Saturday, June 30, 2012

What was est?

What was est?  This came up at a lunch meeting the other day, in that two of us had seen Transformation:  The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard.  You can watch it for free on Hulu.

In a nutshell, Erhard understood that our sense of integrity as human beings is very bound up in our need to be right about stuff.  That's just obvious grammatically (in Wittgenstein's sense).  Who wants to believe a lot of garbage and have wrong ideas about everything?  That's not cool.  We want to be suave, smooth, and knowing.  Or our need to be right takes other forms.  We'd like to have the most appropriate responses to others in need.  It's not a "bad thing" to wish for integrity and to defend that one has it.

Understanding that, the est Training provided an environment that challenged one to become unstuck, where decisions and beliefs had actually led one astray.  That's hard to look at, let alone admit, but the genius was having someone uniformly and in blanket fashion attack all belief systems at a metaphysical level.  Why do you suppose how you feel about something has anything to do with how things really are?  Why do you suppose your beliefs about things have anything to do with reality?  The trainer gives off a kind of extreme skepticism that anyone in the room really has a grip.  It takes a strong character to make hundreds of people wrong, but if you can pull it off in the right spirit (heh), you give even the most self-confident and self-secure an occasion to really question.  Why not?  Everyone else is, and you're not being singled out.  Everyone gets pretty much the same treatment.  The trainer makes everyone wrong.

Then towards the end of the training, the trainer (a different person that weekend anyway) switches sides, metaphysically speaking, and makes you right.  Now that you've had a chance to take a look, to make choices, you get to be responsible for what you've decided to keep, to hold onto.  That's something you've chosen now, more than something you've inherited or absorbed unexamined.

Of course in two weekends it would be impossible to look at every belief, assumption, character trait in that light, so it's more a matter of internalizing the process and contacting one's trainer within, a strong mentor or coach (in archetype) who is willing for you to let go of beliefs and attitudes that no longer serve you or add to the quality of your life or to that of the people around you.  This doesn't mean you've been defanged or rendered less dangerous.  On the contrary, when you see yourself as freely choosing your racket / act / role in the world, you may be willing to amp it up, because you sense it's making a positive difference.  Certainly Werner's crew was behaving that way and I didn't blame them.  They were on to something.