The Lure Of The Generic

We fear the individual, the unique and we are attracted to the generic, the regular. Our aversion to the unique is the same thing as our attraction to the generic. The movement towards the generic is the movement away from the unique. Our attraction to the latter is our fear of the former.


But why would this be true? Why do we fear the unique so much? Why are we so averse to it? This is actually a very strange thing – it’s a very strange thing because the unique is the only thing that’s real. Everything is unique when it comes right down to it – how could there be something genuinely ‘real’ that isn’t also unique? By the same token therefore, the generic isn’t real – there’s no actual content in it, no content at all. There is nothing in the generic yet we are drawn so strongly to it; we are drawn to it like moths to a candle flame.


It’s easy to see why ‘the generic’ (or ‘the regular’) has no content. The generic only gets to be the generic because it belongs to a class (i.e. to ‘a genus’) and yet classes are only there because we say that they are. We get out our ruler, our measuring stick, and we mark off what is in the class, and what is not, and that’s how we create this thing that we’re calling the ‘generic world’. But if the generic only comes into being because of our ‘classes’, because of our artificial ‘divisions’, then how can it be real? How can reality come out of unreality? How can the ‘generic world’ – which is the only world we know or believe in – be any more real than the unreal categories from which it is constructed? This point is made very clearly here by Alan Watts –

I have said that one of the great meanings of nature in the West is “classification”: “What is the nature of this thing?” In Greek, physis – from which comes our physics – has to do with the world as apprehended in a certain way: the world is apprehended according to its classes, and those classes are abstract. When we say of something, “It is immaterial,” “It doesn’t matter,” that means it has no quantitative measure. It doesn’t amount to anything; it doesn’t add up to anything. It is unquantified. But what we need in life is not so much quantity as quality. Mere quantity is absolutely abstract. It’s the quality, the essential taste, the flavor of life, the meaning of it, that is the important thing.

There are ways of measuring qualities, but in our language you always have to turn them into quantities. When a cook, standing over a stewpot, adds salt, takes a taste, puts in a little more, tastes again, and then says “Now that’s just right,” we can have someone stand behind him and record the actual quantity of salt added. And that would be the quantitative abstraction that corresponds to a taste experience that was not an abstraction at all. However, in order to bring people back to the real world, you have to temporarily suspend their abstract thinking, because it is through abstracting that you get the notion that you are one thing and I am another, and that events are separate from each other, in the same way that minutes are separate. We try to draw the lines on our watches that separate one minute from another as finely as possible because we want to know exactly the moment one minute turns into another. And those lines, by their very thinness, show us how abstract, tenuous, filmy, and unreal they are. They are measures; but don’t confuse measure for what is measured. The world that can be seen and felt without abstractions is the world in which you are connected to everything that is, to the Tao and the whole course of nature. However, you have been taught differently because you have been hoaxed and wangled by people who chatter and explain, and who have already hypnotized themselves into a view of the world that is quite abstract, quite arbitrary, and not necessarily the way things are at all.

What we are essentially doing in life is therefore ‘fleeing from the real and gravitating to the unreal’. This is what it’s all about. This is the basic tropism involved (which we might also call ‘the basic tropism of unconsciousness’ and which is also sometimes called ‘the law of fear’). Once we see this then it is not too hard to get a handle on what is happening here – we’re busy ‘escaping from reality’, which is actually not to radical an idea for us to get our heads around. ‘Escaping from reality’ is a fairly familiar kind of concept for us – anyone with any self-awareness at all is aware of this (at times overwhelming) impulse that exists within us. The more insight we have into our underlying motivation to find safety in systems (and our love of orderliness and predictability) the more clearly we see this ‘impulse to hide away from reality’.


How does this apply to what we started off talking about, however? Why would we be ‘attracted to the generic and repelled by the unique’? One point that presents itself straightaway has to do with what we could call ‘ease of processing’ – basically, we can process the regular but we can’t process the irregular. Of course we can process the regular – the regular gets to be the regular in the first place via ‘logical processing’, and so naturally it is amenable to logic. The great thing about the regular or the generic is that we can ‘generalise our learning’ – once we find out how to do something in one situation then we can apply this principle ‘across the board’ and this makes life a lot easier. Is it any wonder that we like the regular, the generic as much as we do? Is it any wonder we like things to be neat and orderly? This is as true in the field of mathematics as it is in everyday life. Until comparatively recently chaos and chaotic processes were completely ignored as James Gleick says in his book Chaos, and were never to be found mentioned in any mathematics textbook. Rudy Rucker in his book Infinity and the Mind points out that even the ancient Greeks – who with the likes of Euclid and Pythagoras pretty much started off mathematics – despised the regular and considered it lacking in the perfection that all numbers ought to possess –

It is possible to regard the history of the foundation of mathematics as a progressive enlarging of the mathematical universe to include more and more infinities. The Greek word for infinity was apeiron, which literally means unbounded, but can also mean infinite, indefinite, or undefined. Apeiron was a negative, even pejorative word. The original chaos out of which the world was formed was apeiron. An arbitrary crooked line was apeiron. A dirty crumpled handkerchief was apeiron. Thus, apeiron need not only mean infinitely large, but can also mean totally disordered, infinitely complex, subject to no finite determination. In Aristotle’s words, “… being infinite is a privation, not a perfection but the absence of limit. . .”

There is even a story that Pythagoras secretly drowned one of his students on a boat trip because he discovered an irrational number, a number that failed to meet the required standard of perfection. One version of the story says that the student (who was a guy by the name of Hippasus) was killed for coming up with the so-called ‘golden ratio’, another version says that he was eliminated coming up with the square root of two, which is another irrational number. Mathematicians and scientists have traditionally had problems with irregularity, and so do the rest of us – we don’t like things that don’t obey the rules; we don’t like things that aren’t amenable to analysis.


The irregular or unique can’t be generalised, obviously. When we confront the irregular there is nothing that we have learned beforehand that can help us, and whatever we learn now won’t be any good to us in any other situation! There is no generalization possible. We can therefore say – on the basis of what we have just discussed – that what repels us about the unique is its difficulty, i.e. what it ‘requires’ from us. The unique requires something very particular from us; it’s not just a matter of hard work’ – although that comes in it into it as well, of course. A unique situation requires that we ourselves have to become unique. This is a very remarkable thing to consider – when we generally come across problems or difficulties what we do is to look in our toolbox to see what tricks or strategies we have there that might help. We are looking for the right size of screwdriver, the right size of spanner, and once we find it then it’s just a matter of doing whatever we have to do with the tool and then it’s ‘job done’.


When we come up against a situation where there isn’t some kind of ‘standardised fix’, where there isn’t any tool (or strategy) in our toolbox that will get the job done, then we are ‘thrown back on ourselves’. What are we going to do? How are we going to tackle it? It’s no good asking anyone else for advice or looking it up on the Internet – this problem is for us and us alone. It’s ‘uniquely ours’. This is a very particular kind of demand that is being made and us therefore; we are being asked to exercise a muscle that we have never exercised before, and this hurts. When a particular muscle has been developed then it actually feels good to use it, as we all know, but when the muscle hasn’t been developed at all, and we don’t even know where that muscle is (or even if we have one in the first place) then this is a very different story. To say that what we are being asked to do is hard is a masterful understatement!


When I come up against a truly unique situation and all my tools or strategies are ‘no use to me’, then what I’m being asked to do – so to speak – is to manifest my true unique nature. This is the ‘muscle’ that I have never up to this point developed; this is the muscle that I don’t know where to look for, or even know if it’s there at all (and almost certainly I will say and believe that it isn’t there). Of all the challenges that we could ever possibly be faced with this is the greatest. There is no greater challenge than this – there simply isn’t ‘any such thing’ as a challenge that is greater than the challenge to dig deep and manifest our true unique nature. Rather than undertake this challenge therefore, we retreat (as we have said) into ‘the world of the generic’. We retreat into the Consensus Reality where all the answers are provided for us, and where – as a result – we never have to worry about ‘manifesting our own unique nature’.


This ‘retreat into the generic world’ puts us in a very strange situation, however. It’s not just that we prefer to have ‘ready-made problems’ handed to us, as Eric Fromm says (so that we can tackle them with ready-made methods, with strategies taken straight out of the super-convenient ‘Book-of-Strategies’) – it’s that the ‘sense of ourselves’ that we have, the ‘sense of ourselves’ that we operate out of, has also been provided for us. It’s the whole package.  Our sense of identity comes to us straight ‘off-the-shelf’ (or out-of-the-brochure’) and is delivered right to our front door the same way everything else is – that’s what the Generic World is all about, after all! What we’re talking about here is the ‘Common Domain’, it’s the formula-driven, mass-produced world of Jung’s Everyman.


This all sounds very easy, all very convenient therefore, but what we don’t see is that there is no place in this generic world for us as we really are! That’s the whole point of the exercise, after all – the whole point is that we don’t have to’ dig deep’ and find out who we really are. That’s the ‘advantage’ that we’ve been angling for the whole time! The so-called ‘advantage’ of life in the Generic World is that we never have to dig deep. The advantage of life in the Generic World is that we never get essentially challenged so that we have to ‘discover who we really are’. All the challenges that we meet in the GW (the trivial challenges that have been ‘engineered into the system’) are ‘dummy challenges’ – they are challenges that really only exists for the sake of ‘reaffirming or confirming the reality of the Generic Self’). This so-called advantage however the same time ‘the Very Great Disadvantage’ – it is also – unbeknownst to us – The Great Calamity.


The ‘Very Great Disadvantage’ is that there is no place that we have created for us, as we truly are. One analogy might be to say that it’s like being in an abusive/controlling relationship where the other person controls everything about us, including how we actually see ourselves: the ‘advantage’ of this situation is that we don’t ever have to think for ourselves (that after all is the one thing we are never allowed to do) and yet obviously this is the disadvantage at the same time. Another way to analogize our situation is to say that it is like sending a surrogate to live our life for us – a very crude and robotic sort of a surrogate, a surrogate without any of the finer feelings of which we are innately capable. This is like Colin Wilson’s idea of the ‘internal robot’ which he talks about here in this quotation from The Intuition Network:

Yes, well, you see, the basic point about the philosophy of Gurdjieff, and I suppose about my own basic ideas, is this recognition that we have inside us what I call the robot — a sort of robot valet or servant who does things for you. So you learn something like talking French or driving a car or skiing or whatever, painfully and consciously, step by step. Then the robot takes it over and does it far more quickly and efficiently that you could do it consciously. However, the important thing is not to interfere with the robot once he’s learned it, because you completely screw him up if you do. Now, the robot does all these valuable things like talking French and so on for us. The trouble is he also does the things we do not want him to do. We listen to a piece of music; it moves us deeply the first time. We read a poem, we go for a country walk, whatever, and it moves us. But the second or third time you do it, the robot is listening to the music or reading the poetry or doing the country walk for you. I said I’ve even caught him making love to my wife. And this is our real problem — that the robot keeps taking us over and doing the things that we would rather do. Now, Gurdjieff recognized this; he talked about the machine. Gurdjieff, of course, would walk into, let’s say, the dormitory of his students at midnight, snap his fingers, and everybody had to be out of bed and in some complex position within two seconds flat. Obviously he would keep people at a certain level of tension by doing this. Do you remember that Sartre said that during the war, when he was in the French Resistance and he was likely to be arrested and shot at any moment, he never felt so free. And obviously you would in these circumstances — you keep your energy so high because of your sense of crisis, that you would feel far more free. Now this is clearly the secret of freedom — keeping your energy so high that the robot is a bit like the thermostat on the wall which turns on quite automatically when your energies drop below a certain point, and then suddenly, without even noticing it, you’re living mechanically, robotically, instead of with the real you. The interesting thing is that it’s only a matter of one degree. Therefore, if it’s just one degree to turn on to the robot, it’s only one degree of effort to turn the robot off.

It’s certainly very convenient to have the internal robot take care of all the details of our live for us. By this same argument it is all the more convenient (it is ultimately convenient, we might say!) when the robot takes over completely and actually goes right ahead and lives our life for us in its entirety, whilst we ‘fall asleep at the wheel’, so to speak. We’ve ‘gravitated to the generic’ like moths to a candle flame and the result of this is that the robotic surrogate gets to live our life for us. This doesn’t work however – it’s a cheat that couldn’t possibly ever work! Only I can live my life and if I try to get the robotic surrogate to take on this ‘responsibility’ for me all I’m doing is creating suffering the like of which I can’t even begin to comprehend. According to Erich Fromm,

The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life.

The movement towards ‘unconsciousness’ is therefore the movement towards self-destruction – nothing good can come out of putting all our money on the strategy of running away from our own true nature, after all! Nothing good can happen as a result of embracing the Generic Mind. All that happens when we fall ‘asleep at the wheel’ is that dark forces which we know nothing about are all too quick to take over the vehicle, and drive it over a cliff…







BUDDHA IN THE MUD by Tony Barrs. There are two truths: the real and the seemingly real. Their connection is the negative emotions. On the path of the seemingly real, the emotions imprison us. On the path of the real, the emotions liberate us. There is a secret life to the emotions.

Our Mind Is The True Buddha

It is the very essence of our mind that is the true Buddha. Whether the contents of our mind feel depressed, irritated, angry, confused, elated, happy, dull … the essential pure nature of our mind is Buddha; enlightened, pure consciousness, God.

Who are we to believe? What sort of ‘package’ are we looking for? Someone in robes, on a throne? Someone with a long beard perhaps, or bald and smiling? Teachings given in a church, temple or gompa? Something that gives us a feeling of authority? Do we want this to feel exclusive? Do we feel safe in our ‘package’? If we have our ‘package’, then what do we feel about others’ ‘packages’?

The essence of mind is right here, right now.
We are, in truth, the essence of mind!
We are what we have always been looking for.

Thinking we cannot find it,

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The Pain Of Being A Machine

‘Mental health’ and ‘organisations’ don’t go together – if we have some degree of mental health then we won’t have any more to do with organisations than we can possibly help, and if we are part of an organisation then it goes without saying that the integrity of our mental health is going to be significantly compromised. There are no two ways about this! When we consider the fact that mental health falls within the remit of large and intensely bureaucratic healthcare organisations we can see just how ironic this is, therefore. When an organisation makes it its business to take care of our collective mental health then this constitutes a very big problem. No one – it seems – is even aware of the problem, never mind engaged in doing anything about it. Our situation is very much like lambs being led to the slaughter, which is a metaphor that Gurdjeff used in ‘The Tale of the Evil Magician’ – (taken from

There was an evil magician. He lived deep in the mountains and the forests, and he had thousands of sheep. But the problem was that the sheep were afraid of the magician because every day the sheep were seeing that one of them was being killed for his breakfast, another was being killed for his lunch. So they ran away from the magician’s ranch and it was a difficult job to find them in the vast forest. Being a magician, he used magic.

He hypnotized all the sheep and suggested to them first of all that they were immortal and that no harm was being done to them when they were skinned, that, on the contrary, it would be very good for them and even pleasant; secondly he suggested that the magician was a good master who loved his flock so much that he was ready to do anything in the world for them; and in the third place he suggested to them that if anything at all were going to happen to them it was not going to happen just then, at any rate not that day, and therefore they had no need to think about it.

He then told different sheep…to some, “You are a man, you need not be afraid. It is only the sheep who are going to be killed and eaten, not you. You are a man just like I am.” Some other sheep were told, “You are a lion – only sheep are afraid. They escape, they are cowards. You are a lion; you would prefer to die than to run away. You don’t belong to these sheep. So when they are killed it is not your problem. They are meant to be killed, but you are the most loved of my friends in this forest.” In this way, he told every sheep different stories, and from the second day, the sheep stopped running away from the house.

They still saw other sheep being killed, butchered, but it was not their concern. Somebody was a lion, somebody was a tiger, somebody was a man, somebody was a magician and so forth. Nobody was a sheep except the one who was being killed. This way, without keeping servants, he managed thousands of sheep. They would go into the forest for their food, for their water, and they would come back home, believing always one thing: “It is some sheep who is going to be killed, not you. You don’t belong to the sheep. You are a lion – respected, honored, a friend of the great magician.” The magician’s problems were solved and the sheep never ran away again.

Coming back to our original statement, we might still ask why mental health and organisations don’t go together? How can we make a statement like this? And if there is a grave mismatch between mental health and the all-powerful organizations that we have created to work ‘for our benefit’ then why hasn’t anyone noticed it? As it happpens, this is something that we can be very clear about – it’s not a difficult argument that we are making here but something that is entirely straightforward. All that’s needed is for us to have a clear understanding of what ‘mental health’ is. Mental health is really just another way of talking about freedom (or ‘autonomy’). When we are ‘free to be ourselves’ – without any external influences manipulating us without us knowing that we are being manipulated – then we may be said to be autonomous, then we may be said to be in a state of ‘good mental health’. If on the other hand we are being ‘controlled without knowing that we are being controlled’ (by external influences we know nothing of) then obviously there is no way that this can be said to be ‘a healthy situation’!


As soon as we put things like this it becomes clear to all but the naïve that mental health must be a very rare thing indeed in our society! Everything about our culture is about covert control; ‘freedom’ – although we use the word a lot – is simply not on the agenda. No one wants us to be free – even we ourselves probably don’t want to be free, as the psychologist and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm has pointed out. With freedom comes very great responsibility after all, and who wants that? The type of ‘freedom’ that we are talking about here isn’t the  trivial freedom to ‘come and go as we please’, but – as we have said – the freedom to be ourselves. ‘To thine own self be true,’ says Shakespeare, but we are blasé about this dictum because we assume – for the most part – that we are already being true to ourselves. This is very far from being the case however. We aren’t being true to ourselves and we can explain why we aren’t very simply – in order to be ‘true to ourselves’ would we would have to be seeing the world in our own unique and individual way and we’re not – we are seeing it in the totally generic way that we have been passively conditioned to. This ‘adaptation to the Generic Reality’ is what Gary Z McGee calls ‘comfortable cowardice’ in his article On Becoming Free.


This after all is what society is – society is what comes into being when we all see the world in the same way! That’s the price of admission to society, that’s the price we have to pay in order to be granted ‘membership to the club’ – we all have to agree to see things in the same way, we all have to ‘subscribe to the consensus reality’. This of course happens very early on in our lives and we don’t exactly ‘notice it happening,’ we don’t exactly ‘give our conscious consent’ to the process – it’s just what happens. It’s called ‘the process of socialisation’ and no one ever asks our permission first to see if we want to be socialised!


The ‘Great Illusion’ is that we are already free, that we are already ‘seeing things in our own individual way’. Nothing could be further from the truth however. As Erich Fromm says,

Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows ‘what he wants,’ while he actually wants what he is supposed to want. In order to accept this it is necessary to realize that to know what one really wants is not comparatively easy, as most people think, but one of the most difficult problems any human being has to solve. It is a task we frantically try to avoid by accepting ready-made goals as though they were our own.

A big part of the illusion ‘that we are already free’ lies in the fact that we take it so very much for granted that the way we understand life is the only way that it ever could be understood. This being the case we don’t of course feel that we are being manipulated or coerced to see the world in a particular predetermined way! We don’t know that there is always ‘the freedom to see things otherwise’. This is something that you would not be able to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it for themselves – the words just wouldn’t make any sense. ‘We accept the reality with which we have been presented’ – as the line in The Truman Show goes. In this film, Truman Burbank gradually ‘wakes up’ to the fact that everything he has ever been told is a lie, and via this process of ‘seeing through the lie’ he becomes (as his name suggests), a ‘true man’. He becomes true to himself, he becomes the true individual that he already is.


This isn’t a question of creating one’s own ideology or philosophy, but simply seeing through what is not true. In the past this has been known as ‘the negative way’ or via negativa. In the same way, therefore, recovering our autonomy doesn’t mean ‘having our own particular opinions about everything under the sun’ but simply seeing falsehood for what it is. Truth is not something we have to loudly ‘assert’, or ‘hold onto’, it is – rather – what emerges all by itself when we find the courage to let it do so. The truth is ‘none of our business’, in other words – it ‘stands by itself’ without any need for assistance or support or or interpretation on our part. It’s not a question of ‘my’ truth versus ‘your’ truth therefore and when anyone (or when any group of people) take it upon themselves to tell us ‘what the truth is’ we can be sure that their so-called truth is anything but true. It is – on the contrary – an aggressive lie and it is by such aggressive lies that society maintains itself!


This brings us to the very nub of the matter – the truth isn’t something that can be stated and then agreed upon by the collective, it is something that is seen. It is, moreover, something that is seen only by the individual and no one else. No one else can see it! The collective cannot see it and neither can any paid-up member of the collective. To see the truth requires us to be who we really are and this means discarding the false shell or husk of who we have been told that we are.


There is what we might call ‘a Basic Principle’ here and that principle is this: When two or more people agree on ‘what the right way to see things’ is, then that agreed-upon viewpoint acts as ‘an inferior substitute for the truth’. The viewpoint that we have agreed upon isn’t really true for any of us – it isn’t anyone’s way of seeing the world, rather it is Everyone’s way. It’s just a convention that we have all agreed upon for the sake of ‘getting on’. Conventions are ‘things that we have agreed to be true’ – language is a convention, socialised behaviour is a convention, the legal system is a convention, and so on, and it can be readily seen how very dependent upon all these various conventions we are. The danger (the ‘Very Great Danger’!) is however that we will become trapped in our own conventions, trapped in our own systems, trapped in our own devices. What traps us is forgetting that the conventions only are conventions and not reality itself. We take the inferior substitute to be equivalent to the real thing and when we ‘forget’ in this way then our systems end up defining reality for us – they end up defining everything about us! This situation of ‘being defined by some sort of arbitrary external authority without knowing that we are’ is of course (as we have been saying) the complete antithesis of autonomy, the complete antithesis of ‘mental health’, and this is exactly the situation that we all find ourselves in. The irony is that when our lack of autonomy manifests itself in the form of neurotic suffering we go looking for assistance from the very structures and systems that have disempowered us so grievously in the first place. Fromm is very clear about this –

Man does not suffer so much from poverty today as he suffers from the fact that he has become a cog in a large machine, an automaton, that his life has become empty and lost its meaning.

The big problem is however that when we suffer (as we inevitably do suffer) from being merely ‘a cog in a large machine’, we look to that very same machine for help!



Art: Spell II, by H.R. Giger




The Common Delusion

We are very confused, collectively speaking, about what constitutes mental health, and what doesn’t. Our ‘automatic’ way to understand mental health is – of course – to see it as a measure of how well adapted we are to the consensus reality (which we take to be the only reality). This is hardly news – we all know how bad it feels to be somehow standing out from the crowd as being ‘strange’ or ‘odd’. This is an experience that every human being, no matter what part of the world they might come from, can relate to.


When we are in this situation of ‘looking odd in some kind of unwanted way’ only one thing matters to us (naturally enough) and that is ‘looking normal again’ or, ‘being like everyone else again’. If we can do this then we will have an embarrassing moment for sure but the awkward moment will soon pass and then the chances are that we will quickly get over it. Little ‘blips’ like this happen from time to time and it’s no big deal. When however we are unable to return ourselves promptly to within ‘the bounds of normality’, we’re almost certainly going to go beyond embarrassment and ‘internalise the wrongness,’ so to speak. We’re going to feel the wrongness to be some kind of ‘special taint’ of our own; a thing that ‘belongs to us and us alone’. It is in this case as if we ourselves become the fault or error that needs to be corrected.


When we feel like this it is very clear to us, on a deep and often inarticulate level, that ‘mental health’ (or ‘wellness’) means one thing and one thing only, and that is ‘correcting the error’ and returning to the normative state (which is the ‘zone of safety’ where we don’t stand out any more). Other people will also have the same idea of what ‘mental health’ should mean for us – even mental health care professionals will for the most part subscribe to this equilibrium-based view of what MH consists of. It’s as if we simply can’t help defining MH normatively, it’s as if we don’t have any other way of seeing it! And yet there is no way in which this ‘reflex-reaction’ business of according with the normative values of ‘how we are supposed to be’, or ‘how we are supposed to appear’, (which is close to the mark) can be said to be in any way ‘healthy’! What we’re looking at here is simply ‘automatic pain-avoidance’ (or ‘safety-seeking’) and nothing more.


We can very clearly see that the movement towards social adaptation, the movement towards the equilibrium value, isn’t anything to do with ‘mental health’ just as soon as we take a good look at it. All are doing here – or rather all we’re trying to do here – is move quickly to a place where there is no more pain or embarrassment, a place where there is ‘no more challenge’. We’re trying to move to a place of place of ‘zero risk’, in other words, and this is a movement in the direction of psychological unconsciousness. This type of movement is always a movement in the direction of unconsciousness because we are abdicating the essential responsibility that we always have for being ‘the way that we actually are’. We are ‘fleeing from reality as it actually is’, which although it is very natural and understandable response on our part, is at the same time not a ‘healthy’ thing to do. It’s not what we could call a ‘healthy thing to do’ because it has punishing consequences both for ourselves and others. It’s not healthy thing to do because it is ‘taking refuge in the collectively-validated lie’ regarding what we say ‘the right way to be’ is, and no matter what else we might say about this state of affairs, whether it is natural or not or understandable or not, we can’t say that it is anything whatsoever to do with ‘mental health’.


What mental health consists of can’t be normally normatively defined in the same way certain aspects of physical health (such as body temperature or blood glucose levels) can be, but we can nevertheless say something about it. We can say for example that it isn’t automatically running (or trying to run) to a place of safety every time we are challenged, or we could say that it isn’t pretending that ‘what is happening isn’t happening’! We could also say that mental health isn’t about judging ourselves as being fundamentally ‘flawed’ or ‘at fault’ when we find ourselves painfully excluded from the consensus reality. A better way of expressing all these points is perhaps to say that what we are calling ‘mental health’ is somehow about being ‘true to ourselves’ (and ‘not engaging in any social collusions’) – we are being straight about how we are, rather than cheating or engaging in a deception or cover-up or what of whatever kind. We are not involving ourselves in any collectively-validated games or subterfuges (which is something that our peers will straightaway see as being ‘unhealthy’ or just plain ‘wrong’).


Another way of talking about mental health is to say that what that it essentially involves ‘not turning our backs on whatever we are being challenged with’. Life is one big challenge when it comes down to it and we are not putting all our money on the doomed attempt to escape it! ‘Life is difficult,’ as Scott M Peck says at the beginning of The Road Less Travelled, and so ‘being mentally healthy’ (or being ‘growth-orientated’, as we could also say) means facing this truth, even if we don’t do anything else. This type of approach could however very easily be misinterpreted and turned into some kind of a stick to beat ourselves with – we’re all very good at that, after all! It’s not that we ‘have to’ face every challenge that life throws at us (and that consequently, if we don’t face every challenge that life throws at us then we are somehow going ‘wrong’ and are therefore ‘at fault’). It’s not that we have to be ‘mentally healthy’, in other words! That would be completely ridiculous – that would mean that we are running away from the challenge of ‘seeing ourselves as we actually are’ (which is most emphatically NOT someone who never runs away from any challenge). Mental health doesn’t mean ‘trying to live out some ridiculous fantasy idea of who we would like to be, and beating ourselves up when we can’t do this’! That’s just escapism…


‘The way that we actually are’ is to be orientated primarily around ‘safety seeking’ or ‘challenge avoiding’. That’s simply the human situation. Even if we think we’re pretty good at taking on challenges, the chances are that we’re taking on the challenges that we do take on in order to avoid some bigger challenge that we won’t even let ourselves know about! This too is ‘the human situation’ – we deceiving ourselves on an ongoing basis and will deny that we are doing so to our last breath! What we are calling ‘mental health’ is therefore just another way of talking about being basically honest with ourselves – we don’t have to be any kind of special way, we don’t have to accord with any normative values that have been set for us by society or by any other group of people, we just have to be basically honest with ourselves about the way we actually are. How could we ever possibly imagine that we could have any sort of go at all at ‘living our lives’ without this precondition of ‘basic honesty’? What do we imagine our lives would amount to, otherwise?


Even just to have this understanding about what mental health really is (as opposed to what it is inevitably presented as being) frees us up enormously. We don’t have to ‘do’ anything – just to see the nature of the ‘jinx‘ that was being put on us (or that we were putting on ourselves) makes all the difference. It’s okay to want or to yearn to not be the way that we are (that’s natural, as we have already said), but this has nothing to do with any sort of ‘overarching moral imperative’ – is not wrong that we are the way that we are, it’s just difficult. ‘Being in a difficult place’ is a very different from being ‘wrong’! To be in a difficult place is to be engaged in some sort of challenge and that this is actually an indication of health. What’s not healthy is to hide away from the challenge so effectively that we don’t even know that it is there, and that is what this business of being ‘successful adaptation to the consensus reality’ is all about. That’s what being adapted to the consensus reality is always about.


What we implicitly see as being the state of optimal mental health (i.e. ‘being normal’!) is actually a state of ‘hiding away’, it’s actually a state of ‘zero existential challenge’. This is of course the case – being ‘socially adapted’ means that we have agreed to see the world in a particular way, it means that we have agreed to see the world (or ‘life’) in the particular specific way that everyone else sees it! This act of conformity takes us away from the truth straightaway, therefore! It takes us away from our truth. The thing that is so very attractive about this situation (i.e. the situation of ‘the validated lie) is precisely that there is ‘zero existential challenge’ in it – this is the great ‘advantage’ that we are so attracted to. Being able to successfully evade the essential existential central challenge of life is the great advantage, but it is at the very same time the great disadvantage! It’s the ‘upside’ of the deal, to be sure, but it’s also ‘the downside’!


This isn’t to say that everyday ‘socially adapted’ life doesn’t have its own challenges, its own difficulties, but rather that we are now seeing everything backwards; we’re fundamentally orientated towards the normatively-defined ‘equilibrium value’ so that all our efforts are efforts to obtain something that doesn’t exist (or ‘return ourselves to some kind of unreal place’). This sort of effort is fundamentally frustrated therefore because what we are trying to obtain isn’t real (because the place that we are trying to return to isn’t actually there). Our illusion – when we are adapted to the consensus reality – is that when we can get rid of all errors (i.e. when we can get things to be ‘the way that we want them to be’) then we will find the fulfilment that were always looking for. Essentially therefore, we are ‘working to avoid the need to work’ and we imagine that we have done this then everything will be wonderful. This is the ‘upside-down’ way of seeing things that we buy into when we are ‘psychologically unconscious’. We’re hypnotized by the goal-state of ‘having no more challenges’. In reality – of course – it doesn’t work this way at all – when (or if) we create for ourselves a situation of ‘zero existential challenge’ then at the same time as doing this we also create for ourselves a situation of very great suffering, very great frustration!


The situation of ‘zero challenge’ which we long for so much is actually a situation of ‘zero reality’ – it’s a situation of ‘zero reality’ simply because reality itself is a challenge! It’s not the case therefore that a challenge – when it comes our way – is ‘an error that needs to be corrected’, but rather that that challenge is actually life itself! In the psychologically unconscious state we are therefore trying to run away from life and we validate this ongoing effort to escape from life by saying that we are trying to obtain (or arrive at) an ideal state, the ideal state which is ‘the solution to our problem’. In effect therefore, we’re saying that escaping from the ongoing existential challenge which is life is ‘the right thing to do’! We’re saying that ‘believing the consensus lie’ is the right thing to do’. Our position (although we can’t see it because we’re seeing everything backwards) is to see the situation where we ‘successfully escape from life’ as being concomitant with ‘the state of mental health’! We see the ‘equilibrium state’ (i.e. the state of ‘being the same as everyone else’ or ‘the state of being normal’) as being ‘the thing that will somehow make everything all right’, when actually nothing could be further from the truth. Unconsciousness is the cause of our problems, not the solution. ‘Hades is the same as Dionysus, in whose honour men go mad and rave.’ says Heraclitus. We think that we are worshipping life, whilst really we’re worshipping death!


So this brings us back to what we started off by talking about right at the beginning of this discussion, which is that we are all very confused, collectively speaking, about what constitutes mental health and what doesn’t! How more confused could we be? We’re hypnotised by this mirage, this mirage of ‘what we think is mental health,’ whilst the truth is that what we’re longing for is actually the state of perfect unconsciousness. We’re actually chasing oblivion (or ‘nonexistence’) even though we can’t for the life of us see it. We chasing unreality, but we are seeing everything upside-down so that unreality seems a real and worthwhile goal. We’re seeing unreality as being real and reality as being unreal.  This means that we see mental health as being the state in which we accord with some kind of ‘mind-created abstraction’, some kind of ‘ideal situation’, some kind of ‘normative value’. What we don’t see – when were identified with the thinking mind – is that normative values are phantom appearances and nothing more. The normative value may seem as if it’s going to be ‘the answer to everything’, but that’s just the bait to get is to walk into the trap. That’s just the cheese. Who said that the lure had to be real, after all? All that matters (if the trap is to work) is that we believe in it, and we do…


Everyone believes in the illusion and this makes it all the more difficult to doubt it, or stand up and say anything against it. When it comes to it, speaking out about it just isn’t going to work – if you speak out against the illusion you will be shouted down. If you speak the truth you will be discredited. People will laugh at you being so foolish as to ‘not see the obvious’! If you can’t see that what is ‘obviously true’ has to be true (the same as everyone else can!) then clearly there’s something wrong with you. Believing in the ‘common delusion’ is what we all understand to be ‘the healthy way to be’, whilst seeing it to be not true at all what it is marks us out as being strange or odd, and being strange or odd is indistinguishable with ‘having something wrong with you’. Having a viewpoint that doesn’t accord with the consensus viewpoint proves that ‘there’s something wrong with you’, and yet ‘the consensus view of things’ is – by definition – an abstraction (just like an average is an abstraction).  If what we all see as ‘being true’ is an abstraction (as it has to be) then what this means is simply that it is a lie! Just how ‘mentally healthy’ is it to uncritically believe a lie, therefore?



Art – The high house low! “2011, by Elliot Hundley




Society Is An Advert For Itself

What we have succeeded in doing (without necessarily meaning to) is creating a completely ‘dishonest’ environment for ourselves to live in. We all heard about ‘fake news’ but what this amounts to is a fake world. We can make a very obvious statement at this point and that is to say that ‘living in a fundamentally dishonest environment is without any doubt going to be psychologically harmful for us’! This might seem like too obvious a point to make but we need to make it all the same because it’s such a vitally important one – it’s a vitally important point that we never actually pay any attention to! We might spend money in a health food store or go to the gym twice a week or practice yoga or meditation but we never seem to give any thought to the fact that our actual environment is fundamentally dishonest, and therefore toxic


I’m not making a metaphysical point here about the illusoriness of the world or anything like that – what I’m talking about is the fundamentally deceptive nature of the communications we surround ourselves with. Just to give one example – it is abundantly obvious that we are living in a world that is completely dominated by advertisements of one sort or another. Everything is an advert for something! This is therefore just another way of saying that the reality we are presented with on all sides is dishonest – it’s not what it seems to be. Everything we see or read is propaganda for the system that is being daily foisted upon us!


Adverts are ‘dishonest’ because they always claim to be about something else than what they’re actually about – the day has long since passed when adverts were purely and simply about providing information about a product. We have moved on a long way since that day. The science of advertising relies on the fact that we are very easily manipulated by ‘unconscious associations’, implications which are there, but which don’t need to be spelt out. These associations work on us without us knowing that we are being worked on. This is just the same as saying that ‘adverts work by manipulation’, which is very obviously true – no one is going to be foolish enough to try to deny this!


We might agree that this is true but say that it’s not really a big deal either – we all know that ads are about manipulation, but so what? We have got used it to this stage and presumably we all feel that we’re immune to it. Where advertising surely does become a problem however is when the whole world becomes one giant advert, one giant ‘publicity exercise for itself,’ as John Berger implies here –

Publicity has another important social function. The fact that this function has not been planned as a purpose by those who make and use publicity in no way lessens its significance. Publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy. The choice of what one eats (or wears or drives) takes the place of significant political choice. Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society. And it also masks what is happening in the rest of the world. Publicity adds up to a kind of philosophical system. It explains everything in its own terms. It interprets the world.

The entire world becomes a setting for the fulfillment of publicity’s promise of the good life. The world smiles at us. It offers itself to us. And because everywhere is imagined as offering itself to us, everywhere is more or less the same. …

Adverts aren’t just trying to promote the product that they happen to be showcasing, John Berger says elsewhere – they are, much more importantly, promoting our whole way of life, the particular way of life within which that product has a place. So how could we say that it’s not a ‘big deal’ when our whole environment is designed to manipulate or control us and there’s nothing left in it that’s at all honest? Surely we must realise that there are bound to be seriously adverse psychological consequences to living in a world that is totally biased, a world that is nothing more than ‘an advert for itself!


If we were unlucky enough to grow up surrounded by people who always had an ulterior motive, who were always duplicitous, who never did or said anything without a hidden agenda, then our mental health would of course suffer grievously as a result – we’d be in need of an awful lot of therapy if this were the case. The same is true therefore when we live in an environment is always comes with an ulterior motive, an environment that is designed to control us, an environment which always carries some kind of ‘disguised coercive element’. The usual way is for us to be more or less oblivious to the coercive (or controlling) aspect of our environment, and unaware of the all pervading dishonesty of the type of communications that make up the world we have to live in, and so this means that we are ‘unfree without knowing that we are’. Apparently – however – this very peculiar set-up seems to work; apparently – we can get by perfectly well this way!


There is a problem here though even if we can’t see it – there’s a problem especially if we can’t see it! In order to accommodate ourselves to this invisibly coercive and deceptive world we have to live on a very superficial level, and this is fundamentally unnatural and therefore unhealthy for us. It has harmful consequences. Human beings are not naturally superficial; we not naturally lacking in curiosity about the world we live in. All we need to do in order to appreciate this is to look at children – children are (of course) full of curiosity, full of questions. Adults  – on the other hand – aren’t! As adults (oddly enough) we seem to swallow whatever line in nonsense it is that is being fed to us at the time. We’ll go along with anything. The alternative seems to be just too frightening for us!


So the ‘problem’ that we are looking at here is the problem – we might say – of compulsory superficiality. We are given no choice in this matter – were pushed into this extraordinary limited state of being from a very early age. We don’t know that this fate has befallen us (we have no way of knowing it) but the quality of our lives has been degraded all the same. Another crucial aspect of this ‘compulsive superficiality’ that were talking about here is that we don’t have any genuine volition. If we are being swayed by superficial appearances the whole time then how can we possibly be said to have any genuine volition of our own? This is clearly an impossibility.


We can put all of this together – therefore – by saying that we have created the world for ourselves which, rather than being based on the Principle of Truth, is based purely upon the Principle of Deception. We so used to this that we think nothing of it – our eyes are accustomed to the systematic insincerity and so we pay it no heed. As Matthieu Ricard says,

We are very much like birds that have lived too long in a cage to which we return even when we get the chance to fly away. We have grown so accustomed to our faults that we can barely imagine what life would be like without them. The prospect of change makes us dizzy.

In this world it’s not about ‘what’s true’, it’s about what seems to be true. It’s about ‘image rather than content’. We all know this very well – who’s actually going to deny it?  The question we’re asking here is ‘What effect is it actually going to have on us to be living in such a world?’  One answer is to say that the consequences of this state of affairs is that we become completely gullible, i.e. ‘100% manipulable by external controlling factors’. We do what we told to do and we believe what we’re told to believe, and what this comes down to is a complete lack of autonomy. We have ‘lost ourselves,’ in other words. We’ve lost ourselves completely. It is one thing to have autonomy and find yourself in a world that is trying to manipulate you (or amongst people who are trying to manipulate you) and quite another to have never had that  in the first place and to live in a world whose very basis is manipulation and coercion!


This is such an extraordinary thing to contemplate – we have created a world that denies us, a world that is ‘against us’! It isn’t the case either – I would argue – that this world is ‘bad for most of us but is good for a small minority’, which is very much what it looks like on the surface, admittedly. What we’re looking at here is a fundamentally unfair system, it is true, but even the so-called ‘winners’ in this game aren’t winning anything worth having! By denying others we deny ourselves, after all. By controlling each other we are just as bound as our victims by our own need to control. It’s actually the business of ‘playing the game’ that denies us, not whether we win or lose, which is of course what we are brought up to believe. ‘Playing the game’ denies us because by always striving for personal advantage (which is what we have been brought up to do) we turn our backs on our true compassionate nature, and if this isn’t a recipe for misery and frustration then nothing is!


We can only truly be ourselves by being compassionate  – as all the great Wisdom Traditions tell us; to try to find meaning in life by being selfish and manipulative and competitive  (which is what our society demands of us, whether we see it or not) is a road to nowhere! Meaning in life doesn’t come from being good at controlling, or from being a ‘winner in the game’, but from nourishing the imagination, nourishing the creative and compassionate side of ourselves. Our true nature is incomparably greater than we have been led to believe that it is, but we are afraid to find that out, and this unacknowledged fear drives all sorts of toxicity…






All The King’s Horses

As long as ‘the machine inside us’ is allowed to do whatever it wants we won’t know that it is there. We won’t have a clue that it’s there. How could we know, how could we ever suspect? When the machine inside us is allowed to do exactly what it wants then all is peace and calm and we are allowed to get on with our lives. Only it isn’t ‘our life’ that we’re getting on with – it’s the machine’s life (or ‘the machine’s version of our life’).


This is our situation therefore – we’re letting ‘the machine inside of us’ live our life for us. We’ve handed over all responsibility to it, without even knowing that we have. We are living ‘the machine’s idea what life should be’ and it is keeping our constantly keeping us on track with a nudge here and a nudge there and something a lot worse than just ‘a nudge’ if we don’t get back on track quickly enough! We have complete unquestioning loyalty to the machine – its will is our will as far as we’re concerned!


The machine which is thought manifests itself as ‘the internal robot which lives our life for us’. Just so long as we are able, in an unimpeded way, to live the robot’s idea of what life should be then (as we have already said) we will continue on our way, content to believe that ‘all is as it should be’. There will still be problems of course, there will be many ways in which life fails to accord with ‘our’ (i.e. the machine’s) plan for it, but this won’t challenge the status quo in any way. Complaining about how things are going wrong only ever serves to affirm that they are wrong, after all.


We can continue in this way forever in the absence of any major upsets. We could in theory ‘question the status quo’ at any time of course, but in practice we don’t. Why would we? We are far too preoccupied with doing the machine’s bidding; we’re far too busy enacting the life of ‘the internal robot’, and thinking it our own. We are kept busy for this very reason – that’s part of the design. ‘The devil finds work for idle hands’ is one of the machine’s favourite sayings’! Even when we’re not busy in the sense of ‘physically engaging in tasks’ were busy we are busy – we are busy thinking robot’s thoughts and imagining that they are our own!


This is pretty much a perfect system, therefore – it can run and run and run. It can run along in this way – with us enacting the robot’s idea of what life should be, and us never noticing that this is what we’re doing – until our last breath. This isn’t just something that’s ‘fairly probable’ – it’s very nearly an absolute certainty, unless something happens to us to upset the apple cart in a big way. The machine has to be unable to ‘cope’ for a prolonged length of time, it has to find itself in a situation where it simply can’t control what is happening to it, and this situation has to persist for an extended period of time. Sometimes we have been in this situation right from the very beginning, right from the word ‘go’.


Alternatively, there could have been some type of trauma, not necessarily lasting very long, but sufficiently intense to disillusion us with the nice simple picture of reality that the machine has up to this point been providing us with. Up to this point we were (in most cases) living in a kind of safe and sanitised ‘bubble’ or ‘cocoon’ of ‘regulated reality’ – a ‘bubble or cocoon of regulated reality’ that was entirely illusionary, but which was nevertheless totally convincing for us. And just to help with the apparent stability or believability of this bubble, there are thousands (or millions) of people all around us who all believe in it in exactly the same bubble. Then something unexpectedly happens to burst this bubble, and once this bubble – the bubble of who we naïvely understood ourselves to be (i.e. the ‘assumed sense of self’) has been burst, it – just like Humpty Dumpty – can’t be put together again, even if we do have ‘all the kings horses and all the Kings men’ to help us.


‘All the King’s horses and all the King’s men’ may be taken as meaning ‘the mental health services’ within the context of this particular discussion! Once the ‘ego illusion’ has been compromised, so that on some deep level we can no longer believe in it in the way that we previously had done, then no sort of ‘therapy’ is going to restore this naïve belief. That just can’t be done, no matter how much we might collectively pretend that it can be. As patients we are of course under pressure – both from ourselves and the mental health services – for this ‘recovery’ to take place, but the truth is that it just can’t. ‘What has been seen can’t be unseen’! Once we gain some glimpse of ‘the fundamental falsity of our assumed basis’ – i.e. a sense that it ‘isn’t really what it implicitly claims to be’ – then we can’t ever go back to the naive (or ‘innocent’) belief that we used to have, in a much matter how much we want to. We have gone beyond that, however unwillingly…


Even if – as is most likely – we have no way of understanding what has happened, no language with which to articulate it – we still ‘know’ it in some deep way, and this deep-down knowledge shows itself in terms of a systematic failure of the type of ‘confidence’ in ourselves to be able to ‘cope’ with the world, or ‘deal’ with the world, or ‘do what is necessary to obtain the desired outcomes in the world’. No amount of talk about ‘coping strategies,’ or ‘skills’, or ‘distress-tolerance’ is ever going to change this – no matter how ‘scientific’ such talk might sound. Once cracks have appeared in the ego-structure itself, no matter of sellotape is going to fix it. Possibly we might still be able to ‘limp through life’ on the basis of an ego that we have unwittingly seen through, on the basis of an ego that we have inadvertently lost faith in, but we’re never going to get that old naïve ‘confidence’ back again. That confidence (or ‘ego-strength’) was based purely on ignorance and we are no longer ignorant in the way that we used to be. Or perhaps that ‘bubble of safety’ never existed for us – that is another possibility.


This (i.e. ‘therapy’!) is really putting us in an impossible situation therefore – we have to live in a world which everyone implicitly believes in but which we can’t believe in – no matter how much we may want to. If it happens that we find ourselves in therapy, or under the care of the mental health services, then we will have that same naïve illusionary view of reality projected upon us from everyone around us. How are the ‘trained mental health professionals’ that we meet going to know any different, after all; aren’t they are every bit as ‘unconscious’ (or ‘asleep’) as everybody else? Why would they not be? When we are in this position there are only two possibilities open to us – either we keep on ‘pretending’ and hope that no one notices that we are, or we stop pretending and get blamed instead by all and sundry for not trying hard enough to get better (or perhaps even for positively wanting to carry on being mentally unwell). If anyone tells you that this isn’t what happens every day in the mental health services clearly they are living on another planet entirely!


This isn’t quite the full story though – there aren’t just these two possibilities, there’s another one too. We don’t have to keep on trying to find ‘some way back’ (which is impossible in any event, as we keep on saying) – we could actually ‘go forward’ instead! ‘Going forward’ – in this context – means that instead of trying to ‘get back what we never really had in the first place’ (because it was never really ‘our’ life that we were living, or ‘trying to live’), we can try out a different type of life, a type of life that hasn’t been dictated to us by the machine of thought. When we carry on without spending all our time looking back to ‘how we used to be’ and trying in a futile way to ‘get back there’ what happens is that we very slowly learn a new way of being in the world, a way of being in the world that isn’t based on unreflective aggression and ‘false confidence’.


This is very hard because – to a large extent – we just don’t know anything else. We don’t know what else there is apart from obeying the dictates of the machine of thought. It is very hard to be free when we have been so long enslaved – it feels very strange and we don’t have anything to guide us. When the internal robot is broken and can no longer help us (or when it is so clearly a menace to our well-being that we have had to refuse its help) we find ourselves in a kind of ‘no-man’s-land’. What’s broken is broken and there’s no fixing it, and this means that ‘there is no turning back’. The way is barred. There may not be any ‘turning back’ it is true, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any ‘going forward’…






The Greatest Calamity

When we allow ourselves to be completely defined by the thinking mind, the mind that evaluates and categorizes, then the result of this – quite simply – is the self. That’s how we get to experience life on the basis of ‘the self’ (instead of ‘in some other way’). Unless something is unambiguously defined in a black-and-white way then we are unable to identify with it, and without identification there can be no self.


‘Identification’ simply means that I see some fixed position, some fixed viewpoint as being ‘me’ – it’s the fixed nature of the position of the viewpoint that allows for the possibility of making any kind of ‘literal statement’ about the world. How can we make a literal statement if there is not a ‘literal’ (or ‘concrete’) point of reference to make it from? Literal statements actually are the fixed point of reference projected outwards onto the world. As soon we say this, we get a strong hint as to what the ‘calamity’ to which we are referring might be – identification means that everything I see and experience from the point of view of that ‘fixed position’ is already inherent in that position, and between my perception of myself as being ‘this viewpoint’ and ‘the world that I perceive around me’ (which is as we have said tautologically contained within my assumed frame of reference) what else is there? For me, that is everything – that represents the alpha and omega of my total field of possibilities.


The principle behind what we are saying here is very clear – when I identify with the fixed position then I am just not going to be able to perceive anything that does not ‘agree’ with this fixed reference point of mine. I won’t be able to see anything other than those things that make sense in relation to the fixed reference point that I have tacitly accepted as being ‘the only possible way of looking at the world’ – naturally enough! So what has happened is that I have become sealed off within a closed system. No possibility of ‘radical reorganization’ exists within a closed system – clearly there can’t be any such because what makes the closed system into a closed system is the fact that there are restrictions placed on what can be allowed to happen in that system. The ‘self consistency’ of logical systems depends upon the limits that are placed upon what is allowed to happen within that system – which is of course the very same thing as saying that logical systems ‘function as such on the basis of rules’! No one is going to argue with this…


There is no calamity involved in allowing everything that happens in a logical system to be determined by rules – that’s how logical systems work, as we keep saying. But what is good for a logical system (such as the national railway system network or a big modern hospital) is not good for us as individual human beings. The one does not imply the other, and although this may seem like a very obvious point to be making it clearly isn’t a point that we understand in any practical way because the story of mankind is very much the story of how we have allowed our own systems to enslave us and make us miserable as a result of this wretched state of enslavement. This is the one mistake we keep on making over and over again and the fact that we are repeatedly making it is very clearly because we do not understand what we’re doing! We’re not even close to understanding what’s going on – we are forever focusing on improving the systems that enslave us rather than looking at how we can become free from them.


Society is a logical system and we are all defined by it, no matter what we might like to believe. We don’t want to believe that we are defined by society, we want to believe that we are ‘unique individuals living our own unique individual lives’, but this is simply not true. How could it be true, when we are not actually putting any effort into it? Being the unique individual that one genuinely is isn’t just something that ‘falls into our lap’, like a ripe fruit when the tree is shaken – it can only come about via arduous effort. This isn’t ‘effort’ as we usually see it either – it isn’t  effort that is made in a particular direction, effort that is directed towards a particular or specified end. We not ‘improving ourselves in line with some idea that we might have with regard to how we or someone else might think we ought to be improved’. That is merely ‘optimization’ and optimization is the process of adapting ourselves to some kind of logical system. Optimization is movement in the direction of losing autonomy.


The effort involved in becoming the true individual that one actually is (or rather that one could be) is of an entirely different nature to this – it involves what the alchemists of old called the Opus Contra Naturam – the ‘work against nature’. Rules or precedents exist that propel us in a certain direction – the Opus Contra Naturam means not going in this direction! The work against nature is of course what Carl Jung calls individuation. Individuation (or rather ‘the fruit of the individuation process’) isn’t something that just ‘falls into our lap’ (as the socialised identity does) – it emerges slowly as a result of our struggle to be true to ourselves (or ‘find ourselves’) in the face of a hostile environment, which is what the social system is as regards our genuine individuality. The inertial forces that are ranged against us are immense and implacable and it is as everyone knows much easier to just give into them and be like everyone else! At least then we will have company, rather than feeling very much on our own and in danger of feeling that the ‘fault’ lies within us, and not within society as a whole.


So society is one big machine that that we have to struggle against in order not to be defined by it, but the other manifestation of ‘the machine’ is the thinking mind, which is what we started off by talking about. We’re caught between the machine on the inside and the machine on the outside, and neither of them has any tolerance at all for ‘who we really are’ – the machine – any machine – understands only mechanical things, and ‘who we really are’ is not mechanical. Or as we could also say, ‘a machine only understands defined things, and who we are is not capable of being defined’. The problem is however that who we understand ourselves to be is both defined and limited, and as such the one thing that it fears more than anything else is a reality that is not defined, a reality that is not limited. There is no challenge for the conditioned self that is greater than this; the unlimited / undefined reality is not merely ‘a challenge’, it is its greatest terror!


We see ‘being defined’ as being a strength – we know who we are, we know what we think, we know what we like and what we don’t like, and this seems like a strong position to be in. Almost anyone you talk to will tell you that this is a strong position to be in – society will tell you this. It is however strong only in a very limited way – it’s like being a world-renowned expert in a very narrow field – without any doubt we are formidably strong within the parameters of our specialization and if our area of specialization were ‘the whole world’ then we would be genuinely strong! But because our area of speciality isn’t the whole world (obviously enough!) we aren’t ‘strong’ at all –we only have a kind of ‘pretence’ at being strong and inasmuch as we allow ourselves to believe in this pretence of ours (which is easily done) we get to imagine that we are strong when we are not. When we fall into the trap of believing our own pretence we make fools of ourselves, in other words, and ‘making a fool of oneself without being able to see it’ is not a genuine form of strength.


Although this might at first glance seem like a somewhat obvious and therefore trivial example to give, it only takes a moment of reflection to realise that what we are talking about here is the situation of the conditioned (or ‘mind-created’) self. The mind-created self gets to feel robust and unrealistically confident in its outlook (if not downright arrogant!) because of the way in which it believes in a strength which it doesn’t actually have. The traditional virtue of humility originally meant something like ‘the awareness of the fact that we don’t really know anything’ (as opposed to what we usually take it to be, which is ‘the theatrical effort of the arrogant self to try to show that it is not arrogant when the truth is that it simply can’t help being so’). The incentive for us to fall into the trap of ‘believing in our own pretence’ (or ‘believing that our very limited area of specialisation is the whole world when it plainly isn’t’) is that it creates a feeling of ‘ontological security’ for us – a feeling of ‘security-of-being’ that we just can’t obtain any other way.


Being defined gives us a sense of security therefore, but only when we been live in a world that is made up of nothing more than our own mental projections. If we want that feeling of being secure – the feeling of being secure that comes from being totally defined – we have to pay the price of having to live in a very small world – the very small world of our own thoughts, our own expectations. What else are our thoughts anyway, if not ‘expectations of the world’? We don’t know that we are living in this absurdly small world, but that doesn’t alter the fact that we are, and there are going to be consequences to this choice that we have made, even though we don’t know that we have made it.


It’s not a good thing to shrink down in this way – it brings suffering, and not only does it ‘bring suffering’, it brings ‘suffering-without-the-capacity-to-bear-it’. Within this ‘absurdly small world’ (which is the only world that makes sense to the defined self) we are constantly subject to ‘irritations’ of a totally trivial nature. We can say that these irritations are of ‘a totally trivial nature’ because precisely they are irritations that make sense to the defined self, and the ‘defined’ (or ‘mind-created’) self is itself completely petty, completely trivial! We all know this on some level or other – we are all deeply familiar with the pettiness of the everyday self. The only time we aren’t aware of this is when we are wholly identified with this self, which is – needless to say – all too often! This is a calamity in itself; to be infinitely petty in the scope of our concerns, without knowing that we are because we are so caught up in them – is without any doubt a terrible calamity. We only need the smallest bit of imagination to appreciate just how terrifying a fate this is.


That’s only the beginning of it however. In order to enjoy the ‘sense of security’ that comes with being narrowly defined we need to restrict ourselves to ‘living within a very small world without knowing that we are’ and in one way this seems to be a price that we are willing to pay. There are however distressing consequences to this manoeuvre that only become apparent after a while. The ‘consequences’ that we talking about can be understood in terms of counterproductivity – ‘counterproductivity’ means that we that when we exert ourselves to accomplish one aim (and thereby hopefully resolve the situation in some way) other problems – which we have not foreseen – immediately come into play. And when we try to fix these unexpected problems what happens next is of course that a whole clutch of new problems come into being which also need to be fixed, and so on and so forth. On the ‘macro-scale’ this sort of counterproductivity is fairly well-known to us – our linear/technological approach to managing our environment is always rebounding on us in various unexpected (and unwanted) ways, as Gregory Bateson pointed out back in the 1960s. Ivan Illich also speaks of what he calls ‘specific counterproductivity’ in the fields of education, communication, transport and health.


We are at least’ halfway aware’ of counterproductivity on the macro-scale, whether it is in regard to the planetary ecology or industrialized society, but we are almost entirely blind to what we might call ‘intrapersonal counter- productivity’, which is the result of us trying to control or regulate ourselves. No matter how free we try to be in ourselves the mere fact that we are defined (just as the world we live in is defined) means that we are already controlled in the most profound way possible, even before we do anything else. This is like being ‘strangled at birth’! Intrapersonal counterproductivity is where we try to obtain a benefit for ourselves but incur suffering instead (or where we try to avoid pain, and instead of avoiding it we bring it down on our heads a thousandfold). The more common term for this is of course neuroticism and the concrete or literal self is the source of all neurotic counterproductivity…