Monday, 12 May 2014

The Human Soul is Chaos and Fog

(Warning: large chunk of theory ahead. The practical comes later.)

We have expectations about what we will do and have in our lives; we have an idea of the moral, physical, cultural, social, and intellectual person we want to be; and we have an idea of the person we are at the moment. These three thing - ambitions, personal development and self-image - make up the majority of what we are as a person. The assumption is that as people we are coherent: that our ambitions, personal development and self-image are consistent within themselves and with each other, and are compatible with our circumstances: that is, our ambitions and development are attainable given our resources: wealth, income, talents, opportunities, family, education, physical appearance and strength, social position, energy level and social skills. We assume as well that we are accurately self-aware: that we have an accurate understanding of what our ambitions and assets are, and our self-image is one that other people would accept was a description of us. We assume that having coherent ambitions, development and assets, as well as being accurately self-aware, will lead to effective behaviour directed towards the attainment of those ambitions.

I say all that with deliberate pedantry, because I want the background against which to state my theses:

(i) Only a very small proportion of us are ever coherent and accurately self-aware

(ii) The rest of us are varying degrees of chaos in fog, and that causes us to make poor decisions and behave badly at times

(iii) Living closely with another person raises to a near-certainty that we will behave badly

(iv) The richer the culture, the more wealthy, active and uncertain the economy, the more ambiguous the key social roles, the greater the emphasis on the primacy of the individual, the greater the chaos and fog in which young men and women start their adult life

(v) Without that chaos and fog, "we would still be living in grass huts”.

In other words: most people don’t make sense, a fair number are slightly crazy and more than enough reached adulthood outright damaged. How many? I’m no great fan of the psychiatrisation of everything, but let’s let the National Institutes of Mental Health have their say (though translated into the Vulgar tongue):

Bipolar: 2.6%
Schizophrenia: 1.1%
OCD: 1.0%
Chronic Anxiety: 3.1%
Eating Disorders: 4.4%
Psychopathy: 1.0%
Socially withdrawn: 5.2%
Borderline: 1.6%
All: 19.5%

If you looked at the source, I didn’t count the depressions because those don’t indicate personality damage as much as bad luck, ADHD is otherwise known as “being a boy” and Social Phobia seems to me to double-count Avoidant (Socially withdrawn in my list). PTSD is a big deal in the US where they haven’t stopped sending young men to fight in shit-holes since about 1990, and it’s not so prevalent over here. Panic Disorder (Panic attacks) is agoraphobia and other stuff, and isn’t what I mean by “damaged”. OCD I can take or leave. The NIMH have left out drunks, junkies, coke-heads, speed-freaks, cutters, sex-addicts and other substance abusers, and none of them are healthy people. However, it’s difficult separating them from the recreational users. I’m going to put the messed-up addicts-of-all-kinds at around 2%. We’re looking at about one-in-five people. Even if accept that the American psychiatric profession has an unhealthy relationship with the pharmaceutical companies and trim this all, it’s still over one in ten.

So I’m going to say that about five per cent of the population are coherent and accurately self-aware; about ten percent are outright damaged, another ten per cent are slightly crazy, leaving three-quarters of the population as not quite making sense. Sounds like the world I live in.

Where does the chaos and fog in the human soul come from? Genetics, family, school, the culture we choose, all these need to interact in a limited number of ways to come out coherent. I came from a classic ACoA household, but the stories I read, the films I saw, were all about getting on in the world - the last thing an ACoA will be any good at. I found a better fit between me and philosophy, but then I had to go back out into the world again. I was a complete mess for decades, and I still don’t fit together well.

The chaos and fog does not explain everything, as if a calm, civil, composed personality could be achieved by self-knowledge and acceptance alone. Some people are just born violent, shrewish, aggressive, bitchy, nasty, cheating, dishonest, lazy, complaining or generally unpleasant. Others are born weak, indecisive, cowardly, retiring, withdrawn or introspective. Just as we are not born with an intellectual tabla rasa, we are not born with a perfect personality that is messed up by some traumatic event: most of us are born messed up already, and parents, schools, peers, television, novels, songs and everything else just make it worse. Mild dysfunction is the natural condition of humanity.

What does this mean? That with few exceptions, most relationships of any kind are going to fail, and most attempts to start a relationship are not going to get past the introduction. Divorces, sexless marriages, dead-eyed husbands dreaming of the day their wife falls under a bus, irritated wives wishing their husbands would give them a cash-generating reason for divorce, lovers who tire of each other, friends who drift apart, band members who split for “artistic differences’ or ‘personality clashes’, novelists who switch agents when they get successful and artists who trade up galleries for the same reason… it’s built right in to the human-social condition.

When an inter-personal relationship goes wrong, nothing "went wrong", it was just natural decay. Of course, a society can encourage that decay, and make it easy for people to quit, or it can stop producing stuff that makes relationship-decay easier.

All this also means that attempts at building a more coherent self might not have the beneficial consequences you would imagine. In a crazy world, the sane man is utterly confused. But that’s for next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment