There are two ways to live life – one is where we are constantly imposing our own expectations and goals (or other people’s expectations and goals) on the world and the other is where we are sensitive to what is ‘unfolding all by itself’, and are interested in seeing what happens when it does unfold, ‘all by itself’.
When we are in the mode of ‘imposing our expectations or goals on the world’ then we are absolutely not interested in seeing what unfolds all by itself, obviously! We are only interested in seeing our goals being realised; anything else – by definition – is a disappointment to us. The concept of being ‘interested in what unfolds’ is profoundly meaningless to us – we see that as merely ‘giving in to external circumstances’. Nothing is going to happen that is to benefit us that way, we say. No ‘advantage’ is ever going to come our way unless we fight for it to.
In one, very limited way, this is true. If we live in a world that believes that the only way ‘good things’ are going to happen is if we fight for them to happen, then because everyone’s interpretation of ‘a good thing’ is narrowly interpreted as ‘the gratification of our goals’, which all have to do with personal advantage’ (which is of course the way we operate in our society) then it is of course very much the case that if we don’t fight tooth and nail for our advantage then it’s going to be someone else’s advantage that is going to be realised instead, and so there is no way out of the struggle. There’s nothing for it but ‘struggle followed by more struggle’, even though it’s a guaranteed fact right from the beginning that none of this struggling is ever going to get us anywhere. The myth behind aggression (needless to say) is that all the struggling and striving will pay off; the truth behind the persistent myth is however that it won’t.
Living aggressively by always striving to impose our own ideas, our own expectations and goals on the world, does not come with a good prognosis. The prognosis for this type of approach is always bad, no matter what our goal-orientated society might tell us! As a modality of being in the world it seems to make sense, it seems very much to be sensible and to ‘hold water’ as the way of going about things. Actually, of course (as we have just said) when we caught up in it then we can’t see any other approach to take; we can’t see any other approach that doesn’t straightaway spell ‘defeat’ in terms of the game that we are playing. For this reason, therefore, it’s hardly surprising that we’re putting all our money on this approach – what else are we supposed to do?
Living life in the aggressive mode is actually addictive, when it comes down to it – it’s addictive because we can’t see any way possibility other than to keep on doing it until it finally pays off (if it’s ever going to, that is). Our only way to feel good is to put ourselves in the situation of being ‘one up’ in whatever struggle is going on; this feels good because it feels as if we’re getting somewhere. This addictive feeling of ‘getting somewhere’ is false however because – as we have said – ultimately we are not getting anywhere. No one ever gets anywhere on the basis of aggression – it’s an out-and-out lie that we will do! It’s a lie that everyone believes in, to be sure, but that doesn’t make matters any better; the consequences of folly aren’t made any less disastrous when the folly in question is conducted en masse. All that it means is that we have company in our mistake, and means of course that we are much less likely that we will see it as a mistake.
It doesn’t take too much effort to discredit what we have called ‘the aggressive mode of living life’. Being ‘aggressive’, just to recap, is where we proceed by imposing our own expectations and goals on the world so that everything (or as much of everything as possible) happens along the lines we want it to. There are all sorts of assumptions implicit in this way of life – assumptions that we never bother to look into. One is that ‘we already know everything that is important for us to know’ (except for a few details here and there that can be filled in later) and so it makes sense for us to make plans with regard to what we want to see happening in life. If we didn’t make this assumption then we could hardly put as much emphasis on ‘control’ and ‘making plans’ as we do! The other, related assumption is that nothing good or worthwhile will happen unless it is made to happen, forced to happen, and this assumption is what locks us into the aggressive mode of being in the world, as we pointed out earlier.
As we have said, we don’t generally see ourselves as having made these assumptions – we usually imagine that there is a lot more freedom in our lives than there is. The problem with the ‘positivist paradigm’ (which is another way of talking about psychological aggression) is that it comes with no freedom. They can’t be any freedom when we have already filled it up all the available space in ourselves with ‘what we think we know’! ‘Freedom’ and ‘the radical unknown’ are the same thing – there’s absolutely no way that there can be any freedom in the known, even though this – from the philosophically positive point of view – is something that we simply cannot see. From the ‘positive’ perspective the only type of freedom is the freedom to do whatever we wish to do within the realm of the known; there can’t be any freedom in ‘the radically unknown’ for the simple reason that we don’t admit that there is such a thing! The only reason we are able to proceed in the positive/aggressive way that we do this because we don’t acknowledge there being any possibility of ‘the radically unknown’. If we had acknowledged the possibility of radical uncertainty then we would never have been able to start off in the positive mode in the first place. We would have been too unsure of our ground to start building on it. We have to assume that we know something for sure or otherwise we have no basis for anything and if we have no basis for anything then there can be no such thing as ‘the positive assertion of goals and expectations’.
The positivist position is based on hope therefore – when it comes down to it, we’re hoping that our basis is correct, we were hoping that there are some things that we really and truly do know for sure!’ We have to hope this because otherwise nothing we believe in makes any sense! What we have essentially done when we jumped into the ‘positive mode of being in the world’ is that we made a ‘guess’; it is of course perfectly legitimate to make guesses, but the thing about the positive/aggressive approach is that we gloss over the fact that there has been any guesswork involved – we don’t acknowledge this in the least. Straightaway, we start acting as if the guess we have just made is known to be unquestionably untrue, and so absolutely no ‘window of uncertainty’ is left open at all. This ‘closing of the window’ facilitates a positive/aggressive approach in life, but at the same time it precludes any chance of actual freedom.
This always comes down to the same thing – if our guess happened to be ‘right’ (rather than being completely ‘wide of the mark’) then there would be no such thing as ‘radical uncertainty’; there would be no such thing as radical uncertainty because everything would have to seamlessly ‘dovetail’ with the positive knowledge that we already have (i.e. our core assumptions), and so there couldn’t be too big of a surprise floating around anywhere. There might be small surprises of course, but nothing radical, nothing that would well-and-truly upset the boat (and therefore prove our guess about the nature of reality wrong). In this case – as we have already pointed out – a type of freedom would be the type that is to be found within the Realm of the Known (i.e. the only type of freedom possible will be ‘the freedom of swapping one known outcome for another’). Radical freedom will be something that doesn’t exist at all.
This is all very well, but it all hinges on this one, very precarious thing, and that thing is that our original guess (which we are not admitting to be a guess) was right. But the point here is that even if our guess did happen to be wrong, completely unfounded, completely wide-of-the-mark, etc, we never have any way of knowing this. We would have no way of knowing this because the ‘Realm of the Known’ which we have now created for ourselves contains, as we have said, no ‘windows’, no means of asking any radical questions. The ‘positive reality’ doesn’t contain the possibility of ‘questioning itself’, in other words. If it did then it would no longer be a positive reality; it would be a ‘relativistic reality’, which is a different kettle of fish entirely. When it comes down to it, there is no way we can ever prove that there isn’t such a thing as the radically unknown, the radically surprising, the radically uncertain, out there somewhere waiting to pounce on us. Our positive logic will always tell us that there isn’t, but then it is in the nature of logic to say this. The nature of logic is such that it can’t question the assumptions that it has made in order that it should be there in the first place, as we keep reiterating.
Thinking about it, we’d have to ask ourselves why we would ever put ourselves in such a highly dubious position. What possible motivation could we have doing something like this? We base everything on a guess that we don’t admit to be a guess and then we charge ahead incautiously down a road that only goes one way, a road that takes us to a Realm of Positive Knowledge that can’t (by its very nature) ever be falsified from the inside, and which we can’t ever get out of! The only possible consolation we could ever have in this position (if we were looking for some, that is) is that we might possibly have been right in our original supposition even though – having entered into the lobster pot of Positive Reality – we now have absolutely no way of checking up to find out whether we were ‘right’ or not. All we can do is keep on telling ourselves that we were right to go down this road, that we are right to continue down it, even though whatever assertions or self-affirmations we do come out with invariably carry no weight at all. They carry no weight at all since they are presupposed by the assumptions that we have to buy into without knowing that we were buying into anything.
When we live our lives in the concrete, aggressive way that we almost always do live it, then with every purposeful action that we take, with every logical thought that we come out with, we are covering up the truth, covering up our own true nature. Everything we do on the basis of the concrete, ‘rule-based mind’ comes down to ‘the denial of radical uncertainty’; the world that has been created by concrete, rule-based mind constitutes a formidably thorough-going ‘system of denial’. The world that we have created for ourselves – most peculiarly – is the systematic denial of the possibility that we might have been wrong in our original unacknowledged ‘hypothesis’. If it happens to be the case (speaking purely hypothetically here) that we were correct in our original assumption, then this would make our purposeful actions, rational thoughts and pontifications on the matter completely righteous in the manner of a fundamentalist preacher who is speaking words of literal truth.
But if this were the case, could we not afford to be a little more generous, a little more gentle and kind-hearted in our attitude? Would we have to be so harshly judgemental, so very cruel and unforgiving? This is a telling argument because fundamentalists (of whatever type) are always harsh, always judgemental, always unforgiving. That comes with the territory. That is their nature, as we all know! The fundamentalist, the ‘concrete or literal believer’ is always right and if they are right then that means someone else has to be wrong! Right always means wrong – we can’t have one without the other. By the same token, when we cling less stubbornly to our rigid opinions, dogmatic points of view and beliefs, experience invariably shows that this makes it more tolerant of other people, not less. Not having some sort of fixed position or attitude in life allows us to be more generous of spirit, more humorous and fixed gentle in ourselves, which shows that – as the Buddhists say – there is strength in vulnerability that does not exist in the fixed position, and the clenched fist.
The secret to life itself – we could say – is this difference between aggression and non-aggression, and what a big difference this is! One way is ‘all about us’, whilst the other way is about ‘what it is that is revealed when we stop being so obsessed about ourselves’. One way is ‘all about us’, only it isn’t really all about us! It’s all about ‘who we pretend to be because we are afraid of finding out who we really are’. This is what living aggressively comes down to – it’s our attempt at pretending, as systematically as we possibly can and in collusion with others, to ‘be what we are not’, and that’s why it is always so dreadfully uninteresting, so dreadfully sterile…