The Greatest Calamity

When we allow ourselves to be completely defined by the thinking mind, the mind that evaluates and categorizes, then the result of this – quite simply – is the self. That’s how we get to experience life on the basis of ‘the self’ (instead of ‘in some other way’). Unless something is unambiguously defined in a black-and-white way then we are unable to identify with it, and without identification there can be no self.

 

‘Identification’ simply means that I see some fixed position, some fixed viewpoint as being ‘me’ – it’s the fixed nature of the position of the viewpoint that allows for the possibility of making any kind of ‘literal statement’ about the world. How can we make a literal statement if there is not a ‘literal’ (or ‘concrete’) point of reference to make it from? Literal statements actually are the fixed point of reference projected outwards onto the world. As soon we say this, we get a strong hint as to what the ‘calamity’ to which we are referring might be – identification means that everything I see and experience from the point of view of that ‘fixed position’ is already inherent in that position, and between my perception of myself as being ‘this viewpoint’ and ‘the world that I perceive around me’ (which is as we have said tautologically contained within my assumed frame of reference) what else is there? For me, that is everything – that represents the alpha and omega of my total field of possibilities.

 

The principle behind what we are saying here is very clear – when I identify with the fixed position then I am just not going to be able to perceive anything that does not ‘agree’ with this fixed reference point of mine. I won’t be able to see anything other than those things that make sense in relation to the fixed reference point that I have tacitly accepted as being ‘the only possible way of looking at the world’ – naturally enough! So what has happened is that I have become sealed off within a closed system. No possibility of ‘radical reorganization’ exists within a closed system – clearly there can’t be any such because what makes the closed system into a closed system is the fact that there are restrictions placed on what can be allowed to happen in that system. The ‘self consistency’ of logical systems depends upon the limits that are placed upon what is allowed to happen within that system – which is of course the very same thing as saying that logical systems ‘function as such on the basis of rules’! No one is going to argue with this…

 

There is no calamity involved in allowing everything that happens in a logical system to be determined by rules – that’s how logical systems work, as we keep saying. But what is good for a logical system (such as the national railway system network or a big modern hospital) is not good for us as individual human beings. The one does not imply the other, and although this may seem like a very obvious point to be making it clearly isn’t a point that we understand in any practical way because the story of mankind is very much the story of how we have allowed our own systems to enslave us and make us miserable as a result of this wretched state of enslavement. This is the one mistake we keep on making over and over again and the fact that we are repeatedly making it is very clearly because we do not understand what we’re doing! We’re not even close to understanding what’s going on – we are forever focusing on improving the systems that enslave us rather than looking at how we can become free from them.

 

Society is a logical system and we are all defined by it, no matter what we might like to believe. We don’t want to believe that we are defined by society, we want to believe that we are ‘unique individuals living our own unique individual lives’, but this is simply not true. How could it be true, when we are not actually putting any effort into it? Being the unique individual that one genuinely is isn’t just something that ‘falls into our lap’, like a ripe fruit when the tree is shaken – it can only come about via arduous effort. This isn’t ‘effort’ as we usually see it either – it isn’t  effort that is made in a particular direction, effort that is directed towards a particular or specified end. We not ‘improving ourselves in line with some idea that we might have with regard to how we or someone else might think we ought to be improved’. That is merely ‘optimization’ and optimization is the process of adapting ourselves to some kind of logical system. Optimization is movement in the direction of losing autonomy.

 

The effort involved in becoming the true individual that one actually is (or rather that one could be) is of an entirely different nature to this – it involves what the alchemists of old called the Opus Contra Naturam – the ‘work against nature’. Rules or precedents exist that propel us in a certain direction – the Opus Contra Naturam means not going in this direction! The work against nature is of course what Carl Jung calls individuation. Individuation (or rather ‘the fruit of the individuation process’) isn’t something that just ‘falls into our lap’ (as the socialised identity does) – it emerges slowly as a result of our struggle to be true to ourselves (or ‘find ourselves’) in the face of a hostile environment, which is what the social system is as regards our genuine individuality. The inertial forces that are ranged against us are immense and implacable and it is as everyone knows much easier to just give into them and be like everyone else! At least then we will have company, rather than feeling very much on our own and in danger of feeling that the ‘fault’ lies within us, and not within society as a whole.

 

So society is one big machine that that we have to struggle against in order not to be defined by it, but the other manifestation of ‘the machine’ is the thinking mind, which is what we started off by talking about. We’re caught between the machine on the inside and the machine on the outside, and neither of them has any tolerance at all for ‘who we really are’ – the machine – any machine – understands only mechanical things, and ‘who we really are’ is not mechanical. Or as we could also say, ‘a machine only understands defined things, and who we are is not capable of being defined’. The problem is however that who we understand ourselves to be is both defined and limited, and as such the one thing that it fears more than anything else is a reality that is not defined, a reality that is not limited. There is no challenge for the conditioned self that is greater than this; the unlimited / undefined reality is not merely ‘a challenge’, it is its greatest terror!

 

We see ‘being defined’ as being a strength – we know who we are, we know what we think, we know what we like and what we don’t like, and this seems like a strong position to be in. Almost anyone you talk to will tell you that this is a strong position to be in – society will tell you this. It is however strong only in a very limited way – it’s like being a world-renowned expert in a very narrow field – without any doubt we are formidably strong within the parameters of our specialization and if our area of specialization were ‘the whole world’ then we would be genuinely strong! But because our area of speciality isn’t the whole world (obviously enough!) we aren’t ‘strong’ at all –we only have a kind of ‘pretence’ at being strong and inasmuch as we allow ourselves to believe in this pretence of ours (which is easily done) we get to imagine that we are strong when we are not. When we fall into the trap of believing our own pretence we make fools of ourselves, in other words, and ‘making a fool of oneself without being able to see it’ is not a genuine form of strength.

 

Although this might at first glance seem like a somewhat obvious and therefore trivial example to give, it only takes a moment of reflection to realise that what we are talking about here is the situation of the conditioned (or ‘mind-created’) self. The mind-created self gets to feel robust and unrealistically confident in its outlook (if not downright arrogant!) because of the way in which it believes in a strength which it doesn’t actually have. The traditional virtue of humility originally meant something like ‘the awareness of the fact that we don’t really know anything’ (as opposed to what we usually take it to be, which is ‘the theatrical effort of the arrogant self to try to show that it is not arrogant when the truth is that it simply can’t help being so’). The incentive for us to fall into the trap of ‘believing in our own pretence’ (or ‘believing that our very limited area of specialisation is the whole world when it plainly isn’t’) is that it creates a feeling of ‘ontological security’ for us – a feeling of ‘security-of-being’ that we just can’t obtain any other way.

 

Being defined gives us a sense of security therefore, but only when we been live in a world that is made up of nothing more than our own mental projections. If we want that feeling of being secure – the feeling of being secure that comes from being totally defined – we have to pay the price of having to live in a very small world – the very small world of our own thoughts, our own expectations. What else are our thoughts anyway, if not ‘expectations of the world’? We don’t know that we are living in this absurdly small world, but that doesn’t alter the fact that we are, and there are going to be consequences to this choice that we have made, even though we don’t know that we have made it.

 

It’s not a good thing to shrink down in this way – it brings suffering, and not only does it ‘bring suffering’, it brings ‘suffering-without-the-capacity-to-bear-it’. Within this ‘absurdly small world’ (which is the only world that makes sense to the defined self) we are constantly subject to ‘irritations’ of a totally trivial nature. We can say that these irritations are of ‘a totally trivial nature’ because precisely they are irritations that make sense to the defined self, and the ‘defined’ (or ‘mind-created’) self is itself completely petty, completely trivial! We all know this on some level or other – we are all deeply familiar with the pettiness of the everyday self. The only time we aren’t aware of this is when we are wholly identified with this self, which is – needless to say – all too often! This is a calamity in itself; to be infinitely petty in the scope of our concerns, without knowing that we are because we are so caught up in them – is without any doubt a terrible calamity. We only need the smallest bit of imagination to appreciate just how terrifying a fate this is.

 

That’s only the beginning of it however. In order to enjoy the ‘sense of security’ that comes with being narrowly defined we need to restrict ourselves to ‘living within a very small world without knowing that we are’ and in one way this seems to be a price that we are willing to pay. There are however distressing consequences to this manoeuvre that only become apparent after a while. The ‘consequences’ that we talking about can be understood in terms of counterproductivity – ‘counterproductivity’ means that we that when we exert ourselves to accomplish one aim (and thereby hopefully resolve the situation in some way) other problems – which we have not foreseen – immediately come into play. And when we try to fix these unexpected problems what happens next is of course that a whole clutch of new problems come into being which also need to be fixed, and so on and so forth. On the ‘macro-scale’ this sort of counterproductivity is fairly well-known to us – our linear/technological approach to managing our environment is always rebounding on us in various unexpected (and unwanted) ways, as Gregory Bateson pointed out back in the 1960s. Ivan Illich also speaks of what he calls ‘specific counterproductivity’ in the fields of education, communication, transport and health.

 

We are at least’ halfway aware’ of counterproductivity on the macro-scale, whether it is in regard to the planetary ecology or industrialized society, but we are almost entirely blind to what we might call ‘intrapersonal counter- productivity’, which is the result of us trying to control or regulate ourselves. No matter how free we try to be in ourselves the mere fact that we are defined (just as the world we live in is defined) means that we are already controlled in the most profound way possible, even before we do anything else. This is like being ‘strangled at birth’! Intrapersonal counterproductivity is where we try to obtain a benefit for ourselves but incur suffering instead (or where we try to avoid pain, and instead of avoiding it we bring it down on our heads a thousandfold). The more common term for this is of course neuroticism and the concrete or literal self is the source of all neurotic counterproductivity…

 

 

 

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Life In The Box

So let’s suppose – just for the sake of the argument – that we have all been tricked or short-changed in the way that we have just been talking about. Let us assume that we have been pawned off with ‘a dummy reality’, a reality which a pale and tasteless imitation of the true thing. And – after all – since the way thought works is by ‘oversimplifying reality so as to make it agree with its categories’ (i.e. by steadfastly ignoring anything that doesn’t agree with them) it’s pretty much a dead certainty that this is the case! Assuming therefore that this is so, we can then ask what the psychological consequences might be of us being the victims of such a trick.

 

All we need to do – in order to arrive at some conclusions in this direction – is to think about all the ways all the things we can’t do in the fake reality. For example, we can’t be genuinely curious about anything, that capacity is lost to us. The reason why we can’t be curious any more is simply because there is nothing in the artificial world to be curious about! When reality is simplified down by only allowing that aspect of it which agrees with our assumptions (our’ evaluated criteria’, our’ categories’) then of course there’s nothing of interest in it. The only content that’s there is the content that we ourselves have put in it, so how can this possibly be said by any stretch of the imagination to be ‘interesting’?

 

When the content of my world is only what I myself have allowed or permitted to be there then my relationship with this predetermined content cannot be said to be one of ‘interest’. Curiosity cannot come into it; curiosity has no place in this world. They can be a kind of relationship to the prescribed content (obviously enough, since we do relate in some way to the artificial or oversimplified world) but it’s a relationship of a very different type. We can try to explain it by saying that it is somewhat akin to the relationship of miser has his goal, or the type of relationship an accountant has with his figures.

 

In the case of the miser (or the accountant) involved in an exercise in stock-taking there is a definite type of motivation involved – on the one hand there is the pleasure that comes with getting everything to add up properly, and on the other hand there is the annoyance and frustration, and ultimately despair, that come about when we can’t get the accounts to balance properly. This general setup is characterised by the fact that there is a’ ideal state’, which, if we meet it, will bring us great satisfaction – the target has been met, the criterion fulfilled. In short, the rule has been successfully obeyed. In the narrow or closed world, when the rule has been successfully obeyed then this is the ‘ultimate good’.

 

In the case of the miser, we may say that when he checks up on his stash and discovers that it’s all there, then this is the ideal. The discovery that’ ‘all my gold is there’ is what creates the pleasure or satisfaction. By the same token, when our miser checks his stash of gold and discovers that it’s not all there (or, even worse, he discovers that it’s all gone) then it is pain instead of pleasure that we get. What greater despair could there be than the despair of the miser who one day discovers that his stash has been stolen? All the pleasure that he has obtained as a result of ‘successful counting’ is now turned on its head and becomes its exact opposite. The more we have gloated, the more bitter is the despair when what we have been gloating over is one day taken away from us.

 

With regard to the accountant checking his figures, we can say that when the figures all balance out (when the debit column balances the credit column) then this (within the very narrow and rigid terms of reference of the accountancy game) is the ‘ultimate good’ – nothing trumps this, nothing feels better than this. And again – by the same token – when the columns don’t balance out then this is the ultimate disaster, the ultimate ‘disagreeable outcome’. This is the accountant’s nightmare. We can see from this discussion that simplifying reality (into a neat exercise in accountancy) automatically results in the situation where there is an’ absolute good outcome’ and the corresponding ‘absolute bad outcome’. If we weren’t simplifying reality down in this way and there couldn’t be any such thing as ‘an absolute bad/good outcome’ – this can only happen when we take a very narrow view of things. When we take the broad view, then all the so-called ‘absolutes get relativized (which is to say, they get turned into ‘non-absolutes’).

 

In a nutshell, what we talking about here are games, and the process of ‘turning games into reality’. When we turn reality into a game then straightaway we have the possibility of euphoria, along with the corresponding possibility of dysphoria. We all know this anyway of course – we all know that games contain the possibility of feeling euphoric and the corresponding possibility of feeling dysphoric. That’s why we play games, after all – we’re hoping to feel triumph rather than despair. This is what games are all about! There is a motivation for playing games therefore, but this motivation – as we have said – has nothing at all to do with curiosity! It can’t have anything to do with curiosity because there’s nothing to be curious about in the game. There’s nothing new in games (they can’t be anything new in games because a game is all about following the rules). The motivation in games have to do with arriving at a predetermined ‘known’ state that is nominated as being, for some reason, the ‘optimal one’. We can’t really ask ‘optimal for what’ because there is no answer to this; the only answer is ‘optimal for the game’. A game doesn’t acknowledge anything outside of it – if it were to do so then its integrity as a game would be fatally compromised.

 

This is of course exactly how thought works – it works by ‘creating a box and then not looking outside of it’. That’s the only way thought can work: there could be no such thing as ‘thinking’ if we didn’t do this! Before any logical process can happen we have to ‘limit the field’ (we have to ‘simplify the universe’, in other worlds). If we didn’t then we wouldn’t be able to create a definite model or theory of the world; we wouldn’t be able to define anything and if we can’t define things then we can’t think about them! It’s very hard thinking about something if you don’t know what that ‘something’ is it’s very hard thinking about radical uncertainty.

 

Representing our situation to ourselves in oversimplified way is of course a perfectly legitimate thing to do – if we didn’t discard all the irrelevant details then we’d never be able to get on with the job at hand. If I’m cooking a meal for example, and I allow myself to get interested in all sorts of random things that don’t have anything to do with the preparation of the meal, then this isn’t going to help me in my task. In all probability, the meal is going to turn out to be completely inedible. So when it comes to specific tasks like cooking food then it’s not just’ legitimate’ to disregard the relevant, it’s completely necessary. It’s necessary for the sake of doing whatever it is we’re doing! This isn’t to say that’ oversimplifying the universe’ is legitimate and necessary in any absolute sense therefore; only that it is necessary or legitimate in relation to this very specific goal.

 

This of course turns out to be the critically important point – this is exactly where (in one sense, anyway) it all goes wrong! Instead of being aware that our oversimplified view of the world (our ‘box’) is only necessary in relation to the pragmatic goal that is to be achieved (which means ‘keeping our awareness or some part of our awareness outside the box, so to speak) we get caught up in having the oversimplified version of the world on the table the whole time, for no pragmatic reason at all. We then get caught up living in a box without knowing that we are (without knowing that the box is a box) and we continue living our lives in this vastly oversimplified basis. Our superficial view of the world has now (for some obscure reason) become absolutely legitimate, absolutely necessary. And the other way of putting this is of course to say that it has now become absolutely illegitimate (or taboo) for us to ever depart from the oversimplified view, or admit or infer in any fashion that this might be a possibility.

 

On the face of it, we might say that this is a completely bizarre development – what on earth is there to gain from it? What could possibly be behind such a strange thing? On the face of it, from a psychologically naïve point of view, this might be a counter-intuitive, if not to say completely incomprehensible, development, but the point of view that is not psychologically naïve, it all starts to make sense rather quickly. This is a very basic human trait after all – hiding, running away, going into full retreat from openness. This is the operation of fear. When we ‘limit the field’ certain things pop into existence, as we have already mentioned. They’re not real things of course, but they are ‘things of a sort’. As we’ve already said, the possibility of definition comes into play. Definition doesn’t really exist, it is just something that’s imposed, not something that exists in itself, but when we’ limit the field’ (which again, isn’t actually a ‘real action’) then definitions (and the defined world) nevertheless comes into apparent existence.

 

When definitions come into play then – needless to say! – things get defined. All of a sudden they are all these definite things jostling around together, bouncing off each other, interacting with each other. Rule-based processes come into being, ‘logic’ comes into being, linear transformations come into being, orderly systems come into being. A whole ‘kind of’ world pops up – the world of mechanical order. This is like a company or organization coming into being, complete with all its policies and procedures. The point is therefore that – according to its own logic – the logical system has every reason for being there, every reason for existing. And yet – at the same time – the truth of the matter is that there’s no reason for it being there, no reason for it existing. Of course there is no ‘real reason’ for the logical system being there; it’s all just an artificial imposition, it’s all just a game. It’s only important from its own perspective. It’s an artificial imposition that has become ‘necessary’; it’s a game that has become real.

 

If we wanted to be more specific about what is happening here, we could say that what comes into apparent being as a result of us creating an oversimplified version of reality, as a result of ‘limiting the field’, as a result of ‘being constrained within a box that we cannot see to be a box’, we end up with the defined or conditioned self, which is the quintessential ‘game that has become real’. This is, naturally enough, a particularly hard thing for us to understand. It’s hard for us to understand because, we are almost entirely at the mercy of the framework which tells us what is real and what is not real. This framework tells us that the defined self is real (because definitions and defined things are real) and it implicitly tells us that anything outside of the framework (which is who we really are) is real. This is how frameworks (or ‘boxes’) work after all – by implicitly denying that there is anything outside of the box.

 

‘Living in the box’ means being disconnected from ‘mind at large’, to use Aldous Huxley’s term. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t any such thing as ‘mind at large’ (or ‘unconditioned consciousness’) – it just means that we are pragmatically disconnected from it. It just means that we are profoundly alienated from it. In pragmatic terms it’s exactly as if unconditioned consciousness does not exist – for us it doesn’t. The nonexistence of unconditioned consciousness (or ‘mind at large’) is however an entirely ‘subjective non-existence’ – it is a manifestation of our blindness. When we live in the world of definitions it is impossible to see beyond this world – it’s impossible to see how a ‘defined thing’ has no actual inherent thing-like nature, only the ‘apparent thing-like nature’ that we ourselves give it.

 

 

In the defined world (i.e. the ‘conceptual reality’) there is no place for curiosity as we have already said, and this ‘anomaly’ ought to tip us off that there is something artificial about it, something about it that is ‘not right’. How can we live without curiosity, after all? What degraded form of life would that be? And yet, for the most part, we don’t notice anything amiss. We take it as normal. On the whole, we don’t ‘smell a rat’ and the reason for this – as we have said – is that curiosity gets substituted for by an entirely humourless ‘concern with obtaining the positive outcome’. This ‘concern with outcomes’ which keeps us so busy, keeps us so ‘consumed’, that we simply never have the time to notice that we have no actual curiosity about life any more. This is the way the whole world has gone – we’re all ‘obsessed with outcomes’, we’re all ‘humourlessly concerned with goals and ego-competitions’, and no one seems to think that there’s anything wrong with this. It’s actually a sickness. It’s an abdication of our true nature; it’s an abdication of our true (open) nature in favour of ‘life in the box’….

 

 

 

The Limitations Of The Game

When all of our ‘capacity to do’ (or our ‘capacity to know’, for that matter) is supplied by the external authority of the game this might be said to be ‘fine up to a point’! It is fine (in a very limited sort of way, admittedly) up to a point, but then when that point is reached it immediately becomes not so fine at all. This critical point – which is the critical point at which external authority or ‘obeying the rules’ is no longer going to cut the ice for us – is always going to be reached sooner or later: either the environment we live in will place demands on us that the game-rules aren’t equipped to deal with, or – somehow – we lose faith in our ability for the rules or procedures to work for us, even though the tasks we are trying to carry out aren’t in any way new or especially demanding. In a nutshell, it could be said that what we’ve learned in life can no longer help us.

 

Whichever way it happens – and we could perhaps call the first scenario ‘stress’ and the second ‘anxiety’ – we’re caught out because we don’t have the capacity to call upon any resources other than those that are supplied by the external authority. If the EA can’t help us in a situation then it all starts to go to pieces, because we’ve never been encouraged to develop true autonomy. Nothing in society encourages us to (or supports us in) developing true autonomy; this is in fact the one thing the social system doesn’t want us to have! We go to pieces when we’re challenged in a way that the EA can’t help us with because we don’t have any intuition as to ‘what to do’  in the situation – intuition after all means ‘teaching from within’ and the only type of teaching we have (when we’re adapted to the game) is ex-tuition, or ‘teaching from without’…

 

Ultimately, it’s just not possible to live life solely on the basis of ‘teaching from without’ or ‘guidance from the operating system of the rational mind’. We’ve missed out something very important here – we’ve missed out ourselves and this omission is inevitably going to show up at some stage of the proceedings! Suppose I hit upon a neat way of living my life without me actually needing to be there – suppose I let the ‘inner robot’ of my habits run the show for me, to use Colin Wilson’s apt phrase. Suppose I just treat life as a kind of an established routine and just let it run according to the way it always does run – wouldn’t that be great? No real effort at all is needed in this case – I will never be challenged by anything radically new because all I’m doing is just playing the same loop over and over again. It’s all just ‘plain cruising’ in this case and I can put my feet up and hang an ‘out to lunch’ sign around my neck. I’m letting ‘the system’ run my life because I don’t want the bother, essentially. So the question we’re asking is ‘What’s the down-side to the plan? Where are the snags – if there are going to be any – going to appear?’

 

The question we’re asking is ‘How are the problems that arise from this business of me letting the system run my life (if there are any) going to present themselves?’ We have already said [in the Chapter Invisible Aggression] that when, in ‘the contest between realities’, the generic (or collective) reality wins out over our own unique non-generic reality – as it almost always does – then we have lost the core of who we are. We’re adrift as ‘an inauthentic constructed identity’ in the sterile, pointless world of society, trying to achieve goals that aren’t really ours, and which wouldn’t do us any good even if they were. Another way of putting this is to say that we’ve lost ourselves in the acts we put on to the extent that we know longer know that they are only ‘acts’! So we can now reformulate our question as “What problems are likely to arise when ‘the act we are putting on’ gets disconnected from ‘the one who is putting the act on’?’

 

We’re in the situation of a person who for the sake of convenience has put on a mask and then forgotten that they have done so and – as a result – are proceeding to live the ‘life’ of ‘the disconnected or unowned mask’. We have become identified with the mask and the point at which this identification takes place is the point at which the mask gets ‘a life of its own’, so to speak; the mask gets a life of its own, but at the same time it doesn’t really have a life because it’s not actually alive! Even just expressing matters this way (and it will be a very familiar perspective to anyone who has studied Carl Jung) clarifies things hugely. Already, the sense of ‘how the problem could manifest itself’ is very clear from this description of our situation. It is abundantly clear. When we look into it what we’re talking about here sounds more than just a little bit like ‘being possessed’ and Jung actually speaks in exactly these terms when we talks about ‘being possessed by the persona’. At the risk of being overly repetitive in our approach, we can now reformulate the question we have been playing about with here as “What psychological problems might conceivably arise of being possessed by a bundle of mechanical reflexes which masquerades as a self and has started living our life for us on our behalf, whether we like it or not?”

 

The question has in fact become little short of ridiculous at this stage – after all, what part of the situation that we have just described isn’t a problem? We would be better off asking if there is anything about the situation, as we have just set it out, that isn’t frankly and horrifically appalling! The only part of the package, as described, that is in any way ‘non-problematic’ would be the superficial representation of what’s going on, as provided for us by that mechanical agency, when we are able to actually believe in it (which will be, at best, only for some of the time). As we keep saying, the mechanical agency is living life for us (is living life as us) and the only way this is going to seem OK to us is when we are able to think that this highly limited (actually totally limited) frame of reference IS us. That’s the only way we’re ever going to feel good about the machine that lives life on our behalf…

 

There are two elements (we could say) to this illusion – [1] is that we think the machine is us (or that we are the machine) and [2] is that we don’t in any way perceive the machine to be only a machine, which is to say, limited or constrained to the point that there is actually nothing real about it at all. When both of these elements are present and intact then the illusion can function flawlessly; we will never smell a rat and the illusion will therefore perpetuate itself indefinitely!

 

The ‘fully-functioning illusion’ is one in which there is no question of this bundle of reflexes and judgements (or prejudices) not being who we are; it is the situation where there is not even the slightest shadow of doubt [1] that this ‘foreign introject’ is our own true self and [2] that the subjective world in which we live (which is made up entirely of attractive and aversive projections based upon the inherent biases of the machine) is expansive and full of possibilities (and not at all ‘closed’, therefore). These two requirements for a fully functioning, fully operational illusion are – when it comes down to it – quite inseparable – if one starts to fail then both do. When we start to feel that our world is limited to the point of being empty of any worthwhile content this in turn causes us to doubt the authenticity of who we think we are and if – looking at this the other way – if we were to doubt our own authenticity, our own worthwhileness as a person, then the world would appear to have nothing in it for us – it would hold no promises for us, no possibilities for us. There might be something in it for someone else perhaps but that doesn’t matter because there is nothing there for me… The world reflects our own state of mind when we are unconscious, as Johannes Fabricius says in The Royal Art Of The Alchemists – if I feel bad then the world is a bad place and if I feel good then it is a terrible place. The world is a projection of my inner state – the possibilities I see out there for me in the ‘projected world’ are really nothing more than illusions deriving from the ‘central illusion’ of the self-construct!

 

Another (possibly clearer) way of putting this is to say that there are two ways in which ‘malfunctions of the machine’ might start to manifest for us, one being in terms of limitations that affect our purposeful (or goal-orientated) actions in the world and the other being in terms of what we might call ‘limitation in our very being’. A ‘limitation in the potency of our purposeful actions’ simply means that we are not able (or rather that we feel we are not able) to do, whilst a perceived ‘limitation in our being’ means that – actually – we don’t have any being since being can’t be limited and yet still remain ‘being’! The nature of being is to be limitless, without edges or boundaries. To perceive oneself to be in any way ‘a thing’, in other words, is to perceive oneself as having no genuine being. That’s why we say ‘a mere thing’; thing-hood is a degraded state of being, a state of being with all the good taken out of it. It reduces us to a joke. Perceived limitation of purposeful action corresponds to anxiety therefore, whilst ‘perceived limitation of being’ corresponds – we might say – to depression. In the former we are impotent to do, in the latter we are equally impotent to be – our so-called ‘being’ is felt to be fraudulent…

 

We can bring this all back to what Gurdjieff says about us being unable, in our normal everyday mode of being, it either do or be. On the face of it, to the overwhelming majority of us, this sounds like utter nonsense. It doesn’t penetrate our consciousness even by a millimetre, even by a nanometre. It’s double-dutch – our acclaimed (but deeply unconscious) experts will scoff for all they’re worth. And yet what Gurdjieff is saying isn’t that hard to understand – not if we look at it from the perspective that we have been setting out here. Of course we can’t do if our internalized set of rules and procedures are already doing everything for us! We have become so dependent upon the crutch of the ‘inner robot’ that if it were taken away from us we would simply collapse on a heap on the floor!

 

Similarly, then, it is perfectly clear and straightforward to see that in our normal, everyday mode of existence, we cannot be. We don’t have to be – we have a machine that will do that for us! We have a fully-functioning ‘slave-system’ to do that for us (only things have flipped over for us and we’ve ended up being the slaves). It’s like having slaves to chew our food for us because we’re too lazy to make the effort – if our slaves were to leave us or die then we would be thrown into a crisis since our jaw muscles would have become far too weak to chew any unprocessed food. We would have become functionally incapable of mastication! It’s not that there is any shortage of food – the table in front of us is heaped with it – it’s just that we can’t eat it. We’d choke if we tried…

 

In this analogy, ‘the food on the table’ corresponds to reality (or ‘genuine being’), and the sustenance that lies within it. Genuine being is however unknown to us and as well as being unknown to us it is something we seriously don’t want to have to meet; we are averse to ever coming across it because it completely fails to facilitate us. More accurately, it completely fails to facilitate our ‘idea of ourselves’, i.e. – who we think we are. More accurately still, reality will facilitate our idea of ourselves (just as it will facilitate any of our ideas, any of our thoughts) but what it won’t do is facilitate our unquestioning belief in this idea. We have to do that bit ourselves! Reality can float any number of ideas or concepts, just as the sea can facilitate any number of waves, but it doesn’t insist that we take them seriously – it is us who insists upon that. Truth is not in the business of ‘facilitating illusions’ after all! Far from facilitating them, it ruthlessly undermines them. And in the same way, far from supporting our ideas and concepts, the truth fatally undermines them…

 

Oddly enough, therefore, genuine being is actually destructive to us. ‘He who is near to me is near to the fire’, warns Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. Reality is destructive to us because it doesn’t support the illusions that we have about ourselves – it’s a food that is too rich for our blood! The only type of sustenance we can take is something that we might call ‘pre-digested being’, which is actually non-being in disguise. The conceptual self can only have conceptual being, in other words, and so to state that we, in our normal everyday mode of existence, cannot ‘be’ makes perfect sense. In the conditioned modality of existence, we cannot be, and what’s more, we cannot have anything to do with being. Our being is illusory and so too are our purposeful actions (naturally they are since they are ‘actions that stem from an illusory sense of self’). Our purposeful behavioural output – to a large extent – is actually our (covert) attempt to stabilize and promote our illusory sense of self and so it can’t be any more real than that mind-created self is.

 

The ongoing endeavour to maintain, stabilize and promote the mind-created self – no matter how apparently successful it might be – is always going to be fundamentally irresolvably glitched and what we call ‘neurotic suffering’ is how this irreducible glitch manifests itself. And yet as unwelcome as neurotic suffering might be (and there is no visitor more unwelcome at our door), it betokens a freedom far beyond anything we could ever have imagined…