When ‘psychological knowledge’ is outlawed, only the outlaws have ‘psychological knowledge.’
‘Psychological knowledge,’ in this case, doesn’t mean knowing the depths of your childhood traumas. It means knowing the hidden, robotic reactions that are programmed into every single human being. It means knowing how these predictabilities play out in ourselves as individuals so that we can stop being victims.
‘Psychological knowledge’ means becoming familiar with the normal, human, everyday compulsions that can be triggered by any competent salesman, politician, marketing pro… or social media algorithm developer.
Have you ever complained about someone ‘pushing your buttons?’ You just self-owned as a robot.
Without self-knowledge, we are slaves to these chemical, emotional, and mental processes. With self-knowledge, we can recognize their usefulness but not be so trapped by them.
There are a lot more of these mechanical programs than most people realize. I’ll just mention three that seem to be especially pertinent to our current cultural dysfunction here in the US.
We can easily begin with what is often referred to as the ‘reptile mind.’ Besides the well-known flight or fight reactions to perceived danger, these also include freeze and fawn reactions.
Have you ever found yourself mute and paralyzed in the face of some shocking behavior from another person? Later, when you’re safe, you can think of all the heroic things you could have said, wished you had done. That’s an example of the ‘freeze’ reaction.
Have you ever found yourself apologizing or placating some loud, obnoxious or angry person? Not because it was the best thing to do in that situation, but because you were compelled to do it. It’s embarrassing to recognize that you were fawning — humiliating even — but recognize we must if we’re to become free.
Obedience to Authority
Are you familiar with the Milgram experiments that measured how much pain one person was willing to inflict on another — because they were told to by someone they perceived as an authority? Grown men collapsed and wept under the weight of their compassion, and still, they pushed the button.
The cultivation of this blind faith and utter lack of personal boundaries is a serious problem for humanity. It’s at the heart of religious abuse, police brutality and authoritarianism, the belief that one person has the right to coerce another.
Like all of these organic programs, one can see some usefulness in a quick, unquestioning response to an authoritative command; stopping a child from running into the street comes to mind, for example.
But, surely we can figure out a way to reconcile the usefulness of obedience — without destroying the ability of future adults to think for themselves. From the 1960s, we learned to question the problem of inhibiting a child’s creativity. Now it’s time we start working on the much older problem of destroying a child’s boundaries.
Here’s a favorite of salespeople, and religious zealots. Have you ever found yourself being ‘swept away’ by another person’s emotional exuberance? You know this is an intentional sales tactic, right? It’s taught in sales schools, and it why salespeople need to ‘psych themselves out’ before a call or presentation. Because, really, who’s that enthusiastic all the time?
You can tell if you’re dealing with an emotional manipulator because they become judgemental or indignant when you don’t join in.
Outlaws with ‘psychological knowledge’ understand the power of emotion over others — and that most people do not even recognize they are ‘having emotions,’ let alone believe they can observe and manage them.
Observing and managing one’s emotions is a set of skills called ‘emotional intelligence.’ Anyone can learn those skills, although it’s hard work — of the internal kind.
Unscrupulous influencers and emotional bullies have done the work. The difference is they have no compunction about bringing you up — or bringing you down. And once they can do that, they have you under their control.
The solution is not to become emotionless, a ‘gray rock.’ Nor is it to act out randomly or in apparent opposition; that’s what the anti-maskers are doing. The opposite of predictability is quiet self-governance, also know as having agency.
Don’t think it’s easy to have agency. People often say, ‘Don’t give your power away,’ but that assumes agency is an act of will. It’s more complicated than that. Indeed, the forces against choosing for oneself are ancient, biological and global.
Our automatic reactions, whether they exist by design or by conditioning, can serve and protect us, or can ruin our lives — perhaps even our fate as a species. For the reactions built into our DNA, they can only be ‘changed’ through epigenetics, requiring generations of conscious effort!
Being ‘only human,’ with our predictable weaknesses and motivations isn’t romantic — or an inevitability that needs to be accepted. It’s painful and dangerous, and based upon the denial of powerful, invisible forces; our thoughts, emotions and instincts.
Being fully human means having free will, the power to choose. We have a lot less free will than we’d like to imagine, and in order to become truly human, we have to begin by acknowledging that.