Psychology, Not Politics, Drives Human Affairs

We drive ourselves for our political convictions. We may drive ourselves mad for our political convictions. We often blur the line between our politics and our religion. We suspect political manipulations are going on all around us. It would seem that human society is a writhing coil of political intrigue. But thinking that is like studying ship building without ever considering the sea.

Our political constructions are crude boats put out to ride on the ocean of human psychology. The political world is superficial at best and artificial all the way. In complexity and profundity it is nothing compared to what it aspires to work with, and survive contact with. The ever-evolving universe of psychology is what drives and embodies human life and civilization.

For those who want less dramatic language, just say politics follows psychology. But this topic deserves dramatic phrasing or nothing does. Thinking about the mind of mankind in general is the ultimate look at the Big Picture. It is too much for most of us, or maybe for any of us. How much easier it is to seize onto some political contraption, and declare it to be the mainstay of everything.

Would you rather live under the governance of a left-wing sociopath or a right-wing sociopath? Turn the question around: If the leadership of your society had a mental and emotional condition that was healthy, humane, and enlightened, would that be as important to you as which political tradition they came from? The point here is not that political theories don’t matter. They matter enormously. But they are interpreted by human beings and filtered through human minds, and we cannot lose sight of that, as much as we may want to.

Most of us are not very comfortable with the inexact science of psychology. Any probe into the psychological underpinnings of behavior is quickly denounced as “psycho-babble” by somebody. Thinking about psychology might eventually get around to an examination of one of the chinks in the armor of one’s own personal psychological state, and that must be avoided above all else. When we add in the anti-intellectualism that permeates so much of the world, and the entrenched stigmas about mental and emotional illness, we start to understand why so much attention is focused on superficial matters and not on the scary, uncertain weather systems of the mind. One’s own mind can be intimidating enough to contemplate, how much more so the combined psyches of humanity in general? Thinking too much about the fact that all people, even the most simple-minded people, are made up of billions of neurons and a complex, holographic, multi-faceted central nervous system, it becomes difficult to carry on with convenient attitudes about disposable, “worthless” people.

Humanity’s current psychological state did not emerge in a vacuum. Individuals and societies are the products of their past. The most fundamental traits of people today were passed down from the most ancient of times. Certainly the traumas of brutality and war are transferred across the generations, either genetically or through emotional imprinting by interacting with one another. The psychological foundations of some major political movements in our world today date back to the first divisions of labor in prehistory. Our sexual attitudes were formed in primate societies. Our fear of foreign people comes from the days when hunter-gatherer bands competed for resources, and the tribe on the other side of the hill was considered the source of all hardship.

Major evolutionary shifts, epochal political movements, and the psychological trajectory of masses in their billions, these things are like colossal life forms made up of cells that are individual human lives. Just like a living cell in a body, the best you can do with your life is to maintain it in good health and be a healthy, humane influence on the lives touching yours. The satisfaction resulting from that is immense in itself; it cannot be given a dollar value. It is the essence of mental health.

Topics that are broad to the point of cosmic are not always welcome. The Big Picture should only get just so big. Beyond a certain point it is like looking at the stars, and having someone ask if it makes you feel small. The best answer to that question is to say yes, it does, but I am only taking responsibility for a very small part of it, and only for a very brief time.

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