The Ambiguity of our Situation
Those who know say that Kierkegaard (circa 1840) was a psychoanalyst without fear of being laughed at because he knew that the scoffers are uninformed. Few sapiens have such courage born of self-confidence. The noted psychologist Mowrer said “Freud had to live and write before the earlier work of Kierkegaard could be correctly understood and appreciated.” Such, is genius.
Wo/man is a union of polar opposites; self-consciousness and physical body. It is thus “the true essence of man”. “Leading modern psychologists have themselves made it the corner stone of their understanding.”
The evolution into self-consciousness from self-satisfying ignorance inherent in animal nature had one great tragedy for wo/mankind, which is anxiety or dread. It is our very humanness which produces anxiety--dread of death. This anxiety results from the ambiguity of our situation and our inability to overcome such an ambiguity. This ubiquity of ambiguity drives us into the creation of a virtual world in which to live. Self-consciousness cannot be denied, we cannot disappear into a state of vegetation, we cannot flee dread; we can only create delusions--a virtual reality.
The task of the sciences of psychology, psychoanalysis, sociology, and anthropology are to discover the strategies that humans use to avoid anxiety. How do we function automatically and uncritically in our virtual world and how do these strategies deprive us of true growth and freedom of action?
Today we talk about ‘repression’ and ‘denial’; Kierkegaard, the pioneer, called these same things “shut-upness”. He recognized the ‘half-obscurity’ in which wo/man lives her life, he recognized that man recognizes the truth of ceremony, how many times to bow when walking past the altar, he knows things in the same way that a pupil uses ABC of a mathematical expression but not when it is changed to DEF. “He is therefore in dread whenever he hears something not arranged in the same order.”
Shut-upness is what we today call repression. Kierkegaard recognized a “lofty shut-upness” and a “mistaken shut-upness”. It is important that a child be reared in a lofty shut-upness, i.e. reserve, because it represents an ego-controlled and self-confident perception of the world.
Mistaken shut-upness, however, results “in too much blockage, too much anxiety, too much effort to face up to experience by an organism that has been overburdened and weakened in its own controls…more automatic repression by an essentially closed personality”. Good is openness to new possibilities and evil is closed to such possibility.
Shut-upness is called, by Kierkegaard, “the lie of character”. “It is easy to see that shut-upness eo ipso signifies a lie, or, if you prefer, untruth. But untruth is precisely unfreedom…the elasticity of freedom is consumed in the service of close reserve…Close reserve was the effect of the negating retrenchment of the ego in the individuality.”
This ‘lie of character’ is developed by the infant’s need to adjust to the world. This unfreedom becomes mistaken shut-upness when the character becomes too fearful of the world to open itself up to its possibilities. Such individuals become ‘inauthentic’; they are not their own person; they follow a life style that becomes automatic and uncritical, they become locked in tradition. This infant grows up becoming the ‘automatic cultural-man’.
“Devoid of imagination, as the Philistine always is, he lives in a certain trivial province of experience as to how things go, what is possible, what usually occurs…Philistinism tranquilizes itself in the trivial”.
Quotes from “The Denial of Death”; Pulitzer Prize winner for nonfiction by Ernest Becker.