Человек есть тайна. Её надо разгадать, и ежели будешь её разгадывать всю жизнь, то не говори, что потерял время; я занимаюсь этой тайной, ибо хочу быть человеком. – F.M. Dostoevsky, letter to his brother, 16 August 1839*
Welcome to Becoming Human. I’m Jangali, and in this blog, I apply insights from psychoanalysis, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, sociology, philosophy, cultural theory, anthropology, ethnology and phenomenological introspection, to the themes of personal development, psychological well-being, spirituality and wider, related cultural and social issues.
The underlying premise for the blog can be summarized as follows. It seems to me that we are living in a unique historical time in which the core of spirituality is converging, where spirituality has become about experience and discoveries, it has become a sort of science. And this is accelerating. At the same time, in order to realize a post-patriarchal, sustainable society there is an urgent need for a better understanding of the kind of creature that homo sapiens is in terms of our biology as well, and for developing and documenting ways in which our species can be freed from millenia of in vitro conditioning and recover more authentic social behavior. So for an “archaic revival” in Terence Mc Kenna’s prophetic sense.
The archaic revival today has become a vast and productive cultural metaproject with many strands to it, revolutionizing our understanding, for example, of nutrition, movement, social structures, ecology and religion, and adopting terms such as “paleo”, “primal” and “rewilding”. Since Mircea Eliade’s pioneering work, archaic spirituality has been brought into popular discourse under the general if not unequivocal concept of “shamanism”. All of these developments have had, and are having, a profound cultural impact and have already significantly shifted scientific paradigms in their respective fields. At the same time, science and technology are moving ahead at an unprecedented rate, offering methods which illuminate and complement archaic technologies and understandings, and the conditions of modern existence are incomparable to those of our remote ancestors. We clearly cannot simply erase the course of history and return to ancient ways of being; rather we have to create and experiment with new and unprecedented modes of living in some ways inspired by, but necessarily very unlike, the old. Therefore also the emphasis on what is going on at the productive frontier of culture, where meaning and subjectivity is generated through discourse and cultural metapractices. Being and becoming human is a dialectical and generative process that goes on at the frontier where biology meets culture, not a naively restorationist one.
My emphasis in this blog is therefore on those aspects of evolved behavior which have been diverted or suppressed under the conditions of modern life, in particular relationships, intimacy and sexuality which lie on this fault line between biology and cultur. It is a premise of standard Freudian theory that the repression of sexuality, a term which for me encompasses much more than simply the urge to copulate, underlies neurosis. According to more recent research, repression is also likely to underlie somatoform disorders and psychosomatosis. Accordingly, already within a Freudian framework, and notwithstanding his efforts to rescue civilization, the project of recovering more natural behavior and building more species-appropriate social institutions assumes considerable clinical, but also far broader political importance. My approach is not, however, constrained by the Freudian paradigm but open to a more holistic view of our biological and spiritual nature, such as put forward by Carl Jung for example.
The element of social critique has been implied by psychoanalytic thought from the outset, and accounts for its undisputed cultural importance. Indeed, psychoanalytic theory was a major force in social change in the 20th century, existing in a symbiotic relationship to currents in political philosophy. Today, the reformist social agenda no longer needs to rely, however, solely on abstract premises and humanistic conviction; empirical currents in a range of disciplines and traditions have turned the stream into a river. I believe we are at a tipping point, as the crumbling in the Western world of the social institutions which regulated sexuality and underpinned the various forms of patriarchial social organization from the earliest agrarian communities through to the economic organization of industrial society objectively necessitates new and more liberal social paradigms. These paradigms will only be robust to the extent they are biologically informed.
The process of recovering biologically innate human behavior, being coextensive with the healing of individual and collective neurosis, is what in times past we have called therapy. The word has stigmatizing and exceptional connotations, and also suggests a process which is clinically mediated. Evidently, as I have framed it, this is far too restrictive an understanding; what I would consider therapy, or less suggestively personal development, is or should be an ongoing and imperative project for all of us.
It is vital for me that this process is scientifically informed, even if we cannot afford to await comprehensive scientifically validated findings. There may be much heart and warmth in new age communities, and there may be wisdom in what spiritual teachers teach, to all of which we should be receptive; but there are also considerable dangers associated with abandoning the scientific perspective entirely. Without such a perspective, we will be awaiting our emancipation much longer, if we get there at all.
Human behavior has also concerned philosophers, and the essence of what it is to be human is a central philosophical concern. It is practically relevant to the social sciences in general. Hobbes was the first political thinker to discuss the social contract in terms of the so-called state of nature, and he was followed by many others including John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. For me, the institutions of society in some ways add value relative to the state of nature, but there is an unelucidated trade-off, well analyzed already in Rousseau’s Second Discourse and, amongst contemporary theorists, most brilliantly by Pierre Bourdieu. The price we pay seems disproportionate to the benefits we receive; it is certainly not limited to the essential, and thus it is Pareto-suboptimal. We could make everyone happier without abandoning any of the benefits of civilization. On this point, Freud was categorically wrong.
Whether you call it therapy, personal growth or spirituality, I am an active traveler on this path. From a spiritual perspective, my philosophy is non-dualism, which is common to oriental traditions such as zen, tao and advaita vedanta as well as classical tantra. In practical terms, non-dualism amounts to embracing life in the present moment in all its variety and without judgment. In therapy and personal growth I emphasize bodywork/body psychotherapy and conscious work with sexuality, together with breathwork and other techniques drawn from humanistic psychology such as encounter and primal, as well as meditation, work with intention and shamanic techniques of ecstatic trance.
I believe in open, responsible relationships based on communication and mutual respect, the rights of children to appropriate nurturing of their human potential, and of everyone to natural unhindered affective and sexual self-expression. Natural sexuality means a sexuality which is heart-based, expansive and loving; it is in no sense the only goal worth pursuing, but as a practical matter, at least at an individual level, it is key to addressing many of the other things that are wrong with society.
Please post your comments on the blog! I’m also happy to take questions in view of future articles or shorter replies to be published here (in a suitably anonymous format of course) and to make contact with other people interested in the subject matter of the blog. Please use the form below, and don’t forget to include in your question all the information which may be relevant to give a full reply.
*) Humans are a mystery. That mystery must be unravelled, and even if you spend your whole life unravelling it, do not say that you have wasted your time; I study this mystery because I want to be human.