The Subsuming Of Individuality [Part 1]

There is a type of ‘seminal event’ that takes place in early childhood which is never mentioned in the developmental psychology textbooks but which makes an absolutely tremendous difference in our lives all the same and this event is the subsuming of individuality within the generic self (or, if we want to put this in Gurdjieff’s terms, ‘the imprisonment of essence within personality’). The reason there is never any mention of this crucial event is of course because we have all already passed this point in our development and – as a consequence – it is profoundly invisible to us. The only way we have of looking at the world is via the eyes of the generic self and the generic self cannot ever see itself for what it is. Or as we could also say, ‘history is written by the victors’ and the victory of the generic self over the individuality is as thorough as thorough can be, as complete as complete can be. Our true individuality has been replaced, as a fledgling cuckoo replaces the original inhabitants of the nest, and so it is never missed. Personality never considers the fact that it owes its so-called ‘autonomous existence’ to the process whereby essence is subjugated, and the subjugation (or imprisonment) of essence by personality is never going to be part of the official narrative. It’s like a big country annexing a much smaller one whose independent existence it never acknowledged in the first place – the act of annexing a country whose existence you do not acknowledge is not going to be acknowledged either!

 

The transition between childhood and adulthood is seen as a process of growth or maturation; the transition between childhood and ‘adult generic-selfhood’ cannot be regarded in such simplistic terms however – in a very real sense this is something of a backward step and certainly not the glorious progression we like to see it as. As Brian Aldiss writes,

When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the politer names of Hell. That’s why we dread children, even if we love them, they show us the state of our decay.

This is not to say that they aren’t any legitimate elements of growth and maturation taking place, or that we would be better off staying as children forever, in some Peter Pan-type world, but rather that the adaptive skills which we place so much stock in are only ever ‘provisionally useful’, and actually turn out to be an obstacle rather than anything else in the long run. Our adaptation to the social world is absolutely ‘an obstacle that we can’t see as such’. Obviously this is the case – society is only a game that we play after all; it’s a game that we only take seriously as we do because we don’t want to see beyond it – it’s a ‘surrogate life’ rather than a means to life. We naturally do feel ‘adult’ when we have successfully adapted to this game and this accounts for that peculiar type of ‘ego confidence’ that a lot of us exhibit but to be well adapted to a game (the hidden purpose of which is to allow us to spuriously evade our legitimate existential insecurity) is hardly grounds for complacency and self-congratulation.

 

The problem is that by allowing ourselves to feel that we have ‘got somewhere’ as a result of adapting ourselves to this artificial world that we have created for ourselves we have actually acted against our own best interests – we have accepted a laughable ‘dummy prize’ in place of the real thing (which is not such easy thing to get the hang of) and the consequence of this is that we no longer have any awareness of the actual challenge of life, and if we have no awareness of the way life is challenging us then we will simply cease to grow. We have been effectively sidetracked, in other words – we have been sent down a dead-end. Another way of putting this is to say that when we develop an identity that suits the social world (an identity that is a faithful reflection of that social world) the assumption that we are unconsciously making in the process of this adaptation is that the social world or social system is ‘the only world there is’ (obviously enough) and so where this assumption falls down is in the face of the undeniable fact that the social world isn’t the only world there is! It’s not actually a real thing at all – the social system is very clearly a ‘made-up thing’, a convenient fiction. To be adapted to society (or to the socialised view of reality) is to be adapted to an illusion and to be adapted to an illusion is to be disconnected from reality. This is a rather significant thing to consider therefore, by anyone’s standards. There could quite possibly be serious problems in this! ‘What type of disadvantages might come from being disconnected from reality?’, we might ask ourselves. ‘What type of knock-on difficulties might this involve?’

 

This is of course a tremendously open-ended question to be asking and it is very hard to know where to even begin answering it. There is no starting point and no terms of reference. The only thing that we absolutely can say however is that the consequence of adapting ourselves to illusion is going to be very great pain (or very great suffering) and this – in essence – tells us all we need to know. If we were o be very clear about this (which we aren’t) then this would be enough for us; this would be enough to open our eyes to our situation and put an end to any further involvement, any further collaboration. It’s as if we find that an old and dear friend of ours has been swindling and exploiting us right from the start; once we see this then it becomes clear that he was never any type of friend at all – that particular illusion will be gone once and for all. It will no longer be there to hold onto. ‘Pain’ of course is a word that can have lots and lots of meanings – it has so many meanings that we quickly come back to the point of again not knowing where to begin with the discussion. One way to start looking into the pain or suffering that inevitably attends ‘fundamental alienation from reality’ is consider a bit further what happens when we adapt ourselves to the illusory social world – when we are adapted to an illusory or artificial world then we are necessarily going to define ourselves in relation to that world – we don’t have anything else to define ourselves in relation to, after all – and the result of this ‘identification with an illusion’ is that we ourselves become an illusion. We thus become every bit as illusory as the world that we have adapted ourselves so enthusiastically to.

 

If the system represented some sort of genuine reality than ‘the identity which we have within it’ would also be real but seeing as how it just plain doesn’t our identity (which is all we know of ourselves and all that we can know just as long as we are remaining the state of adaptation) is completely fatuous, completely bogus. Because our sense of identity is completely fatuous we have precisely zero chance of relating to the real world and to call this ‘cause for concern’ is putting it a very mildly indeed – what could be a graver catastrophe than ‘the loss of reality’, after all? We might ask ourselves if it is perhaps possible to compensate for our loss of connection with reality in some way and whilst this might sound like a pretty stupid question to be asking it actually isn’t – just about everything we do serves as some kind of an attempted compensation for our loss of connection with anything real. Our ‘activities in the game’ are all compensatory devices whose function is to offset the ‘fundamental alienation’ that resides in our core and if someone were to ask exactly what our ‘activities within the game’ might consist of then the answer to this question is very straightforward indeed – our activities within the game are all about ‘winning’ in whatever shape or form that might take. What else does anyone ever do in a game apart from ‘try to win’, after all? What else is there to do?

 

‘Winning’ within a societal context simply means doing well within the specific terms that society presents us with; we – for our part  – simply interpret this as meaning ‘doing well’ full stop – we don’t see it as ‘doing well within the terms of the system’ because we don’t know of any other terms. We don’t see the system as being ‘the system’ and so for us any gains that are made within its remit are seen to be of an absolute rather than a strictly provisional nature. We feel that we have really and truly have got somewhere rather than just ‘having got somewhere within the strictly provisional terms of the game’, which obviously wouldn’t be a particularly meaningful proposition – that certainly wouldn’t be anything to get too excited or self congratulatory or about. So to come back to what we started off by talking about, we compensate for the pain-producing lack of connection with reality by [1] deceiving ourselves into thinking that our societal goals are ‘meaningful in themselves’ and [2] engrossing ourselves in the very demanding (and profoundly immersive) task of trying our very best to attain these goals.

 

This throws up an immediate dilemma when it comes to defining what mental health means because whilst from the point of view of the game that is being played good mental health means ‘continuing to find our goals meaningful (which means ‘continuing to find the experience of striving for them as being satisfying and fulfilling’) any deeper understanding of what it means to be mentally healthy would have to involve, in a crucial way, the seeing of the actual truth of what is going on here, and this would of course completely contradict the first definition that we gave of ‘mental health’. Any discussion of what it means to be either mentally well or unwell which ignores or fails to take account of this contradiction is bound therefore to be utterly facile. Any discussion of mental health that fails to take this flat ‘contradiction in terms’ into account is bound to be absolutely and completely absurd, but this is exactly what our culture fails to do. Our culture refuses to look at the ‘bigger picture’ (or rather, it refuses to acknowledge that there could be any picture other than the picture that is provided for us by the thinking mind). We could go further than this and point out that our so-called ‘culture’ is nothing other than an extension of the rational mind and this of course is absolutely inevitable given the fact that the rational intellect is the only part of the psyche that we give any importance or credence to. We see the world as a machine does and the machine never sees the full picture (to say that ‘a machine never sees the full picture’ is simply a restatement of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem).

 

To come back to what we have said earlier, the fact that a machine (or the rational mind) cannot see the full picture is not a problem in itself; it’s not a problem if we can see that the rational mind is not showing us the full picture, but if we can’t see this then all sorts of intractable difficulties immediately come into being – all sorts of paradoxes arise and the thing about paradoxes is that they are quintessentially insoluble. That’s what makes a paradox be a paradox – the fact that the attempt to solve the problem only makes the problem worse! Or as we could also say, ‘the attempt to solve the problem actually creates the problem.’ When we can’t see that the RT doesn’t show us the full picture (and according to it, it always does) then what we take to be unequivocal gains are in fact circles – our apparent games (which only come about because we take what thought shows us to be the same thing as reality) turn out not to be gains at all – they aren’t gains at all because there are only ‘gains within context of the game’, the game which we take to be the same thing as reality. There is in another words no such thing as genuine change within the mind-created world even though change or progress within the mind-created world (i.e. ‘winning’) is precisely what we are always chasing. Coming back to our point therefore, ‘health’ within the societal game means that we continue not seeing that the goals or ‘progress markers’ that we are orientated towards are paradoxical or duplex in nature. It should come as no surprise therefore to see that paradoxicality is hardly ever mentioned in the world of therapy – paradoxicality is after all the death of purposefulness and – in our simple mindedness – all of our therapies are purposeful (or goal-driven) ones. They are, we might say, ‘doing-based’ rather than ‘insight-based’.

 

‘Paradoxicality’ means that our attempts to escape the problem embroils us in it even further, or – as we have just said – that our attempts to fix the problem actually create it (i.e. the problem wouldn’t actually be a problem if we weren’t trying to solve it). We have an unwanted, pain-producing thought or feeling and our (very simplistic) approach is to believe that we can ‘deal with’ or ‘manage’ it in some sort of purposeful way, via some sort of a procedure or other. ‘Control’ is the paradigm that we are operating within in other words; control is the only thing we know, the anything we trust, and so we apply it ‘across the board’. Naturally therefore, paradoxicality is the very last thing we want to hear about! Our entrenchment in the overly simplistic ‘purposeful mode’ of operating goes a lot deeper than we might imagine however – it goes far deeper than we might imagine because ‘who we take ourselves to be’ (which is to say, the concrete sense of identity that is created by the process of us ‘adapting to the mind-created world’) absolutely relies upon our perception of there being such a thing as genuine positive goals, goals that are absolute in nature rather than duplex (‘duplex’ meaning that they have both a negative and positive aspect to them such that the one is always cancels out the other). Hard as it is for us to understand, our goals are mental projections and mental projections are always duplex (two-sided); projections are always duplex or two-sided by virtue of the fact that they are projections. My projections are an extension of me, after all; my projections are an extension of me and yet I treat them as if they ‘weren’t me’; I treat them as being ‘other than me’, as if there were ‘something new’. Because we relate to our projections as if they were something new (rather than seeing them as just ‘a restatement of the old’) we experience euphoria when we ‘progress’ towards them. The projection is not something new however – it’s just a tautology. It looks like a ‘new development’ in other words; it looks as if I’m ‘saying something new’ but really I’m just ‘saying the same old thing an apparently different way’ and this is why my projections are always duplex and will therefore ‘turn around on me’. This is why I can never really either ‘successfully catch them’ or ‘successfully run away from them’, in other words.

 

Talking in this way allows us to see, very clearly, that the ‘purposeful’ or ‘positive’ self is a game – it’s a game because it is based on us ‘pretending that our projections are not our projections when they are’ (or us ‘pretending that our goals are not duplex when they are’). The positive or purposeful self might be said to have its own type of health therefore and we might refer to this as ‘virtual health’. Virtual health is the health of a purely virtual entity, it’s the health of the ‘self’ that we pretend be in the game whilst not knowing that we are pretending anything. The projected state of being that we are calling ‘good mental health’ (and which we are aiming at so determinedly with all of our purposeful therapies) is a very peculiar type of thing. It’s a very peculiar type of thing firstly because it doesn’t exist and never could do, and secondly because when we have allegiance to it – as we do have allegiance to it – the ‘natural order of things’ is turned on its head. This is the ‘Inversion of Unconsciousness’. The inversion comes about – to recap what we just said a moment ago – because we are pretending that our projections aren’t our projections when they are, or because we are pretending that goals aren’t duplex in nature when they are duplex. This act of pretending (which we are wholly unaware of since we are also pretending very seriously that we are not pretending) creates the positive or purposeful self, and when we are identified with this self we automatically seek to organise the world according to this basis, in accordance with this basis. We will try to impose the values of this unreal sense of self onto the world, in other words, and this is the type of activity that we will always engage in when we are ‘psychologically unconscious’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thinking Epidemic

What happens when we allow ourselves to be completely defined by the thinking mind? What are the consequences of such a thing? This is turns out to be a crucially important question for two reasons – one reason being that we are all allowing ourselves to be completely defined (as if this were unquestionably a ‘good thing’) and the other being that the consequences of us allowing this are both extraordinarily far-reaching, and not at all good.

 

It’s not just ourselves we are defining – we are busy defining everything in sight! This is what thinking does, and we are all the grip of a mighty ‘thinking academic’, whether we realise it or not. Somehow we’ve allowed ourselves to imagine that letting the thinking mind take over (which inevitably means letting it define everything in sight) is what ‘progress’ (or ‘positive human advancement’) is all about. We are as a result in the throes of some kind of supposing growth spasm whereby, it seems to us, we are in the process of ‘thinking our way to greatness’. A glorious future is unfolding for us – or so we fondly imagine!

 

It’s not really ‘greatness’ that we’re thinking  our way to however – a better way of describing our destination would be to say that it involves ‘complete immersion in some kind of pointless, time-absorbing rational game which has nothing to do with life itself (although it claims – of course – that it does). We never tire of saying that what we are collectively doing is ‘celebrating life’ but nothing could be further from the truth! We not celebrating life – we are denying it. That’s what this pernicious business ‘defining everything’ (and ‘analyzing/organizing everything’) business really comes down to – the denial of life.

 

The process whereby thought insidiously categorizes and analyses and organizes everything it encounters under the pretext of ‘helping us’ can be seen as a form of ‘prototype bureaucracy’ that creeps up on us and, without us realising what is going on. The justification of the bureaucratic yoke is – as always – that it is serving us as a valuable tool which will facilitate us in living life in a better kind of a way. The end result is however always the complete opposite of this – bureaucracies choke life rather than facilitating it. Bureaucracies, we might say, ‘have no natural predators’ – there is nothing to prune them, nothing to limit them, nothing to stop them growing out of all proportion to their potential usefulness. The unspoken promise is always that once the necessary regulations have been obeyed, then we can get on with the important business of ‘living life to the full’ but the fact it is but the fact is that this just never happens – the bureaucracy just keeps on growing and growing until one day it actually substitutes itself for life, which was its ‘aim’ all along so to speak. ([It doesn’t have ‘an aim’ really of course, that’s just what it does.]

 

This is as true for actual bureaucracies as it is for the bureaucracy of thought, and if we can’t see this to be true then we really do need to shake the sawdust out of our heads! If we can’t see this to be true then this is because the insidious process of ‘bureaucratization has set in too thoroughly, has taken root too deeply, with the result that we can no longer ‘see the wood for the trees’. We started off this discussion what the consequences of us letting thought ‘run the show ‘ and organize the whole shebang for us according to its rules, its criteria, and its values, might be. We can take a stab at answering this question by saying quite simply that the consequences are that we become  as time goes on more and more alienated from all that is good (or ‘wholesome’) in life. The process is inevitably going to leave us very effectively disconnected from all that is wholesome in life and this disconnection – we may say – lies at the root of the ‘crisis in mental health’ that we are now witnessing at the start of the 21st century.

 

It might sound melodramatic to talk in terms of an ‘epidemic’ of thinking – people nowadays need to think anymore nor any less than they used to, we might argue. People think a lot – that’s fairly normal! There is a difference now though. In recent times we have, to a considerable extent, ‘externalised’ our thinking; out of our thinking we create this ‘designed world’ and then – as David Bohm says – this designed or constructed world ‘reaches back’ and thinks us! Or as we could also say, we determine our environment and then that environment turns the tables on us and determines us. We construct the designed world in time terms of our purposes, and then these very same purposes effectively trap us.

 

This is an old and familiar motif and we really ought to pay more attention to it than we do! There are a number of ways that the motif may show itself: the articer is trapped by his own artifice; the mechanical servant we create gets the better of us; the wish-fulfilling genie that we have let out of the bottle turns out to be more than we have bargained for… The lesson in all these tales is – we might say – that we should be careful what we ask for, because we might get it. Wishes are dangerous things! All machines involve a ‘simplifying down’ of the world – that’s what a machine (or a ‘model’) is – it’s an oversimplification of the world.  Stuff is (necessarily) left out. The peril here therefore is that we are very likely indeed to fall into the trap of mistaking the oversimplification of the world for the real thing. Or to put this in a slightly different way, we make a choice about ‘how to see the world’ and then some strange type of amnesia sets in and we forget that we have made a choice. We forget that there was any choice involved. This is what getting ‘lost in thought’ is all about – thought is a ‘choice we make about how to see the world’, only we never seem to remember that it is just a ‘choice’! We forget that our model is only ‘a model’.

 

What we are talking about here is remarkably simple and straightforward, and yet it turns out to be rather difficult to put into words. There’s an art in talking simply about things, and that art does not come easily. Carl Jung talks about our overvaluing of the rational faculty resulting in ‘a soul sickness’; and says that this malady manifests itself in terms of a profound lack of meaning in our lives. Of all the possible deficiencies that we might suffer from, this is without question the most insidious. For the most part, most of us would probably deny that we are suffering from any such thing. For me to admit to a ‘profound lack of meaning’ my life would be – in the current vernacular – tantamount admitting to being a ‘loser’; having no meaning in one’s life isn’t exactly what you would call ‘a success story’, after all!

 

It’s not usually the case that we deliberately pretend to have a meaningful life when we don’t; the lack of meaning that Jung is speaking about doesn’t ‘honestly manifest itself’ in the early stages of the process – that only happens right at the end. We could actually go so far as to say that it’s not the ‘lack of meaning’ itself that is the problem, but our inability to see it. There’s a very good reason why we are blind to the lack of meaning in our lives and that is – we might say – because we are so fixated on the arena of the outer life, that we entirely lose sight of the inner. It’s not just that we are ‘fixated on the outer life’ either; that’s not putting it strongly enough – we’re so entirely fixated on the outer life (i.e. the ‘show’ that is going on outside of us) that we don’t even know that there is such a thing as ‘the inner life’! For us, that simply doesn’t exist…

 

It doesn’t seem right to say this, of course. It doesn’t seem fair to say that we ‘have no awareness of the life that is going on within us’ because we all do perceive ourselves to be in touch with the internal world of feelings and emotions and cogitations. Sometimes it’s very busy in there; sometimes it’s so busy that it’s completely overwhelming, and so of course we know it’s there! The point is though that thoughts and the emotions that are brought about by thoughts, aren’t what we mean by ‘an inner life’ (or ‘a sense of interiority’); the true inner life is independent of what seems to be going on outside of us rather than being a mere reflection of (or ‘reaction to’) the outside world and the events taking place there. Similarly, our inner life isn’t a function of the thinking process, but rather it is ‘other than it’; the inner world is ‘its own thing’ so to speak, and not a mere ‘back-projection’ of the outside world, or an extension of the rational thinking process. The inner world is quintessentially ‘discontinuous’ with that rational mind – it belongs to another realm entirely.

 

The ‘external world’ (which is the world that is created by our thoughts and rule-based perceptions) has its own form of ‘meaning’. This isn’t really ‘meaning’ at all when it comes down to it but a system of motivation that is based upon’ reward and punishment’. It is of course easy to see how such a motivational system can substitute itself for ‘meaning’ – if I am yearning to achieve something that is going to bring about a very big reward if I succeed, then I’m very likely to say that ‘working towards this big reward’ is highly meaningful to me! Everything seems meaningful to me in terms of this final, all-eclipsing goal – the goal ‘gives meaning’ to what I’m doing. It ‘gives meaning to my life’, even. What we talking about is only a very superficial form of meaning however. It’s not meaning at all really since ‘steps towards the goal’ are only meaningful in terms of that goal, not in terms of themselves. Things are not ‘meaningful in themselves’ therefore. The moment is not ‘meaningful in itself’, but only in terms of a projected (i.e. ‘illusionary’) future!

 

So if we say that working towards the goal is a genuine form of meaning then we are saying something very peculiar indeed – we are claiming that seeing everything in life in terms of some projected future state (rather than appreciating it for what it is in itself) actually constitutes a genuinely wholesome and perfectly satisfactory way to live life. But it just plain isn’t – this is a very empty way to live life, it’s a way of going about things that is just not going to ‘feed our soul’ at all. What feeds the soul (so to speak) is the world as it actually is in itself, not the world as it appears when it seen as some kind of ‘stepping stone’ to a projected future state which is itself – when it comes down to it – no more than our own vacuous mental projection.

 

This brings us to the nub of the whole issue – the only type of meaning that the thinking mind produces is the type of meaning that is related to its own mental projections. There are two possible types of ‘mental projection’ – one is the type which we are attracted to, and the other is a type which we fear. There is the ‘reward’, and there is the ‘punishment’, in other words; these are the two types of projection that are created by the thinking mind. When we say that we find life ‘meaningful in terms of our goals’ then what this means is that we find life meaningful in terms of our attachments, which is to say, we find life meaningful in terms of the ‘projected world which we have mistaken or confused for the real one’. This is clearly absurd! How can we ever talk about ‘life’s meaning’ if we never see through the murky illusions of the thinking mind to life itself, which is what we are supposedly talking about?

 

The whole question of ‘meaning’ is very confusing; it is not at all as straightforward as we think it is. ‘Life itself’ is not a projection and so it doesn’t actually hold any meaning to us in the way that we understand the word! Obviously, when I talk about ‘meaning’ I mean ‘meaning in relation to me’ (i.e. ‘a subjective sense of meaning as it is determined by my own personal model of reality’); the unprojected world (i.e. the real world!) has no meaning in this sense. Because it’s not my projection it has nothing to do with me, and if it has nothing to do with me how can it be said to have meaning for me? If it’s not a function of my model or map then how can it be meaningful in relation to this model or map? The whole notion of life ‘having a meaning’ is problematic therefore; the way we use the word is referential, which is to say, it is meaningful only in terms of my own arbitrary viewpoint, only in terms of the game I am playing. The magic or mystery of life is however precisely that we are not projecting ourselves (or our ‘mental maps’) ahead of us wherever we go so although people often say that we ourselves are responsible for the meaning that life has (i.e.  that ‘we make our own meaning’) this is a type of ‘inverted truth’!

 

We don’t make meaning at all; what we make something very different – we make up games, we impose our own ‘private meaning’ on the world, but all of this is quite sterile. It is sterile because it’s only ‘us reflected right back at ourselves’ – it’s like looking in a mirror. When we define the world (or define ourselves) the result is always a perfect tautology. For us not to see that defining the world always produces a sterile self-referential reality is the most tremendous lack of insight. It is at the same time of course entirely to be expected given our proclivity for idolising rationality, but it is nevertheless a tremendous lack of insight! This state of affairs is what Professor James Carse calls ‘the silencing of the gods’ –

There is an irony in our silencing of the gods. By presuming to speak for the unspeakable, by hearing our own voice as the voice of nature, we have had to step outside the circle of nature. …

Forgetting that the way we have chosen to see the world is only a choice is what places us ‘outside the circle of nature’ – it is precisely this that traps us in ‘the tautology that we cannot see to be such’. We can’t really place ourselves outside the circle of nature of course, as James Carse goes on to say. We can’t really do anything that isn’t an expression of our own inalienable freedom. We’re only ‘outside the circle of nature’ on our own terms, the terms that we ourselves have made up. The thing is, however, that these are the only terms we believe in!