Demonic Literalism

To be certain of oneself and one’s place in the world is the greatest of all calamities and it is all the greater for being entirely invisible to us. We carry a huge weight of certainty around with us and yet never think anything of it. We never think anything of it because we never notice it.


We consider it normal and correct for us to be certain of ourselves and the world – we are brought up that way, it’s in our culture. It’s in most cultures. Being certain of ourselves and our place in the world is actually seen as a good or healthy thing – it’s seen as being the same thing as ‘being confident’. It’s seen as ‘something to aim for’, something to strive for as best we can. And yet it is the greatest of all calamities – second to none.


Being certain of ourselves and the world is a calamity because it means we will never see the truth. We will never see the truth because the truth doesn’t come in the form of mind-created certainties. What can be worse could be worse than never seeing the truth? To be certain that we are right in our views is to be certain that all other ways of looking at the world are wrong and this guarantees that we will have no relationship with reality. Our certainty about the world has ‘severed our connection’ with reality; certainty always servers our connection with reality, no matter what it is that we are certain of.


As we have said, being certain of ourselves and the world is normal; it’s how we are – that’s our modality of existence. There is a definite description of things and we just slot straight into this description. We are part of that description. It seems so natural to us that this should be the way that things are that we never think anything of it. It’s not just that we ‘never think anything of it’ but rather that we don’t in any way see it, or have the capacity to see it – conditioning can’t see itself, after all. When we operate entirely on the basis of the definite description that we have slotted ourselves into then there is none of our awareness ‘left over’ to see that we are ‘operating on the basis of the description’. This is where the certainty that we are talking about comes in – certainty arises as a result of us being unconscious of the fact that the description we believe in only is a description. Were we to see that our model of reality is ‘only a model’, our theory only a theory, then all traces of certainty would of course fly right out of the window.


We have therefore arrived at a useful way of approaching this whole notion of ‘mind-created certainty’ – certainty, we might say, is the by-product of this business of ‘confusing the description with the thing that has been described’. When we forget that our description is only is a description, and nothing more, then the result is this state of being in which we are ridiculously certain about things. Reality itself never provides us with certainty about anything – is not in the business of providing us with certainty! It’s not in that business at all…


This mental state of being ‘certain about things’ isn’t in the least bit synonymous with ‘good mental health’, even if we do tend to indirectly assume that it is. It’s actually more of a blight or affliction than anything else – it’s a dark cloud blotting out the light of the sun. In order to see this for ourselves all we have to do is observe someone we know who becomes – momentarily – more certain about things than they usually are. This happens to everyone on a regular basis; one example being when we find ourselves expressing a viewpoint or an opinion that we very much believe in. If we could see ourselves at such a time (which obviously we can’t) then what we would see would be rather shocking – to be in the grip of a strong opinion or belief as to have one’s humanity replaced by ‘something else’, something that isn’t actually human.


There is a horror in this – there is a horror in seeing another human being falling into the state of being possessed by an opinion or a belief because the nature of ‘conviction’ (in all of its forms) is without any doubt completely and implacably opposed to our essential humanity. When we are ourselves in the grip of a strong opinion or belief then, as we have said, we don’t at all see this antithetical mismatch between our own essential nature and the nature of this inhuman mechanical ‘conviction’ that has somehow possessed us – far from being appalled or horrified at what has happened to us we experience intense pleasurable identification, an identification which will express itself either in the form of huge gratification if someone agrees with us, or equally huge displeasure or rage if we come across someone who does not agree with us. A belief is a bias and biases only work in these two ways – it’s always either YES or NO, PLEASURE and PAIN…


What the belief does for us is to provide us with a very strong sense of who we are, and this ‘strong sense of identity’ is (in the initial phase, anyway) profoundly euphoric. Having a very strong or definite sense of ‘who we are’ is the source of all euphoria, without exception. What’s going on here therefore is at the belief, at the same time as engendering an intense feeling of certainty about some viewpoint that we hold regarding the outside world, also creates an equally intense feeling of certainty with regard to ‘the one who is holding the belief’. The hidden agenda of allowing oneself to be gripped in this way by some sort of ‘unreasonable conviction’ (and all convictions or beliefs are unreasonable) is that we get to create a strong (if entirely erroneous) sense of who we are.


This, then, is why we don’t notice ourselves being ‘possessed by something inhuman’ – we are too hungry for the addictive euphoria that comes with having a definite sense of identity. We’re simply not interested in anything else. We aren’t looking at the process that’s going on at all; we’re just buying into it as fast as we can. We buy into it wholesale. If you don’t happen to subscribe to the very same belief or conviction that I do, then you will spot me being possessed, even though you will probably not understand the process that’s going on in these terms. You will have an intuitive understanding of what is happening to me, without having to put a name on it, and make ‘allowances for me’. We all manifest this peculiar type of insanity from time to time, after all. What also happens however is that the conviction or belief becomes ‘contagious’, and in fact a lot of people at the same time. Whole communities can become infected, as we all know very well – ideas (or ‘memes’) spread like the plague. Jung of course spoke about this sort of thing, which he referred to as a type of ‘psychic epidemic’ that can affect whole nations.


On a less obviously ‘pathological’ level we can say that when lots of people share the same belief-structure then this forms the basis for cultures, communities, societies. The same principle remains true however – we achieve ‘community’ at the price of part of our essential humanity (hopefully not too big a part, although it can be). This isn’t the kind of thing we like to go around saying too loudly of course, but anyone with any psychological insight at all knows it to be true. There is no such thing as a healthy ‘group mentality’ any more than there is such thing as ‘healthy group-think’, and this is counterintuitive inasmuch as we generally consider being part of a group as actually being a good thing. There’s also this notion of ‘the therapeutic group’ – which is actually a contradiction in terms, when it comes right down to it! Groups demand the surrender of individuality and he only ‘healthy’ way to live life is as an individual; all groups deny our essential humanity to some degree or other – loose affiliations to a lesser extent, rigid, intolerant, high-conformity groups to a much higher extent. Again, we all know this on some level or other; we just don’t like to admit it to ourselves.


In order to be part of the group, a collective (i.e. ‘a participant in the consensus reality’) we need to carry this weight of certainty around with us because – as we have said – it is the ‘shared certainty’ that creates the collective. And yet at the same time (as we have also said) we have made blind to it by the process of adaptation (we have become incapable of knowing that we have taken on this burden) and the reason for this blindness is the nature of certainty itself. Certainty is the type of thing one can’t see beyond, obviously! We are carrying ‘the oppressive burden of certainty’ and the reason we are putting it in these terms is because to be certain is to be ‘shut down’ and to be ‘shut down’ is to suffer. We closed-off to our own true nature (which is rather like being dead!) but rather than perceiving this phenomenon for what it is – which is the pain of not-being – we see it as good thing, we see it as a source of support and security, and so on. We function on the basis of this certainty – we couldn’t carry on in the particular way that we live life for more than a few moments without the fixed basis that we operate from, even though that ‘fixed basis’ isn’t actually any sort of real thing at all.  Our basis (the conventions that we have agreed upon) may not be real, but we need to believe that it is – the challenge of having to live without the framework or matrix we work within would be so great as to be utterly unthinkable to us. What we talking about here is ‘ontological insecurity’ (or ‘fear of the unknown’) and it is this Great Fear that our manufactured certainty acts as a remedy for…


There are two aspects to this ‘manufactured uncertainty’ – one aspect, we might say, is the world that we have adapted ourselves to – which is a literal kind of thing (i.e. it doesn’t represent itself to us in terms of poetical, allegorical, or metaphorical meanings, but in terms of unambiguous black-and-white rules) and the other aspect is the fixed or definite idea that we have about ourselves, which presents itself to us in a similarly ‘literal or non-poetical’ way. The very suggestion that ‘who we understand ourselves to be’ would not be a ‘literal’ kind of thing will inevitably sound bizarre and somewhat crazy to us. Poetry, myth or metaphor is fine in its place, we might say, but there can be no time for such arty-farty fripperies when dealing with the real world; similarly, allegorical  language is no good when dealing important stuff such as the question of ‘who we actually are’. Poetry is okay in its place, we say, but the world we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis is not a poetical type of thing – it’s concrete and unforgiving, and it demands concrete responses on our part. If a lion is coming down the road at you and it wants to eat you for breakfast, then you have to do something. You can’t treat the lion as a metaphor for something else. It isn’t ‘a metaphor’ for god’s sake – it’s a lion, end of story!


This argument sounds convincing but it doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s just well-rehearsed window-dressing. Of course there are times when we have to take things at face-value and respond accordingly – but that doesn’t mean that we have to go around like idiots taking absolutely everything we come across at face value (which is generally what we do do). Even when we are running for our lives, trying to get away from some concrete danger, that still doesn’t mean that we have to understand life in a concrete or literal way! Man-eating predators are comparatively rare these days but there is a much more dangerous creature out there – a veritable monster, in fact – getting ready to dine on us and we don’t even know that it’s there. We’ve actually made friends with it, and foolishly imagine that it’s going to help us! The ‘monster’ that we’re talking about here is of course the monster of certainty, which is the same thing as ‘the monster of taking things for granted’. When I fall into the trap of understanding myself literally – which is always how the thinking mind presents the situation – then as we have said I have actually disconnected myself from reality. I’m making do with a simulation of myself instead of the real thing, and I’m going to live a life on the basis of this simulation as this simulation on a full-time basis. As Paul Levy says in Are We Possessed,

We then live a simulation of ourselves, miming ourselves, becoming a master copy, a duplicate of our original selves.

All concrete or literal realities are copies, simulations, duplicates. A literal truth, as James Carse says, can be understood as a ‘special case’ of metaphor – it’s a metaphor that wants to ‘rule the roost’, it’s a metaphor that wants to get rid of all other metaphors! Joseph Campbell also argues that concrete explanations (or stories that present themselves as being ‘literally true’) are a ‘special case’ of metaphor in that they claim to be ‘the definitive account’ and out-rule all other possible explanations or metaphors for reality on this account. They are ‘competitive’ and ‘aggressive’ metaphors; they are concrete explanations that wish to eliminate all the opposition.


Dogmatic religions are an excellent example of this type of thing, as Joseph Campbell says here in the following passage, (taken from Living Myths: A Conversation With Joseph Campbell)

There’s a mystery dimension in myth—there always is, and you can’t put a ring around it. It’s the difference between drawing a circle on the ground and dropping a pebble into a pond from which circles go out. The myth drops a pebble into a pond, it tells you of a certain center, it puts you on a certain center—what the Navajo call the pollen path of beauty—but it doesn’t give you a definition.

What happens in dogmatic religions, however, is that definitions are contrived to circumscribe the myth and the ritual. I think that what is going on in the Catholic church now is something of a disaster. There you have the inheritance of one of the greatest ritual structures ever, anywhere, and what are they doing to it? It’s really incredible. Instead of simply presenting the mythic ritual beautifully, that rich mythologically-based heritage of beautiful, powerful ritual, for the individual to experience in his own way, they are destroying the clean lines of the rites and insisting, instead, on the dogmas, which are to tell us how we have to interpret our experience. Dogma simply cuts the individual off from his own potential of response.

The essential motif in Christianity – of the God who is killed and is then reborn as a well-known one – it’s a kind of a theme. The stories of Osirus and Odin are two obvious examples – Odin was actually crucified upside-down on the World Tree! This is a deep archetypal pattern whereby light apparently gives way to darkness and yet triumphs nonetheless (although not as an act of cunning but total surrender). Christianity however – as Joseph Campbell says – denies all other examples of the myth and says that its version alone is true. This turns the original myth into an aggressive ‘literal virus’ that infects everything and goes on the rampage. Although at root the story of the death and resurrection of Christ is still a metaphor (i.e. it has a bigger meaning than just the literal one) it has lost the fruitfulness (or ‘potential’) that used to be in it and has now turned into a blank, lifeless form of oppression – ‘the triumph of the letter over the spirit’, so to speak.


So as soon as a myth (or metaphor) becomes exclusive, aggressive, competitive, et cetera (i.e. as soon as it ‘goes viral’) then it loses the life that was in it and becomes ‘demonic’ in nature; instead of being ‘life-affirming’ (so to speak), it becomes life-denying. This gives us a very clear way of understanding what it is about concrete certainty that is so ‘monstrous’ – if we may use that word. Even though it might seem ridiculous to speak of ‘the self’ as a metaphor (rather than the ‘final reality’ or ‘concrete thing’) it is only through understanding the self as such that we are able to prevent ourselves from falling into the trap of’ demonic literalism. This is more than just ‘a trap’, this is the ultimate trap – this is the trap of traps. Once in it there appears to be no way out; once in it we don’t even want to find a’ way out’ – the thought never occurs to us! The thought actually couldn’t occur to us, it wouldn’t make any sense to us if it did. Once we see the world from the point of view of the literal self – which is the viewpoint that aggressively tries to out-compete or out-duplicate all other viewpoints (i.e. it is a viral viewpoint) then we aren’t actually interested in seeing the world in any other way. This is an obvious enough point to make once we see it – it simply isn’t possible to be ‘exclusive, aggressive, competitive, et cetera’ and yet at the same time be genuinely interested in other viewpoints, to be genuinely interested ‘what it feels like to be the other person’. This just isn’t going to happen.


If we do start to be genuinely interested (i.e. not as a ploy or strategy) in what it feels like to be the other person (or be genuinely interested in what the world looks like to the other person) then what this means is that we have somehow escaped from ‘the trap of being the viral self’. The literal self is a castle with the thickest possible walls and all the doors and windows are locked down. It is ‘a fortification’ – a ‘secure place’. Whilst we can give good appearance of being interested in the world or other people in a non-agenda-based way (or as Antony De Mello says in Awareness, we can give a good impression of being unselfish!) but the literal or concrete self has no such capacity. It can never go beyond itself and this is the price we pay for the security of concreteness. To be concrete is to be separate! To be concrete is always to be separate and that’s the price we pay for being ‘safe’. When we understand the self as a metaphor however (i.e. when we understand that it doesn’t really mean what it says it means) then this understanding connects us. There is no final reality in ‘the self’ – there’s no final reality in ‘the self’ because the state of separation that we bring down on ourselves (through our fear of openness or uncertainty) doesn’t really exist…








The Pain Of Being A Machine

‘Mental health’ and ‘organisations’ don’t go together – if we have some degree of mental health then we won’t have any more to do with organisations than we can possibly help, and if we are part of an organisation then it goes without saying that the integrity of our mental health is going to be significantly compromised. There are no two ways about this! When we consider the fact that mental health falls within the remit of large and intensely bureaucratic healthcare organisations we can see just how ironic this is, therefore. When an organisation makes it its business to take care of our collective mental health then this constitutes a very big problem. No one – it seems – is even aware of the problem, never mind engaged in doing anything about it. Our situation is very much like lambs being led to the slaughter, which is a metaphor that Gurdjeff used in ‘The Tale of the Evil Magician’ – (taken from

There was an evil magician. He lived deep in the mountains and the forests, and he had thousands of sheep. But the problem was that the sheep were afraid of the magician because every day the sheep were seeing that one of them was being killed for his breakfast, another was being killed for his lunch. So they ran away from the magician’s ranch and it was a difficult job to find them in the vast forest. Being a magician, he used magic.

He hypnotized all the sheep and suggested to them first of all that they were immortal and that no harm was being done to them when they were skinned, that, on the contrary, it would be very good for them and even pleasant; secondly he suggested that the magician was a good master who loved his flock so much that he was ready to do anything in the world for them; and in the third place he suggested to them that if anything at all were going to happen to them it was not going to happen just then, at any rate not that day, and therefore they had no need to think about it.

He then told different sheep…to some, “You are a man, you need not be afraid. It is only the sheep who are going to be killed and eaten, not you. You are a man just like I am.” Some other sheep were told, “You are a lion – only sheep are afraid. They escape, they are cowards. You are a lion; you would prefer to die than to run away. You don’t belong to these sheep. So when they are killed it is not your problem. They are meant to be killed, but you are the most loved of my friends in this forest.” In this way, he told every sheep different stories, and from the second day, the sheep stopped running away from the house.

They still saw other sheep being killed, butchered, but it was not their concern. Somebody was a lion, somebody was a tiger, somebody was a man, somebody was a magician and so forth. Nobody was a sheep except the one who was being killed. This way, without keeping servants, he managed thousands of sheep. They would go into the forest for their food, for their water, and they would come back home, believing always one thing: “It is some sheep who is going to be killed, not you. You don’t belong to the sheep. You are a lion – respected, honored, a friend of the great magician.” The magician’s problems were solved and the sheep never ran away again.

Coming back to our original statement, we might still ask why mental health and organisations don’t go together? How can we make a statement like this? And if there is a grave mismatch between mental health and the all-powerful organizations that we have created to work ‘for our benefit’ then why hasn’t anyone noticed it? As it happpens, this is something that we can be very clear about – it’s not a difficult argument that we are making here but something that is entirely straightforward. All that’s needed is for us to have a clear understanding of what ‘mental health’ is. Mental health is really just another way of talking about freedom (or ‘autonomy’). When we are ‘free to be ourselves’ – without any external influences manipulating us without us knowing that we are being manipulated – then we may be said to be autonomous, then we may be said to be in a state of ‘good mental health’. If on the other hand we are being ‘controlled without knowing that we are being controlled’ (by external influences we know nothing of) then obviously there is no way that this can be said to be ‘a healthy situation’!


As soon as we put things like this it becomes clear to all but the naïve that mental health must be a very rare thing indeed in our society! Everything about our culture is about covert control; ‘freedom’ – although we use the word a lot – is simply not on the agenda. No one wants us to be free – even we ourselves probably don’t want to be free, as the psychologist and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm has pointed out. With freedom comes very great responsibility after all, and who wants that? The type of ‘freedom’ that we are talking about here isn’t the  trivial freedom to ‘come and go as we please’, but – as we have said – the freedom to be ourselves. ‘To thine own self be true,’ says Shakespeare, but we are blasé about this dictum because we assume – for the most part – that we are already being true to ourselves. This is very far from being the case however. We aren’t being true to ourselves and we can explain why we aren’t very simply – in order to be ‘true to ourselves’ would we would have to be seeing the world in our own unique and individual way and we’re not – we are seeing it in the totally generic way that we have been passively conditioned to. This ‘adaptation to the Generic Reality’ is what Gary Z McGee calls ‘comfortable cowardice’ in his article On Becoming Free.


This after all is what society is – society is what comes into being when we all see the world in the same way! That’s the price of admission to society, that’s the price we have to pay in order to be granted ‘membership to the club’ – we all have to agree to see things in the same way, we all have to ‘subscribe to the consensus reality’. This of course happens very early on in our lives and we don’t exactly ‘notice it happening,’ we don’t exactly ‘give our conscious consent’ to the process – it’s just what happens. It’s called ‘the process of socialisation’ and no one ever asks our permission first to see if we want to be socialised!


The ‘Great Illusion’ is that we are already free, that we are already ‘seeing things in our own individual way’. Nothing could be further from the truth however. As Erich Fromm says,

Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows ‘what he wants,’ while he actually wants what he is supposed to want. In order to accept this it is necessary to realize that to know what one really wants is not comparatively easy, as most people think, but one of the most difficult problems any human being has to solve. It is a task we frantically try to avoid by accepting ready-made goals as though they were our own.

A big part of the illusion ‘that we are already free’ lies in the fact that we take it so very much for granted that the way we understand life is the only way that it ever could be understood. This being the case we don’t of course feel that we are being manipulated or coerced to see the world in a particular predetermined way! We don’t know that there is always ‘the freedom to see things otherwise’. This is something that you would not be able to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it for themselves – the words just wouldn’t make any sense. ‘We accept the reality with which we have been presented’ – as the line in The Truman Show goes. In this film, Truman Burbank gradually ‘wakes up’ to the fact that everything he has ever been told is a lie, and via this process of ‘seeing through the lie’ he becomes (as his name suggests), a ‘true man’. He becomes true to himself, he becomes the true individual that he already is.


This isn’t a question of creating one’s own ideology or philosophy, but simply seeing through what is not true. In the past this has been known as ‘the negative way’ or via negativa. In the same way, therefore, recovering our autonomy doesn’t mean ‘having our own particular opinions about everything under the sun’ but simply seeing falsehood for what it is. Truth is not something we have to loudly ‘assert’, or ‘hold onto’, it is – rather – what emerges all by itself when we find the courage to let it do so. The truth is ‘none of our business’, in other words – it ‘stands by itself’ without any need for assistance or support or or interpretation on our part. It’s not a question of ‘my’ truth versus ‘your’ truth therefore and when anyone (or when any group of people) take it upon themselves to tell us ‘what the truth is’ we can be sure that their so-called truth is anything but true. It is – on the contrary – an aggressive lie and it is by such aggressive lies that society maintains itself!


This brings us to the very nub of the matter – the truth isn’t something that can be stated and then agreed upon by the collective, it is something that is seen. It is, moreover, something that is seen only by the individual and no one else. No one else can see it! The collective cannot see it and neither can any paid-up member of the collective. To see the truth requires us to be who we really are and this means discarding the false shell or husk of who we have been told that we are.


There is what we might call ‘a Basic Principle’ here and that principle is this: When two or more people agree on ‘what the right way to see things’ is, then that agreed-upon viewpoint acts as ‘an inferior substitute for the truth’. The viewpoint that we have agreed upon isn’t really true for any of us – it isn’t anyone’s way of seeing the world, rather it is Everyone’s way. It’s just a convention that we have all agreed upon for the sake of ‘getting on’. Conventions are ‘things that we have agreed to be true’ – language is a convention, socialised behaviour is a convention, the legal system is a convention, and so on, and it can be readily seen how very dependent upon all these various conventions we are. The danger (the ‘Very Great Danger’!) is however that we will become trapped in our own conventions, trapped in our own systems, trapped in our own devices. What traps us is forgetting that the conventions only are conventions and not reality itself. We take the inferior substitute to be equivalent to the real thing and when we ‘forget’ in this way then our systems end up defining reality for us – they end up defining everything about us! This situation of ‘being defined by some sort of arbitrary external authority without knowing that we are’ is of course (as we have been saying) the complete antithesis of autonomy, the complete antithesis of ‘mental health’, and this is exactly the situation that we all find ourselves in. The irony is that when our lack of autonomy manifests itself in the form of neurotic suffering we go looking for assistance from the very structures and systems that have disempowered us so grievously in the first place. Fromm is very clear about this –

Man does not suffer so much from poverty today as he suffers from the fact that he has become a cog in a large machine, an automaton, that his life has become empty and lost its meaning.

The big problem is however that when we suffer (as we inevitably do suffer) from being merely ‘a cog in a large machine’, we look to that very same machine for help!



Art: Spell II, by H.R. Giger




The Common Delusion

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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




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