experience, not something a priori, and each individual experience is different than the other.

Nevertheless, the three components of the mind set forth by Freud operate the same way in every mind. For one, the superego is the realm of morals and values which imposes itself on the conscious mind, or ego. In turn, the ego mediates between the superego and the id until finally the ego is in full control of the id. What emerges from the id are impulses and instincts, namely, sexuality and aggression that manifest in what are known as “infantile sexuality” and the “Oedipus Complex” which in turn lead to what Freud called the “death instinct” that is tamed by the ego. Without the regulations imposed by the ego upon the id, there would be death and destruction on a very large scale. As Freud wrote:

“The ego develops from perceiving instincts to controlling them, from obeying instincts to inhibiting them. In this achievement a large share is taken by the ego ideal, which indeed is partly a reaction-formation against the instinctual processes of the id. Psycho-analysis is an instrument to enable the ego to achieve a progressive conquest of the id.”

Furthermore, the dissolution of guilt and neurosis is the result of abandoning what Freud called “the object of erotic cathexis,” which is an object of obsession within the individual’s mind. This object is usually a person, and it must be abandoned in order for the ego to retain control over the id and put an end to neurosis, according to Freud. Thus, cognitive restructuring is in essence an effort to work around one’s earliest memory, which often times requires mitigating the mental and physical effects of the memory. There is also the issue of “eidetic memory” and the question of how far back one’s memory actually goes. Freud’s view obviously differed from the one advanced by Carl Jung, who argued that religious archetypes in a collective consciousness that extended beyond the individual mind was the force driving human thoughts and behavior.

If we are to take an existential view of the world rather than a mechanistic view, then psychology becomes the father of all sciences and triumphs over the standard social science, namely, sociology. Freud and Jung’s psychological view of reality obviously differed from the sociological view espoused by Marx, who argued that society needed to be reorganized around an unchanging reality that is dictated by the phenomenon known as “historical materialism.” There have been chosen people throughout history who have advanced the existential view of the world and have founded rich intellectual and spiritual traditions as a result of their efforts. As their intellectual posterity, we are obliged to choose a tradition that stems back to a particular figure who has achieved “God-consciousness.”

Also, every tradition stems from a seminal book. Those who claim to advance a discourse without a seminal book are advancing no discourse whatsoever. Everything is based on a seminal book and its interpretation. Knowledge is the means to establishing belief, and as a result belief must become the overriding determinant of social reality.

            In the Western tradition, the idea of belief as the fundamental determinant of social reality had been expounded by Max Weber. As a result of Weber’s teachings, a major debate developed in the Western world between proponents of Weber and those of Marx that is known as the “Weber-Marx Debate.” The following are the main points on Weber’s side of the debate:

  1. You can have class, but not status
  2. Wealth does not translate into political power all the time
  3. Success is a mark of God’s favor, and religion endorses capitalism
  4. Ideas shape material conditions because science replaces superstition and magic

These points constitute Marx’s side of the debate:

  1. The proletariat outnumber the bourgeoisie
  2. You need worker buy-in for capitalism to survive
  3. Capitalism will produce the technology that will aid the workers’ revolution
  4. Environment cannot sustain uninhibited growth

An emphasis on belief is necessary if Weber’s teachings are to remain relevant to Western discourse amidst a postmodern environment. Western discourse stems largely from Plato, and Plato’s core idea was that the human mind contained innate concepts and ideas that came from God. Alfred North Whitehead, a British philosopher, suggested that the totality of Western philosophy was merely a footnote to Plato’s work. Albert Camus argued that ending one’s philosophical journey and settling for a religion amounted to what he called “philosophical suicide.”

The question is whether natural religion emerged from contemplation and thought or if it is a means of exerting power. One is compelled to employing free association to get to the main point. According to the Sufi tradition, the main point is to know oneself in order to know God and his attributes. By doing so, one can then decipher natural laws that would guide men to salvation. According to Otto Weininger, criminality is deviation from natural laws.

There is also a need to determine whether there is more to existence than mere survival. The Ancient Greeks were divided into three different schools of thought as to what constituted the purpose of existence. For one, there was the Platonic tradition that suggested the purpose of existence was discoverable through the acquisition of knowledge. Second is the Stoic tradition, which suggests that there is a purpose to existence but the rational mind is incapable of discovering the purpose. And third is the Epicurean tradition that suggests there is no purpose to existence.  

As Descartes wrote, everything that occurs is preparation for something down the road. What is occurring now is perhaps preparation for the potential end of war and poverty globally because of major economic contractions in the United States. Today’s situation could possibly pave the way for a social-democratic model of politics and economics in the United States where the wealthy pay an increased amount of taxes and as a result a sizable distribution of resources and wealth takes places to address the issue of inequality in a resolute manner.

Some retain an interest in preserving the status quo of anarchy and chaos through the perpetuation of war and inequality, but as global consciousness starts to awaken through the expansion of the internet and technology, the status quo will have to give way to something different. Eric Schmidt, who is the former Chairman and CEO of Google, said in an interview with Fareed Zakaria that the internet can possibly be the place where the truth is found, which in turn will lead to a global awakening.

While many are anxious about the swift changes that are taking place throughout the world amidst this pandemic, there are many who are having difficulty containing their glee regarding the “New World Order” that is beginning to emerge. The path taken by the world before the pandemic was unsustainable because the outcome would have either been a natural disaster or a nuclear disaster stemming from war between major powers. Something needed to happen in order to break the path dependency and allow people to reimagine the world. There is a need for a new normal because the previous normal was abnormal. Hedonism was reaching new heights, and amidst real human suffering around the world, this was unacceptable.

In politics and economics, the issue of private property is at the heart of the debate between the left and the right. Perhaps one could even argue that the issue of private property is the origin of both human and political history, as was done by Ali Shariati. Yet the solution for war and poverty is not the widespread distribution of resources and wealth. As shown by recent studies, the rate of depression and mental illness is higher amongst the wealthy than the poor.

It is a noble act to help the poor. But help has to be optimized just like anything else in life. Hypothetically, if you have two loaves of bread and your neighbor has none, the natural inclination would be to give one loaf to your neighbor and keep one for yourself so that both you and your neighbor can eat and no one goes hungry. The fear is that today’s left that is comprised of the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar do not know their limits and are seeking to take everything away from property owners. Their ideas would cause the same level of economic destruction that they perceive to be correcting.

Creating a global safety net that reduces worker anxiety and mental instability and in turn enhances worker productivity while finding balance in social policies that provide optimal help for people based on their individual needs would be the best approach to the issues of poverty and inequality. In the real world, the median voter model dictates the position that politicians have to take in order to represent the majority of people in society, and the position is one that has to be based on compromise and moderation.

There is no “one size fits all” social policy. Every individual is different, and every individual has unique needs. Success will depend on differentiating between wants and needs, as well as what is essential and what is secondary. If people can distinguish between what is necessary and what is secondary, then perhaps the system can achieve the optimization of social policy and services.

Perhaps it is better to leave major national decisions up to bureaucrats and specialists than to regular people. As Socrates said, all I know is that I know nothing. China is known for choosing only the best for its bureaucracy and civil service. If we cannot find leadership that is based on a fine balance between materialism and spirituality and can provide political, economic, and social stability, then perhaps rule by bureaucracy and specialists is the only way forward in the United States.

The focus then shifts to the main point, which the Ancient Greeks called “ataraxia,” which is commonly known as “peace of mind” in the midst of an anarchic and chaotic world fraught with war and social strife. After fulfilling one’s conscientious duty and promoting a policy of mutual understanding and love, one can finally attain ataraxia and peace of mind. Some roles in the international community will have to be reassessed in order to mitigate anarchy and chaos. In a way, the goal is to seek a safe spot within the eye of the figurative hurricane. As Aeschylus wrote:

“Pain that cannot forget,

Falls drop by drop,

Upon the heart,

Until in our despair,

There comes wisdom,

Through the awful,

Grace of God.”

But before one attains ataraxia and peace of mind, one must put the ghosts of past writers to rest. As Hans Loewald wrote:

“Those who know ghosts tell us that they long to be released from their ghost life and led to rest as ancestors. As ancestors they live forth in the present generation, while as ghosts they are compelled to haunt the present generation with their shadow life.”

There are four doors to heaven, according to the Sufi tradition: contemplation and thought, knowledge, art, and compliance with law and ethics. People tend to choose different paths, but for many of the great souls of the past, knowledge has been acquired first and foremost through contemplation and thought. If you are contemplating and thinking, you are learning. Perhaps Albert Einstein’s imagined world of collective security that renders the world a place of permanent rest, relaxation, and peace can become a reality with just the right amount of contemplation and thought.

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