Capable Capable
Capable Capable

The consolations of our philosophy of life

People then and people now romance the “good old days” and complain about "what this world is coming to.” This is because we are born onto the tides of the status quo and carried by their current—and our own force of habit—to drift through our lives. We don’t like to leave our comfort zones. In the main, we like what we’re familiar with and know how to do. Besides, change and adaptation require new ways of thinking, new accommodations and new expenditures of energy. 

However, what has always been true here in America, despite the seriously and perpetually unfinished business endemic to the conditions and circumstance of nationhood is this: The philosophy of life that prevails here was and is the demand and respect for the life lived autonomously. In the light of this originating, guiding and demanding principle, I envision and teach a philosophy apropos to your creative responsibility for the autonomous life.

So then, how is it that you successfully negotiate the situational forces of your conditions and circumstances and accommodate the partially entrenched, partially fad-driven social world? To succeed, you must learn more about how to manage the forms of your autonomous capabilities within the behavioral dynamics of America’s cultural matrix in which you are always and already embedded.

I cannot emphasize enough how much of this creative responsibility is transactional: the adaptation and accommodation to which I refer are neither theoretical nor abstract. Whether you are an introvert or extravert and have followers and likes on social media or don’t, the best way you can actually experience the liberating rewards of the American experiment is by being one of us.

On the other hand, your management of the executive transformation of the naked animal into the autonomous citizen who defines our national identity is a challenge uniquely undertaken by you and begins with a serious consideration of the important differences—gaps—between three perspectives on your autonomy.

These are 1) your capacities for practicing autonomy; 2) how you do practice autonomy; and 3) how autonomy should be practiced. This means your progress is built upon the availability of new intelligence as well as understandings born of experience (including the hard-knock variety); the discoveries of science; the higher range of standards and ideals that give greater meaning to life; and a serious and thoughtful consideration of the metaphysical and/or egoistic illusions and pockets of tone-deaf ignorance you uncover as you go along.

I titled this post, “The consolations of our philosophy of life.” I say this because extending yourself beyond your preset and static comfort zone into the challenges on which the authentic structure of the American experiment stands is enormously satisfying and pragmatic. Said another way, contributing your utility, i.e., your participation in the form of living autonomously (free, just and equal) is paramount to your acceptance of yourself as well as our nation’s acceptance of you. 

Of course, mistakes will be made. No one ever gets it right all the time. Think about just how much of your life is a quick-on-your-feet, nimble-of-mind adaptation, negotiation and experiment.

What else could it be—as you react to the natural, practical and social realities, and ordeals, that elevate or burden your circumstances? What else could it be—given that no one is free of the brute and primitive fears, desires and teeth-clenched anger that prompt each and every one of us to occasional or frequent selfish, unkind and irrational actions?

In short, given all the factors at play internally and systemically and also externally in this complex and rivalrous nation you live in, you must accept that your life will never be free from the consequences of your judgment. Unforeseen consequences, ill-advised decisions and choices, errors of reason and calculation, and just plain contingency are inevitable. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some. All of us spend a lifetime involved with retrospective judgment, with recovering from disappointment and with problem solving.

The consolations of our philosophy are not dependent on asceticism or the perfect completion of an endless to-do list. The consolation comes from creating a balance between utility and pleasure, that is, between making a contribution to others and finding the pleasures that soothe your nature.


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