Each of us believes that our anxieties are privately and uniquely formed in the substance of our mind. However, in fact, they are caused to appear, for better or for worse, by our systemic realities.
Strong and anxious feelings accompany everyday life. When they’re driving us up the wall, they’re often described negatively. But these tense, pressured feelings can also be described positively — as biology intruding upon inertia.
Built by natural selection long before humans dwelled in a modern world, the living system that we are motivates us, like other animals, to eat, sleep, mate or socialize, compete for position, etc. Turned to good advantage, these feelings also fuel the civilizing effort to make us self-reliant and to stimulate us to be rational, to think, to make order out of chaos and to care.
Poetically and philosophically these strong and anxious feelings have been described as “existential angst.” Yes, we’re self-aware thinkers, uniquely capable of creating a mental distance between ourselves and actual life. But this imaginative ability, in and of itself, is too abstract and remote from the integrated systemic realities of existence; that is, from organic human existence.
For example, in this fast-paced, enormously complex and uncertain world, we are free (expected) to choose what’s important to us. But it is also true that with that freedom comes our undeniable responsibility for accepting the consequences of these choices — including the existential anxiety that second-guesses lived action.
In the thick of life, we are skin-in-the-game, ego-invested individuals. And along with being responsible for our choices comes the demand that we manage the propelling anxiety that accompanies this challenge. After all, we pressure ourselves to be successful and we are pressured by the eyes of others, as well.
Typically, what gets in the way of our managing our anxiety is our ego. We have assimilated the underlying cultural model widely popularized by advertising and celebrities or others skilled at image management. This model suggests that an upgrade to car, home or mate is the key to security and social position. And what of the rest — the confidence, character, peace of mind, responsibility and causal efficacy needed to underpin our way in the world? Well, according to the cultural ideal, they are the natural everyday no-sweat entitlement that accompanies the “right” acquisitions whether its goods and merchandise, opinions and beliefs, recreational pursuits or status and cred.
As a result, we expect ourselves, or egoistically believe ourselves, to be knowledgeable, instinctively cool or hip — our taste, resources and nerve a matter of an innate ease. And, of course, we experience anxiety when others (or we ourselves) don’t seem to think we’ve matched the ideal model.
But, let’s get real. We’re born with the natural instincts of a wild animal designed to respond to the challenges of survival circumstances in the jungle or on the plains. Everything that happens after that — how these instincts are directed toward the construction of our humanity, the fulfillment of our unique aptitudes and our desire not only to survive but to contribute to a better world — has to be learned.
However, without awareness, without autonomy, without oversight, we internalized the prevailing American ego-function. For example, like other animals, we learn in the main by imitation, mimicry and conformity. Riding the rails of our genetic and culturally conditioned determinism, we get jobs, start a family, buy a dog, take vacations and play with our digital devices.
I believe that much of our anxiety and angst comes from only an unexamined engagement with our nation’s enlightenment ideals. We reach adulthood with little pressure to pay attention to the substantive principles on which this nation’s institutions were built. We carry on “skimming off the top,” or by managing nothing more substantive and meaningful than the surface systemics of our day-to-day life.
So, how do we address our existential angst and anxiety despite the relentless pressures that accompany simply being alive? A new governing philosophy for practical living is the solution.
The emancipatory framework on which our nation was built has a great deal to do with the satisfaction we experience as we live our lives. When we abstract for discussion and study the emancipatory framework of the sovereign individual, we find that managing this idealistic and political ordering is intrinsic to the promise of America, dependent as it is on its citizens’ ability to architect and steward America’s civilization.
When our public and private sovereign individuality is lived in the light of this emancipatory framework the quality of our lives is elevated and enlivened.
Deliberately mapping a different route to our sovereign individuality calls for authenticity and responsibility. Thinking freely (without illusion or delusion). Exploring the opportunities and suffering the growing pains offered in the interdependent civilization that is America. It leads us to the possibility that there can be liberty and equality for all.
An emotional, intellectual and ethical engagement with the American social experiment with autonomy gives us our bearings, our stand for social justice and tolerance and a keen understanding of the biological and social forces that would compromise our commitments, our oversight and our resolve.
We want to flourish, to contribute, to take the measure of our lives by what we made of our humanity. We each have the inventive ability to think freely, see clearly and act responsibly. We benefit, and the world benefits, when we are able to feel, think, listen, speak and act in accordance with the liberal, democratic, pragmatically minded America to which we are heir.
In short, the fate of our transformation into the subjective and civic manifestations of life pivots on our ability to place our freedom in the framework of the responsible autonomy offered by America.
This is our new governing philosophy.
I’ve been teaching classes on autonomy and life for over 30 years. These classes offer a unique and powerful governing philosophy for practical living. They stand firmly on America’s promise of freedom, justice and equality and the opportunity to a life of our own design. More information is available on my website: autonomyandlife.com.