The Heteronomous Mode

We could very easily spend decades (or even centuries) discussing what is right with society and what is wrong and still not get anywhere. This is a ‘hoary old chestnut’ – we each have our own opinions on the subject of ‘what’s wrong with the world’ and we are generally more than happy to talk about it pretty much ad infinitum. All of the ways that we commonly have of looking at this question miss out on something fundamental, however; we almost always fail to take into account what might be called the ‘psychological factor’ (which is to say, the question as to whether the social system we’re in favour of will help us to fulfil our true potential or whether it won’t). This – needless to say – turns out to be THE crucially important question to ask; the only thing here however being that we never do ask it. For the most part, we don’t even think of asking it.

We don’t know enough to ask the question because we don’t know anything about our ‘true potential’ (as is generally the way with potential); what’s more, we are being constantly fed all sorts of societal propaganda about what life is supposed to be, and what we’re supposed to be, which (inevitably) has absolutely nothing to do with our actual nature. This is what present day civilization excels at – persuading us that ‘we are what we aren’t’, persuading us to adapt ourselves in ways that will bring us nothing but misery. It’s ‘good to excel’, we might say – our culture adores excelling in whatever form it may take (since this is how we ‘distinguish ourselves from the masses’) – but excelling at whatever society tells us we should be excelling at is simply a sneaky way of controlling us, a sneaky way of enforcing social adaptation.

This line of reasoning brings us closer to an understanding of what we mean by the ‘psychological factor’ – the all-important psychological factor that we don’t ever (in our headlong stampede in the direction of progress) stop to consider, which has to do with the ‘wholesomeness’ (or lack of it) of the way of life that we are so busy creating for ourselves. We are led by ideas or trends that – for whatever reason – get amplified by society and which, as a result, go to form the basis of our way of understanding things. This is a classic positive feedback mechanism and we can explain what this means by looking at the phenomenon of celebrity. What positive feedback means in relation to celebrity may be expressed by saying that ‘the more famous you get, the more famous you get’. Whatever random fluctuation it was that started the ball rolling doesn’t really matter here since the phenomenon of fame doesn’t necessarily depend on anything outside of itself (which is to say, it’s perfectly possible to ‘become famous for being famous’, in which case, if I do become mega-famous, then this doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with any virtue on my part.

Another good example of this sort of thing would be fashion – things become fashionable (we might say) simply because they’re fashionable. If – for whatever reason – enough people take an interest in some nascent trend then, purely because of this interest, lots more people are going to become interested as well and so in no time at all the whole thing (whatever it is) is going to ‘take off’, is going to ‘skyrocket’. Again – as in all such positive feedback phenomena – there doesn’t have to be any good reason for what’s going on; the phenomenon feeds on itself (as we see illustrated in the ancient symbol of the self-eating serpent, the Uroboros). From the standpoint of sociology (or social psychology) we can say that this is a fundamental principle, i.e., we can say that, in a group (where everyone is necessarily ‘externally directed’), positive feedback loops are how things get to happen.

We might imagine that this process can be controlled (or ‘directed from behind the scenes’) but the whole point of positive feedback processes is that they aren’t controllable; they are – on the contrary – out of control. Control is on the contrary always a negative feedback mechanism; positive feedback – in contrast to this – is ‘the system running away with itself’. If it were the case that positive feedback loops could be deliberately engineered, then we would be doing that already. Anyone finding a way to get some sort of promotional material to ‘go viral’ would be able to sell this trick for billions – this is advertising’s ‘holy grail’ and no one has as yet found it. There is no such thing as ‘a formula to predict whether a meme is going to go viral or not’. What we’re saying here therefore is that there’s simply no such thing as progress in the way that we tend to think there is; what we call ‘progress’ is merely movement in the direction of ‘optimizing whatever it is that happens to be trending at the moment’, and when we say this then it does not of course sound quite so inspirational. It’s ‘utter garbage’ (albeit garbage that we are all pretty much obsessed with).

All of this is inherent in the nature of social groups – when we are members of a group then, as we have been saying, we are necessarily ‘externally directed’, we are necessarily in ‘Heteronomous Mode’. We are – in other words – orientated towards the ‘outside of us’ rather than ‘the inside’. We take our cue from the ideas that are circulating in the social matrix, not from our own insight, not from our own unique perspective on things. If ideas arise within us that aren’t congruent with the ideas that are circulating on the outside, that do not make sense in relation to the official viewpoint then we will disregard them, we will repress them, in fear of being embarrassed, in fear of making fools of ourselves. In order to be valid, an idea must be agreed upon by the collective; in order for society to hold together, we have to suppress our own creativity. To quote James Carse –

It is a highly valued function of society to prevent changes in the rules of the many games it embraces… Deviancy, however, is the very essence of culture. Whoever merely follows the script, merely repeating the past, is culturally impoverished.

Just as we become culturally impoverished as a result of ‘following the script’, so too do we become personally impoverished as a result of being ‘heteronomous rather than autonomous. When we are always deferring to ‘what’s on the outside’ then this means that we are ‘neglecting what’s on the inside’, and that means that our ‘inner life’ becomes impoverished. It doesn’t just become impoverished, it becomes non-existent; it gets so we don’t even know what ‘an inner life’ is.  We now have the outer (or generic) life in place of the inner one but the thing about this is that the generic life isn’t actually life at all – it’s merely a mechanical formula, a meaningless script to be endlessly repeated. We can come back to the idea of potential here – merely living the generic (or socially prescribed) life then we are of course merely what we have been defined as being and this means – quite simply – that we don’t have any potential. The game we’re playing denies our potential – it automatically denies our potential since because the game (or the script) doesn’t recognise anything but itself and ‘itself’ doesn’t have any potential. It is only what it is defined as being; ‘what you see is what you get’, so to speak – there is no more.

Instead of potential (which is the same thing as depth) the prescribed life has ideals which we are continuously being pressurised to accord with. The better we are at reflecting society’s ideals (which on the level of the individual are quite meaningless) the more we are rewarded; far from realising our potential therefore we are ‘mimicking some sort of external standard’, some sort of ‘artificial template’ that has nothing to do with us. The more effort and time we put into actualising the societal template the further away we move from realising our potential; these two things – ‘optimising our game’ – and ‘personal growth’ are absolutely incompatible. One does not grow as a person by striving mightily to ‘be what society wants us to be’, in other words (which, when we put it like this, would seem to be pretty much undeniable). The social world – despite all its protestations to the contrary – doesn’t care one jot about our personal growth or well-being; on the contrary, its continued integrity depends upon us not growing, us not realising our potential. Its continued existence depends on our obedience, not our growth! The social system can hardly be blamed for this either, since it is functionally incapable of being otherwise; The responsibility lies squarely with us, not the collective which we hand over all responsibility to.

Our mental health can’t be ‘handed over for the collective to take care of’; Other things can be – the transport system, the water or electricity supply, the distribution and storage of foodstuffs, the treatment of sewage, and so on – but this thing that we call ‘mental health’ absolutely can’t be – mental health has nothing to do with arbitrary standards (or parameters) that have been set by a collective! Mental health has nothing to do with ‘conforming to an ideal’ – when we conform to an ideal this benefits the system that we are conforming to but it sure as hell doesn’t benefit us! We’re the ones who suffer here, not the system. We can’t expect a system that is made up of fixed rules or regulations to help us grow as the individuals we (potentially) are; we can’t expect this any more than we can expect it to somehow ‘cure’ us of the malaise that itself has brought about in us. And yet we do expect it to – it simply never occurs to us that there might be something deeply wrong with this bland assumption of ours…







Image credit – The New European

The Question You Mustn’t Ever Ask

Reflect Mode is where we take a break from what we’re doing and ask ourselves what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. It’s not that we have to literally ask ourselves the question – that would be too formulaic, too mechanical to do us any good. That’s not being reflective, that’s just ‘ticking the boxes’, that’s just ‘going through the motions’. Reflecting isn’t a mechanical process…

Reflect Mode isn’t something that we do, it’s ‘not doing’, it’s leaving a gap or a space and then seeing what comes to us (if anything). The value of RM is that we aren’t doing it ourselves (i.e., we’re not in control), which means that it’s not just ‘more of the same’; Reflect Mode is like being in conversation with someone and pausing so as to see what they have to say on this subject. Reflect Mode involves what we might call ‘the other’, therefore. It takes a degree of awareness (or detachment) to step out of the frame in this way; in the absence of awareness (or in the absence of detachment) we will stay in Doing Mode, when there isn’t any detachment then what we get is guaranteed to be ‘the same old ding-dong’, is guaranteed to be just ‘the same old story, on endless replay’…

Our culture doesn’t support Reflect Mode – it claims to do so (since ‘never stopping to question what we’re doing’ is clearly pathological) but it absolutely doesn’t. We are – as small children – allowed to go around asking annoying questions all day long but we’re supposed to have got that out of our systems by the time we hit double digits, age-wise (or if we haven’t got it out of our system, then it is expected that we will at least have learned to suppress our irritating pointless question-asking and ‘get on board with the programme’. As adults, we learn that asking too many questions is an unprofitable thing to do (and that it is quite possibly even dangerous into the bargain). ‘Adaptation to a system’ and ‘wondering if we actually need that system’ don’t go together!  

What human institution ever welcomed too many questions? If one is a member of a gang, a group, a religion, a particular political affiliation (or whatever else) then the key thing is that we don’t going around asking questions all the time. To question the rules that lie behind a group is to challenge that group’s existence; no group is going to tolerate this in its members. The only way a group gets to be a group in the first place is for everyone to tacitly agree not to question the core tenets by which it all hangs together. ‘Having an agreement not to question stuff’ is how groups are created, whilst persistently asking awkward questions is how we bring them to the end. No agreement ever made will stand too much scrutiny since all agreements are compromises.

When an institution (or organisation) claims to support reflection on our part this is very ironic, therefore. It’s a transparent pretence, and yet we’re loathe to admit this, even in the privacy of our own thoughts. It would be too uncomfortable for us to allow ourselves to realise just how much we have had to compromise ourselves in order to be accepted into whatever group it is that we have joined and ‘compromising ourselves’ is what being a member of a group always comes down to. As Philip K Dick says in Do Androids Dream…’ –

You will be required to do wrong the matter where you go. It is a basic the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life.


To exist within the artificial (or man-made) world is always to do wrong, therefore; we won’t get anywhere in society (or in the organisation in which we work) unless we first bite the bullet and agree to ‘sell out’; we all know this on some level or other even if we don’t like to dwell on it too much! When the artificial world to which we have become adapted claims that it wishes to encourage or facilitate a ‘reflective state of mind’ in its members then this is just a trick – it’s a trick because this is the way the organisation gets to prove that it’s ‘not at fault’, that – far from exploiting us – it is giving us all the opportunities; it does this so it can argue that if there is a problem then it must be our fault for not bothering to make use of the help that it has given us (which would have prevented the problem). This is how this system washes its hands of any culpability, therefore – the system takes care of itself by pretending to take care of us. It doesn’t really need to do help us – it just needs to put on a superficial show of doing so.

It might sound unreasonably cynical for us to say something like this but it isn’t cynicism, it’s realism. We just don’t like to hear it. From the POV of the system, the POV of the organisation or institution, it is providing us with what we need, it is ‘ticking all the relevant boxes’. The POV of the system is always skewed however – there’s no way that it can’t be skewed (which means that ‘being biased’ isn’t something we can blame it for). We can’t blame it for being what it is. An organisation such as a hospital or a factory might for example introduce weekly mindfulness sessions for its staff as a means of supporting them, as a means of reducing the stress that they’re experiencing. No one can reasonably argue that this isn’t the beneficial and helpful thing to do. What we can’t see however is that this is inevitably done for the sake of the institution, for the sake of the organisation. There’s no way that this can’t be the case; the system can’t ever do anything that isn’t ultimately for its own benefit. This isn’t cynicism, it’s straightforward mechanics – that’s how machines work.

If a giant supermarket chain does its bit for the community when it builds a new outlet by building playgrounds for the local children, or by making regular donations to various worthy charities, then whilst this might superficially look like altruistic behaviour (i.e., behaviour that is driven by something else other than self-interest) but of course it isn’t. The entity behind this apparently altruistic action is simply ‘improving its profile’, which is for its own good, not anyone else’s. This may sound like splitting hairs, but it isn’t – a system (or collective) can never see things the way an individual can. Even with the best will in the world they couldn’t do that (and they don’t have the best will in the world, they only have self-interest). The reason a system or a collective can’t see things the way an individual can is because whilst an individual can let go of its agenda, a system or group can’t. It’s not mechanically possible for a system to ‘let go of its agenda’ because it is its own agenda, and its agenda won’t let it let go of itself. A machine is driven by rules and there’s no such thing as ‘a rule that says there should be no rules’ – that’s like ‘having the firm intention that there should be no more intentions’.

Suppose – just to give an example – I am working in an organisation and I’m availing of all the mindfulness sessions that are being offered. The organisation I work for necessarily sees mindfulness in a distorted way – the act of ‘dropping all rules and seeing what happens’ isn’t something that it is capable of comprehending. The idea is of course that by practising mindfulness I can significantly reduce my stress-levels, which will make me both happier and more productive. The system however is only interested in my happiness or well-being to the extent that this will allow me to work better; happy workers who aren’t totally burnt out are always going to be more productive. This is the system’s ‘blind spot’, therefore – it can’t help seeing everything in its terms. If I drop my agenda (which is to say, if I take an unprogrammed break from my non-stop mechanical doing) then I might realise that I don’t want to carry on working there. It might come to me that I just don’t want to work in that organisation anymore (since – as we have said – ‘adapting to the machine’ always involves compromising ourselves). In this case – therefore – mindfulness helps me by allowing me to see that the job is no good for me; this is ‘stress reduction’ for sure, only not quite in the way that the organization in question understands it…

The organisation absolutely can’t understand this – it can’t appreciate how it could be the problem! It can’t see how it could be the problem any more than the everyday ego can see that it is not ‘the centre of the universe’. This illusion of centrality is its blind spot and this means that Reflect Mode isn’t a possibility – no organisation (and no ego) ever reflected honestly upon itself and then voluntarily dissolved itself. That would be like a government voluntarily stepping down from office when they don’t need to, when they aren’t forced to, or even more to the point – like an infectious virus deciding one day to stop infecting people. A genuine individual – on the other hand – can let go of themselves – the possibility is there. This is the great benefit of Reflect Mode, after all the benefit is precisely that we can reflect on what we’re doing in the world and then – potentially, if we see that what we’re doing is nonsensical, harmful, or absurd (or all three) – drop it. A machine can’t do this however – a machine can’t ‘drop itself’. A machine – which is to say, a system or organisation – is permanently ‘stuck in Doing Mode’. A machine is always going to be ‘locked into DM’ because it is its own doing. If a machine were to stop ‘enacting its agenda’ (which it can’t do voluntarily) then it would render itself irrelevant – it wouldn’t be anything then. It would have written itself out of the story.

When we talk about our mode of societal organisation as being machine-like hi has been rigid, based on rules then it’s relatively easy to spot it for what it is; it’s not easy as in ‘falling off a log easy’ but it’s easier than spotting the machine on the inside (which is the Thinking Mind, which is who we take ourselves to be). The TM isn’t who we are, the TM is simply who we think we are. ‘Who we think we are’ is of course just another thought, and most of our lives are spent firmly believing that we are this idea, this thought, and acting accordingly (which is to say, acting in a purely ‘machine-like’ fashion). To quote Gurdjieff –

Man is a machine, but a very peculiar machine. He is a machine which, in the right circumstances, and with the right treatment, can know that he is a machine, and, having fully realised this, he may find the ways to cease being a machine.


We have the potential to reflect upon ourselves and see that we are functioning as machines, see that we are repeating futile / dysfunctional behaviour patterns over and over again for no good reason and to see this is to let go of it. The ‘letting go’ is in the seeing. There is no intention to drop the Machine Self (or to let go of the state of identification), no pressure / coercion / control is used to ‘make it happen’ – all that is needed is to see it and the rest happens by itself. The thing is that a machine can’t see that it is a machine so if I can clearly see this then I can’t be! We are convinced in the West that therapy should be a matter of purposeful doing – clinical psychology at this point in time appears to be obsessed with doing (which includes thinking) to the exclusion of everything. We might argue that therapy is a mixture of Doing Mode and Reflecting Mode – which is to say, first we get the insight and then we act on it (or first we obtain the insight and then we think about it and come to some conclusion about it) – but that’s not how it works. Doing isn’t the thing – there are no conclusions to be drawn and anything we come up with in this line is never going to be any more than a convenient lie. It’s ‘convenient’ because we don’t want to look any further and then have to deal with whatever it is we might learn. We might learn that we aren’t machines but that we act as if we are, and what an upset to the all-important status quo that insight would be! As far as the ‘status quo’ is concerned, that would be an utter disaster (no matter how marvelously beneficial being freed from the Machine Mind might otherwise be)….







Image credit – pxhere.com




Identity Politics

In our mass-minded culture we are completely obsessed with this thing called ‘identity’ and the problem with this is that the identities which we are so obsessed with have nothing to do with who we actually are. They couldn’t be further away from it. No matter what identity we might pick to take shelter behind it’s never going to be anything even remotely connected with our actual nature. We’re talking about fake identities therefore; we’re talking about mistaken identities, misleading identities, manufactured identities – anything thought identifies as ‘us’ is always going to be a ‘false identity’ and – therefore -it is always going to be a dead end. As Alan Watts has so often said, ‘who we are’ is a negative thing not a positive one. We can only say what we’re not, not what we are – to say ‘what we are’ is to hand ourselves over to the tender mercies of ‘the Great Labelling Machine’! When I identify myself as this, that or the other then I confuse myself with an image, with a category of thought…

When we say what something is (or what we are) then this is simply the action of thought. We’re ‘identifying with the label’ in other words, we’re identifying with a mind-created description, we’re fitting in with a purpose-made category. We don’t get this at all however – our understanding is that the label or description stands for something in the real world. This is the very essence of what it means to be ‘unconscious’ – that we relate to our thoughts, our ideas as if they were the things that they supposedly represent. This is Baudrillard’s ‘realm of the hyperreal’ in a nutshell. This is the world of abstract ideas, the world of ‘dissociated or disconnected literal signifiers’ that we are compelled to adapt to if we are to be taken seriously by our fellow human beings; it is the game we’re obliged to play along with if we’re not to be shunned by all the other game players.

When we talk about ‘playing a game’ this doesn’t necessarily sound like such a bad thing but in psychological terms playing a game translates as ‘avoiding reality’, which – as we might suspect – isn’t a move that’s going to do us any good. There are consequences to avoiding or denying reality – burying one’s head in the sand doesn’t mean that ‘everything’s going to be fine’, it just means that we’re convinced everything’s going to be fine when – actually – it isn’t. This isn’t a playful game, therefore – there’s nothing cheery or light-hearted about it. It is – on the contrary – deadly serious; there’s no humour here at all, only ‘obeying the rules’, only ‘doing what you’re supposed to do’. This is – in other words – The World That Fear Made. We’re not denying or avoiding reality ‘for fun’ but because we are frankly terrified to do otherwise. We’re following the rules like machines because that’s the only way safety is to be found. It’s the only thing we can do, if we are to escape our fear.

The other way of putting this is to say that the social game is all about control – things have to be controlled because otherwise they will stop being what they’re supposed to be and they will start to be something else instead. And this is the one thing that can never be allowed to happen – not when we are afraid of ‘the unforeseen circumstance’. Life has to be controlled every step of the way; the basic gist is that our lives have to be strictly regulated to prevent ‘the bad thing’ from happening. We don’t exactly know what this bad thing is, but that only makes it more frightening! It’s a nameless fear and nameless fears are by far the worst kind…

If we didn’t control then then things wouldn’t get to be defined anymore – the meaning things have for us would drift and who knows where this could end? ‘Out of control’ is scary precisely because it is ‘out of control’ – it’s scary because we are no longer in the position of being able to say what will happen next… For us – in our everyday mode of consciousness – the meaning of things is very much something that needs strictly controlling at all times, therefore. It can’t be allowed to get away from us. This is absolutely crucial – the world must be a blank canvas for us to paint our meanings onto, it cannot be allowed to turn the tables on us and tell us that what we think is true isn’t. When we’re in Unconscious Mode and the world starts manifesting its own meaning then this is very disturbing for us – we don’t in the least bit like it. No one likes to wake up, as George Gurdjieff says – no one likes their dream to suddenly start falling apart…

Definitions (or literal descriptions) are another way of talking about the control of meaning therefore – we ourselves say what things mean, we ourselves impose the order that we wish to see in the world. We speak ‘on behalf of nature’, as James Carse says. We have silenced the gods and put ourselves in their place. If we were not to control the meaning of things then this artificial setup of ours would disappear without a trace, and so this is where the necessity for ‘joined up controlling’ (controlling with no break or pause) comes in – once nature has been successfully subjugated then we’re left to take charge of everything ourselves…

We end up therefore in this position where we are obliged to be controlling all the time – thought has created the world that is made up of rigid narrow literal meanings and it is our job to maintain it. We’re obliged to maintain the artificial world that thought creates precisely because it is artificial, precisely because it isn’t a naturally occurring thing, and the driving force behind our incessant controlling is fear. Fear doesn’t represent itself as fear however – represents itself as ‘free, volitional activity in the service of a genuinely good cause’ (i.e., the upholding of some extremely important principle or value). There is no important principle of value here however – only the undeclared need to hide away from the truth.

Identity or self is thus our way of hiding from the truth, curious though this may sound. This ‘truth’ includes the truth about ‘who we actually are’ of course, and the truth about ‘who we actually are’ is just as frightening to us as the truth about anything else! It’s the same truth, it’s what Buddhists call ‘the truth of emptiness’. This doesn’t mean that there is ‘no content’ involved but rather that this content, which is endless, can never be defined. Our labels are hollow (or empty) but the potentiality which they arise from isn’t – potentiality isn’t empty or limited, but anything that is pulled out of the undefined state of potency (or latency) inevitably is. To reify a phenomenon is to make it redundant – we end up with appearances which seem to be solid, but which have nothing at all behind them. Things don’t have to be said to be true in order to be true, in other words; the irony is that when we assert our truths in a concrete or literal fashion (as we very much like to) then they automatically become lies – to seize hold of something is to lose it.

Our longing for identity is our fear of our own incomprehensible potential therefore – we’re fleeing from the nameless unspeakable depths, we’re fleeing from the ‘infinite bewildering expansiveness of reality’ for all we’re worth and we find refuge from it by latching limpet-fashion onto some two-dimensional identity or other and ingeniously claiming that this ‘ten-a-penny cheap-ass identity’ is ‘the whole of who we are’. We could also say that our obsession with identity (which is our fear-driven avoidance of our true nature) is our way of ‘not taking on any responsibility’ but instead of seeing this dereliction of responsibility as being the result of fear we see it as a glorious achievement, we see it as something to be proud of, something to shout out triumphantly from the rooftops…

To live in a culture which is all about identity is to live in a culture where consciousness has been outlawed and where everything is seen backwards. We’re putting all our money on the wrong thing – we are energetically promoting the causes of misery, ignorance and confusion whilst at the same time claiming to be experts on everything under the sun! We could say many things about ‘the failings of society’ – we could say that it is based on the principle of inequality and exploitation, we could say that it’s full of corruption and power games, we could say that it’s all about striving for superficial values like money and status, but we are missing the point when we make these arguments. The point that we’re missing is that – as a culture, as a society – we are 100% dedicated to promoting distractions and avoiding the truth. That’s our game, that’s what we’re all about, and the thing about this is that when we are ‘100% dedicated to promoting distractions and avoiding the truth’ then there is clearly no way we are ever going to admit to this!






Image – 4kwallpapers.com




Bringing Forth What Is Within You…

It comes across as something of a cliche to say that society is rotten, superficial, morally bankrupt, etc., – any statement we make to this effect is bound to fall flat as soon as we utter it; it’s bound to fall flat because it has been said so very many times before. To say that society is a rotten kind of a thing has become a hollow platitude; we might absentmindedly agree with it when we hear it but we’re hardly going to take much notice all the same. We hear people saying things like this all the time but it never makes any difference – we are all very much ‘creatures of society’ after all and so we don’t really want change. Complaining is one thing, change another…

This is precisely the problem of course – we can’t see the system that we live in ‘from the outside’ and as a result we can’t for the life of us see how there could be any other way of doing things. And in addition to this incapacity to comprehend that things actually could be different, when we do go against the grain in any way peer pressure automatically swings into action and we find ourselves being ignored or side-lined (and thus ‘excluded from the debate’) on account of our reprehensibly eccentric views. We are tacitly ignored by the Collective, which has already made up its mind with regard to what type of truths it wishes to hear. There’s nothing more conservative than ‘the Collective’, after all!

Because of our adaptedness to the Collective Mind, to the Generic Mode of Existence that we have been inducted into since birth, we see our way of life as being unquestionably normal (which by definition it is, of course) but this isn’t actually good news.The fact that our way of life is being mirrored by millions of other doesn’t mean there’s any actual virtue in it – there’s nothing healthy about being psychologically normal, after all. It doesn’t matter what sort of conditioning we subscribe to, it’s always going to be detrimental to us; it’s always going to be detrimental because conditioning means repressing our actual unique or idiosyncratic nature. Society compels us to be normal (by expelling us from the club if we aren’t) but it is the system that benefits from all this standardisation, not us…

A deal has been done – for the sake of agreeing upon a convenient way to organise ourselves we deny who we really are (which is – as we’ve just said – ‘unique rather than regular’). The mechanism that enforces this transformation from ‘who we naturally are’ to ‘who the system requires us to be in order to perpetuate itself’ is brutally obvious, and yet we tacitly agree never to mention it. We turn a blind eye to the ugly process whereby we are converted from playful children (who are full of creativity and potential) into dull old ‘adult-machines’, capable only of performing our allotted functions. We will of course protest upon hearing this, but that’s only because we haven’t the stomach to confront such a harsh truth. We object in the strongest possible terms, not because what we’re hearing is untrue but because it’s true. It’s true but we absolutely don’t wish to hear it…

A Great Lie is being perpetuated and the lie in question is that ‘what is good for the machine which is society is also good for us’. It is this lie that allows the status quo to continue; we are obliged to swallow it because everything will become very difficult for us otherwise. The actual truth is infinitely less palatable, and even our most revered experts in the field refrain from grabbing this particular bull by the horns. We insist – ludicrously – upon looking assiduously for the answer in all the wrong places, just in case we might do the unforgivable and ‘upset the apple cart’. We never question our way of living, our way of doing things, but rather we imagine that we can find the answer to our mental health problems in our brain chemistry or in our faulty DNA.

We fail – across the board – to acknowledge the price we pay for the convenience of social adaptation and this never-mentioned price is simply our mental health. At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s no way that we can be who a standardized external authority tells us we are, and yet be in any way be well in ourselves. We can’t deny our own nature and yet at the same time also experience genuine well-being. The one thing life requires of us – so to speak – is that we fulfil our potential, and this is absolutely, fundamentally impossible just so long as we are allowing the machine to tell us who we are. Life’s demand’ on us that we realize our potential comes across with great force and clarity in what Jesus says here in the Gospel of Thomas,

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

If we insist – as we do insist – that ‘we are who we aren’t’ (and ‘who we never could be’) then we have in this way ensured our own destruction. The successes or triumphs we enjoy within the social world are ‘victories against ourselves’ in other words; ‘success’ is – therefore – the very worst thing that could ever happen to us! If we wanted a succinct way of explaining what the ‘downside’ of being a socially-adapted human being is, we could simply say that the downside in question has to do with the fact that in society we have to spend all our time pretending to be who we aren’t rather than realizing who we are and that we are – as a result – shunted down a sterile cul-de-sac that we will discover to be such only when it is too late. Who we take ourselves to be within the context of the social game is a purely arbitrary type of thing – it is a purely abstract type of a thing and for this reason it has no potential for anything! The abstract mind-created identity contains zero potential – it is precisely what it is defined as being as and that is all it is…

Our whole approach to mental health is predicated upon the idea that the suffering we are experiencing isn’t telling us anything real, or anything important, and that the thing to do – therefore – is get rid of these troublesome symptoms by whatever means we can so that we can then carry on with the type of life that we have been told is ‘the right and proper one’.  That we are able to do this is fairly amazing – clinical depression is a ‘message’ that is so extraordinarily forceful and blunt that no one can possibly ‘ignore’ it, and yet this is precisely what we – as a collective – do do. We say that it doesn’t mean anything and that it’s merely a technical malfunction of sorts which we should try to fix as quickly as possible that we can get on with ‘what we were doing before’, but the trouble is that even if we do manage to repress the feelings of meaninglessness and futility that prevent us operating in society this is actually creating extra suffering for us to contend with in the future. We’re going back to the same way of living that made us sick in the first place, which means that the all the terrible neurotic pain that we had to endure was in vain…





Image – wallpaperflare.com





Life In The Generic World

The Generic World runs on assigned meaning (as opposed to meaning that is innate, or inherent). We are – in other words – told what things mean in the Generic World. The meaning of our existence is imported from ‘the outside’, we might say. When we are told ‘what things mean’ then, in this process, we are very effectively made into prisoners – there is no better way of making people into prisoners than this. As actual individuals, we have been quite nullified.

There is no better way of making people into prisoners than by telling them what things mean and this is what we do all the time. We take a pride in telling recently arrived human beings what things ‘mean’, what reality consists of, what ‘life is all about’, and so in this way we pass on our lack of originality to the next generation. We pass on the prison to them, and we call it ‘culture’! This however only culture in the sense that it is the ‘culture of the prison’. Generic culture is always the culture of the prison…

When we are prisoners of the Generic World that nothing matters more to us than making sure that our offspring are prisoners of it too – ‘Well, my upbringing never did me any harm’, we say. We validate the state of being imprisoned and we want it for everyone. There is something frankly scandalous about the thought of someone not wanting to subscribe to the generic view of things, to the view of things that we all agree with. It’s as if we’re saying ‘Well – if I have to live in the Generic World then so do you!’  Only this isn’t a conscious attitude but an unconscious (or implicit) one – our conscious attitude is to validate the adapted modality of being, to say that it’s a good thing.

In terms of ‘group morality’ subscribing to the Generic World is the worthy and responsible thing to do – we get a pat on the back for this, we obtain the legitimacy that comes with being a member of the club. We have proved ourselves in this way, we have demonstrated our reliability and so we can be trusted. The converse is also true, of course – if we don’t sign up, or if, for whatever reason, we aren’t able to say the sort of things that we have to say in order to show as we are part of the group, then we’re left out in the cold. Not being a member of the group is immoral as far as the group is concerned…

The details or particulars of the Generic World have nothing to do with the truth, however – ‘generic’ (or ‘agreed-upon’) values and ‘the truth’ have nothing to do with each other! It’s all just a matter of spotting what everyone else takes for granted, and then taking it for granted too, in the very same way that they do. It’s all a matter of ‘working out what the game rules are and then following them as if you had been doing so all your life, following them as if you had always known them to be true…’ This is social adaptation in a nutshell – we have to forget that we were ever ‘un-adapted’, we have to obscure the fact as to the best of our ability. Nothing else is real but the game.

This is ‘an act of conformity’ rather than a ‘creative’ one; adapting to the template is what it needed rather than any actual originality. We create the Generic World via an act of mass conformity and then we ‘flip everything over’ so that conforming to the script that has been handed to us is ‘the great virtue’, and having our own individual take on things is ‘sheer wrongheadedness’. If we want to be truly accepted into the club then we have to fool ourselves along with everyone else; it is necessary for us to resolutely ‘turn our backs on the truth’. This act of ‘reality-denial’ is the price of admittance to the club.

We can’t ever let on that we’re conforming however, that wouldn’t do it all. On the contrary (as everyone knows), we are obliged to put on the show that this is what we really think all by ourselves, and that it isn’t the case that we are simply being coldly calculating in this regard (because we know what side our bread is buttered on). If we don’t sound properly sincere in our strenuous proclamation of loyalty to the generic values then this is the same as not conforming – we’re only pretending to conform in this case and so we’re going to be caught out. We’re not pretending sincerely enough…

So the situation is that – although we aren’t being true to ourselves – we have to pretend that we are. We have to pretend not just to others but to ourselves too – there must be no hint, on any level, that the show actually is ‘only a show’. We are copying from the template rather than being creative, and yet it is necessary that this act of mimicry present itself as being somehow ‘original to us’. We are reading from the script but we have to pretend that we’re being spontaneous; we are acting in a calculated way, looking for a very specific advantage, and yet we have to convince ourselves that we’re not. This is the tightrope we have to walk.

The Generic World is a very superficial kind of place, therefore. Everything has to exist on the one single level of meaning – if there were any other possible levels of meaning, or ‘levels of description’, then this would spoil the game. If there was ‘anything else’ then this would seriously distract from the effect. The generic world is a very bland one in other words, it’s a world that is entirely without nuance, entirely without individuality.  It’s a literal world. Or – as we could also say – the Generic World is the Image World, the world that is made up of two-dimensional meanings.

In the two-dimensional world of mass-produced literal truths – which is the world that thought creates – there can only be the one meaning for things,  the meaning that has been written down, the meaning that has been set down in law, the meaning that all right-thinking people subscribe to, and the consequence of this is that all other meanings are heresies that have to be dismissed, dangerous lies that have to be fought against. Everything is very obvious, very unambiguous in the Image World, and so the message is that we ‘just have to get on with it’. What we’re supposed to be ‘getting on with’ is entirely banal however – everything is always banal in the two-dimensional image world but we – for the most part – are too consumed by the game to ever notice this. The utter absurdity of ‘life in the Generic World’ is quite lost on us…




Image – wallpapertip.com




Image

The Collective Life

Whenever a bunch of people get together and agree between themselves about what life is (or what it ought to be) then this is where life ends, this is where life ceases and is replaced by something else. Instead of life, there is then only conformity to the established pattern, compliance to the unspoken group rules. Instead of spontaneity, therefore, there is only control…

Whenever two or more people get together and agree what reality ‘is’ that’s where reality ends. That’s ‘the murder of the real’ right there, just as Jean Baudrillard says. We’ve swapped ‘what’s going on’ for ‘what we think is going on’ and we’re a lot worse off as a result. Instead of being able to relate to what is actually real, we can only relate to what people say is real, to what people tell us is real. We can only accept as real what we are supposed to accept as real.

This is the phoney life therefore, and what takes place in the consensus reality is always a phoney life, no matter how much we dress it up. Even the very best of what consensus reality has to offer us is phoney – it’s phoney all the way through, it’s phoney from top to bottom. If we had any respect or regard with the authentic then we’d have nothing to do with a collective viewpoint, nothing to do with what people say is real. What greater disempowerment could there be than being in the situation where we are told ‘what reality is all about’, whilst having the ability to think for ourselves systematically undermined almost from the word ‘Go’?

When we get together and agree what life is (or what life should be about) then what we are agreeing upon is an idea. This is ideology, nothing more. When two or more of us come together and agree what reality is then what we are agreeing on is a theory, a model, a hypothesis. There is no agreeing on reality itself – reality can’t be agreed upon because it isn’t a logically consistent system and so can’t be wrapped up in a description. And even when I agree with myself about what’s going on, about ‘what life is all about’, I am departing from the real. When I agree with myself  then I straightaway substitute my thoughts about life, my ideas about life, my beliefs about life for the thing itself. Somehow my beliefs about life have become more important that the thing itself, and this is how it is for all of us – it’s our tawdry second-hand ideas that we venerate, not the actual truth of our situation.

Beliefs are always banal – there never was such a thing as ‘a belief that is not banal’, ‘a belief that is not infinitely tedious’, so what is it with our desperate need to believe in something, anything?  Why are we in such a rush to sedate ourselves with bland certainties? If I agree with myself about ‘what it’s all about’ then I am agreeing with an idea, I am agreeing with some mental construct or other, which means that I am seeing reality via this mental construct, in terms of this mental construct, which means that I’m not seeing reality at all. I’m only seeing what my thoughts are showing me and so the one thing I’m never going to come across is any sort of ‘independent truth’.

We can’t ever know what reality is, we can only agree on what we think it is, on what we say it is, and that’s not the same thing at all. That’s just our biases or prejudices speaking, that’s just our ideology. When it comes to reality, there is no conclusion that we can come to which won’t be absurd – every conclusion we jump to, every thought that we have, every idea that we eagerly buy into equals ‘us shutting the door on reality’. We’re shutting the door on reality and then – bizarrely – we’re taking that shut door to be the same thing as reality, and we couldn’t make a more stupid mistake than this if we tried.

What we’re essentially doing here is that we are creating ‘logical systems’, logical systems which then turn around and enslave us completely. We then become tools of the system, pawns of the system, extensions of the system. Every agreement we make results in the creation of a logical system and logical systems (when we don’t stay 100% alert to the danger) always enslave us. When we take the system that thought creates to be reality itself then how can it not enslave us? The only way to be not to be enslaved by thought is to see our ideas to be ‘mere ideas’, our beliefs to be ‘mere beliefs’, our ideology to be ‘mere ideology’, and we aren’t exactly in a big hurry to do this. The ‘prejudice’ – which is to say, ‘the preformed image of what things are’ – has too much of a hold on us for that…

If we had any actual curiosity about what ‘existence’ is all about, then we wouldn’t agree with anything. We wouldn’t be looking for something to agree with – we wouldn’t agree with anything or anybody and we wouldn’t even agree with ourselves. As Kurt Vonnegut points out, we don’t agree with others because of any regard we might have for the truth, we agree with each other in order to be friendly, in order to ‘get on’, in order to be ‘part of the group’. We’re looking for benefits, in other words; we’re enacting a strategy so as to obtain a desired result. We’re not members of society because we have any curiosity about the truth of things, in other words – that’s something different entirely!

Another way of putting this is to say that all agreements are made for political reasons; we make agreement for political purposes and as everyone knows politics had never had anything to do with the truth. Politics is about power alignments, it’s about benefits it has to do with pragmatic short term usefulness and the truth is never useful! All art is useless, as Oscar Wilde says, and so too is the truth. The truth is of necessity quite useless to us. If we could put the truth to some use then that would be setting something above the truth, it would be saying that there is something (some goal or outcome) which is more important than the truth, and there isn’t.

There’s nothing more important than the truth and when we act as if there is then we will find out – at some point or other – that what we’re living is a lie. And (almost inevitably) we do act as if there is a value which supersedes the truth, a value which we take to be ‘above and beyond the truth’ – we will never come out and say this, but we act as if the truth were subsidiary to certain concerns all the same. What that ‘value’ is can be talked about in various ways – we could say (as we mentioned earlier) that ‘getting on with people’ or ‘fitting in’ is one value that we place higher on the list. We could say that ‘being on the same page as everyone else’ is, for purely practical purposes, more important than the truth; this is a default rather than a conscious decision, but it is one that we make all the same.

We could also say, as Jung does, that the reason for this sorry state of affairs is that ‘collective function’ is just so much easier than ‘individual effort’. It is vastly easier to agree with everyone else, as we know very well – we might talk very casually and knowledgeably about ‘peer pressure’ as if it’s something that only teenagers are susceptible to, but we are all victims of peer pressure, whether we want to admit it or not. We’ll go with the crowd every time. But no matter how forbiddingly difficult it is not to agree with the group mind (not to mention ‘not agreeing with our own mind’, which is harder still) the alternative is utterly ignominious – unless we rebel both against societyand our own minds we’re going to have to live out the course of our lives in a crass ‘second-hand version of reality’, a dire version of reality that is lacking in even the tiniest bit of originality, a thoroughly dismal version of reality that is really a joke that is being played on us…




Fully-Programmable Humans

Ours is an age that specialises in the industrial production of fully-programmable human beings whilst at the same time generating the very persuasive illusion that it’s all about personal empowerment, personal freedom, personal choice, etc,.

It could be argued that we have always been subject to the invasive conditioning of whatever society we happen to have been born into and this is undeniable. It might also be argued – with some grounds – that personal freedom has increased dramatically over the last few hundred years. The grosser forms of enslavement and disempowerment would now be considered appalling anachronisms that no right-thinking person would tolerate for a second, but this visible progress could easily distract us from a more subtle form of bondage that has become both all-pervasive and extremely difficult to spot. We can explain how this could be by looking at what Douglas Flemons (1991) calls the Salesman’s Trick

As any good hypnotist, magician, or comedian knows, the offer or availability of freely choosing between alternatives at a given contextual level brings the particularities of choice into the foreground of conscious awareness. This necessarily relegates to the background (i.e. out of awareness and out of the realm of conscious choice) the higher-level context or premise determining the range and meaning of the offered alternatives. The presence of choice (between particularities) at one level masks – and in some sense precludes – choice (between premises) at a more encompassing level.


The way we trick someone in this way, as Flemons says, is by offering them a profusion of trivial choices that capture their attention in such a way that they cannot see beyond them. When we can’t see beyond the domain that is composed of ‘choices that are only trivially different from each other’ then these trivial choices cease to be trivial – they become deeply significant and entirely worthy of our deliberations with regard to what choice we want to go with. The trivial issue becomes a big deal, in other words. Being fully engaged with what we have been provided with means that we are wholly oblivious to the bigger picture, and so what we’re talking about here is simple distraction.

Society empowers us to the extent that it offers us all these trivial choices therefore, but it is a phoney type of empowerment since what’s happening here is that we are being kept unconscious of what’s really going on. We are being granted the freedom not to see that we have lost our freedom, in other words, which is a freedom that feels good at first, since it is easy, but which takes us to a bad place in the long run since we are now lost in a pseudo-world that is made up entirely of issues that don’t really matter one way or the other. Once we look at things in terms of the Salesman’s Trick it becomes much easier to see that this is what contemporary society is all about. It’s not about anything else – only the provision of false and therefore entrapping freedoms. We are provided with false and entrapping freedoms which we compete viciously for (since all of these so-called ‘freedoms’ have to be paid for and only those of us who are successful in the game will be able to afford them).

In the past when society was much cruder in the way that it oppressed its members, it was relatively easy to see the lack of freedom; nowadays we have been so very effectively sucked in by the salesman’s trick that no one is going to see the oppression. We consider ourselves to be educated, sophisticated, cultured, capable of making our own choices in life, and so on and so forth, which makes it all the more difficult for us to understand that we have been made fools of. To see that we’re being taken for fools isn’t of course consistent with our idea of ourselves as being ‘empowered and autonomous individuals’, and so this is another reason for us not to see it (if one were needed).

The way the setup works therefore is that we are kept busy competing for a false type of freedom that we can’t see to be false. It is false because what it comes down to is ‘the freedom to choose between options that are only nominally different’. If the difference was significant then the freedom here would be real but this isn’t the case – all of our so-called choices come down to the same thing – we are choosing to play the game. Actually – however – we aren’t really choosing anything since we don’t know the game to be a game. In order for us to see the game for what it is we would have to be able to see beyond it and this is the one thing we can’t do! This is what the salesman’s trick is all about – distracting us from seeing that we have been cheated. We’ve been given some cheap trinket with one hand whilst being robbed of something which has genuine value with the other. We have been cheated out of the possibility of being genuinely free – because we can’t see the game to be a game we don’t realise that we don’t have to play it. We think it’s simply reality and so we don’t question it.

This isn’t some philosophical or sociological observation that we can amuse ourselves with if we wish, if that happens to be our thing – it is of the most pressing significance to us anything ever could be. What could be more deserving of our attention than the fact that we have been cheated (or have cheated ourselves) of our intrinsic freedom, and have been press-ganged into taking part in a game we can’t see to be a game? We can talk about the advances that we have made in our civilization and point – for example – to technology and medicine, but this is a bit of a decoy. What is all the technology in the world worth if we are ‘unfree without knowing it’? What use is it for us to extend our lifespans (as we have done) if this only means ‘extending the period of our enslavement’? If we are not putting our autonomy first then anything else we work on is merely part of our collective denial, the collective denial of our true situation. If we don’t put the truth first then what good is anything we do?

We would all agree that theft is ‘a bad thing’, and that we ought not to do it, but when it comes to the biggest theft of all – which is the theft of our intrinsic freedom – we don’t say anything about it. This societal game that we have been subsumed within is not life but a poor substitute for it, a sham version of it. Life isn’t a matter of choosing between one trivial choice and another – the act of deciding (as much as we might value it) is a denial of the freedom we have not to waste our time with such nonsense. As Oscar Wilde has said, ‘The fact is that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, accept what is worth knowing’. It turns out – unsurprisingly enough – that it is not possible to rob people of their intrinsic freedom in this way (and replace it with the deceptive extrinsic freedom which is provided by the social game) without introducing a ‘jinx’ that can never be remedied. We can celebrate the realm of trivial choice as much as we like, we can talk it up as much as we like, promote it as much as we like, but nothing can ever cover up its essential hollowness – or at least, not for very long.

Our socially-sanctioned ‘job’ – so to speak – is to try to cover up that hollowness as best we can. That’s the denial – our duty is our denial and our denial our duty. We put a spin on this however and say that we’re ‘chasing our dreams’ or ‘striving to achieve our life goals’, or whatever else, but what we’re really trying to do is fill an existential void (and whatever we chuck into that void is going to disappear without a trace). That is – of course – how it always is with existential voids. Were we not constrained to live out our lives within a superficial game that we mistake for reality then there would be no existential void, and so that in itself would be the cure for our jinxed situation. Instead, however, we go in the opposite direction and engage all the more feverishly in the societal game. ‘More and better doing,’ is seen as the answer to all of our ills; ‘set goals and persevere until you attain them,’ we are told. ‘Gain the confidence that comes with successful purposeful action’ is the message we are given – ‘Keep on striving and don’t ever be discouraged, don’t ever be beaten. Make sure you stay positive no matter what…’

Our goals are just ‘the game’ however. Our striving is the game, our attempts to find validation for our lives within the social framework is the game, and so we’re trying to cure ourselves with the very thing that made us sick in the first place. The problem isn’t that we ‘aren’t trying hard enough’ but rather that the goals which we have been provided with are lures which are being used to trap us. We’ve been tricked on two fronts: [1] we’ve been tricked into thinking that what we’re doing is what we really want to do (when it’s not), and [2] we’ve been tricked into believing that these activities will make us happy (when they absolutely won’t). Ours is not an age marked by our valuing of the autonomy of the individual, but the exact reverse of this. The ‘valuing of the individual’ which we hear so much about in the West is a myth – we’re buying our individuality off the shelf, and so what we’re saying isn’t true. We value the appearance of individuality, not the thing itself…





When Consciousness Is The Enemy

The ego’s Number One Concern is that it should not see itself for what it is. If we could understand this then we would understand everything! If we could understand this then we would be freed from the web of illusion that the ego is forever spinning…

The ego’s game is to run away from seeing itself: to succeed in this game is pleasure, to fail pain. This game is all-consuming, which is to say, it doesn’t leave any space for anything else. The whole point is that there is no space left for anything else; if we saw that there was something else, something beyond the game of good and bad, right and wrong, pleasure and pain, then the game would be over at that point. Then there would be no game.

The game allows no space for anything that is not the game and that is how all games work, by eclipsing reality, by substituting themselves for reality. The game for us is all there is, and for this reason it cannot be seen to be a game. Right versus wrong, pleasure versus pain, constitutes a continuum and there is no place to be on this continuum that is not about winning failing or succeeding, gaining or losing. We cannot have any awareness other than the compulsive type of awareness that is conditioned by polarity, conditioned by the continuum of [+] and [-].

We have no choice but to be busy when we are playing the game, in other words, and this busyness consumes our attention, with nothing at all left over. Being busy in the way that we are (being constantly concerned with the need to succeed rather than fail) is what keeps us from ever seeing the ego for what it is. Succeeding rather than failing is all the ego cares about, and this is just another way of saying that all the ego cares about is itself, which is not exactly news to anyone! That’s what makes the ego ‘the ego’, after all.

There’s more to this than meets the eye, however (or less to this than meets the eye, if we want to put it that way). We all know that all the ego cares about is the ego – that’s common knowledge – what we don’t see is that this self-obsessed ego doesn’t actually exist. When we identify with it as a viewpoint and put all our attention onto the never-ending business of ‘trying to win rather than lose’ then this absorption in the game of gain versus loss creates the very strong impression that there is someone there to either succeed or fail, win or lose. The more we struggle the more we reify the concept of ‘the struggler’!

This is the ‘fruit’ of our non-stop busyness, therefore: the fruit of our non-stop busyness is the perception that ‘I am this self’ (which is also the perception that ‘I am not anything else’). Here in the Western world we place a very high value on being busy, on industry, on the production of ‘stuff’  – ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’, we say, but the real reason we value busyness and striving for success so much is that we wish to reify the concept of ‘the one who is striving’, ‘the one who stands to be either a success or a failure’. This is a basic insight.

All our efforts are going into the project of creating (or trying to create) a comforting illusion therefore, and were we to see this it would of course put a very different complexion on how we view our activities. There’s nothing so very inspirational about this after all – what’s so inspirational about spending our entire lives creating and maintaining a suffering-producing illusion (because that’s what the ego is), without ever having a clue as to what we’re really doing and not wanting to know either? This is hardly the sort of behaviour we can feel good about, or award ourselves medals for, and yet – somehow – we do. That’s exactly what we do.

Consciousness is our enemy when we are in this modality of being; were we to gain insight into what we’re doing, and what our motivation is behind it all, the game would we be well and truly up for us. This is why we have so hysterically demonised the use of psychedelic drugs, for example – because we absolutely do not want to have any insight into what the real reason for all our activity is. We absolutely don’t want to see the ego for what it is – which is to say, a phoney, a pretender – an impostor hiding behind a smokescreen of fake, time-wasting activities. This is what gives rise to the ‘taboo against knowing who you are’ that Alan Watts talks about. This is why we are conducting a covert ‘war against consciousness’.

It’s perfectly understandable that we don’t want to see this, therefore – it’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to see, an extraordinarily challenging thing to see. Catching a glimpse of what we’re really up to with this business of identifying with the ego (and our consequent total immersion in the game of pleasure versus pain, advantage versus disadvantage) is something rather like catching a glimpse of the devil himself! No one wants to see the devil but when we’re not aware of him (when we have our heads firmly in the sand) then we’re in trouble! When we talk about the Shadow this is what we really talking about; the shadow is a code word for our awareness of the dodgy business that’s secretly going on in the background; we have been recruited into a pattern of thinking, a pattern of behaviour, that is supposedly all about celebrating life, enjoying life, exploring life, but which is actually the very antithesis of this. It is actually an act of denial.

There is a smokescreen of nefarious activity going on that we get lost in, absorbed in, caught up in, which implicitly claims to be legitimate but which is actually all about perpetuating our web of illusions. It’s nefarious because by lavishing all our attention on the fake we miss out on the real. By devoting ourselves to the false, we neglect the true. We don’t realise it, but we are betraying ourselves – we’re betraying ourselves because we are forever striving to benefit who we aren’t at the expense of who we are.

We do gain awareness of this, ever so often, and when we do there is generally a lot of pain involved. There is pain because of the difficulty in processing the initial revelation, and there is pain because of the awareness that everything we have painstakingly invested in over the years is no use to us at all. This is a long drawn-out process of disillusionment and disinvestment and there is nothing we like less than disillusionment and disinvestment. If we could ‘stick the course’ then the insight – however bitter – would liberate us, but the chances are that we will be discouraged from this and rather than sticking the course we will attempt to reverse the process and run away from the painful awareness. Running away from unwanted awarenesses is – after all – a long-standing habit of ours…

Society itself – which is the game of the ego writ large – will discourage us from ‘staying the course’. The type of ‘painful awareness’ that we’re talking about here involves disillusionment not just with the social world that we have adapted (which is based on the values of competition, goal-orientatedness, and self-promotion) but also with ourselves, with our own ‘personal game’, so to speak, and for this reason the process of disillusionment is pathologized on all sides. Our painful awareness is treated like a sickness – we will be told that we are suffering from a mental health condition. We are almost inevitably going to ‘side with the game’ (or side with the consensus view) in this and this is of course hardly surprising given that ‘the game is all we know’. We don’t know that ‘the game is only a game’, and as a result we are much too frightened to let go of it…





Art: GOOD AND EVIL, (Straatkunst), on pinterest.ie







Making The Ego Great Again

The paradigm we operate under, in this modern rational era of ours, is the ‘Ego-Repairing’ one. Any mental health problems we have are always seen (either implicitly or explicitly) as being due to a lack of buoyancy or resilience on the part of the all-important ego. Our ego isn’t confident enough and so this missing confidence – so it seems to us – needs to be reinstated (however we are going to do that). Our ego-strength is insufficient for the daily demands that are being made upon it, we say, and so we need to build it up again. This is all we need to know about the Ego-Repairing Paradigm – it is nothing if not obvious!

This approach doesn’t work, however. We’re nothing if not determined in our attempt to make it work but we’re also remarkably reluctant to look at the fact that we aren’t really getting anywhere with it. We don’t have a lot – if anything – to say about this, and the reason for this is possibly that we simply can’t see any other approach that we could take. We can’t see what else we could be doing and so we really don’t want to admit that we might have gone down a dead end. If it’s the only game in town then we are obliged to keep on playing it, no matter what secret doubts we might have on the subject. The important thing is not to talk about these doubts, and we don’t!

Our problem is that we are taking a very narrow view of things and can’t for the life of us see that we are. This is what the rational ego is – it’s a narrow view of the world that we can’t – from this self-same vantage point – see to be narrow; it is a narrow viewpoint that has on this account become subjectively everything to us, a viewpoint that has subsumed within itself the whole of what is possible. The rational ego isn’t really who we are, in other words – it’s just a narrowing down of attention that we can’t see to be a narrowing down of attention. It is a limited or superficial version of who we are that we can’t see to be superficial or limited. This being so, it clearly doesn’t make any sense to see mental health as being somehow synonymous with having a ‘new and improved ego’. The robustness of the ego isn’t really the thing here. Bolstering up the beleaguered ego isn’t the healthy thing to do – it isn’t healthy because ‘healthy’ means whole and that is exactly what the rational ego isn’t. The ego thinks that it is ‘the Whole of Everything’ (it’s ‘a fraction that thinks itself to be an integer’, as Joseph Campbell says), but it isn’t. It thinks that it is (or should be) the boss, but it isn’t. It’s a fake boss, a usurper, just like the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham was a usurper.  Our ego wants to be ‘It’, as Alan Watts says, but it isn’t ‘It’. The self-construct can never be ‘It’! That I am It (or could be It if I try hard enough) is a vain fantasy that I keep on buying into; this is what repairing the ego construct is all about – ‘making the ego great again’, when the plain truth of the matter is that it never was.  The over-inflated, over-valent ego is a sickness we cannot see as such – we are busy worshipping a false god here!

The rational ego-identity is essentially nothing more than a boundary or dividing line, when it comes down to it. Thought fragments, as David Bohm says, and the ego-identity is the fruit of that fragmentation. The rational identity is constructed on the basis of the boundary between self and other and – whilst we might not disagree with this (how could we?) – what we don’t tend to think about, or talk about, is that where we draw this dividing line (or how seriously) we take it is entirely up to us. That depends upon how free we feel, how relaxed we feel. On a ‘good day’ we don’t bother hiding behind our ego boundaries so much at all; on a good day we can even ‘forget ourselves’ for a while. We can get ‘out of our heads‘. The times when we are happy and at ease are not the days when we are busy affirming our thought-created identity! What we don’t want to look at – in other words – is the way in which the concrete identity or ego is our own construct.

How sharply we perceive the boundary between self and other depends upon the state of mind that we’re in, it depends entirely upon our ‘inner state’. It depends upon how ‘up tight’ we are – when we feel that we are threatened then we retreat back into our shelter (so to speak) like a snail going back into its shell or a sea anemone snapping back into its thick protective trunk or capsule, and when that threat has passed then we slowly and tentatively come back out again and extend ourselves into the world. So the sea anemone’s trunk isn’t ‘who we are’ – who we are is the gracious flower-like creature that we see when there isn’t a threat. When we’re in the grip of fear then we retreat into the Domain of Thought – we retreat into the Domain of Thought and straightaway become sharply defined and thereby isolated – the pain or distress that we’re feeling isn’t due to the fear (contrary to what we might believe) it is due to us narrowing ourselves, it’s due to the sharpness of the divide between the self and the rest of the world, and the acute sense of separateness that this has created. We’re too ‘boundaried’, in other words. We might think that being boundaried is a great thing, but it turns out that it isn’t at all. How can being fragmented (or being isolated from our environment) be a good thing after all? We obtain the rewarding feeling of ‘increased psychological security’, but this safe place – as every psychotherapist knows – turns out to be our prison.

We exist somewhere between the two extremes of ‘being total trapped’ and ‘being totally free’, it might be said. In the first case, we experienced a profound suffering that comes when all we know is ‘the self in its isolation’, and in the second case there is the incomprehensible relief that comes when there is no more dividing line. Where we exist on this range of possibilities is dependent upon how tightly we are clinging to our boundaries (or contrariwise, upon how willing we are to let go of them). The former is a ‘positive’ act in that it has to be carried out deliberately whilst the latter is a ‘negative’ one since it involves surrender rather than aggressive self-assertion. It is incongruous therefore that our default position (the position that we as a culture insist on) should be that our mental health comes out of the healthiness or robustness of our mind-created boundaries, the mind-created boundaries that separate us from what is actually real.

This isn’t to say that the answer to our difficulties is simply to erase the boundary between self and other (in the spirit, it might seem, of the Buddhist slogan ‘no self no problem’) – the process by which we go beyond our notions of who we think we are (or the process by which we extend ourselves, as Scott-Peck says) is a very slow one and it proceeds in an organic way. This type of change cannot be achieved ‘convulsively’, as Jung puts it, as a result of us willing it to happen. That is merely the characteristic hubris of the ego-construct. The natural order of things has to be respected and that natural order is in no hurry to get to some crappy mind-created goal! The Dao cannot be rushed, but the point is not to ‘rush’ it but to trust it and stop trying to impose our own ideas on it quite so unreflectively. To keep on trying to repair the ego past the point where this endeavour becomes pragmatically untenable is only making more trouble for ourselves. We are creating ‘New Improved Suffering’, so to speak. We are in fact guilty of ‘socially engineering narcissism’ under the guise of promoting mental health!

If on the other hand we were to reverse our tactics and try to get rid of the egoic identity then this also backfires on us – who is it that wants to get rid of the ego identity other than that same ego identity, after all? Who wants to get rid of the self apart from the self? Where does our intention to change our thinking come from apart from this very thinking itself? Despite appearances to the contrary, there’s nothing that needs to be repaired – when we get to the point where we feel that we need to repair the ego (or shore up the boundaries of the self) this means that we have in fact outgrown it and so the helpful thing to do here is to see this and assent  – to whatever extent we are naturally able to  – the process that it is – of its own accord  – unfolding. This is ‘trusting the natural process’, and nothing comes harder for us than this! The ‘Non-Repairing’ (or ‘Non-Fixing) Paradigm is a subtle approach in a world where subtlety is not part of our repertoire. The ‘Non-interfering Paradigm’ is a subtle approach in a world where the only thing we seem to understand is having a great big hammer, and not being shy to use it…







The Natural Is Sufficient

We often hear that we should ‘love ourselves’ but this is much more problematic than it sounds. Obviously, it’s not helpful for us to hate ourselves or spend all our time criticising ourselves and so it might seem as if the thing to do is to turn this around and love ourselves instead. Instead of ‘negative self-talk,’ we argue, we should engage in the beneficial positive variety. Positive is good, we say. Positive will do the job. Positive will sort out the problem. This just doesn’t work out for us however, no matter what we might think – all we do when we try to flip things over in this apparently convenient way is involve ourselves in a mind-created polarity, and there is never any joy in this! There is never any joy to be had from involving ourselves in a polarity because all that happens then is that we go around in perfect circles – we’re flipping back and forth from one artificial attitude to another, and no good can ever come out of that.

What helps is not the artificial but the natural and the natural can never be contrived. As Wang Pi says, ‘The natural is sufficient. If one strives, he fails.’The question is therefore, is this hypothetical situation where we love ourselves and say helpful things to ourselves a natural one? Is this a natural and wholesome state of affairs, or is it just ‘how we think we should be’? Is it a real thing or is it just an idea that we have somehow gotten into our heads? The answer to this question is very clear – the situation where we love ourselves, or where have positive regard for ourselves and engage in positive self-talk, is most emphatically not a natural one. On the contrary, this is a situation that we ourselves have to deliberatively engineer, a situation that we have to strain ourselves in order to bring about, and even then we’re never going to get there, not really. It’s an unattainable goal. The best we will be able to do (the very best) is to repress one half of the love/hate polarity so that the other side of the coin stays out of sight. It will be there alright – it’ll always be there – but we might be able, with any luck, to push it out of the way for a while. Nothing more satisfactory than this is possible when it’s a polarity that we’re dealing with – what we’re talking about here is ‘the Sickness of Right and Wrong’, after all…


What we have quite lost sight of (in our frenzy of overthinking) is that the ‘natural state of being’ is one where we aren’t trying to force any particular state of affairs, where we aren’t trying – as we always are trying – to compel the world to conform to our cockeyed ideas for it. The natural is a state of ‘non-striving’ as Wang Pi says: all striving and straining belongs to the world of the artificial. All scheming and planning belongs to the world of the artificial. All methods and theories belong to this world too… The natural state of being is the uncontrived or spontaneous one and so there is nothing more to be said on the matter – ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and ‘have to’s’ have no place here – all that is mere pernicious interference. Our natural and uncontrived state is the unselfconscious state, just as a young child is unselfconscious, and this absence of self-consciousness means not liking ourselves and not disliking ourselves either – it means not thinking about ourselves at all.

Unselfconsciousness is the Eden from which we as adults have been evicted – if there ever was an essential understanding of what is meant by the Fall, this is it. Curiously, we celebrate the adult state and take the attitude that nothing of the innocent ‘child-state’ is of interest or worth to us; being an adult is where it’s at as far as we’re concerned and when we are adults then everything we do is based on calculation, everything we do is based on the inherently painful state of ‘self-consciousness’! Everything is considered, everything is calculated, nothing is left to chance… This might sound eminently prudent (from one point of view, at least) but it is anything but – when we’re caught up in this loop of monitoring ourselves, comparing the information we get as a result of our monitoring with our notions of how things should be, and then regulating or managing ourselves on this basis, then all innocence has been lost. Childhood has been slain. Everything genuine about us is lost in this case and yet -somehow – we don’t see anything wrong with this at all. On the contrary, we are constantly looking for new, improved ways of regulating our emotions, managing our anxiety, anger or pain, and so on.

All our talk of ‘self-esteem’, which is a subject mental-health workers have been wittering on about for over half a century now, is further evidence of this peculiar sickness of ours – all self-esteem – whether it be categorized as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ comes out of our self-consciousness, our self-monitoring. When we are free from this affliction then we have no self-esteem, either of the good or the bad variety. We aren’t thinking about ourselves and so we can’t have any ‘self-esteem’! Mental health – we assume – must involve seeing us seeing ourselves in a positive way; most of us would probably agree with this idea but if we do go along with this handy formula then what we’re actually saying is that being compulsively self-conscious is actually a sign of mental health, which is a truly bizarre position to take. Were it possible to be self-conscious and yet at the same time ‘always see ourselves in a positive way’ (or were it to be possible for us to be monitoring and controlling ourselves and at the same time always be able to get things to work the way we think they should do) then there might be some basis for us taking this position. But – as we’ve already pointed out – what we’re dealing with here is a mind-created polarity and all that’s going happen as a result of our unwise ‘flirtation with polarity’ is that we are going to be forever going around in circles, and this is a state of interminable frustration rather than being a manifestation of mental well-being. This is dukkha, which is the subject of the Buddha’s ‘First Noble Truth’.

Mental health, according to our cultural bias, can be defined as that state of being in which we are able to successfully regulate ourselves. We see mental health is being a state of ‘successful self-consciousness’, in other words. This is the unconscious message or implication behind the term ‘positive psychology’ – what else does ‘positive’ mean, apart from the indirect (but very seductive) implication that ‘things are going to go the way we think they ought to go’? The idea that mental health means being perfectly natural (or being spontaneous) simply doesn’t occur to us. There’s no appeal for us in this because it gives us absolutely nothing to grab hold of – it’s actually got ‘nothing to do with us’, as David Bowie says in The Man Who Sold The World, and we don’t like this. We want to have some kind of valuable and important role to be playing in the process; we want to be in charge, to be quite blunt about it. We want to be in charge, but this comes out of fear (or our lack of trust in the natural order of things, which can take perfectly good care of itself). The urge to dominate and control our own mental processes most certainly doesn’t come from any good place.

We want to be in control and make sure that we ‘love ourselves rather than despise ourselves’ (or make sure that our mental processes go the way we think they ought to go, rather than any other ‘erroneous’ way) and because of this we automatically tend to think that control and mental health belong together in the same sentence, which they absolutely don’t. These two words should never be conflated, not under any circumstances! Control (when we’re speaking about the psychological realm) always comes out of fear and nothing that comes out of fear (or ‘the compulsive avoidance of risk’) can never be seen as healthy. Fear always shows itself in terms of conservatism, in terms of ‘holding on,’ while courage or equanimity shows itself in the uncluttered willingness to ‘let go’. What do we think is the more mentally healthy – ‘stubbornly holding on’ (i.e. controlling) or ‘letting go’? Struggling to stay in control when all the signs are that this isn’t going to be possible isn’t an indication of courage or equanimity – obviously enough! It’s an indication of something else entirely…

The state of being innocent or spontaneous or perfectly unselfconscious is a very mysterious one and – as a compulsively rational culture – we aren’t very happy about that. We aren’t very happy about that at all. We like to ‘know what’s going on’ because ‘knowing what’s going on’ is a very important part of being in charge or being in control. We can’t be ‘in control’ when everything is all mysterious, after all! Not knowing what’s going on seems like a massive disadvantage to us, and definitely not something to feel good about. It is our desire to know ‘what’s going on’ and ‘control what’s going on’ that creates the self-reflexive knot of tension that we call ‘the ego’ or ‘self’. Our mental well-being is not something to be obtained cheaply via the deeply delusional strategy of spinning the polarity wheel – we’re going to have to do better than this! We’re going to have to do a lot better than this… It’s not extra helpings of cleverness we need but wisdom, and wisdom has something to do with the understanding of what kind of a beast polarity is, and why doesn’t pay to mess around with it. Cleverness traps us, we might say, whilst wisdom sets us free. Cleverness leads us in the direction of creating a positive reality all around us, just as a snail secretes a hard shell around itself, but what makes sense for the snail doesn’t make sense for us, psychologically speaking! We are, via this act, denying our own nature and denying reality itself. Reality is open just as our nature an open nature, so when we see create the positive (or ‘defined’) reality all around us what exactly is it that we’re doing? We have forsaken the natural for the artificial and once this has happened – once we have made this ‘mistake’ – all we can do is to keep on trying to remedy the problems that come about as a result of us unwisely interfering with the natural process with yet more ‘problem-producing interference’…






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