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 construct, 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 the world itself and the ‘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 is 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 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 is always 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 – that this principle of incompleteness, this business of discovering that our theories, models and ideas about the world are always incomplete. We might (if we were naïve enough) think that gaining wisdom means ‘knowing more and more about the world’, but that is not 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 ideas or beliefs about it’ it is also crucially important to acknowledge that this process very often doesn’t happen, or is indefinitely delayed.

 

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 and 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 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 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’, 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 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 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? 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 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 not 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