I realize that in Civilization and its Discontents Freud makes the allowance that in some instances, there is a problem with society itself that needs to be rectified. I get the impression, though, that Freud did not consider there was much that ought to be changed in society, due to his mistreatment of Dora. In general, he thought the individual just had to adjust to the way things are. To move from entertaining unrealistic expectations to embracing how things have to be. One might not be happy with that, but Freud thought that ‘happiness’ was overvalued. It was just a discharge of biological urges, temporary and without value beyond itself.
The capacity to adjust to society as it already is therefore became Freud’s measure of psychological health. By the same token, to criticize society was likely to indicate a failure to adjust to the ‘reality principle’ and was therefore probably a sign of being insane.
I think a new reality principle is needed, one that does not put us into a straitjacket for expressing dissent.
The need for a reality principle is to defend against insanity. One cannot simply invest oneself in a life of fantasy and expect this to have no negative consequences. That would be like eating sugar and popcorn every day and night whilst expecting to thrive.
A reality principle is therefore very important, but the principle of conformity will not do.
Intellectual shamanism chooses to weigh itself against another principle, and that is ‘death’.
Death is the ultimate natural reality principle, as it is not defined by society and its mores, which can vary from one age to another, often without reference to the needs or values of any particular individual.
When one ‘faces death’ one measures oneself. That is always a result of honestly facing death.
One initially encounters a foreboding sense that if one goes against the mores of the clan, one will surely die. That is the first, honest encounter with death. In fact, one is dealing with one’s emotions concerning non-conformity and taking measure of oneself in terms of how far one would be prepared to go against the mores that keep one measuring oneself against others.
To be perpetually concerned with what others think is a form of madness in itself. One can attempt to break free from the values and control mechanisms you have adopted, but this awakens a feeling that one has come face to face with one’s annihilation. That is natural and inevitable. One can ride that storm, for it is possible to emerge from the other side of it.
What is the measure of the man or woman who willingly ‘faces death’? It is in the ability to emerge from one’s own annihilation, somewhat intact. That first experience is known as ‘shamanistic initiation’.
‘Facing death’ after that becomes easier– and one faces it whenever one requires renewal. Facing death tells us what is real about our own experiences, because we learn what parts of ourselves we are willing to risk, as well as what parts we are either too afraid to risk or want to preserve. We are engaged in active self-management and we are jury, judge and executioner of our own lives.
To weigh up one’s life in a balance, from the point of view of one already dead, is the ultimate standpoint in objectivity. This method also offers one deep, subjective self-knowledge.
Society can take us and form us into its shape, or we can shape ourselves. These paths tend not to overlap too much. It’s either one way or the other, because the practice of shamanistic techniques shape our mental muscles, which means either opening or shutting off our possibilities.