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Transform Your Life And Save The World: Through Living In Support Of The Biological Truth About The Human Condition Kindle Edition
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The truth is that I agree with much of what Griffith says and I’ve always felt that there is something in his theory which is essential to addressing humanity’s most serious problems. On the other hand, I think he is wrong in many ways. If he presented his theory as a theory to be assessed like any other, I would give his books five stars, because they are a passionate and original exploration of very deep issues. But he doesn’t present it as a theory. He claims that he is presenting the holy grail of liberating knowledge which all humanity has been striving towards since the dawn of human consciousness. Anyone who has dipped into his books or even read the blurbs on the back covers will know what I mean when I say he goes the hard sell. And he sometimes gets carried away when expressing his disagreement with others. He has labelled fellow biologist Edward O. Wilson “the anti-christ” and described the rejection of one of his articles by Scientific American : “…the most serious crime that could possibly be committed in the whole of humanity’s 2-million-year journey to enlightenment…” This kind of behaviour may lead many people to view Griffith as some random nut-case, but there are those for whom the combination of the self-hype and the fact that Griffith genuinely delves deep and acknowledges aspects of human psychology most of us would be more comfortable denying leads to an unwavering commitment to these ideas. So I value his writings as a catalyst for my own thinking, but have to rate his works with a single star because I believe that, while he has the best of intentions, the way he presents his ideas is wrong and dangerous.
If you want to know what his central theory is you are better off reading it here than trying to wade your way through his massive tome Freedom : The End of the Human Condition to which this booklet is intended to be an introduction.
The basic concept is that we have a genetic orientation to selfless behaviour which is what we experience as our conscience. Most other animals are genetically selfish. The change in our genetic orientation from selfish to selfless occurred through a process called “love indoctrination” whereby the mothers of our proto-human ancestors nurtured their infants for genetically selfish reasons, but to the infants it seemed like selflessness. Thus they were “indoctrinated” into the idea that selflessness is the meaning of life. Over many generations this orientation to selflessness became encoded in our genes. But, as our conscious mind developed, it needed to experiment with self-management, rather than blindly follow the guidance of the selfless instincts. When this led to us acting in ways which our instincts interpreted as selfish, they criticised us. Our conscious mind became insecure in the face of this criticism - we became angry (against the criticism), egotistical (always needing to assert our worth in the face of our instincts condemnation of us) and alienated (blocking out any aspects of reality which might seem to support the criticisms coming from our conscience.) Thus we had a loving cooperative beginning as a species (which we mostly retain an orientation to in our genes) and our dark side since then has been a psychological byproduct of the emergence of consciousness.
I’m willing to believe we had a cooperative beginning as a species and I definitely believe that our propensity for selfishness, competition and aggression is a psychological phenomenon. I also believe that the critical nature of idealism is the root cause of the psychological insecurity (or neurosis) which drives our dark side.
Where I disagree with Griffith is on the source of idealism. He sees it as something genetic, whereas I see it as a social phenomenon - a product of the conscious mind, not the instincts.
A clear distinction has to be made here between idealism and love. I don’t feel that Griffith makes this distinction and thus he goes very far wrong. He identifies our conscience with this genetic orientation, but at the same time he says that this genetic orientation is the source of our capacity for love and cooperativeness. The conscience is something which tries to control our behaviour by making us feel bad if we go against it. Love on the other hand cannot be forced. If it is not freely given then it isn’t love. Cooperation in a superficial sense can be forced. People can be made to cooperate. But this isn’t cooperation in the fullest sense of the word - to work with - they may be with us physically, but if there is compulsion then they will not be with us in the relational sense.
I have no problem with the idea that we have a genetic orientation to being loving and cooperative. We see these qualities in young children and we can often see the evidence that emotional disturbance of one kind or another lies behind deviation from such a nature. But, unlike the conscience, love is not dictatorial. In it’s purest form it is all-accepting and all-forgiving. The conscience is certainly not that.
It seems clear to me that the conscience is a part of the ego - the conscious thinking self - in which we store our learned moral principles. How else do we explain that what makes us feel guilty differs from person to person and culture to culture? If our conscience were genetic we would see no such diversity. Guilt can be understood as the sense of psychological pain which accompanies the withdrawal of self-acceptance.
I see no need for the theory of “love indoctrination”. Nature at base is integrative - competition occurs within a cooperative framework. The motivation for we animals is the pleasure principle - to seek that which makes us feel good and try to avoid what makes us feel bad. (In humans this gets very complicated because of our ability to make decisions based on predictions about the future, our psychological needs and our metaphysical belief systems.) For animals, good and bad feelings are the messengers for the genes. An animal which experiences maximised pleasure when mating with a healthy member of his species and is willing to compete for that pleasure may prove more fit in the process of natural selection. And a female member of a species who feels enough discomfort at the prospect of losing her infant to fight to protect it will also be likely to have an advantage. And where there is not enough food for everyone, those who are most motivated to compete will pass on their genes. But these animals compete when there is an advantage, in terms of achieving pleasure or avoiding suffering, in competing.
Griffith places a lot of emphasis on the bonobos as an example of what our cooperative past may have been like. Bonobos are peaceful, cooperative and matriarchal, while chimpanzees are more aggressive, competitive and patriarchal. The chimpanzees developed in an ecosystem where food was less plentiful. The bonobos spend a lot of their time rubbing genitals with each other fairly indiscriminately. Why would the bonobos not be cooperative and peaceful? Everyone has enough food. Living cooperatively means living in a peaceful supportive community and spending much of your time rubbing genitals. Where is the pleasure advantage in competition?
As for our ancestors, if they lived in an environment where there was plenty of food to go around, then the only source of competition would be mating. But would competing for mates in such an environment confer a significant evolutionary advantage? It would in a more hostile environment with a high infant mortality rate. There it would be a numbers game. But if most infants grew to adulthood, then environmental advantage would go to those who were best nurtured and thus healthiest. In this kind of ecological niche, genetic advantage would favour nurturing as it does with the bonobos. And there would be no genetic drive to compete which needed to be “indoctrinated” out of us. All that was needed was a space where competition was not advantageous. Maybe the chimpanzees too would like to be living cooperatively and spending their time rubbing genitals, but if there isn’t enough food to go around they have to stick with their less pleasant lifestyle.
So how did it all go wrong? I think Griffith is right that a conflict arose between the instincts and the intellect, but not in the way he thinks. If our instincts are to be loving and cooperative then they would have to be forgiving and uncritical. Forgiveness is essential to love and necessary if ongoing cooperation is to be facilitated. Idealism on the other hand is unforgiving and is a divisive influence. Idealism encourages us to judge ourselves or others against a standard which is, by definition unreachable. Ideality and reality are opposites, thus ideals can never be achieved in the real world. The ideals produce just the kind of response in the insecure ego that Griffith attributes to them. But they originate in the conscious mind, not in the instincts. They are a product of the conscious mind’s attempt to understand the world and manage it’s own behaviour.
How did we arrive at the concept of idealism? To have an idea of good and evil we would need something with which to contrast our loving cooperative behaviour. The behaviour of predatory animals would have provided that contrast. The role of protecting the tribe against them would have fallen to men as women needed to concentrate on nurturing the infants. In hunting against them we would have had to cultivate our own competitive and aggressive potential. While necessary, this would have had a disruptive effect on the group, something which the women would have had to try to control. So we have behaviour labelled “bad” and other behaviour labelled “good” and social pressure to restrain the former and cultivate the latter. A moral system. In time individuals would have begun second-guessing criticism. They would have internalised the moral system. They would have gained a conscience.
Of course this was necessary, but the problem is that idealism has a tendency to undermine self-acceptance. We end up feeling guilty about our transgressions and the resultant insecurity makes it harder for us to open up to our deeper loving nature. Our wounded ego becomes a bigger and bigger barrier to improving our behaviour. We become, as Griffith says, angry, egocentric and alienated.
Griffith likes to use his theory as a way of explaining the myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but there are some aspects of that story which can be explained by what I have just said which he does not attempt to explain. Eve was the first to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and she was tempted to do so by a snake. If predatory animals were what led us to the origin of idealism, then that explains the snake. If women were the first ones to insist on a moral system, that explains how Eve ate first. And it was not simply the Tree of Knowledge (as Griffith often says in support of his theory that conscious thought in general was the key factor), but the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (i.e. knowledge of morality or idealism). We can quite safely use our minds to explore and experiment wherever we don’t arrive at hurtful self-criticism. It was not the search for knowledge which corrupted us, as Griffith claims, but the idealism which we played with along the way.
Griffith’s placing of idealism in the genes leads him to this absurdity : “…but we have never before been able to ‘heal our soul’, to truthfully explain to our original instinctive self or soul that our fully conscious, thinking self is good and not bad…” If our instinctive self resides in our genes, then how can we explain anything to it? How can genes listen and understand? But if the split is one which idealism has caused within our conscious mind, then a healing integrity of understanding is possible.
I could go on and on analysing and criticising Griffith’s attempt to explain the human condition, and I have done that elsewhere, but here I just wanted to deal with the central issue as all other failings proceed from there.
I care about Jeremy Griffith and his followers and I care what happens to the human race. My motivation is the pleasure principle. It would be pleasant for me to see the members of the World Transformation Movement liberated from the impasse caused by their support of a faulty theory. And it would be pleasant to live in a world where the human race has a chance to survive, whether they are a part of making that possible or not.