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A reader writes … By Carlos Acuña

April 09, 2001

I recall my constitutional law professor describing the reasons for some outcomes and decisions of the courts. These decisions depended, the professor opined, on the facts the judges chose to focus on and these chosen facts in turn depended on the judges' point of view. These points of view, in turn, derived from the direction society was taking.

It all came down to point of view. And it helps to understand, not just "know," that every single one of us on this planet has a unique point of view. This understanding seems to be a difficult thing for more and more people in our society to grasp. Their reasoning eludes and baffles me.

First, let us agree manmade institutions exist as mere tools to help the individual develop and civilize himself. Second, let us agree nature evolved the human brain for adaptation.

As we grow and become socialized through the usual institutions such as family, school, church, our own unique point of view can either be legitimized and validated or rejected by these institutions. I've observed that rejection and suppression of the individual's personal point of view all too often results in low self-esteem, depression and its after-effects: mental illness, drug abuse, violence and suicide — all different manifestations of alienation.


Paradoxically, all individuals look to society and its institutions in their quest for identity, for self. In a continuing paradox, the moment that the individual discovers his "self" — his authentic point of view — is when he makes the greatest contribution to society, the group. (All too often during the quest a decadent society responds with ideologies, status symbols, fads, fashion statements, etc. Poor substitutes all.)

However, when society imposes its judgments, its dogmas, its ideologies and philosophies over the experiences and the judgments of its individual members, society had better have a compelling reason to do so. When any institution invokes its particular "authority" and coerces the individual to subordinate his point of view to this authority, it had better have a clear understanding of the individual involved, his experiences, his judgment and his point of view. Otherwise the institution fights history.

The individual's brain reads its environment and adapts to survive and thrive in its world. Most, if not all, institutions and their philosophies all too often arose to deal with past and/or recurring threats to society and tend to have rigid, stereotyped solutions frozen in place.

But what of the individual mind that must cope with unforeseen and unexpected problems and must seek novel, creative solutions, the solutions themselves a mere adaptation for their time and place? Strangely enough, these novel insights may themselves become obsolete, but that is nature's way.

The strict function of any social institution, or so I have been led to believe, is to improve and better the lot of every one of its members. All social institutions only remain relevant to the times by considering and assimilating the valuable contributions offered by their individual members and respecting each member's unique point of view. Any institution that fails to do so fails in its mission and will fall by the wayside as irrelevant.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit our local library; there for the community to stop, look and listen await two of the boldest educational series ever placed on videotape: Jacob Bronowoski's "The Ascent of Man" and Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth." These gentlemen assert, and I agree, that man and his society grow and ascend to the next level of evolution by inquiry, by questioning the status quo and by generating novel insights.

History tells us in the early 1600s Galileo defended the Copernican system against the majoritarian scientific view of the time. His observations, his extrapolations led to the inevitable and counter-intuitive insight: the sun does not "really" rise in the east and set in the west.

This "rising" and "setting" is merely an improper optic inference drawn from an earth-bound point of view. For writing that the Earth and the planets revolved around the sun Galileo was condemned as a heretic!

Writers and artists lately have warned us of the fatal consequences of neglecting, condemning and abandoning the individual and his point of view.

Ken Kesey warned us of the "combine" in his classic "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Does any institution have the right to tell each of us how to live, perceive and think? Jerry Farber in his underground essay "The Student as Nigger" compared schools to southern plantations, issued an early warning and I believe anticipated high school alienation and violence.

Anthony Burgess's "A Clockwork Orange" adapted as a film by Stanley Kubrick, continued in that vein. In a world of coercion, browbeating and alienation, the logical result is an ultimate, lethal bully — the supreme Darwinian adaptation and a danger to us all.

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