Consider the human mind metaphorically as a nation governed by ideas and beliefs. Sure, there's plenty wrong with the metaphor, but just go with it for a minute.

So these ideas and beliefs may be true or false, rational or absurd, even twisted by emotional pain or mental illness. In any case, they illuminate or obscure the world around us, color it with meaning, and direct our passions and our choices. So to the extent that it can be, in what fashion might this government of the psyche be favorably administered?

An interesting model is suggested by those countries that strive to follow the rule of law, and in particular the concept of natural law. The desired result is commonly referred to as "a government of laws, not of men." In that form, a government and those who run it are constrained by rules derived from the nature of the human condition, from its requirements and its limitations. It's what Jefferson was getting at when (with a little editorial help from Ben Franklin) he wrote that we hold these truths to be self-evident*, and then proceeded to describe a natural and rational relationship between government and the governed.

If we accept this as a worthy if nowhere fully realized ideal and apply this metaphor, it would follow that laws and not men should govern in the nation of mind too. That is to say, the authority of our ideas and beliefs would best be rooted in principles and processes not persons, whether they be Jesus or Mohamed, Mao or Glenn Beck. People, even quite noble people, make mistakes. They can also be seduced by their own agendas and personal mythology. In fact, they can't NOT be seduced by these things.

The mind as nation metaphor also illustrates the danger in letting one idea rise above the law and assume absolute power over all other ideas, as this is represented here as a kind of mental tyranny. Now we are prompted to ask not only whether we've elected a good tyrant or a bad one, but whether we should have empowered one at all. When examined in this framework, the contention that authoritarian belief systems--ones that set themselves above independent observation, and rely instead on scriptures or the infallibility of a central personality--can be a sort of empty vessel for good or ill seems a bit naïve.

Arguably the world has produced one or two benevolent dictators. And a mind freed of enervating inner conflicts and tasked with a single shining mandate may in some cases achieve great things. But over time tyranny itself engenders perverse evolutionary forces. It favors those rulers who ruthlessly crush their perceived enemies.

In the realm of the mind, tyranny selects for those beliefs that best protect themselves from inquiry and challenge. And these attributes have always characterized the darkest ideologies in human history.

Personally I've had a number of ideas and beliefs that wanted to rule supreme in my head. Over time, my natural political leanings and a check of my own track record in these matters directed me to vote them all out. In the mind too it seems we need checks and balances, and a division of power.


*In an earlier draft of the DOI, the text read: We hold these truths to be sacred. Franklin is said to have objected to this word choice, suggesting that the line as written "smacked of the pulpit."

P.S. Evidence of my lack of a classical education--this comparison of mind and polis, has been around since Plato's Republic and is explored, oh, perhaps a little better there.

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