Sunday, 9 September 2007

Huxley’s Human Potentialities, Part 5: The Way to Realise Our Potential (4).

Towards the end of ‘Human Potentialities’, Huxley turns his attention to ethics. He argues that cannot fulfil our potential for doing good on the basis of ‘commandments thundered down from Sinai’, categorical imperatives, and laws – all of which simply say “be good, or else”. We inquiries into how to go about doing good. Not only that, but we don’t know enough about how to BE good, and how to love: ‘That we shall perish unless we learn to love more warmly and widely … is only too obvious.’ Thus Huxley says he would welcome even a ‘general’ effort to condition of young children to feel more affectionately, in order to improve the moral and emotional atmosphere.

In the end, however, he feels that the answer lies in a more involved – more directed and precise – ethical method; we require practical techniques – focussed on autosuggestion – to make ourselves capable of implementing our good intentions. This means commanding ourselves on the verbal level, and carrying out those commands ‘…on the non-verbal levels of the autonomic nervous system and the subliminal mind…’. This kind of practice is, Huxley believed, ‘…of great value, both ethically and therapeutically.’

To some the idea of using autosuggestion might suggest that Huxley experienced bouts of eccentricity. Nevertheless, the evidence shows that it is a big mistake to underestimate the force of autosuggestion, for good or ill: dictatorships used it, when they compelled their peoples to recite instructions in the form of chants and songs; religions use it, when, for example, they encourage the recitation of confessions and creeds; people suffering from anxiety and depression use it, when they repeat negative self-statements that entrench their low self-esteem perpetuate their symptoms; therapists like myself use it, when we encourage ‘positive self-talk’, and the use of ‘coping cards’. A form of autosuggestion known as the ‘Emotional Freedom Technique’ is now widely used, and has become a big business. If we repeat any phrase often enough we do tend to believe it; it begins to shape our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.