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

 

 

 

 

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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