a book by David Riesman
(our site's book review)
Riesman says that once we’ve looked into helplessness and its causes (win-lose authoritarian dominance and submission, regression, conformity, etc.), we need to look at how we can “. . . leap to security and freedom. . . . One requirement is a type of character structure that can tolerate freedom, even thrive on it; I call persons of such type ‘autonomous,’ since they are capable of conscious self-direction.” He didn’t know (back in 1954) what factors caused people to become autonomous.
But Maslow, in 1968, in his Toward a Psychology of Being, insightfully set out the best guidelines the world had ever known for the evolution of self-actualization and autonomy, and he was able to do this only because of his extensive study of self-actualized people. Since then, hundreds of others (Fromm, Gordon, Hart, Baumrind, Helmstetter, Putney and Putney, Dyer, Pollard, Bowlby, Ainsworth, etc.) have extended and expanded on the factors in communication, parenting, relationships and social connectedness that contribute to autonomy. Riesman has gleaned much from Fromm in his autonomy studies. Autonomous people don’t rely on external, indirect self-acceptance like other-directed people do; they rely on self-acceptance, which they get by being true to their own self-chosen values.
He says the autonomous do not often find other autonomous beings, even though they desire to and would strengthen their own autonomy by such a discovery. He also bewails the fact that some nearly autonomous people get “leveled” by the masses—the forces of indirect self-acceptance and other-direction pull them back into the realm of the conformists who no longer choose but go along to get along. He characterizes the autonomous as brave, high-quality people who are very much needed to guide society’s path, since others will simply follow the dictates of the masses and the “authorities.” He goes on: “By showing how life can be lived with vitality and happiness even in a time of troubles, the autonomous people can become a social force, indeed a ‘saving remnant.’ BY CONVERTING PRESENT HELPLESSNESS INTO A CONDITION OF ADVANCE, THEY LAY THE GROUNDWORK FOR A NEW SOCIETY . . .” See Why Register for an MC?.
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