A real connection
I have yet to fully accept my turbulent side; in fact, I’d be lying if I say that I think I ever will do so. By the nature of the problem, it hinders the solution. It doesn’t mean I can’t get to “change” the turbulent side of me, the one that by trait gets called “neuroticism” by psychologists in academia, but at the same time, the level of neuroticism of a person’s personality is dependent of multiple and complex structures and conditions, many of them outside of the control of what the willpower of someone can accomplish. I acknowledge yet again that the awareness, or at least the presumption of recognition, of lack of power or control over internal affairs does prevent and shortens the room for improvement; though the benefit behind would be a calmer mood, and it lessens a lot of other things we might feel responsible for. The battle of being responsible or not for your own mind; something that by just saying it might get a “Duh!” from both sides. Let’s see some of the battles in play, let’s share some of my inner turmoil.
Taking responsibility for how one act and think may seem sensible, to some extent. After all, if we go by the compatibilist account of free will, a soft determinism, we’d have to admit that for what matters, to what could be called the “us” inside our head, has in its system, in its experiential situations, the ability to choose. Or at least we feel as if we can choose sometimes. It seems that I can restrain my behavior to comply with the law, with etiquette, with morality and with proper social conducts, from time to time, against my impulses. Generally, I understand that it can be constructed as a second degree drive: we may want to follow our instincts, by definition, the “impulse” is just that, a “want” function towards something; yet we also seem to have a different desire, conflicting and overseeing the previous desire, a kind of “meta-desire”, if I may: I could want to not follow my instinct for the sake of a further benefit, like cooperation, interpersonal bonding, favoritism, altruism, and the feeling of belonging. So these conflict, yet we can fathom a hierarchy in our mind, we recognize that one is a simple desire, and the other is more complex, it’s a desire about a desire.
So in that sense, it seems that we do have the ability to be responsible for how we think, even somewhat to how we feel. We are not a plain character in a blurry novel, we have opposing traits and beliefs and they leave us to behave differently in different circumstances depending on different stimuli, both internal and external. The “I” behind the thoughts in this weird fleshy machine seems to be the judge of it all, that in between the space of stimulus and response, as Viktor Frankl have said, there’s the power to choose our reaction. But do we, though, have that power?
On the other hand, we have this complete unawareness of how thoughts and emotions come to be in the first place. We just experience them arising out of the blue. Of course, we say, and there’s evidence we have that, it doesn’t just come from nothing. Something may have caused our thoughts and feelings. There’s physiology, how our bodies just go around to keep everything in its place, and there’s also the environment, how other things throw us information for the endless cycle between the body and the habitat to adapt to each other continuously. We may think of it as in the first law of thermodynamics, if the analogy works: Energy is not created nor destroyed, it’s just transformed. So, again, if we look by the origin of it all, there are many things that causally prime over the “us” making the decisions. There’s this hard determinism that still takes place in the world that explains everything that happens without the need of our “souls” interference, whatever that may be.
We may think that, going by compatibilist usual argument, we are socially responsible, we don’t need the be physically or metaphysically “responsible”: There’s no need for the “us” to be in “command” of the causal chain, it’s only necessary that the “us” has some meaningful input over the equation. And it seems it does, sometimes. Yet, and I hate my habit of following up sentences with a counter, and quoting Schopenhauer, one of my favorite philosophers:
A man can do what he will, but not will as he will
I have this recurrent remark, I have used it as a bio in many social media: “I didn’t choose to be able to choose” (Spanish: “No decidí poder tomar decisiones”). People have found it a funny and somewhat interesting point, like a “Haha, yeah, that’s right”. And I’m lucky enough to get that response instead of more resistance to my overindulgence to be too improperly intense with these deep philosophical ideas; you may find me being that awkward guy who makes the conversation go about more than just small talk. However, and I need to repeat this, we don’t get to decide what we’ll be prone to decide, ultimately: we don’t get to decide what we think or what we feel, not immediately. We can’t choose our meta-desires.
I have to make a counter to this counter to point out what my knowledge of psychotherapy attempts to say regarding this issue, because it is notoriously not a practical idea, and even if the pessimism behind it is true, it has sadly the power to paralyze us and make us less effective in many day-to-day work. It doesn’t even go against what Frankl in his logotherapy proposed: there are thoughts and emotions; also, if we go by the famous cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and its tryad of thoughts-behavior-emotion, there’s no prerequisite for thoughts or emotion to come to be by our decision, they just happen to be, and then we are able to use them to choose. So, in other words, thinking about this is useless, mostly. But I’m not writing this to show you how useless it is to feel powerless, am I?
Of course, I’ve ignored the title thus far. It’d be somewhat controversial, as I belief most concrete and rigid ideas are, to list the whole drives that a human might have. We can go by Abraham Maslow’s famous pyramid, with physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, self-esteem and self-actualization; in that order. But I’m taking a particular aim at what the heading says: the need of bonding. In Maslow’s way to see it, it’d be the third stair in our needs, right after safety.
So I’ll merge what I’ve wrote this far with another idea I had about the side of free will and taking responsibility. How far are we responsible? Let’s put them face to face. So, causality. We can be responsible of the first consequence that arises from the input of “us”. Let’s imagine that I want to finish an essay. Given that desire, given the emotion, the thoughts; the beliefs behind it, I decide to behave in way that I do the work required. I move my body and I think actively about the ideas that I want to formulate in the essay. Therefore, I’m responsible for writing the essay. Am I, however, responsible for the end result of the essay, or just for the process of making it?
Easily, even though I like to think it’s thought-provoking, people will mostly agree that even if we consider the end result to be separate from the process of making it, because it is emergent and consequent of such process, it makes me responsible for the end result too. Now, let’s say someone else reads the paper. Hardly there’d be agreement on whether I am responsible for the interpretation that this person makes of the essay. Yet, my input is there. And let’s add a tragedy to this to aggregate drama: Let’s say that given the interpretation they had, the person chose to act on those ideas, perhaps acting violently against someone else. Am I responsible for that?
Legally speaking, it depends on the laws and the jurisdiction, it can be said that I could have instigated the crime, if there was one. In the law, there are specific criteria for these stuff. But we don’t always have the law to look up to for our behavior, and we shouldn’t want that either. In this example, I chose to exemplify the case with a crime for it to be clear that it’s not so easy to declare if I’m guilty or not.
Going back again a few steps, the need of bonding. Are we actually responsible of bonding with other people? We can turn to examples like the previous “want” and maybe get to some principles to somewhat give us light to the issue; I bet many would agree that I’m not actually as responsible for my own acts as I can be for other people’s behavior, even though it may be a response to my initial conduct. “Not as responsible” in the sense that, yeah, I may be somehow to blame. So, we can blame ourselves for not bonding, for failing to fulfill our needs. But weirdly enough, I can’t be to blame for having the need in the first place.
As I said, I have yet to fully accept my turbulent side. Which means that, in my personal escenario, I do sometimes blame myself for not bonding, for not feeling a connection with other people. Because there’s a conflict of desires. I didn’t want to want to bond, yet I want to bond. The second degree here seems to be, in this case, a denial of the instincts. Well, mayhaps it’s always a denial of the instincts.
I have a very deep desire to bond, to have a connection, to have what a friend of mine calls “complicity” (a reference to a song by Cultura Profética). Which it’s just weird to me, why do I feel like I want, nay, need someone to understand me? To play along with me? To see me as I think I am, and even beyond, as I really am?
And this is a reminder for me, because to some extent, I may actually be the one to blame for not having it. Similar to the case of the essay, I’m tempted to say that I’m not responsible of what others interpret of it, not even for what they do with it. I want to believe that I’m alone because I’m a sort of victim of rejection. But I rarely find myself trying to bond, to not be alone. I rarely find myself making an essay that makes people don’t want to harm other people, if I continue the metaphor.
I have to do both of the strategies. I need to take responsibility, and at the same time, I need to accept that I’m not responsible. I don’t will what I will, I will what I do.