On Being – Chapter II – Talking About Ourselves (part VI)

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Liberalism Will Not Work Because of Ego

So long as we allow ego to direct our actions and frame our perceptions, society is not viable and real progress is unsustainable. Human relations will never evolve beyond that of competitive; what collaboration there may be will happen between individuals and between societies that are being presented with a common threat. But once the threat is removed, former ‘friends’ might then turn on each other. Each will now have a new enemy, and the opportunity to form new collaborations of convenience –it goes on and on…

The way in which societies approach one another reveals the preponderance of an egoic mindset among their respective members -particularly those in positions of greater influence. The tendency of some societies to view their relations with other societies purely from a position of self-interest, is evidence of a citizenship that tends to take the same approach toward one another, and a leadership that entertains a similar perspective toward the people it is supposed to serve. The cohesiveness and viability of such societies is founded upon convenience. On that basis, no society can last long. Governments must first engage all of their citizens, for their citizens to have the opportunity to truly engage and collaborate with one another. Societies so formed will, by their nature, look out for their neighbours; protecting them from the aggression of ego-bound societies and providing humanitarian aid when disaster strikes.

Unity, collaboration, tolerance, respect, and trust are the prime operatives of viable and enduring societies. Ego views collaboration as a means to an end; not an end in itself. This is anti-social. We need only collaborate, and all good ends will take care of themselves.

The ego is motivated by the prospect of immediate gain. Ego is not motivated to collaborate unless it perceives value for itself in doing so. Yet, it is precisely in collaboration unsullied by concerns for personal gain that individuals do what truly is best for them. It is the energy of collaboration, not the value of collaboration, that is of primary concern. If we live our lives in a spirit of collaboration, the value will come on its own. Fortunately for us, collaboration is a fundamental attribute of the human condition; but unfortunately, our natural gregariousness is often buried under the weight of daily cares and an ongoing sense of material insufficiency. That is why it is crucial for society to ensure all of its members have their material and educational needs met; then competition among individual members of society (for jobs, material needs) will become less of a factor; collaboration, more of a factor. The individual will continually receive and provide the energies of collaboration and community. This is the natural state for human beings. Consciousness of competition will occupy us less; consciousness of collaboration and community will occupy us more.

The plant grows from its seed, forms a root, then emerges from under the ground to access the sun’s energy and continues growing, just as Nature intended. Human individuals must, in like fashion, emerge from under the weight of ego, to access the energy of collaboration and community, so that they too may develop as Nature intended. In a society of  naturally conscious individuals, the sense of community and sense of self are not conflicting, but complimentary. To grow beyond ego does not mean to lose it; rather it is the fulfilment of what it is to be human. The plant begins life entirely below the surface and must grow above the surface to continue to maturity; nevertheless, a part of it (the root), must remain below the surface, or the plant will die. As more human individuals rediscover their own ‘above-ground’ portion (the part of us which is beyond ego), their awareness of the interconnectivity of all things will naturally lead to a sense of just how fundamental an operative collaboration is; and societies will be renewed and invigorated.

The goal of liberalism is to produce a society of individuals who perceive the value of, and entertain the highest sensitivity, tolerance, compassion, and respect for, every other individual. Instead, we appear to have a society with its fair share of self-serving people.

But when enough of us come to rule, rather than be ruled by ego, liberalism will work, and work very well: it provides us with the philosophical framework for progressive and sustainable societal, economic, and environmental development.

The same era that conceived liberalism, also produced the likes of Thomas Paine (The Rights of Man) and Jean Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract). This was the intellectual and philosophical milieu in which Sir John A. Macdonald grew up in. The great philosophers of that day recognized that it was necessary for humankind to progress to the next stages of development; anticipating Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They recognized, as self-evident, the right of individuals to be free (from the egos of others) in order to be all they can be (requiring freedom from their own egos), and society’s duty to provide a milieu in which to make this happen.

A liberalism unimpeded by ego will guide individuals and societies toward enlightenment, prosperity, and peace.