The Glamour of the Generic Self

The generic self is glamorous. Whenever it can, it displays a side to itself that is attractive, alluring, and mysterious. Needless to say, the GS is none of these things but that isn’t to say that it can’t conjure up the image when it has to; that’s what glamour is all about after all – it isn’t a naturally occurring attribute but an aspect of ourselves that we cultivate on purpose, an aspect of ourselves that is brought about by both clever stage-management and ‘putting one over on the audience’. It’s a scam, in other words.

 

If we wanted an example of the generic self being glamorous then we need look no further than the world of advertising – the world of advertising is full of glamorous representations of the generic self, it’s made up of nothing else but this. When we see the generic self being glamorous then we want what it’s got, we want the life that it is living. It is because we want that the life that the glamorous generic self is living that the advertising gets its grip on us, obviously. The naïve view is to say that ‘advertising exists in order to sell us the products that are being advertised’. This is true enough on one level of course but there’s more to it than just this – that’s just the icing on the cake. The bigger picture is to say – as John Berger does – that advertising is there to sell us a whole way of life (i.e. advertising is how society sells itself to us). The other way of looking at this is simply to say that advertising is how society sells the generic self to us since it is only as the generic self that we can get to avail of this way of life, this glitzy image-based culture. If we want to enjoy the products and services that are being offered to us then we have to be the generic self; we have to be the generic self since these things are only meaningful from its point of view.

 

We might wonder just how effective advertising really is and whether it justifies the millions that are spent on it every year and various answers could be given, but when it comes to ‘getting us to want to live the life of the generic self’ then there can hardly be any doubt on this score – it’s the most effective strategy ever! Who doesn’t want to jump on this train? The only people who haven’t jumped on board this particular bandwagon – almost as a rule – are those who haven’t whatever reason been able to.

 

The generic self may be glamorous, and we may have thought into its allure hook, line and sinker, but it isn’t us. This is the crucial point to understand. As soon as we use the term ‘the generic self’ we already know that this isn’t who we are – no one goes around feeling that they are ‘a generic person’ after all! We don’t really have any concept of the GS at all; it’s not part of our vocabulary. The whole process of ‘being seduced by the charms of the generic self and then ending up in a situation where we think we actually are this fictional self is not one that we ever bring any consciousness to – it’s not on our list or inventory of ‘things to be aware of’. We aren’t aware of ‘losing freedom’ and in any event this way of looking at things doesn’t occur to us in the first place; we don’t really know what freedom means in this profound sense, we only have a very gross understanding of what is meant by the word. ‘Freedom’, in the psychological sense, means freedom from the generic self – that’s the only thing it can possibly mean. What kind of freedom can we have as the generic, after all?

 

The generic self is the graveyard of individuality. It is the graveyard of everything worthwhile  and interesting – it has behaviour pertaining to it, to be sure, but this is not behaviour that comes out of a real human being, but rather it is only a conglomeration of second-hand thoughts and impressions along with the mechanical reflexes that come about as a result of them. Jung uses the word Everyman: when we follow our crude ‘passions’, he says, then we become Everyman – there is in this case nothing unique (or truly ours) in us, nothing that is not in everyone else. We are ‘infinitely interchangeable with everyone else’ in this case; there is a type kind of ‘cheapness’ to us, a profound lack of any originality or sincerity whatsoever. We could go through our lives full of energy and vigour, full of determination, getting involved in all sorts of things, having lots and lots to say on every subject, but all of this has no ‘meaning’ at all if it comes out of the generic self rather than out of who we really are. It’s no ore than a horror show, really. It’s ‘a thing that happens’, to be sure, but it really and truly has got nothing to do with us. We assume that it does, we imagine that it does, we feel as if it does, but it absolutely doesn’t! Something mechanical (something that isn’t us and isn’t anybody) is living through us and we don’t know it.

 

This is a kind of ‘test of the imagination’ therefore – does this idea or proposition makes sense to us or does it not? If it does make sense then not only does it make ‘intellectual sense’ (like any coherent idea would) it also makes an intense visceral sense too, a visceral sense that is extraordinarily repugnant or repellent. What could be more odious fate than to be going through life like this? The generic self at core is not a pleasant creature, despite its undeniably ‘glamorous’ aspect. It’s not a pleasant creature at all! If we don’t have the imagination to see what the GS is or what ‘life as the GS’ is all about then that is another thing entirely however. We are interested in other things, trivial things, but not in the question of noticing or appreciating what an odious fate it is to be identified with Jung’s ‘Everyman‘. This is a normal way for us human beings to be – we are interested in freedom, but not in freedom from the generic self; we are interested in lots of things, but not in becoming aware of the horror of our actual situation. We are interested in ‘not knowing the truth’, in other word. Even saying this isn’t quite right however – who is there to be either ‘interested’ or ‘not interested’ anyway? Only the GS is there and the GS isn’t us, as we keep saying. It isn’t anybody. It’s Everybody but it’s also nobody…

 

When we look at Everyman as he or she is portrayed in the adverts, it’s not the repellent side of it we see, that’s for sure! On the contrary, there’s something about this self that really makes us ‘want to be it’ – we want to be in its shoes not ours. We want to be in its shoes not ours because it has such very nice shoes! Our own situation is of negligible value – that of the glamorous generic self however is exciting to us beyond measure, we almost feel faint with excitement. This straightaway gives us a clue about where this seductive glamour comes from – the clue is that it is the GS who is experiencing the envy and longing. The GS is after all – as we have said – quite empty of anything interesting or worthwhile; it is not directly aware of this grievous lack (being quite devoid of any self-awareness) but what it is aware of instead are all the wonderful qualities that it perceives as being the property of someone else. The glamour that we are being daily hypnotised by is our own projection therefore; it doesn’t belong anywhere else even though we are absolutely convinced (flatly convinced) that it does. Very curiously therefore (and what could be more curious than this?) we are envious of our own inner impoverishment which has become manifest for us in ‘an upside-down way’ as the wonderful, super-enticing glamorousness of our own projections! We are (invertedly) relating to our own ‘inner poverty’ but we don’t know it.

 

‘Glamour’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, therefore. It isn’t what it’s cracked up to be at all – and neither is the generic self! The ‘value’ or ‘magic’ that we perceive, and which we are maddeningly attracted to, doesn’t actually exist anywhere. It doesn’t exist outside of ourselves (which is where we think it is) and it doesn’t exist within us either. What we are really seeing, as we have just said, is our own utter sterility turned on its head and re-presented to us as the promise of riches or wealth. We are always chasing treasures, we are always striving after ‘external values’, but the stuff we are forever trying to get our hands on is actually the inverted representation of our own denied poverty, if only we could see it. This characteristic ‘grasping’ activity only ever perpetuates our poverty, therefore. This is what the ‘mechanical life’ is all about – perpetuating the poverty, perpetuating the hollowness. We are ‘perpetuating the poverty that is ourselves’; as Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas (Saying 3) –

When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty.

We are ‘perpetuating the poverty that is us’, but saying this isn’t quite right either because what we are so busy perpetuating isn’t really us but ‘who we think we are’, which is the generic self. This is the ‘essential mechanism’ of unconscious life. To say that this is ‘an utterly crazy situation’ is the understatement of the century – what could be crazier than this? In the adverts the generic self looks as if it knows what it’s doing, it looks as if it is successfully seeking and finding its own benefit (and greatly enjoying it too). The GS looks as if it is leading a wonderfully satisfying life, a thrilling and magical life – this is the illusion that is being so cleverly fostered by the advertising industry, after all – but none of this is true. It is all an utterly fantastical hallucination and it is this ‘utterly fantastical hallucination’ that our society promotes so effectively every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Be Oneself In The World

To ‘be truly oneself in the world’ is fantastically, exquisitely difficult, and at the same time it is so sublimely effortless! It’s a kind of a paradox – it is after all because we always assume that we have to make an effort that we find ‘being ourselves in the world’ so difficult.

 

Any sort of doctrine, any sort of belief, philosophy or theory always means that we have to make a ‘specific effort’ of some sort. This is what a doctrine/belief/philosophy/theory is – it’s a bias of some kind, it’s an ‘overvaluing of one thing and a corresponding devaluing of another’. That’s how the discriminative mind works – it works by discriminating! ‘Discrimination’ means ‘this rather than that’ (obviously enough!) and so how can we ‘simply be ourselves in the world’ on the basis of ‘this rather than that’, which is a specifically-directed effort? I have to stop one thing and promote another, which is controlling, and – very clearly – there is no way we can ‘simply be ourselves in the world’ by controlling! There’s nothing simple about controlling. Or perhaps ‘being ourselves’ is not what we want, in which case controlling is serving us after all….

 

But even if ‘being truly ourselves’ is what we want, and we are expending effort in order to bring about this state of affairs, we are still going to miss the mark. We’re going to ‘miss the mark’ – so to speak – because we’re directing all our efforts towards approximating a ‘mental image of’ who we truly are’, and the problem is that we just can’t have an image of this! We can’t formulate an image of who we truly are (in order to aim at approximating it) because we just don’t know. We’re wasting our time entertaining mental images when it comes to the question of ‘who we are’. We don’t actually know what or who we are, so how can we hope to find out by straining either in one direction or another? And yet if we restrain ourselves from straining, or ‘making the effort’, and do nothing instead, this doesn’t work either, as the following words by Chuang-Tzu indicate –

The Confucian and the religious Taoist jump too far and fall on the other side, while the hedonist, the Buddhist, and the recluse fail to get on it at all. Chaung Tzu would smile at this situation and say, “You folks are too drunk with all those ‘isms’ of yours. Just be yourself in the world, neither trying (wu wei) nor not-trying (wu–pu-wei), and then you will find yourself on the horseback. For the ‘horse’ is none other than ‘yourself-in-the-world”.

All we ever do with ‘effort’ or ‘striving’ (or by deliberate ‘not-striving’) is to follow the discriminative mind wherever it points and the one thing that we can be sure of in life is that wherever to discriminating mind points is not going to be ‘it’.  ‘Neither this, nor that’, says the verse in the Upanishads. You are neither this nor that, nor anything else the thinking mind says you are. If we could understand this then that would save us from an awful lot of wasted effort therefore – the thinking mind is forever sending us on wild goose chases of one sort or another and no matter how many times it happens to us we never seem to wise up. We are as gullible, easy to trick, as ever…

 

We can never find ‘balance’ (or’ harmony’) in life by thinking about it. We can never find harmony in life by thinking about it because thoughts are always disharmonious! Thought is disharmonious by its very nature; thought – as we have already said – always proceeds on the basis of bias, deeming – as it cannot help but doing – ‘one thing more important than the other’. Krishnamurti says that’ thought is conflict’, which is another way of putting it. Thought is always fighting to establish its way over any other way; it is always striving to validate its own arbitrary assumptions even though does not acknowledged that these assumptions exist. This being the case, how can we ever expect to find the harmony which we are yearning for (whether we know it or not) by ‘being clever’ (or ‘thinking about it’)?

 

The truth is – as all the mystics say – that we are already there, we’re already part of that harmony, and so we ‘spoil it’ by trying, by making efforts to be there, to be ‘in harmony’. ‘When we try to accord we deviate’, as the Daoists say. We always think that ‘things aren’t right’, and that we need to ‘X, Y and Z’ in order to make them right. And even if someone were to come up to us and explain this to us, in a way that we could understand, all that would happen then would be that we would start deliberately trying to undo or counteract the biased efforts of the discriminating mind to ‘secure advantage’. All that’s happening here then is that this same discriminative mind is still trying to ‘secure the advantage’. It’s still trying to ‘solve the problem’. Bias cannot be used to overcome bias; the thinking mind cannot be used to remedy the thinking mind. When we use bias to remedy bias the one does not cancel out the other; instead of ‘cancelling out’ they ‘add up’ and introduce another layer of complication to an already complicated picture!

 

Isn’t this what ‘spiritual practice’ so often comes down to, trying to become a ‘more spiritually-orientated person’ and thereby rejecting or turning our backs on ourselves as we actually are? This is what Chogyam Trungpa calls ‘spiritual materialism’-

Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.

Spiritual materialism is – we might say – where we make a career out of being ‘spiritually-orientated people’; entering consciously into the unbroken harmony of life isn’t something that we can make a career of, or make any kind of a ‘thing’ of at all, however. This isn’t something that comes about as a result of making goals, as we keep saying – it’s not the sort of thing we can plan for. Similarly, there is no way we can develop a persona (or a life-style) around being conscious!

 

And yet – as we all know perfectly well – merely to carry on as we already are carrying on, mired up to our necks in our habitual thoughts, beliefs and behaviours, enmeshed in patterns we don’t have the power to break, is not going to do us any good either! We’re caught up in a ‘fundamental conflict situation’, at the heart of which is the FSOS (which is the ‘mind-created self’), and this conflict situation is only ever going to get more ‘aggravated’, more ‘inflamed’, more and more ‘entrenched’  as time goes on. This is the principle alluded to by Shakespeare in his play Macbeth where Macbeth famously says –

By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good,

All causes shall give way. I am in blood

Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er.

We all know this principle very well of course; this is the very familiar situation where the lie we tell grows bigger and bigger (because that’s what lies do) and all we can do is ‘go along with it’, hoping (stupidly) that it’s all somehow going to come out OK in the end. So it is with the ‘assumed sense of self’, the ‘self construct’ which is ‘the fixed position we have adopted and then got stuck with’. So just ‘carrying on as we are’ is no good (because we are then going to be in Macbeth’s situation, although the chances are that we won’t have the insight he had) and yet if we try to improve ourselves so as to become more ‘spiritually-orientated’ then that’s no good either, for the reasons we have already gone into. All we are doing in this case is putting our ideas about what ‘leading a more spiritual life’ means to us into action and doing our best to follow through with them. This isn’t the same thing at all however; this is actually just what we always do – we are always ‘living our ideas of what we think life should be’, we are always imposing our own logic, our own brand of ‘order’ on the world. The art of living isn’t to find better or clever ways of imposing our own brand of order onto the world – that isn’t ‘art’ at all but mere bullying – the ‘art of living’ lies precisely in not doing this, it lies in ‘getting out of our own way’ (not in ‘imposing our own way’, which is what we think it is).

 

So just to summarise what we have been saying up to this point, using a method (whether it be a ‘therapeutic’ or ‘spiritual’ one) isn’t the answer because all methods are biases, because all methods are ‘disharmonious’. All we are doing is ‘thrashing around’. Who is using the method anyway apart from the ‘false or assumed idea of ourselves’ that we have randomly picked up along the way, and what exactly does that ‘false or assumed idea of ourselves’ want, other than to prove that it isn’t false! What else can the false idea of ourselves ever want to do other than ‘try to prove that it isn’t false’? What else could ever possibly motivate it? We can look at this in terms of guidance systems – the false idea of ourselves is, we might say, a ‘guidance system’ that is always going to lead us in the direction of increased suffering!

 

The false sense of ourselves as exactly the wrong thing to put our trust in therefore; the FSOS doesn’t trust itself either when it comes right down to it – it has no intuitive connection with anything (naturally enough) it is as a consequence ‘ all at sea’. What it does therefore is to pick up to pick some sort of angle or theory or belief at random, and then just ‘go along with it’ in a totally unquestioning way. It adopts a set of biases which it declares to be ‘true’, in other words! We need hardly point out that this pretty much sums up the entire history of the human race! Sometimes of course it may appear that the FSOS has no belief, has no ‘theory’ or ‘philosophy’ about life, but this isn’t so. When this seems to be the case – is it very often does – all that this means is that the FSOS has adopted the ‘default strategy’, the ‘default philosophy’. This ‘default philosophy’ – which is not a conscious one, by any means – simply states ‘I am always right’. In other words, whatever mechanical impulse may happen to come into my head I am just going to obey without question. This default strategy saves us from having to think any deeper about life – it is true – but only at the price of increased suffering.

 

To ‘be oneself in the world’ is not a matter of identifying with whatever deterministic imprint comes our way, it’s not a matter of blithely ‘going along’ with whatever phoney identity happens to land in our lap (which indicates that we don’t really give a damn what is true or not) that’s certainly not ‘ being oneself in the world’ – on the contrary, that’s being ‘the false idea of oneself in the world’! Not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with that; ‘being the false sense of self is the world’ is a perfectly legitimate thing to do – we are of course completely free to do this. We could look upon it as a type of experiment – the experiment might be framed in terms of a question such as ‘what is it like to live life from the basis of the FSOS?’ (or perhaps, ‘What happens when we believe ourselves to be the FSOS in the world?’) It turns out that experiment – in one way – isn’t very interesting. It isn’t very interesting (or ‘fruitful’) because we only ever ends up in Macbeth’s situation, which is the situation where we’re ‘going ahead with what we’re doing because it’s easier to do this than it is to go back’! We press ahead to the conclusion, therefore, even if the conclusion is also our doom.

 

In another way (seen ‘the other way around’, we could say) the experiment is very interesting indeed! It is interesting because as soon as we get the hang of realizing that we don’t have to go along with the mechanical inertia of the situation, and that we are free to look at the world in ways that do not serve the narrow interests of the false or assumed sense of self, then we see that there is an awful lot out there to see. There’s a whole world out there to see and engage with – a world that has absolutely nothing to do with the predetermined script followed by this limited idea that we have of ourselves. This world is burgeoning with possibilities; it is as rich in possibilities as the ‘world’ which the FSOS concerns itself with is poor. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas (Saying 3) –

Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.

When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.

We are still faced by the central paradox however – we can’t carry on the same as before, and neither can we do anything about it! What are to do therefore? The key to this dilemma lies in our motivation, as we have just hinted. The motivation of the self-construct is a very superficial type of motivation, the type of motivation that only ever wants to know what the solution to the problem is. What I really mean when I want to know ‘what the solution to the problem is’ is ‘What do I have to do in order to carry on being able to believe that I really and truly am this assumed sense of self?’ Naturally enough, I don’t frame the question in quite this way, but that’s what I mean. That’s the question that I’m actually asking. Everything we do (when we are in the normal (unconscious) mode of existence) is motivated by this question; as we have already said, the ‘false sense of self’ only has the one underlying motivation and that is to constantly prove to itself that it isn’t false.

 

Everything the FSOS does is based on preserving the integrity of this belief, obviously enough. Everything is based upon ‘me believing that I am who I think I am’ – all of my actions derive from this premise; all of my hopes and expectations, all of my plans, exist in relation to this all-important foundation stone. And yet – of course – it isn’t a ‘foundation stone’ at all, it’s pure supposition, it’s ‘pie in the sky’, it’s ‘a bucketful of moonshine’. The life of the FSOS is necessarily orientated around one Very Big Problem therefore, the problem being – ‘how to keep on successfully avoiding seeing that its basis doesn’t exist’. This isn’t a problem that it can address consciously either since that would rather tend to give the game away! Instead of addressing the problem consciously therefore we address it unconsciously – we turn everything around so it seems to us that we are pursuing ‘positive values’ in the outside world when the whole time what we really trying to do is validate our idea of ourselves, or ‘prove to ourselves at the FSOS really does exist’. That’s what we’re motivated to try to do.

 

This type of motivation is a very ‘flat’ or ‘two-dimensional’ one however – is nothing behind it but ‘the truth we don’t want to know about’, and so we’re stuck operating on this very superficial (and deceptive) level. On the face of it, we are interested in all these different things, we’re interested in this and in that and it’s all very diverse. The truth of the matter is very different however – we’re only interested in stuff that supports our very narrow view of the world, stuff that ‘supports our assumptions’. We’re only interested in the type of information that supports what we want to believe in and this selective attention is where our terrible ‘inner poverty’ comes from. The cure for this poverty is simply – therefore – to take an interest in the stuff that we don’t want to know, to take an interest in the stuff that challenges our preconceptions. We don’t have to go looking too far for challenges to our world-view (or to our ‘self-view’!) – they are after all arriving on our doorstep all the time!