The Tyranny Of Thought

When we relate to the world primarily via our thinking then this puts us in a very awkward and painful position – the odd thing however being that we’re not generally aware of this pain, aware of this awkwardness. The reason for the pain inherent in our position when we are relating to things solely by our thinking is that it’s not actually the world that we are relating to but our ‘mental map’ which we superimpose – without realising it – onto the world. Thought, and our mental map of the world, are one and the same thing and this creates what we might call ‘a fundamental lack of perspective’ It is this fundamental lack of perspective that is putting us in the awkward position that we are in. There is of course no actual space between thought and thought’s projections, and this lack of space has far-reaching consequences. ‘Space’ being, we might say, that part of the world that thought is unable to recognise and classify, and therefore unable to make a copy of and ‘turn it into itself’.

 

Lack of space, or lack of perspective, means lack of freedom with regard to our ability to interpret what the thinking mind is telling us. We’re essentially ‘stuck to our descriptions’; we are ‘literally bound’ to them, so to speak. What we are told to be true is what we understand to be true, these are not two different things but the same one since both ‘the conditioned self’ and ‘the conceptually-mediated world that the conditioned self believes in’ are governed by thought. ‘Thought is relating to thought’ and that’s why we can say that there is no perspective here. Something else is needed for us to have perspective – something that we very rarely have access to! The thinking mind however doesn’t see the need for there to be ‘anything else other than itself’ and that’s why we don’t see that there is anything amiss when we’re operating solely on the basis of thought. Thought can’t see ‘the problem in itself’, so to speak. Not only does it automatically take it that there is no need for anything other than itself, but it also automatically assumes that anything not fitting into its logical scheme of things must be some type of error. It’s not just that thought doesn’t trust anything apart from itself therefore but rather that it sees everything else is an enemy to be eliminated. It is in the nature of thought is to be ‘fundamentally aggressive’, or ‘fundamentally violent‘, in other words.

 

The ‘elimination of everything apart from thought’ creates insoluble problems however,  as we started off by saying. What we’re really talking about when we say that ‘thought has an automatic tendency to eliminate everything that is not itself’ is of course hyperreality – thought actively gets rid of anything that isn’t part of its own account of reality, part of its ongoing description or classification of reality and so we end up with a situation where everything has been turned into ‘a book of accounts’, or ‘system of descriptions/classifications’. The taxonomy of the world is identical to the world. We then – via the agency of thought – relate to this ‘world that is made of the descriptions’ and ignore everything else, which puts us in a very impoverished situation. We end up living in an impoverished version of reality that we cannot recognise as such because the system of thought can’t recognise anything other than itself – because it simply doesn’t have the capacity to recognise anything else other than itself. We are in that very curious situation where we are stuck to our own descriptions, stuck to our own thoughts, even though there isn’t actually anything substantial in them. Thoughts are all we’re allowed and yet here’s no actual ‘flavour’ (or ‘nutrition’, for that matter) in them.

 

This is no small problem therefore but we ‘get around it’ so to speak, by passing on from one thought to another, one mental construct to another, quite rapidly, so that we never get to be aware of the essential hollowness (or ‘aridity’) of thought. This is just like watching a bad film (a film that’s pretty much the same as a thousand others that we might have seen) but not noticing how bad it is because we are allowing ourselves to be distracted by the action or drama that’s going on. We go from one spectacular car chase to another, one intense drama to another. Or we could say that life in the thought-created world is like being stuck to our social media feed – we get presented with one item after another in quick succession and each item has some kind of fascination associated with it to draw us in and make us look at it. Our ‘thought feed’ keeps on presenting us with click bait’, and we just keep on clicking. We’re ‘clicking’ all day long!

 

Part of the illusion – the core part, we might say – is that we feel ourselves to be ‘in charge’, we feel that we are controlling what is going on, that we are choosing those items which are of interest to us and rejecting the others. This is a kind of ‘empowering’ illusion therefore – we are ‘empowered’ to feel that we have actual agency in the situation and this feeling is crucial for the whole delusional system to work, to remain viable. The truth of the matter is that we don’t ‘choose’ thoughts however – we’re powerless not to click them! We can’t choose not to think a particular thought, after all – it’s stuck to us straight away. The apparent act of ‘volition’ whereby we ‘choose to think a thought’ is a perception that thought itself generates in order to ‘suck us in’, as David Bohm points out. The euphoria of feeling that ‘this is what I want to do’ comes about when we identify with the false or mind-created sense of self so of course it’s not really ‘what we want to do’, it’s what the mind-created self wants us to do (which is just another way of saying that it’s what ‘the thinking mind wants us to do’. We are being controlled by our thoughts in other words and this is hardly surprising since thoughts are pretty much all we are – our thoughts are the only thing that we take seriously, anyway. There is more to us than thought but we just don’t give it any credence.

 

Even if we didn’t want to think a particular thought we don’t really have any choice when it comes down to it. We have to think some thought or other or else we would have nothing to relate to – the thought-created world is the only world we know, after all. Thought has stolen the show. If we didn’t one think one thought then we’d think another; we have to be thinking something, we can’t just ‘think nothing’! The bigger picture is that we don’t have any freedom, therefore. We are compelled to engage in thought; it’s not something we have any alternative to. Thought is the whole world to us so where else are we going to go? Even when it comes to thinking specific thoughts we don’t have any choice in the matter – a thought comes along and we think it, generally speaking. That’s how things work, for the most part. When we try not to think a particular thought then we think it more, not less! Saying ‘NO’ to a thought simply gives energy to it and so we get even more stuck to the thought that we were before. The only (apparent) option we have open to us is the drastic option of repressing the thought, of burying it down deep, but this just gives to thought more energy than ever – vastly more energy than ever, in fact. We are creating a time-bomb. When it comes down to it, we actually don’t have any options therefore; we only have ‘the illusion of options’ so we have to live off these illusions. We have to dine on them as if they were genuine food…

 

All of our neurotic pain comes from the profound lack of perspective that over-valued thought engenders in us; all of our neurotic pain comes from being totally controlled by thought, which is of course a very obvious statement once we make it! If we had a bit of perspective then we wouldn’t take our thoughts quite so seriously and if we stopped taking our thoughts quite so seriously then we would no longer be feeding them so much. If there was just a little bit of space (‘space’ meaning ‘that which is not thought’, or ‘that which is not produced by thought’) between our mind-created image of ourselves and the picture of reality that thought shows us then we wouldn’t be stuck so fast to this picture. The reason hyperreality has the type of ‘absolute magnetic power’ over us that it does have is precisely because there is no gap, no discontinuity, between our mind-created view-point and the conditioned reality that we are relating to. The lack of space is what gives the System of Thought its power over us; the lack of space is what makes us stick fast to our descriptions of reality as if we’re glued there. The ‘lack of space’ is really just is a ‘lack of freedom’ therefore, as we have already said. We can’t question anything without perspective and so if we can’t question the world that is made up of our descriptions of it then our descriptions have total control over us. As David Bohm says, we don’t control thought; thought controls us whilst giving us the (false) information that we are controlling it.

 

There is another, deeper aspect to this business of ‘being controlled by thought’, therefore. If we can’t question our descriptions then of course these descriptions become ‘real’ to us; the lack of perspective causes the Mind-Created Virtual Reality to spring into (virtual) existence, and as soon as it springs into existence it subjugates us, it establishes a tyranny over us. Lack of perspective causes MCVR to come into existence and believing in the MCVR is what causes us to lose all our perspective, and so it’s a closed loop that we’re caught up in. This is the ‘loop of hyperreality’ that survives by feeding upon itself! It’s not just that we are held prisoner by the thought-created world though – the subjugation is more complete than that. As we said earlier, though provides us with the illusion that we are in control and when we buy into this illusion then we identify with the ‘Mind-Created Sense Of Self’. We buy into it (or we are very likely to buy into it) because of the pleasure or euphoria that comes about when we allow ourselves to believe that we are ‘in control’. This ‘believing that we are in control’ (or that we have at least the possibility of being in control) gives us a tremendous sense of existential security and this sense of existential security is hugely euphoric. It has a magnetic pull that we just can’t resist and the power of this magnetic pull comes from the (false) perception that it is us who wants to do what the external mechanical force is compelling us to do. The euphoria of experiencing a sense of existential security is as euphoric as it is because it is the denial of our deepest fear, which is the fear of ‘not being in control’.

 

Imagining that we are in control is the much the same thing as imagining that we can repress or bury a thought that we are very afraid of. It feels good to be able to do this and that good feeling ‘pulls us in’; the euphoria is only ever obtained at the price of incurring its opposite at some future point in time however – the whole thing is just an exercise in ‘self-cancelling activity’, therefore. Self-cancelling activity is very attractive (enough not to say totally addictive) because it causes us to feel so good in the first phase; having bitten at the bait however then we can’t help moving into Phase-2, which is wholly repugnant, wholly repellent to us and so from this point on we have no way out of the positive/negative cycle – we have ‘no way out’ because we can’t question the negative any more than we can question the positive. We didn’t want to ‘question the positive’ anyway – we were enjoying identifying the MCSOS at that point. We were enjoying Phase-1, which is the euphoric phase, and so now we have to suffer the dysphoric phase of the cycle, which is Phase-2.

 

Everything about the mind-created world is suffering, therefore. It is suffering through and through and there is no relief in it anywhere. The only ‘relief’ available is the apparent relief that comes from ‘buying into the illusion’ and that short-lived relief comes at the price of feeding the System of Thought and therefore reinforcing the false reality of the ‘mind-created world’, and thereby enabling it to have even more power over us than it did before. In the absence of any other type of relief to be had then of course we are going to go for this apparent relief; we are going to lunge for it in the manner of a drowning man clutching at a straw. We don’t have the capacity to see it for what it is, anyway; we don’t have the power question it. We don’t have ‘the power to question’ anymore because we’ve given it away…

 

 

 

 

Art: Resident Evil-2 from – gamerevolution.com

 

 

 

 

 

Mental health in the Cybernetic Age

The fruit of our collective human endeavour is not quite what we think it is – the impression we have of ourselves is very much that we have been steadily improving our situation over the centuries and that we have – at this point in time – achieved something that is pretty much unprecedented. What we have achieved is unprecedented to be sure, but not in quite the way that we like to imagine it is!

 

What we have actually achieved is to have created an unreal world for ourselves and this kind of thing always comes with certain disadvantages, naturally enough! It is perfectly straightforward to explain how we have achieved this remarkable feat of ‘creating an unreal world’ – it’s very straightforward indeed, as it happens. We have created an unreal world by assiduously adapting ourselves to a system of meanings that we ourselves have created. We have become the victims of our own constructs, therefore. We have been ‘trapped by our own device’!

 

It’s not so much the physical environment that we’re talking about here – although that of course comes into it – but the system of meanings that we have overlaid the physical environment with. We don’t live in the physical environment after all but rather we live in a hyperreal world of ascribed meanings that we have superimposed upon that environment. We have in other words adapted not to the world as it is in itself but to the world that is made up of meanings that we ourselves have arbritrarily come up with. This is what Jung is saying in this passage taken from CW Vol 10, Civilization In Transition

The danger that faces us today is that the whole of reality will be replaced by words. This accounts for that terrible lack of instinct in modern man, particularly the city-dweller. He lacks all contact with life and the breath of nature. He knows a rabbit or a cow only from the illustrated paper, the dictionary, or the movies, and thinks he knows what it is really like – and is then amazed that cowsheds “smell,” because the dictionary didn’t say so.

 

When Jung talks about the whole of reality being replaced by words this is the same thing as talking about reality being replaced by thoughts or ideas and there is – needless to say – is very significant difference between the world itself and the two-dimensional ‘rational overlay’ that we replace it with. The problem here is that no matter how successful we are at the task of adapting ourselves to the system that we have collectively constructed, this does not in the least bit translate (or ‘transfer’) to the world that we did not create, which is ‘the world of reality’. And not only does it not ‘transfer,’ there is actually an ‘inverse law’ operating here such that the more we optimise our performance within the terms of the game that we are playing the more removed (and therefore alienated) we are from reality itself. This isn’t a particularly hard thing to see – if we were to spend years in front of an X-box then this clearly isn’t going to help us out there in the real world; quite the reverse is going to be true, as we all know.

 

Skills learned in games can transfer to other aspects of life that are also purely ‘rule-based’, but this is beside the point since other aspects of life that also rule-based’ are also games, they’re just different games. The key difference between games and ‘unconstructed reality’ is precisely that unconstructed reality can’t be understood in terms of rules. If we think that everything that life can be mastered by merely by ‘grasping the underlying rules’ then we are in for a very big surprise, as experience always shows. Life (or reality) is never as simple as we take it to be and this is the only ‘rule’ (although it is more of a principle than a rule) that we need to learn! As long as we remember this then we won’t go too far wrong…

 

Saying that life is never as simple or straightforward as we understand it to be as just another way of saying that there’s more to it than our theories or models allow for there to be; or as Shakespeare puts it, There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. There is more to the world than ideas our about the world (which is to say, the world is not the same thing as our idea of it). In mathematics this principle is expressed very precisely by Gödel’s two incompleteness theorems, which – according to the Wikipedia entry – is widely if not universally thought to show that the attempt “to find a complete and consistent set of axioms for all mathematics is impossible.”

 

In the physical sciences this principle finds expression in chaos and complexity theory. According to Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers (1985) therefore:

No single theoretical language articulating the variables to which a well-defined value can be attributed can exhaust the physical content of a system. Various possible languages and points of view about the system may be complementary. They all deal with the same reality, but it is impossible to reduce them to a single description. The irreducible plurality of perspectives on the same reality expresses the impossibility of a divine point of view from which the whole of reality is visible.

In more down-to-earth language, we could simply say that there is always going to be something that is going to surprise us, no matter how smart we might think that we are.

 

The process of ‘gaining wisdom’ in life might be explained therefore in terms of us learning – through first-hand experience – about this principle of incompleteness; gaining wisdom comes down to the process of discovering that our theories, models and ideas about the world are always incomplete, therefore. Gaining wisdom is a negative process, in other words. We might (if we were naïve enough) think that gaining wisdom means ‘knowing more and more about the world’, but that is not it at all, as many philosophers have of course pointed out. Having said this, whilst it is very clear that the process of learning about the world is the same thing as ‘learning that there is more to reality than our ideas or beliefs about it’ it is also crucially important to acknowledge that this process very often doesn’t happen, or at least is indefinitely delayed. We resist genuinely learning about the world, and content ourselves with accumulating ‘positive knowledge’ instead – ‘positive knowledge’ being a mass of dead facts and figures that never contradict our core assumptions.

 

We could suggest three main reasons why this process of learning might be stifled or indefinitely delayed. One reason would be where there is a belief structure that is particularly strong and where that belief structure is supported (or even enforced) by the culture that we are part of. Organised religion is of course a well-known culprit here – where there is some kind of dogmatic system of religious belief then discovering that ‘there is more to the world than our beliefs about it’ is strictly prohibited! Making a discovery like this immediately puts the person at odds with everyone else and leads to heresy, which is the crime of ‘not seeing the way the world in the way we are supposed to see it’. Heresy is of course the ultimate – most unforgivable – crime in a dogmatic system of religious belief.

 

Another possibility is where we have a strong belief that is not validated or supported by everyone around us but which we adhere to all the same. This type of belief also ‘holds us captive’ and prevents us from venturing beyond it and discovering that it is not ‘all-explaining’ in the way it seems to. A paranoid worldview would be one example of this; it is extraordinary hard to see that there is more to the world than our paranoid ideas about it – if we could do this then we wouldn’t be paranoid! Chronic anxiety would be another example – if I am acutely anxious then my (unexamined generally) hypothesis is that ‘if I don’t control successfully then things will inevitably go very wrong’. Anxiety – we might say – equals this underlying hypothesis plus a deep down lack of confidence that we can in fact control successfully. Because we are so defensively occupied therefore, we are simply not going to have the time to explore any other alternatives to our unconsciously held hypothesis. It is going to be too frightening for us to take the risk of doing so.

 

What we looking at here are instances of what we might call ‘chronic non-learning’ and we could go on exploring such instances indefinitely. What we are particularly interested in looking at in this discussion is something quite different however – what we are looking at here is ‘chronic non-learning as a result of being too adapted to the consensus reality that is society’, and this is something that we are almost entirely blind to. As Jung (1958, p 81) argues in The Undiscovered Self, the pressure to adapt to the social world is so great (and in the potential rewards so large) that it is almost inevitable that we are going to forget everything else in pursuit of the goal of ‘100% adaptation’ –

Nothing estranges a man from the ground plan of his instincts more than his learning capacity, which turns out to be a creative drive towards progressive transformation of human modes of behaviour. It, more than anything else, is responsible for the altered conditions of our existence and the need for new adaptations which civilization brings. It is also the source of numerous psychic disturbances and difficulties occasioned by man’s progressive alienation from his instinctual foundation, i.e. by his uprootedness and identification with his conscious knowledge of himself, by his concern with consciousness at the expense of the unconscious. The result is that modern man can know himself only in so far as he can become conscious of himself – a capacity largely dependent on environmental conditions, the drive for knowledge and control of which necessitated or suggested certain modifications of his original instinctual tendencies. His consciousness therefore orientates itself chiefly by observing and investigating the world around him, and it is to its peculiarities that he must adapt his psychic and technical resources. This task is so exacting, and its fulfilment so advantageous, that he forgets himself in the process, losing sight of his instinctual nature and putting his own conception of himself in place of his real being.  In this way he slips imperceptibly into a purely conceptual world where the products of his conscious activity progressively replace reality.

When we are 100% adapted to the ‘purely conceptual realm’ then there is of course no chance that we will ever go beyond the system that we are adapted to, which is what we would need to in order to see that the whole thing is only an ‘arbitrary construct’ (and is on this account fundamentally unreal).

 

The immediate pressure to adapt to the social milieu is all but overwhelming of course – sometimes it actually is overwhelming! The rewards for successful adaptation aren’t just practical (or ‘material’) either; when we can’t ‘fit in’ this is acutely distressing for us in a psychological sense and this can be seen as an even bigger motivation for us to adapt to social world than the fact that we need to be part of it in order to have friends and some means of ‘making out’ in the world in the collectively agreed-upon reality. An important ‘additional factor’ – which would not have been so much in evidence when Jung was writing back in the first half of the Twentieth century – is something that we might perhaps call ‘the Dawn of the Hyperreal Era’ (in honour of Jean Baudrillard). We could also speak in terms of ‘the Advent of the Cybernetic Age’, which is an age in which ‘everything happens in the head’ and nowhere else, as Reggie Ray suggests here in this quote taken from psychologytoday.com

People are disconnected from their bodies, from their direct experience of life, more and more so as our cybernetic age reaches literally insane intensity; hence people are no longer able to find the depths, the sanity, the health, and the feeling of well-being that only their bodies can offer. We are all talking, thinking heads, more and more cut off from anything actually real.

There is no harm in talking about things, just as there is no harm in thinking about things; when all we do is to talk about things or think about things however then this is another matter entirely! We could equally well say that there is no harm in the Cybernetic Age just as long as we don’t dive headfirst into cyberspace and try to act out the entirety of our lives in this abstract, non-corporeal realm. When this happens – when we jump head first into the purely formal realm that we have created for ourselves (which is as we have said an artificial world that is made up only of meanings that we ourselves have made up) then insoluble problems inevitably start to arise.

 

The essential problem here is that when we adapt to an unreal world then we ourselves inevitably become unreal too. We won’t look unreal or feel unreal, but that doesn’t count for a lot – all that does is to prevent us from seeing the truth about ourselves! If I was unreal but could see that I was then this would in itself be a ‘real thing’ after all. Saying that we ‘become unreal’ sounds outlandish but it isn’t. This shouldn’t be taken as some improvable ‘metaphysical assertion’ – it is on the contrary a very practical type of thing that we are talking about here. When we tell someone (or ourselves) to ‘get real’ this isn’t metaphysics, it simply means that we are being encouraged to come out of our ideas about the world (which is a counter-productive situation) and back to the actual thing itself. It is – in other words – a very basic thing that we’re talking about here! What could be more basic than this?

 

‘Resilience’ is a buzzword these days and we can very easily see that there must be a link between the notion of ‘being resilient’ and the notion of ‘being real’. Real people are resilient, obviously! There has been a lot of concern voiced in recent years that we are becoming less and less resilient as the generations succeed each other. This is a road that is very clearly not leading us to a good place. Various hypotheses have been put forward and what people generally say that there must be it must have something to do with the modern way of life – which certainly seems to be a pretty fair guess. Through ‘less direct’ contact with the world (and the people) around us – because more and more of life happens via a digital interface – we become more and more fragile, less and less able to deal with ‘direct contact’. Direct, unmediated contact with the world around us can actually become frightening – it easily gets so we’d much rather just stay in our cocoons..

 

It’s not just that we have difficulty interacting with the world when there is no digital interface involved (if we can allow that this is the problem) – alongside the difficulty in directly interacting with our environment (or aspects of our environment that are unfamiliar to us) there comes a whole gamut of mental health issues that are created by the sense of ‘alienation’ – which is of course what disconnection (or ‘digitally-mediated connection’, which is the same thing) comes down to. Research in the UK has shown seems to show that the percentage of third level students suffering from anxiety, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harming behaviour and suicidal thoughts is increasing; in a research report (2019) published by the Society for Research into Higher Education Dr Yvonne Sweeney and Dr Micheal Fays state that –

In 2015/16, 15,395 UK-domiciled first-year students at HEIs in the UK disclosed a mental health condition – almost five times the number in 2006/07. This equates to 2 per cent of first-year students in 2015/16, up from 0.4 per cent in 2006/07.

The possibility that this is a real trend here is clearly a matter of great concern; it might well be the case that when Jung said that the greatest danger we face in modern times is the danger posed by the insidious onset of hyperreality (although he didn’t use those exact words) he was hitting the nail right on the head. Ironically, social media is now full of speculative reports that excessive absorption in social media is distorting the whole business of ‘what it means to be a human being’ and turning us into self-absorbed ‘snowflakes’.

 

College authorities across the world have been responding to this situation by offering courses and workshops on resilience training, which on the face of it sounds like an excellent idea. The only problem is that we don’t understand this matter of ‘resilience’ for what it actually is. This is very evident when we consider that our current idea of resilience that it involves the acquisition and implementation of various strategies and skills as an effective countermeasure to the problem.  As soon as we see that ‘being resilient’ is just another way of talking about ‘being real’ however, then the idea that we can become real by means of utilizing strategies and skills starts to look a lot less convincing! Can there be such a thing a strategy for being real? Is inner strength really just a matter of having the right skills and knowing how to use them? Is it just a matter of doing X, Y and Z? Therapies such as DBT assume that this is indeed the case but when if we were to reflect at all on the matter (which isn’t something that we aren’t particularly prone to doing in the ultra-conformist world of mental healthcare provision!) we would see that skills and strategies are a substitute for inner strength not a way of attaining it. Carl Jung made this same point over fifty years ago when he said that ‘rules are a substitute for consciousness’.

 

The point here is of course is that to go down the road of optimizing strategies to compensate for our lack of autonomy, our lack of ‘inner strength’, our absence of ‘consciousness’ we are accentuating the problem rather than solving it! We will no doubt be able to obtain measurable short-terms benefits this way (which will encourage us that we are on the right track) but these short-term benefits are only achieved at the price of a long-term collective ‘mental health disaster’. It’s ‘short-termism’ and we all know where short-termism gets us. We ought to know where it gets us to by now, at any rate. There is no such thing as ‘a strategy for becoming real’! Quite the contrary is true – strategies in mental health exist for the purpose of compensating for our lack of inner strength; they exist for the purpose of covering up this core deficiency. Our approach of assuming that what we call ‘resilience’ can be acquired via training and workshops is making what the deepest aspect of what it means to be a human being into something totally trivial – apparently, there is a recipe for becoming resilient just as there is a recipe for cooking spaghetti bolognese or baking fruit scones. There’s probably a YouTube tutorial on it, just as there is for everything else. This isn’t to knock online tutorials – it’s just that when it comes to the matter of how to go about ‘being a human being’ we’re looking in the wrong place; we should be ‘looking within’, not ‘looking on the outside’ for what someone else might have to say!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fundamental Alienation

The everyday sense of ‘self’ never changes and this is an extraordinary observation. It may not seem like an extraordinary observation (it may not even seem true) but it is. The self has this absolutely extraordinary property of never ever changing; even in a hundred years the everyday sense of self will not change – it’s as if we’re going back to ‘Square One’ every single time. More properly, we never actually leave ‘Square One’, we never actually leave the starting point. We’re always at the starting blocks, but never actually moving on. The fundamentally static nature of the self is an extraordinary thing to note because there is nothing that doesn’t change, nothing that isn’t part of the ongoing flow of change that is reality, and yet the static viewpoint that we call ‘the self’ always stays the same. How then can this be?

 

The self never changes because it’s only a viewpoint on reality, not the actual reality that is being viewed – it’s just a fixed set of rules that we can use to manipulate incoming information about the world. The ‘self’ is a screening-device that we filter reality through. There is a little slot, a little aperture through which the light of the world comes in and an inverted static image is thrown up on a screen, which we relate to and mistakenly call ‘reality’. We have therefore our own ‘tame version# of reality which is a frozen snapshot of the original; we don’t see the conceptual reality as being a static picture but there’s no way that it can’t be – ‘concepts’ are pictures of reality that are governed by rules, and genuine movement can never come about as a result of following rules. Rules always proceed from a fixed point, and so no matter what may seem to be happening, we are only ever going to be looking at the extrapolation of that fixed point. We are only ever going to be looking at the logical extrapolation of this fixed point and the thing about this is that there are no fixed points! There’s ‘no such thing’…

 

There is no such thing as ‘a fixed point in reality’, something we can orientate ourselves to and measure the world against. The only way this could happen would be if we could somehow isolate one specific element from reality as a whole and then make observations of this specific element ‘as it is in itself’, with no reference to anything outside of it, no reference anything else apart from it. When we do this however (and we always are doing this, because that’s how the conceptual mind works) we create an ‘unreal thing’; we create an unreal thing because it isn’t possible to separate out one element from everything around it and look at it purely ‘as it is in itself’. This is implicit in the holographic model – if every little bit of the world contains every other little bit (as is symbolized by the image of Indra’s Net of Jewels) then how can we hope to extract one bit, and yet at the same time hope to have that isolated or abstracted bit continue to be real? The only way anything gets to be real is by being part of Indra’s Net, after all!

 

Our problem in understanding this lies in the fact that we are always operating from the basis of the categorical mind and the categorical mind works by assuming the existence of ‘the world of things’, as Colin Wilson puts it. Categories are the machinery by which we create ‘things’, after all – ‘things’ are the projection of our abstract categories onto the world. Erich Fromm makes the same point when he says, ‘We live in a world of things, and our only connection with them is that we know how to consume or manipulate them’.

 

Consuming is of course always going to be a hollow business, which is precisely why it works so well as a system. This has been said many times before but it’s worth saying again – the system known as ‘consumerism’ works by keeping us hungry, keeping us unsatisfied, keeping us insecure! We are constantly thinking that someone somewhere is enjoying what we are not and this highly unpalatable feeling keeps us on our toes, keeps us being properly ‘competitive’. This is of course the standard critique of the ‘consumerist way of life’ but that doesn’t mean that we ever actually stop to think about it. Obviously we don’t ever stop to think about it – if we did then we wouldn’t be able to carry on in the ridiculous way that we are carrying on!

 

This is a point that is well worth contemplating however, if we happen to have any concern at all for our actual well-being! It is well worth contemplating because if we don’t then we are inevitably going to be steered ever more in the direction of being identified with the concrete or disconnected self. It’s the concrete or disconnected self that buys all the products, after all! The disconnected self watches all the ads and buys all the products because – unbeknownst to itself – that is the only way it has of (symbolically) regaining its lost connection with the world. To consume, and to dream the consumerist dream, is the disconnected self’s only way of ‘participating’ in life. If we were not being socially engineered to operate in the world as this ‘isolated or alienated consumer’ then society (our type of society, anyway) would straightaway start to fall apart. To ignore the mechanical forces that are operating on this therefore (and which are compelling us to experience life on behalf of the disconnected or alienated self) would be extremely unwise therefore – the life of the disconnected/alienated consumer is not a happy one, as we have already indicated. Who wants to be a hungry ghost, after all? Having a population made of hungry ghosts is great for powering the economy but there are not many laughs to be had in actually being one! Hungry ghosts don’t do much laughing…

 

So what other type of direction is there to go in, apart from the direction of ever-increasing narcissistic withdrawal? We started off talking about the central oddity of the self, which is – we said – that it never changes. The world is constantly changing, but the fixed viewpoint that we have haplessly identified with does not. Fixed viewpoints don’t change, after all – they don’t have to change because they aren’t part of reality; they are abstractions from reality not part of it! To move back into reality restores our connectedness, our ‘relationship’ with the dynamic world around us, but from the point of view of the disconnected desirer or consumer (i.e. ‘the alienated manipulator’) there is a high price to pay for this – the highest price of all, in fact. The ‘alienated manipulator’ which is the static self ceases to exist when we re-establish our relatedness with the dynamic reality!

 

In order to have an existence as a static self we have to be thoroughly insulated from any possibility of seeing our actual connectedness with reality therefore, and this is the absolute precondition for taking part in the rule-based system which is society. That’s the precondition for the game! Naturally no one is ever going to point this out for us – no one is would ever sign up to the deal if this spectacular ‘downside’ were to be brought to our attention. The very suggestion that taking part in the collective way of life that is society automatically disconnects in the fundamental away from reality (and from ourselves) is incomprehensible to us – no one is going to take this on board. ‘Spoiling the party’ doesn’t come into it! Yet for anyone with a modicum of psychological insight only a few moments of careful consideration will suffice to show the truth of what we are saying here. When ‘everything is about the image’ then how can we ever possibly allow reality into the picture?

 

This is such a basic principle – if the description of (or ‘signifier for’) reality is to ‘take on a life of its own’ (as it must if we are to play the game) then that which is being described (or that which is being signified) must be banished completely, must be taken out of the equation completely. This ‘banishment of reality’ is the lynchpin of the whole mechanism – this is how the map takes over from the territory, by eliminating that territory. This is of course the principle behind Baudrillard’s hyperreality; the fake can only thrive in the absence of the real, and in the absence of the real the fake thrives like the most virulent of weeds! In the absence of the real the fake has a field day. In the absence of the real the show is absolutely unstoppable – it is of course utterly worthless, conducive to nothing but various shades and flavours of confusions, misery and frustration, but it is unstoppable all the same!

 

So no one is ever going to come up to us and tell us at the price we are paying for being ‘one hundred per cent adapted to society’ is that we have to be disconnected both from the reality of the world and the reality of our own actual nature, and – as we have said – even if they did we wouldn’t know what they were talking about. We wouldn’t know what they were saying and we wouldn’t want to know. It is therefore both extremely important that we should know this thing, and at the same time we are supremely resistant to ever taking it on board. So why is it so important, we might ask? Certainly it is not important in the moral sense – it’s not as if there is a moral framework there that we have to obey! All frameworks – without exceptions – are arbitrary impositions, and so too are the so-called ‘moral imperatives’ that derive from them. This is easy enough to show – the most essential element in life is –we could say – freedom, since without freedom there can be no chance whatsoever of happiness or any type of well-being, and yet we can’t make freedom into a moral issue without straightaway becoming ridiculous. Should we make a law saying that ‘we have to be free’? Obviously, as soon as we do this we have actually taken away our freedom – we have ‘made freedom compulsory’, we have taken away our freedom not to be free.

 

We can’t say that it is ‘important’ that we should understand the crisis that has been created by the loss of our connection with reality, the loss of our connectedness from our own inherent nature, in a moral sense therefore, and yet there is an ‘urgency’ to the matter all the same. The imperative here is not a rule that is imposed on us from the outside, an ‘official guideline’ that we have to adhere to, but rather it is an impulse that arises naturally within us when we become aware of our true situation. If we say that our true situation is that we are ‘unknowingly trapped within a false reality’ (as the essential Gnostic myth puts it) then the impulse that arises within us might be said to be ‘revulsion with regard to this state of affairs’. This is the ‘inner revulsion’ spoken of in the Lakāvatāra Sūtra. If I suddenly see that I’ve been tricked to into accepting a vastly inferior ‘pseudo-reality’ in place of the real thing, a pseudo-reality that is utterly inimical as regards the expression of my true nature, then what would my response be? Certainly I will be not acting out of any sense of morality, out of any idea about what is ‘right or ‘wrong’. This situation isn’t something we need to ‘think about’!

 

If we look at this in terms of Jean Baudrillard’s hyperreality, then we can say that hyperreality represents an ‘inverted form of freedom’ – we are ‘free’ to adapt ourselves to whatever deterministic templates are provided for us, we are ‘free’ to buy into whatever static identity it is that the system is offering us. The Realm of the Hyperreal offers us ‘freedom from our true nature’ therefore, but this is a distinctly odd form of freedom because it what it really translates into is ‘the freedom to be enslaved by whatever images or thoughts the thinking mind throws at us.’ We are represented in such and such a way, but there is no choice in this for us – straightaway our consciousness is sucked up and magnetically compelled to believe that it is ‘this, that or the other identity’. Freedom from our actual undetermined nature always means slavery to the fixed form, therefore. We can be ‘free’ from who we really are only by being plunged into a state of compulsory identification with whatever image the thinking mind presents us with – that’s the only way ‘freedom from our true nature’ can ever work, obviously!

 

So when we say that the everyday self never changes, and that this is that this is ‘proof of its unreality’, then this is just another way of saying that the Realm of the Hyperreal never changes. Of course hyperreality never changes, never flows, never recklessly jumps over its own boundaries; if it did that then it would be the real, not the hyperreal! Hyperreality is all about identity – things are always what they are said to be, they can’t deviate from this in the slightest! Identity is by its very nature ‘stuck to itself’ and on this account it can never have any depth. It can never be otherwise than what it is literally stated as being and this is exactly why it can never have any actual depth. And yet at the same time there is no ‘identity’ to anything really, there is ‘no such thing’, and so all this fuss is about nothing. We have the security of having an identity, it is true, but the price we pay for this ‘security’ is being locked into an artificial state of being that we might call fundamental alienation – the fundamental alienation of being identified with a static viewpoint, the fundamental alienation of being identified with a viewpoint that never ever changes, the fundamental alienation of being removed from life itself…

 

Art: Speedy Grafitto

 

 

 

 

Mental Health In A Dishonest World

The more I think about it the more it seems to me that the world we have created for ourselves is making us mentally unwell – which is to say, chronically unhappy / distressed. It’s fashionable in science these days to attribute everything to our genes and say that anxiety or depression (for example) is due to ‘errors in our genetic coding’, but why would our coding suddenly start acting up after tens and hundreds of thousands of years of good service? If we look at the graph for the increase in rates of incidence for anxiety and depression over the last sixty years we can see the curves shooting up dramatically, so why have our genes suddenly taken to misbehaving in this way? Why are they letting us down just now that we seem to be doing so well as a species? If it was a company we were talking about here (and not the mental health of the human race) and sales were going down in a similarly dramatic way, we would be doing some serious soul-searching, but all we’re doing is sitting on our arses and blaming our genes!

 

We have invented a very strange world for ourselves during the course of the last century, and it’s not ‘strange’ in any good way. The world we have inadvertently created for ourselves (and there’s no need to assume that we actually knew what we were doing at any point in the process) is based entirely on the large-scale manipulation of entire populations for the sake of making money, which is also (and more succinctly) known as ‘consumerism’. There used to be such a thing as ‘the world of commerce’, and that was fine as far as it went, but now the world of commerce and the world which we know and live in have become one and the same thing. There’s no ‘overlap’, it’s not a question of two circles (or sets) intersecting on Venn diagram, there’s only the one ‘circle’. Commerce (or consumerism) has taken over almost all aspects of our life and we are so used to this appalling incursion that we see nothing odd about it. The key point that I want to make here however is that ‘consumerism’ and ‘manipulation’ always go hand in hand, as we all know very well, were we to actually think about it! It’s a very bad model to follow, in other words, no matter what those in positions of power may tell us…

 

We have, therefore, created a world for ourselves that is based on the systematic manipulation of whole populations and there is no way that anyone can say that this is good for our mental health! Human beings have always manipulated and tricked each other it is true, this being one half of what we call ‘human nature’, but it is only very recently in the history of the human race that we have had the means to create an entire self-consistent environment based entirely on the principle of deception / manipulation. What Jean Baudrillard called ‘the world of the hyperreal’ only became a possibility in the last thirty years; we didn’t have the data-processing and storage power to create it until towards the end of the twentieth century. Deception and manipulation is all that goes on in the world of hyperreality – it’s not a matter of ‘truth’ on the one hand and ‘deception’ on the other, it’s all deception, from beginning to end! The world our children are born into in recent times is a high-tech virtual reality ‘global construct’ designed specifically for the purpose of manipulating those who live in it, and – needless to say – we don’t have any choice about living in it! That’s a choice we are never given…

 

We would have to be completely blind not to see that this is the case, and we’d have to be outright knaves and villains to deny it! Having said this though, we have to acknowledge that we’ve actually all been made blind, to a greater or lesser extent. We have been inflicted with blindness from an early age, as part of our indoctrination. The idea of commerce (or consumerism) as an entire way of life has been beaten into us from the dawn of modern ‘behaviourism-based’ advertising back in the nineteen twenties. This – arguably – was when advertising first started to ‘get inside our heads’. Not only has consumerism as a way of life been normalized, we have been repeatedly told, in various ways, that it is a healthy and wholesome way for us to organize society. We’ve been told that it’s the ONLY way to organize society! Very powerful vested interests have made sure that this message has been effectively put across. As a result, the capitalist way of life has become a religion, enshrined in Holy Dogma just as a religion is, and at the core of the dogma is the right of a small group of people to persuade another, much larger and less powerful group that they need a whole range of products / services and then sell it to them.

 

This however is not a discussion of politics or political philosophy, but something much more practical and pressing in nature, namely our mental health! The consequence of setting up the whole world for the benefit of commercial interests has been – as we have said – that we have replaced the natural (or unconstructed) world with a virtual reality global construct designed specifically for manipulating the entire population of the planet and – crucially for our argument – there is nothing in this VR construct (this hyperreal world) that in any way supports our mental health. There might of course be goods and services advertised and promoted that claim to support our mental health (there are in fact lots!) but this is just another angle that Big Business is using in order to sell us stuff. It’s a particularly good angle – the system makes us sick and then it sells us more stuff that is supposed to cure us of the sickness that it itself has created! How clever is that?

 

The only thing that can support our mental health is the natural world (or – equivalently – ‘human beings who are not trying, either knowingly or unknowingly, to deceive and manipulate us’, which is a very great rarity) and this happens to be the one thing that the commercially-orientated hyperreal construct we fondly call ‘modern civilization’ can never supply us with. We can draw a very good parallel with toxic relationships here – the only thing a toxic friend / partner / family member can do to help us is step away and leave us alone, and this also happens to be the one thing that they will never do – not of their own free will, anyway! That is the one thing the viral Global Construct is never going to do either. The world we have created for ourselves is fundamentally deceptive, fundamentally dishonest. Like the advertising images we see everywhere (the advertising images that have become the whole world to us) nothing is what it seems to be, nothing is what it says it is. Sincerity is an impossibility in this world since sincerity doesn’t sell products! Sincerity is an impossibility in our own personal lives too since it will get us fired in a hurry – if we work for a company or an organization then as we all know we have to ‘tow the party line’, we have to ‘play the game that we are expected to play’. We have to adopt the role that has been given to us to play, and play it as if we mean it. To live in a world that is fundamentally deceptive and fundamentally manipulative is inevitably going to cost us dear in terms of our mental health, but somehow no one is focussing on this…

 

 

 

Art: Keiichi Matsuda