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!






Image – 4kwallpapers.com




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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The Generic Self

There are, we could say, two paradigms, two ways of seeing or doing things, one of which is very familiar to us and the other much less so. The ‘unfamiliar paradigm’ is counterintuitive in nature and this explains why it is so rarely heard of; we can relate it to the ‘spiritual principle’ which says – ‘What you hold onto you lose, and what you give away comes back to you’. This is contrary to our common sense and as a result no one is going to take it seriously – if we hear this idea articulated we will scoff at it. This is why our whole way of life, our whole modus operandi, is based on the other paradigm, which is the obvious one – the one that does appeal to our common sense.

The other (obvious) paradigm is predicated upon the premise that ‘if we hang onto something tightly enough then we will get to keep it, whilst if we give it away, then someone else will have it and not us.’ This paradigm is super-obvious and everyone understands it, but at the same time it puts us completely wrong. It totally ‘wrong foots’ us. The whole of our civilization is based upon this premise, and it has been for a very long time, but this way of doing things has never resulted in anything apart from interminable violence, confusion and misery. From a psychological point of view, it couldn’t be clearer that living life in this narrow, self-orientated way is an utter unmitigated disaster, both for the individual concerned and for the community as a whole. This is the recipe for a thwarted and unfulfilling life, and yet we all still worship and admire billionaires, as if they have somehow uncovered the very secret of life! We hang adoringly upon their every word… Living life on the basis of ‘the unexamined idea that we have of ourselves’ is absolutely the least wise, and most suffering-producing thing we could ever do, and yet – on the positive side – it does drive the economy.

Were we to be a culture that is based on psychological insight (and if we were therefore possessed of a certain degree of wisdom), then we would be organised along very different lines – an infinitely greater value would be placed upon our mental well-being in this case! As things stand however we organise ourselves along the lines of ‘how we might best perpetuate the dysfunctional modality of existence that we have evolved for ourselves’. We pay lip service to the idea that we value human freedom and happiness, but this couldn’t be further from the truth – we value the system that we’ve been indoctrinated into and we will sacrifice whatever we have to in order to keep it going. It is – we might say – the ‘dark idol’ that we worship and sacrifice our children to. We pay lip service to the idea that we value human freedom and happiness but that’s just an empty formula. We claim to have psychological understanding but what our so-called ‘psychology’ comes down to is how to keep us functional whilst at the same time working strictly within the restrictive system. Working strictly within the system makes us unwell however and so our interest in psychology is all about keeping us on our feet by ‘managing’ this unwellness one way or another, in whatever way we can.

This is why we are as fond of the word ‘management’ as we are; in the world of mental healthcare we are continually talking about ‘managing this’ and ‘managing that’, and what this comes down to is keeping the distress within tolerable limits. We even have a type of psychological strategy that we call ‘distress tolerance’. In one way it could be said that our problem is that ‘we want to have our cake and eat it’ inasmuch as we want to maintain and perpetuate the system that we are part of at the same time as having the sense that we are leading meaningful lives, and feeling that we’re living autonomously (which is of course the only way to live!), but in another way we could say that this isn’t really a dilemma for us at all since our allegiance has already been decided – our allegiance is very much towards ‘perpetuating the established setup no matter what the cost might be’. It might be said that it is something of a marvel that no one ever seems to see this but – on the other hand – maybe it isn’t so much of a marvel once we consider that we are completely dependent upon the set-up that we have unwittingly created. We’ve lost our natural resilience and so we have to rely on the ‘artificial life-support system’ that is society instead. We are ‘dependent upon the Matrix’, even though the Matrix is a prison-system that is ruthlessly exploiting us and making us unwell.

We come across this idea in many places – we could go so far as to say that anyone who has ever looked into it has come to the same conclusion. Johann Hari for example, quotes Professor Tim Kasser as saying – ‘…we live in a machine that is designed to get us to neglect what is important about life’. According to Gabor Mate, to give another example, ‘Illness in this society, physical or mental, they are not abnormalities. They are normal responses to an abnormal culture. This culture is abnormal when it comes to real human needs.’ In the following passage taken from her book Psychology with a Soul (1987. P 185-6), Jean Hardy, surveys the history of this discussion –

The idea had long been current in the nineteenth century that the ‘benefits of civilization and morals… had been acquired at the cost of man’s natural happiness… that civilized man remains forever an unhappy creature.’ (Henri F. Ellenberger) It is possible to see the growth of therapy as a response to the effects of industrialization and materialism on the inner life of individuals – the personal and collective load that every child in touch with feeling and not fragmented has to bear in a society with such meaningless injustices and horrors, known to all though more and more efficient communications, is considerable; this is the impact of Foucault’s writing, tracing the relationship between civilization and madness. ‘Look hard enough at reason,’ Foucault seems to be saying, ‘and you will find madness.’ And again, ‘madness came to be seen as the reverse side of progress: as civilized man became further removed from nature, the more he exposed himself to madness.’

The point is that society places no value on genuine human potential – it’s only interested in running the machine (which it conflates with ‘our own best interest’). Society makes us into the way it wants us to be, and then it takes care of us – after it has moulded us in its own image. It’s not really ‘taking care of us’ therefore, any more than social adjustment therapy (as Alan Watts calls it) is taking care of us. ‘Social adjustment therapy’ is all about looking after society’s needs, not ours (and the same can of course be said regarding our education system). Odd as it might sound to say, nothing in our collectively agreed-upon way of life is for the benefit of who we really are who or what it is for the benefit of is our collectively agreed upon idea of who we are, which is – to be perfectly blunt about it – a ‘phantom entity’. It’s not a real thing. The whole setup is there for the sake of this phantom entity, every little bit of it, and so our efforts might be compared to ‘throwing money down the drain’, or ‘pouring precious drinking water onto parched desert sands’. It’s a ludicrous, pointless exercise, and yet it is one we take very, very seriously. We’re putting all the resources at our disposal into the task of ‘making life as good as possible for the phantom entity which is the ‘Generic Self’ whilst totally and shamefully ignoring and neglecting who we actually are. Who we actually are has been entirely forgotten about…




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age – imdb.com








Glorifying Our ‘Aims’

When we’re greedy for the desired outcome, or fearful and worried about the unwanted one, then what happens as a result of this preoccupation is that we miss out on life itself. We miss out on life itself because life has nothing to do with either the ‘wanted’ or the ‘unwanted’ outcome – it has nothing to do with my fears and nothing to do with my hopes and desires either, which would be a very strange thing to consider were we ever to do so.

We understand this the other way around, however. Our understanding is that we will lose out unless we get to be good at obtaining the outcomes we want, and avoiding all the other ones, and this is of course why we put as much effort into our purposeful activities as we do, why we take the attitude that unless there is a reason for what we’re doing then we are essentially wasting our time. ‘Activity without purpose is the drain of your life’, legendary motivational speaker Tony Robbins tells us. Or – even more to the point – from Pastor Sunday Adelaja we learn that ‘Life becomes a dilemma when you are living a purposeless and goalless life.’ This is the unashamed message of our era – the message which glorifies the simple-minded purposeful strivings for our goals. Here lies our fulfilment, we are led to believe, and nowhere else. But if our goals have nothing to do with life, and take us in the opposite direction (if such a thing were possible) then the question we are bound to ask ourselves (if we have any curiosity about ourselves at all) is “What on earth are we playing at?”

The answer turns out to be very simple – the reason for our perverse orientation in this matter is because our rational-purposeful culture is an exercise in denial, not an exercise in exploring (or celebrating) life, which is what we would like to believe. Our hopes and fears are our own private projections and if we weren’t the fully paid-up members of such a profoundly unconscious culture we would see this without the slightest bit of difficulty. How could we not see that our hopes and fears are our own projections? This is the most basic psychological insight there is and it is also the insight that is least likely to ever come our way – we’re kept far too busy on the Wheel of Purposefulness for that. We’re always too fixated on the goal (and the next goal after that) to ever get philosophical about what the hell we think we’re doing…

If all I care about are my projections then this means that I am very effectively ‘cocooning myself from reality’, just as Jung says. This is the best way of ‘cocooning ourselves from reality’ there is – it’s totally fool-proof! The other way of putting this is to say that our goals – precious as they are to us – are only thoughts, and thoughts aren’t real. The thought is not the thing and it never can be, and so to see the world purely in terms of our ideas about it is to very effectively remove ourselves from it. To be focused exclusively on our goals is to be concerned only with those things that make sense to our logical categories (since if something can’t be represented in terms of these categories then it simply doesn’t exist for us). When we are constantly enthusing about our plans and intentions we are creating the impression that we have a full-blooded relationship with the ‘wider world’ (or at the very least that we aspire to have such a relationship) but this is just a ploy – the only ‘relationship’ we have is with our own private version of reality, which is of course a complete cop out.

Controlling only ever relates us to the sterile domain of our well-worn thoughts, our jaded and flavourless preconceptions, and so no matter how successful we might be in our purposeful endeavours, that is never going to get us anywhere different from ‘where we already were’. Just to reiterate this point – because it’s a point we miss every time – when we concern ourselves only with outcomes (either of the good or bad variety) then this means that we are in Control Mode and being in Control Mode necessarily limits us to ‘the domain of what we already know’, ‘the domain of our preconceptions’, ‘the domain of what we have already decided is true’. We don’t ever see things this way but what it essentially means is that we are trapped in the Prison of Purposefulness. We’re lifers in this most doleful of institutions and there’s no hope of parole, no matter how well we behave…

The reason we don’t ever see things this way is of course because we take it as read that the Known World – the world that is made-up entirely of our thoughts and concepts – is pretty much equivalent to what’s actually out there in reality. We never stop to reflect on what a ludicrous assumption this is; we might be familiar with our own description of the world, but we certainly shouldn’t go around assuming that what we are so familiar with is actually ‘the world itself’. Thought is a purely quantitative business, whereas in reality no quantities exist, only qualities; we all know that sugar is sweet, but we wouldn’t know what sweetness is just from the word. There’s no sweetness in the word ‘sweet’ and – what’s more – there’s no way there ever could be! There is a gulf between our descriptions and ‘the world that is being described’ which can never be bridged, not by any logic that we might be capable of putting together. We’ll never bridge it, and so rather than allow ourselves to get curious about what might lie on the other side of the abyss, we resort to ignoring it and pretending that it isn’t there.  

Because the Known World has no correspondence to (or no connection with) ‘reality as it is in itself’, it is perfectly appropriate to speak of us as being prisoners of thought. It is perfectly accurate to speak of the thinking mind as a person. “You are in prison”, says Gurdjieff, “all you can wish for, if you are a sensible man, is to escape.” The thing is however that we’re not sensible in this way – we’re not in the least bit ‘sensible’! We are preoccupied with anything else but escaping – anything interests us apart from the one thing that isn’t interesting (i.e., our trivial games). As Gurdjieff also says somewhere else, “our fate is to be forever turning around in a circle of insignificant interests and insignificant aims.” We ‘carry this off’ by getting excited by our aims as if they really do have some relationship to ‘the Wider Reality’. They don’t though and so no matter how much we invest in our fantasies, they are never going to bear any fruit. We devote ourselves to our distractions as if they weren’t distractions, in other words. “Are we not wasps who spend all day in a fruitless attempt to traverse a window-pane – while the other half of the window is wide open?” asks Wei Wu Wei.

Life itself (or reality itself, if we want to put it like that) exists at right angles to all our concerns, to all our interests and preoccupations. This is what Wei Wu Wei means when he says that we operate on ‘the horizontal’ dimension and ignore ‘the vertical’; the vertical dimension – we might say – is the dimension of depth, which is the ‘mysterious dimension’- it is ‘mysterious because we’re constantly moving beyond the veil of appearances. In the horizontal dimension however we never go beyond appearances and so everything we engage in here is guaranteed to be vanishingly trivial, vanishingly superficial, vanishingly inconsequential. The only difference between one outcome and another in the Realm of the Vanishingly Inconsequential (i.e., the Realm of our Games) is ‘the difference indicated by the mental boundaries which we ourselves have invented’, and so this is the type of difference that we contrive to get excited by in our games. This is the difference between one category and another (or between one idea and another) and this is an imaginary difference, a difference that is ‘only there because we say it is’. When we ‘glorify our aims’ – as we always do – it is this ‘imaginary difference’ that we are getting feverishly excited about and when we allow ourselves to get ‘excited by the imaginary’ this always happens at the expense of anything that is actually real….



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Techno-Intoxication

The world we live in is not run for the benefit of actual human beings, but – rather – it’s run for the benefit of who we mistakenly think we are. We think that it is ‘designed for our benefit’, but it isn’t. If we could understand this then we’d be fine, we would finally be waking up – we run around in our day-to-day lives fondly imagining that all of this is for the benefit of actual people when it absolutely isn’t. As we’ve said, that isn’t the case at all – that is very far indeed from being the case.

This world is run for the benefit of the idea that we have about ourselves and the one thing we can say for sure is that what might benefit an idea is not going to have any helpful ramifications when it comes to the actual reality of the situation. The two things just aren’t the same. When our ideas or models don’t properly match reality then this is called incoherence and incoherence has the inevitable effect of causing unwanted and unforeseen consequences – unwanted and unforeseen consequences that are the exact opposite of beneficial. When the theories that we act on don’t match reality then that spells trouble with a capital ‘T’ and our theories can never match up with reality.

This is the great lesson that we have yet to learn – the lesson that the purely rational approach to life will always have unforeseen and unwanted consequences. Our ideas about what’s going on are over simplistic and as such they’re guaranteed to miss out a lot of stuff; they miss out stuff that’s going to come back and bite us when we least expect it. We take one or two steps forward, which we will congratulate ourselves for ad nauseam, and then we’ll take six steps back. We’ll get one stop closer to creating a perfect system, and then some gremlin or other will appear to wreck our precious rational dreams.

What we’re looking at here – seen from a mythological POV – is the motif of the Trickster; often personage, often appearing in animal form, who delights in causing our best laid plans to come unstuck. From the perspective rationality there is of course nothing more infuriating than this – nothing annoys us more than having our best laid plans overturned. We don’t have any sense of humour about this at all. Were we to take a wider perspective however we’d be able to see that there is no harm in this and that – actually – the danger is more that we would actually succeed in our rational plans since, as Alan Watts has said, ‘Nothing fails like success’.

The rational approach to life doesn’t work and this – as we noted earlier – is a lesson that we haven’t even started to learn, for all our pretensions to scientific omniscience. On a superficial level, the level of appearances, we can point to all our scientific and technological achievements, which would seem to be very impressive. These achievements of ours don’t seem so impressive however when we look beneath the surface of what’s going on the technology might be amazing for the quality of our lives as human beings is most definitely not. The type of world we’ve created for ourselves with our exclusively rational approach might look good from the outside, but it doesn’t support our mental or psychological well-being. The technology doesn’t exist that can support our mental and psychological well-being, however odd this statement might sound to us.

Machines – no matter how sophisticated – can only ever function ‘on the one level’. They are linear, in other words. What makes a machine ‘a machine’ is its logical consistency from beginning to end; without this consistency a machine cannot deliver what we want it to deliver, what it’s supposed to deliver, and a machine that can’t deliver what it’s supposed to deliver is of no use, no interest to us at all. What’s the point of a pencil sharpener that can’t sharpen pencils, after all? There’s no market for machines that can’t do what they’re supposed to do because – very obviously – this one very specific function is the only reason we have any time for them in the first place, the only reason we place any value in them. A machine is its function, we could say. There’s nothing to a machine other than its stated function and this is odd because it means that machines always have this curious blank ‘literality’ to them.

This argument might seem somewhat obscure since it sounds very much like stating the obvious; stating that ‘a toaster is a toaster only because it toasts’ sounds like stating the obvious but there is nevertheless something we can’t for the life of us see in this obviousness, which is that the premise that the machine is built on is being acted out in everything it does. The structure of the machine is faithfully reproduced in its output, and this is a blatant tautology. We don’t see the fact that all mechanical processes are tautological as being ‘a problem’; on the contrary, the fact that what it says on the label is exactly the same as what’s in the tin is very much what we want to hear. We wouldn’t be in the least bit interested otherwise – it’s not ‘surprises’ that we’re looking for when it comes to machines but the concrete realisation of our goals, of our desires.

To be aware of the tautology inherent in the actions of machines is the same thing as having an awareness of the tautological nature of purposeful activity therefore, and to have an acute awareness of the tautological nature of our purposeful activity is – in turn – to be aware of the redundancy (or ‘hollowness’) of the Purposeful Self, which is the one thing we definitely don’t want to know anything about. Knowing this would spoil everything for us; after all, we define ourselves in terms of how effective we are in obtaining our goals, which means that the act of obtaining a goal has to be meaningful to us, not meaningless. The highest accolade of all belongs to the one who is supremely effective in achieving their purposes, obtaining their goals. That’s why we admire billionaires and hang devotedly on their every word in the way that we do – we think that becoming a billionaire is a meaningful accomplishment! This is also the reason we find technology to be so exciting and so glamorous – because of the promise of having our goals met quickly and in a highly efficient way. What could be better than this, after all? No one is going to question the meaningfulness of having our goals met…

Technology induces a state of out-and-out euphoria in us, it induces euphoria because of the implicit promise that if our technology is advanced enough then all our dreams, no matter how wild, no matter how fanciful or far-fetched, can finally be turned into reality. There is as we know an excitement that comes with technology and this is an excitement that we all share in, but the thing about it is that it is entirely misguided. Our perception is that we are progressing, that we are, with a type of glorious inevitability, drawing close to our overall goal, a goal that is going to prove marvellously beneficial for us all; our cherished dreams are finally going to come true and the perception that all of our dreams are finally going to come true is the most potent intoxicant there is! The result of this intoxication – unsurprisingly – is that we lose every last bit of sense that we have and get completely carried away. We embark upon disastrously stupid projects. This is what ‘being intoxicated’ is all about, of course – we all know that!

Tech doesn’t to know ennoble us, however and it certainly doesn’t make us any wiser – all it does is give us greater and greater powers of control, and that isn’t a good thing. We might naively believe it to be a good thing but of course it absolutely isn’t – all it does is ‘magnify our dumbness’, so to speak. Technology gives us greater scope and greater capacity to do foolish or harmful things. The progression of our technology comes down to one thing, as Alan Watts has pointed out ‘It comes down to eliminating, to a greater and greater extent, the gap between the conception of our goal and its realisation. If the two things (our wish and the fulfilment of our wish) could be made to happen instantly that then then that would be the ultimate – we would be in heaven then (or so we think). From a psychological or philosophical point of view, what’s valuable to us is not how quickly (or how easily) we can obtain our goals, but the degree of difficulty we experience along the way, which is to say, the severity of the obstacles that lie in our path. We only need to think about how it is with children – to give children what they want as soon as they want it is hardly an approach that’s going to result in making them happy! We all know this very well – we all know very well that this isn’t the way it works when we are children, so what makes us think the same principle doesn’t apply when we’re adults?

This comes down to the familiar adage about the journey being the thing rather than reaching the destination. The value of the destination doesn’t lie in the destination, but in the fact that it facilitates us in undertaking the journey. What happens in the journey is that we meet unsuspected difficulties and challenges, and it is these difficulties and challenges that change us, that allow us to grow, not ‘the fulfilment of the goal which was only attractive to us in the first place because of our naive way of looking at things’. The goal was a projection of our foolishness, nothing more! Or as we could also say, the value of the goal isn’t ‘the goal’ but the fact that when we finally obtain it, we discover that it’s no longer meaning for us. As Israel Regardie says, ‘the magician who attains to the summit is not the same magician who started off on the journey’. But if the journey is instantaneous (i.e., if there is no journey) then this isn’t going to be true; in this case the one who sets off on the journey is that same one who arrives. It’s all too easy, in other words, so no growth occurs. This is precisely what technology does, therefore – and it’s only the fact that we make a huge amount of money out of technology that prevents us from seeing this. It would be very inconvenient for us to see this, to say the least.

When the one who arrives at the destination is the same one who sets off in the first place then this is what is meant by ‘tautology’. In our culture we are all about identity, not personal growth – personal growth means ‘letting go of that identity’ (or seeing that it isn’t who we are) and this is exactly what we don’t want. We have an idea of ‘who we are’ and we make our plans on the strength of this idea, which means that we have to do our best to keep that idea intact. That’s the crucial thing. If we were to drop this idea then who would realise the all-important plans? Who would obtain the goals? Technology thus becomes a means of ‘safeguarding the image or idea of who we are’, and so the more advanced the tech the more neurotic we are going to become (as we are in the process of collectively discovering).

It goes further than this, however – our idea of who we are is encoded into the systems and institutions that make up society, such that any deviations from the established pattern are going to be penalised. Those who grow will be punished for it, in other words. The defining characteristic of a system is of course that it regulates – which is to say, that it continually acts so as to bring everything back to the baseline or equilibrium level of ‘how things should be’ (according to the system, that is). In the case of society what is being regulated is us and so we can say that the essential function of the systems and structures that we have created is to ‘preserve the tautology’. Linear change is the only type of change that is allowed by our systems, and the thing about linear change is that it isn’t really change at all.







Life In The Generic World

The Generic World runs on assigned meaning (as opposed to meaning that is innate, or inherent). We are – in other words – told what things mean in the Generic World. The meaning of our existence is imported from ‘the outside’, we might say. When we are told ‘what things mean’ then, in this process, we are very effectively made into prisoners – there is no better way of making people into prisoners than this. As actual individuals, we have been quite nullified.

There is no better way of making people into prisoners than by telling them what things mean and this is what we do all the time. We take a pride in telling recently arrived human beings what things ‘mean’, what reality consists of, what ‘life is all about’, and so in this way we pass on our lack of originality to the next generation. We pass on the prison to them, and we call it ‘culture’! This however only culture in the sense that it is the ‘culture of the prison’. Generic culture is always the culture of the prison…

When we are prisoners of the Generic World that nothing matters more to us than making sure that our offspring are prisoners of it too – ‘Well, my upbringing never did me any harm’, we say. We validate the state of being imprisoned and we want it for everyone. There is something frankly scandalous about the thought of someone not wanting to subscribe to the generic view of things, to the view of things that we all agree with. It’s as if we’re saying ‘Well – if I have to live in the Generic World then so do you!’  Only this isn’t a conscious attitude but an unconscious (or implicit) one – our conscious attitude is to validate the adapted modality of being, to say that it’s a good thing.

In terms of ‘group morality’ subscribing to the Generic World is the worthy and responsible thing to do – we get a pat on the back for this, we obtain the legitimacy that comes with being a member of the club. We have proved ourselves in this way, we have demonstrated our reliability and so we can be trusted. The converse is also true, of course – if we don’t sign up, or if, for whatever reason, we aren’t able to say the sort of things that we have to say in order to show as we are part of the group, then we’re left out in the cold. Not being a member of the group is immoral as far as the group is concerned…

The details or particulars of the Generic World have nothing to do with the truth, however – ‘generic’ (or ‘agreed-upon’) values and ‘the truth’ have nothing to do with each other! It’s all just a matter of spotting what everyone else takes for granted, and then taking it for granted too, in the very same way that they do. It’s all a matter of ‘working out what the game rules are and then following them as if you had been doing so all your life, following them as if you had always known them to be true…’ This is social adaptation in a nutshell – we have to forget that we were ever ‘un-adapted’, we have to obscure the fact as to the best of our ability. Nothing else is real but the game.

This is ‘an act of conformity’ rather than a ‘creative’ one; adapting to the template is what it needed rather than any actual originality. We create the Generic World via an act of mass conformity and then we ‘flip everything over’ so that conforming to the script that has been handed to us is ‘the great virtue’, and having our own individual take on things is ‘sheer wrongheadedness’. If we want to be truly accepted into the club then we have to fool ourselves along with everyone else; it is necessary for us to resolutely ‘turn our backs on the truth’. This act of ‘reality-denial’ is the price of admittance to the club.

We can’t ever let on that we’re conforming however, that wouldn’t do it all. On the contrary (as everyone knows), we are obliged to put on the show that this is what we really think all by ourselves, and that it isn’t the case that we are simply being coldly calculating in this regard (because we know what side our bread is buttered on). If we don’t sound properly sincere in our strenuous proclamation of loyalty to the generic values then this is the same as not conforming – we’re only pretending to conform in this case and so we’re going to be caught out. We’re not pretending sincerely enough…

So the situation is that – although we aren’t being true to ourselves – we have to pretend that we are. We have to pretend not just to others but to ourselves too – there must be no hint, on any level, that the show actually is ‘only a show’. We are copying from the template rather than being creative, and yet it is necessary that this act of mimicry present itself as being somehow ‘original to us’. We are reading from the script but we have to pretend that we’re being spontaneous; we are acting in a calculated way, looking for a very specific advantage, and yet we have to convince ourselves that we’re not. This is the tightrope we have to walk.

The Generic World is a very superficial kind of place, therefore. Everything has to exist on the one single level of meaning – if there were any other possible levels of meaning, or ‘levels of description’, then this would spoil the game. If there was ‘anything else’ then this would seriously distract from the effect. The generic world is a very bland one in other words, it’s a world that is entirely without nuance, entirely without individuality.  It’s a literal world. Or – as we could also say – the Generic World is the Image World, the world that is made up of two-dimensional meanings.

In the two-dimensional world of mass-produced literal truths – which is the world that thought creates – there can only be the one meaning for things,  the meaning that has been written down, the meaning that has been set down in law, the meaning that all right-thinking people subscribe to, and the consequence of this is that all other meanings are heresies that have to be dismissed, dangerous lies that have to be fought against. Everything is very obvious, very unambiguous in the Image World, and so the message is that we ‘just have to get on with it’. What we’re supposed to be ‘getting on with’ is entirely banal however – everything is always banal in the two-dimensional image world but we – for the most part – are too consumed by the game to ever notice this. The utter absurdity of ‘life in the Generic World’ is quite lost on us…




Image – wallpapertip.com




Image

Society Is Based On Violence

Human beings love to control other human beings and there’s no arguing with this – it’s what we do, it’s our number one preoccupation. We don’t want to admit it but this is how it is. Controlling each other is ‘the name of the game’, it’s what it’s all about. To exist as the compartmentalized rational ego is to be inescapably committed to non-stop controlling.

We wouldn’t put it as bluntly as this of course. Even the most shameless dictator wouldn’t put it as bluntly as this – what we generally say to excuse our controlling is that things just aren’t right the way they are and so we want to make them right, which – on the face of it – seems like a highly commendable motivation on our part. Or if it’s other people we’re talking about, then we say that other people aren’t seeing things the right way whilst we are and so it is incumbent upon us to educate them in this regard, to show them the right way. This is an old, old line of course – it’s the oldest line there is, in fact. On the one hand we have the control, and on the other the justification for that control, and that’s how human society works.

What we don’t focus on when we automatically justify our controlling is the way in which it is us who get to SAY what the right way is or is not. A vampire has been put in charge of the blood bank, a biased person has been put in charge of the argument, which means that any talk of what is ‘right’ or ‘not right’ is just a very thin disguise for our visceral need to be in control, a transparent and derisory justification for it. Controlling – when we’re talking about the ‘psychological’ rather than the ‘pragmatic’ side of things – is simply about getting our own way, it’s simply about ‘getting to be the one who says what goes and what doesn’t go’. We automatically throw in some justification in for this most basic of behaviours – we might invent some religion, some philosophical or political set of ideas, for example, but that’s all it is really is the insecure rational ego trying to assert its supremacy wherever it can. I don’t seek to control because I’ve got the ‘right idea about how things should be’ (which is a meaningless thing to claim) I control because it feels good to do so, I ‘control for the sake of controlling’, I control because doing so satisfies some deep-down unacknowledged need that I have.

Everything in society is about control – society is simply about ‘regulating human beings so that they can be relied upon to behave in a generic way’. How we think is regulated, how we behave is regulated, how we see the world is regulated, and all of this is just ‘regulation for the sake of regulation’, or ‘adapting to the coercive system just for the sake of having a coercive system to adapt to’. We never, ever say this however – we talk about values or principles or ideals, which makes what we’re doing unquestionable, ‘for the greater good’, etc. When a bunch of people get together and – through the process of social adaptation – tacitly agree on what the right way to live life is then a kind of ‘mass justification’ sets in which is extremely hard to go against. If we can’t (or won’t) go along with the group norms then we will feel deeply ashamed, as if we had betrayed life itself in some inexcusable way, rather than it simply being the case that we have exercised our innate freedom with regard to whether we want to play the social game or not, with regard to whether we want to ‘do what everyone else is doing or not’.  Deviance is only a sin because the group makes it so, in other words, because it needs for it to be. Rules create ‘rule-breakers’.

What we don’t focus on is the fact that control – when it’s people were talking about – is always an act of violence. This means that society is fundamentally based on violence, as Krishnamurti says, and if society is fundamentally based on violence then what good can possibly come out of this? We blame the individual perpetrators of violence (or anti-social behaviour) – we have a whole self-serving ideology in place which says that crime comes about comes about because of ‘bad people’, ‘bad actors’, because of people who freely (if unaccountably) choose to behave in a certain way. This means that the role of society must be to make an example of these individuals by locking them up in prison, or punishing them in some other way (whilst in doing so cleverly exonerating the collective of us for any responsibility). We wash our hands of the miscreants, the wrong-doers. But how can we do this if the whole of society is actuallymade up of violence, made up of control? We make an example of the offender in order to create the impression that this is a special case, and not reflecting the values that we as the collective hold, and this is flagrantly not true. It’s a barefaced lie. The truth of the matter is that the individual concerned is not skilful enough, or clever enough, to disguise their violence by hiding behind some untouchable institution, some collectively held ‘value system’ that will justify our behaviour. The more unquestionable the institution, the more irreproachable the cause, the more safety it provides us with to freely enact our violence.

As has often being pointed out, in the social system that we have created for ourselves the real criminals never (or at least rarely) get caught and punished. On the country, they are generally rewarded for their violence, they are as a rule celebrated for their skilful and ruthless exercise of social control, and the reason for this is that they have been clever enough to align their interests with those of society. We are in effect singling out and punishing those who are doing exactly what we’re doing, only less successfully. As a culture, we fervently worship success in whatever form that may take, but at the same time we take care to never look into what exactly this so-called ‘success’ actually involves, or what we actually mean when we say the word. As long as I am ‘successful’ (i.e., good at doing whatever has been collectively validated as important or meaningful) then no one is going to look any deeper into it, no one is going to be asking any awkward questions – if the group validates it then it must be okay. Thus, as P.D. Ouspensky says, ‘the biggest crimes escape being called crime’

In existing criminology there are concepts: a criminal man, a criminal profession, a criminal society, a criminal sect, and a criminal tribe; but there is no concept of a criminal state, or a criminal government, or criminal legislation. Consequently, the biggest crimes actually escape being called crimes.

 Singling out individuals for punishment because they exemplify – in a blatant way – the violence which we all tacitly agree to subscribe to (but which we deny all the same) is of course violence itself. The denial of violence is itself violence – everything violence does to justify itself, excuse itself, validate itself, is also violence. Nothing can ever come out of a situation that is fundamentally based on aggression apart from more aggression, in whatever disguised form it may take. As Krishnamurti points out, even if we say that we want to be non-violent (and do our best to bring this about) this remains an act of violence; we imagine that by turning violence upon itself we can undo it, but this is not the case. All we get then is a ‘double dose’ of the poison, like a person who is angry with themselves for being angry, or like someone who is judgemental towards themselves because they are so judgmental. Conventional morality – which has the stated aim of improving human behaviour, of making it less violent) only has the effect of compounding the problem. What happens then is that we turn our violence (which is the only tool we have) against the impulses that are arising, in a moment-by-moment basis, within us. We’re ‘exercising self-control’, as it is said, but since control is itself violence we‘re not ever going to get anywhere like this.

All of our aggression, all of our violence, all of our vicious judgmentalism, all of our control, comes down to thought and because it comes down to thought it can never be cured by thought, remedied by thoughts, ‘fixed’ by thought. ‘Every thought is a judgement’, as Eckhart Tolle says – every thought is ‘a last word’, a ‘black-and-white statement of supposed fact’. Our thinking works, in other words, by saying what things are (or what they are supposed to be) and so when we say that we are suffering as a result of having too many ‘shoulds’ or ‘ought’s or ‘musts’ or ‘have to’s’ in our vocabulary what we mean is that we are suffering as a result of thought. All thought has this dictatorial nature; thought is ‘the Tyrant Holdfast’, as Joseph Campbell puts it. Once thought says what things are (and we fall for this) then nothing else can follow on from this apart from controlling. If we know what things are, or how they should be, then there is simply no room for anything else but controlling, obviously. There’s no room for anything else other than ‘trying to get things to accord with our unexamined ideas about how they should be’ and this is – therefore – the very root of all the trouble and suffering that comes our way in this world.  

Thought corrupts all of our relationships – there can’t actually be any such thing as ‘relationship’ when thought is involved. Relationship depends upon openness (which is to say, it depends upon us not taking our own viewpoint, our own position, as being absolutely unquestionable) but that’s just not how thought works. Thought can never question its own basis. The only type of activity thought can ever produce therefore is the controlling sort, the violent sort, tyrannical activity, it asserts itself in all things, and it can’t not do. Thought is ‘a machine for setting certain taking-for-granted (or unquestionable) values’; it’s certainly not the case that thought is a machine that can question its own functioning, question its own rules – no machine can do that! Our relationship with ourselves is corrupted along with our relationship with others; all we can ever do – when we are operating on the basis of the Thinking Mind –  is to project our ideas ‘of how things should be’ (or ‘how people should be’) on everything and everyone we come across, and this includes ourselves. When we say that we want to ‘improve ourselves’, for example, what we really mean is that we are ‘dead set on forcing ourselves to accord with whatever ideas we might have on the subject, no matter how stupid, unrealistic or downright ridiculous these ideas might be’. We’ll never gain any insight into how ridiculous or unrealistic our ideas are because all our attention is directed towards getting things to be the way thought says they should be, with no attention left over for questioning or examining these assumptions. Control is always blind, in other words.

In order to step out of the self-imposed prison of our own thoughts, our own prejudices, we would have to be OK about relating directly to life’s inherent uncertainty (or lack of convenient definition), and that’s where the big stumbling block lies. We’ve been ‘institutionalised by the thinking mind’, so to speak, what this means is that we’re used to being spoon fed, we’re used to having everything spelled out to us in black and white terms, despite it being the case that these black and white terms don’t actually exist outside of the thinking mind. We are habituated to having our food handed to us pre-chewed and pre-digested (thus saving ourselves from having to go to the trouble ourselves). How much easier after all is it to go along with the picture of things that we have been given than having work it out for ourselves? Once we’re in the habit of doing this then suddenly having to deal with an undigested reality is always going to come as a major shock to the system. But the price of keeping the security that thought offers us is that we have to live on the basis of control and – as we’ve said – the problem with this is that we are never going to be able to have an actual genuine relationship with anyone or anything. The ‘controller’ (whether they happen to be successful or unsuccessful) is always going to be fundamentally disconnected from reality, and this is therefore a modality of existence – a ‘fear-based modality of existence’ – that has precisely nothing to recommend it…





Image – alchetron.com






The Collective Life

Whenever a bunch of people get together and agree between themselves about what life is (or what it ought to be) then this is where life ends, this is where life ceases and is replaced by something else. Instead of life, there is then only conformity to the established pattern, compliance to the unspoken group rules. Instead of spontaneity, therefore, there is only control…

Whenever two or more people get together and agree what reality ‘is’ that’s where reality ends. That’s ‘the murder of the real’ right there, just as Jean Baudrillard says. We’ve swapped ‘what’s going on’ for ‘what we think is going on’ and we’re a lot worse off as a result. Instead of being able to relate to what is actually real, we can only relate to what people say is real, to what people tell us is real. We can only accept as real what we are supposed to accept as real.

This is the phoney life therefore, and what takes place in the consensus reality is always a phoney life, no matter how much we dress it up. Even the very best of what consensus reality has to offer us is phoney – it’s phoney all the way through, it’s phoney from top to bottom. If we had any respect or regard with the authentic then we’d have nothing to do with a collective viewpoint, nothing to do with what people say is real. What greater disempowerment could there be than being in the situation where we are told ‘what reality is all about’, whilst having the ability to think for ourselves systematically undermined almost from the word ‘Go’?

When we get together and agree what life is (or what life should be about) then what we are agreeing upon is an idea. This is ideology, nothing more. When two or more of us come together and agree what reality is then what we are agreeing on is a theory, a model, a hypothesis. There is no agreeing on reality itself – reality can’t be agreed upon because it isn’t a logically consistent system and so can’t be wrapped up in a description. And even when I agree with myself about what’s going on, about ‘what life is all about’, I am departing from the real. When I agree with myself  then I straightaway substitute my thoughts about life, my ideas about life, my beliefs about life for the thing itself. Somehow my beliefs about life have become more important that the thing itself, and this is how it is for all of us – it’s our tawdry second-hand ideas that we venerate, not the actual truth of our situation.

Beliefs are always banal – there never was such a thing as ‘a belief that is not banal’, ‘a belief that is not infinitely tedious’, so what is it with our desperate need to believe in something, anything?  Why are we in such a rush to sedate ourselves with bland certainties? If I agree with myself about ‘what it’s all about’ then I am agreeing with an idea, I am agreeing with some mental construct or other, which means that I am seeing reality via this mental construct, in terms of this mental construct, which means that I’m not seeing reality at all. I’m only seeing what my thoughts are showing me and so the one thing I’m never going to come across is any sort of ‘independent truth’.

We can’t ever know what reality is, we can only agree on what we think it is, on what we say it is, and that’s not the same thing at all. That’s just our biases or prejudices speaking, that’s just our ideology. When it comes to reality, there is no conclusion that we can come to which won’t be absurd – every conclusion we jump to, every thought that we have, every idea that we eagerly buy into equals ‘us shutting the door on reality’. We’re shutting the door on reality and then – bizarrely – we’re taking that shut door to be the same thing as reality, and we couldn’t make a more stupid mistake than this if we tried.

What we’re essentially doing here is that we are creating ‘logical systems’, logical systems which then turn around and enslave us completely. We then become tools of the system, pawns of the system, extensions of the system. Every agreement we make results in the creation of a logical system and logical systems (when we don’t stay 100% alert to the danger) always enslave us. When we take the system that thought creates to be reality itself then how can it not enslave us? The only way to be not to be enslaved by thought is to see our ideas to be ‘mere ideas’, our beliefs to be ‘mere beliefs’, our ideology to be ‘mere ideology’, and we aren’t exactly in a big hurry to do this. The ‘prejudice’ – which is to say, ‘the preformed image of what things are’ – has too much of a hold on us for that…

If we had any actual curiosity about what ‘existence’ is all about, then we wouldn’t agree with anything. We wouldn’t be looking for something to agree with – we wouldn’t agree with anything or anybody and we wouldn’t even agree with ourselves. As Kurt Vonnegut points out, we don’t agree with others because of any regard we might have for the truth, we agree with each other in order to be friendly, in order to ‘get on’, in order to be ‘part of the group’. We’re looking for benefits, in other words; we’re enacting a strategy so as to obtain a desired result. We’re not members of society because we have any curiosity about the truth of things, in other words – that’s something different entirely!

Another way of putting this is to say that all agreements are made for political reasons; we make agreement for political purposes and as everyone knows politics had never had anything to do with the truth. Politics is about power alignments, it’s about benefits it has to do with pragmatic short term usefulness and the truth is never useful! All art is useless, as Oscar Wilde says, and so too is the truth. The truth is of necessity quite useless to us. If we could put the truth to some use then that would be setting something above the truth, it would be saying that there is something (some goal or outcome) which is more important than the truth, and there isn’t.

There’s nothing more important than the truth and when we act as if there is then we will find out – at some point or other – that what we’re living is a lie. And (almost inevitably) we do act as if there is a value which supersedes the truth, a value which we take to be ‘above and beyond the truth’ – we will never come out and say this, but we act as if the truth were subsidiary to certain concerns all the same. What that ‘value’ is can be talked about in various ways – we could say (as we mentioned earlier) that ‘getting on with people’ or ‘fitting in’ is one value that we place higher on the list. We could say that ‘being on the same page as everyone else’ is, for purely practical purposes, more important than the truth; this is a default rather than a conscious decision, but it is one that we make all the same.

We could also say, as Jung does, that the reason for this sorry state of affairs is that ‘collective function’ is just so much easier than ‘individual effort’. It is vastly easier to agree with everyone else, as we know very well – we might talk very casually and knowledgeably about ‘peer pressure’ as if it’s something that only teenagers are susceptible to, but we are all victims of peer pressure, whether we want to admit it or not. We’ll go with the crowd every time. But no matter how forbiddingly difficult it is not to agree with the group mind (not to mention ‘not agreeing with our own mind’, which is harder still) the alternative is utterly ignominious – unless we rebel both against societyand our own minds we’re going to have to live out the course of our lives in a crass ‘second-hand version of reality’, a dire version of reality that is lacking in even the tiniest bit of originality, a thoroughly dismal version of reality that is really a joke that is being played on us…