Capable Capable
Capable Capable

How to rise to the challenge of emancipation
Arnold Siegel —October 7, 2019

What does it mean to rise to the challenge of emancipation? Why is it a challenge? Don’t all people wish they were fated by their country to be free? To experience the pleasure of doing whatever they feel like doing? After all, isn’t the meaning of life about pleasure?

I believe that pleasure is neither the meaning of life nor its most substantial and sustaining reward. I believe that fully realizing our subjectivity, that is, learning the thinking and behavioral practices that build confidence and peace of mind even through the worst thick and thin of circumstance is life’s most satisfying achievement and reward. I also believe, as I said, that in the long run and even in the short run, this approach is more fulfilling than behaving and acting while in thrall to psychologism (satisfying a pretentious and dysfunctional ego), caught up in immediacy (the naked animal’s fears and desires) or obsessed by a higher rank on the Scoreboard.

Indeed, entrapped by the belief that the flamboyant demonstration of pleasure and high-profile privilege are the meaning of life, and unaware of the educated sentiments and commitments that characterize a fully realized subjectivity, we are meanly locked into the pretense and inflated presentation we’ve made of ourselves. 

We fully realize our subjectivity when we know, be and accept ourselves as instantiations (or subjects) of America’s experimental idea. The idea? That human beings can be individually (you) and collectively (us) educated to own (be responsible for) their lives. 

Here in America, deemed free, autonomous and self-possessed, all of us are expected to manage the rock-and-a-hard-place conditions and circumstances of our individual lives and of being “one of us.” In other words, while sometimes it feels like a free-for-all “out there,” it is not. Conditions apply. In keeping with the law, the freedom of one may not bind or ruin another. Simply put, your rights end where my nose begins. 

What does it mean to live our lives filtered through the lens of an autonomous subject in America? The transcendentally positioned (overarching) regulative ideals that have emerged in America are vocabularic tools or prescribed forms, the use of which qualify us to own our lives. When we put this collection of cultural behaviors to use, we find a way to contribute our utility as well as our conscience in service of the independence of our agency, the morality of our personage and the entrepreneurship of our biography. Ideally, then, managed within the framework of exercising our general stewardship of our nation, our independent agency would be free of mimicry, conformity and timidity, our personage would be moral and our biography would reflect a life of our own design.  

So, what it means to live our lives filtered through the lens of an autonomous subject is this: Our self-possession is to be processed by referring and deferring (accepting) to the governing authority expected of Americans. In short, we face the world faithfully and with integrity despite to whom else or to what else we have habitually (reflexively) deferred.

Now we have a whole new category in which to evaluate ourselves and each other. Think about it. Make an assessment. Do you really own your life within this framework or are you just pretending? Can you be who you are—that is, a bona fide good citizen in word and deed, or are you merely a pretender to the throne of autonomy, more committed to your image in the eyes of others than to your autonomy? 

How do you represent the idea of the American citizen-subject? Mustn’t you represent the breadth and depth of the governing authority to which you refer? Isn’t every one of us involved in the experiment of America? Is it not true that every single one of us in coordination with each other is responsible for building and keeping our nation? Don’t you owe the next person your participation in this responsibility? Do you choose on the side of good behavior and regulative virtue or do you think yourself an exception to what is expected of others?

Lastly, how you rise to the challenge of emancipation is to own yourself and fulfill your obligations by demonstrating that America’s regulative ideals are the referential authority for everything that you say and do. You don’t need to inflate yourself. Doesn’t just a pinprick to such a ballooned image lead to suffering? Timidity? Embarrassment? Humiliation? Then, what's the solution? Own yourself, experience the numinous felt-experience or well-being that accrues to this achievement and let pleasure appear when it does.

Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its
Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes.