The wave of freedom sweeping over the mideast and Africa brings to my mind other changing times, including and especially the wave that swept over the Atlantic Ocean and brought about our nation's birth. We were, as Lincoln pointed out, a nation "conceived in liberty." That is, our founding principles derived from the thoughts of enligntenment philosphers like John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau who had a lot to say about what it means to be free.
These gentlemen based much of their thinking on the subject by referencing something they called "the state of nature." Consider, for example, this quote from Locke's "Second Treatise of Government: "The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule." Or this opening sentence, from Jean Jacques Rousseau's book "The Social Contract:" "Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains. These words sparked revolutionary actions , shattering chains on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and turning the world upside down in their ultimate expression, the America society which numbers us as its citzens. The ideas of Locke and Rousseau about freedom and human nature are tightly woven into our American thinking, laws, and social policies. Our social contract.
Unfortunately, they goofed. As I mentioned in a previous entry, Man is not born free- he is born a "baby." And, in the words of pediatrician and psychoanalytic pioneer D.W. Winnicott, "there is no such thing as a baby." There is always a baby and someone.
I am not faulting M. Rousseau for missing this fundamental point. His own mother died 9 days following his birth, and when he was 10 years old his father gave him up to the care of some relations. . Rousseau felt so ill equipped to deal with his own children that he sent them all away to be raised in an orphanage. So the "state of nature" to which he referred was not based on evidence obtained in the nursery. And, sadly, Rousseau went on to have significant relationship problems for the rest of his life.
During the past 100+ years that psychoanalysts have been taking "a deeper look" at the human mind, one thing that has become clear is that the need for "someone" is not just for babies. It is fundamental for our development into healthy human beings. As we go through life, hopefully, we are children with someone. And then-if we are lucky-we have a chance to become adults with someone. In other words, we are not unfettered in the state of nature. We are, for better and worse, connected to the people we depend on. On a bad day, it feels like we're chained. On a good day, they are our lifelines.
You see where I'm going with this. We've designed a society that's grossly incompatible with human nature. Oops.
So maybe it's time for a new social contract. One that takes into account what we've discovered since the Enlightenment about how humans develop and what we need psychologically. And here's where psychoanalytic understanding can play an important role. One of the great contributions that psychoanalysis has made is in the realm of understanding what childhood means to us as adults, and what adults mean to us as children. It also has taught us much about how the relation between the two contributes to who we are as human beings. The more we understand ourselves, the more likely we'll be able to recognize what our children need from us, and help them develop into healthy adults living together within the context of a healthy society.
In other words, the social contract I am proposing places a high premium on society's role in fostering the development of emotionally intelligent citizens.
Social policies formulated from this point of view would promote freedom in the best sense of the word. Not the freedom of "You're not the boss of me!" The freedom that comes with accepting the necessity and responsibility for making choices, and having the confidence to make them, knowing that, in the end, this is the path to liberating what Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature."