Psychoanalysis is learned, first of all, from a study of one’s self, through the study of one’s own personality. — Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
How can anybody know me when I don’t even know myself? — The The, “Giant”
I did work for the Church of Scientology (CoS) some years ago. It was a strictly professional relationship, but I was shown around their beautiful headquarters at Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead, England, a prosperous town in Surrey and not far from where I grew up. They maintain the late CoS founder L. Ron Hubbard’s office there, including his original desk, right down to his fountain pen and a bottle of the green ink he favored, in case the great man should ever return from the dead unannounced.
The Church itself would require a long and detailed essay, but two aspects of the organization are of interest to me still. The first was that there were two types of Scientologist. There were the “useful idiots” who believed in Xenu, the space aliens, and all of L. Ron Hubbard’s astral chatterings (as well as coming up with “Dianetics,” he also wrote bloody awful science fiction), and they paid handsomely for that knowledge. They were generally vulnerable people, persuaded into taking and believing in personality tests and informed that the CoS could provide the answer to their mostly self-inflicted problems.
Then there were the others, almost always higher up in the organization. They talked knowledgeably about Scientology, but even a street psychologist such as myself could tell they didn’t believe it. What they did believe in was its use value and the conversion of the useful idiots’ beliefs into financial gain.
This two-tiered system of belief operates within many sects and cults today, politics and the public sector included. An obvious example is that, if a serving British police officer were to tweet that there are only biological men and women, two genders and that’s that, he would quite probably lose his job and pension. It is therefore expedient to “believe,” the reward for belief (or at least its expression) being the maintenance of the officer’s livelihood and that of his family. Naturally, almost none of them will believe in woke gender theory (which actually makes Scientology seem quaintly straightforward, like entomology), and the pressure on them to conform will lead to cognitive dissonance, which will not do their mental health much good. On the other hand, there will be teachers at the College of Policing who really do believe in what they are teaching. Their benefit is the neo-Marxist indoctrination of the forces of law and order they wish to neutralize and hamper, the better to promote anarcho-tyranny (not that they know that is precisely what they are doing) and to feel good about themselves.
A more interesting case is Islam. If you and your fellows are Afghan peasants, squatting in a cave in the hills outside Ghazni in your pakol cap and eating goat curry with king’s rice, you may well believe in Allah as an actual being, dispensing his justice here on Earth and waiting to judge you in the afterlife. You won’t have the IQ or the cognitive ability to question tradition, even if you wanted to risk your life by doing so.
But it is hard to believe that those higher up the Islamic chain of command — the heads of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, or the deputies at the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR), or lounge-suited media Muslims such as Reza Aslan or Sadiq Khan — believe in Allah. They do, however, believe in power, and if “Allah” is the way to get it, so be it. Mickey Mouse doesn’t exist in a real-world sense, but he sure brings in the money. It doesn’t matter to Ilhan Omar whether Allah exists or not; his range of effects do, and that is enough to help destroy the America she so hates. Allah is to Islam what Xenu is to the CoS, a means to an end.
But it was another aspect of Scientology that fascinated me. The “E-meter” is central to CoS methodology, and doubles as both a basis for what you might call existential diagnostics and an attractive piece of steam-punk showiness. The one I saw — and was tested on — was one of Hubbard’s originals.
The E-meter, claims the CoS, is able to detect the spiritual remnants of traumatic events undergone by the subject centuries and even millennia ago. In the hands of skilled CoS practitioners, they claim, the E-meter can “read” thoughts and assess the mental and psychical health of the subject. This subject is then assigned various stages of very expensive Scientology teaching in order to shed these dangerous and harmful “spirits” and aim towards the ultimate goal of going “clear,” after which they will have miraculous powers. Yes, I know, I know. In Germany, Scientologists are disbarred from holding any public office, and for once the Germans have got something right.
The E-meter is, of course, nothing but a galvanometer, a “Wheatstone bridge” that measures tiny changes in electrical charge, in this case playing across the subject’s sweaty hands as they hold the two terminals connected to the device. However, it is not the Baron von Frankenstein paraphernalia that concerns us, but the concept behind it: auditing.
CoS theory revolves around the idea of auditing the self and, if you subtract the whacko Weird Tales concepts behind Dianetics, then you are left with a very good idea indeed, one to which we would all do well to pay heed. That’s not to say we need to rope in our own auditors, although some people do. Scientology aside, psychotherapists, priests, good friends, and self-help gurus are all auditors of a kind, or at least they encourage us to do what I suspect few actually do, which is to audit ourselves.
Know thyself was famously inscribed on the oracle at Delphi, as visited by Socrates. He tells the story at his trial, and the court report, as it were, which is Plato’s Apology represents one of the greatest acts of self-auditing in the history of literature. After the famous injunction comes an apparent afterthought: everything in moderation. What is unspoken is the conjunctive implication of the two: everything in moderation, and that includes knowing thyself.
But many of us think we do. Of the hundreds of people I have got to know over the course of my life, most of them seemed satisfied that they both had full access to their inner self, and that they modestly approved of what they found there. I’ve probably met half a dozen people who genuinely know who and what they are, for good or ill, and I have strived to be one myself. It is not easy, and there is one main obstruction. Psychologists call it “the self-serving bias.” I have myself just been guilty of it in claiming a level of self-knowledge I could never prove, and for important reasons.
The self-serving bias means, put simply, that we would rather believe positive things about ourselves than negative, even if we have to fool ourselves to do so. One form this takes is fairly obvious when you listen to people in casual conversation. How many times have you heard someone say something along the lines of: “The problem with me is that I expect too much from people”, “Where I go wrong is being a perfectionist”, or “Well, perhaps I should have kept quiet, but I say what I think”? These model sentences start out as though they are self-deprecating, but contain within themselves self-congratulation, a drug to which many people are addicted.
Nietzsche warns, in The Dawn, against a superficial form of self-knowledge which satisfies us at our peril: “To however high a degree a man can attain to knowledge of himself, nothing can be more incomplete than the conception which he forms of the instincts constituting his individuality.”
Knowing yourself is not being unhesitating about which type of latte you prefer, nor is it knowing you are squeamish when it comes to hypodermics, allergic to cats, or have a tendency to spend too much on gadgets. Knowing yourself is opening a stiff-handled cellar door, descending lightless stone steps with unsure tread, and daring to open doors in the dark and the damp below, doors you have been warned against opening and which open in turn into rooms you have been told — you do not know by whom — to fear.
Nietzsche, a supreme psychological self-auditor, sounds another word of warning in Ecce Homo: “Also this digging into one’s self, this straight, violent descent into the pit of one’s being, is a troublesome and dangerous business to start.”
What type of person can make such a descent and, more importantly, report back honestly on what he finds there — not necessarily to others (although much great literature is this type of confessional), but to himself?
I believe that the hardest thing for a human being to do is to admit to himself just how much of the experience he wishes he had never had is due to his own shortcomings. The abdication of personal responsibility is one of the greatest modern failures. It is generally we who fail, not fate or the world which forces us to fail or tricks us into failure. Aristotle, in the Ethics, recognizes the self-nullity of this abdication of responsibility: “It is truly absurd for a man to attribute his actions to external things instead of his own capacity for being easily caught by them; or, again, to ascribe the honorable ones to himself, and the base ones to pleasure.”
Of course I can only speak from personal experience, but if the events in my past I would rather not have had happen were represented as a pie chart showing those which were my fault and those which were not, then while I would be sorely tempted to see a slim wedge as standing for those I brought on myself and the huge remainder representing fate, bad luck, or the malevolent actions of others, the reverse is likely to be more accurate. And I have met a large number of people who would not or could not believe in their own culpability.
My term for self-knowledge is “autognosis,” a reasonably straightforward ancient Greek construction. Genuinely to know one’s self is, I believe, daunting and not necessarily to one’s personal advantage (and thus rather unnatural). It is not made easier when the Freudian concept of the “screen memory” is taken into account. As Nietzsche also wrote: “Memory says, I did this. Pride says, I did not. In the end, pride wins.” Again, from my own experience, I have found women to be far more susceptible to this type of personal revisionism than men. That is another story, however, although I also find that there is a sectarianism when it comes to autognosis, but it is one that plays out across a political rather than a gender divide.
The innate ability for an attempt at autognosis, I would suggest, is tempered by other factors than simply the will to make that attempt. Perhaps — and this is extremely unscientific — it is more likely that a medieval European peasant would have “known themselves” in a clearer and more uncomplicated way than the psychologically cluttered individual of today. Christianity, scorned by modern Western elites and their media water-carriers (and even by the Anglican Church), promoted a level of self-examination that would baffle most people in the West today. Luther would confess for six hours. A priest told him he didn’t have to confess to every fart — but Luther did. This is autognosis as a psychopathological condition, certainly, but that is not of itself an argument against its worth. Autognosis is the film negative of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a fascination with the self not to aggrandize that self, but potentially to denigrate it. And that is where the contemporary and radical political division which splits the West comes in.
I don’t believe that Leftists have the facility to self-audit in any way. They have replaced personality and its depths with the shallows of a pre-fabricated set of dogma, unswerving and dictatorial. Their sense of self is predicated on a category mistake so outrageous only they could believe it, which is that because they believe in and strive for what they think will be a morally perfect world, they can automatically fly themselves into that world, like the Angel Gabriel winched down on a rope in a children’s Nativity play (when those things were still a permissible part of communal life for the white West). Speaking of matters holy, this error is analogous to one of the ontological proofs for the existence of God, which states that because God is a perfect being and non-existence an imperfection, God must exist. Never has a question been so begged.
I don’t claim that those of us on the Right are a legion of shrewd self-knowers, but we do seem to me to be a good deal less concerned with what others think of us, and so less inclined to indulge in what has become popularly known as “virtue-signaling,” an activity which is easy for the intellectually lazy Left because it is low in investment but high in yield. It is a type of moral greed, because those who lose in this ethical stock-market are those who don’t invest. For the Left, it is as though morality were a zero-sum game. Because they are so good themselves, by a warped dialectic, there must be others who are concomitantly bad. That, of course, historically speaking, tends to be when the smiting begins.
So, before we leave autognosis, what is your account with yourself? Can you look back on your life and approve of all you have done? I am not judging you; how could I? I don’t know you. That is not the point. Only you can fully know you. Recall all the good things you have done without allowing them to obscure the worst. I am extremely proud of some of the things I have achieved in my life. I am also utterly ashamed of other things for which I am responsible, actions which have brought distress and sadness to others. But I know what those things are and I will not flinch from them. And there is in this a type of existential security — not always easy to accept, but at least evidence of a lack of fear of the self and its potentially awful capabilities. Saint Augustine writes, in the Sermons:
Whoever does not want to fear, let him probe his inmost self. Do not just touch the surface; go down into yourself; reach into the farthest corner of your heart. Examine it then with care . . .
So, to reinterpret the two-part Delphic injunction, don’t be afraid of autognosis, don’t be reluctant to audit yourself, but approach with caution. You don’t necessarily know what you will find in the cave. And, as we started our inner journey with the CoS’ strange device, the E-meter, we will give the last word to Antonin Artaud, from his piece “The Nerve Meter”:
I am the witness, I am the only witness of myself. This crust of words, these imperceptible whispered transformations of my thought, of that small part of my thought which I claim has already been formulated, and which miscarries.
I am the only person who can measure its extent.
* * *
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