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The Buddha’s Awakening – Seeing without Illusion chapter 7

18 May

The Buddha’s Awakening – Seeing without Illusion chapter – Copia

A New Approach to the Khandhas – How We Experience the World

18 May

A New Approach to the Khandhas – How We Experience the World

Siddhartha’s Existential Crisis/ Buddha’s Resolution

25 Mar

Final copy Siddharta’s dilemma2Siddhartha’s Crisis by Rodger Ricketts2.jpg

Subject and Object: Explorations how we construct meaning and language

26 Feb

Subject and Object: Explorations how we construct meaning and language

 

We experience ourselves and the world as subject and object only through conceptualization and language. This dualism, however, is only mental and not real. Mind produces this subject-object dualism. The subjectivity of our mind affects our perceptions of the world that is held to be objective by natural science.”

Tom Arnold

The entire world of experience is one which is comprised of the polarity between subjectivity and objectivity. […] The subjectivity and objectivity are mutually dependently originated […] the subjective and objective aspects of our experience are in fact the linked “poles” of a single process.’ Susan Hamilton

 

In all psychic life there is subject and object.’ Karl Jaspers

 Mental Structures

Defined in psychology and cognitive science, schemas are mental structures of preconceived ideas, a framework representing some aspect of the world, or a system that organizes categories of information and the relationships among them. According to M.A. Arbib & Erdi they are also interdependent in relation to the other ones. Schemas and their network of interconnections, have a proneness to remain constant, even in the face of contradictory information, nevertheless, they do change through the processes of accommodation. Accommodation is the cognitive process of incorporation of new information by revising existing cognitive schemas, perceptions, and understanding. An analogy of this transitional process are the colors of the rainbow. While we can clearly define the primary colors of a rainbow, part of its characteristic is the overlapping colors that merge into one another. Like a rainbow, at each phase of equilibrium or schematic stability, there is a primary ‘color’ while in the transitional spaces, the primary ‘colors’ merge and blend. If the established schema cannot make sense of unfamiliar information, dis-equilibrium is necessary for the transformation or updating of the existing schema (knowledge). Through learning, a new schema network emerges that moderates a person’s new reality or perspective. ‘Each schema enriches and is defined by the others (and may change when a formal linguistic system allows explicit, though partial, definition). Even though processes of schema change may affect only a few schemas at any time, such changes may “cohere” to yield dramatic changes in the overall pattern of mental organization. There is change yet continuity, with many schemas held in common, yet changed because they must now be used in the context of the new network.’ 30 Therefore, we see that transformation is different from learning new skills or facts; it instead disrupts and alters the way our cognitive apparatus knows, interprets and responds. In fact, one’s cognitive development and transformation through the Eightfold Path can be easily construed as intentional ego stage developments involving the advancement through progressively schematic dis-equilibrium/equilibrium to more refined ways of knowing.

Similarly, according to the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, cognitive development and transformation progresses in discoveries or insights, not at a steady rate. A state of disequilibrium occurs when new information cannot be assimilated into existing schemas. Since disequilibrium creates stress, the urge for equilibration then becomes the force that drives the learning process as we seek to de-stress and restore balance by cognitively mastering or letting go of the new challenge (accommodation). We also see this phenomenon described in the Zeigarnik Effect, which is the natural propensity for alleviating the stress created by task incompletion by better recalling of all tasks, hence, giving priority to unfinished projects before finished projects. Through the process of assimilation and the integration of the new information, the newly formed schema remains until the next time an adjustment is required. This process of growth involves a progression of continual shifts of meaning marked by periods of stability and periods of instability, leading to ongoing construct/schemata reconstructions. Stability and harmony are the forces, which move development along. Resulting from either new experiences and/or deliberate interventions, such shifts produce corresponding changes in our viewpoint of the environment, ourselves, and, therefore, how we interact with an increasingly discerned and objective world. In the process of transformation, the previous schema or way of meaning-making is not entirely left behind; this previous way can still become activated as a latent disposition. As Laszlo points out, ‘…all we can say is that the new steady state, if it is dynamically stable, assimilates the disturbance introduced by the destabilizing parameters within an open structure that is likely to be more dynamic and complex than the structure in the previous steady state.’32

Thinking and Talking: the shift from Subject to Object

One of the Buddha’s most significant insights was that the self is developed and maintained by a dualist perspective, and this distinction between a subject and object is a cognitively based convention. This duality has two poles (subject/object) with consciousness linking these two aspects together. After all, where there is an object of perception, there is a subject perceiving and it is consciousness that maintains an awareness between them. The subject-object relationship is not just an abstraction but a cognitive experience. Our constructs of the self that are Subject are nonconscious aspects subsumed internally which hold our unquestioned beliefs about the world. One generally cannot name things that are Subject, and we do not usually reflect upon them for that would require us to stand back and make them object. Kegan asserts, ‘We cannot be responsible for, in control of, or reflect upon that which is subject’25 (p. 32). The Object represents the content of one’s knowing, and any insight of the subject (i.e. by a projective psychological test) provides a clue about our underlying cognitive structure or schemata. Even though dualities occur naturally as a function of conceptualization, psychological calcification around them leads to excessive fragmentation of experience.

In Kegan’s discussion of stage transformation, the distinction between Subject and Object is of vital importance. In fact, the aspect of transformation that he is most concerned with involves the movement of essential schematic features from Subject to Object. According to Kegan, the way one progresses from one stage to the next is taking what was once subject and making it object. Therefore, the process of transformation is learning to objectively evaluate what biases or schemata, as ‘colored glasses/lens’, we unconsciously used in the prior order of consciousness. ‘Object’ are those aspects of our cognitive world that we are aware of and can be looked at, related to, reflected upon, engaged, controlled, and connected to something else. Contrarily, on the other side of the subject-object relationship, ‘Subject’, is the aspect of our cognitive world in which we are embedded in, fused with, and identify as our self. Kegan writes, “We have object; we are subject”. Things that are Object in our lives are “those elements of our knowing or organizing that we can reflect on, handle, look at, be responsible for, relate to each other, take control of, internalize, assimilate, or otherwise operate upon”.25 When we identify elements as Object, we become aware that “the element of knowing [when it is Object] is not the whole of us; it is distinct enough from us that we can do something with it”.25 Our worldview can expand and become more complex when we become objective about the subjective and no longer identify them as ‘me’. The disequilibrium and transformation of schematic systems moving from Subject to Object is gradual.  This shift means that what is once a non-conscious ‘lens’ through which we regard the world is instead brought into awareness, analyzed, categorized, and altered. This disequilibrium from Subject to Object of established systems to new equilibriums is what forms the transformation of orders in consciousness.

Therefore, Kegan’s five orders of mind are qualitatively different ways of constructing reality. Each order is a qualitative shift in complexity and meaning-making from the order before it.  Kegan explains that when we move the elements of the earlier meaning-making or schematic system from Subject (where it has dominion over us) to Object (where we have a new sense of qualification over the system itself), we accommodate what we have learned in a previous order. Therefore, with transformation, there is a shift from a habitual and unreflective pattern to a more deliberate and self-reflective pattern, changing the actual form of our understanding of the world. These different compositions of the cognitive apparatus largely determine the intellectual, emotional and behavioural aspects of our functioning.

The knowing disequilibration of our schematic systems by reflection and transformation successfully allows us to update our cognitive apparatus through context change, assumption re-assessment, and by challenging our minds to shift. By amending and revising our suppositions and assumptions, we loosen the static Self position and experience the humbling realization that our perceptions, assumptions, and beliefs are limited, imperfect, subjective and in need of constant mindful evaluation. In fact, also in Buddhist Citta cultivation, the intentional transformation of the subject becoming object is part of the ego transformation and transcendence leading to awakening. ‘Meditation, for example, includes a practice of making subject into object: of simply witnessing our own subjective minds with non-attached equanimity, experiencing our subjective thoughts, emotions, sensations, and impulses as objects in our awareness. With enough training and practice, the spiritual path ultimately leads us to the point of “Absolute Subjectivity”—that point where we are completely “emptied out” and there is no more subject left to be made into object, and all that remains is the effortless and seamless embrace of nondual awareness.’ 33

The Buddha’s transcendence of the Subject and Object

…the world is steeped in the notion of duality. It grasps either this end, or the other end. Hard it is for the world to understand the stance of the arahant couched in the cryptic phrase, neither here nor there nor in between the two”. The worldling is accustomed to grasp either this end or the other end.’

Bhikkhu Katukurunde Ñāṇananda34

 

While Kegan emphasized schematic stage transformation occurring through primarily new and unintentional life experiences, the Buddha, as well as now psychotherapy, used deliberate interventions to transform, refine, and ‘purify’ the schematic basis of the cognitive apparatus to reach the goal of enlightenment. What distinguishes the Buddha’s program for cognitive transformation from other psychological systems, is the principle of self-transcendence or the cognitive transformation that relinquishes all attempts to establish and attach to identities. The teaching of impermanence and dependent arising along with no self is a prescription for self-transcendence. In Buddhist training, the development and transformation of personality through dis-identification transcends the factors that constitute our perception of duality and the substantiality of existence. However, the transcendence of the self is the most subtle and difficult. While modern Western psychology assumes the primary importance of securing and strengthening the self to yield concrete, pragmatic, and successful life results, for the Buddha, ultimately realizing self-transcendence or non-self, is the successful end of the Path.

In fact, for the proper practice of the Path, transformation and transcendence are equally crucial. Without self-transcendence, the principle of self-transformation can lead to a wiser, happier and more socially astute personality but not the realization of the original mind. Only when these two principles work in harmony and are in balance during development can they bring the end of suffering. The accomplishment of self-transcendence – the relinquishing of all points of grasping and attachment – is through the gradual process of self-transformation in which moral discipline, compassion, and the cultivation of Knowing advances us by stages from our condition of subjective identifications to cognitive ‘emptiness’ and our original mind.

In conventional thinking, both the mutually exclusive either/or and dualism level of thinking are most common. We often function on both levels in which we are either making mutually exclusive distinctions with two possible polar monisms between concepts like right and wrong, hard and soft, or, in dualism, where both aspects of the pole are irreducible and coexist by definitions like subject and object, ‘I’ and ‘Mine’. As Vitaliano cogently states: ‘Dualism is the act of severance, cutting the world into seer and seen, knower and known ….’35 The Buddha taught that people mostly base their perceptions and thinking on duality. People, through the structure of grammar and language, communicate with each other using the significant feature of a subject-object relationship, which carries the implication that there is a thing to grasp and someone who grasps. Under those conditions, we are conditioned to think in terms of getting, attaining and maintaining.

While categories referring to more or less static concepts, which often dualistic pairs, have certain advantages like helping to organize information, removing ambiguity, and facilitating communication, inevitably the differences between the categories become valorized, reified, and given a superior/inferior position. Because of this creation of relative based misperceptions and misconstructions, the world becomes a tangle of names and concepts, with nouns particularly perpetuating the belief, that, as a reality, there is a permanent essence in existence. There is then the predisposition to falsely believe in a substantial self with the justified pursuit of ever-possible egotistic pleasures while ignoring three important characteristics of impermanence, not self, and suffering.

The structure of language and grammar is a mechanism for conducting thought processes which reinforce the perception of permanence as well as facilitates the communication of ideas. After assigning and sanctioning a name to an object, it easily becomes a convention. The Buddha recognized that shared language is crucial for numerous reasons including: mastery of the object world, self-conceptualization, social interaction, and cognitive growth in fields of knowledge. There is also the practical necessity for communication with the subject-object duality, including its categories, comparisons, and I – me – mine designations. Nevertheless, the Buddha also reminds us that language is only a convention with its inherent deceptions as we have seen in the research cited earlier. A. Chah explained, ‘The things of this world are merely conventions of our own making. Having established them, we get lost in them and refuse to let go, giving rise to personal views and opinions. … Now, if we know conventional reality then we’ll know liberation…If we clearly know liberation then we’ll know convention.’36 However, through the reification of these cognitive abstractions, all things are viewed with the emphatic belief that they categorically exist. As a result, our cognitive apparatus also becomes preoccupied with the belief of an abstracted ‘self’, which stands separate from ‘other’. With the illusion of our own permanence, we become fixated on a static identity and existence.

According to the Buddha, when adopting subject-object dualism there is a very close relationship between recognition and communication – in whatever way one perceives, one also speaks about them with the mindset of inherent permanence. Since knowledge and understanding are so often associated with words, concepts, and categories, if one recognizes the name of the thing one is naively assumed to comprehend or know it. The process of reification, however, is not an accomplishment through just learning the abstracted representation (word) with the object. For example, a child is given a rubber toy and told ‘ball’ to teach them the object name. Nevertheless, instinctively, this is to get to really ‘know’ the object. First, they smell it, and then touch it, try to eat it, roll it on the floor, and finally associate the object with an action, i.e. throwing; like they had seen someone do previously. At last, the child understands and recognizes the rubber ball not only by the name but also by other basic factors including: perception, intention, contact, and attention. Therefore, with such comprehensive involvement with objects/words/representations, the mind unequivocally accepts the view that ultimately the world is permanent and substantial. Consequently, we fail to understand that the basis of all of life is a dynamic process of transformation; never understanding the essence of ‘emptiness’ as a truth.

With the Enlightenment experience, the Buddha transcended the subject/object dichotomy, in which there is no experiencer nor thing experienced, and he found only experience. The result of this transformation is self-transcendence – no-self or the original mind.  The self is comprehended in the proper perspective of being a mental representation created through the polarity of a subject and object – ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘mine’.  As Hamilton writes “This is what pure experience is: neither the world nor “I” in it other than experience.”29 Hence, the realm of pure experience is not an ontological category, but the ordinary world of phenomena experienced directly, with no intervening conceptualization. The essence of the middle path is inward peace, which is an existence free of clinging – letting go and not grasping of all identifications (dis-identification).

To illustrate this the Buddha presented a basic pattern representing three types of worldviews: the untaught ordinary person who is obsessed with and craving for the imagined substantial pleasures based in their perceived duality; the practitioner with higher training who is trying to free herself from her unconscious conventional script; and the emancipated one who is completely free from it. Also, non-self does not mean the absence of a functional ego; it means that one is no longer mistakenly identified with that self, the ego, or any of its sub-personalities. As Wei Wu Wei puts it, ‘The seeing of Truth cannot be dualistic (a ‘thing’ seen). It cannot be seen by a see-er, or via a see-er. There can only be a seeing which itself is Truth.’ 37The transcendence of the self is accomplished by cognitive, moral, and wisdom development as described above. It is through dis-identification and determining the truth of the original mind within, that we are able to transcend the world of suffering, attachment, and resistance. The way out is through transformation and transcending.

The Eightfold Path is a gradual development of reconceptualization leading towards the realization of emptiness. However, in trying to find release from the never-ending circle regarding dualism, some philosophical systems resort to finding a remedy through unity or oneness. The Buddha showed that oneness is not the solution. Developing in the Path, we confront the duality, and we grasp that the solution is found in the clinging-free approach of nonidentification – transcending both form and formless. In fact, transcendence of both is the aim; however, some mistakenly call emptiness the ending of existence. Instead, D-T. Suzuki explained, ‘The outside world of form-and-name and the inner world of thought and feeling are both no more than the construction of mind, and when the mind ceases, the weaving-out of a world of particulars is stopped. This stopping is called emptiness or no birth, but it is not the wiping out of existence, it is on the contrary viewing it truthfully unhammered by discriminative categories.’38

Modern psychology emphasizes identification as a largely unconscious process which occurs when an individual takes as his or her own characteristics, demeanors, achievements, or other identifying traits of other people or groups. However, differently, the Buddha’s use of identification (tammayatà) is more inclusive, subtle and establishes the fabrication and concoction of identity as all mental content. C.I. Lewis wrote, ‘The ‘world’ of experience is not given in experience: it is constructed by thought from the data of sense.’39

Through our attachment or aversion to our perceptions (the way we think about or understand someone or something), we are continually acting and reacting, never resting in repose. As these reactions become habitual and automatic, we become subservient to our cravings for or aversion against. Even though our cognitive representations are merely conventions that we adapt and employ, once we become well immersed in them, we become lost in them and we strongly resist relinquishing them, giving rise to personal biases and grand assumptions. ‘In whatever egotistic terms they think of an object, it becomes that. And therein, verily, lies its falseness, the puerile deceptive phenomenon that it is.S N v. 916.

To free ourselves from our self-inflicted dependences, biases, and ignorance, we must dis-identify and non-attach. By understanding that the belief in a substantial and inert self is imaginary, we develop a more mature and flexible relationship with our internal and external world. In fact, certain schools of psychology and psychotherapy, as we have seen in numerous examples in earlier chapters, recognize the possibility and significance of psychological dis-identification to create cognitive transformation through the objectification of the subjective (self). Nevertheless, even at the end of thorough psychological introspection there still prevails an ego (self) identified as the agent or mover behind the sum total of sense experience – ‘I experience therefore I am’. This conception of the ‘I’ as a CEO managing the operations of the mind/body is deemed an incontrovertible fact. However, the Buddha goes beyond the illusion of the necessity of a subjective ego as an agent. The Buddha said, ‘Let him completely cut off the root of concepts tinged with the prolific tendency, namely, the notion – ‘I am the thinker.’ Whatever inward cravings there be, let him train himself to subdue them, being always mindful.’ (S T v.916) To do this, he emphasizes that the experience of the subject/object duality has the third component of consciousness.

In fact, with the ego transformation development and resulting dis-identification of all mental content through the analysis of the two poles (subject/object) and the middle (consciousness), the final aim of eradication of the root of greed, lust, and hatred is achieved. As a rule, consciousness takes hold of objects on either side of the poles: (subject) __consciousness__(object). However, we usually ignore the middle or mindfulness because of habituation, impulsivity, and reflex grasping for the poles content by our craving or aversion which results in suffering.  Therefore, through our desires and volition, we are continually moving toward or away from whichever polarity we are inclined to in the now. When one believes everything exists in truth and fact, even though it is possible for one to remain neutral, usually one craves or rejects all that arises in awareness. In fact, this is the nature of craving and aversion; it continuously bends and moves one forward or away from the poles. Differently, the noble practitioner of the middle way, because of her insight and understanding of the arising, ceasing and insubstantiality of everything, let’s go of all through non-grasping. In other words, instead of reacting impulsively and reflexively to the perpetual stimuli, we mindfully and knowingly observe our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors with calm equanimity, free from all worries and vexations and respond with reflection and wholeness.

Non-attachment is accomplished through non-conceiving or dis-identification. Consciousness becomes devoid of the nature of grasping for any object since it finds no object worthy of craving or grasping after. ‘Bhikkhu, ‘I am’ is a conceiving; ‘I am this’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall not be’ is a conceiving; I shall be possessed of form’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be formless’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be non-percipient’ is a conceiving. Conceiving is a disease, conceiving is a tumour, conceiving is a barb. By overcoming all conceiving, bhikkhu, one is called a sage at peace.’ (M.N. 140.31) Nibbāna literally means “cool” or “to extinguish”, and it is a cognitive state where suffering has been “extinguished”; the flames of desire have been cooled.  It is to be free from those bonds that entwine and trap us. It is a state of profound peace, contentment and wisdom that comes by eliminating the foolish attachment to the pain or pleasure in impermanent (transitory) objects. Through the mode of mindfulness, insight and wisdom of the middle path, one transcends the subject/object duality. The ‘extinction of craving’ through non-attachment is a full-fledged synonym of nibbāna.

 

Transcendence of Awakening

26 Jan

When our actions are based on empathy and compassion we naturally want ourselves and all other sentient beings to be well, happy and free from suffering. This intention of goodwill to all men, women, and creatures is based on the natural state of being without ignorance. This natural state of mind and emotions can be accomplished through the gradual and progressive transformation of dis-identification and non-attachment to the pragmatic, relative yet necessary conceptual world. After transcending the attachments and identifications to conceptualization and objectification and the duality of the subject/object, one can and will continue to participate with others in the construction and origination of these images and stories while, at the same time, knowing that it is all a sort of magic show, thereby, give up the attachments, dogma, and identifications with the stories and characters that are created in our minds. This is the Enlightenment or Awakening to seeing things as they are. This is understanding the non-substantiality of all forms.

Is Objectification the Problem?

12 Jan

sexual-objectification

Is Objectification the Problem?

Since the beginning of the second-wave feminist movement in the 1960s, strident complaints have been made regarding men’s sexual objectification of women. The foundation of this complaint was, and is, that when men objectify women sexually they see and treat them as sex objects. This line of thinking suggests that reducing women to sexual objects results in their dehumanization, which not only creates but also perpetuates men’s abusive and harassing behavior toward women. Women have been demanding that men view them in a more comprehensive, respectful, and humanized manner. Sadly, despite the call to action by feminists and the recent #MeToo Movement for the end of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, the response from many men has been nothing short of abysmal.
The fact that some men dehumanize and exploit women through sexual objectification is real and this behavior needs to be addressed. However, to fully understand this phenomenon there is still a piece of the puzzle that has not yet been properly explained. Without an effective explanation of what constitutes objectification, the discussion will continue to only scratch the surface and never fully reach a comprehensive explanation nor provide an effective solution to the problem.
What is Objectification?
Objectification is a word that carries a heavy negative connotation. It is associated as a way of speaking, thinking, and acting that is considered morally wrong. Usually, criticisms of sexual objectification center on how women are displayed in advertisements, in films, in the news, and in the general culture. Viewing women as sexual objects are seen as dehumanizing because it treats women as commodities, or like something that can be possessed or dominated. This predominantly male behavior has serious social and psychological ramifications. Typically, sexual abuse is inflicted for the satisfaction of a person without regard for the other person involved, which disempowers and alienates the victim. When a person insults another person by making inappropriate comments or by making unwanted sexual advances, the affected person naturally feels exploited as an object for the other’s gratification. Often, the person affected doesn’t have enough control in the situation to stop the abuse. Additionally, the objectified person is sometimes feels forced to ‘own’ or accept the sexually abusive messages and actions that are used to control or weaken them. This can be especially damaging to their self-esteem and autonomy.
Is There Anything Positive About Objectification?
On the other side of the aisle, some argue that sexual objectification isn’t always entirely negative. Writers and researchers have pointed out that in normal intimate relationships certain qualities and physical aspects of a partner can be a ‘turn on’ for both partners, thus enhancing the intimacy between them. It should be noted that it is not unusual for women to also objectify their sexual partner’s body or appearance. For example, author D.H. Lawrence said that for some sexual partners a certain amount of objectification of either the woman or the man adds a genuine erotic quality to the relationship. Extreme erotic objectification, however, is considered fetishism, which can be directed toward a person’s body parts and also toward associated physical objects representing a person in an erotic way. That being said, if the objectification can remain in a healthy, unimposing state there actually can be a positive aspect to it.
Objectification as a Natural Phenomenon
As a whole, objectification is not inherently abusive. Objectification is a natural phenomenon that is embedded in the normal human experience of subject/object dualism. It is inherent in the normal cognitive interactions a person has with the world. In fact, in the world of concepts, thoughts and social roles, it is often necessary and for the most part unavoidable way that humans relate to what we perceive around us. It is through experience and learning that we come to categorize and develop a sense of order in our individual worlds. When we regard another person or thing as an object, it is a way of identifying characteristics of that person (tall, short, smart, pleasant, etc.) or thing and how they can be useful or not to us. We use objectification to focus on how those objects serve our own personal interests and purposes. However, this dualist subject/object relationship has an unfortunate tendency to devalue, isolate, and dehumanize other human beings.
There is the subject (I, me, and mine) and then the object (it, you, they and them). In this dualism, it is the object that we are attracted to or repulsed by. A person identifies objects in the environment that they have learned to like or not through cultural teachings or through personal experience. Then, once a person identifies something that they are attracted to him, or she has a natural desire to have it. Of course, it is the opposite for something they see as unattractive. The erotic objects are also culturally and personally subjective. This is all part of the typical human process of objectification.
In marketing, objectification is, of course, a very important principle and a lot of time and money are spent on manipulating and enticing people to want to have and own the advertised objects. The phenomenon of want and desire is often used as a way of inviting or seducing the attention and desires of another person. This can even be used as a type of sexual foreplay between consenting individuals. When it is agreed upon foreplay, objectification can be a pleasing interaction for all parties involved. It is this interaction or ‘dance’ between the subject and object that excites and draws them more intimately together. In this way, when understood and used correctly, erotic objectification can be a normal process used to facilitate attraction.
Therefore, the point I most want to emphasize is that objectification is a natural classification system based on the dualistic subject/object relationship we have with the world around us. The subject is the self and the object is that which is represented in the environment. These poles can be switched where the self, through a reflection like in a mirror, objectifies oneself (I am fat, beautiful, etc.) and is either liked or disliked. Studies have clearly shown that in terms of how women objectify or view their own body type, appearance, and even personality, they commonly introject, or incorporate, outside perceptions. These can include male opinions, advertisements, and many other forms of ‘brainwashing’. Such introjection can result in a woman adopting a negative perception of herself leading to low self-esteem or, in the case of excessive positive perceptions, it can lead to arrogance. While introjection is a natural reaction, it can clearly lead to less than desirable outcomes.
What is the Real Problem?
When it comes to ‘objectification’, feminists are not objecting to the process of objectification itself, but rather the sexual harassment and sexual abuse that develop from it. Instead, there are two significant contributing factors to the problem of sexual abuse and harassment. The first is the sexist society, which encourages and allows the dehumanization of those being objectified solely in a sexual way. The relegation of a person to a sex object not only negatively affects the self-perceptions of those affected but also encourages their being treated in an abusive and condescending manner. The second factor regards the ethics and morality of the harassers and abusers. When a person sees a pleasing object in their environment, they can normally restrain themselves from taking or possessing it. There are a number of reasons why people restrain themselves. They might do so because of the fear of negative consequences, it might be an understanding and respect of personal boundaries, or it could be the knowledge that it is ‘wrong’. If a person does take whatever they like and desire, there is a breakdown in the pact each of us as individuals have with the accepted social code of legality, morality, and ethics.
Most cultures implicitly follow the well-known general rule of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ In ethics, the ‘right’ behavior requires self-restraint and self-responsibility regarding one’s interaction with the people and objects in their environment. It is a maturity that humans learn through healthy interactions with their families and society as they grow up. Since neurologically based impulse control disorders are rare, the vast majority of abusive actions taken toward others are choices that are rooted in the absence of ethical principles and considerations. Abusive individuals are selfish, immature, and typically lack empathy or respect for other people. They seek their own personal gratification regardless of the impact it might have on another person. If this tendency goes unchecked, it can easily become habitual and by extension harder to suppress. Objectification is merely a tool for a willful abuser to fulfill their desires.
Therefore, it isn’t simply the objectification that creates the behavior to which feminists object. In fact, without understanding the subject/object cognitive process, we are only describing the manifestation of objectification (for deeper analysis about dualism subject/object see my book, The Buddha’s Gift: A Gift of Wellbeing and Wisdom). When we only describe the action of objectification or harassment, it remains, just that, a description. More than a description, we need an explanation that truly understands the root cause. Without understanding the root cause there can be no remedy, only a continuation of the current frustration and anger. So, I propose that it is now time for the feminist movement and the #MeToo movement to better define and thereby understand and remedy the objectification discussion.
The Primary Causes
Media culture and the men and women who are influenced by the media is a primary cause of sexual harassment and sexual abuse that is linked to objectification. The sexist media culture obsessively sexualizes women through for-profit advertisements, fashion, pornography, etc. It is the profitable sexual objectification of a woman’s body by modern culture that bombards, oversaturates, and entices men to continue to sexually objectify women. In effect, this creates a significant part of the problem. The media creates a norm for what is desirable or not when it comes to the physical female shape. Marketing is often blamed because the thin women with long legs body type most idealized in modern times were certainly not the standard in past generations and cultures. In fact, it is still not the standard of beauty in other non-European and indigenous cultures. Men are influenced by this sexist culture, that fosters immature, unethical attitudes and behaviors which lack empathetic responses. From an early age, men are brought up in a patriarchal society that tells them that it is okay to react with obsessive thinking and oppressive compulsive actions when they see and interact with women.
My proposition is that sexual harassment and abuse is mainly not from the objectification itself, but, more importantly, it is men’s lack of emotionally intelligent behavior. A mature response to erotic material is an acceptance of what it is within the larger, more complex web of personal attributes that each person has. Additionally, an emotionally developed person understands that their likes and dislikes have been culturally influenced and have no inherent exceptional meaning. Giving respect and understanding to other people without selfish, egotistical and narcissistic baggage is much easier for an emotionally mature person than an emotionally immature one. An empathetic person can objectify and recognize another person as erotically pleasing, while also realizing that this objectification will never be a sufficient reason for them to dehumanize and debase a person through harassment or abuse.
Looking at this issue from a men’s liberation point of view, as depicted in the significant Berkley Men’s Center Manifesto, the significant issue is not objectification. Instead, the most significant issue is how our modern culture uses this subject/object relationship to create a juvenile connection to an erotic object. Men, or any person, who act toward another human being in a flagrant and openly harassing manner are clearly showing immaturity, as well as selfish tendencies. To counter this on an individual level, anti-abuse policies need to do more to promote empathetic and ethical behavior towards women rather than simply discouraging harassing behavior. This would ultimately result in personal relationships that consist of positive, empathetic, and kind behaviors, which would create a happier, more satisfying society for all.
What Needs to Happen Now?
Society has to change. A patriarchal sexist society sends the message that men are more privileged than women. It also proposes that men not only have the right but the obligation to control and subjugate women through harassing and abusive behavior. Sexual harassment and sexual abuse are surely both decisions made from a position of elitism and entitlement. Such entitlement does not encourage restraint, respect, or compassion for another person. This denigration of women is often reinforced by the groupthink phenomenon where some men conform to and support each other’s abusive way of thinking. Women, as well as emotionally mature men, must openly object to such behavior and give opposing feedback to men who act in obnoxious and sexist ways.
When each person in a relationship is seen not as an object to be used or manipulated but instead viewed with empathy, respect, and understanding, each person is better able to see one another as an equal. The natural interplay between subject and object can happen in a mature and interdependent relationship where the wholeness of the other person is honored and appreciated. In a relationship where each person’s feelings, thoughts, and sensitivities are esteemed, the natural function of objectification will be allowed to manifest within the bounds of an ethical and respectful exchange. Compassion, after all, is the natural opposite of narcissism.
Finally, any extreme objectification process that often leads to dehumanization is not only relevant to the discussion regarding sexism, but also racism and religious extremism. Since prejudice is the result of an exaggeration of the subject/object duality, it is relevant to all ideologies that define another human through the narrow scope of bias and dogmatism. It is the hope that with a clearer understanding of the subject/object relationship and through teaching emotional intelligence, maturity, and respect for others, people will want to act ethically and respectfully toward others and shed narcissistic selfishness and brutality.

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Holistic Thinking

3 Jan

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