For several weeks WTTW (PBS) has televised a series called “The Brain With Dr. David Eagleman.”  There are six episodes in the series: “What Is Reality?”; “What Makes Me?”; “Who Is In Control?”; “How Do I Decide?”; “Why Do I Need You?”; and “Who Will We Be?”

I was fascinated with the episode “Who Is In Control?” because it focused on how much our actions are under the control of our unconscious. This unconscious control can explain how we can perform familiar tasks without being aware (conscious) of performing them or even remembering that we did so (for example, not being able to recall locking a door that we locked automatically).

The focus on the unconscious made me think about how even our experiences during infancy can contribute to our unconscious. It made me think about parents’ automatically assuming the same child-rearing techniques that their parents used on them without being aware (conscious) of doing so. 

It made me think about how the foods people choose, the clothes they wear, the colloquialisms they use, selfishness, altruism, prejudices, criminality, gluttony, and religiosity can be the results of what’s been implanted into the unconscious by one’s relatives, friends, enemies, economic status, ethnicity, regionalism and nationalism, just to name a few. 

This episode made me recall a conversation I had with a man who told me that he was unaware of the privileged status he assumed as a Caucasian male until he took a course that brought this to his conscious level (enlightened him). 

Racism, ageism and classism are too often the result of what festers in the unconscious and is then manifested consciously. Politicians et al. often consciously cause the loss of jobs, food, child care, education, healthcare, housing, and other disruptions in people’s lives. 

Not only should politicians et al. be confronted and criticized for the harm they cause on a conscious level, but they should also be denounced for being driven by a high level of conscious and unconscious narcissism. 

Being aware of the control the unconscious may have over people does not mean that this should excuse people for behaviors that harm others.  Being aware of the control the unconscious may have should encourage people to take pause and consciously scrutinize their thoughts and behaviors. 

This scrutiny might help eradicate attitudes and behaviors that make others suffer.

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...