All Those Layers of Social Conditioning

In order to start to get close to our true natures we need to peel off all those layers of social conditioning. Whether you believe it or not we all have them. And each layer is bonded to the next with the epoxy glue of should and ought. This glue is very sticky and hard to shift. It holds things tight and is very resistant to being prised apart.

All that conditioning means that we have lost sight of our core, what I call our authentic self.

This social conditioning gives rise to an utter terror of the dreaded social faux pas. It is what makes the decision as to whether to hold a door open for someone following us into a shop, awkward. It means that we are uptight and unable to express our feelings. It is social conditioning that inserts the pole far up our arses. And it is social conditioning that drives the trains and buses around in the incessant chatter of our internal dialogue. As we remove each layer, each skin of social conditioning, we get closer to our true natures.

Having cued this up:

How often do I use the words should or ought?

What “voice” are these words in?

Do I inflict these on myself?

Do I inflict these on others?

If I peeled back the layers of my conditioning what might I find?

Inhibitions and Hang-ups.

Most people are chock-a-block with inhibitions and hang-ups. Many of these arise from their social conditioning, there is absolute terror of the social faux pas. Many walk around with a pole up their arse and as a result they die painfully of splinters. The list of taboo things is long. As a rule, people are fearful of being open and honest, they are very guarded. This results in endless gameplay.

Some simply have never expressed themselves at all. They are like a volcano and fit to pop, they give off sulphurous emissions and steam, and that is about all.  Most people are literally fuming all the time. We rarely profess love from the heart. And we are shit scared of being vulnerable in any way. Some are very body conscious and dare not show their body. Talk of shit, piss and periods, can make some squeamish. We do not like to see a chicken killed but many go to visit The Colonel. Life and death comes pre-packaged at Waitrose. Not many have gutted a fish or wrung a neck. A mere mouse can have us squealing. Many men are fearful of taking a piss in a gay bar in case another man looks at their cock.

Some of these inhibitions are more than a little silly.

There are many hang-ups about all sorts of things. Some carry their lies around their neck like a necklace of skulls. The fear of being found out is petrifying. People are burdened and edgy all of the time.

As an exercise:

Take a look at your life.

What makes you squeamish?


What topics are a conversational no-go zone for you?

Make a list of all your inhibitions and all the things that you are hung up about.

Is there a sound basis for these inhibitions and hang-ups?

Would you feel freer if you conquered them?

Would you be less burdened?

Standing for Something

What, if anything, do you stand for?

This is a question that points, it points at how we try to live our lives and maybe what we consider important. We might stand for a cause, we might stand for a religion or we might stand for freedoms. It is likely that many have not considered what it is they stand for and if they have, it probably stops at something relatively tangible. The related question, “what do I stand against?” is perhaps easier. We might be against climate change or the badger cull, we might be against sexual exploitation. Nearly all of these stands are held within the context of the common dream. They may tinker with some element of that dream, but by and large, life is eked within that wider context. There are many in my former profession who seek a wider participation in science, to bring it to the wider masses. But science is not a panacea, whilst it can bring engagement and employment, it per se, does not bring happiness and peace. Lurking aback can be found, in many cases, ambition. For some science is by way of a Sheldonian religion. And whilst it may point at material truths there are many others which it, because of methodology, cannot approach. There are things into which it does not delve.

If you do make a stand it can reduce your options in the context of the common dream, but it can also open up whole new worlds.

To whom do you hand over your mind?

This might seem a strange question but that is what we do, we hand over our minds to a whole bunch of people, their ideas and their ways. In our desire to belong, we hand over our mind almost without questioning if it is a good thing or not. We are very heavily influenced by others and there is a welcome mat outside the door of our minds, we let things in without asking them to wipe.

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

The key to the door is called fear of missing out and it is by way of a near universal key. It works on many mind-doors. That fear of no longer belonging or being Kool and the Gang weakens our discernment and lowers our standards. In time provided “they” say it is OK, pretty much anything goes. Like sheep we follow the latest trends and gimmicks. If you look at the world today our moral climate isn’t so good, and the exemplars held up are not glowing examples of the best that humanity can offer. There is a lot of corruption and some very shallow stuff out there. Ah but if you don’t follow the trends you will be left out, way-sided. Everybody else is doing it, is a very shabby excuse akin to “I was only following orders”.

I want people to think for themselves and to cultivate some wisdom. This sounds benign but the implications, if you think about it, are wide ranging. Many imagine that they do indeed think for themselves but that is done under the weight of extensive social conditioning and in the context of the common dream. Until such time as you have unpicked that social conditioning you will have no concept of how very debilitating that conditioning is. That fear of missing out and of exclusion is strong, very strong. If you like experiments, the next time you are faced with the fear of missing out on some thing or other. Miss out. In all likelihood the galaxy will still be there the following day, the universe will not undergo the “big crunch” because you missed out. I know, it is very hard to believe.

Unless we stand for something we can be led in to anything.

If you have no values, nor core principles, then all you have left is convenience and expediency. Now if that is a considered choice then that is “better” than if it is a mere default. Without some moral, some ethos to live by, life has less meaning. I am not advocating evangelism of any kind. I am suggesting discernment, a quality that needs honed.

I have renounced a large part of what society offers. In this respect I am missing out. I am missing out on money, kudos, the chance to piss about with expensive lasers and optics, the competitive highly politicized ambition ridden world. I am missing out on stress, on game-playing and on some vague sense of social cohesion and belonging. It was a choice I made and to an extent one that was made for me. Unless I am mistaken the sun has just risen, the cows in the field are eating grass, the entire universe hasn’t imploded.

Having cued this up:

What, if anything, do you stand for?

To whom, to what, do you hand over your mind?

To what extent does the fear of missing out rule your life?

Social Conditioning

Whether you like to admit it or not much of what you say, do and believe is very heavily influenced by social conditioning. How you are conditioned will vary according to your background but there is much commonality. If you are brought up in Islam that conditioning differs from a “Christian” upbringing. I have used emphasis because many who deem themselves such are more “old testamentarians” than they are Christian. The notion of vengeance and punishment, for example, being sourced in the older book and not Christ’s teachings. Your social conditioning will vary according to race and class. This whole notion of offence stems from social conditioning, because it is this conditioning which provides some kind of framework and justification for being offended. “How dare they do or say that! I am a venerable Professor of Chemistry!” It is social conditioning which conveys some notion of mundane rank or status.

Alone in the jungle at night a hungry leopard will not give one toss about your status, your house nor what car you have in the drive. You will be just a piece of meat upon which it seeks to dine. That is reality, the rest is made up by “society”. And we are conditioned into compliance. If someone is a stuck-up pompous arsehole, it is not done to point this out to them even if it is true. Such a being would get offended if you highlighted their behaviours. We are conditioned to think that their taking offence is to some extent acceptable. It is rude and perhaps nasty to transgress. The leopard would not understand what all the fuss is about. What it would understand is a quarrel with another leopard over your juicy carcass, once it has torn through your designer clothes.

The extent of your social conditioning will vary according to your length of time on planet and in “society” there. The longer you have been, the greater the extent of conditioning you carry. You will not appreciate the extent of this conditioning. Say you are forty, it would take many years, perhaps a decade or more, to undo this social conditioning with its knee-jerk reactions. I am to a large extent outside of society and this enables a more detached view. I can choose whether to engage in a way consistent with social conditioning or not. This is the big difference, choice. I can have a socially conditioned conversation about the weather, I don’t have to.

Very broadly and with exceptions, if you are raised in a lower socio-economic class you will be more impressed with status, whether that status be educational, professional, authoritative or blue blood. If you did not have status growing up, it will be a big thing for you as you mature. You might even seek out status as a measure of your success. Still the leopard won’t give a shit, that is not true, he will later, and you would be in it.

This social conditioning, the common dream / nightmare is a massive barrier to liberation. To cut through is not easy nor instantaneous. And just when you think you have undone some of this conditioning another layer of it raises its ugly head. How do you know who you are under the tonnes of conditioning? You don’t know what is you, and what is conditioned into you.

 You are not your social conditioning.

If you want to find the real you, the social conditioning must go, and it must go without conditions. You can’t just keep the bits you like. Because that is still conditioning. Even weakening your conditioning a little bit enhances choice, freedom is to break it altogether. The journey to find your own authentic essence is a long one and it is there, in that essence, you will find you, perhaps for the first time in your life.

If you want to begin this journey you will need to unpick and undo this terrible and pervasive conditioning. To start you will need to discriminate between conditioned behaviours and your own authentic ones. This is not as easy as it sounds.

As an exercise:

Monitor your interactions with the world and see if you can spot your conditioned responses.

Which ones are borrowed or learned?

What would a hungry leopard make of it?

Social conditioning gives rise to kerfuffle.

Is this kerfuffle real or some conditioning?

What is your true nature, your authentic essence?

Summative Micro-oppressions

As Mr Biko suggests previous the mind of the oppressed is easily persuaded that it is not oppressed, that the measures and tools of oppression make sense and are entirely reasonable. If you like the thin end of the wedge is banged home in many infinitesimal steps. We are conditioned to behave in certain ways, above all we are required to conform and comply. This is true of “the rules of the game” and the subtle societal micro-oppressions which we inflict upon each other on a daily basis. They are so commonplace we may not even notice them. We are supposed to suck up to our “superiors” and curry favour with them so as to self-advance, there is a requirement to participate in “you scratch my back” game play and many conditional negotiations. Also, we need to over-egg our achievements so as to sound supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in job applications, grant applications, on-line profiles, bios and generally participate in exaggerated public relations.

If we don’t play according to the “rules” the tool and fear of exclusion is applied. There in no need for the jack-boot, simply societal pressure suffices. Before long the societal omertà sets in and we fear talking about these micro-oppressions for fear of becoming a pariah ourselves. The taboo has taken hold. Any being which transgresses quickly becomes a talking point and the subject of often derogatory gossip, the outsider, the loner and the soon to be “I told you so” serial killer.

“Ah, but you could be sensible and play according to the rules if you want to get on and succeed!”, I perhaps hear you say.

Do you see what I mean? These micro-oppressions are pervasive and embedded deep, they are a part of our DNA perhaps.

Having cued this up:

Do I inflict micro-oppressions on my fellow beings?

If so, how often do I do this?

Are these justified?

Are these sensible?

What is so wrong with being socially conditioned after all?

Propriety and Etiquette

Even though we live in modern times there is an expectation that we might behave with propriety and follow etiquette. It is very easy to get these wrong. If one does not follow etiquette, then it can upset some people. Intrinsic in etiquette is the notion of status. If one does not doff one’s cap, it can be seen as a challenge to the social order. Similarly, if one gets etiquette wrong, one can be excluded. We are expected to behave with propriety, and cursing can be seen to be showing impropriety. We might swear amongst our pals, but to do so in a big important meeting is a big fuck up. It takes a while, especially in Surrey, to figure out who you can do this with, swear I mean. I have said some things here in the blog which might be considered lacking in propriety, and inappropriate for someone with my educational background.

There is a tendency to put on airs and graces for public consumption. And the further up the status ladder one goes, the more one “needs” to watch one’s Ps and Qs in public. This is especially so these days because the press and social media love a faux pas. In the past if you used the wrong etiquette you might be in trouble, to diss a samurai could be fatal. The only place that I have found where the need for etiquette and propriety are dropped quickly, is the outdoors ashtray.

Some love this formal Hogwarts style dining and implicit social ranking. To approach some you may need a formal introduction, maybe sealed with a red wax seal. Thence you are ushered in to a fanfare. This caricature, still exists. Some trade on their ability to get you an introduction to someone else. To be accepted into the club, someone already in the club, must introduce you. No riff raff need apply.

I personally am not a great fan of this perceived need and no doubt countless times I have rubbed people up the wrong way. Strangely, with the families I tutor for, the higher status they have the less formal they are with me. I have been to some very wealthy homes. It is a weird thing that those with newly gained status are the more easily offended.

This etiquette and propriety are conditioned things.

I’ll wager that because of these many things are missed. The palaver so associated is not to everyone’s taste and the proper channels can be slow, tiresome and ineffective. Hidden behind the lace curtains and the doormen, those in the gilded cages are perhaps unaware of what might be out there. The gatekeepers keep out the unwanted but also that which might be wanted or needed.

This metaphor extends to our own barriers, we might avoid something which we do not like the look of and which clashes with our sense of etiquette and propriety. As a consequence, we fail to be exposed to that which we need for our learning and evolution. We may not get the bowl of lama dorje which we need.

As an exercise:

Has my sense of propriety ever interfered with my learning?

If etiquette is breached how do I react?

Am I a bit of snob?