Fully-Programmable Humans

Ours is an age that specialises in the industrial production of fully-programmable human beings whilst at the same time generating the very persuasive illusion that it’s all about personal empowerment, personal freedom, personal choice, etc,.

It could be argued that we have always been subject to the invasive conditioning of whatever society we happen to have been born into and this is undeniable. It might also be argued – with some grounds – that personal freedom has increased dramatically over the last few hundred years. The grosser forms of enslavement and disempowerment would now be considered appalling anachronisms that no right-thinking person would tolerate for a second, but this visible progress could easily distract us from a more subtle form of bondage that has become both all-pervasive and extremely difficult to spot. We can explain how this could be by looking at what Douglas Flemons (1991) calls the Salesman’s Trick

As any good hypnotist, magician, or comedian knows, the offer or availability of freely choosing between alternatives at a given contextual level brings the particularities of choice into the foreground of conscious awareness. This necessarily relegates to the background (i.e. out of awareness and out of the realm of conscious choice) the higher-level context or premise determining the range and meaning of the offered alternatives. The presence of choice (between particularities) at one level masks – and in some sense precludes – choice (between premises) at a more encompassing level.


The way we trick someone in this way, as Flemons says, is by offering them a profusion of trivial choices that capture their attention in such a way that they cannot see beyond them. When we can’t see beyond the domain that is composed of ‘choices that are only trivially different from each other’ then these trivial choices cease to be trivial – they become deeply significant and entirely worthy of our deliberations with regard to what choice we want to go with. The trivial issue becomes a big deal, in other words. Being fully engaged with what we have been provided with means that we are wholly oblivious to the bigger picture, and so what we’re talking about here is simple distraction.

Society empowers us to the extent that it offers us all these trivial choices therefore, but it is a phoney type of empowerment since what’s happening here is that we are being kept unconscious of what’s really going on. We are being granted the freedom not to see that we have lost our freedom, in other words, which is a freedom that feels good at first, since it is easy, but which takes us to a bad place in the long run since we are now lost in a pseudo-world that is made up entirely of issues that don’t really matter one way or the other. Once we look at things in terms of the Salesman’s Trick it becomes much easier to see that this is what contemporary society is all about. It’s not about anything else – only the provision of false and therefore entrapping freedoms. We are provided with false and entrapping freedoms which we compete viciously for (since all of these so-called ‘freedoms’ have to be paid for and only those of us who are successful in the game will be able to afford them).

In the past when society was much cruder in the way that it oppressed its members, it was relatively easy to see the lack of freedom; nowadays we have been so very effectively sucked in by the salesman’s trick that no one is going to see the oppression. We consider ourselves to be educated, sophisticated, cultured, capable of making our own choices in life, and so on and so forth, which makes it all the more difficult for us to understand that we have been made fools of. To see that we’re being taken for fools isn’t of course consistent with our idea of ourselves as being ‘empowered and autonomous individuals’, and so this is another reason for us not to see it (if one were needed).

The way the setup works therefore is that we are kept busy competing for a false type of freedom that we can’t see to be false. It is false because what it comes down to is ‘the freedom to choose between options that are only nominally different’. If the difference was significant then the freedom here would be real but this isn’t the case – all of our so-called choices come down to the same thing – we are choosing to play the game. Actually – however – we aren’t really choosing anything since we don’t know the game to be a game. In order for us to see the game for what it is we would have to be able to see beyond it and this is the one thing we can’t do! This is what the salesman’s trick is all about – distracting us from seeing that we have been cheated. We’ve been given some cheap trinket with one hand whilst being robbed of something which has genuine value with the other. We have been cheated out of the possibility of being genuinely free – because we can’t see the game to be a game we don’t realise that we don’t have to play it. We think it’s simply reality and so we don’t question it.

This isn’t some philosophical or sociological observation that we can amuse ourselves with if we wish, if that happens to be our thing – it is of the most pressing significance to us anything ever could be. What could be more deserving of our attention than the fact that we have been cheated (or have cheated ourselves) of our intrinsic freedom, and have been press-ganged into taking part in a game we can’t see to be a game? We can talk about the advances that we have made in our civilization and point – for example – to technology and medicine, but this is a bit of a decoy. What is all the technology in the world worth if we are ‘unfree without knowing it’? What use is it for us to extend our lifespans (as we have done) if this only means ‘extending the period of our enslavement’? If we are not putting our autonomy first then anything else we work on is merely part of our collective denial, the collective denial of our true situation. If we don’t put the truth first then what good is anything we do?

We would all agree that theft is ‘a bad thing’, and that we ought not to do it, but when it comes to the biggest theft of all – which is the theft of our intrinsic freedom – we don’t say anything about it. This societal game that we have been subsumed within is not life but a poor substitute for it, a sham version of it. Life isn’t a matter of choosing between one trivial choice and another – the act of deciding (as much as we might value it) is a denial of the freedom we have not to waste our time with such nonsense. As Oscar Wilde has said, ‘The fact is that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, accept what is worth knowing’. It turns out – unsurprisingly enough – that it is not possible to rob people of their intrinsic freedom in this way (and replace it with the deceptive extrinsic freedom which is provided by the social game) without introducing a ‘jinx’ that can never be remedied. We can celebrate the realm of trivial choice as much as we like, we can talk it up as much as we like, promote it as much as we like, but nothing can ever cover up its essential hollowness – or at least, not for very long.

Our socially-sanctioned ‘job’ – so to speak – is to try to cover up that hollowness as best we can. That’s the denial – our duty is our denial and our denial our duty. We put a spin on this however and say that we’re ‘chasing our dreams’ or ‘striving to achieve our life goals’, or whatever else, but what we’re really trying to do is fill an existential void (and whatever we chuck into that void is going to disappear without a trace). That is – of course – how it always is with existential voids. Were we not constrained to live out our lives within a superficial game that we mistake for reality then there would be no existential void, and so that in itself would be the cure for our jinxed situation. Instead, however, we go in the opposite direction and engage all the more feverishly in the societal game. ‘More and better doing,’ is seen as the answer to all of our ills; ‘set goals and persevere until you attain them,’ we are told. ‘Gain the confidence that comes with successful purposeful action’ is the message we are given – ‘Keep on striving and don’t ever be discouraged, don’t ever be beaten. Make sure you stay positive no matter what…’

Our goals are just ‘the game’ however. Our striving is the game, our attempts to find validation for our lives within the social framework is the game, and so we’re trying to cure ourselves with the very thing that made us sick in the first place. The problem isn’t that we ‘aren’t trying hard enough’ but rather that the goals which we have been provided with are lures which are being used to trap us. We’ve been tricked on two fronts: [1] we’ve been tricked into thinking that what we’re doing is what we really want to do (when it’s not), and [2] we’ve been tricked into believing that these activities will make us happy (when they absolutely won’t). Ours is not an age marked by our valuing of the autonomy of the individual, but the exact reverse of this. The ‘valuing of the individual’ which we hear so much about in the West is a myth – we’re buying our individuality off the shelf, and so what we’re saying isn’t true. We value the appearance of individuality, not the thing itself…





‘Writing Off’ Psychosis

If there is one thing we are very bad at understanding – in this super-rational culture of ours – it is psychosis. Our attempts to understand psychosis (inasmuch as we ever do make the attempt) are very lame indeed. For the most part we don’t seek to understand it at all, we simply write it off. It’s as if my computer screen suddenly starts showing me a whole bunch of incomprehensible (but nevertheless very interesting) symbols and so I just dismiss it as ‘the computer malfunctioning’ and don’t look at into it any further. That’s how much interest we have in the phenomenon of psychosis itself; as ardent rationalists we very much don’t want to believe in anything that we consider as ‘strange’. We have maximal resistance to anything of that sort…

The lay-person – it’s true – may have a passing interest in the content of psychosis (to a point) but the general rule is that the more professional we are the less interest we’re going to have in the actual content of what the person diagnosed as with psychosis is actually saying. A very professional healthcare specialist will have no interest at all! It’s actually a badge of honour for us to have no curiosity on this score; we’d show ourselves up big time otherwise and consequently lose credibility in front of our colleagues. The only interest we have is in ‘classifying the content’ and what this obsession with labels shows is that we are in fact perfectly uninterested. We have a perfectly closed mind on the subject and this – it appears – is what is required of us to be a professional in the world of mental healthcare, in the world of psychiatry.

If this were not so – if you are the type of person who finds what a psychotic patient says as being fascinating in its own right (rather than being interested only in the labels which we impose on it) then this would be a black mark against you. If you happen to be the sort of person who is constantly trying to look at psychosis or schizophrenia in new ways, rather than being content to operate purely on the basis of accepted wisdom, purely on the basis of ‘the orthodox view of things’, then this would make you something of a loose cannon. That would be rather like a clergyman who suddenly starts offering novel interpretations of the gospels in the pulpit – this is in no way going to endear them to their superiors. The Church has no more interest in radically new interpretations of what Jesus was actually saying than the medical hierarchy has in new ways of trying to understand the schizophrenic-type disorders.

The profession of psychiatry – and the world of mental healthcare in general – is marked by extraordinary conformity to the established way of thinking, not by the restless questioning of the accepted truths. We all know very well that ‘too much questioning’ (or even any questioning at all) can only lead to one thing and that is ‘exclusion from the club’. This is a fail-safe way to ensure that our career goes into a steep nosedive! We may not necessarily like to admit this that this is the way things are, but we all know it just the same – we are not paid to question the sacred dogmas. We’re not paid to think for ourselves.

And yet ‘restlessly questioning whatever what everyone assumes to be true’ is the very hallmark of science. This is what the scientific approach is all about, this is precisely what distinguishes it from all other ‘ways of knowing’. This is what makes science different from ‘blind belief’, which is the default mode that we all fall back into when we lose our curiosity, when we lose our courage to question. The true scientist is a person who never lets anything go, no matter how much societal pressure might be brought to bear on them to do so. Science isn’t about conforming to societal pressure! The philosophy of science is a revolutionary one, in other words – without people having had the courage to question orthodoxy, there would be no science.

Another, related, irony here is to be found in the readily observable fact that most of us who are dealing, in a professional way, with people suffering (or otherwise) from what we call psychosis tend to be drawn from the ranks of the more ‘conventional-minded’ members of society . This isn’t meant as an insult, it just seems to be the way things are. This is – for whatever reason – how it appears to work. Human beings range of course across the full spectrum of ‘very closed-minded’ to ‘very open-minded’ and selective pressures mean that it is generally the more conservative folk who tend to provide successful candidates for the role of ‘mental health professional’, of whatever type. This job falls to those of us who are – for whatever reason – inclined to protect and preserve the status quo rather than those of us who can’t help challenging the rules, who can’t help challenging the conventions. The reason the anti-psychiatrists are as reviled as much as they are in the profession is because they have left the side down and as far is ‘group think’ is concerned there is no greater sin than this. It’s all about loyalty…

The reason this closed-mindedness of ours when dealing with issues of mental health constitutes an irony is because psychosis occurs as a result of us being unusually open-minded, unusually open to ‘novel ways of seeing the world’ – ways of seeing the world that most of ours would dismiss immediately, without even giving the matter a moment’s consideration. When most of us meet someone who is open in this way it is usually the case that we see what they are saying as ‘silly’ or ‘nonsensical’ or ‘daft’, or whatever. This is what we say – or at the least what we privately think – that the person is ‘away with the fairies’, and that no right-thinking person should listen to them. In short, we automatically dismiss what they’re saying just as we automatically dismiss anything else that doesn’t agree with our established worldview. We write it off ‘by reflex’, and this is our standard modality for getting through life. This is our ‘coping strategy’ when it comes to dealing with all the strange, unaccountable things that happen in life.

This is how rationality itself works – the type of rational statements the thinking mind operates on the basis of – can only be as definite in their nature as they are because all competing viewpoints on the matter have been very thoroughly excluded. The mind is a ‘reducing valve’, as Aldous Huxley has famously said. When we suggest that psychosis can be associated with what we might call ‘radical open-mindedness’ this is not by any means a trivial thing to say – if the thinking mind’s operation is based upon the thorough exclusion of competing viewpoints (if rationality works operates by being one -sided, as Jung says it does, then the suggestion that psychosis is a sign of the failure of this ability that the mind has to exclude competing viewpoints (i.e., the failure of the reducing valve to reduce the full sweep of possibilities down to a single ‘official’ one) can hardly be dismissed as whimsical or trivial. Rationality creates an ‘artificial view of the world’ that has to be constantly maintained against all those forces which would fatally compromise it and it is this unacknowledged defensiveness that lies at the root of our zealotry.

The trouble is that when we go down the road of seeing everything in terms of ‘open versus closed’ we are opening a particularly worrying can of worms. We’re opening Pandora’s Box and everyone knows that we’re not supposed to do that! In one way, therefore, it makes sense that we should send our most compartmentalised (or ‘concrete’) people into the front-line of psychiatry. They are the most impervious to ‘non-equilibrium thinking’ and so they can act as our front-line soldiers, protecting the rest of us from any destabilising influence. The original ethos behind psychiatric hospitals was not, after all, to help the unfortunates who were admitted, but to protect the wider community from having to encounter them. Psychiatry is where we send our ‘elite units’ in the war against strangeness. Rationality -as we have said – always has to defend itself against the chaos of irregularity, the chaos of the disordered, the chaos of whatever doesn’t fit into our narrow scheme of things. Our entire modality of existence in the West is based on rationality, which is to say, on ‘explaining unexplained phenomena away’. We might say that this is ‘science’, but it isn’t – science isn’t about explaining things away, as we have already said, but – rather — it’s about not being afraid to have our best theories disproved.

We explain the experience of psychosis away by saying that it is a ‘brain error’ of some sort or other. We can’t fix it but at least we can have the satisfaction of rationalising away what is actually of course both a tremendously irrational and yet at the same time incredibly potent experience. We have responded to this challenge by relegating this entire domain of human experience to a very narrow pigeonhole, the pigeonhole of psychiatry. This is what we do with everything of course – we fragment the whole domain of knowledge into innumerable specialties, none of which are particularly good at communicating with each other. This has been pointed out many times of course but that doesn’t mean anything has changed (or shows any sign of changing). Psychosis has been made the province of one such narrow specialty and the result of this is that it has become a ‘nothing but’ that no one cares about. It has been explained, it has been buried, it has been neatly removed from the public domain so that none of us ever have to think about it. Our societal duty is to shut that stuff down…

But perhaps psychosis is something rather more significant than we like think it is. Perhaps it’s not as safe a subject as we imagine it to be, perhaps we were too quick to draw a curtain over it and consign it to a bunch  of dull text books.  Perhaps we understand nothing about it at all. Can we really explain away the most existentially challenging experience it is possible to have so very easily, or is it just that we’re afraid of what we might find out if we don’t reduce it to a ‘nothing but’? Is it not perhaps the case that what we’re really worried about is discovering that our nice neat rational way of understanding the world is just a glorified evasion, and that – as Shakespeare has said – there are ‘more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies’?




Image – pixabay.com










Revolution Versus Plagiarism

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




When Consciousness Is The Enemy

The ego’s Number One Concern is that it should not see itself for what it is. If we could understand this then we would understand everything! If we could understand this then we would be freed from the web of illusion that the ego is forever spinning…

The ego’s game is to run away from seeing itself: to succeed in this game is pleasure, to fail pain. This game is all-consuming, which is to say, it doesn’t leave any space for anything else. The whole point is that there is no space left for anything else; if we saw that there was something else, something beyond the game of good and bad, right and wrong, pleasure and pain, then the game would be over at that point. Then there would be no game.

The game allows no space for anything that is not the game and that is how all games work, by eclipsing reality, by substituting themselves for reality. The game for us is all there is, and for this reason it cannot be seen to be a game. Right versus wrong, pleasure versus pain, constitutes a continuum and there is no place to be on this continuum that is not about winning failing or succeeding, gaining or losing. We cannot have any awareness other than the compulsive type of awareness that is conditioned by polarity, conditioned by the continuum of [+] and [-].

We have no choice but to be busy when we are playing the game, in other words, and this busyness consumes our attention, with nothing at all left over. Being busy in the way that we are (being constantly concerned with the need to succeed rather than fail) is what keeps us from ever seeing the ego for what it is. Succeeding rather than failing is all the ego cares about, and this is just another way of saying that all the ego cares about is itself, which is not exactly news to anyone! That’s what makes the ego ‘the ego’, after all.

There’s more to this than meets the eye, however (or less to this than meets the eye, if we want to put it that way). We all know that all the ego cares about is the ego – that’s common knowledge – what we don’t see is that this self-obsessed ego doesn’t actually exist. When we identify with it as a viewpoint and put all our attention onto the never-ending business of ‘trying to win rather than lose’ then this absorption in the game of gain versus loss creates the very strong impression that there is someone there to either succeed or fail, win or lose. The more we struggle the more we reify the concept of ‘the struggler’!

This is the ‘fruit’ of our non-stop busyness, therefore: the fruit of our non-stop busyness is the perception that ‘I am this self’ (which is also the perception that ‘I am not anything else’). Here in the Western world we place a very high value on being busy, on industry, on the production of ‘stuff’  – ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’, we say, but the real reason we value busyness and striving for success so much is that we wish to reify the concept of ‘the one who is striving’, ‘the one who stands to be either a success or a failure’. This is a basic insight.

All our efforts are going into the project of creating (or trying to create) a comforting illusion therefore, and were we to see this it would of course put a very different complexion on how we view our activities. There’s nothing so very inspirational about this after all – what’s so inspirational about spending our entire lives creating and maintaining a suffering-producing illusion (because that’s what the ego is), without ever having a clue as to what we’re really doing and not wanting to know either? This is hardly the sort of behaviour we can feel good about, or award ourselves medals for, and yet – somehow – we do. That’s exactly what we do.

Consciousness is our enemy when we are in this modality of being; were we to gain insight into what we’re doing, and what our motivation is behind it all, the game would we be well and truly up for us. This is why we have so hysterically demonised the use of psychedelic drugs, for example – because we absolutely do not want to have any insight into what the real reason for all our activity is. We absolutely don’t want to see the ego for what it is – which is to say, a phoney, a pretender – an impostor hiding behind a smokescreen of fake, time-wasting activities. This is what gives rise to the ‘taboo against knowing who you are’ that Alan Watts talks about. This is why we are conducting a covert ‘war against consciousness’.

It’s perfectly understandable that we don’t want to see this, therefore – it’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to see, an extraordinarily challenging thing to see. Catching a glimpse of what we’re really up to with this business of identifying with the ego (and our consequent total immersion in the game of pleasure versus pain, advantage versus disadvantage) is something rather like catching a glimpse of the devil himself! No one wants to see the devil but when we’re not aware of him (when we have our heads firmly in the sand) then we’re in trouble! When we talk about the Shadow this is what we really talking about; the shadow is a code word for our awareness of the dodgy business that’s secretly going on in the background; we have been recruited into a pattern of thinking, a pattern of behaviour, that is supposedly all about celebrating life, enjoying life, exploring life, but which is actually the very antithesis of this. It is actually an act of denial.

There is a smokescreen of nefarious activity going on that we get lost in, absorbed in, caught up in, which implicitly claims to be legitimate but which is actually all about perpetuating our web of illusions. It’s nefarious because by lavishing all our attention on the fake we miss out on the real. By devoting ourselves to the false, we neglect the true. We don’t realise it, but we are betraying ourselves – we’re betraying ourselves because we are forever striving to benefit who we aren’t at the expense of who we are.

We do gain awareness of this, ever so often, and when we do there is generally a lot of pain involved. There is pain because of the difficulty in processing the initial revelation, and there is pain because of the awareness that everything we have painstakingly invested in over the years is no use to us at all. This is a long drawn-out process of disillusionment and disinvestment and there is nothing we like less than disillusionment and disinvestment. If we could ‘stick the course’ then the insight – however bitter – would liberate us, but the chances are that we will be discouraged from this and rather than sticking the course we will attempt to reverse the process and run away from the painful awareness. Running away from unwanted awarenesses is – after all – a long-standing habit of ours…

Society itself – which is the game of the ego writ large – will discourage us from ‘staying the course’. The type of ‘painful awareness’ that we’re talking about here involves disillusionment not just with the social world that we have adapted (which is based on the values of competition, goal-orientatedness, and self-promotion) but also with ourselves, with our own ‘personal game’, so to speak, and for this reason the process of disillusionment is pathologized on all sides. Our painful awareness is treated like a sickness – we will be told that we are suffering from a mental health condition. We are almost inevitably going to ‘side with the game’ (or side with the consensus view) in this and this is of course hardly surprising given that ‘the game is all we know’. We don’t know that ‘the game is only a game’, and as a result we are much too frightened to let go of it…





Art: GOOD AND EVIL, (Straatkunst), on pinterest.ie







The Power Game

According to psychotherapist Morgan Scott Peck, neurosis is where we take on too much responsibility (where we take on an unrealistic degree of responsibility) whilst sociopathy is where we take on too little (or more often, none at all). This might sound a little over-simplistic on first hearing but it turns out to be a very useful way of thinking about things. It can give us a way of understanding how society works. A closely related psychological dichotomy would be to contrast people who have a tendency to blame others in times of difficulty and those who automatically blame themselves instead. When we blame ourselves for everything then we are clearly taking on too much responsibility and if on the other hand it is never our fault, no matter how damning the evidence, then obviously the converse is true.

In the most general terms this comes down to our style of dealing with pain – either we displace it onto other people (or onto the world in general) or we internalise it or swallow it down ourselves. This corresponds to Chogyam Trungpa’s dichotomy of ‘acting out’ versus ‘repressing’, which are the ego’s only two ways of dealing with pain. These are our two conditioned ways of dealing with pain that are – actually – not ways of dealing with pain! If we are considering the dynamics of society as a whole we can say that society must therefore consist, to a large extent, of [1] people who take on pain that doesn’t really belong to them and [2] people who pass on (or try to pass on) pain that is legitimately theirs, and which they won’t ever own. To give a very simple example, in the first case if I am having a run of bad luck and nothing is working out for me then I assume that I must be a flawed or defective person and that I just don’t deserve good things to happen to me, and if I have the other style of dealing with pain then I’m convinced that it’s someone else’s fault instead and get angry with them about what I think they’re doing. I want to find a scapegoat in other words, whereas in the first case I will make myself into the scapegoat.

We can see this dichotomy very clearly in abusive relationships – the fuel for the abuse – so to speak – is that I as an abuser have a lot of emotional pain that I am absolutely determined to take no responsibility for and so what I want to do is find someone who will take on the job feeling the pain for me, so I don’t have to. None of this can be transparent however – I can’t let myself know that I’m making you take on pain that is rightfully mine and not yours because this in itself would be a painful awareness and my whole orientation is towards avoiding pain or displacing it elsewhere. Because this is my orientation I have to really believe that it’s your fault, I have to be convinced that it’s your fault, and for your part, you have to be convinced – if possible  – that it really is you who is to blame (maybe not because of anything specific that you have done, although very often of course it is) but simply because you are a crappy worthless person who deserves to take the blame. I will tell you this over and over again, just to make sure it sinks in. This is what abusive relationships are all about, as we all know.

Abuse happens all the time of course – it’s a big part of life, whether we realise it or not. ‘You’re a crappy person,’ we say, hoping that this will stick, hoping that our target won’t ‘turn it around on us’ and send the label back to us with even more force that we put in it. This is what a row is – two people each trying their best to be the one dishing out the shit rather than the one who has to take it. Someone has to take the blame, someone has to take the negative kudos, and so we have to struggle to make sure it isn’t us. We have to struggle to be the winner and not the loser. This is no minor psychological oddity that we’re talking about here, therefore; what we’re looking at is the basic human game – the power game, the game of one-upmanship. This is why society – any society – is always based on a power hierarchy – as is well known by everyone, the higher up the hierarchy we are the less shit we have to take! If we make it to the very top then we don’t take any shit from anyone – we don’t take it, we give it. And – by the same token – if we are right at the bottom of the power pyramid then everyone can take a dump on us; everyone can shit on us because we have no status and so there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. We can’t even displace it onto someone else because there’s no one below us – we just have to suck it up.



If we say that society (any society) is a power hierarchy, underneath all the gloss, then this makes it plain what the game is here, this makes it clear what our motivation to play the game is – we want to (spuriously) validate ourselves by climbing as far up as the ladder as we can. This is why those of us who make it to the upper levels of the power structure – the aristocrats, so to speak – look so pleased with themselves. It is almost inevitably the case that we will assume that our position is the result of our own virtue, our own worthiness, our own innate ‘superiority’ (if we get to get right down to brass tacks) and so this is why we feel so good about ourselves. It’s not the case that we are at the top of the power hierarchy because of our innate superiority however, but rather it is the case that we get to feel superior because we are now in the position of being able to downwardly displace all of our angst and insecurity down to the lower levels. It’s the other way around – we’re not at the top of the pyramid because of our any special virtue that we might possess, but because our elevated position allows us to get away with defining ourselves as being especially worthy, especially deserving of the comfortable position we are in. We feel superior because we are able to define all those below us in the hierarchy as being unworthy, feckless, lazy and generally undeserving. It is this trick that allows the crude game of capitalism to remain respectable.

It might be imagined that we cherish power for lots of reasons but, as Nietzsche says somewhere, power is all about allowing us to say what the truth is. This is what we are ultimately playing for. When we’re at the top of the pyramid then we get to be the one who defines reality and we will do this to suit ourselves, naturally enough. We create the game that everyone else has to play and this game is invariably rigged in our favour; we say that the game is ‘fair’, but actually it’s anything but. It is said that ‘power corrupts’ but the corruption doesn’t lie in the temptation to use that power to gain material benefits – although this of course comes into it – but to use that power so as to be the one who says what reality is.  This means we are always going to come out on top; we are always ‘right’ and anyone who disagree with us is always going to be ‘wrong’. This is what happens in all social groups (all organisations, all institutions, etc) – the powerful say what is true and what is not true so that the only way to ‘get ahead’ is to play the game that has been given to us to play, which means that even if we win (especially if we win) we’re winning against ourselves. When sociologists say that ideology is the invisible prison that we ourselves constructed and maintain, this is what they mean. In society, it is always the case that we keep ourselves prisoner – we ourselves put in the work to do this, no one else. Or as Carlos Castaneda puts it, the strategy of the predator is to give us its own malign mind, and this way we are defeated whatever we do. Our very winning is losing.

Games don’t offer us the possibility of winning (which is what they claim to do) they are the way in which we get to be ‘trapped in someone else’s reality’, which is a situation that is never going to work out for us. Most of us want to ‘do the right thing’ and so our motivation is not malign, the only thing here however is that we never think about who it is that has said what ‘the right thing’ is, and this is our downfall. As Philip K Dick says, this is ‘service in error’ – it’s not enough that we are essentially goodhearted and genuinely want to do the right thing in life, we also have to be curious about what is going on and question the authorities which we serve. The only problem here is that ‘the authorities’ inevitably define ‘questioning’ as ‘a very bad thing’!







Making The Ego Great Again

The paradigm we operate under, in this modern rational era of ours, is the ‘Ego-Repairing’ one. Any mental health problems we have are always seen (either implicitly or explicitly) as being due to a lack of buoyancy or resilience on the part of the all-important ego. Our ego isn’t confident enough and so this missing confidence – so it seems to us – needs to be reinstated (however we are going to do that). Our ego-strength is insufficient for the daily demands that are being made upon it, we say, and so we need to build it up again. This is all we need to know about the Ego-Repairing Paradigm – it is nothing if not obvious!

This approach doesn’t work, however. We’re nothing if not determined in our attempt to make it work but we’re also remarkably reluctant to look at the fact that we aren’t really getting anywhere with it. We don’t have a lot – if anything – to say about this, and the reason for this is possibly that we simply can’t see any other approach that we could take. We can’t see what else we could be doing and so we really don’t want to admit that we might have gone down a dead end. If it’s the only game in town then we are obliged to keep on playing it, no matter what secret doubts we might have on the subject. The important thing is not to talk about these doubts, and we don’t!

Our problem is that we are taking a very narrow view of things and can’t for the life of us see that we are. This is what the rational ego is – it’s a narrow view of the world that we can’t – from this self-same vantage point – see to be narrow; it is a narrow viewpoint that has on this account become subjectively everything to us, a viewpoint that has subsumed within itself the whole of what is possible. The rational ego isn’t really who we are, in other words – it’s just a narrowing down of attention that we can’t see to be a narrowing down of attention. It is a limited or superficial version of who we are that we can’t see to be superficial or limited. This being so, it clearly doesn’t make any sense to see mental health as being somehow synonymous with having a ‘new and improved ego’. The robustness of the ego isn’t really the thing here. Bolstering up the beleaguered ego isn’t the healthy thing to do – it isn’t healthy because ‘healthy’ means whole and that is exactly what the rational ego isn’t. The ego thinks that it is ‘the Whole of Everything’ (it’s ‘a fraction that thinks itself to be an integer’, as Joseph Campbell says), but it isn’t. It thinks that it is (or should be) the boss, but it isn’t. It’s a fake boss, a usurper, just like the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham was a usurper.  Our ego wants to be ‘It’, as Alan Watts says, but it isn’t ‘It’. The self-construct can never be ‘It’! That I am It (or could be It if I try hard enough) is a vain fantasy that I keep on buying into; this is what repairing the ego construct is all about – ‘making the ego great again’, when the plain truth of the matter is that it never was.  The over-inflated, over-valent ego is a sickness we cannot see as such – we are busy worshipping a false god here!

The rational ego-identity is essentially nothing more than a boundary or dividing line, when it comes down to it. Thought fragments, as David Bohm says, and the ego-identity is the fruit of that fragmentation. The rational identity is constructed on the basis of the boundary between self and other and – whilst we might not disagree with this (how could we?) – what we don’t tend to think about, or talk about, is that where we draw this dividing line (or how seriously) we take it is entirely up to us. That depends upon how free we feel, how relaxed we feel. On a ‘good day’ we don’t bother hiding behind our ego boundaries so much at all; on a good day we can even ‘forget ourselves’ for a while. We can get ‘out of our heads‘. The times when we are happy and at ease are not the days when we are busy affirming our thought-created identity! What we don’t want to look at – in other words – is the way in which the concrete identity or ego is our own construct.

How sharply we perceive the boundary between self and other depends upon the state of mind that we’re in, it depends entirely upon our ‘inner state’. It depends upon how ‘up tight’ we are – when we feel that we are threatened then we retreat back into our shelter (so to speak) like a snail going back into its shell or a sea anemone snapping back into its thick protective trunk or capsule, and when that threat has passed then we slowly and tentatively come back out again and extend ourselves into the world. So the sea anemone’s trunk isn’t ‘who we are’ – who we are is the gracious flower-like creature that we see when there isn’t a threat. When we’re in the grip of fear then we retreat into the Domain of Thought – we retreat into the Domain of Thought and straightaway become sharply defined and thereby isolated – the pain or distress that we’re feeling isn’t due to the fear (contrary to what we might believe) it is due to us narrowing ourselves, it’s due to the sharpness of the divide between the self and the rest of the world, and the acute sense of separateness that this has created. We’re too ‘boundaried’, in other words. We might think that being boundaried is a great thing, but it turns out that it isn’t at all. How can being fragmented (or being isolated from our environment) be a good thing after all? We obtain the rewarding feeling of ‘increased psychological security’, but this safe place – as every psychotherapist knows – turns out to be our prison.

We exist somewhere between the two extremes of ‘being total trapped’ and ‘being totally free’, it might be said. In the first case, we experienced a profound suffering that comes when all we know is ‘the self in its isolation’, and in the second case there is the incomprehensible relief that comes when there is no more dividing line. Where we exist on this range of possibilities is dependent upon how tightly we are clinging to our boundaries (or contrariwise, upon how willing we are to let go of them). The former is a ‘positive’ act in that it has to be carried out deliberately whilst the latter is a ‘negative’ one since it involves surrender rather than aggressive self-assertion. It is incongruous therefore that our default position (the position that we as a culture insist on) should be that our mental health comes out of the healthiness or robustness of our mind-created boundaries, the mind-created boundaries that separate us from what is actually real.

This isn’t to say that the answer to our difficulties is simply to erase the boundary between self and other (in the spirit, it might seem, of the Buddhist slogan ‘no self no problem’) – the process by which we go beyond our notions of who we think we are (or the process by which we extend ourselves, as Scott-Peck says) is a very slow one and it proceeds in an organic way. This type of change cannot be achieved ‘convulsively’, as Jung puts it, as a result of us willing it to happen. That is merely the characteristic hubris of the ego-construct. The natural order of things has to be respected and that natural order is in no hurry to get to some crappy mind-created goal! The Dao cannot be rushed, but the point is not to ‘rush’ it but to trust it and stop trying to impose our own ideas on it quite so unreflectively. To keep on trying to repair the ego past the point where this endeavour becomes pragmatically untenable is only making more trouble for ourselves. We are creating ‘New Improved Suffering’, so to speak. We are in fact guilty of ‘socially engineering narcissism’ under the guise of promoting mental health!

If on the other hand we were to reverse our tactics and try to get rid of the egoic identity then this also backfires on us – who is it that wants to get rid of the ego identity other than that same ego identity, after all? Who wants to get rid of the self apart from the self? Where does our intention to change our thinking come from apart from this very thinking itself? Despite appearances to the contrary, there’s nothing that needs to be repaired – when we get to the point where we feel that we need to repair the ego (or shore up the boundaries of the self) this means that we have in fact outgrown it and so the helpful thing to do here is to see this and assent  – to whatever extent we are naturally able to  – the process that it is – of its own accord  – unfolding. This is ‘trusting the natural process’, and nothing comes harder for us than this! The ‘Non-Repairing’ (or ‘Non-Fixing) Paradigm is a subtle approach in a world where subtlety is not part of our repertoire. The ‘Non-interfering Paradigm’ is a subtle approach in a world where the only thing we seem to understand is having a great big hammer, and not being shy to use it…







The Natural Is Sufficient

We often hear that we should ‘love ourselves’ but this is much more problematic than it sounds. Obviously, it’s not helpful for us to hate ourselves or spend all our time criticising ourselves and so it might seem as if the thing to do is to turn this around and love ourselves instead. Instead of ‘negative self-talk,’ we argue, we should engage in the beneficial positive variety. Positive is good, we say. Positive will do the job. Positive will sort out the problem. This just doesn’t work out for us however, no matter what we might think – all we do when we try to flip things over in this apparently convenient way is involve ourselves in a mind-created polarity, and there is never any joy in this! There is never any joy to be had from involving ourselves in a polarity because all that happens then is that we go around in perfect circles – we’re flipping back and forth from one artificial attitude to another, and no good can ever come out of that.

What helps is not the artificial but the natural and the natural can never be contrived. As Wang Pi says, ‘The natural is sufficient. If one strives, he fails.’The question is therefore, is this hypothetical situation where we love ourselves and say helpful things to ourselves a natural one? Is this a natural and wholesome state of affairs, or is it just ‘how we think we should be’? Is it a real thing or is it just an idea that we have somehow gotten into our heads? The answer to this question is very clear – the situation where we love ourselves, or where have positive regard for ourselves and engage in positive self-talk, is most emphatically not a natural one. On the contrary, this is a situation that we ourselves have to deliberatively engineer, a situation that we have to strain ourselves in order to bring about, and even then we’re never going to get there, not really. It’s an unattainable goal. The best we will be able to do (the very best) is to repress one half of the love/hate polarity so that the other side of the coin stays out of sight. It will be there alright – it’ll always be there – but we might be able, with any luck, to push it out of the way for a while. Nothing more satisfactory than this is possible when it’s a polarity that we’re dealing with – what we’re talking about here is ‘the Sickness of Right and Wrong’, after all…


What we have quite lost sight of (in our frenzy of overthinking) is that the ‘natural state of being’ is one where we aren’t trying to force any particular state of affairs, where we aren’t trying – as we always are trying – to compel the world to conform to our cockeyed ideas for it. The natural is a state of ‘non-striving’ as Wang Pi says: all striving and straining belongs to the world of the artificial. All scheming and planning belongs to the world of the artificial. All methods and theories belong to this world too… The natural state of being is the uncontrived or spontaneous one and so there is nothing more to be said on the matter – ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and ‘have to’s’ have no place here – all that is mere pernicious interference. Our natural and uncontrived state is the unselfconscious state, just as a young child is unselfconscious, and this absence of self-consciousness means not liking ourselves and not disliking ourselves either – it means not thinking about ourselves at all.

Unselfconsciousness is the Eden from which we as adults have been evicted – if there ever was an essential understanding of what is meant by the Fall, this is it. Curiously, we celebrate the adult state and take the attitude that nothing of the innocent ‘child-state’ is of interest or worth to us; being an adult is where it’s at as far as we’re concerned and when we are adults then everything we do is based on calculation, everything we do is based on the inherently painful state of ‘self-consciousness’! Everything is considered, everything is calculated, nothing is left to chance… This might sound eminently prudent (from one point of view, at least) but it is anything but – when we’re caught up in this loop of monitoring ourselves, comparing the information we get as a result of our monitoring with our notions of how things should be, and then regulating or managing ourselves on this basis, then all innocence has been lost. Childhood has been slain. Everything genuine about us is lost in this case and yet -somehow – we don’t see anything wrong with this at all. On the contrary, we are constantly looking for new, improved ways of regulating our emotions, managing our anxiety, anger or pain, and so on.

All our talk of ‘self-esteem’, which is a subject mental-health workers have been wittering on about for over half a century now, is further evidence of this peculiar sickness of ours – all self-esteem – whether it be categorized as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ comes out of our self-consciousness, our self-monitoring. When we are free from this affliction then we have no self-esteem, either of the good or the bad variety. We aren’t thinking about ourselves and so we can’t have any ‘self-esteem’! Mental health – we assume – must involve seeing us seeing ourselves in a positive way; most of us would probably agree with this idea but if we do go along with this handy formula then what we’re actually saying is that being compulsively self-conscious is actually a sign of mental health, which is a truly bizarre position to take. Were it possible to be self-conscious and yet at the same time ‘always see ourselves in a positive way’ (or were it to be possible for us to be monitoring and controlling ourselves and at the same time always be able to get things to work the way we think they should do) then there might be some basis for us taking this position. But – as we’ve already pointed out – what we’re dealing with here is a mind-created polarity and all that’s going happen as a result of our unwise ‘flirtation with polarity’ is that we are going to be forever going around in circles, and this is a state of interminable frustration rather than being a manifestation of mental well-being. This is dukkha, which is the subject of the Buddha’s ‘First Noble Truth’.

Mental health, according to our cultural bias, can be defined as that state of being in which we are able to successfully regulate ourselves. We see mental health is being a state of ‘successful self-consciousness’, in other words. This is the unconscious message or implication behind the term ‘positive psychology’ – what else does ‘positive’ mean, apart from the indirect (but very seductive) implication that ‘things are going to go the way we think they ought to go’? The idea that mental health means being perfectly natural (or being spontaneous) simply doesn’t occur to us. There’s no appeal for us in this because it gives us absolutely nothing to grab hold of – it’s actually got ‘nothing to do with us’, as David Bowie says in The Man Who Sold The World, and we don’t like this. We want to have some kind of valuable and important role to be playing in the process; we want to be in charge, to be quite blunt about it. We want to be in charge, but this comes out of fear (or our lack of trust in the natural order of things, which can take perfectly good care of itself). The urge to dominate and control our own mental processes most certainly doesn’t come from any good place.

We want to be in control and make sure that we ‘love ourselves rather than despise ourselves’ (or make sure that our mental processes go the way we think they ought to go, rather than any other ‘erroneous’ way) and because of this we automatically tend to think that control and mental health belong together in the same sentence, which they absolutely don’t. These two words should never be conflated, not under any circumstances! Control (when we’re speaking about the psychological realm) always comes out of fear and nothing that comes out of fear (or ‘the compulsive avoidance of risk’) can never be seen as healthy. Fear always shows itself in terms of conservatism, in terms of ‘holding on,’ while courage or equanimity shows itself in the uncluttered willingness to ‘let go’. What do we think is the more mentally healthy – ‘stubbornly holding on’ (i.e. controlling) or ‘letting go’? Struggling to stay in control when all the signs are that this isn’t going to be possible isn’t an indication of courage or equanimity – obviously enough! It’s an indication of something else entirely…

The state of being innocent or spontaneous or perfectly unselfconscious is a very mysterious one and – as a compulsively rational culture – we aren’t very happy about that. We aren’t very happy about that at all. We like to ‘know what’s going on’ because ‘knowing what’s going on’ is a very important part of being in charge or being in control. We can’t be ‘in control’ when everything is all mysterious, after all! Not knowing what’s going on seems like a massive disadvantage to us, and definitely not something to feel good about. It is our desire to know ‘what’s going on’ and ‘control what’s going on’ that creates the self-reflexive knot of tension that we call ‘the ego’ or ‘self’. Our mental well-being is not something to be obtained cheaply via the deeply delusional strategy of spinning the polarity wheel – we’re going to have to do better than this! We’re going to have to do a lot better than this… It’s not extra helpings of cleverness we need but wisdom, and wisdom has something to do with the understanding of what kind of a beast polarity is, and why doesn’t pay to mess around with it. Cleverness traps us, we might say, whilst wisdom sets us free. Cleverness leads us in the direction of creating a positive reality all around us, just as a snail secretes a hard shell around itself, but what makes sense for the snail doesn’t make sense for us, psychologically speaking! We are, via this act, denying our own nature and denying reality itself. Reality is open just as our nature an open nature, so when we see create the positive (or ‘defined’) reality all around us what exactly is it that we’re doing? We have forsaken the natural for the artificial and once this has happened – once we have made this ‘mistake’ – all we can do is to keep on trying to remedy the problems that come about as a result of us unwisely interfering with the natural process with yet more ‘problem-producing interference’…






Image – wallpapercave.com








The Hunger For Identity

Our neurotic pain comes about both because of the way in which we are compulsively driven to maintain a false and limited idea of ourselves and because of the tremendous constriction of possibilities that this false idea of who we are brings about.

We are ‘caught both ways’, so to speak, we’re caught because of the absolute need to go on maintaining the self-image, which is a job that just goes on and on, and we’re caught because we are forced to live in a world that is predicated upon the supreme importance of this self, the unquestionable centrality of this self. We have made our bed, which took (and continues to take) an awful lot of effort, and so now all that is left is for to lie in it, which turns out to be no fun at all. How can working away ceaselessly at maintaining and refining a situation that denies our true nature be ‘fun’?

The maintenance of the idea that we have of ourselves is a pain and being that self is a pain too, so this isn’t exactly a good situation to be in. It’s also not a situation that we will recognise as being ours – the only time we do start to relate to our situation in a more honest way is when neurosis starts to close its teeth on us and we really and truly start to ‘feel the pinch’. This isn’t to say that we automatically get to understand the nature of our predicament and where our pain is coming from when this happens – the suffering comes first and the understanding comes a lot later, if it does. It is entirely possible to continue suffering for years from neurotic pain without having the slightest bit of insight into what’s going on and this pain-filled delay between ‘feeling the pinch’ and ‘learning the lesson’ isn’t helped by the fact that we live in a society that is not ‘psychologically-minded’, a society that functions by alienating its members both from the natural world and our true (or ‘unprogrammed / spontaneous’) nature. We are after all a distraction-based culture, not an insight-based one!

The chance that we will learn something (learn freedom) from our neurotic suffering is there for sure but one big problem we face is therefore that as a collective we do not acknowledge this pain (or any pain) as being a necessary precursor of insight and that we are – moreover – absolutely dead set against doing so. Society most certainly doesn’ttell us that we should be careful about identifying with the act that we ourselves have put on in case we forget who we really are in the process. Of course we aren’t told this – we’re given the opposite message, we are encouraged to identify as much as we can with the image, the role, the act that we are putting on, in order to conform to the script.  This is only to be expected – society is a game and so we are encouraged to play the game (because the game is no good if we don’t play it). We are encouraged to ‘be what we are supposed to be’ within the generic terms of the narrative that has been provided for us and the narrative doesn’t warn us about itself.

This ‘encouragement’ (if we can continue to use that inappropriately mild word) is indirect rather than direct, implicit rather than explicit, hinted at rather than stated, since no one concerned wants to draw attention to the fact that the game is a game (which really means that the game doesn’t want to draw attention to the fact that it is a game, since we ourselves don’t actually know what we’re doing). We are shown images of adapted game-players (who are so well adapted that they don’t even know that they are playing the game) having a rich and meaningful life and as a result we take on board (quite unconsciously) the message that this is the way to find happiness and fulfilment. Just to give what is probably the most obvious example of this sort of thing, we might point to the advertising industry. We might think that adverts are there to promote the specific product that is being sold but what’s really being sold here is the game itself, as John Berger says in Ways of Seeing. The game is selling itself to us (because if it doesn’t sell itself to us no one else will).

When we look into it we can see that advertising and promotional activity are only a small part of the package, therefore. How people are presented in the media in general is a bigger part because that creates the template from which we unconsciously (or consciously) work. Another key element is what we might call ‘our own individual contribution to the essential lie’ – those of us who are doing well in the game (for example) are tacitly expected to cultivate ‘the mystique of success’ so that the other players will become envious and invest more in the game as a result. On the other hand, those of us who are doing badly according to the high standards of the social adaptation game have to be generally disregarded and – if possible – swept out right out of sight so that the negative side of the theatre doesn’t impinge on us any more than it has to. This accounts for the existence of the stigma attaching to those of us who are affected by mental health conditions. Neurotic suffering is an inevitable result, given our trivial and inauthentic way of life (which is nothing other than ‘the Generic Life’) and given the fact that all we ever do (when we’re in the Generic Mode of Living) is distract ourselves from feeling how we’re really feeling or from thinking what we’re really thinking, it is only natural (in a manner of speaking) that we should distract ourselves from seeing that we are a distraction-based culture. That’s not the image we want, after all.

Another aspect of this is the way in which we blame those who fail in the social game and ascribe that failure to personal shortcomings (or culpability) on the part of those who are conspicuously failing to make the grade, thereby saving ourselves the trouble of having to think any more about them. ‘Judging’ means that you don’t have to think about it anymore and that is of course why we love judging so much – that is the beauty of having a narrow judgmental mind! The fact that we don’t look at anything except in a purely superficial way means that we’re able to carry on playing the game therefore – the status quo can continue unabated (for all the good that this does) and we are – as we have said – all very invested in that. That is our conservatism – we want to ‘conserve the game’ at whatever cost. To play the game is to be invested in the game because when we play we fall into the trap of having to play; the social game is an addiction in other words, just like gambling or taking heroin. We commit to playing the game as much as we do because we think that it’s going to work out for us, even though it never can; the game never works out for anyone precisely because it is only a game. The fact that we continue to think that it’s ‘a good idea’ to carry on with what we’re doing is due to delusion and nothing more.

All of this comes down to one very simple thing – we are encouraged (or rather railroaded) into identifying with a particular limiting image of ourselves (‘limiting’ because all images are limiting). There is a definite or concrete identity there on the shelf and we are manoeuvred into believing that it is us, that it is who we are. Out of our hunger for identity a marriage is made, albeit an unhappy one. We are all too keen to find an identity for ourselves – in current times more than ever. There is a hunger for identity such has never been seen before, it seems, and it is a measure of just how much the all-defining Generic Mind has us in its pocket – effectively cut off from the inner life (which is the only thing we’ve really got going for us) we have no choice but to embrace the outer (or generic) life, which is an inauthentic and trivial life that faithfully reflects societal values but which – in doing so – utterly denies the individual.






Image – ways-of-seeing.com












Society Reifies Us

The official narrative always contains our own invisible hollowness. Whatever is done on the basis of this narrative is always going to be hollow – that’s the gift that it gives us. That is the gift that the official narrative gives us every time. What else would we expect, after all? If we are prepared to accept someone else’s account of what our lives are supposed to be about then we would surely expect for there to be some kind of downside to this. The official narrative is safe – or at least, it is safe inasmuch as following what some unquestionable external authority says is ever going to be safe. It is safe (we might say) in the sense that we won’t get caught out thinking or doing anything different to what everyone else is thinking and doing and so if the majority has good sense and is acting in a reasonably wise manner then we won’t make any terrible mistakes by foolishly venturing off on our own. It isn’t safe, on the other hand, if we consider that everyone else is just blindly copying each other just like we are! If everyone is blindly copying everyone else (and no one really knows what they are doing) then where is this going to lead us? Where is the good sense in this? Good sense comes from actual individuals, not from the collective. What comes out of the collective are dangerous psychic contagions, as Jung says. Nothing good comes out of the mass mind….

This obvious enough but all the same none of us are prepared to admit that this is what we’re doing. We all know that the strategy of copying what everyone else is doing so we won’t be caught out being ‘the odd one out’, or so that we won’t make some kind of terrible mistake by acting on our own untested and unproven impulses cannot really be expected to result in anything good but this is nevertheless what we are all doing. We’re going along with the social script, we’re living our lives in accordance with the formula that has been provided for us, and what this means is that we’re not taking any responsibility for our own lives at all. We’ve handed responsibility over to some sort of unexamined group instinct, we’ve handing over the reins to the consensus viewpoint, to the dubious process of mass-mindedness and collectives of people don’t have any sense, as Jung says. The bigger the collective the less sense there is! A very big collective has no sense at all! The collective has ‘everything on the outside but nothing on the inside’ – it is in other words ‘impressive but at the same time hollow’.

Contemporary culture as a whole is (we might say) ‘impressive but hollow’ – it can certainly look pretty amazing on the outside but were we to examine it we would discover that there is no actual content. Contemporary culture is ‘content free’ – it is ‘content free’ in the sense that it is all packaging and promotional frills with nothing behind it. It is composed of hyperreal fluff that pointlessly expands until it fills up all the available space; it is essentially a cul-de-sac that is being sold to us as a highway to somewhere great and meaningful. We are encouraged to see ourselves as a dynamic, forward-thinking civilization that is constantly progressing, constantly advancing and which embraces all the right values. This is the story that we tell ourselves – the only problem being that it isn’t a true story.

We are a culture, and we also say that we have culture. This is important for us to say because it shows that we have some sort of content. We will point to art, literature, theatre, poetry, ballet, dance and so on and we will say that this is our ‘culture’; There is something to us in other words, and so we are deserving of respect on this basis. We justify ourselves in this way and – being thus justified – we feel content to rest on our laurels. But if it is the case that the function of our ‘culture’ is to enable us to carry on as we are then this is nothing more than a joke. As James Carse says, the function of art is to destabilise society, not stabilise it. Art is always revolutionary and if it isn’t then it isn’t art or culture at all – it’s something else. If it isn’t revolutionary then it is merely ‘societal propaganda’, it is merely an advert for society dressed up as being somehow more than this.

This isn’t to say that art actually does have a function, which would be hugely demeaning of it! If something has some sort of function then this means that it is subservient to some idea or other. This means that art is serving some kind of ‘finite end’ and so it is nothing more than a ‘cog in the machine’. A cog in a machine is the machine and machines have nothing to do with art, nothing to do with ‘the transcendent’. Cogs and wheels and machine-like processes are the complete reverse of transcendence – cogs and machines are all about ‘locking onto the one concrete possibility’ and making that possibility to be the only important thing. A machine is always about facilitating the process of reification in other words, and reification is the exact antithesis of transcendence. What this means (of course) is that there can’t be any such thing as a procedure or strategy for growth or transcendence and procedures / strategies are what the machine is all about.

Society, as Ivan Illich says, is ‘a system of techniques’ – it is a system that is made up of ways of getting from A to B. The official narrative is that the movement from A to B is a meaningful movement, an important movement, a real and vital movement, and this is why we invest in the system as much as we do (which is to say totally). If we define mental health as the ongoing movement beyond the known, beyond the approved and accredited status quo, then we can say that society never enables growth, never enables mental health – the collective of us is a machine and machines are all about reification not transcendence, as we have just said, and what is being made concrete is the socially-conditioned self.

This socially-conditioned self is like culture, is like society – possibly very impressive on the outside whilst being utterly hollow on the inside. It is – like society as a whole – a ‘managed appearance’, an ‘act’, and so of course it can’t help being hollow. Being hollow, the socially-conditioned self is therefore always seeking, always striving, always searching, and what it is searching for is the remedy for this hollowness, this ‘blankness on the inside’. That is why we are kept engaged in the mechanism of society – because we believe that by playing the game which has been presented to us we are going to find fulfilment. It is the fact that the reified self is always going to be driven by the need to find relief from its own invisible hollowness that keeps the wheels turning and so we can say, uncontroversially enough, that the reason the process by which the self is reified is promoted so heavily by our culture is because this is essential for society (as we know it) to keep on thriving. Our invisible hollowness is thus ‘the battery’ that keeps the machine running.

Our hollowness is ‘invisible’ because we because the world we conduct our lives within is itself hollow – hollowness is all we know and so we can’t ever spot it. The narrative that we live by is itself nothing other than disguised hollowness – we’re always having our attention directed towards whatever drama it is that is going on and this prevents us from seeing that the one who is engaged in the drama (which is to say, ‘the reified self’) isn’t actually there, is only ‘an assumption that we have made and then forgotten about’. We are in other words convinced that life is something that has to be found ‘on the outside’ (which is to say, ‘the world of appearances’) and – because of our state complete absorption in (or fascination with) the outside – we simply don’t know that there is (or could be) an inside. As far as we’re concerned the outside is all there is and so – for us – it isn’t ‘the outside’ at all.

Our ‘invisible hollowness’ – which is a present from the Mind-Created Narrative – drives us to keep looking within the social game for fulfilment, we are driven to engage more and more in society (which is to say, to utilise the techniques and procedures which are society) but all that engaging in these techniques and procedures will do is reify us all the more, which causes us to be even more hollow, which causes us to throw ourselves into the social game even more. This is therefore a ‘perfect plan’, we might say, with the proviso that it is perfect as far as a system or machine itself is concerned. It certainly isn’t perfect as far as we as individuals are concerned – how can it be when the individuality which is who we are is thoroughly repressed in favour of the theatrical or reified self? When we allow ourselves to be guided in all things by the ‘official narrative’ then – in other words – we forfeit the ‘inner life’.  We forfeit the inner life and what we get instead is the outer life, the generic life, the life that is made up entirely of appearances that has to be constantly maintained, and this ‘outer life’, this life that takes place entirely within the Realm of Appearances, isn’t real.






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The Official Narrative

The ‘official version of things’ is both authoritative and compelling – it is both coercive and intimidating, and it is – strangely – immensely attractive to us at the same time. It holds power over us. It appeals to the weakest part of ourselves, the part we won’t admit to, the part we don’t want to know about. When we try to renounce the official version of things we feel bold guilty and afraid – we feel guilty of betraying our guardian and fearful about having to face life on our own. When we leave ‘the official version of things’ behind we are confronted with our own helplessness, our own vulnerability. We don’t know how to survive without the official narrative to help us – even though its rule over us is harsh and uncaring. The official narrative is the Dark Father who wishes to control everything and keep us all in the darkness of the perpetual ignorance that he promotes. Ignorance and fear are the two tools of the Dark Father – these are the means by which we are controlled. When we grow nostalgic and homesick after venturing out of the Dark Father’s Realm it is because we miss the cosy certainty of his lies. These lies are the drug to which we are addicted.


The ‘official version of things’ may for example mean the narrative that is spun for us by that strange thing we call society and this is undoubtedly the easiest way to understand it. The idea that society controls us by promoting a particular and very narrow view of reality is not an unfamiliar – this sort of thing gets talked about every day. Anyone who reflects on the matter knows that social control comes about as a result of the narrative that we have been fed on since birth. We are given this script which we have to go by and we can’t ever get away from it. We are given this script and we are promptly trapped by it. We’re prisoners of that script, which stunts our growth and limits our horizons, and yet at the same time we’re strangely fond of it and will always come running back to it, no matter how many times we might muster up the courage to make a break for it. Like any abusive relationship, the unhealthy connection we have with the official narrative is not an easy one to break.


The official version of things could also mean the thinking mind – society is the thinking mind writ large, nothing more and nothing less. Very clearly, the thinking mind provides us with the all-determining narrative of our everyday life. Where else do we look for guidance if not to the agency of thought? Thought provides us with all the information we need to know in the course of the day and if there is some other source that is operating (such as dreams, intuitions, feelings) we ignore it. We ignore all other possible sources of information because they haven’t been officially sanctioned. They haven’t got the official stamp on them and so we have to reject them as being heresy or superstition. When there is an official story then this means that all other stories, all other interpretations have to be dismissed out of hand – they have to be ridiculed, sneered at, or angrily denied. If one story is right then all the others must be wrong and the only way this isn’t going to happen as if the story in question is metaphorical rather than literal, as both Joseph Campbell and James Carse have noted. Because thought is always literal in nature it always takes us prisoner. The literal will always take us prisoner.


It’s much easier to see through the societal narrative than it is to question the story-line that has been provided for us by thought. The social script is a crude thing and a significant proportion of us will always be aware of this, even though there isn’t much we can do about it. When it comes to ‘thought’s story of what is going on’ then the percentage of us who have any insight into the unreliability (or outright deceptiveness) of the ideas that we have about the world is far smaller. It’s one thing to recognise media bias but altogether another to spot where the System of Thought is putting us wrong! This is the Big Lie principle working at its best! It is exactly this same principle in both cases – the official version of how things are bullies and browbeats us into believing it and it’s hard to walk away from it but seeing through the System of Thought puts us in a much stranger place than seeing through society does. If we through see through society this expands our possibilities hugely it is true – we are released from the societal script and are now free to be true to our own nature rather than serving the External Authority. When we see through the authority of thought the world changes absolutely, irrevocably, unrecognisably, however.


Thought is the agency that provides us with our description of the world and so when we lose it (when its authority no longer holds good for us) we lose what we thought the world was – we lose everything since the description we are clinging to is the world as far as we’re concerned. And it’s not as if we will be given another ‘improved’ description later on to hang onto (after the first one has been demolished) – once we through see through thought then we see through all descriptions. Only thought describes, only thought ‘says what things are’. When we see through thought then we have to ask ourselves (as Baudrillard says) what things look like when we don’t describe them and what we look like when we don’t describe ourselves. We live fulltime in a world of positive descriptions and for the most part we don’t have the slightest inkling that there could be any other sort! We are very far indeed from seeing that the true reality is the negative one, the one that cannot be described. We are also – by the same token – very far from seeing – as Wei Wu Wei says – that being comes out of our perfect absence (rather than out of our over-valued purposeful activity).



The Negative World is the world that we don’t judge or name – it is the world in which there is no official story-line or description. In this world there is freedom because we are not being compelled to see things in any particular way; we’re free from the All-Determining Narrative and so we are also free from who we think we are or who we said to be within the terms of that constraining narrative. This is why being can only come out of our profound absence, as Wei Wu Wei says. Being doesn’t come about as a result of us forcing ourselves to be who we think we are (or who we think we ought to be) – which is the identity or positive self – it comes about as a result of us not doing this, as a result of not us not asserting the positive self. It comes about when we stop playing to win, when we stop trying to maximise our advantage (which is of course but we’re always trying to do). ‘Maximising our advantage’ is the name of the game, after all – what else do we ever try to do?



We believe that the state of being – which is (we might say) where we get to genuinely exist – comes about as a result of us optimising our performance in the game and efficiently sweeping up all the advantages that are there to be had, whilst all that really happens when we try to secure the best position for ourselves (or ‘assert our defined existence’) is that we lose all our being and end up living an unreal life, a life that is made up of ‘appearances only’. When we live a life that his based on ‘appearances only’ then the only path ahead of us is the predetermined path of being forever driven by the need to control these appearances. Appearances are a fickle master however – to base our perceived well-being on appearances is like basing our mood on the direction the wind is blowing. It blows this way one moment and quite another the next and whilst we might foolishly put all our money on the project of ‘controlling the wind’, the actual truth of the matter is that this fickle wind is controlling us…






Art – wallpapersafari.com