The Power of Conditioning

We are conditioned from birth to believe certain things about ourselves.

These conditioned beliefs can range from the most basic structures (“you are a certain gender, race, and nationality”) all the way out to the expressed personality (“you are smart, hardworking, and stubborn.”) No, the full personality is not even inborn, as certain traits are sure to be rewarded and/or punished by caregivers and community.

This is the process by which carefree, happy children become overly serious and apathetic adults.  A baby enters the world and immediately begins getting carved into someone palatable for the culture.  The result in our culture is… well, go sit in commuter traffic at 7:30 AM and check it out for yourself.

The driving factor of all routine human behavior is conditioning through and through.  To see this is not to take up the position that conditioning is “bad.”  Like other animals, we get conditioned, and that is a simple fact.  Facts on their own have no positive or negative quality, and we get ourselves into trouble when we allow our reflexive feelings about facts take over our minds; i.e. make us unconscious.

Consider the following statements: The sky is blue, bears are mammals, and you have been trained to believe certain things and act certain ways.

The first two statements usually aren’t bothersome to people, but the last brings discomfort.  We like to imagine that we’ve chosen our unique paths in this world.  We cherish our believies.  We like to carry on thinking we’ve arrived at the “right” ones by virtue of reason and morality.  But beliefs of all kinds are the result of conditioning, even if yours are different from your immediate family group.

This is because the process of conditioning is lifelong—it doesn’t end once we biologically become adults.  Maybe you’ve met friends who seem wiser, more inclusive, and more free than your family, and so you identified with them.  Or maybe you had hippie parents, and you met people who were more structured and grounded, so you identified with them.

Either way, the new beliefs you aligned with were not really in your control: Somebody presented you with a belief, and based on your feelings at the time, you agreed or disagreed.  Then you clung, because the mind needs beliefs to feel safe.  This is a very wobbly way to go through life; it will have you thinking through (and seeking confirmation of) your beliefs at every turn.  If you’re smart enough to find the flaws in your own beliefs, your beliefs will necessarily change.  If your beliefs change rapidly enough, you will certainly lose your mind.

Furthermore, you may see through the conditioning of your wacky right-wing (or left-wing) parents, but just as sure as you are of their brainwashing, they are sure of yours.

Both of you can see only slivers reality, and neither of you are free.

Of course, we know innately that free will is something to aspire to.  This is because one can only even be a fully-developed human being once they have reached this level.  Free will is a facet of the total human potential; however, most of us haven’t tapped into this aspect of our humanity.  This is because freedom requires a relinquishing of the imagined self once clung to, i.e., seeing the ego for what it is: Not good; not bad; simply illusory and impermanent.

Because we know freedom is something worth striving for, it can be upsetting to see ourselves as walking, talking, flesh machines automatically programmed by everything we’ve experienced (oh, plus our genetics, which many people take to be unchangeable deciders of fate.  They are not.).  Machines, by definition, cannot be free, and yet this is exactly how we operate in lower consciousness.

It strikes me as funny that some people worry about technology becoming self-aware, because humans aren’t even truly self-aware on the whole.

Mental enslavement via conditioning is precisely how most people live their lives.  If this was false, the world simply wouldn’t run the way that it does.  If you couldn’t take a young child and condition him to believe that his life must be spent sitting at a desk bored out of his skull for 40 hours a week, do you think he would do that as a free individual?  Do you think an otherwise polite, family-oriented person would kill someone they knew nothing about in the name of national security?

That last one is a bit of an extreme example, though absolutely worth mentioning: People must be heavily, consistently “worked on” in order to believe in the legitimacy of things like nationality and religion.  Race and gender, while equally illusory, are at least rooted in that which we can physically see, so they are easier to believe in.  For nationality and religion to continue to exist, children must be subjected to strange rituals on a regular basis—things like being forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance every day before school or going to church every Sunday.

Nationality, religion, and political affiliation (and almost everything else) are all mental constructs, which is to say they have no basis in reality.  If and when they start to fall away for an individual, it is a blessed yet often fearsome occurrence.  The fear associated with the collapse of said structures is dependent on how successfully we have been conditioned to identify with the nation/religion/political party.  For instance, if we completely buy into the illusion that we are Americans, it will feel as if we are “losing” something very important when this illusion is burned to the ground.  It is very uncomfortable.  We think we are losing ourselves.  We think we are dying.  Truly, this is the beginning of an ego death, a process we really need to learn how to deal with inside of our communities.

It’s also worth noting that the conditioning required for things like nationality and religion to exist is carried out unconsciously, just like the rest of human conditioning.  People who recruit others to kill for the nation absolutely believe in the nation themselves.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t build an entire way of life around it.  Some believe there are masterminds controlling the way it all works, but such a belief gives these people far too much credit and denies the power we each hold.  There are no sane people at the top of these ridiculous hierarchies; there is only deeper insanity and tighter control.  Conscious human beings don’t try to get anyone to do their bidding. Confident, delusional people can draw plenty of people into their delusions.  Take a look at cults and extremists.

However, it doesn’t even have to go that far, and it usually doesn’t.  Whenever we live disingenuously (i.e. when our lives have ultimately been chosen for us by the outside), we will suffer.  When we suffer individually, we suffer collectively, because none of us exist in a vacuum. 

No matter how isolated you feel, you’re part of this whole thing.  Your very existence is changing the world whether you like it or not.

As always, this is not to disparage desk jobs or the individuals who hold them, or even to cast judgment on those who have been successfully conditioned to kill for the nation.  Really, it’s just that one person has been “worked on” harder than another, and/or was born into circumstances that made them more susceptible to it.

And whether one ends up a social justice activist or a combat soldier has nothing to do with their quality of character: Both people look favorably on those who align with their views and look down on those who don’t.  Each of them definitely has their reasons for their actions.  They are both operating from sets of beliefs that got into them from somewhere else.  Mental structures function the same in all people; they are merely projected onto the external world in diverse ways.

All of this is just a testament to the power of conditioning.  The way most humans spend their lives is insane, and this is due to the way they have been conditioned.  Most things are done unthinkingly for the promise of a future that will never arrive, or in total ignorance of the many ways they impact other people’s lives.  People count down the hours until the weekend comes and when the weekend comes they occupy themselves with alcohol and television.  Or sports and socializing.  Or girls’ nights.  Or, hell, books and gardening (though typically not as effective as preoccupations, they can still be used as such).

It isn’t that there’s anything “wrong” with the above activities.  The particular hobby/drug is not the issue; it’s in the way they’re utilized (although we can safely say that some drugs are certainly more physically harmful than others.).  All activities are done to either enhance life or to escape from it.  If you haven’t made the Truth a priority, you’re doing everything you can to avoid the process of seeing it: Overthinking, working, drinking, vacationing, etc.  Even something as seemingly noble as making art can take on a numbing quality if we’re burying ourselves in the task to get away from life, or if we’re doing so to receive recognition.  Creation arises out of the spontaneity of the soul, simply because we have been moved to create.  Under any pretense, or given any special “reason” for existing, art, too, becomes ego-based.

Almost everything we think, say, or do is the result of outside conditioning.  Until you become entirely unconditioned (and learn to guard this space), your mind is not your own.  It is but a piece of the collective mind, continually shaped and re-shaped to suit the whims of said collective mind.

It’s not just that you have been conditioned.  It’s that you are conditioning others all the time, too.  Each of us is sending out and receiving messages at all times.  If we are not aware of this, everything gets in and eventually, it all leaks back out.  Humans condition one another, and as social creatures, this will always be the case.

So the important question becomes this: Are you conditioning others consciously or unconsciously?  And just as importantly, are you being conditioned from a conscious position, or allowing your mind to be shaped against your will?