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Modernity and The Exploitation of the Human Mind
Embrace "The Way of the Vagabond" to transcend the never-ending chase for happiness.
“Descend as enemies to each other. You will find in the earth a residence and provision for your appointed stay.”
— Quran, Verse (7:24)
The Original Sin
The metaphorical construct of the story of creation and the original sin is essential to break down the human mind's inclinations surgically. The story goes something like this:
God creates Adam in his image. He then creates Eve by using Adam’s rib and tells them both to enjoy the wonders of the Garden of Eden. He tells them there is one rule to living in that Garden: not eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
The two obey his word until a serpent comes along and tempts them to eat from the tree, saying they have nothing to fear. They follow suit, and after eating the fruit, they are awakened to a new reality.
The “serpent.” The “forbidden fruit.” The “new reality.” All of these symbols point to the inherent proclivity of human beings to be in an incessant state of dissatisfaction. Adam was promised immortal life, free of worry and burden. So then, why the allure of a fruit hanging from a tree to risk it all? Adam and Eve’s salivary response to the fruit demonstrates “the never-ending chase” of hedonistic contentment. It can be viewed as the Brownian motion of ricocheting from one “high” to the next in search of purpose and fulfillment.
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The Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence asserts that every person possesses three “inalienable rights” — “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. This phrase rolls off people’s tongues 247 years later, devoid of meaning. The wise Thomas Jefferson strategically took the phrase “pursuit of happiness” from John Locke while writing the Declaration of Independence and placed it last in the collective.
Time and time again, this pursuit has been interpreted as hedonism and avoidance of pain/distress—a journey of self-centered degeneracy. The Founding Fathers were wealthy by the standards of 1776. Have you ever wondered why “material prosperity” is not mentioned? Now, in no shape, or form are we contesting against pursuing financial freedom or glorifying poverty here. But one thing is clear. The Founders indirectly juxtaposed the factors providing “meaning” to society and “material gain” by not mentioning the latter at all.
Why “the pursuit of happiness?” Why was it not written as “life, liberty, and happiness?”
Pursuit is the action of following. In other words, it is endless. This premise is not being painted in a negative light. However, it is vital to embrace the elusive nature of this journey. A journey not to be mistaken with the pursuit of self-interest, pleasure, and property. Locke prefaces this “pursuit” by stating the “highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness” so “that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness.” This imaginary happiness is the chase of eternal satisfaction leading to self-victimization and a never-ending cycle of disappointment.
The Design of the Human Brain
To delve into this further, one must understand the design of the human brain.
“Your entire life runs on the software in your head — why wouldn’t you obsess over optimizing it? …And yet, not only do most of us not obsess over our own software — most of us don’t even understand our own software, how it works, or why it works that way.”
— Tim Urban, Wait but Why
The human brain is not designed to be happy. The primary evolutionary goal of human beings is to survive and reproduce. Happiness and contentment would get in the way of that evolutionary goal by leading to comfort, which in nature is proven to be fatal. Dissecting the brain's anatomy reveals a heavy bias in the mass of the frontal lobe. This provides us with the ability to use rationality and deploy analytical skills. One may argue, then, why emotions have not been completely weeded out by the process of natural selection. The fact of the matter is that the adaptive process has identified emotions to provide a net positive impact on the continuation of the human species. Experts in the field of neurology argue that depression is merely the brain’s way of protecting an individual from risky and hopeless situations.
“For countless generations our biochemical system adapted to increasing our chances of survival and reproduction, not our happiness. The biochemical system rewards actions conducive to survival and reproduction with pleasant sensations. But these are only an ephemeral sales gimmick.”
— Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus
The limbic system, also identified as the “monkey brain,” is absent of all logic, just as the name suggests. When one feels a wave of emotions, this part of the brain overrides the decision-making, rational, and pre-frontal cortex. The limbic system is essentially present to protect when one senses danger in any sense (fight or flight response is triggered) and is the brain’s reward pathway.
Posing the notion of happiness as being an abstract idea may seem purely negative. However, thinking about this further leads to the consolation that dissatisfaction is a fluctuation that makes one human.
Devolution of Modern-Day Society
At a surface level, the groundwork has been laid to understand the nature of the human mind and the constant search for purpose, fulfillment, happiness, etc. All these ideas in a vacuum, and the accompanied journey of cognitive mindfulness may provide the bearer with a powerful arsenal of tools. Enter… the brainwashing of modern-day consumerism, heavily pushed political agendas, mass censorship, and the all-powerful engineered grip of social media via dopamine manipulation, and society is left unable to use individualistic thinking. This leads to the perpetuation of dangerous ideas (such as materialism and hedonism), failure to engage in logical discourse without the fear of being antagonized, herd thinking, weaker minds, and, ultimately, the devolution of society.
It comes as no surprise that pairing the unexamined mind with the aforementioned factors has a high potential of leading to catastrophe, with one of the outcomes being modern-day slavery, i.e., a vicious cycle of feeling unfulfilled and continuing to seek validation through a forced rat race to fuel a purposeless life filled with consumption.
The Proposed Framework for Cognitive Freedom
“Concentrate every minute like a Roman — like a man — on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can — if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.”
– Marcus Aurelius. Meditations.
An anime series called “Cyberpunk Edgerunners” proposes a thought-provoking premise. The series revolves around a plethora of tragic characters. Each pigeon-holed into inherited dreams that are used to provide meaning to their journey of “running on the edge” to free themselves of the hierarchal dystopia they exist in. All the while, the characters are fully aware of an inevitable dissociative disorder proposed as “Cyberpsychosis,” which is the permanent loss of humanity when going down the path of trying to free themselves. While the metaphors and symbolism proposed are extreme to impress a point, some parallels can be drawn. Considering the totality of ideas presented, the implied extraction will be left to the reader.
The following is a proposed framework for aiding in the attempt to break the shackles:
Actively seek challenges and obstacles to overcome with the context of providing meaning to the “suffering.” Any unintended hardship can be dealt with similarly, giving it meaning.
Understand that the brain is a poor judge of “good” and “bad” events as it is merely focused on the comparison of desired reality vs. perceived reality (both of which are assumed) to discern between “good” and “bad” external events.
Study the self and become a master of your cognition. Understand the wiring of the software.
Find contentment in the seeking of meaning. Understand that dissatisfaction is what makes you human.
Seek experiences and/or pursue the learning of skills that provide a “state of flow.” Pursue this state vehemently.
Nurture individualistic thinking and grow the ability to break down opposing ideas rationally and thought processes while separating emotions.
Become a master of emotional control. This does not mean to be devoid of emotion. It means to have the ability to feel emotions and recognize them for what they are.
Seek excellence in the optimization of physical health. Cherish the vessel through which life is experienced.
Practice mindfulness, i.e., the ability to periodically dial back the time horizon to the present moment.
Consistently challenge your belief system, values, and cognitive framework (self-reflection).
Study cognitive biases and work on identifying and re-framing “faulty” mental frameworks you might have.
Pursue the “ideal self” — What does your ideal self look like (in every form)? How would your ideal self react? What are your values? Why are these values important to you?
“Let go your earthly tether. Enter the void. Empty, and become wind.”
The examples provided herein — The Original Sin, The Declaration of Independence, and an overview of the human mind's design, all highlight the incessant need for purpose and the elusiveness of fulfillment. Modern-day society is creating a pressure cooker of societal cognitive devolution that is preying on the inherent search for fulfillment of the unexamined mind. To traverse the arduous path to freedom of thought, one must tirelessly work on mastering the human mind, develop individualistic thinking, and embrace “The Way of the Vagabond.”
And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.”
- Quran (57:20)
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