The Challenge of Becoming Real (Part 2)

The social world which we inhabit makes only one requirement of us and that is that we adapt ourselves to it. The only real rule of the system is that we should fit in, in other words. It is the perception that we aren’t fitting in, or that we don’t know how to fit in, that lies behind social anxiety. Social anxiety is a peculiar thing inasmuch as we don’t really ‘get it’ unless we ourselves suffer from it, which is to say, we don’t really understand how important it is that we should fit into society until we can’t! If we were to think about it a bit more deeply, we knew we would see that nothing else would matter the social world other than itself ever – the social world is a equilibrium-system and an equilibrium system – by definition – doesn’t care about anything other than its own standards. ‘Its own standards’ constitute the equilibrium that it is always trying to accord with – the social system is always ‘agreeing with itself’, so to speak. It doesn’t know how to do anything else.

 

If we adapt ourselves to the social world then ‘that’s all that matters’ therefore; that’s all we need to do. We can rest content with this achievement (according to the social system at least). This is where the problem lies however – we believe the social system when it says that ‘everything is okay’, when it says that ‘we are okay’, but the social system, like any equilibrium system, is only right because it sets it is. It’s not right for any other reason, it’s not right because of any reasons that might exist outside of itself, it’s only right because it has agreed with itself that it is! The social world is in equilibrium-based system, as we keep saying, and equilibrium systems orientate themselves around their assumed equilibria values (i.e. they are normative in nature) and so they are as a consequence completely insensitive to anything else. Anything else is branded as error – it is branded as error because he doesn’t agree with the assumed values and if we can understand this basic principle then we can understand all that we need to know about the social world.

 

To understand that society is an E-system and to understand ‘what E-systems are’ is important because then we can understand why adapting to the social world can never be any kind of ‘final end’. Never mind a ‘final end’, it’s not even taking us in the right direction! We are all very naïve this way – we’re stupendously naïve, in fact. We think that when society tells us that we doing well (i.e. when our peers or people in positions of authority tell us that we doing well) then this actually means something. We think that we can pat ourselves on our back then; absurdly, we allow ourselves to feel that we have in some way tackled life’s great existential challenge, and have, moreover, come out of the test covered in glory. We can see this happening all around us – everywhere we look we can see that those of us who have in some way successfully adapted themselves to society up are allowing themselves to believe that jumping through whatever hoops we have to jump through is the same thing as ‘rising to life’s challenge’. This is absurd of course because if life were to challenge us then we would fall to pieces immediately. We’re not prepared for a real challenge. This is because society is no more than a game, no more than ‘an exercise in make-believe’, and those of us who’ve done well in it have simply demonstrated ‘our prowess in pretending’.

 

We can’t of course just turn our backs on the social world – in practical terms, there just isn’t really else to go! We can’t head off to live in the desert or in the wilderness or the mountains because the deserts or the wilderness or the mountain can’t support us all – humanity has become far too numerous for that to be an option any more. What we can do however is take part in society without at the same time complacently allowing ourselves to believe that achieving social adaptation is the same thing as ‘rising to life’s existential challenge’! It’s not that we shouldn’t have to perform our socialised roles and tasks, therefore (although perhaps sometimes we shouldn’t) but rather that we shouldn’t take them seriously as society wants us to. It is a crucial part of the game that we should be ‘taking it seriously’ of course – a game isn’t a game unless we take it seriously – and so what we are actually saying here is if it were the case that we had any genuine interest in own well-being, our own mental health, then we would give up the social game as a bad deal. It would no longer be the main thing in life (if not the only thing). No good whenever come out of putting all our money on the social game, after all. It can’t – after all – supply us with the one thing that we need, which is ‘who we truly are’. It can supply us with all sorts of things but not this; that, we have to work out for ourselves!

 

It sounds (perhaps) sarcastic to express things in this way; it sounds sarcastic to say ‘if it were the case that we had any genuine interest in our own well-being’ but it’s not meant in that way. It’s important to acknowledge that it is extraordinarily hard to see through the hoax that has been perpetrated on us by society (which is to say, ‘by ourselves’). The hoax is that our well-being is the same thing as the well-being of the social fiction which is the mind-created sense of self (or ‘I-concept’, as Wei Wu Wei puts it). So it’s not that we don’t have any interest in our mental health, but rather that we have been tricked into lavishing all of our caring or all our attention in the wrong direction, onto the image of ourselves rather than what lies behind this image (which is something we can never ‘lay our hands on’). It’s intangible. The image of ourselves, the idea of ourselves, is – on the other hand – nothing if not obvious and we are stuck to this ‘obviousness’ as if with glue. The more obvious it is the more we are stuck to it!

 

‘Obvious’ doesn’t mean true, though! ‘Obvious’ is never true, ‘obvious’ comes about because of the way in which we have cut corners and tied up all the loose ends – there are no loose ends in an obvious statement of fact, but – at the same time – reality itself is nothing else but loose ends! Reality is never neat and tidy, and it never comes in nicely-tied parcels. Reality never comes in parcels and yet the thinking mind is the Master Wrapper of parcels – it never produces anything that isn’t all wrapped up and tied with a bow, so what this means is that the thinking mind never produces anything true. Its statements are conclusive and definitive and that immediately abstracts them out of the real world and into another realm entirely – the realm of formal descriptions. The products of thought have a very peculiar quality therefore – the quality of unreality. This unreal quality however is invisible to us; it’s actually reality that seems things peculiar to us, on the odd occasions when we catch might catch a glimpse of it. We don’t know what it is, we don’t recognise it – all we know is that it doesn’t fit into our plan of things, all we know is that we don’t want to let it ‘rock the boat’.

 

When we orientate ourselves around the productions of thought therefore (when we try to make everything, including ourselves, fit into thought’s neat and tidy scheme of things) then we put ourselves into an inimical position. Thought’s scheme of things is not hospitable to us. This doesn’t mean that we won’t – from time to time – experience pleasurable excitement; we will experience pleasure or euphoria when we believe ourselves to have ‘got things right’ by thought’s standards and we will experience excitement (of the positive variety) when we believe that we are going to get things right, and it seems to us that nothing can stop us obtaining the goal. We will also of course – by the same token – experience anxiety when we feel that we aren’t going to be able to live up to ‘thought’s standards’, just as we will experience despair or dysphoria when we perceive ourselves to have failed by the thinking mind’s rigid guidelines. But none of this is any real substitute for life – the world that is created by thought is not a genuinely hospitable one, as we keep saying. The thought-created world does not accommodate us – it’s like wearing a shoe that doesn’t fit us, a shoe that pinches.

 

The world that has been created by thought does not accommodate us – on the contrary, we are obliged to accommodate ourselves to it. This is what we started off by saying (albeit in slightly different way) – the social world has only one real requirement that it makes of us and that is that we adapt ourselves to it. Having gone into this question a little bit more we can now see that this is not such a small thing to ask after all. Society presents us with the necessity to ‘fit in’ as if this were the most natural thing in the world but there is nothing natural about it; as we have said, we are being required to accommodate ourselves to a system where the ‘accommodation’ is only happening one way. It’s all happening ‘at our expense’, in other words. And yet it’s not just that the social system is trying to make an argument as why we should try to fit into it – there’s no ‘reasoned argument’ about it; this is just brute force – we are simply told that ‘this is what we should do’. We aren’t given the means of questioning this arbitrary imperative; we aren’t allowed the possibility of seeing that there could be any other possibility (other than doing what we have been let to believe is the only possible thing for us to do). Our consciousness is controlled, in other words.

 

We have actually been given an impossible task; we have been presented with an impossible job and we have also been put in a position where we aren’t able to see that we don’t really need to engage ourselves in this task at all. The element of freedom (which always did exist and will always continue to exist) has been very effectively concealed – we never even suspect that this freedom is an actual thing. As far as we’re concerned intrinsic freedom as an alien concept; something that is simply beyond our ability to understand or imagine; it’s something there is no point in trying to talk about, in other words. The impossible task that we have been saddled with this is the task of adapting ourselves to an abstract realm, a realm within which there simply isn’t any space for things to be any other way than the way we are told that they should be. The rules are everything. And the rub is that ‘the way we are told things should be’ isn’t actually a ‘way’ at all. It isn’t a ‘way’ because the world that is made up of our formal, rule-based description isn’t actually a world – it’s a fantasy, not a world. We are being compelled to adapt to ‘a world that is made up of compartments’ when in reality there are no such thing as ‘compartments’.

 

We are actually being shoehorned into categories or compartments the whole time, on a continuous basis. This process is inevitable given that the social system can only recognise its own categories – it can’t recognise anything else, it can’t acknowledge anything else. Anything that is not recognisable as a known category is seen as being odd – by definition it is odd! The problem with this is that who we are in our essence can’t be fit into any established category; we can only be socially accepted when we aren’t ourselves therefore! There is no ‘winning’ if we can’t be who we really are, so what are we struggling and competing for? As we have said, it’s not even that we have any awareness of this being a choice either – we perceive ‘the need to fit into the prescribed categories’ as simply being ‘the way of things’. We don’t therefore understand the deterministic process in which we that we are involved in this way – we don’t see ourselves as trying to fit in to the prescribed categories, we just experience ourselves as ‘trying to be the right way rather than the wrong way’. We’re just trying to do the best that we can.

 

It is quite beyond any doubt that society operates by putting pressure on us to become congruent with the socially-prescribed images of what are we are supposed to be. Only a fool would try to deny this! This is how it always works in an equilibrium-seeking system – everything is determined from the outside. There are certain ideas regarding ‘how things are supposed to be’ and there is also some kind of ‘mechanical force’ that acts on us so as to cause us to try conform to these ideas. This mechanical force is so unquestioned that it actually becomes – in practical terms – the very same thing as our own motivation; it becomes our mind. The mind (which is synonymous with ‘the mind-created sense-of self’) and the social environment within which it operates are ‘nested equilibrium-seeking systems’, therefore. They are the same system, each mirroring the other. In psychological terms, what this means is that the mechanical force which we have adapted to has become our own will, and our own will (naturally enough) never gets questioned.

 

When we understand the social world (and ourselves as we are when we are 100% adapted to it) in thermodynamic terms, as we have just done, then our situation can be seen very clearly. The type of motivation that we are running on (i.e. extrinsic motivation) is the mechanical drive to accord with the equilibrium values (or ‘what is normal’) no matter what. Our ‘sense-of self’ is an equilibrium value that we are forever trying to accord with, just as society is. Trying to accord with our ideas of ourselves (and fighting back fiercely when these ideas are challenged) is our Number One Preoccupation. But this is getting it all backwards – when we faithfully accord with the E-values of society (or with the E-value that is the mind-created sense of self) then we become unreal. The movement towards the equilibrium is the movement towards fantasy, and this is why we can say that our attempts to deliberately move towards mental health or ‘peace of mind’ are always going to be secretly ‘self-sabotaging’. That’s why ‘positive therapy’ doesn’t work. If we were genuinely interested in becoming real, on the other hand, then we’d be moving away from the equilibrium, not towards it…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Common Delusion

We are very confused, collectively speaking, about what constitutes mental health, and what doesn’t. Our ‘automatic’ way to understand mental health is – of course – to see it as a measure of how well adapted we are to the consensus reality (which we take to be the only reality). This is hardly news – we all know how bad it feels to be somehow standing out from the crowd as being ‘strange’ or ‘odd’. This is an experience that every human being, no matter what part of the world they might come from, can relate to.

 

When we are in this situation of ‘looking odd in some kind of unwanted way’ only one thing matters to us (naturally enough) and that is ‘looking normal again’ or, ‘being like everyone else again’. If we can do this then we will have an embarrassing moment for sure but the awkward moment will soon pass and then the chances are that we will quickly get over it. Little ‘blips’ like this happen from time to time and it’s no big deal. When however we are unable to return ourselves promptly to within ‘the bounds of normality’, we’re almost certainly going to go beyond embarrassment and ‘internalise the wrongness,’ so to speak. We’re going to feel the wrongness to be some kind of ‘special taint’ of our own; a thing that ‘belongs to us and us alone’. It is in this case as if we ourselves become the fault or error that needs to be corrected.

 

When we feel like this it is very clear to us, on a deep and often inarticulate level, that ‘mental health’ (or ‘wellness’) means one thing and one thing only, and that is ‘correcting the error’ and returning to the normative state (which is the ‘zone of safety’ where we don’t stand out any more). Other people will also have the same idea of what ‘mental health’ should mean for us – even mental health care professionals will for the most part subscribe to this equilibrium-based view of what MH consists of. It’s as if we simply can’t help defining MH normatively, it’s as if we don’t have any other way of seeing it! And yet there is no way in which this ‘reflex-reaction’ business of according with the normative values of ‘how we are supposed to be’, or ‘how we are supposed to appear’, (which is close to the mark) can be said to be in any way ‘healthy’! What we’re looking at here is simply ‘automatic pain-avoidance’ (or ‘safety-seeking’) and nothing more.

 

We can very clearly see that the movement towards social adaptation, the movement towards the equilibrium value, isn’t anything to do with ‘mental health’ just as soon as we take a good look at it. All are doing here – or rather all we’re trying to do here – is move quickly to a place where there is no more pain or embarrassment, a place where there is ‘no more challenge’. We’re trying to move to a place of place of ‘zero risk’, in other words, and this is a movement in the direction of psychological unconsciousness. This type of movement is always a movement in the direction of unconsciousness because we are abdicating the essential responsibility that we always have for being ‘the way that we actually are’. We are ‘fleeing from reality as it actually is’, which although it is very natural and understandable response on our part, is at the same time not a ‘healthy’ thing to do. It’s not what we could call a ‘healthy thing to do’ because it has punishing consequences both for ourselves and others. It’s not healthy thing to do because it is ‘taking refuge in the collectively-validated lie’ regarding what we say ‘the right way to be’ is, and no matter what else we might say about this state of affairs, whether it is natural or not or understandable or not, we can’t say that it is anything whatsoever to do with ‘mental health’.

 

What mental health consists of can’t be normally normatively defined in the same way certain aspects of physical health (such as body temperature or blood glucose levels) can be, but we can nevertheless say something about it. We can say for example that it isn’t automatically running (or trying to run) to a place of safety every time we are challenged, or we could say that it isn’t pretending that ‘what is happening isn’t happening’! We could also say that mental health isn’t about judging ourselves as being fundamentally ‘flawed’ or ‘at fault’ when we find ourselves painfully excluded from the consensus reality. A better way of expressing all these points is perhaps to say that what we are calling ‘mental health’ is somehow about being ‘true to ourselves’ (and ‘not engaging in any social collusions’) – we are being straight about how we are, rather than cheating or engaging in a deception or cover-up or what of whatever kind. We are not involving ourselves in any collectively-validated games or subterfuges (which is something that our peers will straightaway see as being ‘unhealthy’ or just plain ‘wrong’).

 

Another way of talking about mental health is to say that what that it essentially involves ‘not turning our backs on whatever we are being challenged with’. Life is one big challenge when it comes down to it and we are not putting all our money on the doomed attempt to escape it! ‘Life is difficult,’ as Scott M Peck says at the beginning of The Road Less Travelled, and so ‘being mentally healthy’ (or being ‘growth-orientated’, as we could also say) means facing this truth, even if we don’t do anything else. This type of approach could however very easily be misinterpreted and turned into some kind of a stick to beat ourselves with – we’re all very good at that, after all! It’s not that we ‘have to’ face every challenge that life throws at us (and that consequently, if we don’t face every challenge that life throws at us then we are somehow going ‘wrong’ and are therefore ‘at fault’). It’s not that we have to be ‘mentally healthy’, in other words! That would be completely ridiculous – that would mean that we are running away from the challenge of ‘seeing ourselves as we actually are’ (which is most emphatically NOT someone who never runs away from any challenge). Mental health doesn’t mean ‘trying to live out some ridiculous fantasy idea of who we would like to be, and beating ourselves up when we can’t do this’! That’s just escapism…

 

‘The way that we actually are’ is to be orientated primarily around ‘safety seeking’ or ‘challenge avoiding’. That’s simply the human situation. Even if we think we’re pretty good at taking on challenges, the chances are that we’re taking on the challenges that we do take on in order to avoid some bigger challenge that we won’t even let ourselves know about! This too is ‘the human situation’ – we deceiving ourselves on an ongoing basis and will deny that we are doing so to our last breath! What we are calling ‘mental health’ is therefore just another way of talking about being basically honest with ourselves – we don’t have to be any kind of special way, we don’t have to accord with any normative values that have been set for us by society or by any other group of people, we just have to be basically honest with ourselves about the way we actually are. How could we ever possibly imagine that we could have any sort of go at all at ‘living our lives’ without this precondition of ‘basic honesty’? What do we imagine our lives would amount to, otherwise?

 

Even just to have this understanding about what mental health really is (as opposed to what it is inevitably presented as being) frees us up enormously. We don’t have to ‘do’ anything – just to see the nature of the ‘jinx‘ that was being put on us (or that we were putting on ourselves) makes all the difference. It’s okay to want or to yearn to not be the way that we are (that’s natural, as we have already said), but this has nothing to do with any sort of ‘overarching moral imperative’ – is not wrong that we are the way that we are, it’s just difficult. ‘Being in a difficult place’ is a very different from being ‘wrong’! To be in a difficult place is to be engaged in some sort of challenge and that this is actually an indication of health. What’s not healthy is to hide away from the challenge so effectively that we don’t even know that it is there, and that is what this business of being ‘successful adaptation to the consensus reality’ is all about. That’s what being adapted to the consensus reality is always about.

 

What we implicitly see as being the state of optimal mental health (i.e. ‘being normal’!) is actually a state of ‘hiding away’, it’s actually a state of ‘zero existential challenge’. This is of course the case – being ‘socially adapted’ means that we have agreed to see the world in a particular way, it means that we have agreed to see the world (or ‘life’) in the particular specific way that everyone else sees it! This act of conformity takes us away from the truth straightaway, therefore! It takes us away from our truth. The thing that is so very attractive about this situation (i.e. the situation of ‘the validated lie) is precisely that there is ‘zero existential challenge’ in it – this is the great ‘advantage’ that we are so attracted to. Being able to successfully evade the essential existential central challenge of life is the great advantage, but it is at the very same time the great disadvantage! It’s the ‘upside’ of the deal, to be sure, but it’s also ‘the downside’!

 

This isn’t to say that everyday ‘socially adapted’ life doesn’t have its own challenges, its own difficulties, but rather that we are now seeing everything backwards; we’re fundamentally orientated towards the normatively-defined ‘equilibrium value’ so that all our efforts are efforts to obtain something that doesn’t exist (or ‘return ourselves to some kind of unreal place’). This sort of effort is fundamentally frustrated therefore because what we are trying to obtain isn’t real (because the place that we are trying to return to isn’t actually there). Our illusion – when we are adapted to the consensus reality – is that when we can get rid of all errors (i.e. when we can get things to be ‘the way that we want them to be’) then we will find the fulfilment that were always looking for. Essentially therefore, we are ‘working to avoid the need to work’ and we imagine that we have done this then everything will be wonderful. This is the ‘upside-down’ way of seeing things that we buy into when we are ‘psychologically unconscious’. We’re hypnotized by the goal-state of ‘having no more challenges’. In reality – of course – it doesn’t work this way at all – when (or if) we create for ourselves a situation of ‘zero existential challenge’ then at the same time as doing this we also create for ourselves a situation of very great suffering, very great frustration!

 

The situation of ‘zero challenge’ which we long for so much is actually a situation of ‘zero reality’ – it’s a situation of ‘zero reality’ simply because reality itself is a challenge! It’s not the case therefore that a challenge – when it comes our way – is ‘an error that needs to be corrected’, but rather that that challenge is actually life itself! In the psychologically unconscious state we are therefore trying to run away from life and we validate this ongoing effort to escape from life by saying that we are trying to obtain (or arrive at) an ideal state, the ideal state which is ‘the solution to our problem’. In effect therefore, we’re saying that escaping from the ongoing existential challenge which is life is ‘the right thing to do’! We’re saying that ‘believing the consensus lie’ is the right thing to do’. Our position (although we can’t see it because we’re seeing everything backwards) is to see the situation where we ‘successfully escape from life’ as being concomitant with ‘the state of mental health’! We see the ‘equilibrium state’ (i.e. the state of ‘being the same as everyone else’ or ‘the state of being normal’) as being ‘the thing that will somehow make everything all right’, when actually nothing could be further from the truth. Unconsciousness is the cause of our problems, not the solution. ‘Hades is the same as Dionysus, in whose honour men go mad and rave.’ says Heraclitus. We think that we are worshipping life, whilst really we’re worshipping death!

 

So this brings us back to what we started off by talking about right at the beginning of this discussion, which is that we are all very confused, collectively speaking, about what constitutes mental health and what doesn’t! How more confused could we be? We’re hypnotised by this mirage, this mirage of ‘what we think is mental health,’ whilst the truth is that what we’re longing for is actually the state of perfect unconsciousness. We’re actually chasing oblivion (or ‘nonexistence’) even though we can’t for the life of us see it. We chasing unreality, but we are seeing everything upside-down so that unreality seems a real and worthwhile goal. We’re seeing unreality as being real and reality as being unreal.  This means that we see mental health as being the state in which we accord with some kind of ‘mind-created abstraction’, some kind of ‘ideal situation’, some kind of ‘normative value’. What we don’t see – when were identified with the thinking mind – is that normative values are phantom appearances and nothing more. The normative value may seem as if it’s going to be ‘the answer to everything’, but that’s just the bait to get is to walk into the trap. That’s just the cheese. Who said that the lure had to be real, after all? All that matters (if the trap is to work) is that we believe in it, and we do…

 

Everyone believes in the illusion and this makes it all the more difficult to doubt it, or stand up and say anything against it. When it comes to it, speaking out about it just isn’t going to work – if you speak out against the illusion you will be shouted down. If you speak the truth you will be discredited. People will laugh at you being so foolish as to ‘not see the obvious’! If you can’t see that what is ‘obviously true’ has to be true (the same as everyone else can!) then clearly there’s something wrong with you. Believing in the ‘common delusion’ is what we all understand to be ‘the healthy way to be’, whilst seeing it to be not true at all what it is marks us out as being strange or odd, and being strange or odd is indistinguishable with ‘having something wrong with you’. Having a viewpoint that doesn’t accord with the consensus viewpoint proves that ‘there’s something wrong with you’, and yet ‘the consensus view of things’ is – by definition – an abstraction (just like an average is an abstraction).  If what we all see as ‘being true’ is an abstraction (as it has to be) then what this means is simply that it is a lie! Just how ‘mentally healthy’ is it to uncritically believe a lie, therefore?

 

 

Art – The high house low! “2011, by Elliot Hundley