From Ego to Empire, All Our Problems Stem from the Impulse to Control
The human organism arrives in this world squishy, defenseless and easily startled, which it turns out is really starting things off on the wrong foot.
Because of the size of our newly-evolved brains relative to the birth canal, humans have to give birth to what are essentially fetuses, far more helpless for a much longer time than the offspring of our animal cousins. While we are slowly completing our post-natal gestation and learning to move and walk as most mammals can do right out of the womb, we are in a very frightening stage of helplessness which inevitably leaves us scarred with psychological trauma.
Our formative impressions of the world are that it’s an unpredictable land of giants who make unexpected loud noises and sudden movements, where we have to scream our heads off to get what we need and where we’re incapable of articulating any desires we might have that are more complex than hunger or changing.
We’re just flung into this scary environment that we do not understand and cannot control. So it’s not surprising that we start forming strategies to exert some degree of control in order to feel safe and secure.
As our little heads get fuller and we begin to use language, we discover that one way we can exert control over this scary world of giants is with a conceptual framework known as “me”.
When we were newborns we did not experience a “me”, we just experienced raw sensory input and simple being. As our capacity for language and thought develops we learn that it’s useful to move thoughts around an imaginary conceptual construct called “me” in order to exert control over our environment using thoughts and words like “Mine!”, “I want that,” “Stay with me mommy,” “Don’t do that to me,” etc.
In reality there is no hard, solid thing that could be called a “me”, either scientifically or experientially. Scientifically the human organism is a loosely collaborative cellular process with no defining boundaries and no real separation from the ecosystem which forms and sustains it, and experientially there’s just thoughts, feelings and sense impressions with no hard “me” at the center if you really look closely. But because it’s useful for exerting control, the mental story of “me” gets energetically imbued with the power of belief in the organism.
This is what various spiritual traditions are pointing to when they employ the English word “ego”. Not to any hard, solid thing, but to a behavioral tendency to energetically contract around an imaginary “me” construct. It’s where nearly all of our suffering comes from, and it’s why the world is messed up in the way it is.
This impulse to control begins with egoic contraction, and depending on how forceful that contraction is it can lead to the impulse to control loved ones, communities, the environment, and every human being on this planet.
Someone whose egoic impulse to control spills over onto others can become abusive: beating their children, manipulating their family members, terrorizing their significant others, doing whatever it takes to give themselves the feeling of security they get when the people around them are brought under control. There’s no respect for the self-sovereignty of those people, because granting them self-sovereignty would be placing them out of your control.
Someone whose egoic impulse to control spills over into their communities might become a bully at school, a tyrant at the office, a malicious gossip, a domineering preacher or cult leader. Again it’s all about bringing the people around them under control so that they can feel safe and secure, with no regard for the self-sovereignty of others.
Someone whose egoic impulse to control spills out indiscriminately might try to amass as much control over as much wealth as possible so they’ll be able to influence vast collectives of people. They might climb the political or media ladder to gain power in the form of governmental or narrative control. They’ll do anything they can to exert as much control as they can over anything that makes them feel insecure, to force a paradigm that ensures they’ll always get everything they want and none of it will ever be taken away from them.
And that’s why we’ve got these oligarchs now doing everything they can to amass as much wealth for themselves as possible while keeping it out of the hands of everyone else.
It’s why vast fortunes are poured into manipulating the political/media class to control what people think, how they act and how they vote.
It’s why we’ve got wars and regime change operations around the world brutalizing any nation that tries to insist on its own self-sovereignty.
It’s why we’re destroying the ecosystem in which we evolved by beating it into submission rather than learning to collaborate with it.
It’s why we consent to a system of competition against each other as rivals instead of collaboration with one another as comrades.
It’s why egocentric dominators are endangering us all by waving armageddon weapons at anyone who doesn’t move exactly the way they like.
All ultimately because of our big heads and their relation to the size of the birth canal.
People whose impulse to control is especially pernicious seem to labor under the delusion that if they could just control every single atom in the universe, everything would be fine. That anything that goes wrong is due to the fact that they weren’t in control of it. So they spend their lives doing everything they can to exert control over as much of the world as possible. This is of course insane, and stems from the early impression they got of the world that bad things happen because the world is out of control.
But the world is always out of control. Necessarily. Even if one particularly powerful ego managed to enslave the whole human race and bend it to its will, an asteroid could hit the earth and end it all in an instant. The path toward peace is not toward control, it’s toward allowing it to be forever out of control.
The path out of this mess is the path away from domination and control and toward respect for self-sovereignty. We can begin walking this path ourselves, on our own, away from our own impulse to control and our own egoic contraction.
In the Monterey Bay Aquarium there’s a huge circular tank built into the ceiling of one of the rooms where sardines swim around in a circle all day. This creates a whirlpool effect which carries the school with its momentum, but if you watch the linked video you’ll notice that there are always a few little fish swimming against the tide. It would be easier for them to swim in the same direction all the other fish are swimming, but for whatever reason a few of them are saying “Screw this, I’m going the other way.”
If you think about it, those fish are doing two things with the path they have chosen. First, they are reducing the momentum of the whirlpool by the energy of one fish, simply by not participating in it. Secondly, they are actively pushing the energy of the whirlpool in the opposite direction by the energy of one fish, just by swimming the other way.
That’s really the best course of action we ourselves can take in a sardine tank that is spinning in the direction of domination and egoic contraction. We can uproot in ourselves all impulses to bend the world to our will and bring consciousness to the various ways that self-sovereignty is not being respected in our world. We can do deep inner work and pierce through the illusion of self and separation and see through to the nondual reality which exists already here and now beneath the mirage of the labeling, dividing mind.
We do these things as our part in slowing down the egoic whirlpool that is spinning us toward extinction. We do this because maybe other sardines will turn around and join us. But primarily we do this because it is right, and because it is true. Because a life that is devoted to truth is the only kind of life that will truly satisfy.
Let’s be the dissenting sardine. Let’s turn around from the egoic momentum of our species and each extricate our unique corner of humanity from the energetic contractions of selfing. Free the world from our delusions so we can know true peace. If that does open the door for true peace to pervade our world, then so much the better.