Monday, May 30, 2011

We Are Here

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary—but love it. Friedrich Nietzsche
Kaufmann, Walter. 1967. Basic Writings of Nietzsche. trans. and ed. p. 714.
If we don’t blow ourselves off the face of the earth in the struggle for diminishing scarce resources, humanity will survive. We are a powerfully resourceful and inventive animal. However, if we don’t address the issues below then in the long run it will be same old, same old. We will repeat what all animals do and what is particular to us humans.
As an expression of life, as a representative animal and as ourselves, we are exactly how we would end up. We are not dysfunctional, as some would have it. We did not take a wrong turn in the past, ten thousand years ago at the agricultural revolution. We are not a cancer on the earth and we are not disconnected from our environment.
There are several natural factors that have aimed us at this particular moment in human history, where population pushes against resource availability, where as a social animal we stand against each other, where we are immersed in an environment of our own creative making and where our brilliance threatens us.
We are exactly where we have to be. It is the nature of the beast. Every life form, amoeba, oak tree, aphid, mouse, will make as many of their kind as the resources in the environment permit. And they will use those resources until they are no more and they either die out or relocate to more resources.
We are no different. We have population density because we can. Unlimited growth is written into the code of life. In the universe’s ironic wisdom, not only are we driven by this code, but also it feels good. And, oh my, we know it feels good. So we mate and we do what we can to be able to mate.
And as any lifeform will do, we will use all the resources available to us both for propagation and for enduring in the present. Here enters the second prong of overshoot – population pressure. We are devouring our environment as fast as we find ways to use it.
As David Price states in his great essay that all should read:
“All species expand as much as resources allow and predators, parasites, and physical conditions permit. When a species is introduced into a new habitat with abundant resources that accumulated before its arrival, the population expands rapidly until all the resources are used up.”1
Price is defining the process of overshoot, the convergence of the dual population issues of density and pressure. (See also Catton, William. 1980. Overshoot. University of Illinois Press. Chicago).
Overshoot as noted is a characteristic of life itself. Another critical aspect defining our present situation is territoriality/tribalism. Many organisms define territory. The song of birds, the scent of dogs, the deed of homeownership each expresses marking of territories. As a social animal, our territories extend beyond solid things. Our groups are part of our territory. Our congregation, a clan, a tribe, and a nation these and others commandeer loyalty, energy, and defense if deemed necessary. This need for and protection of our social groups is a critical part of being human. Important to note the threat to any of these does not have to be directly physical. (See bibliography US and Them at the end of the essay)
The infant human’s need for attachment is well documented. This need evolves with the advent of language and self into a need to belong. There is voluminous evidence for attachment needs of all humans cross culturally. There is evidence for the behavioral and emotional results of various kinds of attachments. The need for identity is closely related to attachment. Here there is also significant research available as well as research on the disturbances of poorly formed identity. (See bibliography ATTACHMENT at end of the essay)
I am using the generalized term tribalism to indicate this human need for social identity and its protection. Tribalism dictates the stresses that limited resource create whether they are real or imaginary. When the physical scarcity of resources raises its ugly head, whether it is land, wood, oil, food, or mates, the group looks beyond their boundaries for more.
Support of the group is not particular to the human animal; however, we have several unique takes on it. We create group identities, boundaries of belonging of all sorts that are not physical or directly related to physical survival. A threat to our group(s) is a threat to our stability psychologically, socially and also perceived as physically.
Man can be the most affectionate and altruistic of creatures, yet he's potentially more vicious than any other. He is the only one who can be persuaded to hate millions of his own kind whom he has never seen and to kill as many as he can lay his hands on in the name of his tribe or his God.
(-Benjamin Spock, pediatrician and author (1903-1998)
Benjamin Spock, Decent and Indecent (1970), quoted in Rebecca Davison and Susan Mesner, eds. The Treasury
Of Religious & Spiritual Quotations: Words to Live By (Pleasantville: Reader’s Digest, 1994), p. 224.)
William Bridges indicates four ways we are embedded in our world – identity, engagement, orientation and enchantment. (Bridges, W. 1989. Transitions. Addison-Wesley. N.Y.) (See also my essay for a more in depth description of these aspects - Disruption of these especially our enchantment, our way of seeing the world, our way of making sense of the world and our place in it, is a serious threat.
Some atheists and other critics of religion like to use the analogy of a crutch for religion – which it is something that the weak use to get them through otherwise difficult situations. The implication is that, if they were stronger (like us) they could dispense with the crutch and walk independent and free. [But] you cannot pull a crutch from underneath a cripple and expect him or her to walk. Rather, they will fall and then probably blame you for the accident. The real point is more profound but perhaps more discouraging: religion for the religious person is like culture for the cultural person – it is glasses, not crutches. And these glasses are not prophylactic – they do not help the person to see “better.” They make seeing at all possible. Maybe an ultimate analogy for culture in general and religion in particular is not glasses but the very eyes themselves. You could not expect to pull someone’s eyes out and have them see better, any more than you could expect to take away someone’s culture and have understand and act better.
Eller, David. 2010. “The cultures of Christianities.” In The Christian Delusion edited by John W. Loftus. Prometheus. N.Y. pg. 44
In may seem that I am targeting religions as the bad boy of group cohesiveness and group violence. Religion, spirituality and their many facets and manifestations have been an interest of mine for decades so I have more sources for them. There is considerable literature around these issues. (See US AND THEM in the bibliography). Nationalism, tribalism and other exclusionary groupings have contributed to violence against the other across human history and human cultures.
Religion creates unchallengeable aspects – such as salvation or submission – that are as proprietary as a deed to a home. The group and the individuals of the group must defend these unchallengeable aspects for continued belonging and stability.
The postulation of invisible, undetectable effects that (unlike atoms and germs) are systematically immune to confirmation of disconfirmation is so common in religions that such effects are sometimes taken as definitive. No religion lacks them, and anything that lacks them is not a religion, however much it is like a religion is other regards. Pg. 164. Dennet, Daniel. 2006. Breaking the Spell. Viking. N.Y.
A fourth and particularly human issue is our manipulation of the environment both physical and social. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, we are a powerfully creative and inventive animal. Our abilities in using the natural environment and manufacturing devices of all kinds to facilitate our living more easily in the moment on the earth is our particular tool for survival. The eagle has its eye sight, its soaring, its talons as tools for survival; ours is in part our technological ability (I believe we have an even more profound ability that allows enculturation of all humans, see:
These abilities carry with them a flaw, a flaw that may well be fatal. We are not designed to consider the long term. We are designed to be aware of the immediate; the tiger in the brush, the viper in the tree – immediate dangers and fears – the fight or flight response. Only particular and a limiteds number of members of a group see into the distance.
Consider it this way. If humanity is seen as a person who is 100 years old, the first 99 years of her life would have been spent as gatherer and hunter. She would have only one year to adapt to the changes in family structure, living arrangements, child rearing and all the other pressures and stresses that the shift to agriculture brought. This same 100 year old person would have five or six days to adapt to the enormous changes brought about by the industrial revolution. And less than a day to adapt to the mass of information made available by electronics.
Each adaptation moves us further away from the original social and physical environment of our emergence. Is it bad or wrong? This is not the criteria. There is no fault. Each accommodation comes from necessity and is the best we know at the time. At the leading edge of human history is an accumulation that expands and deepens the knowledge of our travels. (From my essay:
We are burdened with a belief in our specialness which we think manifest as our seeming control of the environment. This control is an illusion founded in perhaps arrogance, short sightedness and hubris. The evidence that it is an illusion continues to manifest itself and is given proof by the convergence of the many issues facing humanity at this point in time. Ozone depletion, acid rain, nuclear waste, oil spills, population predicated on a nonrenewable resource, radiation in the air, radiation in the water, medicines in our drinking water, depletion of clean water globally, melting of glaciers and ice caps the list goes on and on.
We simply do not account for unintended consequences. One of the powerful unintended consequences is our distance if not mental and emotional divorce from the living environment. We are absolutely connected to our environment, an environment of our own making, mechanical timings and straight lines. By losing our awareness of and embeddedness in the living environment, our sense of specialness blinds us to the true connectivity of all things. This imperils our very existence. And it is cumulative.
A fifth aspect of our humanness that threatens our existence is inequality.  When humans groups grow beyond the gatherer/hunter size, a disparity evolves.   The stronger, “richer”, sometimes smarter will hold higher assess to resources and reproduction.  As groups grow in size, the disparity grows along with it.

Five natural aspects of life and being human have been named: population, resource consumption, tribalism, unintended consequences of our “genius” and inequality.
How to accomplish this “social engineering” while being fair and not dictatorial should be the immediate debate and exploration. How do we enjoy the pleasure and sensuality during procreation and separate the pleasure and sensuality from procreation? When do we instill these behaviors and attitudes while protecting the young from power-over? How do we assess technological applications without stifling creativity and inventiveness? How do we reemerge our enchantment into the web of life and celebrate that connection? If these issues demand development of politics, economics and even religion, how do we protect against tyranny?
I have thought about these issues for decades. I don’t know.
1 Price,David. 1995. Energy and Human Evolution. Originally published in “Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies”, Volume 16, Number 4, March 1995, pp. 301-19. See original at: or


Dennet, Daniel. 2006. Breaking the Spell. Viking. N.Y.
Avalos, Hector. 2005. Fighting Words. Prometheus. New York.
Berreby, David. 2005. Us and them: understanding your tribal mind. New York: Little, Brown and Co.
Cumpsty, John. 1991. Religion As Belonging. University Press of America. N.Y.
Docker, John. 2008. The Origins of Violence: Religion, History and Genocide. University of New South Wales.
Douglas, Tom. 1995. Scapegoats: Transferring blame. Routledge. N.Y.
Ellens, J. Harold. 2007. The destructive power of religion: violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.
Gaylen, Willard. 2003. Hatred. Public Affairs. N.Y.
Larsen, Stephen. 2007. The fundamentalist mind: how polarized thinking imperils us all. Trade paperback. N.Y.
Newberg, Andrew. 2006. Why we believe what we believe: uncovering our biological need for meaning, spirituality, and truth. Free Press. N.Y.
Prothero, Stephen. 2010. God is not One: The eight rival religions that run the world- and why their differences matter. Harper. N.Y.
Rozenblit, Bruce. 2008. Us against them: how tribalism affects the way we think. Kansas City, MO: Transcendent Publications.
Rue, Loyal D. Religion is not about God. Rutgers University Press.
Schimmel, Solomon. 2008. The tenacity of unreasonable beliefs: fundamentalism and the fear of truth. Oxford University Press, USA.
Spock, Benjamin. 1970. Decent and Indecent. Quoted in Rebecca Davison and Susan Mesner, eds., The Treasury of Religious & Spiritual Quotations: Words to Live By (Pleasantville: Reader’s Digest, 1994), p. 224.
Volkan, Vamik. 2004. Blind Trust. Pitchstone. Virginia.
Wellman, James. 2007. Belief and Bloodshed. Rowman and Little. N.Y.
Wentz, Richard. 1993. Why People Do Bad Things in the Name of Religion. Mercer University Press. Georgia.


Abrams, D., Hogg, Michael, Marques, J. 2005. The social Psychology of Inclusion and Exclusion. Psychology Press. New York.
Bruhn, J; Philips, B.; Levine, P; and Mendes de Leon, C. 1987. Social Support and Health: An Annotated Bibliography. Garland Publishing. N.Y.
Donaldson, F. 1995. “Belonging: That Bargain Struck in Child’s Play. ReVision. V. 17. No. 4. p. 25-34.
Fajans, J. 1985. "The Person in Social Context: The Social Character of Banning 'Psychology'." In Person, Self, and Experience. Edited by G. M. White and J. Kirkpatrick. Univ. of California Press. Berkeley.
Main, M. and Weston, D. 1982. "Avoidance of the Attachment Figure in Infancy: Descriptions and Interpretations." In The Place of Attachment in Human Behavior. Edited by C. . Parkes and J. Stevenson-Hinde. Basic Books. N.Y. Pages31-59.
Lynd, Helen Merrell. 1965. On Shame and the Search for Identity. Science Editions. N.Y.
Parkes, C.M. and Stevenson-Hinde, J. 1982. The Place of Attachment in Human Behavior. Basic Books. N.Y.
Prior, Vivien and Glaser, Danya. 2006. Understanding Attachment and Attachment Disorders. Jessica Kingsley Pub. London.
Reite, M. and Field, T. Editors. 1985. The Psychobiology of Attachment and Separation. Academic Press. New York.
Sroufe, L. Alan, and Fleeson, June. 1986. "Attachment and the Construction of Relationships." Relationships and Development. Edited by W. Hartup and Z. Rubin. Lawrence Erlbaum Ass. Hillsdale, N.J.
Williams, K, Forgas, J. von Hippel, W. 2005. The Social Outcast. Pschology Press. New York.
May 2011

Self Talk - the Human Adaptation

This was written several decades ago. It is a shortened version. It is a different direction than most of my essays presented here. 

Shame is an important part of our shaping, see more on shame at the end. 

(There may be some confusion how I use/mean the term “self consciousness” especially the somewhat loaded term “consciousness”. The concept I am trying to convey is the self-talk, the internal talk that all of us do. Sometimes it seems like a broken record, this we call ruminating. It is “programmed” in multiple verbal and non-verbal ways from birth onward. Some of it is not even talk but “feelings” because it was communicated in the preverbal developmental period.)
HOMO spiritualis - In search of meaning

The miracle said 'I" and then was still
lost in the wing-bright sphere of his own wonder:
as if the river pause to say a river,
or thunder to self said thunder,
As once the voice had spoken, now the mind
uttered itself, and gave itself a name;
and in the instant all was changed, the world
two separate worlds became -
Conrad Aiken. Collected Poems.

The development of a complex and learned communication system in humans coupled with the highly developed feedback systems of our brain has made us a highly adaptable animal. Humans can be placed in any wide variety of environments and a way will develop for surviving in that environment. Along with learning a physical survival system, a way of human interaction will also arise.
So often the importance of language is placed solely on the exchange of information between people. This is only one side of the coin. I want to emphasize that the internal monitoring that our language ability allows is an equally important adaptation for human survival. Self-consciousness allows the developing human to learn acceptable ways of being and to have an internal monitor to regulate our behavior.

For adaptive survival, the eagle has the talon and keen eyesight, the porcupine it’s quills; we have the internal dialogues that are a coupling of our complex feedback systems and language. We have self-consciousness.

Self-consciousness is the process that allows the child to learn about and adapt to the most necessary, most complicated, and potentially most dangerous component of our environment - other humans. The human child must spend many years learning how to live. Most important are not the raw data of physical survival, but the intricacies of social behavior and acceptance.

Early in human life we “learn”, in many ways and on multiple levels, acceptable social modes of behavior. Self-consciousness is the comparative process that allows us to monitor, mediate, modify, or inhibit our individual behavior to obtain social membership. Self-consciousness generates guilt when our individual behavior is incongruent with the social behaviors we were taught. Guilt is a powerful regulator of our activities.

The human child is taught these ways of being through the family and immediate social environment. This learning begins at birth with some evidence of the emotion of shame being generated as early as 18 months. The primary teaching begins in earnest with the arrival of language ability around two years of age. A child is taught how to be angry, how to display their gender, what is valued, what is acceptable. This teaching is both verbal and nonverbal. The monitoring and constricting of behavior to conform to these teachings is accomplished by our internal self-talk feedback system. Thus it is the convergence and co-evolution of the brain’s feedback activity and language that allows for our wide range of environmental and cultural adaptability.

Do other animals have something akin to self-consciousness? Perhaps. Do other animals have communication? Yes. It is the evolutionary leap of our sophisticated language that makes such a huge difference. Survival information for all life forms is stored and available through genetic inheritance and mutation. Language metaphorically becomes the genes of a new evolution. Language adds a new dimension to this process of storing and retrieving information. Language does not supersede the genetic information system but mediates, modifies, and extends.

How do I propose that spirituality arises from self-conscious-ness? The truly revolutionary aspect of self-consciousness is that it allows us to step out of the moment. In essence, it allows us to alter our involvement with time and space. We can shape in our imagination the past or future and we can rearrange or recombine our mental contents in space.

Self-consciousness is experiencing the experience. Once again, if asked if you are happy, you must step outside whatever your particular state in order to assess that state. Self-consciousness puts us “beside” our self, looking at our self. We interrupt and manipulate time and space. In doing this we seemingly step outside the flow of life, outside the immediate. We live not in the moment. Using our self-consciousness we can rekindle and resentiment the past or we can dream and project the future. We are the director and producer of our own dramas by manipulating the sets of events, people and things.
Being in the flow (grace) is a normal and necessary state of life. Time and space are outside the awareness of other animals. They are enmeshed within it. They have no codifying language system to couple with their feedback processes to be aware of time or space, as we know it.

Self-consciousness appears to work contrary to being in the flow. The very functioning of self-consciousness interrupts and manipulates time and space. Our mental mediation of time and space seemingly outside the flow of life generates at our core a sense of separation. We are “beside” our self. This sense of separateness is subtle. If unchallenged it is at the very most a nagging feeling - a predisposition. It is a seed of doubt.

This feeling of being outside is illusory; we cannot be outside the flow and be alive. Illusion or not, this does not keep the seed of doubt, the sense of separateness, from being a main experience of all humanity.

In the best of all possible worlds this sense of being disconnected would remain subtle and far from awareness. However, the necessities of socialization amplify the aloneness. The growing child can hardly avoid dissonances and contradictions in the learnings of the social environment. Parents are not necessarily consistent either individually across time or between themselves. Depending on the individual and the environment, this illusion of disconnection is magnified in our attempts to fit into the social environment. The more dissonance the greater is the craving for belonging, hence unity.
Self-consciousness is a double-edged sword. It is our tool for meeting our need to belong in the social fabric. It allows for the monitoring of the behaviors that support membership in the social setting. On the other edge in functioning to allow us to step out of time and space, it generates at our core a feeling of separateness at best, alienation at worst.

So our most powerful adaptive tool, self-consciousness, drives us to seek unity. It drives us to find the present moment, a place without time or space. It moves us to search for the experience and the experiencing of unity with the cosmos, with the whole. This feeling of separateness, of being outside, comes up against our broadly defined living need of being in the flow, of belonging in the familial as well as the existential sense. Energy and tension are generated. Human life becomes a search, a quest towards being back in the flow, towards belonging, towards unity. This is the root of spirituality.

The creation myth in the Old Testament is a beautiful metaphor for the spiritual quest that self-consciousness brings to us. With the eating from the tree of knowledge, we come to know of ourselves. We see our nakedness. We are beside ourselves. We are banished from the garden. This is the ultimate not belonging. This is descriptive of the existential and illusory separateness that is particularly human. This has been called original sin.

Adam and Eve are exiled before finding and eating from the tree of immortality, eternal continuity. Humans are forced to face limitations, losses and death. The unfolding, evolving self can become and may continue to become more self-aware as we learn to pass through life's transitions and changes.

Not belonging with its painful feeling of shame is both bane and blessing. Shame is hurtful and hurting, often destructive. Arising from our very human need for belonging, shame can create new forms of belonging, supporting our survival and continuity.

In a relevant and soulful statement, John Lee Hooker, the blues singer and musician, said that the blues began when God told Adam and Eve to get out of the garden. Thus begins our search; a uniquely personal and human quest towards unity, towards soul.


Flexible social interaction and the broad range of environmental adaptations are emphasized as the primary adaptive advantage of self-consciousness. This reflective function and our other self-referential activities produce two other very human results. The first being technology. Although shared in a minimal way with other animals, technology is most highly developed in humans. The second, spirituality, might easily be noted as the defining characteristic of humanity although it may be a by-product of the referential process. It may also be our next step on the evolutionary road.


Self-consciousness seemingly allows us to step out of the ongoing experience of time and space. Whether we ruminate over a recent slight or recall in joyful detail a long past pleasant experience, we have removed ourselves from immediate time and space. I believe the ability to as it were step out of time and space and mentally manipulate structures and functions is at the root of technological developments.

I am defining technology as a process of modifying time and/or space by structural transformations, functional analogs, and inputting energy. These modifications are usually compressions of time and/or space but may involve expansions.

As an example, gathering and hunting was a means of subsistence for 99% of human history. It required space in square miles and fluctuated with nature’s rhythms across time. With the development of agriculture, space requirements became measured in acres and time was bounded by a specific growing season. Transportation technologies are also easily seen as examples of this definition of technology.

Technological development can be social or physical and usually involves both. Technology is one of the identifying characteristics of humanity and is a result of the same activities of manipulating time and space that determine self-consciousness.

Two modes for finding unity.
The ego has a stimulus range. It is the experiences outside this range that are the pathways to the cosmos, to the white light, to unity. The existence of a stimulation range of the ego comes from the evidence of various ways the White Light or unity is experienced. One path is the through meditation or fasting or sensory deprivation or depression. This is the “too little” end of the range. The ego needs a level of stimulation to keep it from “eating on itself”. When low input of stimulation is coupled with ritualized processes (chanting or yogic body positions or concentration on a point in space) then the underlying processes are made accessible.

When the ego receives too much stimulation in the form of whirling dervish dancing or continual sexual stimulation or psychoactive drugs or depression then it overloads and lets go of its control. Here the White Light or Cosmos explodes into experience.

Notice I have put depression in both the low and the high input. There is the depression that is the dark night of the soul where existence shrinks to a point of nonexistence. There is also a depression that is an overwhelming brain chatter. Both of these occur under perceived duress and with the loss of the ability to use earlier adaptations successfully to manage the duress.

Each person’s ego range is unique to them as well as to their experience at the particular time. The experience of the White Light can be a conscious quest or an involuntary eruption bypassing the controls of the ego.

(I don’t imagine these two modes as a continuum with individual ego in the middle. More like an island in which two oceans meet. Metaphorically, like Terra Del Fuego where the Atlantic and Pacific come together.)
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Shame is a critical part of our humanness.  Shame can be looked at as a feeling of not belonging, of exclusion from the group.  For a highly and imperatively social animal, our lifelong development of attachment/bonding is pivotal to belonging.  We have a genetically based need to find structure, process and meaning within a social context that arises from both our evolutionary path and the very composition of our information processing.  It is an interplay of biology, language, family, society, culture, and cosmology.  It is a dynamic, ongoing, relational process within ourselves and with others.

It is important to understand the core of shame is not belonging.  As a totally social animal, not belonging is a powerful motivator.  As example, shame arises when we, as children, have no socially acceptable release for our natural frustration/anger.  Or where our natural feelings of flight manifest as fear or terror are condemned.  Shame is the feeling that arises when a behavior that is manifesting a naturally occurring internal state invokes the social response of disgust; of being cast out; of not belonging.

With the social response imprinted very early on our basic survival patterns, self- consciousness acts to maintain a sense of shame whenever the disallowed internal experience occurs.  This is often below awareness because recognition of this aspect of our self is a threat to belonging; hence to survival.

Shame’s counterpart is guilt. Guilt arises from the disapproval of our behavior as opposed to rejection of our personhood.   When guilt occurs, a way is taught for rectifying our error and for the acceptable expression (no matter how convoluted) of our experience within the social context.  Guilt provides a process for continued membership in the group.  In this way it provides continued support for the “traditional” patterns of socially accepted behavior.

Shame and guilt are decidedly different experiences.  Guilt offers continued membership while shame banishes. The pathway to human belonging is channeled and powered by these two emotions of reference that arise through the functioning of self-consciousness.   I believe these two emotions of reference are primary in the processes of personal and social change. 

(The concept of emotions of reference comes from Lewis, Michael. 1992. Shame-The Exposed Self. The Free Press. N.Y.)

A few readings:

Gilbert, Paul and Andrews, B.  1998.  Shame: Interperson Behavior, Psycholpathology, and Culture.  Oxford U. Press. Oxford.

Lewis, H.B.  1987.  The Role of Shame in Symptom Formation.  Eribaum Ass.  Hillsdale, N.J.

Lewis, H.B.  1971.  Shame and Guilt in Neurosis.  International University Press. N.Y.

Lewis, Michael. 1992. Shame-The Exposed Self. The Free Press. N.Y.

Lynd, Helen Merrell.  1965.  On Shame and the Search for Identity.  Science Editions. N.Y.

Peristiany, J. G.  1966.  Honour and Shame.  University of Chicago Press.  Chicago.

Scheff, T. and Retzinger, S.  1991. Emotions and Violence: Shame and Rage in Destructive Conflicts. Lexington Books. Massachusetts>

Schieffelin, C.  1985.  "Anger, Grief, and Shame: Toward a Kaluli Ethnopsychology."  In Person, Self, and Experience.  Edited by G. M. White and J. Kirkpatrick.  Univ. of California Press. Berkeley.

Schneider, Carl.  1977.  Shame, Exposure, Privacy.  Beacon. Boston.

Sroufe, L. Alan.  1995.  Emotional development: the organization of emotional life in the early years.  Cambridge U.  N.Y.   Page 68 for 18 month old shame.

Tangney, June and Fischer, Kurt; editors.  1995.  Self-Conscious Emotions: The Psychology of Shame, Guilt, Embarrassment, and Pride.  Guilford.  N.Y.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It is natural

A beaver dam is part of the natural environment. The CO2 being released into the environment by the burning of fossil fuels is a part of the natural environment. Automobiles are part of the natural environment. The space shuttle is a part of the natural environment.

Some of these statements are bound to ruffle a few enviro and eco feathers.

Many people believe that humans are not separate from the web of life but are an integral part of it. Yet, they arbitrarily draw lines eliminating some human activities as not natural.

We protect the bald eagle with its sharp eyes, high soaring and sharp talons. They would celebrate these genetic tools. We would defend the beaver’s right to build dams. We could argue that it is an ecological process of enrichment and regrowth; not destructive and besides it is the genetically determined tools that have evolved. There is probably no animal or plant that we would demean for the tools it uses to be effective and survive. These tools allow it efficacy and control.

Yet we humans do nothing more or less than the eagle and the beaver. We use our evolved faculties in the same way. Although I don’t consider tool development and use to be the defining factor of being human, it is obviously a component or off shoot of the faculties that have evolved in the generation of our species. All humans make and use tools.

Most of our tools and activities have analogs (similarities) in nature. When the impatiens flower has gone to seed, the structure holding the seeds is under tension. The slightest jarring will spring the structure open, exploding the seeds far from the plant. This is only one of many mechanisms that life uses to spread itself into new environments. How in the long run is the space shuttle different?

Many plants will release chemicals into the soil around them to discourage, if not kill, other invading plants. There are many insects that use various methods to protect themselves and their territory; i.e., camouflage or poisons. And, of course, there are urine markings of territory by dogs and other animals. How does this differ from fences, deeds, copyrights, patents, and wars to protect territories that we humans use?

Perhaps for some people they can hold the distinction between humans being a natural, integral part of the natural environment and some but not all of there activities also being a part of the natural environment, I get confused where to draw the line. More importantly by separating some of our activities from our naturalness, we move it away from us. It allows us to throw up our hands in dismay. It allows us to deny responsibility.

This is the rub. If we do not accept that all we do is a natural outcome of our innate abilities, then we can claim a lack of control, an inertia to the technological process, an innocence to whatever the outcomes of our activities. This attitude I believe prevails among the many peoples of the industrialized nations. It provides a subtle shift that allows non-responsibility.

There is a popular fiction among many environmental thinkers that if we could only live more naturally, things would be better. This usually means some minimal use of tools - from gathering and hunting to rudimentary agriculture. This is both a denial of our inherent aptitude and a move away from responsibility for all of our behavior.

It is not my purpose here to say all technology is good or bad. This is mute question if it is natural. The environment both locally and globally respond to our activities just as it does to prairie fires from lightening strikes, the natural rhythms of global climate or the earth being struck by a large meteor.

Responsibility is at the core of this essay. We are an incredibly successful animal (thus far) with genetic tools that allow powerful change. We have all the drives for species survival and reproduction of any other animal. We deny in a subtle way that we are part of nature by denying that are various means of survival are part of the ongoing evolution in nature. This allows a blind spot that is very dangerous, because we can shirk responsibility saying, “the devil made me do it.”


If we accept the whole of our participation on the earth taking responsibility for it as part of our powerful survival abilities, this raises several questions.

1. What are our tools that are the equivalent of the hawk’s eyes, talons and soaring ability?

2. If we assess a danger to our impact on the earth how do we choose an approach or measure for sustainability?

3. Are there clues that we must rein in our technology and become responsible for it?