Getting the Naked Primate Up to Speed: Mastering Your Enlightened Self-Possession

Photo by Andre Mouton on Unsplash

In America you are expected to be in charge of yourself, a sovereign individual, the supreme authority within the sphere you occupy. It’s as unruly a kingdom as there ever was, what with the automaticity of your blood and guts immediacy and your subjective or ego-function’s (effective or not) response to the stimulation it provides.

Of course, our nation also has more in mind for your sovereignty than your personal fulfillment. The promise of achieving our country depends on your sovereign behavior including your enlightened self-possession. Here, “self” represents you, the sovereign individual, and “possession” represents your behaviorally realized command of your sovereignty.

In other words, enlightened self-possession is the in-charge actual cognitive, communicative and performative behavior of a human being capable of and responsible for processing its individual sovereignty albeit within the enlightened framework that has emerged in America. And key to the artistry, efficacy and success of this command is the depth and reach of our enlightenment.

Enlightenment is not thought to come from within. We’re not born enlightened but we have the emotional and intellectual capacity to acquire it. And a good deal of its acquisition requires us to dislodge ourselves from the authority of our immediacy.

Immediacy may be a good-enough authority in the jungle but not in the country we live in today.

After all, command of ourselves in the modern world means that we have acquired the understanding and the know-how to order our responses to the social and political demands of life — and that on top of the automaticity of a naked primate! We are also expected to dislodge ourselves from the illusions and foundational myths we haplessly harbor and to act on our responsibility for our biography, that is, to create a life of our own design.

Still, as we well know, the cultural matrix of our social embeddedness is complex. It’s tough, competitive and often contentious, as well as largely impersonal — basically unconcerned with our specific wants and needs. Indeed, what it wants from us is the responsibility and self-possession of the sovereign individual.

Yet America has built its prosperous civilization on our biologically and culturally programmed willingness to live in its pressure-filled environment.

We comply with its demands and to one extent or another accept its blows because — well, that’s how it happens — that’s the world we live in. Yet, neither culture nor our formal educations predictably teach us how to be in command of the sovereign individual in the competition for life and lifestyle or how to be a competent contender in the subjective struggle for meaning, purpose and contribution.

However, in general, our routine educations do not directly address the sovereign individual trying to make its way in the whole of our nation’s social reality. Nor do they directly address our difficulties with adapting to the enlightened framework necessary to sustain the efficacy of our individual sovereignty over the course of our lifetimes.

When in school do we learn that enlightenment in America is about managing a transformative behavioral framework or that the opportunity to own ourselves requires us to pay the price? What is the price for the freedom to exercise self-determination? Diligent study and practice. It’s not easy for the anxious and angry naked primate to get up to speed when it comes to managing its cognition, indeed all of its behavior, in terms of what it means to be responsible for itself.

Yet the diligent (and lifelong) work is worth it. Mastering our philosophy puts us in a strong position to be in command of our sovereignty and, consequently, to gain and maintain an executive grip on our conditions and circumstances, not to say a profound sense of meaning, control, relevance and honor and at the same time, of experienced wellbeing and life satisfaction.

This is an updated version of my blog post “Who put you in charge and what does it mean that you are?”

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Philosopher, Contemporary American thinker, Founder of Autonomy and Life

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