Neurogenesis, v. 1, no. 1 (1996)
Self-Construction in the Developing World
Pavel B. Ivanov
Written: 10 September 1996
One of the most common prejudices of the XX century was
the opinion that one might change oneself without changing
the world around. Personal perfection was opposed to the
economical and social diseases, and people were incited
to detach their spiritual life from the flow of "external"
events. All means were considered good for such a purpose:
from calm meditation to ecstasy, from "sublime" thoughts
to psychedelics, from rejecting any responsibility to overwork.
Many oriental teachings and practices became most popular
just because they promised the quietness and isolation of
the out-of-the-world existence.
However, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. The price
to pay for individual "self-perfection" in an imperfect
environment was the loss of subjectivity itself, the reduction
of a person to the level of an animal. All the human desires
and social interests were to be suppressed, and one was to
be quite satisfied with the "basic" (animal) needs: food
and drink, shelter, sex. The "superior wisdom" and
"higher knowledge" obtained in this way actually proved
to be aimless and senseless, never going beyond trivial banalities,
the more conceited the less their preachers could comprehend human
This philosophy of abstract individualism was accompanied
by scientific reductionism, proclaiming the identity of
human and animal behavior, so that a person became a prisoner
of the organism, nothing more than mere physiological
process, albeit very complex and flexible, like the development
of neural networks. One of the strongest trends in the
XX century psychotherapy was concerned with equipping a person
with a collection of psychological techniques insuring almost
complete self-control and self-regulation. Well, this did
work sometimes—with those who became fixed on it. Still,
their achievements could not significantly affect the mental
health of the others, like the record-beating aspirations of
sportsmen wasted the physical health of the humanity, rather
than improved it.
Paradoxically enough, all the religions added to the same
end, though some of them apparently tried to distinguish
human "soul" from the animal one, and introduce a kind of
human responsibility. Still, the subduing of the person to
a "superior" force (god, spirit, abstract idea, ritual, final
goal, karma etc.), which constitutes an essential part of
religious consciousness, could only mean that the individual
remained deprived of the active role in the reorganization of
the world, and the only field one could cultivate was one's
"own" personality, and the only way to cultivate it was to
suppress everything that called for more productive behavior.
Philosophy of Unism considers personal development
an indispensable level of the development of the World in
general. This level differs from both the level of existence
and the level of life—and the keyword here is activity.
In the course if it, the Subject comprehends the World
as the Object, and reproduces it as the Product.
The both sides are necessary for subjectivity, and the wider is
the scope of activity the more Subject it assumes. Therefore,
any kind of self-restriction hinders the development of
subjectivity—and thus the development of the world. In other
words, another side of subjectivity is universality.
Briefly, the Subject may be defined as an Object that links
any object in the world to any other object in a universal way.
However, no finite formation can provide enough universality.
Consequently, any finite form may just represent some
level of subjectivity—and never "contain" or
"possess" it. In particular, a person is a kind of
"individualized" subjectivity, but one's personality
is always "outside" the body, which is not essential
for the personality and may be completely disposed of sometimes;
thus an eminent person may continue to live as a Subject after
the physical death, and there may exist personalities that had
never possessed a physical body, like literature characters or
group pseudonyms (Kozma Prutkov, Nicolas Bourbaki).
There are different levels of subjectivity which may be
represented by an individual, a group, a social layer, a country,
or even the humanity in general. Surely, there are many more
levels about which we know nothing yet. All that hierarchy
is developing as a part of the world, reflecting its hierarchical
structures. Individual development may only be a small fragment
of the picture—still, even a smaller mirror may reflect the
whole sun! Any subjectivity is infinite by its nature,
and a person becomes equal to the Universe as soon as the person's
subjectivity is concerned, and any action may represent activity
Now, it becomes clear that one may become a Subject just
acting like Subject, rather than pretending
to be something. Therefore, personal development comes from
activity rather than self-patching. If you strive for
personal perfection, you have to decide how to improve the world
first, and to aim at something outside you to get to yourself.