No one can tell us to be a rebel, or advise us in this regard. If they do and we take heed of them, then we are being a conformist, not a rebel. We are just being a slave, which means that nothing has changed. We’re following orders unquestioningly, which is the default mode.
We can relate this to what Gauguin said about art being either plagiarism or revolution; we might think that there are other possibilities in-between plagiarism and revolution, copying and creativity, but there aren’t! It is either one or the other – there is no halfway house.
What Gauguin said doesn’t just apply to art, though – it applies equally to the whole question of mental health and what that much talked-about state might consist of. We can say that each one of us is either heteronomous or autonomous, and that there is no way that the state of heteronomy (which is the state of being in which we bow to an external authority with regard to how we are supposed to see the world) can be called ‘healthy’. It isn’t healthy because it denies our actual individuality, because it crushes our creativity and because it involves the repression our essential autonomy.
The implication here is massive – straight away we can see that no one can tell us how to go about being mentally healthy, we can see that there can be no such thing as ‘an officially-sanctioned way or method to become better off mental health-wise’. The collective cannot advise us on that! Just as Krishnamurti says that ‘truth is a pathless land’, so too is mental well-being. There’s no mental well-being in walking in someone else’s path, someone else’s groove, despite the great convenience of it – all there is in this is heteronomy.
We don’t like to hear this of course. For one thing, it goes against everything we believe in, everything we take for granted, and for another, just as long as we are acting operating on the basis of the consensus viewpoint then we are constitutionally unable to grasp the point. When we are socially adapted then as far as we are concerned the well-worn path so the only thing we can relate to. The more well-worn the path the more we cherish it, and if something isn’t a path at all (if no validation or consensus approval can be obtained for it) then we are going to be totally averse to it. We won’t touch it with a barge pole.
‘It’s not safe’, we might say, ‘it’s unproven.’ And these objections – in one way – are completely true. ‘Safe’ is certainly not a word we can use here, and what we’re talking about is without any doubt ‘unproven’. We’re not going to argue about that. What we’re talking about here is life and life can never be safe. Existence is risk, as the existential philosophers tell us. There is no proven way to live life and to believe that there should be is an illness! To believe that there is (or should) be a ‘risk-free way of living life’ is an illness which we all collectively subscribe to. That is exactly what society is all about – following precedence. To do what has no precedence is to be beyond the pale.
If there is no way to live life then there is also no method to obtain mental health – the absence of good mental health is a part of life, our mental suffering is part of life and there is no way of avoiding it, no matter how clever or resourceful we might be. Mental suffering isn’t something we can ‘manage’ – despite all the talk we come out with in the mental health industries – it isn’t something we can manage because ‘managing’ means utilising a tried and trusted strategy and there’s no such thing. There are no strategies to help us with mental suffering and the desire to do so is nothing more than neurotic avoidance. It’s a form of neurotic avoidance that seems legitimate to us because we have collectively validated it.
Mental health doesn’t mean being clever enough to avoid suffering, it means responding to our suffering in a way that is autonomous, as Ivan Illich says. Responding autonomously means that we are engaging with it ourselves and not ‘handing it over’; naturally we want very much to hand it over (either to the experts or to some officially approved methodology) but it just so happens that we can’t do this. We have to do it first hand, we can’t get anyone else to do the work for us. Plagiarism isn’t the thing here. We have to be ‘original’ and the fact that there is no way to figure a way out (no way to deal with suffering is actually a gift in disguise. The fact that no one else can tell us what to do is a gift in disguise inasmuch as the pain that we cannot avoid pushes us and pushes us until we have to give up our tricks, and face it head on.
It is through being pushed that we discover our autonomy therefore, and so being pushed isn’t the unmitigated evil that we take it to be. Being ‘second-hand’ isn’t good enough, copying what everyone else does and thinks isn’t good enough – the only thing that is going to help us is when we shed the trappings of who the external authority (which is thought) says we are and take the unprecedented risk of finding out what – if anything – lies behind it. We can relate this to Saying 82 in the Gospel of Thomas: “Jesus said: He who is near to me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the kingdom.” Taking this risk – which doesn’t make any logical sense at all – is an act of rebellion against the external authority to which we are enslaved; it is as Krishnamurti says ‘the only true revolution’. Either we rebel against everything we have been told, everything we have been led to believe, or we don’t – in which case we carry on living our lives in a second-hand way, as plagiarists, as ‘who we have been told we are’, which is ‘copying’ rather than ‘creativity’…
Art- Paul Gauguin, self-portrait