There is a sort of ‘basic principle’ in social psychology that no one seems to talk about, least of all social psychologists! This principle has to do with the inherent aggression of human communications; or more specifically, the inherent aggression associated with the consensus reality that none of us ever acknowledges as ‘a consensus reality’ This lack of recognition is unsurprising enough – as we have already pointed out, aggression becomes invisible when everyone tacitly agrees to go along with it! In this case, when we have all ‘gone along with it’, were anyone to put up their hands and say ‘Hey, there’s a whole lot of aggression going on here!” then we can look at them in genuine bewilderment and completely fail to see what they’re coming from. The consensus reality is something that we have all agreed to so automatically that we never see ourselves agreeing; if we did see ourselves agreeing to it it would no longer be ‘a reality’, it would simply be ‘something that we have agreed to’. It would simply be a convention, a convenient system for dealing with things. It’s not just an accident that we never see ourselves agreeing, therefore – that’s how the whole thing works.
There is however a way in which we can suddenly become extremely sensitive to this all-pervasive invisible aggression and this is when something happens to us to destabilise or call into question our sense of ourselves. When we don’t have to question our ‘assumed sense of ourselves’ then we can get along just fine and we won’t ever have to pay any attention to our ‘sense of ourselves’. This is like never having to notice an internal organ such as the appendix, until it becomes dangerously inflamed and painful. Then we become aware of it, but in a way that we really don’t want to! When our assumed sense of ourselves is destabilised or ‘called into question’ (which is a perfectly legitimate thing to happen!) then we are no longer on an equal footing with everyone whose assumed sense of themselves is still ‘100% intact’, or ‘fully functional’. A whole new world is opened up for us when we find ourselves operating in the consensus reality with an ego construct that is not ‘100% intact’, that is not ‘100% functional’ – we find that we straightaway become extraordinarily sensitized to power and the use of power in human relations. We may not know (we probably won’t know) that this is what’s going on because the distress involved stands in the way of any clear awareness but, unbeknownst to us, we have now transitioned out of the nice and comfortable consensus reality to the extent that the aggression involved in human communications has now become visible to us for the first time. We have actually become more conscious than most of our fellow human beings – we’re conscious that everyone else is ‘playing a game’, even if we can’t articulate this awareness.
Few people can understand this however, or even come close to understanding it, unless they themselves have had a prolonged experience of being ‘an outsider’ to the consensus reality in the way that we have just described. If you happen to be someone who has never had their ‘sense of self’ seriously undermined, then the idea that this can happen (and just how bad it feels when it does happen) is practically impossible to grasp. This is a world that only a minority of people know about, and it just so happens that this is a group or section of the population that no one ever listens to. Very obviously, the only way to have a voice in the consensus reality is to be a fully paid-up member of the club, so to speak. The world becomes very different place when we get unceremoniously ejected from the CR; it becomes a very different place specifically because we have become so intensely vulnerable to other peoples’ ‘aggressive interpretation of reality’, if we may call it that. We then come away from almost every human interaction feeling bad about ourselves in some way, feeling that we have failed or are a failure in some way, and this is simply because within the terms of the consensus reality we are indeed failing, and there’s no question about it! If the consensus reality is the only reality – which is necessarily how it is represented to us – then the only conclusion we can come to is that the fault (whatever that fault might be) lies in us and nowhere else.
For someone who is in this situation it is as if everyone we meet has a kind of power over us, probably without realising that they do, and this interpersonal ‘power differential’ invariably puts us at a disadvantage. Having one’s ‘assumed sense of self’ compromised, for whatever reason, is to be permanently at a disadvantage, socially speaking. Socially speaking, we are at a permanent disadvantage and it is also the case that others will exploit this disadvantage, either consciously or unconsciously. Most of us will of course deny that this sort of thing goes on on a widespread basis; equally, most of us would immediately deny that human beings are constantly playing games of one sort or another and find it extraordinarily hard to disengage from doing so. We don’t see ourselves playing games – we acknowledge that there is such a thing as ‘a psychological game’, but consider this to be somewhat of a rarity, and certainly not something that we would be doing. For anyone who suffers from social anxiety or low self esteem (for example) what we have just described would be very familiar territory indeed.
Every interaction between one human being and another has a context which we assume without realising that any assumption has been made. The ‘assumed context’ of the consensus reality has all the more power associated with it because of the vast number of people who automatically subscribe to it. To be up against this is to be up against a the biggest brick wall in the world, to put it mildly, particularly since we are now in a position where we find ourselves taking on everyone else’s criticism (either open or implied) of us. Everyone else is ‘right’ and we are ‘wrong’ on all counts, so it seems. As we have said, we are ‘wrong automatically’.
There is no getting away from this all-pervasive underlying dynamic – there’s no sidestepping it. If there is such a thing as a’ consensus reality’, then such a reality is inevitably going to be aggressive, such a reality is inevitably going to be ‘denying’ of all other possible contenders on the field. That’s how it works, that’s how the consensus reality gets to be the consensus reality – by steamrollering all the opposition out of existence without even acknowledging what it is doing. By the same token therefore, each one of us – inasmuch as we are subscribing to the consensus reality (and how could we not be, given that it is a precondition of being a member of society, which we can hardly afford not to be) – is going to be automatically (or ‘unconsciously’) denying of anyone else’s reality if it does not match the ‘assumed context’ that we ourselves are operating within. Anything that doesn’t match the assumed context is automatically wrong, after all. Anything that doesn’t match the assumed context can’t help showing up as an anomaly. This is the thing about games – if something disagrees with the rules of the game then – on the terms of that game – it is absolutely wrong, it is ‘wrong without question’. That’s how a game gets to be a game – precisely by doing this!
What we talking about here is of course the ‘state of being psychologically unconscious’. To be ‘psychologically unconscious’ means having our way of seeing the world (i.e. ‘our context of understanding’) supplied for us so that all sorts of things become either unquestionably true, or unquestionably untrue. When we see everything in terms of the context of understanding that has been supplied for us (without us knowing or suspecting that it has been supplied for us) then we get to live in a world of absolutes, world made up of things that are either unquestionably true or unquestionably not true, and that’s what secretly we want. That is the ‘benefit’ (so to speak) that being in the unconscious mode of existence provides us with. Essentially, we are 100% orientated towards ‘running away from uncertainty’ and this is precisely what the unconscious mode facilitates for us. It facilitates us in ‘not questioning’.
When we live in ‘unconscious mode’, therefore, we are not really interested in ‘seeing things as they might be in themselves’ – that’s the last thing we are interested in; that’s the last thing we are interested in because the way things actually are in themselves is always uncertain! What we are interested in is ‘sorting everything out so it gets to be slotted into its proper box’; we are interested in ‘organising or analysing all our various bits of experience in accordance with the system, in accordance with our established way of organising and analysing things’. If something is resistant to being organised or processed or sorted-out in the proper way, then this comes as an affront to us. We’re not interested in finding out why whatever it is isn’t fitting into the right box or ‘doing what it should be doing’, we’re just interested in the closed question of ‘how to get it to behave the way we think it ought to’!
In one way therefore, just as long as we are living safely within the consensus realm, then we don’t have to worry ourselves with any of this. As far as we’re concerned everything that we have just discussed is pretty obscure, pretty irrelevant. We can just get on with what we’re already doing, we can get on with ‘playing the game that we aren’t acknowledging to be a game’. We are after all perfectly happy living in the ‘unconscious mode’ (whilst at the same time not having our attention drawn to the fact that we are). The only time it does all become relevant is when we suddenly find ourselves excluded from the consensus reality and on the other side of the brick wall, so to speak. Then, it all becomes very relevant indeed! Another time at all becomes very relevant is when we are working or interacting with people who are in this situation, and when it is therefore incumbent on us to work or interact with them without inadvertently devalidating their reality, without inadvertently devalidating their experience. If we aren’t able to avoid devalidating (without meaning to) the people we working with, then we are clearly not doing a very good job of being a therapist, or a mental health worker!
The big problem is of course that our culture ‘trains people up’ to be therapists not by supporting them in their personal journey of growth to become more conscious (and therefore more sensitive) but by filling their heads with models and data and theory and skills and techniques, none of which are any good for anything other than furthering our ‘unconscious aggression’ (which is the aggression of ‘me trying to enforce my reality on you, without me even knowing that I’m doing this’). There’s no such thing as ‘an unconscious therapist’! There’s only an ‘unconscious enforcer of the consensus reality’, which is to say, ‘a person who have enforces the official story without ever realising or suspecting that it is only a story’!
Alan Watts (in his book Psychotherapy East and West) calls this unconscious enforcing of the CR ‘social adjustment therapy’ and says that this is always the result when the therapist stands with society against his client, rather than the other way around. Social adjustment therapy, Alan Watts points out, necessarily lacks all integrity as a therapy –
Whenever the therapist stands with society, he will interpret his work as adjusting the individual and coaxing his ‘unconscious drives’ into social respectability. But such ‘official psychotherapy’ lacks integrity and becomes the obedient tool of armies, bureaucracies, churches, corporations, and all agencies that require individual brainwashing. On the other hand, the therapist who is really interested in helping the individual is forced into social criticism. This does not mean that he has to engage directly in political revolution; it means that he has to help the individual in liberating himself from various forms of social conditioning, which includes liberation from hating this conditioning — hatred being a form of bondage to its object.
Obviously ‘social adjustment therapy’ (or ‘official psychotherapy’) lacks all integrity – it lacks all integrity because it doesn’t have the slightest bit of regard for the the clients’ true well-being! Social adjustment therapy is aggressive therapy, and aggression (towards anything at all) always works against the health of the individual. There’s no way to ‘aggress’ (or ‘force’) someone to be mentally healthy, in other words! We’re actually manifesting our own ‘lack of mental health’ (our own ‘unconsciousness’) by trying to do this.
This is a collective failing in our part – by failing the person we are working with we are failing ourselves. There are no winners here, there is no one being helped. And yet mainstream culture (which is always the most unconscious portion of society) remains firmly ‘in charge’ of saying what mental health is and what it is not; we have therefore put all of our psychological well-being in the hands of those most unsuited for the job! The answer to the ongoing global crisis in mental health is never going to come from the mainstream and yet it is only when we are fully paid-up representatives of the mainstream that we are allowed to voice an opinion. No one else has a voice, after all…