The social world which we inhabit makes only one requirement of us and that is that we adapt ourselves to it. The only real rule of the system is that we should fit in, in other words. It is the perception that we aren’t fitting in, or that we don’t know how to fit in, that lies behind social anxiety. Social anxiety is a peculiar thing inasmuch as we don’t really ‘get it’ unless we ourselves suffer from it, which is to say, we don’t really understand how important it is that we should fit into society until we can’t! If we were to think about it a bit more deeply, we knew we would see that nothing else would matter the social world other than itself ever – the social world is a equilibrium-system and an equilibrium system – by definition – doesn’t care about anything other than its own standards. ‘Its own standards’ constitute the equilibrium that it is always trying to accord with – the social system is always ‘agreeing with itself’, so to speak. It doesn’t know how to do anything else.
If we adapt ourselves to the social world then ‘that’s all that matters’ therefore; that’s all we need to do. We can rest content with this achievement (according to the social system at least). This is where the problem lies however – we believe the social system when it says that ‘everything is okay’, when it says that ‘we are okay’, but the social system, like any equilibrium system, is only right because it sets it is. It’s not right for any other reason, it’s not right because of any reasons that might exist outside of itself, it’s only right because it has agreed with itself that it is! The social world is in equilibrium-based system, as we keep saying, and equilibrium systems orientate themselves around their assumed equilibria values (i.e. they are normative in nature) and so they are as a consequence completely insensitive to anything else. Anything else is branded as error – it is branded as error because he doesn’t agree with the assumed values and if we can understand this basic principle then we can understand all that we need to know about the social world.
To understand that society is an E-system and to understand ‘what E-systems are’ is important because then we can understand why adapting to the social world can never be any kind of ‘final end’. Never mind a ‘final end’, it’s not even taking us in the right direction! We are all very naïve this way – we’re stupendously naïve, in fact. We think that when society tells us that we doing well (i.e. when our peers or people in positions of authority tell us that we doing well) then this actually means something. We think that we can pat ourselves on our back then; absurdly, we allow ourselves to feel that we have in some way tackled life’s great existential challenge, and have, moreover, come out of the test covered in glory. We can see this happening all around us – everywhere we look we can see that those of us who have in some way successfully adapted themselves to society up are allowing themselves to believe that jumping through whatever hoops we have to jump through is the same thing as ‘rising to life’s challenge’. This is absurd of course because if life were to challenge us then we would fall to pieces immediately. We’re not prepared for a real challenge. This is because society is no more than a game, no more than ‘an exercise in make-believe’, and those of us who’ve done well in it have simply demonstrated ‘our prowess in pretending’.
We can’t of course just turn our backs on the social world – in practical terms, there just isn’t really else to go! We can’t head off to live in the desert or in the wilderness or the mountains because the deserts or the wilderness or the mountain can’t support us all – humanity has become far too numerous for that to be an option any more. What we can do however is take part in society without at the same time complacently allowing ourselves to believe that achieving social adaptation is the same thing as ‘rising to life’s existential challenge’! It’s not that we shouldn’t have to perform our socialised roles and tasks, therefore (although perhaps sometimes we shouldn’t) but rather that we shouldn’t take them seriously as society wants us to. It is a crucial part of the game that we should be ‘taking it seriously’ of course – a game isn’t a game unless we take it seriously – and so what we are actually saying here is if it were the case that we had any genuine interest in own well-being, our own mental health, then we would give up the social game as a bad deal. It would no longer be the main thing in life (if not the only thing). No good whenever come out of putting all our money on the social game, after all. It can’t – after all – supply us with the one thing that we need, which is ‘who we truly are’. It can supply us with all sorts of things but not this; that, we have to work out for ourselves!
It sounds (perhaps) sarcastic to express things in this way; it sounds sarcastic to say ‘if it were the case that we had any genuine interest in our own well-being’ but it’s not meant in that way. It’s important to acknowledge that it is extraordinarily hard to see through the hoax that has been perpetrated on us by society (which is to say, ‘by ourselves’). The hoax is that our well-being is the same thing as the well-being of the social fiction which is the mind-created sense of self (or ‘I-concept’, as Wei Wu Wei puts it). So it’s not that we don’t have any interest in our mental health, but rather that we have been tricked into lavishing all of our caring or all our attention in the wrong direction, onto the image of ourselves rather than what lies behind this image (which is something we can never ‘lay our hands on’). It’s intangible. The image of ourselves, the idea of ourselves, is – on the other hand – nothing if not obvious and we are stuck to this ‘obviousness’ as if with glue. The more obvious it is the more we are stuck to it!
‘Obvious’ doesn’t mean true, though! ‘Obvious’ is never true, ‘obvious’ comes about because of the way in which we have cut corners and tied up all the loose ends – there are no loose ends in an obvious statement of fact, but – at the same time – reality itself is nothing else but loose ends! Reality is never neat and tidy, and it never comes in nicely-tied parcels. Reality never comes in parcels and yet the thinking mind is the Master Wrapper of parcels – it never produces anything that isn’t all wrapped up and tied with a bow, so what this means is that the thinking mind never produces anything true. Its statements are conclusive and definitive and that immediately abstracts them out of the real world and into another realm entirely – the realm of formal descriptions. The products of thought have a very peculiar quality therefore – the quality of unreality. This unreal quality however is invisible to us; it’s actually reality that seems things peculiar to us, on the odd occasions when we catch might catch a glimpse of it. We don’t know what it is, we don’t recognise it – all we know is that it doesn’t fit into our plan of things, all we know is that we don’t want to let it ‘rock the boat’.
When we orientate ourselves around the productions of thought therefore (when we try to make everything, including ourselves, fit into thought’s neat and tidy scheme of things) then we put ourselves into an inimical position. Thought’s scheme of things is not hospitable to us. This doesn’t mean that we won’t – from time to time – experience pleasurable excitement; we will experience pleasure or euphoria when we believe ourselves to have ‘got things right’ by thought’s standards and we will experience excitement (of the positive variety) when we believe that we are going to get things right, and it seems to us that nothing can stop us obtaining the goal. We will also of course – by the same token – experience anxiety when we feel that we aren’t going to be able to live up to ‘thought’s standards’, just as we will experience despair or dysphoria when we perceive ourselves to have failed by the thinking mind’s rigid guidelines. But none of this is any real substitute for life – the world that is created by thought is not a genuinely hospitable one, as we keep saying. The thought-created world does not accommodate us – it’s like wearing a shoe that doesn’t fit us, a shoe that pinches.
The world that has been created by thought does not accommodate us – on the contrary, we are obliged to accommodate ourselves to it. This is what we started off by saying (albeit in slightly different way) – the social world has only one real requirement that it makes of us and that is that we adapt ourselves to it. Having gone into this question a little bit more we can now see that this is not such a small thing to ask after all. Society presents us with the necessity to ‘fit in’ as if this were the most natural thing in the world but there is nothing natural about it; as we have said, we are being required to accommodate ourselves to a system where the ‘accommodation’ is only happening one way. It’s all happening ‘at our expense’, in other words. And yet it’s not just that the social system is trying to make an argument as why we should try to fit into it – there’s no ‘reasoned argument’ about it; this is just brute force – we are simply told that ‘this is what we should do’. We aren’t given the means of questioning this arbitrary imperative; we aren’t allowed the possibility of seeing that there could be any other possibility (other than doing what we have been let to believe is the only possible thing for us to do). Our consciousness is controlled, in other words.
We have actually been given an impossible task; we have been presented with an impossible job and we have also been put in a position where we aren’t able to see that we don’t really need to engage ourselves in this task at all. The element of freedom (which always did exist and will always continue to exist) has been very effectively concealed – we never even suspect that this freedom is an actual thing. As far as we’re concerned intrinsic freedom as an alien concept; something that is simply beyond our ability to understand or imagine; it’s something there is no point in trying to talk about, in other words. The impossible task that we have been saddled with this is the task of adapting ourselves to an abstract realm, a realm within which there simply isn’t any space for things to be any other way than the way we are told that they should be. The rules are everything. And the rub is that ‘the way we are told things should be’ isn’t actually a ‘way’ at all. It isn’t a ‘way’ because the world that is made up of our formal, rule-based description isn’t actually a world – it’s a fantasy, not a world. We are being compelled to adapt to ‘a world that is made up of compartments’ when in reality there are no such thing as ‘compartments’.
We are actually being shoehorned into categories or compartments the whole time, on a continuous basis. This process is inevitable given that the social system can only recognise its own categories – it can’t recognise anything else, it can’t acknowledge anything else. Anything that is not recognisable as a known category is seen as being odd – by definition it is odd! The problem with this is that who we are in our essence can’t be fit into any established category; we can only be socially accepted when we aren’t ourselves therefore! There is no ‘winning’ if we can’t be who we really are, so what are we struggling and competing for? As we have said, it’s not even that we have any awareness of this being a choice either – we perceive ‘the need to fit into the prescribed categories’ as simply being ‘the way of things’. We don’t therefore understand the deterministic process in which we that we are involved in this way – we don’t see ourselves as trying to fit in to the prescribed categories, we just experience ourselves as ‘trying to be the right way rather than the wrong way’. We’re just trying to do the best that we can.
It is quite beyond any doubt that society operates by putting pressure on us to become congruent with the socially-prescribed images of what are we are supposed to be. Only a fool would try to deny this! This is how it always works in an equilibrium-seeking system – everything is determined from the outside. There are certain ideas regarding ‘how things are supposed to be’ and there is also some kind of ‘mechanical force’ that acts on us so as to cause us to try conform to these ideas. This mechanical force is so unquestioned that it actually becomes – in practical terms – the very same thing as our own motivation; it becomes our mind. The mind (which is synonymous with ‘the mind-created sense-of self’) and the social environment within which it operates are ‘nested equilibrium-seeking systems’, therefore. They are the same system, each mirroring the other. In psychological terms, what this means is that the mechanical force which we have adapted to has become our own will, and our own will (naturally enough) never gets questioned.
When we understand the social world (and ourselves as we are when we are 100% adapted to it) in thermodynamic terms, as we have just done, then our situation can be seen very clearly. The type of motivation that we are running on (i.e. extrinsic motivation) is the mechanical drive to accord with the equilibrium values (or ‘what is normal’) no matter what. Our ‘sense-of self’ is an equilibrium value that we are forever trying to accord with, just as society is. Trying to accord with our ideas of ourselves (and fighting back fiercely when these ideas are challenged) is our Number One Preoccupation. But this is getting it all backwards – when we faithfully accord with the E-values of society (or with the E-value that is the mind-created sense of self) then we become unreal. The movement towards the equilibrium is the movement towards fantasy, and this is why we can say that our attempts to deliberately move towards mental health or ‘peace of mind’ are always going to be secretly ‘self-sabotaging’. That’s why ‘positive therapy’ doesn’t work. If we were genuinely interested in becoming real, on the other hand, then we’d be moving away from the equilibrium, not towards it…