Making A Wish…

When we’re patient then (in time!) everything will be revealed to us but when we’re impatient then nothing is revealed to us – not ever. The thing about this is that patience is strictly ‘an old-fashioned virtue’ and it’s not considered to be ‘a thing’ anymore; instead, we believe in instant gratification (as is often pointed out). In one way we believe in instant gratification because it’s in our nature to do so; it’s also true to say – however – that we believe in it because we have been sold the idea by our culture, because we have been educated to be that way. Acting on our impulses is highly beneficial for the economy whilst the ability to not act would spell financial ruin. ‘Greed is good’, as the line in the film goes.

Alan Watts observes that everything about our technologically orientated culture has to do with ‘shortening the gap between where we are and where we’d like to be’. Transport is a literal example of this sort of thing – in order to get from one town to another we once had to either walk, or travel by horse and cart, which was of course a very slow business. Now, we can travel by high-speed train. Within a decade or so (if we continue uninterrupted on our present course) then hypersonic stratospheric shuttles will be the thing. The development of information technology is probably the most dramatic example of this tendency to keep on shortening the gap (the gap in question being the one between ‘asking the question’ and ‘getting the answer’). We used to do computations in our fingers, then we moved onto the abacus, and now we have vast arrays of computer cores and the so-called ‘evolution’ of artificial intelligence. Our number-crunching ability is increasing logarithmically, and the reason this is so important to us is because it helps us to get what we want more quickly and more effectively, and that is where all the money is.  Giving people what they want faster than anyone else can is an unfailing recipe for success.

This isn’t to say that technology is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, that it is either beneficial to us or detrimental, simply that it can be used to facilitate the demand that we have within us to make things happen quicker. It’s not so much that we value technology because it can improve the quality of our lives therefore but because it enables us to dramatically shorten the interval between ‘the wish’ and ‘the fulfilment of this wish’. It seems quite reasonable to imagine that – as some point in the future – the ‘uncomfortable interval’ (during which we have to wait and drum our fingers on the table) will be eliminated altogether and that our wishes will be instantaneously fulfilled…

We might (naively) think that this would constitute a tremendous achievement for humankind and that a world where our desires are instantly manifested for us via super-advanced technology would be as close to utopia as we would ever want to get. It’s not as quite as simple as this, of course – all we need to do is think of all those fairy stories where somebody is granted three wishes by a powerful genie or spirit to realise that this can also easily turn into a recipe for hell on earth rather than being a recipe for utopia (or we could think of the classic science fiction film Forbidden Planet). It’s only when we’re young and foolish that we think this sort of thing would be the answer to everything; as we get older and wiser (if we do get older and wiser, that is, because there is of course no guarantee of that) we realise that ‘getting what we want’ could actually be the worst possible thing that could ever happen to us…

Psychologically speaking, getting our wishes manifested for us straightaway is hazardous in the extreme and one way in which we can understand why this should be so is to look at it in terms of ‘learning’ versus ‘non-learning’. All the emphasis in this technologically orientated world of ours is on ‘the efficacious obtaining of our goals’ and it is no exaggeration to say that our self-esteem (along with the esteem of others, which is of course a closely related commodity) depends upon how effective we are at realising our goals. If we are demonstrably effective in this we get to be called ‘a winner’, we get to be called ‘a success’. We don’t tend to express this quite so bluntly (because it sounds crude and unsophisticated) but this is nevertheless what it comes down to – we obtain our self-esteem (our so-called ‘confidence’) by being very good at controlling. Our confidence is entirely dependent upon our ability to control, in other words, so this is ‘confidence’ which can very easily turn into pure anxiety. ‘Conditional confidence’ and ‘anxiety’ are the same thing.

The need to control, and the wherewithal to do this, is not what we might call ‘a psychological strength’; on the contrary, when control is what we’re mostly concerned with then this points to an underlying weakness, not a strength. It points to a deficiency within us. Why is the ability to control so very important to us, after all? What’s the big fuss about? If we were truly ‘confident in ourselves’ (as in, ‘at peace with ourselves’) then we wouldn’t care so much about controlling, we would be more laid back than this, we would be more exploratory and playful in ourselves. We would have more of a sense of humour, more of a sense of irony about things. We wouldn’t be so concrete in our outlook – we would be open to the world, rather than being closed and controlling.

If we are successful in our controlling then what happens as a result is that we are able to stay closed, without any interruption to our comfortable closed way of life, and from our regular point of view this is exactly what we want. This is our goal. We can relate this to what James Carse calls finite game playing, the point of which is to ‘successfully resist change’. Just because resisting change seems like the best and most advantageous thing to do when we’re a finite game player that doesn’t mean that it is, however. The reason ‘successfully staying the same’ isn’t good for us isn’t too hard to see – when we resist change then what we’re actually resisting is ‘growth’ and when we resist growth (when we refuse to grow) then we are incurring suffering. We are incurring suffering because we’re going against our own essential nature.

The link between ‘valuing the ability to control’ above everything else and our ‘not growing as a person’ isn’t one that we tend to make! Conveniently enough, we don’t make this connection. To be excellent at attaining our goals sounds like a very dynamic thing to us; a society or culture that is highly advanced technologically also sounds wonderfully dynamic to us. We perceive ourselves as being ‘on a journey to somewhere great’, and we can’t wait to get there. What we don’t see is that realising our goals won’t allow us to move beyond ourselves and ‘moving beyond ourselves’ is what growth is all about. Growth means changing our viewpoint on things, not reinforcing it. Or as we could also say, growth means that we change (in a radical not a superficial way) so that what once seemed to be ‘an all-important goal’ no longer seems so important after all. Growth means outgrowing our ideas, not repeating them forever!

As Israel Regardie says somewhere, ‘The magician who sets off on the journey is not the one who attains to the summit’. Contrariwise – therefore – we can say that ‘the finite game player who sets off on the journey to the goal is exactly the same person as the one who arrives at the specified destination’. This is the whole point of finite play, after all. Between ‘the setting of the goal’ and ‘the obtaining of it’ there is no learning, no growth, no shift in perspective. If anything like that did happen (if there was to be some change happening between ‘conceiving the idea’ and ‘realising it’) then the game would be busted  – immersion in the dream would have been lost, the hypnotic power of the goal would have been broken and when the hypnotic power of the goal (which we ourselves are projecting) is broken then that’s the end of it. That’s ‘game failure’ right there. From the inverted viewpoint of the finite game player this is the ultimate disaster and so we will do everything we can to make sure that this eventuality never happens.

Our impatience is ‘our unseemly haste to realise the goal’. We’re ‘holding our breath’, we ‘can’t wait’ to get there (even though waiting is exactly what we’re going to have to do). Our impatience is what lies behind our controlling, behind our ‘heroic striving towards the goal’; we are – when we’re operating in this this modality – fixated upon ‘what’s happening on the outside’ and our belief (or assumption) is that when the correct type of change takes place ‘on the outside’ then this will transform (or fix) stuff ‘on the inside’. We wouldn’t put it like this of course because that would sound too foolish, but that’s what it comes down to all the same. This is ‘displacement-type activity’, it’s an example of ‘pseudo-solution’, and the whole point of displacement-type activity (or pseudo-solution) is that we must not see it for what it is – if we did see it then (clearly) then there would be no more ‘displacement of attention’ occurring! We’d be ‘seeing through to the heart of the matter’ and so there would be no more need for ‘the theatre of purposeful activity’! As long as we can keep on assuming (without knowing that we are) that the answer to everything lies in our goals, then we keep on doing this forever. Just as long as we remain fixated upon ‘change on the outside’ then we can avoid ‘change on the inside’, which is what we are referring to as growth. In one way, therefore, we can say that being in Goal-Orientated Mode is effective – it’s effective as a tactic by which we can indefinitely postpone actual psychological growth.

‘Patience’ means dropping our fixation on the outside. This isn’t to say that we don’t carry on doing whatever we’re doing (if that happens to be a helpful thing to do) but we’re doing it in a different way. We’re more conscious in what we’re doing – we can see that we are engaged in the ‘perennial game of displacement-type activity’ and as soon as we see this that takes the blind fanaticism out of what we’re doing. It takes the bleak humourlessness out of what we’re doing, it takes the brute aggression out of it. We can clearly see that obtaining some arbitrary goal not going to solve anything (in any magical way) and so we stop putting all our money on it. We become graceful and sensitive rather than strained and utterly insensitive; we become peaceful rather than violent. It is of course true that learning patience is harder than anything else we might have to do in life but the biggest difficulty here is that we don’t want to learn it. We don’t want to learn it because we know on some level that this means ‘letting go of who we thought we were’. When we’re patient then everything is revealed to us, but the crucial point here is that we don’t actually want  for it to be revealed…

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Simulated Mental Health

Would living in a simulation be a safe or an unsafe thing? Could it be bad for our mental health, for example? Are there any hidden glitches that we ought to know about? One way to reply to questions like this is to say that life in the simulation of life is the reverse of mental health – we could say that this state of being (the simulated state of being) is the perfect antithesis of mental health. It’s a great disaster, it’s the way not to do things…

Why this should be the case (why living a second-hand version life isn’t a healthy thing to be doing) might be considered too obvious to need pointing out, but we will make the argument all the same (if only for the sake of the exercise). The only reason we would want to live in a simulation of reality would be if we imagined – for some reason – that there was some kind of advantage to it, clearly, and so we can start by asking what exactly that advantage could be. Why would we imagine that ‘living a simulated life’ could be an improvement on the real thing?

One reason could be if the simulation were to contain more possibilities (or perhaps more interesting possibilities) than what is being simulated; it might – in other words – represent an upgrade. Maybe we could even be immortal and live as gods! Maybe we could cheat death… If we are prone to optimistic, utopian-type thinking then we might well have ideas like this in our heads. Instead of being used to somehow liberate humankind from the sorrows and limitations of our present existence the technology of simulation could of course be turned to the opposite purpose and used to oppress humanity even more than it is being oppressed already. There is an undeniable tendency for new technology to be used for malign rather than benign purposes, as has often been pointed out, and so this is definitely a possibility worth considering. If we’re not careful then we could end up in a ‘Matrix-style scenario’ where reality is being controlled in order to control us; this is after all exactly what’s happening now, even with the relatively low level of technology that we currently possess.

The higher the technology the greater the potential it has for abuse; when the technology to create super-realistic simulations comes on stream, then what exotic possibilities for abuse will this engender, we might ask? And as we were suggesting earlier, we don’t actually have to wait around too long to get an answer to this question – even in the absence of any super-advanced technology the potential for simulations of the world to be ‘used for ill’ has come into play. This kind of thing has been around for a long, long time – it’s been around for many centuries before the advent of the first printed circuit board. What we’re talking about here is better known as ideology (or belief) – the ideology or belief we adhere to defines the world for us just as effectively as any coding would. Ideology is coding – it is a comprehensive set of instructions telling us how to see the world (and which we then internalise and experience intense irrational loyalty towards).

Our beliefs condition our perceptions – we see what we’re supposed to see and we’re blind to anything else. We only see what our beliefs allow us to see and so then this proves to us that our belief system – whatever that might be – must be ‘the right one’. Beliefs tautologically prove themselves – any viewpoint that we adopt will tautologically ‘prove itself to be true’. Ideologies are simulations, therefore; belief structures are simulations and so if we want to look at the question as to whether simulations are harmful to our mental health or not then all we have to do is consider how we have got on with our beliefs, our ‘compulsory social conditioning’ over the centuries. All we need to do is consider therefore is whether this ongoing business of ‘having beliefs’ has been good for our mental health or whether it has been to our detriment.

This is not a question we ever stop to ask ourselves however – we most emphatically do believe that the blinkered way of looking at things that we have adopted is good for us. We most emphatically believe that the worldview to which we are adhering to is the right one, which automatically implies that it must be beneficial to us. In the case of a fundamentalist type of religion, our understanding is invariably that we will obtain our reward for choosing the right path in heaven whilst all those people who have not made the right choice (for whatever reason) will suffer eternal damnation as a consequence of their disbelief. This is – needless to say – very from being what we might call ‘an objective viewpoint’ – it’s actually the most biassed viewpoint we could ever have possibly have! It’s ridiculously biased… The fact that we have been inducted into whatever belief system it is that now has the claim on our loyalty means that we’re obliged to take the position that ‘our belief is the correct one’ – anything we might have to say on this subject automatically becomes quite meaningless therefore. All we are – in this case – is ‘a mouthpiece for a bias’, ‘a spokesperson for a prejudice’.

When we are inducted into the particular ‘simulation of reality’ that is created by our system of belief then we lose any chance of having an autonomous viewpoint – a viewpoint that is actually ours. Instead of autonomy we now have heteronomy (which is where everyone adheres to the very same way of looking at things). On the one hand, therefore, this shows how ideologies can be used (by those who are in a position to take advantage of such an opportunity) to control or exploit people, whilst on the other hand, the mechanism by which autonomy is replaced by the situation where masses of people are utterly dependent upon an unquestionable external authority can clearly be seen as a crisis in the mental health of everyone concerned. There is no greater crisis in mental health than the situation in which personal autonomy is subsumed within collectivism – this is ‘the loss of who we really are’, which is no small thing! It is treated as a small thing, to be sure, but that is of course no more than ‘societal whitewashing’. As Kierkegaard writes in The Sickness unto Death,

A self is the last thing the world cares about and the most dangerous thing of all for a person to show signs of having. The greatest hazard of all, losing the self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc.

This consideration – the consideration of ‘losing who we are without realising it’ – brings us to the very crux of the matter. The detrimental thing about living in a simulation is simply that there is no freedom whatsoever in it. As drawbacks go, this isn’t just punitive, it is total, it is ‘all-encompassing’ and as a result we’re cut off from everything that really matters. We’re alienated both from ourselves and the natural world. This is the ‘sickness’ that Kierkegaard is referring to, the sickness that befalls us when we live only ‘on the outside’, only in the ‘consensus reality’.  

Most men live without ever becoming conscious of being destined as spirit… There is so much talk about wasting a life, that only that person’s life was wasted who went on living so deceived by life’s joys or in sorrows that he never became decisively and eternally conscious as spirit, as self.

Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death

By ‘self’ Kierkegaard doesn’t mean the ‘socially constructed ego’ (or ‘identity’) therefore, but rather ‘the essence of who we are’, which is something entirely independent of any artificial societal context (which is what Kierkegaard calls ‘spirit’ in the quote given above). A simulation isn’t (needless to say) ‘an independently existing reality’ – there is of course nothing in it apart from what the designer, the artificer, has put into it. It can be regarded as being nothing more than an extension of the designer’s agenda or will. Although we tend to be favourably inclined towards the idea of ‘simulating our own reality’ and are intellectually excited by the notion (even to the point of seeing it as a way in which humankind can escape the eventual heat death of the universe, or ‘escape from the limitations of our physical mortality’, which is another well-known trope in modern science fiction) this is only because we don’t really get what simulations are. We don’t get it at all! Psychologically speaking, we might say, a simulation is an act of pure aggression. ‘Aggression’ – in this sense of the word – means that we are wholly subject to some extrinsic will, some extrinsic source of order. To control another person is an act of aggression, to tell someone else ‘who they are’ or (‘what the world is’) is aggression. All judgement is aggression (because we’re imposing our thoughts on someone else).

When we live in a simulation then everything about us is determined by that simulation. Our core understanding of what is real has been supplied to us by another, by an external source of authority – we’re ‘taking it all on trust’, in other words, and this core understanding what is real (which we have taken on trust, as we’ve just said) lies behind everything we think, everything we do, everything we hope for or fear. The totality of our existence is determined by this borrowed / unexamined way of understanding things. This picture of reality determines everything about us and yet it is an artificial imposition that has nothing to do with us (and which is – into the bargain – completely untrue, completely fictitious). There is no ‘true picture’ (or ‘true model’) of reality, only thought’s simulations, and thought’s simulations are – when it comes down to it – only ‘thought in disguise’. As the great Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna says,

All philosophies are mental fabrications. There’s never been a single doctrine by which one could enter the true essence of things.

In order for there to be freedom in a simulation there would have to be truth, and – by definition – there isn’t any! In order for there to be freedom there would have to be ‘something there that is independent of the simulation’ but there isn’t. There isn’t anything ‘independent’ in a simulation. That’s the whole point of the exercise, after all; anything independent of the system straightaway gets labelled as error (and is promptly gotten rid of on this account). If I have designed a simulation and I find something in it that I haven’t specifically put there, then – by definition – whatever it is that I’ve come across has got to be error. It absolutely has to be a ‘meaningless random fluctuation’ – there’s nothing else it can be! My ‘getting rid of anything that doesn’t fit my plan’ (anything that doesn’t ‘accord with my agenda’) is the quintessential example of what we are referring to as ‘aggression’. Aggression is where I take away ‘the freedom things have to be different to the narrow way that I have defined them as being’. If a simulation isn’t aggressive then there’s simply no way it can get to exist…

When we indoctrinate someone (so that our view of the world becomes their view) then this is an act of pure violence, this is an act of outright aggression. What they might happen to think doesn’t count for anything, whilst what we think is ‘all-important’. We don’t – as a rule – see this as violence; we don’t see it as violence because we know we’re right! It doesn’t really matter what we believe, therefore – it doesn’t matter what we believe because we’re always going to be right. We’re going to be right no matter what. We’re always right and this is the benefit that we are given; this is the ‘incentive’, so to speak, that prompts us to buy into the belief system in the first place – we are provided with this immense sense of validation, this immense feeling of certainty, the iron-clad certainty that ‘we are right and everyone else is wrong’. This is the ‘benefit’, but we pay for it and the price we pay is also immense – we have had to give away all of our freedom. We aren’t even allowed to keep a crumb of it – we have had to give away the freedom that we had to be ‘who we really are’ so that now we are compelled to be ‘something else’ (something else that we’re not, and never could be). We are compelled to be the puppet of some mechanical external authority which – at the same time as compelling us in everything we do and everything we think – is also compelling us to believe that we are free when we absolutely aren’t.

Were we to come back to the question we started off with, then we would have to conclude that ‘living within a simulation’ (as opposed to ‘living freely’, as opposed to ‘living in an unsimulated way’) is most emphatically not beneficial for us, mental-health wise. If we were to define mental health as being ‘a function of our essential independence from thought’ (i.e., independence from our ‘ideas about things’) then since being subsumed within the conditioned or mechanical realm of everyday life means that we have zero independence from thought (means that we are thought!) this shows that we simply don’t have any mental health. Our mental health is completely missing, it’s completely missing since our ‘mental well-being’ and ‘intrinsic freedom’ are two ways of talking about the same thing. Instead of mental health, what we have is abject slavery. Instead of mental health, what we have is what Jung calls ‘Soul Sickness’, we have what Kierkegaard refers to as ‘The Sickness unto Death’. In the absence of the real thing, the very best we can hope for is ‘the two-dimensional appearance of mental well-being’.

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Society is a Zero-Sum Game

We measure (and therefore value) ourselves on the basis of how other people see us and this – although we can’t see it – involves us in a vicious circle, a ‘runaway tautology’. Society is all about ‘measuring ourselves in terms of how others see us’ (whether we want to admit this or not) and that means that the social world – which is the only world we know – is a vicious circle, a self-devouring loop of logic that is constantly going around and around without the possibility of ever getting anywhere. The very ground we stand on (or think we stand on) is nothing more than a cheap hoax, in other words.

We stand to gain in the world that has been created by us comparing ourselves to everyone else – we stand to gain because there’s always a chance of us coming out on top, because there’s always the possibility of us ‘being admired rather than despised’ (to put it crudely). We stand to lose – therefore – for the very same reason. If we wanted to be more exact about it, we could say that, on balance, we stand to gain to the very same extent that we stand to lose.

Everyone playing the game knows this, of course (on some level, at least) but it doesn’t put us off because we’re willing to bet that we’re going to find ourselves amongst the winners rather than the losers. It seems perfectly reasonable to take this gamble, after all. We’re just as likely to come out as winners as we are to end up as losers and so this seems like acceptable odds as far as we’re concerned. ‘Seize the day’, we say. ‘Be positive and give it a go’. God loves a trier, after all, and ‘if you’re not in then you can’t win…’

From a purely personal point of view this logic would appear to make sense. This is the way games are played, of course – all games come with an equal risk of losing and winning and this is the challenge, this is the risk. Accepting the challenge posed by the game is widely held to be ‘the healthy thing to do’. This is pretty much our whole ethos right there – we have the greatest possible admiration for someone who boldly accepts the risk and then comes out on top. This is the glory we all aspire to – the glory of the winner.

Curiously however, we do not show much (if anything) in the way of sympathy for those of us for whom the venture turns out badly, which seems bizarrely arbitrary of us. They too have accepted the challenge of the game, after all; they too have taken the chance that they might not come out on top, just as we have. Why then do we look down on them as if there was something inherently unworthy or inferior about them? This hardly seems fair. It doesn’t seem very logical either – it isn’t actually logical at all. Why – we might ask – is there such a thing as ‘the indelible stigma of failure’ when it’s all just ‘the luck of the draw’.

There is a type of logic to this however, albeit it a very narrow and shortsighted type. There’s a brand of logic here, but it turns out to be not a very pleasant one. It’s certainly not a way of thinking that we’re in a hurry to admit to! The point (which we are so reluctant to dwell on) is that if I see I have come out on top purely by chance, purely because ‘someone had to’, then I don’t get to experience the glory that comes with winning. I could equally well not have won, so how can I possibly feel good about myself on this basis? The fact that I have done well in the game has nothing to do with any personal virtue of mine, after all. Being a winner doesn’t really say anything about me in this case. It’s true of course that I might have done better than my fellows because I’m smarter, or stronger, or better looking (all of these factors can confer advantage, of course) but the same point applies – I was born with those advantages, it wasn’t something special that I did and can take credit for…

We don’t just want to win, therefore – we want to win and feel worthy of it. We want the personal validation; we want to experience the glory that comes with being a winner! That’s what we wanted all along, not simply the bald fact that we have ‘come out on top’ in the system of ranking that makes up this inherently competitive society of ours. We’re ‘glory hounds’, we’re perennially hungry for the sweet taste of success. Basically, we want to feel that we’ve got to ‘where we are today’ by our own steam. As we’ve already said, it can’t just be that we were born into a better situation, or that we are gifted with more intelligence or cunning than our fellows, it has to be some sort of genuine honest-to-goodness personal virtue that we ourselves are responsible for.

The euphoric ‘hit’ of success is founded purely upon this belief – the belief that the fact I have excelled in the struggle demonstrates the existence of some special quality in myself that I myself am responsible. This is what the ego covets above all else – the feeling that we are ‘special’ (in a good rather than a bad way). This feeling – entirely illusory as it may be – is what all finite game-players are playing for. There is therefore a deliberate (if unconscious) dishonesty in this, and because of this dishonesty (which underpins everything we do in social life) we are obliged to live our lives in an entirely superficial or shallow way. We have no choice in this – as soon as we start playing the game we’re ‘locked into it’; that’s what the game is all about – we can’t go deeply into anything because that would blow the whole thing. Not being superficial would be a disaster because it necessarily invalidates the foundation upon which we are playing.

The flip side of this is that we automatically believe that if someone doesn’t make it in society or doesn’t do particularly well then that must be because of some personal flaw or weakness in their character. They deserve what they get (just as we deserve what we have got) and so we can rest content that ‘all is well in the world’. Without this ‘excuse’ for our shocking lack of compassion, our ruthlessly competitive way of life simply wouldn’t be able to continue, and we don’t want that. The game must go on, no matter what the cost. And if our circumstances change for the worse, we will judge ourselves just the same because that’s the way it works – ‘What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’, after all.

Seen from the broader perspective it is abundantly clear that there’s no overall advantage to playing this game; this whole business of ‘basing our view of ourselves on what everyone else thinks of us’ is – if only we could see it – the worst idea going! Overall, it always comes down to ‘investing in a zero-sum game’. [‘Player one’s gain is equivalent to player two’s loss, with the result that the net improvement in benefit of the game is zero’. Wikipedia] Playing the game necessarily makes us selfish – ‘playing the game’ is a selfish (if not flat-out narcissistic) thing to do and this means that we don’t ever take the wider view of what’s going on. As long as we have our fun then that’s all that matters. The logic of the game means ‘not caring that society is a zero- sum game’ – that’s how the whole thing works. That’s what we’re buying into.

Even if we look at it in a totally one-sided way (the ‘I’m alright Jack’ kind of a way that the system encourages us to) it still doesn’t work out for us. There’s no satisfaction to be had in ‘getting caught up in a vicious circle’, only the tantalising (and ultimately frustrating) promise of it. Our stark absence of compassion towards others rebounds on us as ‘the inability to be compassionate to ourselves’ and so – even if, by some freak chance, we were able to dodge the principle of ‘what goes up must come down’ – we’ve still ‘done the dirty on ourselves’. We’ve still done the dirty on ourselves since (as we’ve said) to enjoy ‘being a winner’ we are obliged to live life in a crassly superficial way. That’s the trap we’re caught in. Ultimately – no matter how skillfully we play the game, no matter how much pain we deflect onto our less fortunate fellow human beings – there’s no escaping the truth that ‘winning only exists in relation to losing’ and that – therefore – it’s only a hollow illusion.

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The Heteronomous Mode

We could very easily spend decades (or even centuries) discussing what is right with society and what is wrong and still not get anywhere. This is a ‘hoary old chestnut’ – we each have our own opinions on the subject of ‘what’s wrong with the world’ and we are generally more than happy to talk about it pretty much ad infinitum. All of the ways that we commonly have of looking at this question miss out on something fundamental, however; we almost always fail to take into account what might be called the ‘psychological factor’ (which is to say, the question as to whether the social system we’re in favour of will help us to fulfil our true potential or whether it won’t). This – needless to say – turns out to be THE crucially important question to ask; the only thing here however being that we never do ask it. For the most part, we don’t even think of asking it.

We don’t know enough to ask the question because we don’t know anything about our ‘true potential’ (as is generally the way with potential); what’s more, we are being constantly fed all sorts of societal propaganda about what life is supposed to be, and what we’re supposed to be, which (inevitably) has absolutely nothing to do with our actual nature. This is what present day civilization excels at – persuading us that ‘we are what we aren’t’, persuading us to adapt ourselves in ways that will bring us nothing but misery. It’s ‘good to excel’, we might say – our culture adores excelling in whatever form it may take (since this is how we ‘distinguish ourselves from the masses’) – but excelling at whatever society tells us we should be excelling at is simply a sneaky way of controlling us, a sneaky way of enforcing social adaptation.

This line of reasoning brings us closer to an understanding of what we mean by the ‘psychological factor’ – the all-important psychological factor that we don’t ever (in our headlong stampede in the direction of progress) stop to consider, which has to do with the ‘wholesomeness’ (or lack of it) of the way of life that we are so busy creating for ourselves. We are led by ideas or trends that – for whatever reason – get amplified by society and which, as a result, go to form the basis of our way of understanding things. This is a classic positive feedback mechanism and we can explain what this means by looking at the phenomenon of celebrity. What positive feedback means in relation to celebrity may be expressed by saying that ‘the more famous you get, the more famous you get’. Whatever random fluctuation it was that started the ball rolling doesn’t really matter here since the phenomenon of fame doesn’t necessarily depend on anything outside of itself (which is to say, it’s perfectly possible to ‘become famous for being famous’, in which case, if I do become mega-famous, then this doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with any virtue on my part.

Another good example of this sort of thing would be fashion – things become fashionable (we might say) simply because they’re fashionable. If – for whatever reason – enough people take an interest in some nascent trend then, purely because of this interest, lots more people are going to become interested as well and so in no time at all the whole thing (whatever it is) is going to ‘take off’, is going to ‘skyrocket’. Again – as in all such positive feedback phenomena – there doesn’t have to be any good reason for what’s going on; the phenomenon feeds on itself (as we see illustrated in the ancient symbol of the self-eating serpent, the Uroboros). From the standpoint of sociology (or social psychology) we can say that this is a fundamental principle, i.e., we can say that, in a group (where everyone is necessarily ‘externally directed’), positive feedback loops are how things get to happen.

We might imagine that this process can be controlled (or ‘directed from behind the scenes’) but the whole point of positive feedback processes is that they aren’t controllable; they are – on the contrary – out of control. Control is on the contrary always a negative feedback mechanism; positive feedback – in contrast to this – is ‘the system running away with itself’. If it were the case that positive feedback loops could be deliberately engineered, then we would be doing that already. Anyone finding a way to get some sort of promotional material to ‘go viral’ would be able to sell this trick for billions – this is advertising’s ‘holy grail’ and no one has as yet found it. There is no such thing as ‘a formula to predict whether a meme is going to go viral or not’. What we’re saying here therefore is that there’s simply no such thing as progress in the way that we tend to think there is; what we call ‘progress’ is merely movement in the direction of ‘optimizing whatever it is that happens to be trending at the moment’, and when we say this then it does not of course sound quite so inspirational. It’s ‘utter garbage’ (albeit garbage that we are all pretty much obsessed with).

All of this is inherent in the nature of social groups – when we are members of a group then, as we have been saying, we are necessarily ‘externally directed’, we are necessarily in ‘Heteronomous Mode’. We are – in other words – orientated towards the ‘outside of us’ rather than ‘the inside’. We take our cue from the ideas that are circulating in the social matrix, not from our own insight, not from our own unique perspective on things. If ideas arise within us that aren’t congruent with the ideas that are circulating on the outside, that do not make sense in relation to the official viewpoint then we will disregard them, we will repress them, in fear of being embarrassed, in fear of making fools of ourselves. In order to be valid, an idea must be agreed upon by the collective; in order for society to hold together, we have to suppress our own creativity. To quote James Carse –

It is a highly valued function of society to prevent changes in the rules of the many games it embraces… Deviancy, however, is the very essence of culture. Whoever merely follows the script, merely repeating the past, is culturally impoverished.

Just as we become culturally impoverished as a result of ‘following the script’, so too do we become personally impoverished as a result of being ‘heteronomous rather than autonomous. When we are always deferring to ‘what’s on the outside’ then this means that we are ‘neglecting what’s on the inside’, and that means that our ‘inner life’ becomes impoverished. It doesn’t just become impoverished, it becomes non-existent; it gets so we don’t even know what ‘an inner life’ is.  We now have the outer (or generic) life in place of the inner one but the thing about this is that the generic life isn’t actually life at all – it’s merely a mechanical formula, a meaningless script to be endlessly repeated. We can come back to the idea of potential here – merely living the generic (or socially prescribed) life then we are of course merely what we have been defined as being and this means – quite simply – that we don’t have any potential. The game we’re playing denies our potential – it automatically denies our potential since because the game (or the script) doesn’t recognise anything but itself and ‘itself’ doesn’t have any potential. It is only what it is defined as being; ‘what you see is what you get’, so to speak – there is no more.

Instead of potential (which is the same thing as depth) the prescribed life has ideals which we are continuously being pressurised to accord with. The better we are at reflecting society’s ideals (which on the level of the individual are quite meaningless) the more we are rewarded; far from realising our potential therefore we are ‘mimicking some sort of external standard’, some sort of ‘artificial template’ that has nothing to do with us. The more effort and time we put into actualising the societal template the further away we move from realising our potential; these two things – ‘optimising our game’ – and ‘personal growth’ are absolutely incompatible. One does not grow as a person by striving mightily to ‘be what society wants us to be’, in other words (which, when we put it like this, would seem to be pretty much undeniable). The social world – despite all its protestations to the contrary – doesn’t care one jot about our personal growth or well-being; on the contrary, its continued integrity depends upon us not growing, us not realising our potential. Its continued existence depends on our obedience, not our growth! The social system can hardly be blamed for this either, since it is functionally incapable of being otherwise; The responsibility lies squarely with us, not the collective which we hand over all responsibility to.

Our mental health can’t be ‘handed over for the collective to take care of’; Other things can be – the transport system, the water or electricity supply, the distribution and storage of foodstuffs, the treatment of sewage, and so on – but this thing that we call ‘mental health’ absolutely can’t be – mental health has nothing to do with arbitrary standards (or parameters) that have been set by a collective! Mental health has nothing to do with ‘conforming to an ideal’ – when we conform to an ideal this benefits the system that we are conforming to but it sure as hell doesn’t benefit us! We’re the ones who suffer here, not the system. We can’t expect a system that is made up of fixed rules or regulations to help us grow as the individuals we (potentially) are; we can’t expect this any more than we can expect it to somehow ‘cure’ us of the malaise that itself has brought about in us. And yet we do expect it to – it simply never occurs to us that there might be something deeply wrong with this bland assumption of ours…

Image credit – The New European

The Question You Mustn’t Ever Ask

Reflect Mode is where we take a break from what we’re doing and ask ourselves what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. It’s not that we have to literally ask ourselves the question – that would be too formulaic, too mechanical to do us any good. That’s not being reflective, that’s just ‘ticking the boxes’, that’s just ‘going through the motions’. Reflecting isn’t a mechanical process…

Reflect Mode isn’t something that we do, it’s ‘not doing’, it’s leaving a gap or a space and then seeing what comes to us (if anything). The value of RM is that we aren’t doing it ourselves (i.e., we’re not in control), which means that it’s not just ‘more of the same’; Reflect Mode is like being in conversation with someone and pausing so as to see what they have to say on this subject. Reflect Mode involves what we might call ‘the other’, therefore. It takes a degree of awareness (or detachment) to step out of the frame in this way; in the absence of awareness (or in the absence of detachment) we will stay in Doing Mode, when there isn’t any detachment then what we get is guaranteed to be ‘the same old ding-dong’, is guaranteed to be just ‘the same old story, on endless replay’…

Our culture doesn’t support Reflect Mode – it claims to do so (since ‘never stopping to question what we’re doing’ is clearly pathological) but it absolutely doesn’t. We are – as small children – allowed to go around asking annoying questions all day long but we’re supposed to have got that out of our systems by the time we hit double digits, age-wise (or if we haven’t got it out of our system, then it is expected that we will at least have learned to suppress our irritating pointless question-asking and ‘get on board with the programme’. As adults, we learn that asking too many questions is an unprofitable thing to do (and that it is quite possibly even dangerous into the bargain). ‘Adaptation to a system’ and ‘wondering if we actually need that system’ don’t go together!  

What human institution ever welcomed too many questions? If one is a member of a gang, a group, a religion, a particular political affiliation (or whatever else) then the key thing is that we don’t going around asking questions all the time. To question the rules that lie behind a group is to challenge that group’s existence; no group is going to tolerate this in its members. The only way a group gets to be a group in the first place is for everyone to tacitly agree not to question the core tenets by which it all hangs together. ‘Having an agreement not to question stuff’ is how groups are created, whilst persistently asking awkward questions is how we bring them to the end. No agreement ever made will stand too much scrutiny since all agreements are compromises.

When an institution (or organisation) claims to support reflection on our part this is very ironic, therefore. It’s a transparent pretence, and yet we’re loathe to admit this, even in the privacy of our own thoughts. It would be too uncomfortable for us to allow ourselves to realise just how much we have had to compromise ourselves in order to be accepted into whatever group it is that we have joined and ‘compromising ourselves’ is what being a member of a group always comes down to. As Philip K Dick says in Do Androids Dream…’ –

You will be required to do wrong the matter where you go. It is a basic the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life.

To exist within the artificial (or man-made) world is always to do wrong, therefore; we won’t get anywhere in society (or in the organisation in which we work) unless we first bite the bullet and agree to ‘sell out’; we all know this on some level or other even if we don’t like to dwell on it too much! When the artificial world to which we have become adapted claims that it wishes to encourage or facilitate a ‘reflective state of mind’ in its members then this is just a trick – it’s a trick because this is the way the organisation gets to prove that it’s ‘not at fault’, that – far from exploiting us – it is giving us all the opportunities; it does this so it can argue that if there is a problem then it must be our fault for not bothering to make use of the help that it has given us (which would have prevented the problem). This is how this system washes its hands of any culpability, therefore – the system takes care of itself by pretending to take care of us. It doesn’t really need to do help us – it just needs to put on a superficial show of doing so.

It might sound unreasonably cynical for us to say something like this but it isn’t cynicism, it’s realism. We just don’t like to hear it. From the POV of the system, the POV of the organisation or institution, it is providing us with what we need, it is ‘ticking all the relevant boxes’. The POV of the system is always skewed however – there’s no way that it can’t be skewed (which means that ‘being biased’ isn’t something we can blame it for). We can’t blame it for being what it is. An organisation such as a hospital or a factory might for example introduce weekly mindfulness sessions for its staff as a means of supporting them, as a means of reducing the stress that they’re experiencing. No one can reasonably argue that this isn’t the beneficial and helpful thing to do. What we can’t see however is that this is inevitably done for the sake of the institution, for the sake of the organisation. There’s no way that this can’t be the case; the system can’t ever do anything that isn’t ultimately for its own benefit. This isn’t cynicism, it’s straightforward mechanics – that’s how machines work.

If a giant supermarket chain does its bit for the community when it builds a new outlet by building playgrounds for the local children, or by making regular donations to various worthy charities, then whilst this might superficially look like altruistic behaviour (i.e., behaviour that is driven by something else other than self-interest) but of course it isn’t. The entity behind this apparently altruistic action is simply ‘improving its profile’, which is for its own good, not anyone else’s. This may sound like splitting hairs, but it isn’t – a system (or collective) can never see things the way an individual can. Even with the best will in the world they couldn’t do that (and they don’t have the best will in the world, they only have self-interest). The reason a system or a collective can’t see things the way an individual can is because whilst an individual can let go of its agenda, a system or group can’t. It’s not mechanically possible for a system to ‘let go of its agenda’ because it is its own agenda, and its agenda won’t let it let go of itself. A machine is driven by rules and there’s no such thing as ‘a rule that says there should be no rules’ – that’s like ‘having the firm intention that there should be no more intentions’.

Suppose – just to give an example – I am working in an organisation and I’m availing of all the mindfulness sessions that are being offered. The organisation I work for necessarily sees mindfulness in a distorted way – the act of ‘dropping all rules and seeing what happens’ isn’t something that it is capable of comprehending. The idea is of course that by practising mindfulness I can significantly reduce my stress-levels, which will make me both happier and more productive. The system however is only interested in my happiness or well-being to the extent that this will allow me to work better; happy workers who aren’t totally burnt out are always going to be more productive. This is the system’s ‘blind spot’, therefore – it can’t help seeing everything in its terms. If I drop my agenda (which is to say, if I take an unprogrammed break from my non-stop mechanical doing) then I might realise that I don’t want to carry on working there. It might come to me that I just don’t want to work in that organisation anymore (since – as we have said – ‘adapting to the machine’ always involves compromising ourselves). In this case – therefore – mindfulness helps me by allowing me to see that the job is no good for me; this is ‘stress reduction’ for sure, only not quite in the way that the organization in question understands it…

The organisation absolutely can’t understand this – it can’t appreciate how it could be the problem! It can’t see how it could be the problem any more than the everyday ego can see that it is not ‘the centre of the universe’. This illusion of centrality is its blind spot and this means that Reflect Mode isn’t a possibility – no organisation (and no ego) ever reflected honestly upon itself and then voluntarily dissolved itself. That would be like a government voluntarily stepping down from office when they don’t need to, when they aren’t forced to, or even more to the point – like an infectious virus deciding one day to stop infecting people. A genuine individual – on the other hand – can let go of themselves – the possibility is there. This is the great benefit of Reflect Mode, after all the benefit is precisely that we can reflect on what we’re doing in the world and then – potentially, if we see that what we’re doing is nonsensical, harmful, or absurd (or all three) – drop it. A machine can’t do this however – a machine can’t ‘drop itself’. A machine – which is to say, a system or organisation – is permanently ‘stuck in Doing Mode’. A machine is always going to be ‘locked into DM’ because it is its own doing. If a machine were to stop ‘enacting its agenda’ (which it can’t do voluntarily) then it would render itself irrelevant – it wouldn’t be anything then. It would have written itself out of the story.

When we talk about our mode of societal organisation as being machine-like hi has been rigid, based on rules then it’s relatively easy to spot it for what it is; it’s not easy as in ‘falling off a log easy’ but it’s easier than spotting the machine on the inside (which is the Thinking Mind, which is who we take ourselves to be). The TM isn’t who we are, the TM is simply who we think we are. ‘Who we think we are’ is of course just another thought, and most of our lives are spent firmly believing that we are this idea, this thought, and acting accordingly (which is to say, acting in a purely ‘machine-like’ fashion). To quote Gurdjieff –

Man is a machine, but a very peculiar machine. He is a machine which, in the right circumstances, and with the right treatment, can know that he is a machine, and, having fully realised this, he may find the ways to cease being a machine.

We have the potential to reflect upon ourselves and see that we are functioning as machines, see that we are repeating futile / dysfunctional behaviour patterns over and over again for no good reason and to see this is to let go of it. The ‘letting go’ is in the seeing. There is no intention to drop the Machine Self (or to let go of the state of identification), no pressure / coercion / control is used to ‘make it happen’ – all that is needed is to see it and the rest happens by itself. The thing is that a machine can’t see that it is a machine so if I can clearly see this then I can’t be! We are convinced in the West that therapy should be a matter of purposeful doing – clinical psychology at this point in time appears to be obsessed with doing (which includes thinking) to the exclusion of everything. We might argue that therapy is a mixture of Doing Mode and Reflecting Mode – which is to say, first we get the insight and then we act on it (or first we obtain the insight and then we think about it and come to some conclusion about it) – but that’s not how it works. Doing isn’t the thing – there are no conclusions to be drawn and anything we come up with in this line is never going to be any more than a convenient lie. It’s ‘convenient’ because we don’t want to look any further and then have to deal with whatever it is we might learn. We might learn that we aren’t machines but that we act as if we are, and what an upset to the all-important status quo that insight would be! As far as the ‘status quo’ is concerned, that would be an utter disaster (no matter how marvelously beneficial being freed from the Machine Mind might otherwise be)….

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No Pain, No Wisdom

There is no wisdom without pain, no growth of the individual without pain, no ‘freedom from the pattern of habits that we’re caught up’ in without pain. This is something that the ancients knew but which we do not! We’re entirely clueless in this regard…

In our age no value is seen in pain – the meaning that it might have had for us in the past (the meaning it has to ‘traditional’ cultures) has been debunked as a bunch of irrational hocus-pocus. For us, if we find ourselves in pain that we cannot do anything about, then this is wholly negative – this is a disaster, this is shameful, this is something to feel bad about. This attitude – whether we want to admit to it or not – is inherent in our culture – to be suffering from pain that we can’t do anything about is to be a loser. We won’t necessarily go around saying this, but it’s what we think nonetheless.

In our paradigm / worldview the only value is ‘doing well’ or ‘succeeding’ – we only value what seems pleasant and progressive to us. We don’t want anything difficult, anything that can’t be understood as ‘a positive’. We understand it to be the case that to be not ‘living your best life’ (i.e., to be falling short in some way) is to be failing, is to be unworthy – we are not deserving of any respect from anyone, least of all ourselves. We haven’t been able to ‘make the grade’ and that’s de-validating for us. We consider this to be a healthy attitude, a robust attitude that will – we feel – weed out weakness and result in a better (more fruitful) future for the human race (or some sort of vague nonsense like that).

In whatever way it has come about, this deeply pathological attitude somehow makes sense to us (and it certainly doesn’t bear much in the way of serious scrutiny), it has become the template for the way in which we are supposed to be looking at life. This template (or paradigm) doesn’t work out for us in the way that we think it should however – instead of making us stronger it makes an awful lot weaker. It makes us infinitely weaker – it is the ruination of us. Our determinedly positive philosophy backfires on us in a big way because by doing our very best to avoid the unattractive side of life (where everything isn’t just ‘plain sailing’) we have denied ourselves any opportunity to actually grow. We have completely overlooked that side of things, which isn’t very smart of us.

As a result of this superficial attitude we have ended up with the phenomenon of what Ivan Illich calls the anaesthetic society, which is a society where pain is seen as a type of ‘error’ that needs to be eliminated. ‘Eliminating the pain’ is the ideal, it’s the way things should be, and our medical / pharmaceutical technology is directed exclusively towards this end. If we’re left in pain (for whatever reason) and our medical ‘know how’ can’t fix that for us, then we’re an embarrassment. No one wants to know in this case – suffering from chronic pain isn’t very ‘positive’, after all! It’s not something anyone wants to be focusing on.  If we don’t respond to the pain management techniques that we have been given (which is often the case, since such techniques never work as well as we’d like to believe they do) then this is something that no one wants to deal with. If we can’t fix it, then we don’t want to know – we’re going to ‘turn our backs’ on anyone who happens to be in this situation. The problem – as Illich says – is that we are ‘adopting a purely technical approach to pain’ and this has proved to be a terrible mistake –

Traditional cultures confront pain, impairment, and death by interpreting them as challenges soliciting a response from the individual under stress; medical civilization turns them into demands made by individuals on the economy, into problems that can be managed or produced out of existence. Cultures are systems of meanings, cosmopolitan civilization a system of techniques.

If there is no meaning in pain then the suffering of this pain is going to be a meaningless thing too, and so the fact that we are there in this position of ‘suffering unnecessary pain’ – as we see it – is profoundly undermining for us, which is what Ivan Illich is saying. We have therefore shot ourselves in the foot.  This is the hideous spectre of ‘meaningless pain’ which we have made a reality for us; by turning our backs on pain in the way that we have done then – far from empowering ourselves – we have become ‘the helpless and deluded victims of our own avoidant attitude’, which will eventually bring us into a very dark place. This is something we just can’t see, however. We just don’t get it (and we don’t want to get it either) …

On the one hand therefore our ‘anaesthetic-seeking sensibilities’ mean that we will suffer far more than we would do if we weren’t embracing this half-baked self-punishing philosophy, and on the other hand we have deprived ourselves of the conditions that allow growth – the conditions that allow us to develop in a healthy way, to mature, to find genuine meaning in our lives, and so on. Instead, we end up in a helpless dependent state which is no good for us at all (although – all the same – we have to note that it is wonderfully convenient for the spurious authorities that wish to control us). There is a very great fear in us – namely, ‘the fear of growing up’, ‘the fear of taking responsibility’, the fear of leaving the playpen’, and the system is exploiting this fear of ours to the maximum.

We are only too happy to hand over all responsibility to the experts, to the rulers, to the officials, and it is always going to be the case that if we are in the grip of this fear (whilst of course not admitting this fact to ourselves) then forces are going to arise in our environment that will take full advantage of this unacknowledged weakness of ours. It is the lack of acknowledgment regarding this fear that puts us at the mercy of society’s mechanisms of control – if we don’t want to take responsibility then we’re putting an open invitation out there for anyone who wants to take our freedom away! What we’re looking at here is a kind of a natural ‘law’ or ‘principle’ – if it secretly suits us to be exploited then we are – when it comes down to it – conjuring up the mechanisms by which we will be exploited, by which we will be controlled, by which we will be hoodwinked. We always get the type of society we deserve, in other words…

Our attitude – as has often been pointed out – is that we want one aspect of life (the ‘feel-good’ aspect, the ‘euphoric’ aspect) whilst at the same time not wanting the difficult part. We want the rose petals but not the thorns. To this end we have come up with a philosophy of life that validates this, a way of life that ensures that ‘keeping it superficial’ is the road we go down. We’re not given the freedom to behave otherwise, we’re not permitted the freedom to see things from any other angles – our way of interpreting pain and responding to it is codified in the very structure of society. Society becomes the means by which we are facilitated in turning our backs on our own pain, facilitated in our denial of there being any sort of problem. What we call ‘mental health care’ isn’t about supporting us in witnessing our suffering (i.e., ‘bringing it to light’), it’s about managing the symptoms of our neurotic avoidance so that it becomes possible to carry on with it. Our idea of mental health is that it is ‘successful avoidance’, in other words, even though successful avoidance doesn’t really work. Our approach is a purely technical one – it’s about finding techniques for managing pain, not mounting a philosophical inquiry, not going deeper into life…

This is a classic vicious circle – we need to be wise in order to spot our own fear of maturity (and so not fall victim to the hidden need to avoid this fear) but without wisdom we will always put our money on the facile philosophy of life that tells us we don’t need to experience pain or difficulty and this ‘philosophy’ will to do nothing but engender ream upon ream of misery for us. We seek comfort and ease in all things and this idealisation of comfort (this idealization of happy / positive / cool stuff) means that we have put ourselves in a position where we aren’t going to become wise. We’re going to stay dumb! We’ve cut ourselves off from the core of life – which is its difficulty, which is the suffering and turmoil that comes with it – and as a result we’re just going to become more and more helpless, more and more deluded, more and more dependent and the forces that we have made ourselves dependent on don’t have our own best interests at heart, no matter what we might like to think…

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The Negative Approach

The negative approach doesn’t reveal to us what is true or right, it doesn’t give us a path to follow, or ‘list the steps we need to take’. It gives us no map of the terrain, no metaphysics, no overview of what’s going on, or ‘what it’s all about’. It doesn’t do any of these things and that’s the whole point of it – the whole point of the via negativa is that it takes away whatever it is we think we know and gives us nothing in return.

The via negativa has never had very much in the way of mass appeal, therefore. It has never figured in any list of ‘what’s trending right now’! For most of us (for almost all of us) what we’re looking for is the exact opposite of this – we want to be given a path to follow, we want to be told what the steps are that we should take, we want an explanation of what’s going on and instructions as to what exactly we should be doing. We want it spelled out for us in nice black and white terms so that everyone can clearly see what’s true and what isn’t true, what’s right and what is wrong. We want all of that to be taken care of for us so that all we have to do is conform to whatever system it is that has been laid down for us.

In one way this seems reasonable enough, the desire to be guided in this way seems eminently prudent – think about all the mistakes we could make otherwise! Surely – we say to ourselves – there are wise people (or experts!) out there who can do this for us. It doesn’t (or at least it shouldn’t) take too long however for us to work out that there is a very big problem with this implicit demand of ours however, the implicit demand to be ‘guided’ or ‘shown the way’! It shouldn’t take us too long to spot the big problem with this because this is what has been going on for the whole of human history and it hasn’t ever done us the slightest bit of good. The desire to be guided by someone else translates – when it comes down to it – to the unhealthy willingness to hand over responsibility to someone (or something) else. We want someone else to ‘tell us what our lives should be about’, and that’s asking for trouble!

If we were to look at human history in psychological terms (rather than focusing on tedious accounts of the reign of Kings and Queens, or the dates pertaining to this battle or that battle) we would see that is only ever been one thing happening (albeit in many different guises) and that ‘one thing’ is the ongoing struggle to convert everyone else to seeing the world in the same way that the group we belong to does. This has absolutely nothing to do with any concern that we might have with that inconsequential little thing called ‘the truth’, and it has everything to do with the pursuit of power. Being the one ‘who gets to say what reality is’ is the ultimate expression of power, it’s the ultimate expression of power because it’s the ultimate form of control. If I get to be the one who defines how you perceive (or understand) the question of ‘What is reality?’ then I control you absolutely. Control doesn’t get any more ‘total’ than this…

Friedrich Nietzsche makes the comment:

All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.

When we have the power to determine which ‘interpretation’ is the official one (the only one that people ever get to hear about, the one we all have to go by) then we have complete control and – from a psychological perspective – this is what we all want. Control – we might say – is the ultimate commodity from the POV of the idea that we have about ourselves (i.e., the ego) because it is only because by being in control of how things are seen that this idea appears to be actually real. This makes ‘control’ not just important, but essential. If I have control (with regard to how things are to be seen) then I can use this to give myself high status, and anyone who is against me low status – within my own subjective sphere I can always make myself out to be ‘the good guy’ (or ‘the one who is in the right’) and this self-serving distortion of the truth is of course the classic hallmark of the everyday ubiquitous ego! We see it going on all the time…

On the personal level therefore, we have the power to tell ourselves whatever lies we want to and ‘get away with it’, and so this is what we – generally – do. We would like to extend this sphere of power if we could however and be able to control other peoples’ subjective reality too (if we could) and this is what lies behind the drive to wield power. This is why we (as egos) are forever playing nefarious ‘power games’ with those around us – it’s the natural progression of what we are already doing. Not everyone can succeed at this however and so we get this situation where we band together in groups, which vastly amplifies our ‘ability to distort reality and get away with it’. The bigger the group the greater the ‘power’ the group has and so our motivation – as ‘group members’ – is always to convert everyone else to see things the way we do, in ways that can be either subtle, or extremely crude. History bears witness to our ongoing attempts to control how reality is seen, therefore.

There are two complementary things going on here, we might say – there is the drive to be the one who defines ‘what is real’, and there is also the drive to conform to a convenient group identity so as to have our lives defined for us. In a crude way, we could say that there are ‘those who want to have reality defined for them’ and ‘there are those who want to do the defining’ (and enshrine their elite status within the set up that they themselves have thereby created). There’s not as much difference here as we might think, however – it turns out that it’s ‘all the one game’ (which is ‘the game of thought’, ‘the game of defining and being defined’). If I get to make up the rules of the game myself, which will of course be to my own advantage (as we all understand); if I define reality then you can be sure that I will do this in order to suit myself.

We might for example think of the Christian Church over the last thousand years or so – what better position could the Church put itself in than the position of being able to authoritatively say what life and death is all about, and cast themselves (conveniently enough) as ‘the exclusive mediator between God and Man’? It’s no surprise that the Church held on to this position for one thousand years or so or so – they were ‘the definers of reality’ and this brings serious perks. The Church Fathers thus demonstrated themselves to be consummate masters of the power game, and all in the name of saving souls!

The advantage gained here is entirely illusory, however. The one who wields power is just as hopelessly trapped as those who have been ‘disempowered’; the use of power is an evil to everyone concerned and there is no good outcome in it for anyone, despite what we all think. We think that this is the key to everything but it isn’t – the winner of the game is every bit as much a victim of the game being played as the loser is. That’s because the winner is – of course – just as much ‘defined by the game’ as the as the losers are; everyone playing the game imagines that playing successfully will allow them to ‘escape the game’ but it doesn’t. There is no ‘liberation’ to be had as a result of game-playing, no matter how well we play!

Power means that we get to take away the freedom of those less powerful than we are, the ones who are not as clever as us (or as lucky as us, perhaps) – they have to dance to our tune then. We’re in the coveted position of ‘being in control’; but the benefit here is an illusion, as we have just said – it’s an illusion because we’re tied into the arrangement just as much as everyone else is. We are being controlled by our own ‘need to be in control’, and so we have (paradoxically) given away our own freedom in the act of taking it away from others. The idea that there is this ‘supreme benefit’ in being a winner is ludicrous – the benefit in question is only nominal (which is to say, it only exists within the terms of the game). There is no freedom in a game, not for the winner or the losers! The only thing that benefits us – the only thing that’s worth anything – is freedom and no one ever became free as a result of exercising power!

The mediaeval Church got to say what reality is for everyone else, and it made sure to take up a privileged position in the hierarchy that it was responsible for creating, but when we look at it we can see that the members of the religious elite closed down reality for themselves just as much as they did for the population as a whole (who were given no autonomy, no voice, no influence, no ‘say so’). In recent times the game is changed of course – superficially, at least. Now, those with power have defined what life is all about in a different way – it’s not about God and the devil (or Heaven and Hell) anymore (and doing everything according to ‘religious rules’) but rather it’s about ‘buying and selling’, it’s about consumerism, it’s about ‘the law of the marketplace’. [The basic idea here being that happiness (or ‘well-being’) is a product to be bought and if we want to be able to afford it then we have to engage with the social game, and – essentially – sign our lives over to it.]

This is therefore another way of oppressing people therefore, and a very clever one at that. This is another way of having our freedom taken away from us without us realizing it. The ‘freedom’ we’re talking about here isn’t some vague wishy-washy metaphysical notion but something very concrete, something very down-to-earth, something very real. The freedom that has been taken away from us by having reality defined for us is quite simply the freedom to be something other than what we have been defined as being.

The freedom that has been taken away from us (via the masterful exercise of power) is the freedom to be anything other than what we have been defined by our society as being. But the rub here is that what we’ve been defined by society as being isn’t a real thing at all – it’s just a fiction that we have been persuaded to believe in. We might therefore think of various shortcomings or problems in society and tried to come up with ways to fix these problems, but this is beside the point entirely, once we see what ‘the collusion which is society’ is really all about. Society exists to prevent us from having any awareness of who we really are, any connection with who we really are. It just wouldn’t work otherwise – we wouldn’t have any interest in this artificial system of relations if it hadn’t sneakily substituted itself for real life (which is not and never could be defined or regulated). As Alan Watts says, “To define means to fix, and, when you get down to it, real life isn’t fixed.” The Defined World – and who we supposed are in that Defined World – is made up purely of ideas. It is purely and simply a manifestation of hyperreality and hyperreality operates by eliminating (or ‘denying’) the genuine article.

Any positive approach – without exception – does this; by their very nature, positive approaches always function by taking away our freedom. That’s why they are called ‘positive’ – that’s what ‘positive’ means, philosophically speaking. That’s how hyperreality functions – hyperreality functions by taking away our freedom and then telling us that it has given us something great. Positive reality – therefore – gest to exist by providing us with the illusion of freedom in place of the real thing. It gets to exist by ‘substituting itself for the real thing’ (which is to say, by substituting itself for ‘the negative or unstated reality’), by – in other words – ‘controlling us without us realising that we’re being controlled’.

Positive approaches are all about dislocating us from reality. To be guided or defined by any authority is to be hoodwinked, is (without exception) to be sold a fake reality. To be defined is to be the victim of aggression; it is to be exploited down to the nth degree. This business of ‘seeking to be told what life is all about’ (or ‘wanting to be the one who tells others what life is all about’, which is the same thing backwards) has been going on for as long as human beings have existed, and no one has ever benefited in the least bit from this. As we said at the beginning of this discussion, allowing ourselves to be hoodwinked by ten-a-penny ‘positive worldviews’ is what we absolutely ALWAYS do. It’s the only play in our playbook. The negative approach however is very different – the negative approach doesn’t take our freedom away, it returns it to us. The via negativa doesn’t compel us to identify with the social fiction – on the contrary, it shows up that cheap and unpleasant fiction for what it really is…

Living The Stereotype

We live our lives in a world that is made up of other people’s thoughts, other people’s thinking. This is an idea which we can all relate to on a more-or-less superficial level, but which actually goes far deeper than we might imagine. We generally believe that thought ‘sheds light on the world’ and that each idea (once it has been scientifically approved of and added to our store of knowledge) takes us a little bit further in the direction of the truth, but that just isn’t how thinking works! We don’t – as a culture – validate thoughts or ideas for ourselves because they are true, but because they fit what we want to hear, because they provide us with ontological security. Each additional thoughts or idea about reality takes us further and further away from the truth, not closer to it. We claim – both individually and personally – to be interested in knowing the truth, but this doesn’t actually turn out to be the truth! We lie when we say we’re interested in the truth…

Living in a world that is constructed out of other people’s thoughts (which is what Robert Anton Wilson refers to as ‘our consensus reality tunnel’) turns out to be a total disaster because it takes something very important (or rather something essential) away from us and that is the chance that we have to live our lives ourselves, ‘first hand’, as it were. When this possibility is taken away from us this leaves us nothing with nothing at all – just a faded copy of life, just a poor shadow of the real thing. We are left in the position of having been cheated out of life itself and yet – despite this – we never protest. We don’t take to the streets in outrage – we don’t even see anything wrong with this way of doing things. As G.I. Gurdjieff says,

This strange trait of their general psyche, namely, of being satisfied with just what Smith or Brown says, without trying to know more, became rooted in them already long ago, and now they no longer strive at all to know anything cognizable by their own active deliberations alone.

Not only do we see nothing wrong with this setup, we see it as an opportunity for us to advance ourselves, an opportunity for us to do well in life and prove our worth. What we don’t stop to consider in our mad rush to make something of ourselves (and to avail ourselves of whatever is out there to to be availed of) is that there is something essential which we’ve quite forgotten about. We’ve forgotten to ‘check things out for ourselves’ rather than taking everything on trust and this means that we are in great danger of proceeding on a totally false (if not to say totally ludicrous) basis. And if our starting-off point is wrong then it doesn’t matter how much effort we put into what we’re doing, it’s all going to be ‘precious drinking water poured into the parched desert sands’ -we’ll never get it back and it won’t do the slightest bit of good to anybody. This is what J.G. Bennett refers to as the principle of Waste.

It’s as if we’re handed a parcel upon entering this world, and we’re told that it contains something very valuable in it (namely life) which we must be sure not to waste or throw away, but then we never bother to take a look at so as to see what it really is. Other people have told us what’s in it, what it entails, and how should go about living it, etc., and so we never bother to find out for ourselves. We take what we have been told on trust, just as those who are telling us took it on trust, and as a result of this misplaced trust we enter into the Circle of Confusion which is what ensues when ‘everyone copies everyone else’. We are provided – in effect – with The Book of Rules and all the emphasis is on correctly following these rules. No emphasis at all is placed upon investigating the rules and checking out their provenance. Quite the contrary is true – we are actively discouraged from doing so. We will be punished most severely for questioning them, for daring to think that we know better…

There are rewards for believing in the Presented Reality (in the same way that Jung says that there are rewards for pretending to be identical with our societal roles or masks) and this is what causes us to adapt to the template that is being offered to us. We’re getting on board with the story that’s being told us (because that story seems to be ‘where it’s at’, ‘where it’s all happening’) but it turns out that this is a path that takes us nowhere at all since it’s not actually our life we’re living but someone else’s second-hand idea about what that life should be. ‘Agreeing with the idea’ brings approval and acceptance and all that sort of stuff, but because the idea we’re agreeing with is what we might call ‘a hollow cliché’ or ‘blank stereotype’ this act of reckless identification it’s hardly going to pay out any dividends for us further down the line, which we’ve been told we can expect. We’ve been told that if we follow the rules then we’ll go to heaven but that just isn’t true – it’s just a device to sucker us, it’s just a trick to get us to play ball…

It’s not that anyone is deliberately deceiving us (although this can happen too, of course) there’s nothing deliberat a about what we’re describing here since everyone else is in exactly the same boat as us. Everyone else is doing exactly what we’re doing, which is ‘trusting the story of things that is being put about’. We might feel that we’re different and individual and not like every other random person on the street but inasmuch as we are buying into the same story of things that everyone else is buying into we are just another version of them. We’re another version of them because ‘the story of things’ we buy into defines us (rather than vice versa) – it tells us who we are and we can’t help believing it. ‘Heedless social adaptation’ is a mistake that we’ve been making for as long as human beings have existed; it’s a mistake that everyone makes, a hole that we all fall down, and – what’s more – it’s a mistake we don’t ever seem to learn from, a hole that we never climb out of. We just keep on repeating the same old mistake over and over again.

We’re drowning in a sea of ontological insecurity but instead of helping each other we’re pulling each other down (in our panic) into the mire of false identification; it isn’t the ‘sea of ontological insecurity’ that’s the mire but rather our attempted solution to it. Just as a drowning man might drown someone who comes to try to save him (unless they are cautious) so too we make matters worse for ourselves by trying to hold onto (and thereby ‘make real’) stuff that isn’t real. The only thing that can save us from our fate – the fate of ‘unquestioningly holding on to the official-but-untrue narrative of things’ – is the courage to go it alone, the courage not to grasp on to the framework of ideas that everyone else has grasped onto in the attempt to save themselves. Trying to save ourselves doesn’t work – trying to save ourselves is how we sink ourselves! The only thing that does work is for us not to attempt to save ourselves (which means not compulsively buying into some convenient narrative’). When we try to save ourselves we enmesh ourselves in thought all the more and thought – like a heavy iron chain – unfailingly sinks us. Thought is ‘our attempt to hold on’ and the problem with this – as we’ve just said – is that there’s nothing there to hold onto. This means that it is our ‘attempted holding on’ that is the problem, and not the lack of anything to hold onto.

There is – we might say- a ‘psychological principle’ here that we can’t afford to ignore, a principle which states that a generic, virally-propagated idea of ‘what our life should be’ isn’t a legitimate substitute for us discovering, first hand (in a totally unique fashion) the truth for ourselves. Ignoring this principle means that we will pay a very high price in the form of suffering and while it’s easy enough to say the word ‘suffering’ and talk about it as if we actually know what we’re on about, when the thing itself comes along it’s a different story. The mistake we make is to ‘go along with a cheap copy for the sake of not having to make too much effort’ which – as everyone knows – is always a false saving. If I were to have an operation to replace a valve in my heart with a prosthetic unit then you can be sure that I won’t go for a ‘knock-off copy of a reputable brand’ just for the sake of saving a bit of money, and yet – when it comes to life itselfit seems that we couldn’t care less! It looks very much as if – for us – ‘saving money’ is the only consideration that matters…

Identity Politics

In our mass-minded culture we are completely obsessed with this thing called ‘identity’ and the problem with this is that the identities which we are so obsessed with have nothing to do with who we actually are. They couldn’t be further away from it. No matter what identity we might pick to take shelter behind it’s never going to be anything even remotely connected with our actual nature. We’re talking about fake identities therefore; we’re talking about mistaken identities, misleading identities, manufactured identities – anything thought identifies as ‘us’ is always going to be a ‘false identity’ and – therefore -it is always going to be a dead end. As Alan Watts has so often said, ‘who we are’ is a negative thing not a positive one. We can only say what we’re not, not what we are – to say ‘what we are’ is to hand ourselves over to the tender mercies of ‘the Great Labelling Machine’! When I identify myself as this, that or the other then I confuse myself with an image, with a category of thought…

When we say what something is (or what we are) then this is simply the action of thought. We’re ‘identifying with the label’ in other words, we’re identifying with a mind-created description, we’re fitting in with a purpose-made category. We don’t get this at all however – our understanding is that the label or description stands for something in the real world. This is the very essence of what it means to be ‘unconscious’ – that we relate to our thoughts, our ideas as if they were the things that they supposedly represent. This is Baudrillard’s ‘realm of the hyperreal’ in a nutshell. This is the world of abstract ideas, the world of ‘dissociated or disconnected literal signifiers’ that we are compelled to adapt to if we are to be taken seriously by our fellow human beings; it is the game we’re obliged to play along with if we’re not to be shunned by all the other game players.

When we talk about ‘playing a game’ this doesn’t necessarily sound like such a bad thing but in psychological terms playing a game translates as ‘avoiding reality’, which – as we might suspect – isn’t a move that’s going to do us any good. There are consequences to avoiding or denying reality – burying one’s head in the sand doesn’t mean that ‘everything’s going to be fine’, it just means that we’re convinced everything’s going to be fine when – actually – it isn’t. This isn’t a playful game, therefore – there’s nothing cheery or light-hearted about it. It is – on the contrary – deadly serious; there’s no humour here at all, only ‘obeying the rules’, only ‘doing what you’re supposed to do’. This is – in other words – The World That Fear Made. We’re not denying or avoiding reality ‘for fun’ but because we are frankly terrified to do otherwise. We’re following the rules like machines because that’s the only way safety is to be found. It’s the only thing we can do, if we are to escape our fear.

The other way of putting this is to say that the social game is all about control – things have to be controlled because otherwise they will stop being what they’re supposed to be and they will start to be something else instead. And this is the one thing that can never be allowed to happen – not when we are afraid of ‘the unforeseen circumstance’. Life has to be controlled every step of the way; the basic gist is that our lives have to be strictly regulated to prevent ‘the bad thing’ from happening. We don’t exactly know what this bad thing is, but that only makes it more frightening! It’s a nameless fear and nameless fears are by far the worst kind…

If we didn’t control then then things wouldn’t get to be defined anymore – the meaning things have for us would drift and who knows where this could end? ‘Out of control’ is scary precisely because it is ‘out of control’ – it’s scary because we are no longer in the position of being able to say what will happen next… For us – in our everyday mode of consciousness – the meaning of things is very much something that needs strictly controlling at all times, therefore. It can’t be allowed to get away from us. This is absolutely crucial – the world must be a blank canvas for us to paint our meanings onto, it cannot be allowed to turn the tables on us and tell us that what we think is true isn’t. When we’re in Unconscious Mode and the world starts manifesting its own meaning then this is very disturbing for us – we don’t in the least bit like it. No one likes to wake up, as George Gurdjieff says – no one likes their dream to suddenly start falling apart…

Definitions (or literal descriptions) are another way of talking about the control of meaning therefore – we ourselves say what things mean, we ourselves impose the order that we wish to see in the world. We speak ‘on behalf of nature’, as James Carse says. We have silenced the gods and put ourselves in their place. If we were not to control the meaning of things then this artificial setup of ours would disappear without a trace, and so this is where the necessity for ‘joined up controlling’ (controlling with no break or pause) comes in – once nature has been successfully subjugated then we’re left to take charge of everything ourselves…

We end up therefore in this position where we are obliged to be controlling all the time – thought has created the world that is made up of rigid narrow literal meanings and it is our job to maintain it. We’re obliged to maintain the artificial world that thought creates precisely because it is artificial, precisely because it isn’t a naturally occurring thing, and the driving force behind our incessant controlling is fear. Fear doesn’t represent itself as fear however – represents itself as ‘free, volitional activity in the service of a genuinely good cause’ (i.e., the upholding of some extremely important principle or value). There is no important principle of value here however – only the undeclared need to hide away from the truth.

Identity or self is thus our way of hiding from the truth, curious though this may sound. This ‘truth’ includes the truth about ‘who we actually are’ of course, and the truth about ‘who we actually are’ is just as frightening to us as the truth about anything else! It’s the same truth, it’s what Buddhists call ‘the truth of emptiness’. This doesn’t mean that there is ‘no content’ involved but rather that this content, which is endless, can never be defined. Our labels are hollow (or empty) but the potentiality which they arise from isn’t – potentiality isn’t empty or limited, but anything that is pulled out of the undefined state of potency (or latency) inevitably is. To reify a phenomenon is to make it redundant – we end up with appearances which seem to be solid, but which have nothing at all behind them. Things don’t have to be said to be true in order to be true, in other words; the irony is that when we assert our truths in a concrete or literal fashion (as we very much like to) then they automatically become lies – to seize hold of something is to lose it.

Our longing for identity is our fear of our own incomprehensible potential therefore – we’re fleeing from the nameless unspeakable depths, we’re fleeing from the ‘infinite bewildering expansiveness of reality’ for all we’re worth and we find refuge from it by latching limpet-fashion onto some two-dimensional identity or other and ingeniously claiming that this ‘ten-a-penny cheap-ass identity’ is ‘the whole of who we are’. We could also say that our obsession with identity (which is our fear-driven avoidance of our true nature) is our way of ‘not taking on any responsibility’ but instead of seeing this dereliction of responsibility as being the result of fear we see it as a glorious achievement, we see it as something to be proud of, something to shout out triumphantly from the rooftops…

To live in a culture which is all about identity is to live in a culture where consciousness has been outlawed and where everything is seen backwards. We’re putting all our money on the wrong thing – we are energetically promoting the causes of misery, ignorance and confusion whilst at the same time claiming to be experts on everything under the sun! We could say many things about ‘the failings of society’ – we could say that it is based on the principle of inequality and exploitation, we could say that it’s full of corruption and power games, we could say that it’s all about striving for superficial values like money and status, but we are missing the point when we make these arguments. The point that we’re missing is that – as a culture, as a society – we are 100% dedicated to promoting distractions and avoiding the truth. That’s our game, that’s what we’re all about, and the thing about this is that when we are ‘100% dedicated to promoting distractions and avoiding the truth’ then there is clearly no way we are ever going to admit to this!

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Bringing Forth What Is Within You…

It comes across as something of a cliche to say that society is rotten, superficial, morally bankrupt, etc., – any statement we make to this effect is bound to fall flat as soon as we utter it; it’s bound to fall flat because it has been said so very many times before. To say that society is a rotten kind of a thing has become a hollow platitude; we might absentmindedly agree with it when we hear it but we’re hardly going to take much notice all the same. We hear people saying things like this all the time but it never makes any difference – we are all very much ‘creatures of society’ after all and so we don’t really want change. Complaining is one thing, change another…

This is precisely the problem of course – we can’t see the system that we live in ‘from the outside’ and as a result we can’t for the life of us see how there could be any other way of doing things. And in addition to this incapacity to comprehend that things actually could be different, when we do go against the grain in any way peer pressure automatically swings into action and we find ourselves being ignored or side-lined (and thus ‘excluded from the debate’) on account of our reprehensibly eccentric views. We are tacitly ignored by the Collective, which has already made up its mind with regard to what type of truths it wishes to hear. There’s nothing more conservative than ‘the Collective’, after all!

Because of our adaptedness to the Collective Mind, to the Generic Mode of Existence that we have been inducted into since birth, we see our way of life as being unquestionably normal (which by definition it is, of course) but this isn’t actually good news.The fact that our way of life is being mirrored by millions of other doesn’t mean there’s any actual virtue in it – there’s nothing healthy about being psychologically normal, after all. It doesn’t matter what sort of conditioning we subscribe to, it’s always going to be detrimental to us; it’s always going to be detrimental because conditioning means repressing our actual unique or idiosyncratic nature. Society compels us to be normal (by expelling us from the club if we aren’t) but it is the system that benefits from all this standardisation, not us…

A deal has been done – for the sake of agreeing upon a convenient way to organise ourselves we deny who we really are (which is – as we’ve just said – ‘unique rather than regular’). The mechanism that enforces this transformation from ‘who we naturally are’ to ‘who the system requires us to be in order to perpetuate itself’ is brutally obvious, and yet we tacitly agree never to mention it. We turn a blind eye to the ugly process whereby we are converted from playful children (who are full of creativity and potential) into dull old ‘adult-machines’, capable only of performing our allotted functions. We will of course protest upon hearing this, but that’s only because we haven’t the stomach to confront such a harsh truth. We object in the strongest possible terms, not because what we’re hearing is untrue but because it’s true. It’s true but we absolutely don’t wish to hear it…

A Great Lie is being perpetuated and the lie in question is that ‘what is good for the machine which is society is also good for us’. It is this lie that allows the status quo to continue; we are obliged to swallow it because everything will become very difficult for us otherwise. The actual truth is infinitely less palatable, and even our most revered experts in the field refrain from grabbing this particular bull by the horns. We insist – ludicrously – upon looking assiduously for the answer in all the wrong places, just in case we might do the unforgivable and ‘upset the apple cart’. We never question our way of living, our way of doing things, but rather we imagine that we can find the answer to our mental health problems in our brain chemistry or in our faulty DNA.

We fail – across the board – to acknowledge the price we pay for the convenience of social adaptation and this never-mentioned price is simply our mental health. At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s no way that we can be who a standardized external authority tells us we are, and yet be in any way be well in ourselves. We can’t deny our own nature and yet at the same time also experience genuine well-being. The one thing life requires of us – so to speak – is that we fulfil our potential, and this is absolutely, fundamentally impossible just so long as we are allowing the machine to tell us who we are. Life’s demand’ on us that we realize our potential comes across with great force and clarity in what Jesus says here in the Gospel of Thomas,

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

If we insist – as we do insist – that ‘we are who we aren’t’ (and ‘who we never could be’) then we have in this way ensured our own destruction. The successes or triumphs we enjoy within the social world are ‘victories against ourselves’ in other words; ‘success’ is – therefore – the very worst thing that could ever happen to us! If we wanted a succinct way of explaining what the ‘downside’ of being a socially-adapted human being is, we could simply say that the downside in question has to do with the fact that in society we have to spend all our time pretending to be who we aren’t rather than realizing who we are and that we are – as a result – shunted down a sterile cul-de-sac that we will discover to be such only when it is too late. Who we take ourselves to be within the context of the social game is a purely arbitrary type of thing – it is a purely abstract type of a thing and for this reason it has no potential for anything! The abstract mind-created identity contains zero potential – it is precisely what it is defined as being as and that is all it is…

Our whole approach to mental health is predicated upon the idea that the suffering we are experiencing isn’t telling us anything real, or anything important, and that the thing to do – therefore – is get rid of these troublesome symptoms by whatever means we can so that we can then carry on with the type of life that we have been told is ‘the right and proper one’.  That we are able to do this is fairly amazing – clinical depression is a ‘message’ that is so extraordinarily forceful and blunt that no one can possibly ‘ignore’ it, and yet this is precisely what we – as a collective – do do. We say that it doesn’t mean anything and that it’s merely a technical malfunction of sorts which we should try to fix as quickly as possible that we can get on with ‘what we were doing before’, but the trouble is that even if we do manage to repress the feelings of meaninglessness and futility that prevent us operating in society this is actually creating extra suffering for us to contend with in the future. We’re going back to the same way of living that made us sick in the first place, which means that the all the terrible neurotic pain that we had to endure was in vain…

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