The Negation of the Self
The negation of the self is a belief that arose along with the emergence of the world’s great civilizations. When people began depending on intensive farming to survive, as opposed to gardening supplemented by hunting and gathering, seven new social conditions were required:
- Masses of labor were required to tend the fields;
- Therefore, families needed to produce more children as labor and as soldiers;
- Social order was now essential to control and command labor;
- Organized religion needed to establish itself as part of the command structure;
- Priests became the mediators between Heaven and Earth;
- The trust relationship with nature needed to be severed; and
- The social classes of Ruler and Ruled became clearly defined.
Obedience and forced labor were built on the philosophy that the self of this world, the mortal self, had to be a subject of the ruler and was no longer allowed to live a life independent of the command structure. Civilization, as we know it, requires that nearly all people be laborers. This mass of labor is motivated by several factors:
- A life in heaven after death which will be blissful if, and only if, the person was obedient in this life, otherwise the soul will live an eternity in unending torment and suffering;
- The rulers would distribute food to support the family;
- Women needed to become “baby makers” to supply the Rulers with more laborers and soldiers (the average pre-civilization mother had two children and the average post-civilization mother had 5-8 children); and
- Disobedience is responded to with severe punishment – thus FEAR becomes the primary, over-arching motivator.
The negation of the self becomes a tool that offers transcendence to the unending drudgery of everyday life. In this way it became a core belief in the earliest Upanishads. But it appears in all religious philosophy that speaks of salvation and reward for obedience. It is fully incorporated in modern forms of Advaita and some schools of Buddhism. It is a toxic belief that we really need to challenge in our moment-to-moment existence. Notice how most religion teaches transcendence and thus it too negates this very world.
But the belief in negation is so deeply rooted in our cultural psychology that most of us unwittingly “agree” with it. We thus become our most intimate self-negators. You might want to explore Ruiz’ Four Agreements to see how we unconsciously sustain beliefs that not only fail to contribute to our liberation, but keep us as fearful and obedient slaves to authority, whether comes in the form of law or of religious doctrine.
The message of Liberation from the Lie is freedom from self-negation. This is the fundamental sickness of our time. We can have a form of civilization free of this belief, but this is a world we have yet to create. The Scandinavian countries are evolving to this world.
Civilization today relies on the same approach to control. The primary motivator continues to be fear. But since our invalidation begins so early in our life and because our social institutions are accepted as “normal”, only very few of us ever seriously question the social conditions of our life, even though our way of life is, literally, killing the planet and right now represents a very credible threat to our survival as a species. This is, clearly, not normative. It is a mass sickness. Modern human beings have lived on earth for over 100,000 years. The social controls of civilization have effected a majority of people for less than 2,000 of those years. This current way of life is the aberration.
The decisive invalidation is our earliest one, that one that occurred shortly after our birth. This primal event paves the way for a life of obedience and self-alienation. Few of us escape this fate. While we cannot change this aspect of our life, we can become awake to it. The two most direct methods to do this is to explore the works of Stephen Wolinsky and my book, LIberation from the Lie. Wolinsky’s work, along with Morris Berman’s, were an important influence to my own self-exploration. They are both strongly recommended. I also strongly recommend reading the wonderful works of Alice Walker.
We can wake up from the trance of fear, but it takes clear seeing. Self-negation is like wearing blinders over our eyes. We cannot truly know ourselves until we can see who we are and see and feel this energy clearly.
Tomorrow I will continue with a discussion of this short video.