|Liberation Psychology: A Modern View of Classical Thought and A Classical View of Modern Thought
© 1995 Michele Toomey, PhD
If we approach human identity and existence in the classical orientation of moving toward a cosmic order of harmony and accord with Nature, where does that leave the modern view of autonomy and freedom? In need of another look and a new framework. In this paper, liberation psychology will be offered as both another look and a new framework. It will be put forth as introspective thought that leads to discovery, not as dogmatic pronouncements in need of validation. Further, liberation psychology will be presented as the psychology of choice and therefore of autonomy and freedom.
Four basic assumptions are proposed as underlying essential truths informing this new framework:
- The self is, by nature, a being born with integrity, whole and at one.
- The self is, by nature, paradoxical, and its paradoxical forces are equally legitimate.
- To preserve its integrity, the self must learn to reconcile its equally legitimate paradoxical forces.
- The self's integrity informs its system, making the need and desire for intimacy, for wholeness and oneness, its primary need and desire.
These assumptions are, obviously, in keeping with classical thinking of cosmic order that is in accord with nature. They, in turn, affect our orientation toward freedom and power, since they assume reconciliation and equality, not conquest and hierarchy. When the reconciliation process is seen as the natural relationship between the self's opposing forces, then movement becomes central to the relationship, and freedom to move becomes the essential freedom. Power in this framework is not control. Rather, power is energy, strength is intensity, and exercising power is movement. Autonomy is guaranteed if the integrity of the reconciliation process is preserved. Not confined by defining power as control and strength as the ability to control, this orientation allows us to discuss freedom and autonomy in light of choice not control. This shift marks an essential change in our world view.
Rather than either/or we are able to have either/and which creates an egalitarian climate of exchange and turns, instead of a hierarchical one of dominance that results in either victory or defeat. When integrity is assumed as natural to the self, we have the ethical principles of its nature informing the order and sequence of the self's inner world. Imposed dogmatism informing imposed morality is replaced by natural integrity informing ethical principles. In keeping with the reconciliation process, our search for what "is" and what "ought" to be, will move from both "ought" to "is", and from what "is" to "ought". Not only movement but sequence is essential in this framework.
By moving back and forth from "ought" and "is" and away from either/or to either/and we need not argue whether rationality is subjective or objective, or if reasons provide justification for what we think or do. Instead, we are free to ponder how to reconcile what are traditionally viewed as our rational and irrational thoughts and feelings by discovering where they're coming from and what they mean, then choosing how we want to deal with them and how we will express ourselves. Since we view each paradoxical force as legitimate, neither rationality nor irrationality is considered superior or preferred. In fact, these terms themselves are laden with bias and inequality. No one aspires to be irrational. Therefore, in liberation psychology rational is translated cognitive reflection and irrational is translated intuitive insights and reactions. Each has its place and its purpose. Determining what that is and how to be true to the complexity of their paradoxical messages is the challenge of human existence and personal identity. It is assumed moreover, that there is a way to rise to the challenge and choose, without waging war.
Let us consider the basis for these underlying assumptions of liberation psychology. What can be said for assuming we are, by nature, beings with integrity, whole and at one, instead of assuming either we are evil by nature and must fight ourselves to keep our evil forces in check, or we have superior forces that need to dominate and control our inferior ones that are out of control. To assume that evil, undesirable or naturally uncontrollable forces emanate from the self is to assume something about a human being that is not assumed about anything else in nature. Nothing else is assumed to be, by nature, evil or out of its own control. How can it be that only we are the exception to nature's order? Here let us allow what "is", that nature has its own integrity, become what "ought to be" and include all nature, even human nature. It has as much legitimacy as not.
The assumption that we are paradoxical, by nature, is not particularly controversial, so that assumption would seem to be allowed to stand on its own. That these paradoxical forces are equally legitimate, is not as simple.
It is commonly accepted that the opposing forces are hierarchical and/or antagonistic. To assume that the self must learn to reconcile its equally legitimate paradoxical forces not eliminate the paradox by waging war against them, is another matter. To assume that opposite does not mean unequal or antagonistic is to tip the polarity of the relationship from vertical to horizontal and to eliminate conquest as the goal. Immediately, the nature of our relationship to our paradoxical forces within is dramatically and forever changed. And so is our world view. Without inequality and hostility as the fundamental assumptions underlying the relationship of opposite forces, the question of freedom from dominance is irrelevant and moral superiority is not available. Life's purpose and struggle are no longer defined in terms of superiority and conquest but in terms of clarity and understanding. Life becomes a journey, not a test, and we are on a trip not on trial. Inner dialogue shifts from argument and control to conversation and discovery.
What right do we have to assume equality? As much as we have to assume inequality. What gives us the right to make independence superior to dependence, abstinence superior to indulgence or to attribute to any other trait innate superiority or inferiority? When any force or trait dominates, is used excessively or to the exclusion of its opposite force or trait, it is a violation of the self's integrity. Each needs the boundary of the other and they must each relate interdependently with each other if the self is to maintain the integrity of its paradoxical nature. For example, the physiological dimension of the self speaks to the interdependent relationship between the body and the spirit and the body's network. In a fearful moment our body can shake, we may grow pale, become immobile or faint. We can also forget, lose our memory, become unable to speak. Our imagination can spin us out into hysteria, back into a past experience, or ahead into anticipated calamity. Yet we have physically not moved, and have not even been physically touched.
Are we to posit the superiority of the body for having the neurological capacity to transmit messages throughout its system, or is it the superiority of the imagination and memory that have the power to take the body on an emotional experience that hasn't even occurred. If we do either we are still caught in the age-old dichotomy of nature and nurture, mind vs. emotions, body vs. spirit. This argument goes nowhere, only around and around, one dimension against the other, fighting for supremacy.
When the relationship between opposing paradoxical sides, therefore, is combative and competitive, the outcome is seen as winning or losing. The force that wins then dominates the other. Either/or is the traditional and primary approach to paradox. We are to choose and argue over subjectivity vs. objectivity, rationality vs. irrationality, freedom vs. domination, symbolic vs. technical, inner vs. outer, self vs. other, and even, or especially, female vs. male.
Always the argument assumes either/or. Opposites are seen as opposing forces at war or competing with each other, and winning allows one position or force to prove its superiority over the other and therefore earn the right to be right in power, and in control. Truth is then forced into relativity and essential truths are not sought or known. Depending on the skill and the strength of the force and the argument, the winner is the keeper of the truth and of the power, for the time.
Obviously it makes no sense to attribute superiority to one or the other capacity or force when both are seen as essential to the self's integrity and neither alone is sufficient. How much more equality can there be, than being essentially needed?
And what of reconciling paradox? Assuming the reconciliation of paradox is the logical outgrowth of assuming that the self is by nature a being of integrity. To have integrity is to be whole and at one. If, by nature, we are beings of integrity and if, by nature, we are paradoxical beings, then it follows that to preserve the integrity of our paradoxical nature, our wholeness and oneness, reconciliation not elimination of our paradoxical forces must occur.
It then follows psycho-logically that intimacy, or oneness, is the self's primary need, since integrity , which is wholeness and oneness, is the self's natural state. Intimacy with paradox is, in fact, the natural outgrowth of this reconciliation process, so the relationships within the framework are intertwined not separated and discrete. The logic of psycho-logic is circular, not linear, and each assumption informs and is informed by the other. It is not a simple matter of cause and effect but of relationships. The natural order of the inner world is, then, envisioned as a universe of spirals and infinity signs, not of right angles and perpendicular lines. Intersections and connections provide insight that lead to clarity and understanding that in turn yield intimacy. Discovery is desired for itself not sought for proof and conquest. In the complex system of interdependent circular relationships, movement back and forth between the self's paradoxical forces allows them to form and inform each other. The order and sequence of this movement are dictated by the natural integrity of the system, therefore intimacy is the self's primary need and the need for intimacy is primary in its sequence.
By contrast, in the world view of a hierarchical system of antagonistic unequal opposites, the need to protect must be primary meaning first, both in importance and in sequence. When the dynamic is conquer or be conquered, control or be controlled, dominate or be dominated, intimacy is not the primary concern, protection is. Therefore, assuming that the self has a natural integrity and a natural order and that reconciling its paradoxical forces preserves that integrity, reverses the sequence and order within the self's system as we have traditionally approached it. To take the position that the natural order is that the desire for intimacy and oneness precedes the desire to protect and to be protected, is to take a revolutionary position.
To change from a traditional view of the self's relationship to paradox and power as one of hierarchy, hostility and conquest to one of equality, reconciliation and oneness, requires a revolutionary re-thinking and reorientation. For the self to move toward intimacy with itself before it moves toward protecting and containing itself, requires the self to be initially open and vulnerable. Intimacy with itself or with others cannot occur if the self is fearful and guarded or hostile and attacking before it is open to discover. However, if none of our inner forces/our thoughts, feelings, imaginings or desires are viewed as evil predators, we have no need to fear any of them. We have, instead, the need to know them.
With these assumptions and this vision in mind, one example of reconciled paradox might be helpful in clarifying the process. Let us consider the self's paradoxical ability to think and cognitively know and its ability to feel and intuitively know. The traditional argument that ensues is relative to the superiority of objectivity over subjectivity, cognition over intuition and emotion. Traditionally it is argued that objective technical thought is free of bias and therefore seen as superior and true. The subjective complexity of emotional involvement and intuitive insights is seen as inferior and untrustworthy. If we do not posit these paradoxical capacities as either/or and then engage in proving the superior rightness of one or the other, we can reconcile them by giving them an equal and legitimate place in a sequence instead of drawing a static hierarchical conclusion.
Envisioning the capacity to know and understand as an infinity sign with thoughts and feelings in each of the ellipses, and with the imagination translating them into images and metaphors so each can understand the other, then the information they provide to the self can flow in and out of each, to and from each other. The intersection becomes the connection where the movement between the paradoxical forces meet and depending on their origin, become "informed" feelings or "felt" thoughts. Around either side, are spirals of information consisting of feelings or thoughts but reconciling the two requires they travel along a path of an infinity sign that brings them to an intersection, connecting them as they inform and are informed by each other. The self, is, therefore, informed and formed by what and how it processes what it knows.
There are, then, two separate entities of information and a third reconciled one. Essential to the reconciliation process is movement, with its flow and sequence. Nothing relevant is automatically eliminated, and nothing is always dominant, therefore, nothing relevant is deliberately lost. Everything has its time and its turn, and everything, thoughts, feelings and imaginings have a legitimacy in what they contribute to the self's ability to "know" and to understand. "Knowing" is seen as more than a cognitive act. It is seen as an entire system's ability to "know". Consequently, cognition is not superior capacity with the sole responsibility for knowing. The whole self contributes to the self's capacity to "know." Together, objective and subjective data provide the self with valuable information that is reacted to then reflected on, processed and evaluated. There is no either/or, instead there's either/and.
In this framework of reconciled paradox, movement is central. In fact, if we return to the definition of power as it is put forth in liberation psychology, we are reminded that power is viewed as energy. Movement, therefore, is the exercising of power and freedom is linked to the ability to move, not the ability to control. With power as energy, and movement as the exercising of power, strength is found in intensity, not in dominance and control. The source of our energy and our intensity is, then, our desire. No desire yields no energy and therefore, no movement. Strong desire yields intense energy and therefore, strong movement. Rather than the assumption that waging war within ourselves provides the tension/conflict that motivates us to act and react, being paradoxical in and of itself provides that tension, and then the desire for intimacy governed by integrity prompts us to decide and choose. The stage is set to discuss freedom and autonomy in terms of reconciled paradox and personal choice, not conquest with its imposed dictates and desired conformity.
The integrity of being paradoxical provides the natural boundaries and the fairness of the turns. Reconciling indulgence with abstinence is the complex task of sustaining paradoxical wholeness. Discipline rather than conformity provides the ability to stay within boundaries and contain the system as it processes data and moves back and forth with it. Recognition of the fact that we are predetermined even as we are self-determined and other-determined allows us to have the honesty of integrity in our approach to autonomy. Rather than striving to achieve a constant state of being totally autonomous by being totally objective and totally value-free, we come to understand that our autonomy and freedom are found in the flowing nature of our relationship to information and in our response to it. How we relate to ourselves and others is the key to our liberation, not how we control or solve them.
Therefore, even though it follows from assuming that the self's system has a natural integrity with its own sequence and order, that liberation psychology approaches human existence and identity in terms of an accord with nature and a cosmic order, this order is not seen as a dogmatic imposition on the self that restricts its freedom. Rather, it is seen as providing the self with a system for receiving, reacting, processing and responding to information that allows the self to choose how it will relate to itself and others. This ability to choose is seen as the essence of freedom, of autonomy. Liberation psychology, therefore, provides the framework for a psychology of choice in the presence of a predetermined order of non-choice. It speaks directly to the paradox of free will and of cosmic order.
Once order and sequence are seen as emanating from the nature of the self's system, they are not seen as dogmatic imperatives, they are seen as essential truths. However, unlike the essential truths of the self's physiological order and sequence for receiving and transmitting messages, which occur automatically, however, the self's psychological order and sequence for receiving and transmitting messages involve the self's active and deliberate participation. How the self participates in this process determines whether it violates or liberates itself by sustaining its natural integrity. Dominance of one force and its message over another is seen as a violation of the integrity of the self's paradoxical system. Autonomy is not achieved by conquest and domination. Elimination and subordination of parts of ourselves achieve an internment or even a death of some of our dimensions and capacities. Rather than freedom of movement and chosen boundaries there is imposed confinement and enforced conformity.
In considering the order and sequence of psychological liberation and freedom of movement in reconciling paradox, questions of orientation, boundaries, and direction arise. The governing force that provides the orientation in this system is integrity. If information is processed with integrity and if the orientation is to reconcile paradox, the boundaries are formed in the reconciliation process. Indulgence is reconciled with abstinence, independence with dependence, self with other, thoughts with feelings and need with desire. The direction is toward intimacy, oneness, which preserves the self's integrity, wholeness. Yielding becomes a legitimate movement, inward, and the concept of yielding as defeat is not relevant.
The end of one inner and outer battle worthy of special note is the battle between female and male forces. Without conquest as the goal and without the hierarchy of power seen as the strength to conquer and control, there is no innate battle of the sexes. Neither is there an innate basis for male superiority.
Now we venture into the realm of philosophical debate that overlaps the realm of sexual politics, a risky venture. Nevertheless, it is a necessary philosophical foray into a politically hot arena. The issue of sexual inequality and male dominance is not limited or even rooted in politics. Moreover, it is rooted in the philosophy of psychology where the issues of human identity and autonomy are discussed in terms of gender and therefore, needs to be included there.
By assuming that the self's paradoxical forces are equally legitimate and not at war, the self's female and male forces are not set up as unequal combatants. Internal and external sexual inequality issues emerge as non-issues in this world view. With each paradoxical force seen as equally legitimate and reconciliation of each opposing force seen as the desired goal, female and male dimensions of the self are to be reconciled with not at war with each other. Gender differences need not be feared or used as proof of inequality. They need to be seen as differences that affect our orientation and our abilities and as such need to be recognized and respected.
In the back and forth spiraling movement of the reconciliation process, women begin by yielding, moving back and in, then forth and out. Men begin by aggressing, moving forth and out, then back and in. Neither orientation is superior and both genders must complete the full cycle to reconcile the paradox and preserve their integrity. Our intimate connection with ourselves and our inner world is dependent on preserving the integrity of our sequence, and that means completing the paradoxical movement of back and forth, in and out, not stopping at a truncated genderized half cycle.
Once yielding is not seen as a sign of weakness and defeat, but rather as an inward direction, women are not in a position to be deemed inferior by nature. Once aggressiveness is not seen as the proof of strength and dominance, men are not in a position to be deemed superior by nature. In the liberated world view, genderized power is not measured in terms of domination and subservience, rather it is evaluated in terms of direction and intensity of desire. Inward is not inferior to outward and the traits assigned to each gender are seen as the initial orientation of that gender, not as its eminent domain. Liberation psychology, is, in fact, a non-sexist, non-hostile and non-hierarchical approach to gender, paradox and power.
Approaching life as a reconciliation process not as a war, leads to approaching life as a journey, not a test. Opposite genders are journeyers with opposite initial orientations not opposing, unequal traits. This orientation affects how we know not our ability to know. Journeying provides us with the opportunity to learn and discover. Once the approach to paradoxical forces is not hostile or hierarchical and the relationship to gender is not described as warlike battles where male conquerors dominate conquered females, protection does not have to be primary. It can follow not precede intimacy, and come forth as needed, not be the leading dominant force. Without the battle of the sexes either within ourselves or between ourselves and others, we are free to reorient ourselves to being on a journey as opposed to being on trial, and learn how to approach information for understanding, not for proof. This is still hard to do, however, because proving is more common and more valued than understanding and arguing is much more prevalent than conversation.
For the journeyer, who is, by definition, intent on evolving over time, discovering its relationship to information is the primary goal of data gathering. Information exchange is then, a personal, subjective educational experience, not a detached acquiring of data. Any idea, fact, thought, feeling, memory or imagining that contributes to our ability to creatively make associations that add to our understanding of our relationship with ourselves, others, or the world, is considered valuable information. Evolution means becoming more complex. For that to happen, information must affect us and become part of us, then we must affect the information. Change occurs as an outgrowth of the exchange and the evolutionary process goes on.
In contrast, the test mentality of argument and proof assumes that once a position has been taken, nothing should change it. We must prove that what we think is right, then close ranks, and defend our position. Rather than being open to change, we are committed to remaining the same and resisting change. If we are wrong, it is seen as defeat and proof of inferiority, so we cannot afford to listen. We must already be right.
The journeyer, therefore, must have a tool for dealing with the openness of discovery that calls forth a complex relationship to multi-dimensional information. We must be able to handle and sort and then reconcile the complexity and the quantity of the paradoxical data that comes from the past, the present and the anticipated future, from within ourselves, from others, and from the universe. Processing is that vehicle and that tool. Since processing information is not about being right, but about discovering and about understanding and being understood, it allows life to be an educational experience. It is broad in scope yet intimate in nature because it is known from our perspective.
Processing calls forth creativity both in the search and in the linking together what is discovered. To be oriented toward learning and evolving is to be dynamic and free to move. Change as growth is desired not feared. To be resisting and fighting, arguing and proving in order to be right, is to be stuck and static and resistant to change. Dynamic is, of course, preferable to static by any standard.
However, it takes a certain self-confidence to be willing to process information. Processing requires us to reveal what we already think and feel and then be open to gaining new insight and new ideas. There is a vulnerability in this exposure. Processing is not an impersonal fact-finding venture. We are involved in it and who we are and who we become is essential to the process. In the presence of hostile discreditors, a journeyer is in danger and under attack. Processors must be agile and courageous in this climate.
Contrary to resisting and arguing and proving, where the person assumes superiority and frequently speaks and behaves aggressively hostile to itself or others, when we process we are not in a superior position and aggressive hostility gets in the way. To be journeying and processing information is to be equal to other journeyers and no one is in jeopardy of anything except becoming known.
Some people are quicker at times when they process information but that isn't a sign of superiority. Rather it is a sign of dexterity and a talent which both they and we can admire and make use of in a helpful way. We are not only competitors. We are contemporaries and companions on life's journey.
Movement is very important in processing. As we process data and ideas and our relationship to them, our mind is moving around in search of relevant ideas and data, because we are searching for clarity and understanding. Learning to discipline our mind so that it will be available to us as we search our memory and our imagination for clues is a necessary tool for processing information. There must be an openness to look anywhere that seems relevant, and after a search we always know more than when we started -- even if it is that we are not easily going to understand what we are reflecting on.
Learning to process information really means learning to search for data, for ways to understand it and our relationship to it, then making the new understanding our own. It means trying to discover what's going on for us and when appropriate, for others, relative to the data, never limiting ourselves to literal words and facts. It must be an open search, therefore, we must be open to search. In the searching, we are engaged in an egalitarian process. Whatever we discover is note-worthy and deserving of respectful treatment. Everything has some relevance, if the search is undertaken with integrity, and for it to have integrity the person must be honestly looking for ideas that add to understanding.
Processing is not a search for cause and effect, to analyze and solve, or argue and prove. Therefore, it is not a linear logic but rather a psycho-logic of spirals and curves. It is a very complex search through time and memory that makes associations and links things together. Information is not feared or used as a weapon. It is desired and valued.
People who journey through life processing information, learn not to live out of fear or inequality. Therefore, they are not hostile and do not make enemies out of themselves or others. As a result, they are not prompted to defend or attack when communicating. Instead, exchanging information leads to equal and intimate relationships. In the absence of fear and hostility, creativity has the potential to flourish. Processing information has such positive effects, one would think it would be the orientation of choice. But it isn't. It goes against our version of superiority and strength, and our investment in them. To process and journey we must dare to be vulnerable and exposed, intimate and equal, open and respectful, creative and disciplined. The shift from proving ourselves is scary because we fear we'll lose our stature or our control. However, once the shift is made, we are in a position to journey and process and choose without being at war and on trial and forced to follow.
A value system emerges from this approach that is ethical not moral. Honesty preserves integrity, integrity governs movement and mutual respect and fair play allow equally legitimate paradoxical forces to be reconciled, so mutual respect and fair play also preserve integrity. Confrontation and accountability are the vehicles for preserving honesty, mutual respect and fair play, so confrontation and accountability preserve integrity. The circularity is intact and intimacy is achieved.
This value system is seen as a set of ethical principles governing the natural integrity of the process of reconciling paradox within the self. It is not seen as arbitrary or as imposed on the self. Rather, it is seen as intrinsic to and emanating from the self's system and if the values of mutual respect and fair play are violated, the self's integrity is violated. Dominance and conquest, therefore, become a violation of the self not a desired goal. Confrontation and accountability become a required tool for liberation, and processing of information the required vehicle.
In turn, the rules and principles that govern the inner world of the self become the guiding principles for the self's relationship both with itself and with others. Just as intimacy is the primary goal within and information exchange is for discovery and understanding of and for the self, so is it between the self and the world. Moving toward an accord with Nature and in keeping with the cosmic order that informs both the inner and outer world, the self has only one set of rules to play by and is governed by one set of ethical principles.
If an infant, no matter what gender or what culture, is taught from birth how to participate in the reconciliation process, it will evolve knowing how to live in accord with Nature, its nature and nature's nature. Choice, not conformity, will be central to its life. With this freedom of choice will come many options that choosing reconciliation and psychological liberation provide. Yet, the option of choosing domination and oppression is not lost, it is always an option. If reconciling paradox is not taught as the preferred, if not the "only" normal and natural relationship to gender, paradox and power, it has less of a chance of becoming the chosen option and the established norm. Without the status that superiority derived from dominance affords, there is less attraction to it. Without the reliance on it when developing our world view, there is less of a necessity for it. By turning the reference point of our psychological compass away from the hostile hierarchy of North to South to the egalitarian East to West, we have re-oriented ourselves toward peaceful collaboration and away from wartime suspicion.
At a time when violence and conquest are rampant in almost every culture, including and especially our own, it would seem that pitting autonomy against cosmic order has proven to have a fatal flaw. It leads to eventual destruction. The path of proving superiority through dominance has brought us to a point of no return. Without a deliberate change in direction we are left to continue the contest of kill or be killed, conquer or be conquered, abuse or be abused. The value system that informs and is informed by the integrity of liberation psychology is one we would do well to explore, not dismiss. An egalitarian journey designed for discovery and intimacy offers a freedom from fear and hostility that we have yet to experience. It is a dramatic change in direction that has the potential for a more peaceful existence in the 21st century.
We who are so impressed with the technological advances of these last decades of the 20th century would do well to be impressed by the evolutionary advances of philosophical thought. Our technology need not outdistance our psychology. The complexity of our inner world is awesome in its own right. We are not meant to be mere consumers of ideas. We are creators as well. Creative thinking is highly underrated. We have in liberation psychology an inner and outer world view that cultivates intimacy and creativity, as it provides a framework for reconciling cosmic order and autonomy. It would seem we need to explore it not ignore or merely argue against it. Liberation psychology is an invitation not a threat, and an opportunity not a call to arms.