Humanistic Education (Liberal Arts) As A Psychological Training For A Democratic Life

To be able during a political conversation about life to react on the opposing arguments non-phobically and without even unconscious hate is impossible if our emotions have not been cultivated by humanistic education (if between our feelings and the presence of an opposite opinion there is no mediation by knowledge and “abstract” thinking). To be able to assess the opposing argument objectively and, if needed, modify or even change our opinion in response we have to be not just formally but in involved manner humanistically educated (we have to be trained to control our believing function – have the ability to separate understanding from belief – to learn how to be skeptical exactly when our whole organism tells us that the “truth” is like this and not like that). The majority of people cannot do this. At best they can get some technical education and discipline of thinking in the area of their profession, but in front of life they are what they are – common personification of pre-scientific common non-sense that makes us self-centered and judge people by their similarity or dissimilarity with “us” (without understanding that they are doing this), suspicious and often hateful towards otherness, aggressive and dismissive towards culturally educated people, ironic about history as a subject, sarcastic about psychology or sociology and are prone to mock philosophy and proudly spit at non-pop-entertaining art.

Humanistic education (in liberal arts) is much more difficult in comparison with the technical one – not cognitively, but psychologically. To be an existential thinker means to know how to control your passions and emotions from influencing your thinking and how not to trust our narcissistic megalomania suggesting that we are “smart enough” to understand human life and how society functions and that living is a “no brainer” and not a “rocket science”. Simple people think about life with their “guts” or “liver”, with their superstitions and prejudices, by collective ideological axioms, but that is not enough to get adequate picture of modern society with its multiplicity of competing interests, when each side does not simply act in its own interests but is building an ideological façade around every attempt to promote itself. The majority of people are very far from understanding what’s going on around them. They think about life in human society like a person with a deformed legs is able to walk or one with crippled arms to box or one with deformed… to make love.

Without involved knowledge of history, sociology, existential psychology and history of arts and the capability to tolerate serious works of art, people shape their opinions about life approximately and with naïve cheerful self-absolutization. And they formulate their opinions with an artificial over-certainty. They are prone to be on the side of extremists and fanatics because their cognitive function is without the overtones and elaborations. Their minds don’t have enough associations and the ones they have are not complicated enough. Their minds are like wooden figures made by an axe. These people are under the power of their childhood impressions from the world – they didn’t learn how to complicate and sophisticate these impressions by its elaborations and modifications later in life (with the help of humanistic education). Human prejudices and superstitions are based in our childhood experiences when bizarre and secretive world could be handled (by the child) only by incredible effort of childish (over-generalizing and sketchy) imagination. Enigmas of human various ages, of death, of sexuality, of the origin of children, of otherness of others, of different races and nationalities are not resolvable for child’s mind. It is from here not only superstitions and prejudices, but also characterological eccentricities and obsessions come to our adult lives.

The less we are humanistically educated the more childish and narcissistic we are in our worldviews, the less we are able to balance naïve self-centric posture of our “reasonings” (successfully exploited by a political system that wants people to compete for personal success instead of concentrating on quality and spirituality of living). We, in the 21st century, are motivated just by several strong existential drives – 1) the need to overrate our importance in the world by believing in and trying to prove our national superiority over other nations and, on individual level, by having the obsessive desire to be richer and stronger than other Americans (megalomaniacal predisposition); 2) scapegoating orientation (determined by megalomaniacal predisposition) making us prone to see dissimilar people daring to have their own interests instead of just sharing ours as the origin of our social or personal problems (the result of our childish self-centeredness); 3) the tendency to interpret sexual “deviations” or “eccentricities” or “particularities” as coming straightly from the “Devil”, “physical nature”, “our genes”, “essence” or another “basic” or “ultimate” reason, instead of considering that they can be result of our childhood mental environments mixed with our imaginative “explanations” to ourselves how we feel and what we are as unique organisms and personalities; and 4) the need to be entertained (served with spectacles and shows and be object of appeal) as a part of a larger need to be consumers (to realize our desire for power through money and acquisition/possessions).

Conversely, adults, grown from children who developed the proto-democratic sensibility, are psychologically able to understand that peace and cooperation are more efficient ways of living and that there is no reason to hate/fight if our dissimilarities are not considered as frightening. On the other hand adults grown from children, who have developed the proto-conservative sensibility, believe in power and control over otherness (as a result of unconscious fear of it). Tolerance, curiosity towards and even attraction for otherness is the magic key that human intelligence has discovered to create and sustain human democratic community. But real tolerance can develop only with humanistic education that explains otherness as pluralism of humanity and difference/dissimilarity as a democratic form of identity. Multiplicity of life is a sign of its exuberance and richness.

It is only intolerance that we need to be intolerant of, not otherness. To perceive otherness with intolerance means to surrender to totalitarian worldview – to put “us-ness” against “them-ness”, “me-ness” against otherness. In this sense totalitarian “cultures” mainly consist of the us-holes and the “us-kissers”. The fight of democracy and totalitarianism is very difficult because totalitarian danger is never coming only from outside, it’s always also inside democracy itself. It is, as if, the “latent” totalitarianism in democracy is the ally of totalitarianism from outside – it needs to crush democracy not less than external enemies do. To have totalitarian elements in our psychology is part of our human nature – our historical proclivity to create communities based on the principle of similarity/identity and intolerance of dissimilarity. It is love for otherness – for what is different, is the essence of a democratic psychology: a latecomer in human history. The democratic principle of identification with otherness, not with the sameness is the necessity if we want to live in a democratic – anti-animosity world, if we want to survive as specie.

The conservative by sensibility people in US are prone to fight with otherness instead of assimilating it. They are brothers of the Soviet communists who could accept other people only if they’ll lose their dissimilarity and become “like us”, castrated of their otherness. The pathetic timidity of many among today’s American democrats is a sign that what was otherness to traditional conservative sensibility is stopped to be itself; it became just the shadow of conservatives. Fight for democracy is fight for dissimilarity, for the right for otherness to exist.