Turning the Tables: Four Steps toward Autonomy

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“The only way to deal with an un-free world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” –Albert Camus

The current unsustainable system has made us overly comfortable and ridiculously complacent in our ways. We have every luxury, and yet, for the most part, we live hurried, hollowed, nine-to-five lives, having given into the hyperreal overindulgence of the consumerist lifestyle. We’re beginning to realize that we’ve grown spiritually stagnant. We’re in an existential rut. We’re stuck –mind, body, and soul. We want more out of life than just materialistic trash, but we’re tied into our consumerist preconditioning. It’s how we were raised, after all. But it’s time we reconditioned the precondition.

Here are four ways to do exactly that, while also turning the tables on the powers-that-be and leveraging some autonomy into our lives.

1.) Don’t be Afraid of Being Uncomfortable

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” –Neale Donald Walsch

Yes, it’s time to get uncomfortable. Suck it up and go be that starving artist you’re afraid to be. Volunteer. Travel the world. You were not born to be a slave to money; that’s just what you were born into. You were born to explore and create like only you can. Quit stalling. Vacillation does not become you. There’s an entire world out there just waiting for you to dive right in. Comfort is only temporary anyway. Don’t allow complacency and contentedness to steal your vitality. Security is more of a hindrance to adventurous hearts anyway. Like Jack Kerouac wrote, “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing the lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

So burn your couch. Toss your TV out the window. Defenestrate any and all things preventing you from being the most liberated version of yourself. True autonomy cannot be realized if you are not even aware that you’re unfree. Like Rumi said:

“Don’t listen too often to the comforting part of the self that gives you what you want. Pray instead for a tough instructor. Nothing less than the radical disassembling of what we’ve wanted and gotten, and what we still wish for, allows us to discover the value of true being that lies underneath.”

2.) Develop a Method for Determining Right From Wrong

“Time makes ancient good uncouth.” –James Russell Lowell

Before we ask what’s wrong with the world, let’s ask what’s right with it. This is a tough one. We first need to get a proper perspective. That is, a perspective based in actual reality. And “actual reality” dictates to us what is healthy and what is not. Balance is healthy. Moderation is healthy. Clean air is healthy. Clean water is healthy. If our notion of right and wrong is based upon the dictated reality of healthy (right) & unhealthy (wrong), then our perspective will be valid; but if our notion of right and wrong is based upon human opinion that happens to violate the healthy & unhealthy dictation, then our perspective will be invalid. There’s no wiggle-room here. It really is not a matter of opinion where healthy & unhealthy is concerned. So if we can somehow drag right & wrong out of the realm of human opinion and leverage it within the natural realm of healthy & unhealthy, then we’ll finally be heading in the “right” direction toward a healthy, sustainable world. Like Zeno said, “The goal of life is living in agreement with Nature.”

There comes a point at which the universe dictates to us the nature of right & wrong, good & evil, or as I prefer to call it: healthy & unhealthy. It speaks a language older than words. It’s in the body, resonating within an ancient muscle memory. You have to be still to hear it. You have to be silent to realize how loud it really is. It can be as simple as the body telling us when we’ve consumed too little water, or as complex as the cosmos pinpointing for us what is the healthy way for human beings to live in an interconnected world. In many ways we can tap into the natural order of things through common sense alone, like the feeling we get in our gut when faced with a decision between truth and deception (red pill/blue pill), or how we instinctively know that rape and pedophilia is wrong.

Wendell Berry said it best:

“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.” 

3.) Question Authority

“When just laws are used to uphold unjust behavior, our obligation to uphold the laws is diminished.” –Clive Hamilton

We are, as Guy Debord wrote, “a society of the spectacle.” But what do we do when we finally come to realize that we are the spectacle, or worse, that we are the butt-end of a terrible joke? What are we to do when we are, as T.S. Eliot wrote, “Distracted from distraction by distraction”?

The answer is not only to question authority, but to have fun doing it. Take insurgent pictures. Write rebel poems. Speak unspoken truths to power. Scare people out of their complacency. Shake things up. Become the change you wish to see in the world. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

At the end of the day, it is our responsibility as members of a would-be proactive citizenry to rise above the distractions –be they political, corporate, or plutocratic- and question authority, despite the smoke and mirrors, all while admitting that we could be wrong. After all, transparency goes both ways. Like Derrick Jensen wrote:

“We are the governors as well as the governed. This means that all of us who care about life need to force accountability onto those who do not.”

This is how we turn the tables on oppressive power: We realize that the oppressors are damaged human beings with an unhealthy view of the world. We realize that we have the power to liberate them from their own damaged souls. Through non-violence and love we can give them the opportunity to become fully human. By giving them this opportunity we flip the tables on power. By revealing to them a healthier way and acting as an example for a healthier way, their power is reduced to what it really is: a sickness. They are no longer allowed to be overpowering oppressors. We have revealed to them their cowardice. We have freed ourselves from their tyranny. Our liberty is our love. We welcome them with open arms, so that they can be healed and learn again what it means to love. We are social creatures, first and foremost. By liberating others we liberate ourselves, and only then is true autonomy possible.

4.) Embrace Change

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives… It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” –Charles Darwin

We have a tendency to put the cart before the horse when it comes to change. It is easier for us to change our own behavior than it is to change the world, and yet we tend to focus too much upon changing the world. If we instead focused more upon changing our behavior, we would find that a natural side-effect of doing so is that we change the world. The world is going to change with or without you anyway. You might as well be a part of that change by being proactive about what it means to change in a healthy way. Like James P. Carse wrote:

“This ceaseless change does not mean discontinuity as a person; rather change is itself the very basis of our continuity as a person. It is because I cannot see what you see that I can see at all.”

But cultural change is not a black and white issue. It’s not like we completely abandon the old way of doing things, full stop, and then immediately adopt the new way. Not at all, change is gradual. History has always proceeded dialectically. Cultural change will be a mixing of the old (x) with the new (y) to create the hybrid (xy) culture. And it will probably get worse before it gets better. There will be some growing pains, especially since it will require a lot of us embracing step #1 of this article, which is all the more reason why we should adopt a health-based way of distinguishing right from wrong (#2). The powers-that-be will fight tooth-and-nail to keep the current unsustainable system churning, because it has made them rich, fat, and (pseudo)-happy, after all. But that’s all the more reason to question them to the nth degree (#3). In the end, nothing remains the same. True autonomy comes from embracing the slings and arrows of vicissitude and adapting to the ever-changing aspects of time, space, and the self.

“If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.” –Liz Gilbert

About the Author

Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.

This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

 

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