What follows is an investigation into the status dynamics of freedom, choice and liberation, with some implications for political action, psychotherapy, social progress and the reactionary response.
Why mix the political and the therapeutic? I make my living as a psychologist. This is the world of practice I know best, but it is also relevant in my roles as parent and citizen. Psychotherapy is a social practice performed within a community and involves, consciously or not, the values and standards of the various communities of the participants. For better or for worse, therapeutic acts necessarily involve a person’s place in community. The goal of the psychotherapies that I respect attempt to address restrictions in a person’s power or disposition to love, work, and play and to foster an enhanced recognition of the way a person’s actions enhances or restricts the love, work and play of others. This is political when it concerns the rights and plights of oneself and others. These concerns have ethical merit since they involve choices that have social consequences and involve the distribution of resources and justice.
The social consequences of political action involves the distribution of power, justice and the potential for coercion. It matters who sets and controls the agenda.
Freedom involves the power and disposition to choose. Liberation is the expansion of choice from constraint.
1. Freedom is constrained by the choices possible (the choices both recognized and actionable.) The circumstances of the world constrain.
2. Choices are restricted by a person's circumstances as shaped by their values, knowledge and competencies (and by their disposition to defensive shame, guilt and anxiety). A person’s powers and dispositions can be shaped by coercive power, by a restricted agenda, and by the acceptance of a “natural order of things” (Steven Lukes).
3. Communities have average expected choice principles that most members employ to maintain good standing. Choice is guided by what is taken to be “the done thing”. Repression, indoctrination, and social coercion may further restrict choice when choice is seen as a threat to community. A person's world involves communities with different agendas and choice principles. A person is always a member of multiple communities. This naturally causes conflict.
4. Some definitions: A person’s eligibility to act corresponds to their behavior potential, which corresponds to the range of their freedom. A person’s behavior potential is the range of actions they can perform. A person’s full range of eligibilities, their full behavior potential, is their status. A person’s status corresponds to their world (comparable to the ecological concept of “niche”). A person’s world is defined by his or her behavior potential. “The world is all that is the case.” (Wittgenstein). The world is limited by the possible actions a person can perform including the actions involved in recognizing the world.
5. A person’s world and a person’s status can expand or contract in a manner that corresponds to significant changes in a person’s powers and dispositions.
6. The person’s world is more or less stable in a manner that corresponds to the stability of a person’s powers and dispositions.
7. A person’s actions maintain the range of his or her world.
8. People protect their turf. When they appear not to, that calls for explanation. People protect their turf from erosion and incursion. (A conservative policy).
9. Radical alterations in the range of a person’s world correspond to significant changes in a person’s behavior potential.
10. A person may attempt to expand the range of his or her world (enhance their eligibilities and opportunities).
11. A person does not knowingly choose less behavior potential over more behavior potential (and situations where a person appears to do so require explanation). People make choices that from their perspective maintain or enhance their status.
12. Status or behavior potential is not given up without having a stronger reason to change than to persist. Reasons to change may be coercive. Coercion directed toward status gains or maintenance may involve attempted degradation. (See, Degradation Ceremonies in Everyday Life.)
13. Coercion elicits resigned or malicious compliance, resistance or refusal. Malicious compliance may be satisfying but is risky. It may be hazardous to all concerned.
14. Resigned compliance may correspond to the experience of depression.
15. Resistance or refusal may be in the service of maintaining status against constraint.
16. Resistance or refusal may be in the service of maintaining the eligibility for Deliberate Action (i.e., actions that involve the recognition of options including the option to refrain from a specific action).
17. Deliberate Action establishes or enhances the potential for an Ethical and Aesthetic prospective since Deliberate Action requires the possibility of both choosing and renouncing options. Choice and renunciation are intrinsic characteristics of ethics and aesthetics.
18. Resistance and refusal may be in the service of maintaining a person’s world and sense of integrity.
19. One person’s status maintenance may involve another person’s status suppression.
20. Effective choice requires recognition of actual behavioral options.
21. Transference, prejudice (prejudgment), and certainty may reduce the recognition of choice. Transference involves an unexamined or unconscious set of assumptions about the other that may produce inappropriate or non-serviceable certainty.
22. The renunciation of choice is different from the non-recognition of choice (although the resulting performance may appear the same, it will have a different significance to the actor).
23. Certainty does not require deliberation. Uncertainty may be an opportunity to decide what to do.
24. Recognizing uncertainty expands possible options but carries risk.
25. False certainty increases the likelihood of a bungled outcome. (Consider the Dunning-Kruger effect. Non-mindful ignorance correlates with overly certain presentations and bungled achievement. Being ignorant of one’s restricted knowledge may lead to the illusion that what is claimed as known is all that is the case.)
26. People take it that things are as they seem unless they have reason to think otherwise. Things may seem correctly or incorrectly certain or uncertain.
27. Correct or incorrect recognition is a pragmatic issue. The question we can answer: Can the way it seems be used effectively?
28. Recognized uncertainty may lead to the following concerns:
What do I want in this situation?
What do I recognize or know about this situation?
What do I know how to do in this situation?
How will I perform in this situation?
What will I achieve in this situation?
What is the significance of this situation to myself and
These questions correspond to parameters of intentional action.
29. Uncertainty is more or less tolerable. If intolerable it will be met with defense, inhibition, anxiety and/or premature resolution.
30. When recognizing an uncertain outcome and given sufficient self-recognized competence, opportunity and threat can be seen as manageable.
31. In the absence of sufficient self-known competence, both opportunity and threat will evoke anxiety, avoidance and/or defense.
32. In the presence of sufficient self-known competence, threat is connected to opportunity and the expectation of possible mastery, with corresponding new or enhanced values, knowledge, skills, and significances as reflected in new (or novel) performances and achievements.
Psychotherapy, Empathy, I-Thou relationships, and Personal and Political Struggle
1. Psychotherapy and political liberation are concerned with the recovery, expansion (or redistribution) of eligibility and behavior potential corresponding to an expanded (or redistributed) thought, imagination, and world.
2. A person’s eligibility may be more or less recognized to the point of not being recognized at all. (Similarly, one can be more or less mistaken about what eligibilities apply).
3. Psychotherapy and political change involve significant uncertainty in what will be achieved.
4. Psychotherapy and political liberation concern recovery or expansion (or redistribution) of eligibility without certainty of achievement or social response.
5. A person meets the opportunities and dilemmas of psychotherapy and the creation of new or more effective social practices with acceptance and/or resistance.
6. A community responds to its member’s recovered, expanded and/or re-distributed eligibility through implementation, refusal and/or coercive reaction.
7. Statuses gained will persist unless there is sufficient coercion or degradation to restrict or undo the gains. Status gains may be lost due to an inability to practice the gains.
8. (“The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” Oliver Wendell Holmes. “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” Young and Lewis).
9. Status gains can be restricted in actual social practice without being forgotten or devalued.
10. When opportunity can be taken it will be attempted unless there is a stronger reason not to.
11. Opportunity remembered or rediscovered may be sought and may be retaken.
12. When possible status gains are sought there will be a corresponding dynamic in eligibility. Where the social redistribution of eligibility is at issue there will be grounds for conflict. A rising tide raises some boats but sinks others.
13. An individual’s particular and weighted Hedonic, Prudent, Aesthetic, and Ethical values intrinsically guide what that person will seek and recognize as opportunity and dilemma and provides fundamental reasons to do one thing rather than another. Briefly defined: Hedonics refers to the ordinary pursuit of pleasure. Prudence refers to self-regard. Aesthetics involves the mixed categories of beauty, elegance, truth, rigor, objectivity and the like. Ethics, the concerns with fairness, justice, “the level playing field”, “the golden rule” and the like. Action often involves multiple reasons for action. Compromise and conflict are unsurprising.
14. Ethical and aesthetic recognitions and actions require the eligibility to engage in Deliberate Action whereas hedonic and prudent recognitions and actions only require that the actor can engage in Intentional Action. Ethics and aesthetics require the potential for choice and renunciation. Hedonics and prudence only require the recognition of opportunity or dilemma. It is a matter of personal characteristics how any actor will weigh the hedonic, prudent, ethical and aesthetic reasons in any given circumstance and how these perspectives may be independent, complementary, antagonistic and so on.
15. Expansion or change in hedonic, prudential, aesthetic, or ethical choice may correspond to a dynamic change in the weight and significance of other intrinsic reasons for action. For example, expanded opportunities for hedonic gratification may result in new prudential, esthetic, and ethical dilemmas. New opportunities are also potential grounds for new conflict.
16. Social progress involves change in community member’s powers and dispositions that may correspond to an enhanced awareness of ethical and esthetic opportunities and dilemmas.
17. The recognition or experience of new opportunity elicits social progress as a general tendency since people may now insist on the expanded or enhanced eligibility to continue with the new opportunity.
18. Community members with low power statuses often pay careful attention to the eligibilities of locally relevant members with high power statuses and to the opportunities and dilemmas that are relevant to both parties. (Similarly, the peasant is in position to appreciate an enhanced $10 stove. All else equal, the peasant is in an appropriate (privileged) position to find or invent such a stove).
19. A social/political community has members whose various social statuses may be independent, interdependent, complementary, antagonist, contingent, and so on.
20. Local and general (state legislated) interests may be independent, interdependent, complementary, antagonist, contingent, and so on.
21. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Theodore Parker but usually attributed to Martin Luther King
22. An empirical claim and a hypothesis: A structure that resembles a noisy upward trending wave describes the social progression of the disenfranchised with the Y axis representing a community’s toleration or acceptance of increased or redistributed eligibility and the X axis representing historical time. An upward, flat or downward midline is possible but the overall trend is an upward slope given that status gains persist. The relation between progression and reaction is irregular. At no point on the wave is there any assurance of the direction the curve will take next. This is the ascending curve of emancipation. People hold on to their status gains as best they can despite expected adversity.
23. Various disenfranchised communities may be at odds and in conflict over any enhancement, creation or redistribution of opportunity or eligibility. What’s good for the geese may not be good for the ganders.
24. A community’s reaction to the liberation of its disenfranchised members shows its true colors.
25. The psychotherapist is an agent of status gain when psychopathology is understood to involve the inhibitions and disabilities in the potential to engage in Deliberate Action and in the valued social practices of the community.
26. Empathy and versions of the I-Thou relationship are central and ordinary stances for the psychotherapist and intrinsically require an appreciation of the client’s uncertain eligibility. Empathy involves both accurate recognition and tolerable representation of the significance of another person’s wants, knowledge, and competence. Empathy requires knowing that the other is only somewhat known (i.e., an appreciation of uncertainty regarding the other).
27. The psychotherapist is prepared to be wrong and to revise his or her understanding. Empathy and negotiation are basic in understanding and revision.
28. Empathy and negotiation involve an appeal to shared values and creates and respects an I-Thou relationship.
29. Mutual I-Thou relationships expand the world. Mutual I-Thou relationships are open to discovery, revision, and surprise.
30. The psychotherapist is open to surprise and ready to honor new eligibilities and social practices.
31. The psychotherapist demonstrates empathy by appropriately engaging in new social practices initiated by the client or co-constructed in the therapeutic encounter.
32. People engaged in new social practices may acquire new values, knowledge, and/or skills with accompanying new significances.
33. New social practices change the community and enlarge the world.
34. To the extent that the potential for Deliberate Action is enhanced or expanded there may correspond an enhanced or expanded recognition of Ethical and Aesthetic opportunities and dilemmas.
35. Political action involves the negotiation, legislation or other attempts at enforcing the assignment and distribution of eligibilities, social roles and corresponding social responsibilities.
36. Political action may involve the claim of being both a representative member of the community and eligible to accredit or degrade other members.
37. A person’s standing in the community determines their eligibility to accredit or degrade others.
38. Political action involves status assignments and the creation, distribution and/or redistribution of eligibility. Degradation and accreditation ceremonies are paradigm examples of political action.
39. Political action may have as its goal both liberation and suppression.
40. Politically significant status assignments that assign, distribute or redistribute eligibility may be developed in negotiation but are enforced through implicit or covert coercion. “Political power flows from the barrel of a gun” (Mao). State power substantially rests on the potential for coercion. (Love may be all you need (Lennon)), but the withdrawal of love may be enforced through restraint or other coercion).
41. Status assignments and status claims that realign relationships and eligibilities within a community are paradigmatically political when they also describe eligibilities that may be enforced through coercion or other actions of the state.
42. There are many social vanguards beyond the conventional political activist, including the psychotherapist as an agent of individual liberation.
43. An individual’s liberation from constraint creates a community member with an expanded perspective.
44. The liberated member’s use of a new or expanded perspective is uncertain.
45. The psychotherapist who welcomes and facilitates liberation is tolerant of uncertainty. Psychotherapeutic change may be experienced as both threat and liberation for all parties involved.
46. The good enough psychotherapist is secure enough to do the work.
47. The psychotherapist as liberation agent is concerned with establishing and maintaining (or enforcing) a relationship that fosters an expansion in the client’s behavior potential by treating the client as eligible to engage in actions beyond those the client currently owns.
48. The psychotherapist as an agent of suppression treats the client as a patient who is only eligible for restricted participation in the community.
49. The psychotherapist as local politician represents the client but performs his or her role as a member of various communities that necessarily overlap with the client’s. What the client wants as enhancement of eligibility and opportunity may be independent, complementary, antagonistic, etc., to the therapist’s concern with his or her own status. When the therapist’s and client’s opportunities and dilemmas are independent or complementary there is an absence of conflict. Analytic empathy and neutrality facilitate the awareness and the negotiation of conflict. Neutrality and other nonjudgmental stances involve careful (care with) judgment rather than an absence of judgment. There is no absence of judgment since all parties to an interaction have their own values.
50. The good-enough psychotherapist maintains self-awareness of his or her personal and political values especially as they may correspond or conflict with their client’s values. The psychotherapist takes care to deliberate when conflicting values are at stake. Unexamined indoctrination is especially problematic and important.
51. Since Deliberate Action carries with it the potential for ethical concerns, the psychotherapist in facilitating an expanded or enhanced eligibility for Deliberate Action, potentially expands the ethical domain for all relevant parties. Similar expansion is a potential in the esthetic domain.
52. Expanded or enhanced eligibility for Deliberate Action corresponds to an expanded or enhanced potential for empathy.
53. Psychotherapy that increases ethical and aesthetic perspectives as a consequence of an expanded potential for empathy increases sensitivity to the rights and plights of others.
54. People may or may not be in a position to recognize or articulate their own rights and plights.
55. Psychotherapy focused on the liberation from repressive personal or social constraints attempts recognition and confrontation with the plights and potential rights of the client. (The plights include but are not limited to symptoms, inhibitions, anxieties, and depressions but also the acceptance of grand victim narratives, racism, sexism, ageism, classism, ideology, religion, and so on.)
56. Attempts to exercise potential rights may involve a corresponding potential for conflict.
57. Should social practices based on ethical and aesthetic perspectives follow from psychotherapy, those practices may become a feature in political action with resulting status dynamic effects on new and/or redistributed eligibility.
58. Since ethical and aesthetic perspectives might not be shared within and between communities, conflict may result.
59. The liberation psychotherapist facilitates a community whose members deliberately weigh the value of justice, fairness, truth, rigor, objectivity, elegance, and beauty.
60. A community is only more or less in accord given that individual members live in overlapping communities and weigh justice, fairness, truth, rigor, objectivity, elegance, and beauty in a manner that corresponds to their personal characteristics and local options. Conflict and compromise continue. Negotiation maintains community with uncertain outcome.
61. Freedom is improvisation.
An elegant collection of behavioral maxims, a grammar for providing adequate psychological description, can be found in Peter Ossorio's, Place, 2012, Ann Arbor: Descriptive Psychology Press