Excerpts from the Arnold Siegel’s Autonomy and Life Coursework

By Arnold Siegel

When we study Autonomy and Life we observe and evaluate the opportunities and prohibitions for autonomous individuation emerging from our common democratic inheritance. Our efforts are informed by a pragmatic understanding of the human predicament that transcends metaphysical explanations for visible and invisible phenomena and focuses on self-mastery and competitive maturity and cognitive and communicative skills in dialogue as the primary means for effectively challenging the antagonism prevalent in human conditions and circumstances. We intend to build an enlightened independence, a remarkable presence of self and voice and a fulfilling professional and personal life and lifestyle, one suited to individual temperament.

Of course, we don’t begin our studies with a blank slate. Involuntarily, we are inserted into the world –into human conditions and circumstances. Moreover, we are inserted, also involuntarily, with specific characteristics. No one chooses his parents, her color, his country, her shape, his genes, her energy level, his native intelligence. Even our “receptivity” to life, to human conditions and circumstances, is somewhat fixed before we get the big picture and have any say-so about it.

If we are fearful, we are fearful. If we are inhibited, we are inhibited. If we are irrepressible, we are irrepressible. If we adapt easily, so be it. Neither nature nor nurture is ours to choose.

Many of us go through life making little attempt to understand who we are, to acquire (or even inquire about) a greater perspective and means for personal authority and for transforming ourselves.

For example, some of us rely solely on material acquisitions as the mark of a worthwhile life. Some of us live in circumstances too impoverished to address these issues; the basic problems with survival consume us. Some of us have an energy-filled momentum that seems to drive us through life; we don’t have the temperament to pause and contemplate. Some of us are raised in an environment so defined that each of life’s goals, choices, etc. seems obvious. In other words, some of us are not thinking about who we are, where we are going, what it all means, let alone about what would be involved in making some serious changes.

Then there are, of course, those of us who do attempt these inquiries, but the means we use prove, upon final analysis, to be unproductive; our mission ends in failure.
Now, we come to you and to me. We are inquisitive of the life of the mind. We would like to gain a greater perspective on the circumstances in which we, as individuals, and we, as one among many, find ourselves. We want to learn about ourselves, our nature, our specifics, our possibilities. But we’re not merely curious. We have undertaken a quest with a condition: We desire to acquire an enlightened independence yet we desire to stay connected to our feelings, to nature and to our community of people by adapting to the community’s civilized spirit. We look at past failures as blind alleys or dead-ends that we encountered in our determined search for what we have now found.

We have a sense that transforming our human potential into a strong personal authority will help to make the most of our existence and individuality. Yet we have learned that autonomy requires more than freedom from the constraints or interference imposed by others. Autonomy must be accompanied by an impressive self-discipline.
This being the case, of course there is work to do. The transformation is something we win. Indeed, autonomy is a victory repeatedly won over reflexive fears and desires, over excessive self-indulgence, over all sorts of unpredictable challenges heroically confronted.