The Negative Approach

The negative approach doesn’t reveal to us what is true or right, it doesn’t give us a path to follow, or ‘list the steps we need to take’. It gives us no map of the terrain, no metaphysics, no overview of what’s going on, or ‘what it’s all about’. It doesn’t do any of these things and that’s the whole point of it – the whole point of the via negativa is that it takes away whatever it is we think we know and gives us nothing in return.

The via negativa has never had very much in the way of mass appeal, therefore. It has never figured in any list of ‘what’s trending right now’! For most of us (for almost all of us) what we’re looking for is the exact opposite of this – we want to be given a path to follow, we want to be told what the steps are that we should take, we want an explanation of what’s going on and instructions as to what exactly we should be doing. We want it spelled out for us in nice black and white terms so that everyone can clearly see what’s true and what isn’t true, what’s right and what is wrong. We want all of that to be taken care of for us so that all we have to do is conform to whatever system it is that has been laid down for us.

In one way this seems reasonable enough, the desire to be guided in this way seems eminently prudent – think about all the mistakes we could make otherwise! Surely – we say to ourselves – there are wise people (or experts!) out there who can do this for us. It doesn’t (or at least it shouldn’t) take too long however for us to work out that there is a very big problem with this implicit demand of ours however, the implicit demand to be ‘guided’ or ‘shown the way’! It shouldn’t take us too long to spot the big problem with this because this is what has been going on for the whole of human history and it hasn’t ever done us the slightest bit of good. The desire to be guided by someone else translates – when it comes down to it – to the unhealthy willingness to hand over responsibility to someone (or something) else. We want someone else to ‘tell us what our lives should be about’, and that’s asking for trouble!

If we were to look at human history in psychological terms (rather than focusing on tedious accounts of the reign of Kings and Queens, or the dates pertaining to this battle or that battle) we would see that is only ever been one thing happening (albeit in many different guises) and that ‘one thing’ is the ongoing struggle to convert everyone else to seeing the world in the same way that the group we belong to does. This has absolutely nothing to do with any concern that we might have with that inconsequential little thing called ‘the truth’, and it has everything to do with the pursuit of power. Being the one ‘who gets to say what reality is’ is the ultimate expression of power, it’s the ultimate expression of power because it’s the ultimate form of control. If I get to be the one who defines how you perceive (or understand) the question of ‘What is reality?’ then I control you absolutely. Control doesn’t get any more ‘total’ than this…

Friedrich Nietzsche makes the comment:

All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.

When we have the power to determine which ‘interpretation’ is the official one (the only one that people ever get to hear about, the one we all have to go by) then we have complete control and – from a psychological perspective – this is what we all want. Control – we might say – is the ultimate commodity from the POV of the idea that we have about ourselves (i.e., the ego) because it is only because by being in control of how things are seen that this idea appears to be actually real. This makes ‘control’ not just important, but essential. If I have control (with regard to how things are to be seen) then I can use this to give myself high status, and anyone who is against me low status – within my own subjective sphere I can always make myself out to be ‘the good guy’ (or ‘the one who is in the right’) and this self-serving distortion of the truth is of course the classic hallmark of the everyday ubiquitous ego! We see it going on all the time…

On the personal level therefore, we have the power to tell ourselves whatever lies we want to and ‘get away with it’, and so this is what we – generally – do. We would like to extend this sphere of power if we could however and be able to control other peoples’ subjective reality too (if we could) and this is what lies behind the drive to wield power. This is why we (as egos) are forever playing nefarious ‘power games’ with those around us – it’s the natural progression of what we are already doing. Not everyone can succeed at this however and so we get this situation where we band together in groups, which vastly amplifies our ‘ability to distort reality and get away with it’. The bigger the group the greater the ‘power’ the group has and so our motivation – as ‘group members’ – is always to convert everyone else to see things the way we do, in ways that can be either subtle, or extremely crude. History bears witness to our ongoing attempts to control how reality is seen, therefore.

There are two complementary things going on here, we might say – there is the drive to be the one who defines ‘what is real’, and there is also the drive to conform to a convenient group identity so as to have our lives defined for us. In a crude way, we could say that there are ‘those who want to have reality defined for them’ and ‘there are those who want to do the defining’ (and enshrine their elite status within the set up that they themselves have thereby created). There’s not as much difference here as we might think, however – it turns out that it’s ‘all the one game’ (which is ‘the game of thought’, ‘the game of defining and being defined’). If I get to make up the rules of the game myself, which will of course be to my own advantage (as we all understand); if I define reality then you can be sure that I will do this in order to suit myself.

We might for example think of the Christian Church over the last thousand years or so – what better position could the Church put itself in than the position of being able to authoritatively say what life and death is all about, and cast themselves (conveniently enough) as ‘the exclusive mediator between God and Man’? It’s no surprise that the Church held on to this position for one thousand years or so or so – they were ‘the definers of reality’ and this brings serious perks. The Church Fathers thus demonstrated themselves to be consummate masters of the power game, and all in the name of saving souls!

The advantage gained here is entirely illusory, however. The one who wields power is just as hopelessly trapped as those who have been ‘disempowered’; the use of power is an evil to everyone concerned and there is no good outcome in it for anyone, despite what we all think. We think that this is the key to everything but it isn’t – the winner of the game is every bit as much a victim of the game being played as the loser is. That’s because the winner is – of course – just as much ‘defined by the game’ as the as the losers are; everyone playing the game imagines that playing successfully will allow them to ‘escape the game’ but it doesn’t. There is no ‘liberation’ to be had as a result of game-playing, no matter how well we play!

Power means that we get to take away the freedom of those less powerful than we are, the ones who are not as clever as us (or as lucky as us, perhaps) – they have to dance to our tune then. We’re in the coveted position of ‘being in control’; but the benefit here is an illusion, as we have just said – it’s an illusion because we’re tied into the arrangement just as much as everyone else is. We are being controlled by our own ‘need to be in control’, and so we have (paradoxically) given away our own freedom in the act of taking it away from others. The idea that there is this ‘supreme benefit’ in being a winner is ludicrous – the benefit in question is only nominal (which is to say, it only exists within the terms of the game). There is no freedom in a game, not for the winner or the losers! The only thing that benefits us – the only thing that’s worth anything – is freedom and no one ever became free as a result of exercising power!

The mediaeval Church got to say what reality is for everyone else, and it made sure to take up a privileged position in the hierarchy that it was responsible for creating, but when we look at it we can see that the members of the religious elite closed down reality for themselves just as much as they did for the population as a whole (who were given no autonomy, no voice, no influence, no ‘say so’). In recent times the game is changed of course – superficially, at least. Now, those with power have defined what life is all about in a different way – it’s not about God and the devil (or Heaven and Hell) anymore (and doing everything according to ‘religious rules’) but rather it’s about ‘buying and selling’, it’s about consumerism, it’s about ‘the law of the marketplace’. [The basic idea here being that happiness (or ‘well-being’) is a product to be bought and if we want to be able to afford it then we have to engage with the social game, and – essentially – sign our lives over to it.]

This is therefore another way of oppressing people therefore, and a very clever one at that. This is another way of having our freedom taken away from us without us realizing it. The ‘freedom’ we’re talking about here isn’t some vague wishy-washy metaphysical notion but something very concrete, something very down-to-earth, something very real. The freedom that has been taken away from us by having reality defined for us is quite simply the freedom to be something other than what we have been defined as being.

The freedom that has been taken away from us (via the masterful exercise of power) is the freedom to be anything other than what we have been defined by our society as being. But the rub here is that what we’ve been defined by society as being isn’t a real thing at all – it’s just a fiction that we have been persuaded to believe in. We might therefore think of various shortcomings or problems in society and tried to come up with ways to fix these problems, but this is beside the point entirely, once we see what ‘the collusion which is society’ is really all about. Society exists to prevent us from having any awareness of who we really are, any connection with who we really are. It just wouldn’t work otherwise – we wouldn’t have any interest in this artificial system of relations if it hadn’t sneakily substituted itself for real life (which is not and never could be defined or regulated). As Alan Watts says, “To define means to fix, and, when you get down to it, real life isn’t fixed.” The Defined World – and who we supposed are in that Defined World – is made up purely of ideas. It is purely and simply a manifestation of hyperreality and hyperreality operates by eliminating (or ‘denying’) the genuine article.

Any positive approach – without exception – does this; by their very nature, positive approaches always function by taking away our freedom. That’s why they are called ‘positive’ – that’s what ‘positive’ means, philosophically speaking. That’s how hyperreality functions – hyperreality functions by taking away our freedom and then telling us that it has given us something great. Positive reality – therefore – gest to exist by providing us with the illusion of freedom in place of the real thing. It gets to exist by ‘substituting itself for the real thing’ (which is to say, by substituting itself for ‘the negative or unstated reality’), by – in other words – ‘controlling us without us realising that we’re being controlled’.

Positive approaches are all about dislocating us from reality. To be guided or defined by any authority is to be hoodwinked, is (without exception) to be sold a fake reality. To be defined is to be the victim of aggression; it is to be exploited down to the nth degree. This business of ‘seeking to be told what life is all about’ (or ‘wanting to be the one who tells others what life is all about’, which is the same thing backwards) has been going on for as long as human beings have existed, and no one has ever benefited in the least bit from this. As we said at the beginning of this discussion, allowing ourselves to be hoodwinked by ten-a-penny ‘positive worldviews’ is what we absolutely ALWAYS do. It’s the only play in our playbook. The negative approach however is very different – the negative approach doesn’t take our freedom away, it returns it to us. The via negativa doesn’t compel us to identify with the social fiction – on the contrary, it shows up that cheap and unpleasant fiction for what it really is…

Letting The Light In…

Human nature being what it is, we are much quicker to give advice then we are to understand what it is that we are giving advice about, and nowhere is this more true than in the world of mental health! The undoubted reason for this is that we are deeply challenged by the whole business of ‘mental ill-health’ and we just want to ‘shut it down’ as quickly as possible by firing off a barrage of ‘fix-it’ – type advice. We just want to get back to ‘business as usual’. Healthcare professionals are very often as bad as anyone else in this regard. We are – by and large – extraordinarily loathe to see that mental health isn’t the result of us applying our clever ‘fix-it’ – type technology. We are extraordinarily loathe to see that mental health isn’t something that we ‘do’.


Mental health is – rather – something that happens to us despite all our frenetic doing. It’s not a ‘positive choice’ that we make, even though we are always told that it is. The key thing to understand here therefore is that almost all of our ‘doing’ – whether we like to admit it or not – is geared at validating our illusions (and also geared towards furthering the state of ignorance that is necessary for us to go on believing in these illusions). That’s where our interest really lies, not that anyone is ever going to admit it to themselves. For us, ‘mental health’ means precisely this – it means ‘that mode of existence within which we can continually get to validate our illusions and endlessly perpetuate the cloud of darkness within which these illusions appear to make sense’. Without us ever actually seeing things like this (obviously enough!), we (unconsciously) take our continued well-being as being synonymous with the furtherance of our ignorance, and so if it were ever to be the case that we switched our outlook by one hundred and eighty degrees and became interested in our actual well-being instead (instead of the travesty that we are all busy promoting) then we would find ourselves in direct opposition to the prevailing climate, which is not in the least bit favourable to what we might call ‘genuine mental health’ (which is most emphatically not merely a matter of ‘returning to business as usual’).


Why should the prevailing climate (or general consensus) be so unfavourable towards genuine mental health? Why should our ‘true well-being’ be something that we are so pointedly uninterested in? There appears to be no sense to this – it makes absolutely no sense at all that we should be opposed to our own well-being! To put this another way, why should we condemn ourselves to a whole lot of unnecessary suffering, which we undoubtedly do condemn ourselves to? Why do we take on pain that we don’t need to take on? The answer isn’t particularly hard to come up with – the point is that we want everything on our own terms and not just that we want everything on our own terms but that we absolutely insist on having everything on our own terms, and this insistence is what is causing all our suffering. A simple way of explaining what these conditions are is to say that we want the world to fit in with our preconceptions of it. Of course this is true; of course it is true that we always want the world to fit in with our preconceptions of it. Who could argue with this? We like everything in the world to fit in with our plans, and are either thrown or annoyed when this doesn’t happen, but even more than this we want the world to fit in with our ideas for it, no matter how cock-eyed those ideas might be.


The fact that we are constantly fitting our perceptions of the world into the template of what we unconsciously believe it to be is not something we pay much attention to, naturally enough. If we were to be aware of this then it would spoil everything. The only way it can work for us (the only way we can obtain the concrete ‘sense of self’ that we want to obtain) is if we remain oblivious to any such process of manipulation occurring – if we were to know that we are constantly having to shore-up the comforting illusion then the comforting illusion would no longer have so much comfort in it! There’s a whole load of work going on in the background to keep the illusion (the illusion that reality is fitting in effortlessly with our expectations for it) and that work can never stop. This is the key point therefore – that our everyday perception of ourselves and the world – as natural as it may seem – is actually the result of some sort of manipulation, some sort of ‘jiggery-pokery’ that’s going on off-stage, some sort of ‘covert doing’ on our part. It’s a show that has to be put on. Were we to know about this then that would be a truly hideous awareness to have, but we don’t know about it and we are of course very keen to carry on ‘not knowing about it’.


When we insist on ‘having everything on our own terms’ (without knowing that we are) then this – needless to say – produces a state of being that is inescapably brittle, inescapably rigid, inescapably insecure. Not only this but it produces a state of being that is very, very small – as small as small can be! If the world has to present itself to me in terms that I can understand, within a format that I myself have invented, then it must necessarily only be as big as my understanding, only as big as my expectations. Whatever it is that I imagine life to be, then that’s what it will appear to be. ‘What the thinker thinks the prover proves’, as Robert Anton Wilson says. It’s not what I personally ‘imagine life to be’ of course but the set of constricted beliefs and assumptions that have been passed on to be to me by my culture, by the people that constitute my social milieu. I have been given a very narrow way of seeing things and I have also been given to understand that it is most sacred duty to uphold this narrow prejudicial viewpoint until the day I die. That’s my ‘duty’. Whenever I can pass the burden of this ‘restricted viewpoint’ on to someone else I will do, and I will consider myself to be doing them a favour.


When we give someone the gift of a very narrow way of seeing reality (or when we give ourselves that dubious gift) then we are giving them (or ourselves) the gift of never being able to relax and be at ease. How can we possibly relax when we have to keep the door closed to the ‘wider view’, which is the view that we ourselves do not have to arrange, the view that we ourselves do not have to be controlling all the time. This is the reason why religious fundamentalists are prohibited from practising meditation – because it involves letting go of our small view of the world. Within the terms of the religion in question ‘letting go of our small view’ is considered to be the very same thing as leaving the door open to Satan and his wiles; this is how we interpret what happens when we stop insisting on life matching our ridiculously small idea of it! And it is of course not even the case that our small picture of the world is at least partially true – it isn’t. Reality is either seen ‘for what it is’, or it is not seen at all. Any manipulation or control or distortion and is not reality that we are perceiving but only the reflection of our own limiting mind.


What’s true for the concrete-thinking religious fundamentalist is also true for us – only on a less obvious way. We pride ourselves on being ‘open-minded’ after all, which is a good joke. The gift that our culture gives us is the gift of being restricted without knowing it, narrow without knowing it, uptight without knowing that we’re uptight. This unnecessary burden makes itself known to us as neurotic pain, which we all suffer from to some extent or another. Whenever we believe that our mental health is ‘our own responsibility’ and that it is ‘up to us’ to ‘do something about it’ then this is only tying us up in tighter knots than ever. That’s a jinx. Anything we do deliberately, on purpose, as part of some plan that we have, is going to tie us up even in ever-tighter knots and mental health – as we started out by saying – is not something that we can do. Mental health is not one of our ‘doings’, it is not ‘the output of our rational purposeful mind’. It can’t be the result of anything we ‘tell people to do’!


This is a rather amazing thing to reflect on when we consider just how quick both professional mental healthcare workers and lay-people alike are in offering us advice when we are suffering from anxiety or anorexia or OCD or low self-esteem or depression, or whatever it is. We are – to a very considerable extent – pushed into the role where we become ‘the takers of well-meant advice’. Doctors, therapists, nurses, family members, friends – everyone we meet has got advice for us! And if this were not bad enough, we voluntarily go and buy a whole load of self-help books and allow the authors of these books adviser us too. It’s all advice – it’s a wall of advice – and all of it is unhelpful, all of it only ‘makes things worse’. It might sound very extreme to say this but just so long as the advice we are being given is about something we have to ‘purposefully do’ then how can it help us? Purposeful doing is how we ‘perpetuate our ignorance’, it is how we ‘perpetuate our narrow, pain-producing viewpoint’ – that’s all that purposeful doing ever does. We are projecting our conditioned mode of existence indefinitely into the future.


The glitch is that we have confused mental health with ‘going back to how we were before’. We use the word ‘recovery’ an awful lot, which actually devalidates the suffering that we are going through. Our suffering isn’t something that just needs to be ‘corrected’ so that we can go back to how we were before, when we were ‘well’ (!) – it is the precious means by which we get to discover how we were putting all our energy into defending this ‘illusion that we have of ourselves’ when this is actually ‘effort that is against ourselves’. We want to validate our illusions because – for most of us – this is what life has some how come to be all about. For most of us life is ‘all about validating our illusions of what we think life is all about’! This is thankless work however because it is work that is only ever going to ‘rebound’ on us in the form of amplified neurotic pain. ‘Fixing up the broken illusion’ isn’t the way to become well; repairing our leaky comfort zones isn’t the way to ‘recover our mental health’. The way to become well is to allow the illusion to remain broken! We don’t try to ‘cement over the cracks wherever they appear’ because if we do this then the light won’t be able to shine in. True mental health means having the courage to allow the cracks to appear, and even when we see that we are compulsively trying to repair them, realizing (in a peaceful fashion) that this isn’t the way to freedom, but only the way to ‘ongoing slavery to the thinking mind’…





Pain and Suffering in the Positive World

The unspoken (and deeply hidden) assumption behind the positive or ‘stated’ reality is that if we don’t pressurise ourselves (or force ourselves) sufficiently then we won’t actually exist!


In the positive reality straining is the thing, therefore – any ‘failures’ are automatically seen as being the result of us not trying hard enough. We are therefore always culpable for any (so-called) ‘failures’ and this implication is inherent in the very nature of the positive reality itself. Everything is about trying, and our skill and persistence in trying.


In one way this makes perfect sense, in one way this assumption is absolutely true. It’s true as far as the ‘positive reality’ is concerned, anyway. Nothing exists in the positive reality unless it is forced to do so, unless it is compelled to do so. That’s the whole point of the stated reality, that unless it is purposefully asserted then it isn’t going to be there! Everything is thus our personal responsibility, one way or the other…


So in one way the assumption that we are talking about here is entirely valid, entirely trustworthy as a ‘guiding principle’. In another way however the exact reverse of this is true; in another way the assumption we are working on the basis of is utter nonsense and that is because what we are calling the ‘positive reality’ isn’t actually reality at all but only our model of it, only our idea of it.


When we are talking about models then naturally it is the case that unless we specify something (unless we ‘spell it out’) then it’s not going to be there. There is no problem in understanding this point. But what’s true for the model is not true for the reality that is being modelled – we don’t have to specify reality in order that it be there. We don’t have to tell reality to be there in other words!


We don’t need to tell reality to be there, and we don’t have to tell it how to be there either. This is how we know that reality is reality, and not some mere arbitrary construct! As Philip K Dick says, ‘Reality is that which, when we stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.’


Where the confusion comes in is because of the way in which we get our model (or picture) of the world muddled up with the actual genuine article. This confusion is bound to come about just as long as we are using the thinking mind to navigate by since the only way the thinking mind can apprehend reality is by representing it in ‘positive’ terms.  All representations are positive in nature. The TM actually has to ‘speak’ reality therefore; it has to aggressively assert ‘what is real’.


The TM can never ever understand the negative or unstated reality, and this ‘limitation’ is inherent – as we have already said – in the nature of thought itself, which is a positive or ‘doing-type’ thing. If we are operating on the basis of thought then we cannot at all comprehend what is meant by ‘the negative or unstated reality’. And yet at the same time we can clearly see – if we are not under the power of our thoughts and ideas and beliefs, that there is nothing else reality could be other than ‘unstated’. All the books in the whole world are written on humble blank paper, after all – what type of the situation would it be where there was ‘nothing but words’ and words could therefore only be written on other words?


Because we automatically confuse the positive reality with actual reality we make the mistake of assuming that trying (or straining) is the key to everything! Even if we aren’t aware that this is what we are assuming we are nevertheless doing so – our whole rational/purposeful culture is predicated upon this (false) assumption. That’s the type of world we live in – a positive world.


In everyday life we ‘get away with the mistake’ (after a fashion, in a way, although not really); when it comes down to mental health and our so-called ‘therapeutic approaches’ then this is where we really don’t get away with it. It backfires on us here big time here – the more we ‘try’ the more of a hole we get stuck in, and then everyone (including ourselves) blames us for not being able to get out. Everyone blames us (either implicitly or explicitly) for not trying hard enough. Perhaps we actually like being miserable, people might say, when after all the help we’ve been given we still don’t manage to pull ourselves out of the hole we’re in. What’s our excuse? What’s wrong with us? There must be some ‘secondary gain’ say the healthcare professionals, nodding their heads wisely to each other…


The truth is, however, that it is trying that lies at the very root of our problems. Essentially, we trying to force ourselves to exist; we are trying to wilfully redeem ourselves from whatever jinxed situation we are in by ‘pressurising’ ourselves, by ‘positively motivating’ ourselves. We are putting ourselves under pressure to be well, putting ourselves under pressure to be happy, putting ourselves under pressure not to be anxious or depressed.


This ham-fisted approach doesn’t work in negative reality however – it only works in the positive reality and the positive reality isn’t real! In the positive reality we need (as we have said) to forcefully assert ourselves if we are to ‘successfully exist’ – this is the ‘aggressive ego-world’ with which we are all so familiar. That’s in the make-believe world where we are forever playing ‘the game of egos’. In the real world it doesn’t work like this however. In the real world the more we pressurise ourselves to exist successfully the more unreal we become! In the real world the more we force ourselves (or ‘positively motivate’ ourselves) the more false we become, and it is this unreality, this inauthenticity that is the root cause of our suffering.




Image, The Strain Season 4, from








Living Life Aggressively

There are two ways to live life – one is where we are constantly imposing our own expectations and goals (or other people’s expectations and goals) on the world and the other is where we are sensitive to what is ‘unfolding all by itself’, and are interested in seeing what happens when it does unfold, ‘all by itself’.


When we are in the mode of ‘imposing our expectations or goals on the world’ then we are absolutely not interested in seeing what unfolds all by itself, obviously! We are only interested in seeing our goals being realised; anything else – by definition – is a disappointment to us. The concept of being ‘interested in what unfolds’ is profoundly meaningless to us – we see that as merely ‘giving in to external circumstances’. Nothing is going to happen that is to benefit us that way, we say. No ‘advantage’ is ever going to come our way unless we fight for it to.


In one, very limited way, this is true. If we live in a world that believes that the only way ‘good things’ are going to happen is if we fight for them to happen, then because everyone’s interpretation of ‘a good thing’ is narrowly interpreted as ‘the gratification of our goals’, which all have to do with personal advantage’ (which is of course the way we operate in our society) then it is of course very much the case that if we don’t fight tooth and nail for our advantage then it’s going to be someone else’s advantage that is going to be realised instead, and so there is no way out of the struggle. There’s nothing for it but ‘struggle followed by more struggle’, even though it’s a guaranteed fact right from the beginning that none of this struggling is ever going to get us anywhere. The myth behind aggression (needless to say) is that all the struggling and striving will pay off; the truth behind the persistent myth is however that it won’t.


Living aggressively by always striving to impose our own ideas, our own expectations and goals on the world, does not come with a good prognosis. The prognosis for this type of approach is always bad, no matter what our goal-orientated society might tell us! As a modality of being in the world it seems to make sense, it seems very much to be sensible and to ‘hold water’ as the way of going about things. Actually, of course (as we have just said) when we caught up in it then we can’t see any other approach to take; we can’t see any other approach that doesn’t straightaway spell ‘defeat’ in terms of the game that we are playing. For this reason, therefore, it’s hardly surprising that we’re putting all our money on this approach – what else are we supposed to do?


Living life in the aggressive mode is actually addictive, when it comes down to it – it’s addictive because we can’t see any way possibility other than to keep on doing it until it finally pays off (if it’s ever going to, that is). Our only way to feel good is to put ourselves in the situation of being ‘one up’ in whatever struggle is going on; this feels good because it feels as if we’re getting somewhere. This addictive feeling of ‘getting somewhere’ is false however because – as we have said – ultimately we are not getting anywhere. No one ever gets anywhere on the basis of aggression – it’s an out-and-out lie that we will do! It’s a lie that everyone believes in, to be sure, but that doesn’t make matters any better; the consequences of folly aren’t made any less disastrous when the folly in question is conducted en masse. All that it means is that we have company in our mistake, and means of course that we are much less likely that we will see it as a mistake.


It doesn’t take too much effort to discredit what we have called ‘the aggressive mode of living life’. Being ‘aggressive’, just to recap, is where we proceed by imposing our own expectations and goals on the world so that everything (or as much of everything as possible) happens along the lines we want it to. There are all sorts of assumptions implicit in this way of life – assumptions that we never bother to look into. One is that ‘we already know everything that is important for us to know’ (except for a few details here and there that can be filled in later) and so it makes sense for us to make plans with regard to what we want to see happening in life. If we didn’t make this assumption then we could hardly put as much emphasis on ‘control’ and ‘making plans’ as we do! The other, related assumption is that nothing good or worthwhile will happen unless it is made to happen, forced to happen, and this assumption is what locks us into the aggressive mode of being in the world, as we pointed out earlier.


As we have said, we don’t generally see ourselves as having made these assumptions – we usually imagine that there is a lot more freedom in our lives than there is. The problem with the ‘positivist paradigm’ (which is another way of talking about psychological aggression) is that it comes with no freedom. They can’t be any freedom when we have already filled it up all the available space in ourselves with ‘what we think we know’! ‘Freedom’ and ‘the radical unknown’ are the same thing – there’s absolutely no way that there can be any freedom in the known, even though this – from the philosophically positive point of view – is something that we simply cannot see. From the ‘positive’ perspective the only type of freedom is the freedom to do whatever we wish to do within the realm of the known; there can’t be any freedom in ‘the radically unknown’ for the simple reason that we don’t admit that there is such a thing! The only reason we are able to proceed in the positive/aggressive way that we do this because we don’t acknowledge there being any possibility of ‘the radically unknown’. If we had acknowledged the possibility of radical uncertainty then we would never have been able to start off in the positive mode in the first place. We would have been too unsure of our ground to start building on it. We have to assume that we know something for sure or otherwise we have no basis for anything and if we have no basis for anything then there can be no such thing as ‘the positive assertion of goals and expectations’.


The positivist position is based on hope therefore – when it comes down to it, we’re hoping that our basis is correct, we were hoping that there are some things that we really and truly do know for sure!’ We have to hope this because otherwise nothing we believe in makes any sense! What we have essentially done when we jumped into the ‘positive mode of being in the world’ is that we made a ‘guess’; it is of course perfectly legitimate to make guesses, but the thing about the positive/aggressive approach is that we gloss over the fact that there has been any guesswork involved – we don’t acknowledge this in the least. Straightaway, we start acting as if the guess we have just made is known to be unquestionably untrue, and so absolutely no ‘window of uncertainty’ is left open at all. This ‘closing of the window’ facilitates a positive/aggressive approach in life, but at the same time it precludes any chance of actual freedom.


This always comes down to the same thing – if our guess happened to be ‘right’ (rather than being completely ‘wide of the mark’) then there would be no such thing as ‘radical uncertainty’; there would be no such thing as radical uncertainty because everything would have to seamlessly ‘dovetail’ with the positive knowledge that we already have (i.e. our core assumptions), and so there couldn’t be too big of a surprise floating around anywhere. There might be small surprises of course, but nothing radical, nothing that would well-and-truly upset the boat (and therefore prove our guess about the nature of reality wrong). In this case – as we have already pointed out – a type of freedom would be the type that is to be found within the Realm of the Known (i.e. the only type of freedom possible will be ‘the freedom of swapping one known outcome for another’). Radical freedom will be something that doesn’t exist at all.


This is all very well, but it all hinges on this one, very precarious thing, and that thing is that our original guess (which we are not admitting to be a guess) was right. But the point here is that even if our guess did happen to be wrong, completely unfounded, completely wide-of-the-mark, etc, we never have any way of knowing this. We would have no way of knowing this because the ‘Realm of the Known’ which we have now created for ourselves contains, as we have said, no ‘windows’, no means of asking any radical questions. The ‘positive reality’ doesn’t contain the possibility of ‘questioning itself’, in other words. If it did then it would no longer be a positive reality; it would be a ‘relativistic reality’, which is a different kettle of fish entirely. When it comes down to it, there is no way we can ever prove that there isn’t such a thing as the radically unknown, the radically surprising, the radically uncertain, out there somewhere waiting to pounce on us. Our positive logic will always tell us that there isn’t, but then it is in the nature of logic to say this. The nature of logic is such that it can’t question the assumptions that it has made in order that it should be there in the first place, as we keep reiterating.


Thinking about it, we’d have to ask ourselves why we would ever put ourselves in such a highly dubious position. What possible motivation could we have doing something like this? We base everything on a guess that we don’t admit to be a guess and then we charge ahead incautiously down a road that only goes one way, a road that takes us to a Realm of Positive Knowledge that can’t (by its very nature) ever be falsified from the inside, and which we can’t ever get out of! The only possible consolation we could ever have in this position (if we were looking for some, that is) is that we might possibly have been right in our original supposition even though – having entered into the lobster pot of Positive Reality – we now have absolutely no way of checking up to find out whether we were ‘right’ or not. All we can do is keep on telling ourselves that we were right to go down this road, that we are right to continue down it, even though whatever assertions or self-affirmations we do come out with invariably carry no weight at all. They carry no weight at all since they are presupposed by the assumptions that we have to buy into without knowing that we were buying into anything.


When we live our lives in the concrete, aggressive way that we almost always do live it, then with every purposeful action that we take, with every logical thought that we come out with, we are covering up the truth, covering up our own true nature. Everything we do on the basis of the concrete, ‘rule-based mind’ comes down to ‘the denial of radical uncertainty’; the world that has been created by concrete, rule-based mind constitutes a formidably thorough-going ‘system of denial’. The world that we have created for ourselves – most peculiarly – is the systematic denial of the possibility that we might have been wrong in our original unacknowledged ‘hypothesis’. If it happens to be the case (speaking purely hypothetically here) that we were correct in our original assumption, then this would make our purposeful actions, rational thoughts and pontifications on the matter completely righteous in the manner of a fundamentalist preacher who is speaking words of literal truth.


But if this were the case, could we not afford to be a little more generous, a little more gentle and kind-hearted in our attitude? Would we have to be so harshly judgemental, so very cruel and unforgiving? This is a telling argument because fundamentalists (of whatever type) are always harsh, always judgemental, always unforgiving. That comes with the territory. That is their nature, as we all know! The fundamentalist, the ‘concrete or literal believer’ is always right and if they are right then that means someone else has to be wrong! Right always means wrong – we can’t have one without the other. By the same token, when we cling less stubbornly to our rigid opinions, dogmatic points of view and beliefs, experience invariably shows that this makes it more tolerant of other people, not less. Not having some sort of fixed position or attitude in life allows us to be more generous of spirit, more humorous and fixed gentle in ourselves, which shows that – as the Buddhists say – there is strength in vulnerability that does not exist in the fixed position, and the clenched fist.


The secret to life itself – we could say – is this difference between aggression and non-aggression, and what a big difference this is! One way is ‘all about us’, whilst the other way is about ‘what it is that is revealed when we stop being so obsessed about ourselves’. One way is ‘all about us’, only it isn’t really all about us! It’s all about ‘who we pretend to be because we are afraid of finding out who we really are’. This is what living aggressively comes down to – it’s our attempt at pretending, as systematically as we possibly can and in collusion with others, to ‘be what we are not’, and that’s why it is always so dreadfully uninteresting, so dreadfully sterile…