Kant speaks of das Unvermögen sich seines Verstandes ohne des Leiten eines anderen zu bedienen. What if the other he references is not always another person? We often think of those who serve as Vormünder as being those authority figures who demand blind obedience, sacrificing the rational thought that is the hallmark of Kantian enlightenment. Kant speaks of Priests who serve as our conscience, Doctors who prescribe out diets, Professors who tell us how to write and what we should think about certain things. (OK, I added that last one, but it does fit.)
Yet even before Kant talks of people as Vormünder, he mentions a book that dictates what we call knowledge. It would seem that Kant really is talking about anyone, or anything that we have to consult before we make any decision. Some readers may be thinking, aren’t we supposed to consult the spirit in all our doings? Yes, but we are not forced to. If we choose to out of our own free will, that is not an example of Unmündigkeit. That is an example of enlightened information gathering in the process of making a decision.
I would like to take Kant’s idea one step further. I would like to posit the idea that neural pathways in our minds can become our Vormünder. Simply put, if there is a set of decisions and beliefs that we have repeated over the course of our lives, and it has become a compulsion, we are no longer able to make any decision without first asking our compulsion what we ought to do, what we ought to think , and how we ought to react. This necessity of consulting our addiction, however automatized it may be, however subconscious the requisite consultation is, is a type of Unmündigkeit.
The question of enlightenment according to Kant is not simply whether we are Mündig or not, but whether that Mündigkeit, or lack thereof is selbstverschuldet. Kant asserts that it is when the cause for the lack of Mündigkeit comes not from a lack of knowledge or understanding, but from a lack of resolution or a lack of courage. Indeed this is a question for the addict. Is he or she still an addict because the needed knowledge or understanding is missing, or is it that the courage and resolution needed to walk away is not in place? I would submit that it could be either in any given moment on the path to recovery (which I see as an enlightening process.)
Kant talks about how it is difficult for an individual to become enlightened on their own. He speaks of the perceived danger that threatens one attempting to think without their guide. He acknowledges that even one fall can be enough to scare someone away from ever attempting again. Having experienced the pain of relapse, I have personally longed to go back to the comfort of the denial that addiction brings with it, but this is the part where both courage, resolve and support come in.
Courage and resolve will fail given enough time. In battle, no matter how brave a man is, he will succumb to his wounds if he is not able to heal. No matter his resolve, a broken body will not allow him to keep fighting in the long run. Those who support us in our battle remind us of the source to which we can look to be healed when we have been wounded, either by our momentary lack of resolve, or simply by the proverbial slings and arrows of life. Our support are those who lend us their perspective, and encourage us to take that next uncertain leap over what looks to us to be a canyon, that is in reality little more than a crack in the pavement.
Courage and resolve come into play in a moment by moment basis. Do I have the resolve to get to the gym today? Do I have the resolve to take time to meditate? do I have the resolve to read through my affirmations? Do I have the resolve to read my scriptures today? Do I have the courage to reach out to someone I trust when I feel like I am faltering? Do I have the courage to tell those I feel I’ve disappointed when I relapse, and ask them if they’ll still help me? Do I have the courage to forgive myself? Do I have the courage to love? Do I have the courage to live in reality, and not the world that my Vormund (addiction) has created for me?
The word that Kant uses for enlightenment is Aufklärung. (I doubt he chose it, since it is the German word for it…) I find it interesting that the word can be translated as “clarification” as well as enlightenment. By clearing away the false ideas and the false perceptions, clearing our vision of the real world, we let more light into our minds. Of course, too much light all at once can be painful. (Think of turning on the lights in the middle of the night, and the time it takes for your eyes to adjust) Thing is, every step toward light, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. Every little bit of enlightenment will make things easier.
This post was really for me, but I hope it helps someone else too. Even if addiction is not something you struggle with, the ideas here can be applied to most anything in life. I leave it to you to adjust it to your life, and draw as much from it as you can.