Thursday, April 26, 2018

Psychological ‘Control’ Issues As Source of Many of Society’s Problems

Stuart K. Hayashi

Image courtesy Pixabay.

I think that so many problems that people have with one another has to do with control issues; people wanting control and failing to respect one another’s boundaries with that control.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World? Well, Everyone Needs Some Control
To some degree, every person needs control. You need control over objects outside of yourself in order to eat. To have shelter, you need control over objects outside of yourself. When you pay someone to do something for you, you provide instructions, and those instructions are a form of control. Absent of any control, you couldn’t live. For that reason, a desire for control can be healthy. It is even important — rather, I should say especially important — that a growing child increasingly gains a sense of bodily autonomy.

The problem is that many people are very insecure about how much control they possess, and so, to regain a feeling of control, people harm themselves or others. I think that self-cutting has a lot to do with this. The rationalization is, “I’m hurting myself, but at least the cuts I make on my wrist, unlike so much of what else goes on in my life, are in my control.”

And, of course, many people who feel insecure about how much control they have, seek to rectify this by controlling other people. The mildest form of this is someone making nonviolent demands of others which can be rejected. The severest form of exercising control over others is the initiation of the use of physical force upon them.

I think that even if we had a purely peaceful society, some people would still have control issues and boundary issues. There would still be really bossy, nagging people. There could be a romantic couple in which one partner wants to get a tattoo, and the other finds that so unsexy that it jeopardizes the physical attraction. How can that be resolved? At this point, I cannot give an answer.

You Should Control Your Body and Your Other Property; I Should Control My Body and My Other Property
I’m definitely no expert on resolving all these issues, but I think most people — including most Westerners — fail to understand that there is one very important line of demarcation. Someone should have control over her own body and her own private property; her desire for control becomes a major problem when this is not good enough for her, and she demands that the government control other people’s nonviolent behavior just so that she may feel safer (and therefore more in control).

You notice how so many of these anti-immigrationists are men experiencing midlife crises; they feel inadequate in the romance department and worry about some low-paid immigrant getting a job that he otherwise may have gotten. He feels as if he doesn’t have adequate control. He especially feels he doesn’t have enough control if he worries that immigrants are going to create a gang and go on some rampage.  To restore his feeling of control, he demands the government “do more” against the menace supposedly posed by immigration.

I don’t begrudge the man that he feels as if he is not in control; I am not going to mock him or try to reinforce his worry that he is too weak. But where I do object is in the terribly misguided path he has chosen in an attempt to regain a feeling of control.

This also happens with shooting rampages. They catch us by surprise. They deprive us of our sense of being in control — that’s understandable. And in an attempt to feel in-control again, many people clamor for action on guns. To feel “in control,” they demand action — and, too often, overlook how such governmental action will create a net reduction in safety.

Some people who grew up with relatively rustic lifestyles feel as if control over their food supply is being sapped away from them. They feel as if control over their food has been usurped by impersonal, faceless, multinational corporations like Monsanto and Conagra. They hear about genes from one species being inserted into another, and this sounds not only alien, but something outside of their control. To try to regain control, many people promote special back-to-nature diets that they hail as superior to what they call factory farming. I would applaud such efforts much more if not for many of these people agitating for very harmful legislation and frequently spreading inaccuracies about biology, economics, court cases, and Monsanto.

Wanting Some Control Is Healthy — Overstepping Boundaries, By Use of Government Force, Is Not
Hence, I’m struggling to help people recognize this phenomenon. (That I worry about having failed in this matter, is perhaps the area where I feel as if I do not have enough control.) When people feel as if they don't have enough control, and demand government action, I want them to know that feeling not-in-control doesn’t make them weak and they shouldn’t fear being looked down upon. Likewise, I want them to come to understand that their demand for government control over nonviolent actions is not the proper method to rectify the inadequate control; they need to find more constructive and peaceful methods for restoring a feeling of being in control.

When there is a major problem facing society that makes us feel as if we are not in control — such as unexpected disasters or human-caused rampages — this is soon followed by a public campaign to give more power to the State to rectify this. When this happens, an important question we must ask ourselves and our neighbors is, “When we insist that the State must ‘do something,’ have we truly used our better judgment to ascertain that such governmental action will create a net increase in safety? Or is our insistence that the State must ‘do something’ and ‘take action’ mostly about just helping ourselves feel as if we are in control again?” If it is the latter, we should rethink our actions, as so many governmental responses to public clamor that the State “do something” ultimately resulted in net decreases in public safety.

Exhibit A for a situation in which parents felt as if they were not in control, and the government “doing something” about it actually resulted in a net decrease in public safety, was the “Satanic Panic” of the early 1980s.

To Say A Man Wants Control Is Just to Say He Wants What He Wants?
Right now, my biggest issue with my own line of thought on this is that I often ask myself, “Is saying ‘a person wants control’ too tautological? If ‘control’ means being able to perform some action in order to obtain what one wants, then isn’t saying ‘a person wants control’ the same as saying ‘a person wants what he wants’?” For now, my answer to that is no, because there are some cases where someone can desire to relinquish control.

For instance, one might say I am relinquishing control if I hire a chauffeur; I am forfeiting direct control over the automobile in which I ride. Yet if I am not the one driving, then it gives me more opportunity to do something else as a passenger that I otherwise would not be able to do if I had to be the motorist always keeping his eyes on the road. I would be giving up one form of control for the sake of gaining control in some other endeavor.

Most people want some form of control, but I think that “want” and “control” are still distinct concepts, as control is more specific: to have control means to be able to choose to perform some action that elicits the desired effect.