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Middle Way Philosophy, Politics, Psychology

The Integration of Desire

During the last few weeks, before the new academic year started up, I have been working quite intensively (on a writing retreat in Scotland) on the second volume of my 5-volume Middle Way Philosophy series The Integration of Desire. The end of work on this volume is in sight, and I am hoping it might be ready to publish by early next year at the latest. Being nearly 40% of the way there on this mammoth task I’ve set myself also increases my confidence that I will fulfil all my plans eventually.

In some ways, of course, The Integration of Desire continues the themes of the first volume, but in other ways it sets off in a new direction. For one thing, it is a more practically orientated book – less philosophical groundwork, more psychological and political application. I have set out to explain how our desires conflict, by exactly what process they can be integrated, what practices can help us to achieve a level of integration, how they work, and what degree of success might reasonably be expected. This takes me into areas such as how meditation can integrate desires, the Four Exertions to enable integration (which are an adaptation of the Buddhist doctrine), the ways that religious or political metaphysics can block integration, and the integration of desire as a justification for government.

Throughout I have tried to hold together a parallel exploration of conflict and integration within the individual psyche, alongside conflict and integration at social and political level. For example, the famous settlement that ended Apartheid in South Africa (pictured) involved an integration of desires dependent on a degree of integration in the individuals involved, and also paralleling the process of integration in any given individual. The final section of my book, which I am still working on, offers a series of case studies to ground the work further, ranging from personal experiences with computer games to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.

Like most writers, from time to time I encounter doubts about what I’m doing. For me this is particularly reinforced by the inter-disciplinary nature of what I’m trying to do. I become internally conscious of all the dismissive voices of the specialists in analytic philosophy, empirical psychology and political science who will almost inevitably find what I’m doing unconvincing, because it will not address all their usual specialist requirements for work in the area. What keeps me going, though, is the reflection that what I’m doing might be of practical value – at some point in the future, at least – for a wider section of people. I also have not discovered anyone else doing similar work. I owe a great deal to psychoanalysis, especially Jung, yet that tradition does not seem to have fully linked the integration (which Jung calls individuation) of the individual to that of society, nor used it to try to explain moral value or objectivity.

The other point that might make my work new is the way I am trying to link the integration of desire to the integration of meaning and the integration of belief. I will not try to explain those links fully in this post (see the Integration page). However, I see desire, meaning and belief as working in parallel and interconnected ways. We need to produce more adequate beliefs in order to produce more sustainable desires that are more capable of fulfilment, and more adequate beliefs in turn depend on integrated meanings. Explaining what all that means thoroughly, along with the limitations of current ways of looking at these things, is a long job – which is why I have planned three successive books on integration: The Integration of Desire, The Integration of Meaning, and The Integration of Belief. All three of these volumes will tackle integration in parallel ways: bringing together the individual and the political, the theoretical and the practical.

Alongside all this theoretical thinking, whilst on my writing retreat, I was also reflecting on my personal integration of desire – or lack of it – and encountering my failures of integration directly in meditation. I decided to write abut my personal areas of conflicting desires – such as my attitude to religious groups, and the struggles I have sometimes had with addictive computer strategy games – as one of the case studies near the end of the book. If nothing else, I hope this will clearly help to situate the book in the realm of lived experience rather than abstraction. In that realm of lived experience, the process of integration involves working from one slightly worse imperfection to another slightly improved state of imperfection. Recognising that imperfection fully means more than just abstractly avowing it, but also disclosing it to oneself and (to some degree) to others. At all costs I don’t want to send an implicit message of “I’m an integrated person telling you how to get integrated” – rather “We’re all less than perfectly integrated beings, including me, but for all of whom progress is possible from wherever we start.”

Picture: De Klerk with Mandela, by World Economic Forum (Wikimedia Commons). Photo open to re-use under creative commons licence.

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About Robert M Ellis

I am an independent philosopher, with a Ph.D. in Philosophy, and a distance tutor in Critical Thinking, Philosophy and Politics. I also have experience of Buddhist practice. I developed Middle Way Philosophy to apply what I see as the central insights of Buddhism in an entirely Western context.

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