The everyday sense of ‘self’ never changes and this is an extraordinary observation. It may not seem like an extraordinary observation (it may not even seem true) but it is. The self has this absolutely extraordinary property of never ever changing; even in a hundred years the everyday sense of self will not change – it’s as if we’re going back to ‘Square One’ every single time. More properly, we never actually leave ‘Square One’, we never actually leave the starting point. We’re always at the starting blocks, but never actually moving on. The fundamentally static nature of the self is an extraordinary thing to note because there is nothing that doesn’t change, nothing that isn’t part of the ongoing flow of change that is reality, and yet the static viewpoint that we call ‘the self’ always stays the same. How then can this be?
The self never changes because it’s only a viewpoint on reality, not the actual reality that is being viewed – it’s just a fixed set of rules that we can use to manipulate incoming information about the world. The ‘self’ is a screening-device that we filter reality through. There is a little slot, a little aperture through which the light of the world comes in and an inverted static image is thrown up on a screen, which we relate to and mistakenly call ‘reality’. We have therefore our own ‘tame version# of reality which is a frozen snapshot of the original; we don’t see the conceptual reality as being a static picture but there’s no way that it can’t be – ‘concepts’ are pictures of reality that are governed by rules, and genuine movement can never come about as a result of following rules. Rules always proceed from a fixed point, and so no matter what may seem to be happening, we are only ever going to be looking at the extrapolation of that fixed point. We are only ever going to be looking at the logical extrapolation of this fixed point and the thing about this is that there are no fixed points! There’s ‘no such thing’…
There is no such thing as ‘a fixed point in reality’, something we can orientate ourselves to and measure the world against. The only way this could happen would be if we could somehow isolate one specific element from reality as a whole and then make observations of this specific element ‘as it is in itself’, with no reference to anything outside of it, no reference anything else apart from it. When we do this however (and we always are doing this, because that’s how the conceptual mind works) we create an ‘unreal thing’; we create an unreal thing because it isn’t possible to separate out one element from everything around it and look at it purely ‘as it is in itself’. This is implicit in the holographic model – if every little bit of the world contains every other little bit (as is symbolized by the image of Indra’s Net of Jewels) then how can we hope to extract one bit, and yet at the same time hope to have that isolated or abstracted bit continue to be real? The only way anything gets to be real is by being part of Indra’s Net, after all!
Our problem in understanding this lies in the fact that we are always operating from the basis of the categorical mind and the categorical mind works by assuming the existence of ‘the world of things’, as Colin Wilson puts it. Categories are the machinery by which we create ‘things’, after all – ‘things’ are the projection of our abstract categories onto the world. Erich Fromm makes the same point when he says, ‘We live in a world of things, and our only connection with them is that we know how to consume or manipulate them’.
Consuming is of course always going to be a hollow business, which is precisely why it works so well as a system. This has been said many times before but it’s worth saying again – the system known as ‘consumerism’ works by keeping us hungry, keeping us unsatisfied, keeping us insecure! We are constantly thinking that someone somewhere is enjoying what we are not and this highly unpalatable feeling keeps us on our toes, keeps us being properly ‘competitive’. This is of course the standard critique of the ‘consumerist way of life’ but that doesn’t mean that we ever actually stop to think about it. Obviously we don’t ever stop to think about it – if we did then we wouldn’t be able to carry on in the ridiculous way that we are carrying on!
This is a point that is well worth contemplating however, if we happen to have any concern at all for our actual well-being! It is well worth contemplating because if we don’t then we are inevitably going to be steered ever more in the direction of being identified with the concrete or disconnected self. It’s the concrete or disconnected self that buys all the products, after all! The disconnected self watches all the ads and buys all the products because – unbeknownst to itself – that is the only way it has of (symbolically) regaining its lost connection with the world. To consume, and to dream the consumerist dream, is the disconnected self’s only way of ‘participating’ in life. If we were not being socially engineered to operate in the world as this ‘isolated or alienated consumer’ then society (our type of society, anyway) would straightaway start to fall apart. To ignore the mechanical forces that are operating on this therefore (and which are compelling us to experience life on behalf of the disconnected or alienated self) would be extremely unwise therefore – the life of the disconnected/alienated consumer is not a happy one, as we have already indicated. Who wants to be a hungry ghost, after all? Having a population made of hungry ghosts is great for powering the economy but there are not many laughs to be had in actually being one! Hungry ghosts don’t do much laughing…
So what other type of direction is there to go in, apart from the direction of ever-increasing narcissistic withdrawal? We started off talking about the central oddity of the self, which is – we said – that it never changes. The world is constantly changing, but the fixed viewpoint that we have haplessly identified with does not. Fixed viewpoints don’t change, after all – they don’t have to change because they aren’t part of reality; they are abstractions from reality not part of it! To move back into reality restores our connectedness, our ‘relationship’ with the dynamic world around us, but from the point of view of the disconnected desirer or consumer (i.e. ‘the alienated manipulator’) there is a high price to pay for this – the highest price of all, in fact. The ‘alienated manipulator’ which is the static self ceases to exist when we re-establish our relatedness with the dynamic reality!
In order to have an existence as a static self we have to be thoroughly insulated from any possibility of seeing our actual connectedness with reality therefore, and this is the absolute precondition for taking part in the rule-based system which is society. That’s the precondition for the game! Naturally no one is ever going to point this out for us – no one is would ever sign up to the deal if this spectacular ‘downside’ were to be brought to our attention. The very suggestion that taking part in the collective way of life that is society automatically disconnects in the fundamental away from reality (and from ourselves) is incomprehensible to us – no one is going to take this on board. ‘Spoiling the party’ doesn’t come into it! Yet for anyone with a modicum of psychological insight only a few moments of careful consideration will suffice to show the truth of what we are saying here. When ‘everything is about the image’ then how can we ever possibly allow reality into the picture?
This is such a basic principle – if the description of (or ‘signifier for’) reality is to ‘take on a life of its own’ (as it must if we are to play the game) then that which is being described (or that which is being signified) must be banished completely, must be taken out of the equation completely. This ‘banishment of reality’ is the lynchpin of the whole mechanism – this is how the map takes over from the territory, by eliminating that territory. This is of course the principle behind Baudrillard’s hyperreality; the fake can only thrive in the absence of the real, and in the absence of the real the fake thrives like the most virulent of weeds! In the absence of the real the fake has a field day. In the absence of the real the show is absolutely unstoppable – it is of course utterly worthless, conducive to nothing but various shades and flavours of confusions, misery and frustration, but it is unstoppable all the same!
So no one is ever going to come up to us and tell us at the price we are paying for being ‘one hundred per cent adapted to society’ is that we have to be disconnected both from the reality of the world and the reality of our own actual nature, and – as we have said – even if they did we wouldn’t know what they were talking about. We wouldn’t know what they were saying and we wouldn’t want to know. It is therefore both extremely important that we should know this thing, and at the same time we are supremely resistant to ever taking it on board. So why is it so important, we might ask? Certainly it is not important in the moral sense – it’s not as if there is a moral framework there that we have to obey! All frameworks – without exceptions – are arbitrary impositions, and so too are the so-called ‘moral imperatives’ that derive from them. This is easy enough to show – the most essential element in life is –we could say – freedom, since without freedom there can be no chance whatsoever of happiness or any type of well-being, and yet we can’t make freedom into a moral issue without straightaway becoming ridiculous. Should we make a law saying that ‘we have to be free’? Obviously, as soon as we do this we have actually taken away our freedom – we have ‘made freedom compulsory’, we have taken away our freedom not to be free.
We can’t say that it is ‘important’ that we should understand the crisis that has been created by the loss of our connection with reality, the loss of our connectedness from our own inherent nature, in a moral sense therefore, and yet there is an ‘urgency’ to the matter all the same. The imperative here is not a rule that is imposed on us from the outside, an ‘official guideline’ that we have to adhere to, but rather it is an impulse that arises naturally within us when we become aware of our true situation. If we say that our true situation is that we are ‘unknowingly trapped within a false reality’ (as the essential Gnostic myth puts it) then the impulse that arises within us might be said to be ‘revulsion with regard to this state of affairs’. This is the ‘inner revulsion’ spoken of in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. If I suddenly see that I’ve been tricked to into accepting a vastly inferior ‘pseudo-reality’ in place of the real thing, a pseudo-reality that is utterly inimical as regards the expression of my true nature, then what would my response be? Certainly I will be not acting out of any sense of morality, out of any idea about what is ‘right or ‘wrong’. This situation isn’t something we need to ‘think about’!
If we look at this in terms of Jean Baudrillard’s hyperreality, then we can say that hyperreality represents an ‘inverted form of freedom’ – we are ‘free’ to adapt ourselves to whatever deterministic templates are provided for us, we are ‘free’ to buy into whatever static identity it is that the system is offering us. The Realm of the Hyperreal offers us ‘freedom from our true nature’ therefore, but this is a distinctly odd form of freedom because it what it really translates into is ‘the freedom to be enslaved by whatever images or thoughts the thinking mind throws at us.’ We are represented in such and such a way, but there is no choice in this for us – straightaway our consciousness is sucked up and magnetically compelled to believe that it is ‘this, that or the other identity’. Freedom from our actual undetermined nature always means slavery to the fixed form, therefore. We can be ‘free’ from who we really are only by being plunged into a state of compulsory identification with whatever image the thinking mind presents us with – that’s the only way ‘freedom from our true nature’ can ever work, obviously!
So when we say that the everyday self never changes, and that this is that this is ‘proof of its unreality’, then this is just another way of saying that the Realm of the Hyperreal never changes. Of course hyperreality never changes, never flows, never recklessly jumps over its own boundaries; if it did that then it would be the real, not the hyperreal! Hyperreality is all about identity – things are always what they are said to be, they can’t deviate from this in the slightest! Identity is by its very nature ‘stuck to itself’ and on this account it can never have any depth. It can never be otherwise than what it is literally stated as being and this is exactly why it can never have any actual depth. And yet at the same time there is no ‘identity’ to anything really, there is ‘no such thing’, and so all this fuss is about nothing. We have the security of having an identity, it is true, but the price we pay for this ‘security’ is being locked into an artificial state of being that we might call fundamental alienation – the fundamental alienation of being identified with a static viewpoint, the fundamental alienation of being identified with a viewpoint that never ever changes, the fundamental alienation of being removed from life itself…
Art: Speedy Grafitto