Z, Contributing Writer
The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead.-Aristotle
The great epochs in our lives are at the points when we gain the courage to re-baptize our badness into the best in us. –Friedrich Nietzsche
In this kind of ontology of immanence, what we are describing is not a creature who is transformed and who transforms the world in turn in some miraculous ways, but rather a creature who takes more of the world into himself and develops new forms of courage and endurance. –Becker
A true courageous person has a proper orientation toward what is shameful and what is fearful. –Aristotle (Nichomachean Ethics)
The single biggest problem in the United States of America today is that it has an unhealthy misconception of what it means to be courageous. The main culprit, in my opinion, is the military mindset.
I “served my country” for ten years as a Navy intelligence specialist (really the irony of my life, since I’m the biggest non-conformist I know), stationed in various places across the globe. I used the military as a means to an end: to pay for my education. But I was the exception, not the rule.
The hook the government uses to attract young men and women to serve in the armed forces is education, but less than 5% of military members educate themselves while serving (and even when they do it is military-based education), and less than 10% ever do. This is because once you are in the service, the incentive isn’t education; the incentive is blind faith in a corrupt system. The incentive is, do as I say because I said to do it. And it becomes, “kill those people over there on the other side of the world in a culture you know nothing about for no other reason than that the chain of command has ordered you to do so.” In other words, it becomes the rich and powerful (so-called leaders), leading the blind (congress/military/chain-of-command) who are brainwashing the ignorant (soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen) into doing their dirty work. And believe me, the work is dirty, with a capital “D”. I’ve seen it first hand.
But the military made a huge mistake regarding me, THEY ALLOWED ME TO EDUCATE MYSELF! Benjamin Franklin said it best, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” Yes, I am a well-armed lamb. Yes, I am liberated. And yes, I AM contesting the vote. But I am armed with knowledge, and I vote for a new way of doing things. I refuse to hide behind the cowardice of a gun. My weapon is knowledge and the courage to apply it.
I have learned how to adapt and how to overcome (one of a few healthy things I learned from the military). I have learned how to use the shoulders of giants as springboards to launch myself into higher states of knowledge. But most of all, I have learned that only self-education has the power to pluck the plank of hypocrisy from the eye of blind allegiance; be that allegiance to the military, the police, or to xenophobic patriotic pride. And so I have become an autodidact of the first order. And not just to educate myself, but, more importantly, to educate those who have been brainwashed and conditioned into blind allegiance to an unworthy authority.
The militaristic (conquer, control, destroy, repeat) mindset is just such an authority. As Stephen Binko said, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” This mindset has enculturated our youth into believing blindly that courage is nothing more than conquering, controlling, and destroying an enemy. Whoever or whatever that enemy may turn out to be. This creates defensiveness on all levels –emotional, psychological, spiritual, and even physical– where relationships are transformed into possessiveness, and love is transformed into paranoia. And this is happening on an almost epidemic level.
Part of the problem is that we live in a rampantly inert culture, and because of this we have forgotten what it truly means to be courageous. Born into a state of prescribed-state, that is, in a state of hand-me-down ideals, and spoon-fed ideologies lacking in depth, we have been left behind by nature. Our culture, the culture of the inert, is a giant nostalgia of disconnect, a gross system of empty sentimentality, where nothing really happens but hollow reminiscence and cheap entertainment meant to lull us into a false sense of security. The military is the so-called protector of this false-sense of security. But we are not secure, not at all. We are floundering in the abyss of our collective inhumanity, grasping for meaning in a culture that just wants to entertain and consume itself to no end.
Our culture doesn’t offer a meaning to life. Rather, it chases the questions about life’s meaning out of the mind through over-consumption and entertainment. In the military it chases away meaning with jingoism, and “because I said so” ignorant attitudes. There is no “place” to reflect on the sense, or even nonsense, of things. We’ve forgotten how we’re actors and all the world is a stage. Instead, we’ve reduced ourselves to mere props. Or, even worse, puppets for a blind chain-of-command.
It is extremely difficult to uproot what we have learned from our culture about what it means to be courageous. Over a lifetime, culture itself becomes a kind of internal judge. What Freud referred to as the ego ideal, which acts as a kind of universal shame regulator, which is for the most part subconscious. But we are the ones responsible for updating our inner shame regulators. It is up to us to usurp the “throne” its outdated ego ideal, and to shuffle in the “woodwork” and “bloodwork” for a new form of courage.
In the Culture of the Inert everyone talks about thinking outside of the box, breaking mental paradigms, and stretching comfort zones. The problem is that nobody ever gets around to doing it. This is because their psychological structure, in regards to courage, still dwells within the old ego ideal of the inert militaristic mindset. In order to genuinely perform courageous acts the old form of courage must give way. If we are to be courageous, we must transform the mechanism by which we experience shame through acts that transcend shame itself. But this is extremely difficult, especially since our internal ego-ideal is not necessarily under the direct control of our will.
What we need is a transformation of the virtue of courage, so that we may reach that “place” where we can reflect about the sense of it all. A place where we are free to see how the old form of courage is futile in a world where everything is collapsing into meaninglessness. Where we are free to see how clinging to the old in the face of the new eventually becomes unintelligible and ridiculous. Finding a way to flourish despite our spoon-fed ego-ideal is our goal. It will not be easy, but things “being easy” is a part of the old ways of courage, which is counter-intuitive to courage anyway, and is perhaps the main reason why the old way fails as a system of courage.
The heart of courage is hope. If we are to act courageously there must be something we are hopeful for. It may be as simple as having hope that our courage will save lives, or as complex as the hope that the courage to go against the grain of non-sustainability will open up new pathways to sustainability. But for now our capacity for hope should be a good place to orient ourselves with shame and fear.
By accepting fear and shame as inevitable, we are better able to anticipate hope, personify it, and then respond appropriately to it. Responding properly is courage. To be courageous despite, or even in spite of fear and shame, we must be able to unite wisdom and acumen with foolishness and enchantment. This way fear and shame are properly oriented with honor and humor, and the hope we have for a new future, or a new way, becomes an open adventure.
But the inert culture is so in love with itself that it can’t see beyond its own jingoism and consumerism. It cannot see beyond its own comfort. There is no need for hope because the inertia that comes from being inert cripples even this most basic human emotion. In the inert culture, courage is seen as a drive to get to the top, or to score a touchdown, or to join the army (militaristic mindset). But this is inert courage. This is courage for a world of narcissism and luxury, of pride and prejudice, of paranoid politics, and of non-sustainable and unjustifiable comforts.
If we are to work toward creating a healthy world we must first see how we fit in the unhealthy world, that is, in the inert world of the militaristic mindset. We must see how our being courageous, or not, effects everything. How do we stand in this world? What does it mean to “be” in this world? Before we can ask ourselves how we stand against it, we must first ask ourselves how do we see the inert world for what it is. How do we properly orient ourselves between fear and shame? We do this through a particular flavor of purity: innocence.
If hope is the heart of courage then innocence is the heart of hope. Part of the art of self-interrogation (ruthlessly questioning the self) is rediscovering this innocence; it is awakening our inner-child, the one that has become dormant in the all-too-comfortable bed of the inert world. This inner-child is in touch with nature and the cosmos in a way that our adult selves have forgotten. As adults we have fallen into the cycle of going-through-the-motions, of living just to keep ourselves inert, and relying on the false sense of security “provided by” the military.
By seeing the world anew, from this place of innocent connection with nature and the cosmos, we correctly see that the traditional methods of courage, that is inert militaristic courage, is no longer fine and is no longer healthy. Not only is it unhealthy for us as individuals, but as communities, as ecosystems, and more importantly as a world. It therefore stands to reason that going against the old method of courage (militaristic courage) should not be considered as shameful, and that we should no longer be afraid of going against it, lest we fear fear itself.
And so if we are to be courageous in the face of inertia we must be hopeful, and circumspect, that our courage aims towards that which is healthy for all. Not only what’s healthy for us and our families, or for our country, or even for our species, but for the whole of the world.
For any action to count as courageous it must first come from an understanding that the current situation has changed so drastically that the requirements for courage must change along with it. Our current situation, the state of the world, is showing us that things must change drastically. With the onset of global warming, out-of-control populations, water shortages, and human-caused environmental collapse, we live in a time where the traditional understanding of what it means to be courageous is becoming unlivable. It is up to each of us to exercise good judgment about what is fine and healthy in this world, and then to face the future with a new understanding of what it means to be courageous.
The reality that we must except is that we have to accept reality in a new way. If we are to exercise good judgment we must be able to discern between what is healthy and what is unhealthy. As it stands, the traditional way of looking at things (the inert militaristic mindset) has lead to our civilization’s relentless undermining of the earth’s chemistry; to include water cycles, atmospheric cycles, soil cycles, thermal cycles, and even human cycles.
Our destructive civilization has been systematically shutting down the major life systems of our planet. It is up to each of us to slowly, systematically, deconstruct this system, this militaristic man-machine, before it destroys us and everything we love along with it. But first we must deconstruct ourselves.
The militaristic, plutocratic civilization has a core. It has a foundation. And that is the Inert Man. If we are going to change the world we need to change how we interact with that world. We need to find the inert-self that is slothfully obedient and comfortable within us, and exorcise it. This will take courage. More so, this will take a proper understanding of fear and shame. It is more difficult than it sounds, but the inert man fools nobody but himself. He is smart, but he is not wise. Wisdom comes from holistic understanding. The inert man is incapable of thinking holistically because he is so subsumed by narcissism and ego-centrism, and going with the status-quo (or orders from the chain of command) that his only worry is maintaining his slothful inertia or hoarding his immoderate luxuries. He knows that he is cowardly and decadent, pathetic in his aspirations, and pitiful in his pleasures, but there is nothing he can do about it because of the immense amount of inertia that has been his life’s conditioning. This makes him weak, but it also makes him stubborn.
Cognitive dissonance is a strange psychological phenomenon that occurs when we are conflicted between the way we’ve always done something and the new way that doesn’t make sense and is counter-intuitive. At its most simplistic it is the uncomfortable feeling that arises when holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. At its most complex it is when an idea is in conflict with a fundamental sense of self. Any time you go from an inert militaristic state to a proactive courageous state, dissonance is sure to be a factor. The fact that it’s cognitive (mixing in subconscious and unconscious psychological subtleties) makes it all the more challenging. But the fact that it is cognitive gives us the power to learn from it.
The Cognitive Dissonance Counter-intuitive attacks both extremes of dissonance, by first uprooting us from our entrenched viewpoints and, second, by clipping the cultural straitjacket that binds our perceptual capacities. It also brings to the forefront that aspect of the human condition that is prone to biases, mistakes, and fallibility. It teaches humility in the most primordial sense. It gets down to the roots of the cognitive experience and shows exactly how precarious our cognition truly is.
This tactic directly attacks the inert-self. At best it involves questioning to the nth degree. At worst it is felt, but ignored. If we are to get past our inert-self being in control of our lives, we must embrace the uncomfortable feeling that comes from experiencing cognitive dissonance. The discomfort then acts as a kind of teacher. An important teacher. One that will later help us to cope with change in all its varying degrees and complexities. But more importantly it teaches us how to be courageous. Just the simple recognition, and acceptance, that cognitive dissonance is at work within us is itself an act of courage.
In the end it will take all the courage we can muster to silence the inert-self coiled inside us, decadent and slothful, but we are our only hope. We are the Earths only hope. If we are going to have a healthy planet we must have healthy, non-militaristic, eco-centric people living on that planet. To move from an egocentric, inert perspective to an eco-centric courageous one, that is to say from unhealthy to healthy, we must have courage. living a courage-based lifestyle leads to freedom, which in turn leads to the need to empower and free others, which leads to other courageous people, which leads to more freedom.
It takes an extreme amount of courage to leave our past selves behind. Crossing thresholds has always taken an act of great courage. My hope is that in the end courage and cooperation will win over fear and tyranny. Unfortunately, the natural progression of the inert, militaristic man is nihilism and eventually tyranny. It is only by acting courageous in the face of this militaristic inertia that one thwarts the would be tyrant within and thereby becomes free and truly democratic.
About the Author
Z, 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. His recent works can also be found at Z’s Hub.