An American Mystagogue

Balancing Impulse and Control


balance of the zodiac


(La Balance du Zodiaque, by Luis Ricardo Falero)

Willpower. Spontaneity. Domination over the mind. Submission to the internal. Doing what you ‘should’ do. Doing what you ‘want’ to do.  Control and impulse have held major places in humanities’ ideologies for thousands of years recorded, and in truth probably for much longer. We see the evidence of this all around us, with phrases like

“Follow your dreams”

“Don’t put off tomorrow what you could get done today”

“Do what really makes you happy”

“Nut up or shut up”

“Let your hair down”

“Focus on the goal”

And many, many more. Humanity has a clear conception of impulse and control, but depending on who you talk to determines how they feel about either concept. Some people are entirely pro-discipline and entirely anti-impulse, some are the inverse and many people fall along somewhere in between. But no clear consensus has arisen as to the individual value of either one.

It appears however, that impulse and control have their individual uses. If we break down the two terms, we come to see that impulse generally implies submission; to a whim, to an epiphany, to desire, to context. Control, conversely, implies domination over whims, epiphanies, desires, and contexts. Can either one alone truly be the more useful or “better”? Those who fall on one side or the other of the “Control/Impulse” opinion-fence tend to focus most of their efforts and propaganda on aggressively attacking the other side. Appeal to fear is commonly used.

The Control-Fanatic will point at humanity and say “Look at what has come of their submission to their lower, basic, animal desires! Humans are no better than animals, and impulsivity is a bane on the world. They lack willpower, they are fundamentally broken. Only through Control and Discipline can we truly master ourselves and thus our environment, and mastery is essential for living a thoroughly happy, and idealistic life.”

The Impulse-Fanatic will point to humanity and say “Look at what has come of their domination over themselves and others, out of an obsessive need to feel as if they had control. We live in a prison world, and its name is Culture. They delude themselves into believing that the world can be controlled, and in that they delude themselves that they are controlling themselves. They lack the spirit of life, the need to experience what is unknown to them, for with only self-control they will never be privy to what lay beyond their small, simple human mind.”

The two extreme polarities of the topic will forever be locked in an ideological struggle, a struggle so deep at its core that for most of the people somewhere in the middle it seems like insanity either way you look, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Doing things on impulse, that is, because of some sort of sudden, un-willed prompt (even if it exists in one’s own mind, for mind-things are on the by-and-large non-volitional) opens people up to the world. We are limited, conditional beings, and as such we require ‘The Seemingly Random” and external forces and external contexts to grow our body of knowledge. If we only ever sought to stay within the boundaries of our control we would soon be rendered homogeneous and our technologies would quickly stop developing. Impulse is doing something that is out of your control, and doing something that is out of your control is the nature of the vast majority of reality. To ghetto yourself off into remaining only where things make sense to you, and are thus controllable is to relegate yourself to a mental prison, if done at the extreme. Likewise, to lack discipline and self-control completely and stand on the other end of the spectrum is to perpetually remain in a state of submission to external forces. One becomes like so much tumbleweed being blown about on the wind, and they will find that their abilities to create systems, or constructs, highly limited. If one waits until ‘the mood’ strikes, they are at the whim of the ‘mood’ and are no more in control of their productions than the desert is responsible for its sand dunes.

Surely, it is someplace in between that both things find their merit, and the balancing or moderation of impulse and control shows signs of acting in moderation, together, completely differently than either one taken to its extreme. They end up synergistically complimenting each other. The ‘stuff’ of the world is gleaned through submission to the Random, the collision of unknowns into the mind of the perceiver, and through outside catalysts that can’t be fathomed by the psyche before encountering them. The way this ‘stuff’ is used, synthesized and systematically constructed is through the same processes that we use in what is called ‘self-control’ or willpower. To exclude either side in totality is to hinder the optimal use of both. It is not so simple to merely dichotomize them in a way that one is good, and the other bad.

~ Seth Moris


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