The Power Game

According to psychotherapist Morgan Scott Peck, neurosis is where we take on too much responsibility (where we take on an unrealistic degree of responsibility) whilst sociopathy is where we take on too little (or more often, none at all). This might sound a little over-simplistic on first hearing but it turns out to be a very useful way of thinking about things. It can give us a way of understanding how society works. A closely related psychological dichotomy would be to contrast people who have a tendency to blame others in times of difficulty and those who automatically blame themselves instead. When we blame ourselves for everything then we are clearly taking on too much responsibility and if on the other hand it is never our fault, no matter how damning the evidence, then obviously the converse is true.

In the most general terms this comes down to our style of dealing with pain – either we displace it onto other people (or onto the world in general) or we internalise it or swallow it down ourselves. This corresponds to Chogyam Trungpa’s dichotomy of ‘acting out’ versus ‘repressing’, which are the ego’s only two ways of dealing with pain. These are our two conditioned ways of dealing with pain that are – actually – not ways of dealing with pain! If we are considering the dynamics of society as a whole we can say that society must therefore consist, to a large extent, of [1] people who take on pain that doesn’t really belong to them and [2] people who pass on (or try to pass on) pain that is legitimately theirs, and which they won’t ever own. To give a very simple example, in the first case if I am having a run of bad luck and nothing is working out for me then I assume that I must be a flawed or defective person and that I just don’t deserve good things to happen to me, and if I have the other style of dealing with pain then I’m convinced that it’s someone else’s fault instead and get angry with them about what I think they’re doing. I want to find a scapegoat in other words, whereas in the first case I will make myself into the scapegoat.

We can see this dichotomy very clearly in abusive relationships – the fuel for the abuse – so to speak – is that I as an abuser have a lot of emotional pain that I am absolutely determined to take no responsibility for and so what I want to do is find someone who will take on the job feeling the pain for me, so I don’t have to. None of this can be transparent however – I can’t let myself know that I’m making you take on pain that is rightfully mine and not yours because this in itself would be a painful awareness and my whole orientation is towards avoiding pain or displacing it elsewhere. Because this is my orientation I have to really believe that it’s your fault, I have to be convinced that it’s your fault, and for your part, you have to be convinced – if possible  – that it really is you who is to blame (maybe not because of anything specific that you have done, although very often of course it is) but simply because you are a crappy worthless person who deserves to take the blame. I will tell you this over and over again, just to make sure it sinks in. This is what abusive relationships are all about, as we all know.

Abuse happens all the time of course – it’s a big part of life, whether we realise it or not. ‘You’re a crappy person,’ we say, hoping that this will stick, hoping that our target won’t ‘turn it around on us’ and send the label back to us with even more force that we put in it. This is what a row is – two people each trying their best to be the one dishing out the shit rather than the one who has to take it. Someone has to take the blame, someone has to take the negative kudos, and so we have to struggle to make sure it isn’t us. We have to struggle to be the winner and not the loser. This is no minor psychological oddity that we’re talking about here, therefore; what we’re looking at is the basic human game – the power game, the game of one-upmanship. This is why society – any society – is always based on a power hierarchy – as is well known by everyone, the higher up the hierarchy we are the less shit we have to take! If we make it to the very top then we don’t take any shit from anyone – we don’t take it, we give it. And – by the same token – if we are right at the bottom of the power pyramid then everyone can take a dump on us; everyone can shit on us because we have no status and so there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. We can’t even displace it onto someone else because there’s no one below us – we just have to suck it up.



If we say that society (any society) is a power hierarchy, underneath all the gloss, then this makes it plain what the game is here, this makes it clear what our motivation to play the game is – we want to (spuriously) validate ourselves by climbing as far up as the ladder as we can. This is why those of us who make it to the upper levels of the power structure – the aristocrats, so to speak – look so pleased with themselves. It is almost inevitably the case that we will assume that our position is the result of our own virtue, our own worthiness, our own innate ‘superiority’ (if we get to get right down to brass tacks) and so this is why we feel so good about ourselves. It’s not the case that we are at the top of the power hierarchy because of our innate superiority however, but rather it is the case that we get to feel superior because we are now in the position of being able to downwardly displace all of our angst and insecurity down to the lower levels. It’s the other way around – we’re not at the top of the pyramid because of our any special virtue that we might possess, but because our elevated position allows us to get away with defining ourselves as being especially worthy, especially deserving of the comfortable position we are in. We feel superior because we are able to define all those below us in the hierarchy as being unworthy, feckless, lazy and generally undeserving. It is this trick that allows the crude game of capitalism to remain respectable.

It might be imagined that we cherish power for lots of reasons but, as Nietzsche says somewhere, power is all about allowing us to say what the truth is. This is what we are ultimately playing for. When we’re at the top of the pyramid then we get to be the one who defines reality and we will do this to suit ourselves, naturally enough. We create the game that everyone else has to play and this game is invariably rigged in our favour; we say that the game is ‘fair’, but actually it’s anything but. It is said that ‘power corrupts’ but the corruption doesn’t lie in the temptation to use that power to gain material benefits – although this of course comes into it – but to use that power so as to be the one who says what reality is.  This means we are always going to come out on top; we are always ‘right’ and anyone who disagree with us is always going to be ‘wrong’. This is what happens in all social groups (all organisations, all institutions, etc) – the powerful say what is true and what is not true so that the only way to ‘get ahead’ is to play the game that has been given to us to play, which means that even if we win (especially if we win) we’re winning against ourselves. When sociologists say that ideology is the invisible prison that we ourselves constructed and maintain, this is what they mean. In society, it is always the case that we keep ourselves prisoner – we ourselves put in the work to do this, no one else. Or as Carlos Castaneda puts it, the strategy of the predator is to give us its own malign mind, and this way we are defeated whatever we do. Our very winning is losing.

Games don’t offer us the possibility of winning (which is what they claim to do) they are the way in which we get to be ‘trapped in someone else’s reality’, which is a situation that is never going to work out for us. Most of us want to ‘do the right thing’ and so our motivation is not malign, the only thing here however is that we never think about who it is that has said what ‘the right thing’ is, and this is our downfall. As Philip K Dick says, this is ‘service in error’ – it’s not enough that we are essentially goodhearted and genuinely want to do the right thing in life, we also have to be curious about what is going on and question the authorities which we serve. The only problem here is that ‘the authorities’ inevitably define ‘questioning’ as ‘a very bad thing’!







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…







Society Reifies Us

The official narrative always contains our own invisible hollowness. Whatever is done on the basis of this narrative is always going to be hollow – that’s the gift that it gives us. That is the gift that the official narrative gives us every time. What else would we expect, after all? If we are prepared to accept someone else’s account of what our lives are supposed to be about then we would surely expect for there to be some kind of downside to this. The official narrative is safe – or at least, it is safe inasmuch as following what some unquestionable external authority says is ever going to be safe. It is safe (we might say) in the sense that we won’t get caught out thinking or doing anything different to what everyone else is thinking and doing and so if the majority has good sense and is acting in a reasonably wise manner then we won’t make any terrible mistakes by foolishly venturing off on our own. It isn’t safe, on the other hand, if we consider that everyone else is just blindly copying each other just like we are! If everyone is blindly copying everyone else (and no one really knows what they are doing) then where is this going to lead us? Where is the good sense in this? Good sense comes from actual individuals, not from the collective. What comes out of the collective are dangerous psychic contagions, as Jung says. Nothing good comes out of the mass mind….

This obvious enough but all the same none of us are prepared to admit that this is what we’re doing. We all know that the strategy of copying what everyone else is doing so we won’t be caught out being ‘the odd one out’, or so that we won’t make some kind of terrible mistake by acting on our own untested and unproven impulses cannot really be expected to result in anything good but this is nevertheless what we are all doing. We’re going along with the social script, we’re living our lives in accordance with the formula that has been provided for us, and what this means is that we’re not taking any responsibility for our own lives at all. We’ve handed responsibility over to some sort of unexamined group instinct, we’ve handing over the reins to the consensus viewpoint, to the dubious process of mass-mindedness and collectives of people don’t have any sense, as Jung says. The bigger the collective the less sense there is! A very big collective has no sense at all! The collective has ‘everything on the outside but nothing on the inside’ – it is in other words ‘impressive but at the same time hollow’.

Contemporary culture as a whole is (we might say) ‘impressive but hollow’ – it can certainly look pretty amazing on the outside but were we to examine it we would discover that there is no actual content. Contemporary culture is ‘content free’ – it is ‘content free’ in the sense that it is all packaging and promotional frills with nothing behind it. It is composed of hyperreal fluff that pointlessly expands until it fills up all the available space; it is essentially a cul-de-sac that is being sold to us as a highway to somewhere great and meaningful. We are encouraged to see ourselves as a dynamic, forward-thinking civilization that is constantly progressing, constantly advancing and which embraces all the right values. This is the story that we tell ourselves – the only problem being that it isn’t a true story.

We are a culture, and we also say that we have culture. This is important for us to say because it shows that we have some sort of content. We will point to art, literature, theatre, poetry, ballet, dance and so on and we will say that this is our ‘culture’; There is something to us in other words, and so we are deserving of respect on this basis. We justify ourselves in this way and – being thus justified – we feel content to rest on our laurels. But if it is the case that the function of our ‘culture’ is to enable us to carry on as we are then this is nothing more than a joke. As James Carse says, the function of art is to destabilise society, not stabilise it. Art is always revolutionary and if it isn’t then it isn’t art or culture at all – it’s something else. If it isn’t revolutionary then it is merely ‘societal propaganda’, it is merely an advert for society dressed up as being somehow more than this.

This isn’t to say that art actually does have a function, which would be hugely demeaning of it! If something has some sort of function then this means that it is subservient to some idea or other. This means that art is serving some kind of ‘finite end’ and so it is nothing more than a ‘cog in the machine’. A cog in a machine is the machine and machines have nothing to do with art, nothing to do with ‘the transcendent’. Cogs and wheels and machine-like processes are the complete reverse of transcendence – cogs and machines are all about ‘locking onto the one concrete possibility’ and making that possibility to be the only important thing. A machine is always about facilitating the process of reification in other words, and reification is the exact antithesis of transcendence. What this means (of course) is that there can’t be any such thing as a procedure or strategy for growth or transcendence and procedures / strategies are what the machine is all about.

Society, as Ivan Illich says, is ‘a system of techniques’ – it is a system that is made up of ways of getting from A to B. The official narrative is that the movement from A to B is a meaningful movement, an important movement, a real and vital movement, and this is why we invest in the system as much as we do (which is to say totally). If we define mental health as the ongoing movement beyond the known, beyond the approved and accredited status quo, then we can say that society never enables growth, never enables mental health – the collective of us is a machine and machines are all about reification not transcendence, as we have just said, and what is being made concrete is the socially-conditioned self.

This socially-conditioned self is like culture, is like society – possibly very impressive on the outside whilst being utterly hollow on the inside. It is – like society as a whole – a ‘managed appearance’, an ‘act’, and so of course it can’t help being hollow. Being hollow, the socially-conditioned self is therefore always seeking, always striving, always searching, and what it is searching for is the remedy for this hollowness, this ‘blankness on the inside’. That is why we are kept engaged in the mechanism of society – because we believe that by playing the game which has been presented to us we are going to find fulfilment. It is the fact that the reified self is always going to be driven by the need to find relief from its own invisible hollowness that keeps the wheels turning and so we can say, uncontroversially enough, that the reason the process by which the self is reified is promoted so heavily by our culture is because this is essential for society (as we know it) to keep on thriving. Our invisible hollowness is thus ‘the battery’ that keeps the machine running.

Our hollowness is ‘invisible’ because we because the world we conduct our lives within is itself hollow – hollowness is all we know and so we can’t ever spot it. The narrative that we live by is itself nothing other than disguised hollowness – we’re always having our attention directed towards whatever drama it is that is going on and this prevents us from seeing that the one who is engaged in the drama (which is to say, ‘the reified self’) isn’t actually there, is only ‘an assumption that we have made and then forgotten about’. We are in other words convinced that life is something that has to be found ‘on the outside’ (which is to say, ‘the world of appearances’) and – because of our state complete absorption in (or fascination with) the outside – we simply don’t know that there is (or could be) an inside. As far as we’re concerned the outside is all there is and so – for us – it isn’t ‘the outside’ at all.

Our ‘invisible hollowness’ – which is a present from the Mind-Created Narrative – drives us to keep looking within the social game for fulfilment, we are driven to engage more and more in society (which is to say, to utilise the techniques and procedures which are society) but all that engaging in these techniques and procedures will do is reify us all the more, which causes us to be even more hollow, which causes us to throw ourselves into the social game even more. This is therefore a ‘perfect plan’, we might say, with the proviso that it is perfect as far as a system or machine itself is concerned. It certainly isn’t perfect as far as we as individuals are concerned – how can it be when the individuality which is who we are is thoroughly repressed in favour of the theatrical or reified self? When we allow ourselves to be guided in all things by the ‘official narrative’ then – in other words – we forfeit the ‘inner life’.  We forfeit the inner life and what we get instead is the outer life, the generic life, the life that is made up entirely of appearances that has to be constantly maintained, and this ‘outer life’, this life that takes place entirely within the Realm of Appearances, isn’t real.






Image: wallpapersmug.com










Fear Of Vastness

What brings about our suffering in life – when we get right down to it – is our terrible narrowness and rigidity, and identity is the narrowest and most rigid thing there is! Identity is so narrow and so rigid that it doesn’t actually belong in the real world at all – it belongs not to reality but to the world of names and designations, the world of definitions and evaluations. We like the world of definitions and evaluations however – we really are very fond of it. We’re fond of the world that has been defined for us by thought just as we are fond of having an identity – it’s all part and parcel of the same thing. We are fond of living in a defined world as a defined identity because this allows us to orientate ourselves, obviously enough – we can say who we are and where we are and what we are all about, and this feels good! This feels good – as no one will deny – but it also brings about unending suffering. There are two ingredients in this particular package, not just the one.

This is of course just another way of expressing the traditional eastern teaching-formula which says attachment causes suffering, which is more familiar to us but which at the same time tends to be understood in an overly simplistic way. It’s not so much that we are attached to things or people (although of course we are) but that we are attached to the type of orientation that we are talking about here – the orientation of knowing who we are and where we are and what we are supposed to be doing in life. If we can readily answer these questions then we are considered by all and sundry to be orientated and this is taken as a sign of good mental health. There’s no confusion here, we’re on the same page as everyone else, we are adapted to the world that we have been given to live in, and so on. This assessment of ‘orientatedness’ is only a measure of our mental health on a very superficial level however – it’s the appearance of good mental health only.

To be sure and certain of all our parameters in this way is actually a guarantee of suffering, as we’ve just said, and anything that is ‘a guarantee of suffering’ can hardly be said to be a measure of good mental health! We want to be defined in this way because that gives us our sense of identity, our sense of knowing who we are and what we are about, but this desire for security, when acted upon, prevents us from having any connection with who we are behind the narrative, behind the neat and tidy cover-story. We have been provided with an answer, an explanation, but it is a hollow one, a false or superficial one, and no happiness or well -can ever come out of it. No sense of meaning can never come out of this false understanding of who we are – how can a sense of meaning come out of this business of living life on the basis of who everyone else says we are, after all? That isn’t a recipe for a meaningful life, it’s ‘a recipe for mental unwellness’!

The problem is that we have, in our haste to have a sure and certain explanation of who we are and what life is all about, short-circuited the whole process of life – the idea (even if we don’t know it) is for us to quickly skip ahead to finding out the answers to the existential questions so that we can then get on with the important business of ‘living life on the basis of the sure-and-certain identity that we have thus acquired’. That’s where the real satisfaction in life lies, we imagine – not in this awkward feeling of not knowing ‘who we are’ or ‘what it’s all about’. That’s the basic idea but it just doesn’t work out as we imagine it should. It doesn’t work out the way we thought it would because there just isn’t any solution satisfaction or fulfilment to come out of living life on the basis of a spurious identity, an identity that ‘isn’t who we are’, an identity that is nothing more than a cheap gimmick. There isn’t any fulfilment to be had from this way of living life because being attached to a thought-created identity (of whatever sort) involves being fundamentally disconnected from what actually is true – which is clearly a situation that doesn’t bode at all well for us.

There is – undeniably – this very strong urge or desire to ‘say who we are’, or to ‘assert an identity’. When we do this then that feels good, there is satisfaction (of a sort) in it. This type of good feeling comes about not because we have achieved anything real however but because we have managed (successfully, it seems) to run away from something that frightens us. We are running away from ‘wide-openness’, we’re staging an escape from the Realm of Unlimited Uncertainty – which is what the philosopher Kierkegaard calls ‘the dizziness of freedom’. We want to be told who we are (or we want to believe in the story of who we tell ourselves we are) so as not to have anything to do with all those open-ended possibilities. Open-endedness isn’t good news as far as we’re concerned. We want to skip that, as we have said; we want to skip all that uncertainty and rush on to the logically unchallenging business of ‘living life on the basis of a defined identity’. We want the security of knowing what it’s all about so that we can just ‘get on with it’ in a mechanical or non-exploratory way, and the very big problem with this – which we are painfully slow to see – is that all of this business of ‘thinking that we know what we’re doing’ and then just ‘getting on with it’ is profoundly meaningless.

So there is this euphoric feeling of accomplishment or attainment when we assert who we are, or when we are rewarded by society by being given some honourable or prestigious identity, but the euphoria in question (which is the euphoria of winning at what James Carse calls ‘a finite game’) very quickly ebbs away leaving nothing behind but a dreadful sterility. The defined identity is always sterile – as we have said – it is always sterile because it’s an act of denial with regard to who we really are (or what life really is all about, which is ‘growth’). It’s nothing more than a convenient fiction that allows us to turn our backs on the ontological challenge that life is presenting us with. When we perform a manoeuvre that enables us to escape from whatever awareness we might have of how much bigger the universe is than anything we ever could have imagined then this feels good; we get great relief – but this isn’t the type of good feeling we get for any kind of a wholesome reason. Very clearly, this isn’t a ‘wholesome’ sort of thing at all! We get a rush of euphoria for sure but that is only the (very temporary) good feeling that comes from denying what we don’t want to know about. That type of ‘good feeling’ doesn’t really help us!

When it comes to identification then it’s very much a matter of ‘Marry in hast, repent at leisure’. We can’t live life when we are saddled with an identity – all we can do is go through the mechanical motions of asserting and reasserting that sterile identity over and over again in the forlorn hope that some good will come of it. All we can do is continue to move through the repetitive steps of ‘playing the finite game’ (which is consolidating ‘who we think we are’ when ‘who we think we are’ is a dull fiction) rather than exploring the possibilities of what we genuinely might be – uncertain though these possibilities may be. The possibilities that lie in store for us when we put all our money on consolidating the fiction of who we think we are add up to a big fat zero, whilst the possibilities that await us when we relinquish this comforting illusion (the comforting illusion of the Mind- Created Identity) are infinite. The possibilities here are infinite and that is precisely why we want to run away as fast as we can in the opposite direction, so to speak! We experience terror when faced with the unimaginable vastness, and comfort when we retreat into the pointless, tedious world of the small and the petty, and that’s why we continually engross ourselves in playing finite games in the way that we do.

Our fear of vastness is the same thing as our love of the mind-created certainties which we have surrounded ourselves, in which we have buried ourselves. Ontological terror drives us meekly into the welcoming arms of thought, in other words; the comfort we obtain from the act of believing our thoughts (however bland, however banal, however stupid or malign they might be) is the perfect remedy for the fear that holds us in its grip when we confront open-ended reality. Thought always creates a world in which there is no ‘open-endedness’ – the Mind-Created Virtual Reality is a world that contains no mysteries, no ‘discontinuities’, and that is precisely how we know it to be false (if we care to know such a thing, that is). How could we have ever put ourselves in this position where we have to accept the wretched banality of the thought-created world as being the same thing as reality itself? What kind of a trick is this to play on ourselves? Instead of life, we have to make do with a grey, pointless bureaucracy – the grey, pointless bureaucracy of thought – and that dreadful old bureaucracy won’t ever let us go (bureaucracies never do, after all). Because we are under the power of thought (which is the position we have put ourselves in) we cannot help believing that what the rational mind says is real actually is real, and so we are obliged to try our hardest to get thought’s bureaucracy to ‘work out for us’, which it never will. No matter what we do on the basis of the thought-created identity, things aren’t ever going to work out for us. We however are in denial of this; the conditions of the deal we have accepted require us to be in denial of this – if we are to continue believe ourselves to be this Mind-Created Identity then we obliged to ignore (or misunderstand) all the suffering that comes about because of this. We are obliged to ‘stick with our story’ no matter what, in other words, and this is of course always the way with denial…












Not Mentioning The Travesty

One definition of mental health could be to say that it is when there is a movement away from the self, away from who we think we are. This of course is counterintuitive in a big way; we would tend to see mental health as being a measure of the robustness of the self, the robustness of who we think we are. There’s an unspoken or taken for granted literal description of reality that we all buy into and ‘who we are’ or ‘what it means to be a person’ is an important part of this official description. This is the ‘equilibrium view’ of how things are and the equilibrium view is kept in place by everyone who subscribes to it. It is therefore inevitable that any or agreed-upon definition of mental health (whether implicit or explicit) will be normative with respect to the equilibrium value. In current times – when criteria for gauging what is mentally healthy and what is not mentally healthy is collectively decided upon by groups of ‘like-minded’ experts who can essentially be seen as an elite club who are even more homogenous in their thinking than the wider social collective – we are moving very strongly in the ‘equilibrium direction’. The question is therefore, how can we allow a tightly knit group of specialists to be in charge of how we understand mental health when the process by which we come to agree with each other in a group is determined by what amounts to peer pressure rather than by each individual concerned thinking for themselves, which is of course the ‘mentally healthy’ thing to do? In this way we have actually institutionalized psychology, which is a terrible thing to do!


Any independent viewpoint on the matter is always going to take issue with the how ‘the club’ agrees to see things. A club is made up, after all, of people who have tacitly agreed to put their individuality to one side in favour of how everyone else sees things. Group thinking is always an act of cowardice, therefore. The greatest danger facing humankind is without any doubt the danger of ‘mass-mindedness’; as Jung says, mass-mindedness is the breeding ground for psychic illnesses and the contagions, and as a breeding ground for psychic illnesses and contagions mass-mindedness can hardly be expected to come up with a helpful or enlightened way of looking at mental health! The Non-E way of talking about mental health, as we have said, is to say that the movement away from who we think we are, which is also the movement away from who the consensus mind says we are, and since the consensus or group mind is incapable of appreciating or valuing anything other than itself, and since the process of individuation is the process which leads away from everything that the consensus viewpoint holds dear, it is very easy to see why this process of becoming who we truly are isn’t exactly going to be encouraged by the people and institutions around us. For an equilibrium system, any deviation from normative values equals ‘error’ and nothing more, and errors – as we know – only exist to be corrected. Social groups – by their very nature- don’t like deviance, and this is putting it mildly.


All of us have two distinct tendencies to work at work within them – one (we might say) is the conservative tendency and the other is the explorative one. In the first case the values of the past are what matters and anything that leads away from these values is a threat; in the second case the old is seen as a trap precisely because of our attachment to it and what is of interest to us seeing what lies beyond what everyone else takes for granted. Or as we could also put it, the Conservative Mode is where we value security above all else whilst the Exploratory Mode is where we value the truth more than security. ‘Truth’ and ‘security’ are always opposed for the simple reason that in truth, there is no such thing as ‘security’! Or to put it the other way round, we can say that the only way that we can find this supposed thing that we call ‘security’ is by firmly turning our backs on what is actually true. It’s either the one way or the other way – either we are interested in the truth or we are interested in our games, which are our way of avoiding the truth.


We can reformulate our definition of mental health at this point simply by saying that what is beneficial – health-wise – for us is to move in the direction of becoming more conscious. From the conventional point of view this statement doesn’t make any sense because we are all convinced that we are perfectly conscious already; we’re not however – that’s just an idea that we have, the idea that we are actually aware when we are not. When we are in Conservative Mode then the whole point is not to be aware! When we are in CM then we have thoughts about the world rather than being aware of it; we judge the world and have beliefs about it rather than taking an actual interest in it. It is often said that thinking is how we ‘make sense of the world’, but it could equally well be said that thinking is how we ‘protect ourselves from the onslaught of reality’. But why should reality be ‘an onslaught’, we might ask? This tends to imply that reality is somehow hostile to us, against us in some way, and how could that be the case? To think that reality is hostile is to suffer from a paranoid delusion, after all. The point is of course not that reality (as it is in itself, before we get around to thinking about it) is against us but rather that reality (as it is in itself) does not tolerate any insincerity from us. We can’t get away with any games in other words, and the reason for this is simply that reality is itself not a game. This is – needless to say – a fairly obvious statement: things just are what they are (or they aren’t what they aren’t) and that’s all there is to it. A game – on the other hand – is precisely where we pretend that things are what they’re not. Reality – by its very nature – falsifies our games (if we let it) and this is exactly the same as saying that truth has the ‘property’ of falsifying our lies. Of course it does – it could hardly be ‘the truth’ otherwise!


This has nothing to do with morality however, which is something that we ourselves invent in order to coerce ourselves to do whatever it is we think we should be doing, or not do whatever it is we think we shouldn’t be doing. What we’re talking about isn’t morality (i.e. rules) but simply ‘the natural way of things’. The natural way of things is that truth naturally shows up lies to be lies (this being implicit in the nature of the truth), or that reality shows up games for being games, since this is indeed what they are. No violence is being done here – the game is being shown up for being what it is, and the only problem here is from the point of view of the game, since we can only play a game when we don’t know it to be one. So it is the way of things for reality to falsify our games, just as it is also ‘the way of things’ for us to play our games, and to try to hang on to them for as long as possible. It’s all ‘the way of things’, it’s all the Tao, and so there is absolutely no need whatsoever for any ridiculous artificial morality.


The point we’re making here therefore is that it is natural for us to try as hard as we can to defend ourselves from ‘raw undiluted reality’ (which doesn’t give us any leeway to play our games) and that the way we do this is by thinking about the world so as to create a model of it, which we can then relate to exclusively as if the model were the real thing. This is the manoeuvre by which we dodge the essential complexity of the universe, complexity that would otherwise inundate us and overwhelm our made-up boundaries and – as a result – unfailingly falsify our pet models and theories which are always absurdly oversimplified. We avoid the challenge of a multivalent reality by describing it to ourselves in a literal way in other words, and this ‘literal description’ becomes the rule that we have to obey without knowing that we are obeying it, without knowing that there is any obeying going on. This puts us in the situation of ‘being slaves whilst thinking we are free’. First we create an oversimplified world with our thoughts and then we get trapped in this oversimplified or unreal world and this is how we keep a distance between ourselves and the actual truth of our situation!


When we all get together and make a big official ‘literal description of life’ (or literal description of reality) then this collectively agreed-upon description is called society. Part of that description – the most important part – is the description of who we are and this is why we can say that mental health is ‘the movement away from the self’ (or ‘who we think we are’), as well as being ‘the movement away from society’ (or ‘who society says we are’). Mental health is the movement away from our own defences, the defence is that we don’t know about, the defences that we falsely imagine to be some sort of ‘sacred reality’ that we must never offend against.


Societies isn’t just ‘society’ – as we usually understand the term – it is ‘a total package’, it’s a closed way of looking at things that we aren’t allowed to question. Society is the ‘generic mind’, we could say – it is the mind that doesn’t belong to any of us but which – all the same – controls all of us! Living out the course of our lives in the crudely limited version of reality (which is all that society permits us) is actually a travesty, even though no one will ever come out and say this. It’s a travesty that none of us (or few enough of us) will come out and say to be a travesty, for a very simple and straightforward reason that we owe our livelihoods (along with whatever status that we might have in society) to this same travesty.






Working Via Pressure

Our default operational mode is to work via pressure. Not to work under pressure that is, but by means of pressure. Pressure means that the reason we are doing this or doing that lies outside of ourselves — we are trying to obtain what has been defined by thought as a ‘desirable outcome’ or we are trying to avoid an ‘undesirable outcome’. We are always either seeking advantage or sidestepping disadvantage but either way the reason for our activities lies ‘outside of ourselves’. We’re fixated upon a world that is external to us.

We can’t really see this properly because it’s so very normal for us. We don’t understand what’s being said here because ‘the outside’ is all we know. The point is however that the motivational force acting on us isn’t really ‘an expression of who we really are’ — is not intrinsic, it’s extrinsic. Something else — our thinking, our ideas about ourselves and the world — is telling us that such and such an outcome is good, or that such and such an outcome is bad. What extrinsic motivation means (when it comes down to it) is that we are compelled to act based on what our thinking tells us and our thinking isn’t us. Thought is always ‘an external mechanical authority’: we are compelled to act this way or that based upon what we see as necessity; we are under pressure to act and — more than this — we’re under pressure to succeed within the terms that have been given to us.

The difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation couldn’t be greater therefore — how could there be a bigger difference than that between a force that is acting on us from the outside (which has nothing to do with our true nature) and the free expression of who we actually are? What we are actually asking here is of course ‘What could be a bigger difference than the difference between slavery and freedom?’ We can hardly hope to smudge the distinction between these two things! And yet despite the complete lack of similarity between these two forms of motivation we very rarely make any distinction — the gulf between freedom and slavery is glossed over as if it doesn’t exist. In short, we don’t see the difference between being acted upon by forces that come from outside of ourselves and acting in accordance with our intrinsic nature (without there being any ‘compulsion’ involved whatsoever).

The reason we can’t ‘see the difference’ is of course because we have internalised these external forces — we have been doing this since an early age. This is what happens when we are brought up in environment that is based on controlling, as is almost always the case. Most families are controlling, and our ‘collective’ families — which is society — is always controlling. Society functions on the basis of conditioning — not on the basis of freedom, not on the basis of encouraging everyone to think for themselves and be whatever it is in their nature to be. Another way of putting this is to say that we are ruled by belief, and our beliefs are forced upon us from the outside. Beliefs are always denying of individuality/autonomy and yet we persist in thinking that belief — the enforcement of ideas upon people from the outside — is a good thing.

We think that ‘passing on belief’ is a good thing because we feel that what we are believing in is actually true, but the thing here is of course that we only think that our beliefs are true because we ourselves have been have already been conditioned by them! We are being ‘obedient to the belief’ in thinking that ‘the belief is true’ — all beliefs require us to accept them as being actually ‘true’. No matter how palpably foolish or preposterous a belief might be it will always require us to accept it as being absolutely true. So because we live in, and have been brought up in, a ‘coercive environment’ which doesn’t allow us to think for ourselves (or be ourselves) we can’t tell the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, despite the immense gulf between the two. We have no ‘inner life’ of our own, only the beliefs and opinions and viewpoints that have been put into us. We dream what we have been told to dream, and that’s what makes the (consumerist) world go round. We all have to value and desire the same stupid things; we all have to be walking down the same well-worn path.

Having no genuine life of our own means that we have to ‘run on pressure’ — that’s all that’s left to us in the absence of ‘interiority’. Not knowing who we really are, all we can do is rely on various types of pressure — pressure to do this, pressure to do that, pressure to do the other. This very easily gets to be all too much for us and so then we become candidates for stress-management, candidates for anxiety-management (or perhaps anger-management). This is a very great irony, if only we could see it. All over the world stress-management programs are being taken seriously and staff are being sent to them by companies, hospitals, organisations of all sorts, all of which institutions operate in the first place only by ‘putting pressure on their workers’. When the pressure gets too much we are told to go on a stress-management course, which involves us ‘putting pressure on ourselves not to be so pressurised’. Anything that is based on a generic way of doing things, a ‘one size fits all’ method, is pressure. We learn ‘skills’ it is true, but skills are rules: ‘skills’ equals ‘rules’ and ‘rules’ equal ‘pressure’. Rules are of course the very quintessence of pressure.

We are a certain way (stressed out, anxious, or angry) and so then we put ourselves under pressure (however subtle) to be a different way. Whichever way you look at it is still pressure — the only thing that wouldn’t be pressure would be where we are able to give heartfelt permission for that pressure (stress or anxiety) to be there, but in order to do that we would have to have a sense of genuine interiority, we would have to have an ‘inner life’. Or to put this another way, we would have to have ‘inner freedom’ (which means ‘freedom from rules’). We would have to have inner freedom since without it we cannot give permission for anything — without inner freedom we can only ever ‘control or be controlled’.

The same is true for CBT and all cognitive therapies — my thoughts are putting pressure on me one way or another (they are putting the ‘big squeeze’ on me, so to speak) and so I use the techniques of CBT to prevent these thoughts from controlling me in the way that they are. I am using the ‘pressure’ of the techniques in order to counteract the pressure that the negative thinking is putting on me, and so I’m ‘using pressure to counteract pressure’. This may offer temporary relief (and then again, it may not) but the end result is not going to be good for me either way, since I have merely been drawn in deeper to the web of control and counter-control. There is no freedom here, for sure! What would help me is (again) for me to find it within myself to unconditionally allow these painful or worrying thoughts to be there; then — with no more resistance to feed on — the thoughts would lose their power over me. Without inner freedom (or inner peace) I cannot do this however, and the one thing CBT can never teach me is how to find inner peacefulness.

Anything we do in the name of therapy — if it does not result in the development of a sense of our own interiority, or connection with our own ‘inner life’, is a farce. If I’m troubled in my mind then teaching me strategies to ‘manage’ these troubles just adds to my burden — that just adds to my bondage, my slavery to thought — and it is this slavery that lies at the root of all my problems. We don’t even know the true meaning of the word ‘freedom’ however — all we know methods of control, and control — no matter how successful it might be it seem to be at first — always leads to more dependency upon control (which is a loss of freedom). The greater our initial ‘success’ therefore the more dependent (or ‘enslaved’) we are going to become later on. The root of all our psychological problems lies in the fact that we are running entirely on pressure (entirely on extrinsic motivation) and that — as a consequence — we know nothing else. We don’t have any concept of what intrinsic motivation is; for us to know that we would first have to have some sort of genuine ‘inner life’, a life which is by its very nature ‘independent of what happens on the outside’, and which does not — on this account — need to protect itself by investing more and more in control…

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 System Runs Us As Extensions Of Itself

The generic self is dependent upon the system. In a way, this is a very obvious statement. Of course the generic self is dependent upon the system. In another way, this question of the GS being dependent upon the system is well worth going into, this relationship – a so-called ‘relationship’ – is at the very heart of everything. This relationship is a paradoxical one, as Alan Watt says – it is paradoxical because whilst we are told that we are independent, and given the apparent ‘responsibility’ of being autonomous agents, we are in truth wholly dependent upon the system, which determines everything about us. Everything about the generic self comes from the system after all; that’s the whole point of the generic self – the whole point is that nothing is truly ours, the whole point is that everything comes from the outside. This being the case – as it is the case – how could we possibly be ‘independent’ of the system? Society might be said to be a type of ‘hall of mirrors’ in which we only know ourselves through our reflection in other people’s eyes, or in other people’s minds. This makes each person dependent upon every other person to know who or what they are, or even – you might say – if they are. We are addicted to the approval or good opinion of our fellows just as surely as a heroin addict is addicted to heroin, says Anthony De Mello, and this is why – because the collective tells us who we are. The system tells us who we are, and this is why we can’t ever be autonomous beings in the way we like to think we are, or in the way that society paradoxically holds us to be. When we allow ourselves to be defined by the system then we are not independent of that system. When we are defined by a system then we never have any separate existence from that system and so naturally ‘being free from it’ is never going to be a realistic proposition! Neither can it be said to be the case that we can have a relationship with that system – we need to be ‘other’ than something in order to have a relationship with it. A thing can never be said to have a ‘relationship’ with itself.

 

The generic self is the system which informs it, therefore. When we deal with the generic self we are dealing with the system – that’s who we’re talking to. When we are dealing with a socialised human being, then it society itself that we dealing with, and yet the rub here is that society itself doesn’t exist. It might seem somewhat stupid to claim that society doesn’t exist when we can all plainly see that it does (or at least, we can all plainly see that society is an actual ‘thing’ that needs to be taken into consideration) what we mean is that it doesn’t have any genuine existence of its own – it’s a production, it’s a thing that we vote into existence and so if we didn’t vote for it then it wouldn’t be there, plainly. The same is true for any group, clearly – a group is created by everyone involved agreeing to take certain things for granted and if we didn’t so agree then there wouldn’t be any group. Society is created by agreement as are all groups and what this means is that its emissary – the ‘generic self’ – also only exists because we’ve agreed for it to. The GS is no more ‘an autonomously existing entity’ than society is, therefore.

 

It might seem that this (the nonexistence of the GS) would constitute something of a disadvantage but nothing could be further from the truth – the nonexistence of the GS central to the whole scheme of things! The fundamental nonexistence of the GS means that when we identify wholeheartedly with it (as we do) we become very ‘needy’ and that of course suits the system down to the ground. When we are identified with the GS (so that the game which we are playing is the game that we are it) then in the game there is an absolute irrevocable absence of existence, an absence of existence that no one can ever do anything about. This has to be the case – obviously this has to be the case since – by definition – there is nothing of us in it! The GS corresponds to Gurdjieff’s ‘personality’, which James Moore explains by saying that it is ‘other people’s stuff made concrete in us’. We are busy living out other people’s ideas of who we are and what life is about, and the people we got it off acquired these ideas from yet other people, and so on and so forth. Everything is just ‘passed on’ and ‘passed on’ and it’s impossible to identify the original culprit, the original ‘instigator’ of the whole damn thing. The ‘originator’ is a meaningless concept. But because we are all ‘handing over’ our responsibility, with fervent eagerness, to this idea of who we are and what life is about the idea grows and thrives and takes on ‘a life of its own’. It grows and thrives and takes on a life of its own’ despite the fact that it doesn’t have a life, despite the fact that it doesn’t actually exist and never did. It isn’t really life that we talking about here therefore but a species of ‘pseudo-life’ – for what that’s worth.

 

This is what happens as a result of our ‘gullibility’, if we might use that word. Another term might use is ‘conformity’ – we have such a such an urge, such an overwhelming tendency, to conform to the structures and systems that we ourselves have created that these structures and systems take on a life of their own and rule over us (despite the fact that – as we have said – this isn’t real life at all but only a cheap imitation of it, an imitation ‘without any soul’). This process of handing over responsibility (or ‘handing over power’) to the systems that we have ourselves created so that they are empowered and we are correspondingly disempowered is utterly perverse and yet at the same time absolutely characteristic of what it means to be a human being. It’s what we do all the time! We do it all the time and we never pay attention to the fact that we doing it and so the origin or source of our malaise remains a complete mystery to us. We have created endless trouble for ourselves in this way – by handing over our power to the structures that oppress us and render us ‘not properly human’. It might sound unreasonably harsh to say that we are ‘not properly human’, or that we ‘fall short of being human’, but what else would we expect? We create the system and hand over all responsibility to it (so that we think what it wants us to think and behave as it wants us to behave) and this enables the system to ‘create out in its own image’. The system runs us as extensions of itself in other words, and this is what it means to be ‘the generic self’.

 

Because the system ‘runs us as extensions of itself’  – which is absolutely what it does do – it is inevitable that we are going to ‘fall short of what it means to be a human being’. We are no longer functioning as human beings after all – our humanity was the price that we had to pay in order to adapt ourselves to the security-producing mechanical system, as unpalatable by this awareness might be to us. When push comes to shove we will always do what we’re supposed to do; when there is no particular pressure on us then we can have the luxury of fooling ourselves that we are free agents, that we can act autonomously, that we can rebel’, but the bottom line is that our allegiance is always to the system. We can ‘act the rebel’ – we can act any way we like, of course – but these are only ever postures; the GS loves to look as if it’s a rebel but rebelling is the one thing that it can’t ever do. How can the GS rebel when it isn’t us in the first place? How can the GS rebel (or ‘think for itself’) when how it was created in the first place is by totally conforming to the system. The GS is a puppet, it is ‘the act of conformity personified’, and on this account it is never going to make great rebel! Puppets never do.

 

When we are the generic self then we are always going to fall short of what it means to be a human being – that’s a given – but the rub is that we are always going to fall short when it comes to the system’s standards too. The system always has impossible standards to live up to and no matter how machine-like we make ourselves we are always going to fail to meet the required standards. This is simply because the system is an abstract (or ‘unreal’) entity and so its standards are not practically realisable in the real world, which is where we happen to live. This is why the system is such a tyrannical master – because it is trying to impose its unreal standards on us, because it is always trying to make us into an unreal thing like it is’. The machine can’t help doing this because it can’t see itself as being unreal, because it can’t ‘recognise reality as being reality’. So when we experience the inner critic’s ongoing abuse of us, it’s constant derogatory putdowns and vicious belittling of us, this isn’t another human being inside us, it’s the machine. If (just to give one example of this sort of thing) I suffered throughout my childhood at the hands (or at the tongue) of a critical father then the inner critic isn’t ‘my father inside my head’ – for all that it might seem like it – it’s what we are calling ‘the machine’. It’s the very same machine that was in my father’s head. It’s the very same ‘machine’ that keeps on being ‘passed on and on’ from generation to generation. The machine inevitably wants to turn us into faithful versions of itself; whenever we put a machine in charge of us this is always what is going to do. It can never totally succeed however because there is always going to be something human in us, but it’s going to keep on at us all the same. It’s going to keep on ‘putting us through the wringer’ until it gets what it wants, which is an outcome that is never going to happen.

 

Being the GS definitely isn’t what it’s cracked up to be therefore! The only way we can never get to feel ‘good’ is when we get the approval or acceptance of the collective and we can only get the approval or acceptance of the collective by turning our back on ourselves as we truly are and dedicating ourselves to the values that everyone else is dedicating themselves to. Such is society – whether we choose to see it like this or not. This becomes particularly obvious in the type of small rural community where everyone is afraid to be seen as being in any way different or odd; this is a very real fear because when we get to be seen as different or odd in a very small rural community then it becomes all but impossible to live in that committee. But this is a slippery slope that leads inescapably to a very bad place since there is always going to be something a little bit odd or peculiar about us, were anyone to look closely enough. Eradicating all our personal peculiarities is an ‘impossibly ideal’. It is of course also true that folk can get very good indeed at being just like everyone else, and thinking just like everyone else, exactly like everyone else, and believing the very same thing that everyone else believes in but even when we are superlatively skilled at doing this (superlatively skilled in the art of mimicry) there is still always going to be the fear that we are going to be found out for something or other that is out of our control, and this is a fear that is never going to go away. We are balancing on a knife edge and there is no way to get off it. No matter how complacently normal and comfortably judgemental we might be, we are still balancing on a knife edge. The generic self is both complacent and running scared at one and the same time, even if this may sound contradictory.

 

Society is all about interjecting external ideals, external values, and treating them as if they were our own. We are educated in the game and then we play the game. We talk about chasing dreams or achieving our goals but almost invariably these are the system’s dreams and goals and not our own. When I am the generic self then nothing is my own, as we keep saying. It’s always ‘somebody else’s stuff’ When I am the generic self then my individuality, my uniqueness is an illusion; it is no more than a flimsy fantasy that the system supplies me with. It’s a comforting illusion to be sure, but it is an illusion all the same and that’s the frightening thing…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hypnotized By Images

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of images – images are what govern us in everyday life. If we were actually awake (which is to say, if we were actually paying attention to the fact that ‘images are only images and thoughts are only thoughts’) then images (or ideas) wouldn’t govern us, but we aren’t awake. This is the whole point: we aren’t awake and so instead we drift around in this ubiquitous state of being in which we are ‘hypnotised by images’, or ‘hypnotized by thoughts’. Our everyday modality is one in which we are governed by the ideas that we have in our heads and the images that we see all around us (which we also have in our heads because that’s where they take up residence) and the Number One Image that we are presented with in this commercially-orientated world of ours is the image of the existentially fulfilled narcissist! This is an odd notion right from the start because it isn’t possible to be in any way ‘fulfilled’ if we happen to be stuck in the narcissistic mode of being – that’s the one thing we are never going to be! We’re never going to be fulfilled because there is absolutely nothing at all fulfilling about narcissism. Consumerism is all about worshipping images and narcissism is all about worshipping the image of the self, and this means that we’re worshipping an illusion in both cases!

 

This key image – which we are bombarded with ten thousand times every day (unless we happen to be a hermit and therefore insulated from modern life) is deeply contradictory but this doesn’t in the least bit affect the potency of an image – who says that images have to be truthful, after all? The image we’re talking about here is the image of someone (the ‘idealised consumer’) who is leading an exciting and rewarding life as a result of purchasing certain products, or as a result of availing of certain commercial services. The runaway viral propagation of images is called ‘advertising’ of course and advertising is so commonplace to us, so much a part of our life, that we never give it a second thought. On the level that we generally understand it, advertising exists for the sake of selling certain products, certain services. On a deeper level however advertising can be seen as having the function of selling a whole way of life to us, a highly artificial way of life that we that we all now take completely for granted. As John Berger says,

Advertising is not merely an assembly of competing messages; it is a language itself which is always being used to make the same general proposal.

 

Every time we see the image of a happy/excited/fulfilled person within the context of advertising or promotions this is giving us the general message that it is possible for us to live this type of life and at the same time be fulfilled in every possible way. The fact that this message is entirely false doesn’t matter in the least, as we have just said, as the power of an image does not rely on its truthfulness but on its emotional appeal. How often do we see ‘truthful images’ anyway? What would a truthful image look like? Aren’t all images are created with some kind of agenda behind them? Is it even possible to create an image with no covert agenda behind it? In order to do this we would have to be ‘awake’, which is to say, we ourselves would have to be in that state of being in which we are not being controlled by unconscious biases or unconscious programming. When we are being governed by images that we have unconsciously absorbed from the social media, then all we can do is pass on’, whilst being under the impression that we are being original, being creative, being ‘true to ourselves’. This is what ‘the unconscious life‘ is all about…

 

Very oddly, no one ever comments on this. We do often talk about the fact that commercial representations of people promote an ‘idealised body-image’ which is very likely to have an adverse effect on our mental health (= ‘body-facism’). We also remark on the fact that social media generally only has an interest in people who are good-looking (= ‘beauty fascism’) and this too is undoubtedly ‘an unhealthy message’ to be spreading around the place. It is clearly an unhealthy message because it encourages us to be even more superficial than we already are! In focusing on body-fascism and beauty-fascism we missing the most significant point of all however, which is that the representations of people in advertising inevitably present in a highly positive light this proposition that we might call ‘the human being as a narcissist’ and this – without any question at all – has got to be the most disastrous of any image that we could ever be promoting. We are very effectively ‘shutting down our own consciousness’ in this way, and what could be more sinister than this?

 

As a culture, we suffer from a kind of ‘split personality’. We think we can do two things at once which are actually incompatible – we think we can put all this emphasis on the narcissistic modality of being (in the interests of commerce) and yet – at the same time – have some kind of actual integrity as a culture! If this isn’t a joke then what is? We don’t consciously think this of course, it’s just an assumption that we have all too glibly made. We don’t think that the trashy trappings of consumerism are that important really; we don’t think that this type of ‘bubblegum culture’ impacts on who we really are. It’s as if we think we can have all of this instantly disposable two-dimensional ‘rubbish culture’ going on everywhere we look and yet at the same time not be as adversely affected by it in some way. We can’t though – very clearly we can’t! All we need to do is look at the amount of money and resources that goes into commercial advertising (as opposed to any other type of message that might be possible). In order to have an impact on people’s consciousness big money is needed because all the channels of mass communication are operated commercially and this means that the type of message which we are going to see is inevitably going to be messages related to selling stuff, Whether we like it or not we are a culture that is based on consumerism (i.e. shopping) and nothing else. In one way, we already know this – we say it often enough, after all – but in another way it is clear that we don’t take it that seriously. If we did take it seriously then we would do something about it!

 

One way – perhaps the most important way – in which we try to hang onto our dignity and pretend to ourselves that we aren’t entirely superficial as a culture (and who actually wants to be superficial, after all) is by celebrating what we call ‘high culture’ (i.e. the arts and literature and theatre and so on) but whilst high culture might possibly have had relevance at one point in our history, it most certainly doesn’t now. It has now become, as we have said, our way of convincing ourselves that we aren’t entirely shallow and materialistic, which we plainly are. There might be a lot of money caught up in the arts but this just proves the point – culture is predominately the province of the rich and the powerful, and this stratum of society is more committed to the status quo than any other, obviously. They have got a lot more to lose if it changes! Our so-called ‘culture’ is just so much ‘window dressing’ when it comes down to it; it has no impact on our collective consciousness whatsoever and how can ‘culture’ be worthy of the name unless it has a profound impact on our consciousness? How can art be worthy of being called ‘art’ and this is unless it radically changes the way we see the world?

 

The truth is that we have quite forgotten the role of art, which – as Gurdjieff says – was originally to wake us up out of our everyday bland forgetful type of ‘awareness’ and cause us to ‘remember ourselves’. It exists as an antidote to the general anaesthesia, we might say. Art isn’t something that we ‘do in our sleep’, therefore. There are only two types of messages in the world – the messages that have the function of waking us up and the messages that have the antithetical function of anaesthetizing us, putting us to sleep. Our culture, without any doubt at all, (how could we possibly doubt it?) is totally geared towards the latter. All messages that have anything to do with commercial interests are there to ‘put us to sleep’ – it’s not in anyone’s interest that we should become more conscious rather than less conscious. [Although of course we could also say that it is in everyone’s interest that we do become more conscious.]

 

We could give one more example of how we try to pretend that we’re not as superficial as we are. Contemporary society’s interest in mindfulness and meditation arguably has much the same role as ‘culture’,  which is to say, it is there more as ‘a way of offsetting our general awareness of how terribly shallow and unsatisfying our modern way of life is’ than it is there for any other, loftier, reason. Again, if there were more to it than this then we would be actively challenging the deeply conservative structures that exist in society, and – to date – there are very few signs of this. We are – on the contrary – frighteningly compliant! Perhaps future generations might be interested in challenging the debilitating status quo more than we are, but we don’t seem to be in any great hurry to do so! There was far more ‘challenging’ going on in the 60s and early 70s than there is now, despite all our despite the current burgeoning interest in mindfulness and yoga, and healthy lifestyles, and so on.

 

The problem is of course – as has often been pointed out – that we have done what we are best at in the West – we have packaged the ‘consciousness movement’ and turned it into yet another product, albeit an apparently ‘less materialistic’ one. There is a change in emphasis here however that is both subtle, and at the same time not-so-subtle. It is ‘subtle’ because we haven’t noticed it happening, and it is ‘unsubtle’ because it represents hundred and eighty degree turnaround. It is a hundred and eighty degree turnaround because it has now become something to support the self-image, (i.e. something to enhance or validate or ‘accessorise’ it), rather than something to painfully show it up what it actually is, i.e. an obscuration of our true ‘self-less’ nature. Very clearly, there couldn’t be a bigger turnaround than this! What we are actually looking at here – as peculiar as it might sound – is yoga for narcissists, tai chi for narcissists, mindfulness for narcissists, etc. We only need to look at the images that we use to advertise yoga or mindfulness which are – of course – images of ‘good-looking happy people who are having a wonderful life and enhancing it even more with a bit of self-awareness’! It’s a very attractive image to be sure – the only down-side being that it is at the same time infinitely superficial!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selling Narcissism

The social life is one in which we are perpetrating a kind of hoax, with ever without ever focusing on the fact that this is what we are doing. We are perpetrating a hoax on ourselves, in other words. We very much tend to think that society (or the social life) is about something else, something eminently practical, but – primarily – this is the function that is being served. We are maintaining a fiction, we are validating a ‘purely arbitrary narrative’. No one who has ever studied society would ever claim otherwise.

 

One simple way to talk about this hoax is to say that we have been sold the idea that it is possible (and not just possible but highly desirable) to have a type of life that in reality it is just not possible to have. This is a rather big hoax therefore since, if we fall for it (as we generally do) then instead of living the life that it IS possible for us to live, we will be forever trying to live a life which we simply CAN’T live, no matter how hard we may try to do so.

 

As we have said, this is very far from being an obvious point; it’s so far from being obvious that most people wouldn’t get it no matter how much effort you were to put into trying to explain it. Of all the difficult things to explain this is right there at the top, and – not only is it challenging to explain and challenging to understand – the plain fact of the matter is that we absolutely don’t want to understand it anyway. We are very much invested in not understanding it; our whole lives – obviously enough – have been invested in this hoax and so can we really aren’t going to be open to this type of discussion.

 

One way that we could look at the hoax in question however is to say that it revolves around the idea that it is ‘good to be a narcissist’! This not ever stated like this of course, but that’s what it comes down to. We are presented with the idea or image of this type of life (the narcissistic type of life) and along with the image come all sorts of subtle (and not so subtle) incentivizations for us to conform to it. We are ‘sold the package’, in other words. We are sold the package and, as Sogyal Rinpoche says, we are sold it with superlative skill. Our great expertise as a culture lies precisely in promoting this particular illusion.

 

We are skilfully manoeuvred not only into believing that the narcissistic life is a very rewarding and satisfying one, but also into believing that it is the only type of life that there ever could be! Add into the equation the fact that everyone around us is also falling for this story hook, line and sinker, then the chances are that we will never smell a rat. The chances that we won’t fall for this hoax are microscopically tiny. There is a rat however and as it happens it is rather a big one. It’s a very big rat indeed! This is King Rat that we talking about here – the Great Granddaddy of all rats and there should be no doubt about that! This is the hoax of all hoaxes and no one seems to know anything about it. The problem is that we don’t know anything else – we don’t have anything else to go by. This is a lot like living in a dysfunctional family or being in an abusive relationship – we think what we going through is normal, we don’t realise that we are being taken for a ride. We mistake our prison for reality.

 

The nature of our prison (which is ‘the prison of narcissism’) is that it is entirely hollow, without any genuine substance (or ‘goodness’) to it at all. It is – we might say – ‘fundamentally unwholesome’. Our primary activity involves striving perpetually to bring in some kind of actual substance into our lives, or perhaps fooling ourselves into believing that there is some kind of substance there when there just plain isn’t. An example of how we cultivate this particular illusion is given by John Berger – the trick that we use (according to Berger) is that we go to a lot of trouble to create an impression or image of ourselves that makes it look as though we’re having a good time even though we’re not really, so that we can make other people envious of us. This is what Berger calls glamour.

It is true that in publicity one brand of manufacture, one firm, competes with another; but it is also true that every publicity image confirms and enhances every other. Publicity is not merely an assembly of competing images: it is a language in itself which is always being used to make the same general proposal. Within publicity, choices are offered between this cream and that cream, that car and this car, but publicity as a system only makes a single proposal.

It proposes to each of us that we transform ourselves, or our lives, by buying something more.

This more, it proposes, will make us in some way richer – even though we will be poorer by having spent our money.

Publicity persuades us of such a transformation by showing us people who have apparently been transformed and are, as a result, enviable. The state of being envied is what constitutes glamour. And publicity is the process of manufacturing glamour.

 

When we see that other people are envious of what they think we’ve got, then we can logically infer that there must have something there to be envious of! This then is John Berger’s explanation of what the hoax is. We might naïvely think that – in this consumer society – we invest all our energy on buying products so ‘the products will make us happy’, but this isn’t it – we are acquiring all the stuff and the status that goes with it in order that others might think we are happy, which then allows us to feed off the illusion that they have about us. Deep down we know that we can’t buy happiness but, what we can do is construct a believable illusion of us having a good time, having a meaningful life, so that we and others can believe in this illusion – the illusion that it is possible to live the type of conditioned life society promotes and actually benefit from this. The purest example of this is of course social media – why else would we spend so much of our time posting images of ourselves having a good time if we weren’t trying to construct a ‘believable illusion’?

 

Nothing we have so far said comes across as being too formidably difficult to understand, which is what we started out by saying. When the ‘difficulty’ comes in however is with the actual reason for the narcissistic life being so hollow, so devoid in substance or meaning. Why is the narcissistic life a life that is ‘impossible to live’? One way of looking at this is to think in terms of the Buddhist idea of ‘the good mind versus the bad mind’ – the good mind is the mind of compassion, and ‘the bad mind’ is the mind of self-interest or self-cherishing. If we live on the basis of the mind of compassion then there is meaning in our lives and we can actually grow; if on the other hand we live on the basis of self-interest or self-cherishing then our lives inevitably become sterile and joyless and there can be no growth. Who could possibly disagree with this?

 

All religions who have the function of teaching the compassion is better than selfishness (or at least they started out that way), but the point is that this is not merely a matter of ‘utility’; if we actually sat down and thought about it we would see this psychological truth very clearly – there can be no meaning in the life of the narcissist. We don’t of course ever see ourselves in this way; we have identified NPD as a designated psychiatric condition, it’s an ‘official diagnosis’, but this makes it even easier not to recognise that narcissism, to some extent or other, is pretty much the norm in our society. It also effectively distracts us from seeing that our consumer society actually relies on us falling into the trance of narcissism. We pathologize narcissism and promote it both at the same time therefore, which is rather conflicted of us, to say the least!

 

The ‘hoax’ that is being perpetrated in society (and very effectively too) is that it is possible to live in the Narcissistic Mode (even though we won’t call it that) and also at the same time lead a meaningful and fulfilling life, and because of the way that societal pressure works we feel obliged – without reflecting on the fact very much – to maintain the fiction that we are having that we are happy, that we are having the life we want to be living, et cetera. In this is what ‘living the life of the image’ is all about. This is where all the emphasis goes – into fooling ourselves (and others) that we are all having a great time having a great life. That however is quite impossible – obviously it’s quite impossible! What we are trying to do here is create the impression that everything is good is if the impression itself were the thing that mattered and not what the impression is about.

 

In very plain and simple terms what we’re doing here is to pretend to ourselves that the idea which we have (about ourselves or about life) is the real thing, and that therefore that this idea that we have (without realizing that it is only an idea) is the only thing worth concerning ourselves with. The idea we have about who we are and what life is all about is not just ‘important’ to us therefore, it is so overwhelmingly important that it obliterates all awareness of anything else. And even though it is very easy and very straightforward to make such a statement it doesn’t actually help us any to do so because we are all so totally convinced that ‘the idea is the thing’. This is our blindness. We are so convinced that we simply can’t be told otherwise, and this isn’t any sort of hyperbole – if you try to suggest to anybody that their idea of ‘who they are’ is nothing to do with ‘who they really are’ and you will be met with a blank look. Either that or the person you are talking to will automatically think that they know what you mean without really knowing…

 

There is a difference between the two things however and that difference is the biggest and most profound difference there ever could be. What we’re talking about here is the greatest gulf there is, no words exist that can express the enormity of this gulf and yet if you try to get this point across to someone you will almost certainly discover that you just can’t do it. If our mental health rests upon anything then it rests upon an awareness or appreciation of this gulf, an awareness or appreciation of this discontinuity, and – we keep saying – our awareness in this on this score is zero. We don’t appreciate that there is any fundamental  / irreconcilable mismatch between the conceptual world which we are so very familiar with, and the world as it is in itself.

 

This is easy to show – if our ‘awareness of the discontinuity’ wasn’t zero, wasn’t nonexistent, then every time we talked about ideas or thought about the world then we would do so in an ironic way. Our entire language will change accordingly in other words – we would no longer be talking in such a dull, flat, ‘concrete’ way. This becomes particularly pertinent in the case of our approach to mental health. If you were (for some reason) to open up any psychology textbook or journal you will immediately see the dullest, flattest, most concrete pseudo-technical language you could ever possibly imagine. There is very little in the world less interesting, less vibrant, less ‘coma-inducing’ than this type of stuff. The same will be true if you were to eavesdrop on a bunch of mental healthcare professionals talking shop (CBT or DBT therapists for example) – the language being used in this type of setting is invariably concrete, technical and dull – you’d feel like yawning and going to sleep on the spot if you didn’t have your professional image to maintain!

 

What life comes down to when we have no awareness of the discontinuity between thought and the reality is ‘the worshipping of the image’. Everything is about the image; nothing exists apart from the image – so what else could we possibly do other than ‘worshipping the image’. This is what narcissism is – it’s the worshipping the image which we call ‘the self’. In terms of mental health care, and our whole societal approach to mental health, what happens is that we – very absurdly – get diverted into promoting and maintaining the idea of ourselves, the image we have of ourselves. We are trying to protect and perpetuate a construct in other words, and the health or well-being of the construct – needless to say – has nothing to do with actual well-being! The construct doesn’t have any well-being anyway – there is no way for a construct to be well or not well, healthy or not healthy because it is only ‘a construct’! Within the narrow terms of the game that is being played the health of the concept does mean something (just as it does in any regular role-playing game on a computer or game console) but this doesn’t translate into actual reality. It doesn’t translate into actual reality at all. The reverse is true in fact because the more we cherish the concept or idea of ourselves the more we deny our true nature, and ‘denying our true nature’ is a recipe for all sorts of mental suffering!

 

So in a way (a very narrow way) it could be said that our fixing-type therapies are ‘genuinely technical’ – the only proviso being that they are all about ‘maintaining the health of the construct’, which is an unreal and therefore irrelevant thing. The poor inadequate self-construct is under siege from reality and it urgently needs some sort of support if it is not to give way under the strain; when this happens then in colloquial terms we call it a ‘mental breakdown’. Our general understanding of a mental breakdown is that it is just about the worst thing that could ever happen to us – it’s the ultimate personal catastrophe. In real terms however to see that the mental construct or idea that we have of ourselves is not all that it is cracked up to be (i.e. that it is not as important as we think it is) the most helpful thing that could ever possibly happen to us. When this happens we have the possibility of establishing a relationship with our true nature and establishing a relationship with who we truly are (outside of the narcissistic game that we are playing) is what mental health really all about. The one thing that it isn’t about is repairing our narcissistic bubble, which is all our culture cares about…