A conundrum for the one aiming at self-development

From Kant: “A man who notices that he is being observed or scrutinized will either appear disturbed (embarrassed), and will therefore not be able to behave as he really is, or else will conceal himself because he does not want to be known as he really is.” (from Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, 1.1.121).

Eureka! Kant is right. And, to the degree that we recognize transition from a worse to a better self we run into this problem. Isn’t it I who must take care of my motives, my intentions, my goals, and the choice of means in order to carry out those goals?

The problem here is rooted in the social nature of the human animal. There are causes of good behavior that are not motivated by the good itself. Anyone who has been to church (or any other social club that prides itself on grasping divine logos) on Sunday morning knows this to be so. Is it possible that the soul of each is as pristine as the external garb and polite “peace be with you!”? But we all know it to be a sham (to some degree), and a sham I look forward to. For there is nothing in principle wrong with the conformity to social ideal and the competition for more or less status relative to that ideal. There is nothing wrong with honor, reputation, prestige, status. It is simply our way of distinguishing. It has never been done away with down here and it never will. Accept! But, for the one aiming at self-development this is not the best way.

The one who is aiming at self-development must aim at the highest good, alone, for no other reason than that it is good “for goodness’s sake”. And yet, he cannot shake the fact that he is being surveilled. Even he who shuns the god as object (which does not mean automatically shunning the god as subject, but it does reduce the possibility of speaking technically (for technically precise expression needs an object) and may outwardly sound like an atheist) is left with himself as suveiller.

The self is the surveiller that must be accepted, the surveiller that can never be hidden from, the surveiller that it is best to come to grips with and learn to deal well with for all of its necessary existence. Is there any way of avoiding the surveillance implicit in self-development? I think not. What to do?

First, accept. Let go. Embrace reality, do not run from it.

Second, acknowledge possible implications or consequences. The first consequence, to my mind, is that my motivations might be altered toward performance under the gaze of another (the me who surveils me) instead of solely aiming at goodness for its own sake. If I am after purity of heart, then there is risk here. The risk should be weighed and strategies enacted for avoidance of risk. To my mind the first strategic response is to aim so hard and intently at the good that the care for what another thinks (even the self that surveils) is reduced.

Third, I think the further down the hierarchy of progress in self-development we go the more advantageous the social pressure for good behavior is for the one attempting repentance (turning around). And so, just as the other (outside of me) can improve my behavior in early stages of repentance by his surveillance, so my acknowledgement of surveillance when I am alone can stimulate better behavior analogically. But I will have to acknowledge the repentant me as a surveiller that is present when the worse me is under temptation. And I will have to care that he is watching.

One of the first recommendations I have to the repentant addict (anyone who wants something bad really bad but also wants to not want) who recognizes poverty of spirit (only he who wants to change. To he looking to get more of what he is addicted to I recommend the opposite–concealment, subterfuge, manipulation, lying) is integration in a community such that he is under surveillance. One cannot trust the addict alone. But, part of the reason the repentant addict cannot be trusted alone is that he does not assent to the better self in him. The voice of the worse self is so strong, and fondles the addiction so, speaks with such a sweet and seemingly reasonable voice to the addict about how “just one taste won’t amount to much at all, and it will surely quiet this screaming, aching demanding child in you” knowing full well the improbability of one little taste being enough for the monster that craves.

The community of course must be on average better than the addict and such that is shames what the addict wants. Otherwise it will only reinforce the permissibility of the presence of monsters. Later, it is necessary for the addict to confront himself by himself and resist because of what is wrong and not what other think is wrong. But alone time with the substance to which the addict is desirous in the beginning simply does not recognize the size, strength and subtlety of that which lurks within.

Fourth, allegiance with. What would prevent the surveillance problem?Development. The ultimate aim is that what I can potentially become is integrated with my actual self. Here, as the sage Jesus says, I have unity with the will of the heavenly father. Here, the best is integrated and instantiated into actuality. The word (logos) becomes flesh. Buddha talks about setting in motion in myself!) the wheel of dharma (deep cosmic order). When there is no longer self-development needed but the self overflows with its own excess of light the surveiller only looks outward to join in “accountability partnership” with anyone else who would strive to become better. So, the worse and better self must seek unity, but only such that the worse self is meek, humble, submissive, adaptive, conforming, learning to say “yessir” at the first command and not needing to be constantly surveilled and persuaded with rhetoric and dialogue.

Onward and upward.

Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

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