THE “I” OF THE SYSTEM

 

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When we interact with the world (which is a ‘complex environment’) on the basis of a set of rules, we create a world that corresponds to those particular rules. ‘Create’ isn’t quite the right word really of course because it was there all along, in potentia. Along with all the other potential worlds that constitute ‘complexity’. In order to obtain a non-complex world, however, we need to exclude all the other contenders. Biologists Fransisco Verala and Umberto Maturana have spoken of this process as ‘calling forth a world,’ which is a nice way of putting it. Calling forth a world is only half the picture, however – the other half, which we tend to be blind to, is the complementary process of calling forth a self. There has to be a correspondingly oversimplified self to live in that oversimplified world! We can easily see this happening when we get caught up in compulsive emotions such a anger when our subjective reality gets shrunken down (or decomplexified) as a result of us ‘only seeing what relevant to the narrow focus of our anger’. At the same time that our world shrinks, so do we as the compulsive emotion causes us to identify with a phantom self, a phantom “I”.  What we’re essentially saying  here is that anger is a self-consistent logical system. Stating that ‘anger is a self-consistent logical system’ is another way of saying that:

There is a highly compressed ‘context of meaning’ associated with the angry mind-state which is concomitant with a sense of necessity (i.e. an experience of compulsion) and this subjective sense of necessity gives rise to purposeful action, which then feeds back into and reinforces the validity of the original context, thus perpetuating the mind-state in question. 

Purposeful action implies two things: a goal (which is the object), and, less obviously, the agent who carries out the action, and who has the goal (which is the subject). The splitting of the world into a reified subject and a reified object is an automatic consequence of purposeful action, and purposeful action inevitably ensues when there is a context of meaning (which is to say when there is a break in cognitive symmetry). If we seem to be going around in circles here, that is because we are – all of these are tautological developments of each other, despite the fact that they do, on the face of it, appear to be distinct and independent events or entities. This is precisely what David Bohm is getting at when he says that both the thinker and what the thinker thinks are one and the same system. Inasmuch as I am a construct of thinking, and inasmuch as my environment is produced by thinking, it has to be true that both me and the world I live in are aspects of the same underlying structure. The Dalai Lama (1995, p 110) is making the same point when he states that we cannot separate an entity (or phenomenon) from its context:

…..Likewise, we will find that many of our concepts indicate a very deep, very complex inter-connectedness. For instance, when we speak of ourselves as subjects, we can make sense of that notion only in relation to an object. Similarly, the idea of action makes sense in relation to a being, an agent who commits the act. So if we were to analyse a lot of these concepts, we would find we cannot really separate the entity or the phenomenon from its context.

Once we get the hang of the point that is being made here this gives us a crucial insight into the nature of freedom, which is to say, the question of how we might become free from the system. This can be seen clearly from the example of anger. We have said that anger is a compulsive emotion, it is compulsive because it takes away our ability to think and act freely, it restricts us to a narrow domain – the world of anger. When I am angry, and I want to escape from the suffering that this constraint brings me, it is actually the ‘I of anger’ who wants to escape. The system wants to escape from itself, which is obviously absurd! So what is the answer? The answer is both simple and unpalatable – the ‘I’ of anger cannot ever get away from its suffering. It cannot escape itself, it cannot get away from itself. To ask “How do I get out of this mess?” is the wrong question to ask because it presupposes a phantom self that needs to exit the situation. As soon as I ask that question I have already gone wrong because the ‘I’ that asks the question is the very problem itself. That spurious, phantom self does not ever get to escape, not if it were to wait a billion years – it is there always, wanting not to be there. As long as I carry on identifying myself with the phantom self of anger, escape is a cast-iron impossibility. I cannot change my inner state ‘on purpose’.
This is a nasty little catch, particularly when we consider that whenever a difficult situation arises, I (almost) inevitably react by ‘grasping for a self’; by my desperate attempts to separate myself from the situation I become identified with it. If I become anxious, I automatically identify myself with the self of anxiety, and get trapped in that world: I become the terror, trying to escape itself. Similarly, if I get greedy, I straightaway crystallize the ‘I’ of hunger – the ‘I’ of hunger wants to be satiated, but it never will be, because it is itself the hunger which it is trying to satiate.

TWO-WAY VIOLENCE

All of the compulsive (decomplexifying) emotions are characterized by their essential counterproductivity – they all involve either the desperate attempt to escape something, or the desperate attempt to secure something. We will refer to this type of motivation as extrinsic motivation, and say that extrinsic motivation is motivation that is based upon our ideas of the world. Extrinsic motivation may also be defined as the insatiable desire ‘to have things the way we want them to be’, and therefore it is very much tied up with the idea of ‘personal will’. It is counterproductive because it is based upon false premises, i.e. psychological denial, which means that it achieves harm rather than good; it is however ‘productive’ in the qualified sense that it serves to effectively perpetuate the denial, although there is a cost for this, which has to be met later on. Extrinsic motivation is the motivation that is found in games, and all extrinsic motivations basically boil down to either ‘fear’ or ‘greed’, both of which are the same thing in the end, just as [+] always equals [-] in the end.

‘PSEUDO-MATTERING’

To make one last point on this subject, we can say that extrinsic motivation is closely linked to what we have called ‘assigned value’, which is a value (or ‘importance’) that we ourselves have decided upon, rather than a value that was there to start off with. Obviously, when we see something as being important, or meaningful, that is likely to cause us to go down a particular road of action. This brings us to what we might call ‘pseudo-mattering’ – if there is a pseudo-value to something, then that thing doesn’t really matter, it pseudo-matters…

 

The argument that we are making here is that goal-orientated behaviour serves the covert function of helping us to avoid radical uncertainty. Radical uncertainty, we may say, corresponds in some way to intrinsic value, and intrinsic value is the ‘meaningfulness’ that we experience when we deal with reality directly, without the intermediary of rationality and the conceptual mind. Jung spoke of this as numenosity, which he described in terms of ‘thrill-power’, or simply ‘the power to disturb’. To give just one instance: when we have a particular sort of a dream (a ‘big’ dream) there is a distinct component to the experience that, metaphorically speaking, makes the hair stand up on the back of our necks. Experience of the numenosum thrills us in an uncanny and unearthly way, it wakes us up out of our mundane consciousness and takes us briefly into the realm of the gods and godesses. Something awesome and profoundly disturbing is hinted at, something that can equally well produce in us a state of terror or ecstasy. One of the few ways which we have available to describe intrinsic value is to say that it is a perception that something (using the term very loosely) matters. It doesn’t just matter a bit, it matters so much that it hurts – it matters infinitely.

 

Our argument is that we tend to avoid such direct experience of ‘infinite mattering’ by setting up a situation of ‘pseudo-mattering’, which conveniently distracts our attention away from what really matters. Needless to say, pseudo-mattering is common business, and one that we are all very familiar with: if I have a difficult essay to start, and I have simply got to start it tonight, then sure as eggs are eggs I am going to find all sorts of things that need my urgent attention – like the washing up, or tidying up the room, or re-arranging the shelves. All of a sudden, there are all these things that matter, but it is of course only really pseudo-mattering. Therefore, pseudo-mattering is a decoy – it doesn’t really matter in itself, but it does ‘matter that it matters’. The surrogate issue matters because it matters so very much to us that the underlying ‘infinite mattering’ shouldn’t matter. What we are talking about here is of course denial.

EMOTIONAL DENIAL

The type of psychological denial that we have been discussing in earlier chapters is ‘uncertainty denial’, which means basically that one finds a means of being unaware of the way in which everything is uncertain. Obviously enough, a good way to do this would be by constructing a concrete (or ‘certain’) state of affairs, a situation which is very reliable in being what we take it to be. Certainty means no more questioning is needed, because we have already found the answer; when we deny Reality we do it by spinning an illusion that is solid, impermeable, and immovable, and when we have created this concrete ‘pseudo-reality’, we take refuge in it, and that is how we escape the ‘inescapability of uncertainty’. Identification of a definite reality is therefore the quintessential act of denial, and this act of ‘identifying’ is the characteristic property of the rational, evaluative mind. We don’t just avoid seeing uncertainty through the process of cognitive decomplexification, however – our emotional responses to situations take the whole business one step further, and act in conjunction with thought to produce an even more ‘unquestionable’ pseudo-reality for us to inhabit.

 

The decomplexifying emotions are perfect examples of psychological denial, and they also demonstrate the principle of ‘two-way violence’ – i.e. the way in which violence is directed inwards at the same time as outwards. As we have previously said, in the state of compulsion that is concomitant with all decomplexifying emotions, it is the case that something ‘matters to us’ as the direct result of a choice that we have (covertly) made. We wanted this ‘something’ to matter, but it also matters to us that we should not know why we wanted it to matter, or indeed to even know that it does matter to us that it matters . But because of the path of denial which we are now sailing down, we will have to do violence to what really matters to us. This is completely and utterly inevitable. In order to illustrate the two conjoined principles of ‘two-way violence’ and ‘creating a concrete pseudo-reality’ we will focus on the emotion of greed.

GREED

Greed, also known as lust, can be analysed in much the same way that we have been doing with anger and jealousy. One fixates, out of attraction, upon one aspect of a multivalent reality, solidifies it, and then gets trapped in that way of looking at things. This of course explains why it is possible to do such callous things when in the grip of greed or lust – by fixating upon someone as an ‘object’ you will have excluded those perspectives which would allow you to become more compassionate towards them, you will not be thinking of them in a rounded sense as a human being at all. If you are trying to steal someone’s wallet you will not be wondering what the person you are targeting looked like as a baby, or how they will feel when they realize that they have been robbed. A mugger is unlikely to wonder whether their victim had a happy childhood, or how many brothers and sisters she or he has. One can cheerfully do violence as long as one turns one’s victim into a ‘thing’ by screening out the full picture – this has often been given as a key feature of what is called ‘psychopathic’ behaviour, i.e. one does not see the other person as being real or truly sentient, so it doesn’t matter what you do to them. This is also what happens with racially-motivated violence. This violence works both ways, you have had to commit violence on yourself in order to commit violence on someone else. In depersonalizing you so that I can use you without feeling bad about it, I also depersonalize myself. Thus, the more I control my environment, the more it controls me.

CONTROL EQUALS DECOMPLEXIFICATION

Before moving onto our next topic, which is depersonalization (i.e. social decomplexification / social control), we will summarize what we have already said in Chapter 4 about control, since ‘control of meaning’ is what society is all about. The traditional viewpoint on the matter is to say that having control is good. We see this as being highly desirable; if one could be 100% control of one’s situation that would be ideal, right? There is a goal-state that people often talk about, which is the goal of ‘total control’ – the implication is that being totally in control of one’s life will solve a multitude of problems. But will it? The key to understanding that ‘control’ is a double-edged sword is to see that control is synonymous with decomplexification. If you control something you are bound by the necessity to control it (you become constrained by the necessity to see the problem in that way). I might think that I have the upper hand, since “What I say goes!”, but this freedom to call the shots is trivial since once I have settled upon a definite view of reality all my subsequent decisions are predicated upon the set of assumptions that I have (unconsciously) made. I can’t really have any freedom because I am committed to a determinate reality, and from that point on all my choices enmesh me evermore into it. We have started to use the ‘emotive’ word violence rather a lot, as if to say that decomplexification is not just a neutral process, but a harmful one that offends against our true nature. There is the implication of some sort of wrong that is being done. On the face of it this might seem a bit strange, particularly since we generally become aware of decomplexification as a useful sort of a thing, as a lifting of a rather painful perplexity. In day-to-day life decomplexification involves a transition from an unwanted weirdness, which we do not at the time properly acknowledge (or admit), to a pleasant and comforting feeling of reassurance and security. This transition from weird to normal is the result of unconscious manoeuvring, and that means that in order to safeguard the integrity of the underlying unconscious operation we have to pay little attention to the transition itself, for if we were to focus on the change, we would naturally have more than an inkling of what is going on. It is only when the end-result of decomplexification becomes evident that we start to feel that there is a ‘wrongness’ at work somewhere, and even then we project the source of the wrongness well away from ourselves, so that we stand no real chance of associating it with decisions that we have ourselves made.

 

It is easy to see how decomplexification is satisfying. There is the experience of ambiguity being lifted from us, of suddenly making up our mind on a matter which we had previously been annoyingly undecided, of a vague but threatening pressure that thankfully goes away. It feels good to be able to write someone off, with grand finality, by dismissing them as an ‘out-and-out bastard’; just as it feels good to be publically exonerated from all blame at the conclusion of a court case. It feels good when I hear a question on a quiz show and I realize that I know the answer, and it feels good when I am able to perform a complicated task and get the correct result at the end of it. There is also what we might call ‘social decomplexification’: It feels good when I am at a party, not knowing anyone, when suddenly I recognize a face, someone who I can go and talk to. It feels good (absurdly) for me to receive letters addressed to Mr Nick Williams (SROT), 26 Sycamore Close, Kingston-upon-Thames – I feel that my existence and importance has thereby been validated and confirmed. None of these things seem to be taking anything away from me, and yet, when I examine the matter closely enough, I find that this is exactly what has happened. Decomplexification means that I have gone from a strange place – where I had lots of freedom because I was uncommitted, to a normal place – where I have no freedom because I have to be what I am committed to being.

IN A TIGHT SPOT

Although the decomplexifying emotions provide this same type of satisfaction, we simultaneously experience pain and frustration – we suffer and feel good at the same time! The ‘feeling good’ comes from the enhanced certainty of our viewpoint, which we have just alluded to, and the ‘feeling bad’ comes from the lack of freedom in that situation. When we become angry or jealous or greedy, we are dominated by the issue that we have fixated upon – we are completely at its mercy. Because we have made some goal supremely important, our well-being seems to be entirely dependent upon its fulfilment and therefore there is no room in our awareness to think about anything else. Due to the conditioning effect of the immediate satisfaction inherent in such emotions, our reaction becomes ‘channelized’ so that we become ever more likely to go down that particular road each time the stimulus comes along. Basically, as time goes on our sensitivity to the ‘stimulus’ increases and our chances of not getting sucked up into the emotion decreases, so that we end up with a demon riding us.

There is no real limit to how bad the decomplexifying emotions can make us feel. As with drink, there is a honeymoon period in which the benefits seem to outweigh the draw-backs, but when the honeymoon is over we get to appreciate our true situation a bit, and it isn’t a nice one. As we have noted, emotions such as anger operate on a positive feedback principle, such that the more angry we are, the more likely we are to see stuff that makes us angry. As the spiral tightens, we feel progressively more horrible, and this makes us lash out more. The loop of controlling/being controlled starts to get tight enough for us to feel it, and because it feels so bad, we struggle against it, not realizing that our ‘outwardly’ directed control is rebounding on us and causing us greater suffering than ever. Violence begats more violence. Although the spiral goes on approaching zero freedom, it can never actually get there. Freedom is always there somewhere, hidden deep at the very heart of everything we do, and because of this the trap is never complete. In the end, it is the unlimited pain associated with confinement to the lower worlds that cause us to find freedom again. As the Chinese sage Chih-k’ai (538-597) says:

When a person falls to the ground (of the three evil paths), he raises himself from the same ground.

THE ULTIMATE STATE OF DENIAL

In psychological terms, as we suggested earlier, control means ‘denial’, and denial translates as ‘ignoring, and ignoring the fact that we are ignoring’. We can push this definition even further so that it starts to take on a distinctly sinister feel: if we consider how denial operates in an interpersonal context we can say that denial equals violence against the other person’s autonomy. In other words, if I am operating an attitude of denial towards you, then I am basically stealing away your essential freedom to be yourself. This sort of thing happens all the time. For example, if you are depressed and I don’t want to deal with your depression, I will automatically try to convince you that things are not so bad as you think – in order to protect myself it is not enough for me to try to say to myself that things aren’t so bad, I also have to persuade you to say it. Another example would be where I go around with you to see various people and when they ask you a question I answer for you – I have taken it on myself to express your opinions for you! This last example points the way towards a general definition of denial: we can say that it is when I do not allow my environment (either social of physical) to express its own meaning, but substitute (or project) my own meaning instead. This, obviously, is total control – the control of meaning is the ultimate form of control, and it is also the ultimate form of violence. James Carse, as we shall see later, uses this idea as his definition of ‘evil’. Just as control always works both ways, so does the violence of denial:

If I deny your reality, then I also have to deny my own; if I steal away your autonomy, then I have automatically lost my own freedom too.

To get a real feel for the horror that lies at the end of the spiral of escalating control and escalating violence, and the crucial idea that the controller is also the controlled, we can do no better than to listen to Chogyam Trungpa’s (1975, p 5-6) description of the world of hell (as we have already said, this is a Buddhist perspective on hell, which is to say it is seen as a temporary and essentially psychological state, a state of mind, rather than a physical location) :

We can begin with the realm of hell, which is the most intense. First there is a build-up of energies, of emotions, to a crescendo, so that at some stage we find it very confusing whether the energies are controlling us or we are controlling them. Then suddenly we lose track of this whole race, and our mind is put into a blank state which is the luminosity. From that blank state an intense temptation to fight begins to develop, and that paranoia also brings terror. Originally the paranoia and terror were supposed to fight against something, but one is not quite certain whom exactly one is fighting; and when the whole thing has developed, the terror begins to turn against oneself. When one tries to strike out, instead of fighting the projection one is striking inward.

 

It is like the story of the hermit who saw a leg of lamb in front of him, and wanted to pick it up and cook it. His teacher told him to mark it with a cross, then later he discovered that the cross was marked on his own chest. It is that kind of notion; you think there is something outside to attack or fight or win over. In most cases hatred is like that. You are angry with something and try to destroy it, but at the same time the process becomes self-destructive, it turns inward and you would like to run away from it; but then it seems too late, you are the anger itself, so there is nowhere to run away. You are haunting yourself constantly, and that is the development of hell.

The lack of freedom in anger derives from the fact that I am the anger – the anger is all that I am. By identifying with the self of anger I have lost any genuine contact with the world around me, and so what we are talking about it a total act of denial: Reality itself is denied, and because Reality is the only freedom, as well as being my true nature, I have unwittingly cut myself off from my own source. I have cut off my nose to spite my face. The self of anger has nowhere to go since everything it does serves only to propagate and extend itself – every attempt we make to escape brings the anger along with us. Therefore, I am cut-off from Reality and everything I do from this false basis perpetuates my isolation. With the extreme case of unlimited anger (unlimited limitation) we can get the idea, but we don’t necessarily think that it applies to us, as we are at the moment, in a state of relative tranquillity. In the next section we will consider the proposition that we are (almost) always stuck in one false “I” or another, the only difference being that we don’t feel the pinch so much as we would if we were identified with the self of anger. Thus, everything that we have just said about the self of anger holds equally true for the self of society, and it is the example of social ‘organizational closure’ that we are now going to move on to.

SOCIAL DECOMPLEXIFICATION

Examples of decomplexification such as ‘psychopathic’ or racist behaviour (not to mention the terminally oversimplified state of hell) are extreme cases, and for this reason they are potentially misleading – we might get the idea that it doesn’t apply to us! In fact the process of ‘thingification’ (turning yourself or someone else into a thing) is an absolute prerequisite of all social adaptation, and being social adapted is the standard mode of existence for just about all of us… Psychiatrist Ronald Laing (1963, p 47), in a discussion of depersonalization in schizophrenia, pointed that we all ‘depersonalize’ ourselves in order to socially interact with people who we don’t know very well, and from whom we wish to maintain a proper distance:

A partial depersonalization of others is extensively practised in everyday life and is regarded as normal if not highly desirable. Most relationships are based on some partial depersonalizing tendency in so far as one treats the other not in terms of any awareness of who or what he might be in himself but as virtually an android robot playing a role or part in a large machine in which one too may be acting yet another part.

Depersonalization means games: we play games so that we don’t have to deal with unknown; this is how we protect ourselves against the possiblity of encountering novelty during interpersonal interactions. This is what social psychologist Eric Berne, author of ‘Games People Play,’ means when he makes the observation that game-playing is an avoidance of intimacy. Good manners are an avoidance of intimacy, being polite to someone is an avoidance of intimacy; even calling someone by their first name is an avoidance of intimacy, which sounds silly but, then again you are not your name – you are not your designation. It is not hard to see that all social roles demand depersonalization – if you are in role then you are defined, i.e. you are to be considered in such and such a way, but not in any other way; your responsibilities go so far, but no further; this is permitted of you but not that, and so on. This doesn’t just apply to traffic wardens, policemen and soldiers – even when we are out walking the dog in a park we are in role: if someone we don’t know very well asks us how we are we reply in a guarded, formulaic way, we do not disclose our true self.

SELF-PETRIFICATION: AVOIDANCE OF INTIMACY BY BECOMING A STONE

Depersonalization is a defence, it is a way of keeping our distance and maintaining our precious boundaries, but at the same time there is something rather repellent about it – it requires that we are not treated as who we really are and that we do not treat others as they really are. It doesn’t feel very nice because, at root, it is doing violence to what is real: essentially, what I am doing is safeguarding my self by not being myself, which is an oddly contradictory thing to do, once one thinks about it. Laing gives an example of an extreme instance of this in The Divided Self. Often, Laing says, a person suffering from ‘ontological insecurity’ will pre-empt the overwhelming and engulfing attentions of the outside world by feigning inanimacy. I might put all my will into becoming stone-like – hard, solid, and dead. By ‘ontological insecurity’ Laing means that there is a lack of the normal ‘sureness’ or certainty that most of us have about being ourselves. Ontologically insecure persons cannot take their sense of being themselves for granted, and so they feel that their autonomy is constantly being threatened; often, other people and the world in general appear voracious, over-powering and engulfing. Because the sense of being an ‘I’ is felt to be so much stronger and better established in the other person, one feels that one’s own shaky sense of “I” is about to be swallowed up in the intense spot-light of their attention, so that there is a risk of a reversal whereby one becomes the passive object of their awareness, rather than the active subject of one’s own awareness. For this reason intimate contact with others and the outside world has to be avoided at any cost.

 

There is a psychologically equivalent idea to this in The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Evans-Wentz edition, 1960, p 185-6), concerning the attempts of the person in the third or sidpa bardo to escape the attentions of the ‘karmic tormenting furies’:

O nobly-born, although one liketh it not, nevertheless, being pursued from behind by karmic tormenting furies, one feeleth compelled involuntarily to go on; [and with] tormenting furies in the front, and life-cutters as a vanguard leading one, and darkness and karmic tornadoes, and noises and snow and rain and terrifying hail-storms and whirlwinds of icy blasts occurring, there will arise the thought of fleeing from them.

Thereupon, by going to seek refuge because of fear, [one beholdeth] the aforesaid visions of great mansions, rock-caverns, earth-caverns, jungles, and lotus blossoms which close [upon entering them]; and one escapeth by hiding inside [one of such places] and fearing to come out therefrom, and thinking, ‘To go out is not good now’. And fearing to depart therefrom, one will feel greatly attracted to one’s place of refuge [which is the womb]. Fearful lest, by going out, the awe and terror of the Bardo will meet one, and afraid to encounter them, if one hide oneself within [the place or womb chosen], one will thereby assume a very undesirable body and suffer various sufferings.

PARANOIA

It is possible to hear accounts of this same basic strategy (i.e. the avoidance of being ‘found’ by cultivating inertness or stupidity) by talking to people who have experienced a full-blown attack of paranoia; in fact we would be justified in saying that this is an ‘archetypal’ response to the unbearable acute awareness that turns in against oneself and becomes the phenomenon of relentlessly persecutory paranoia. For example, I might become convinced that hostile intelligences are searching for me using some sort of penetrative ‘mind-rays’ that can detect thoughts, or any trace of mental activity. I have two choices open to me at this point:

[1] I can find a secure place to hide in, and try to shut down my mind so that I cannot be detected by the hostile intelligences which are searching for me, or
[2] I can bolt, which is to say, I can put everything I have into outrunning whatever is hunting me.

Option number 2 is attractive, and it corresponds to ‘acting out’ the terror, i.e. escaping through positive control. What I usually find, though, is that I can never out-run my pursuers, who are possessed of superhuman powers of speed and perception, and for this reason I generally end up opting for the first alternative, which is ‘hiding’. This corresponds to the psychological act of ‘repression’ or ‘denial’. Therefore, I sink all of my efforts into mimicking an inanimate substrate – which is a way of ‘not being there’. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead the folly of opting for the safety of unconsciousness is stressed over and over again. As always, my place of security ends up becoming my prison.
We have been talking about very literal examples of ‘turning oneself into a thing’, but the difference between ‘making oneself into a stone’ and normal, everyday social role-play is only a question of degree – it is all hiding, it is all ‘seeking refuge in reassuring fictions’. What we are doing is ‘avoiding exposure’ – we are avoiding the terrible intimacy that brings with it Reality, and the extinction of the familiar theatrical self. The secret agenda behind purposeful activity (and the social system which legitimizes it) is to turn ourselves into human stones. When I have become a definite ‘person’ – a definite social ego – then I feel safe, and to this end I voraciously identify with whatever certainties society can provide me with. Society is the means by which we flee freedom, and when we are weighed down with its banal endowment of definite beliefs, definite opinions, definite concepts, definite habits, definite emotional avoidance-routines, then we have become the antithesis of open consciousness, the opposite of what we really are. The process by which this ‘thingification’ gets to happen has been studied in the science of sociology, and it is to this field that we will now turn our attention

THE REIFICATION OF SOCIAL REALITY

Another way of talking about ‘thingification’ (or depersonalization) is in terms of institutionalisation. We generally think that institutionalization is something that happens to those unfortunate people who spend years and years in hospitals or prisons. We can see that such people lose the ability to make choices for themselves and become addicted to being told what to do, and when to do it; we can readily appreciate that when a person’s life have been so completely regulated on the outside, their inner life tends to become correspondingly habit-bound and predictable. What we are less quick to see is the way in which we are all rendered predictable by the institution of society. What happens within the walls of a closed institution such as a long-term psychiatric hospital is only an extreme example of what happens outside those walls, it is more visible because the process is taken to its logical conclusions, but what we are talking about in each case is the same basic process of ‘social adaptation’.

 

The crucial thing to understand about social adaptation is that the pattern or order that expresses itself in society is of an essentially arbitrary nature, even though we do not feel it to be arbitrary once we have become adapted. This point is made by Berger and Luckman (1966, p 69-70) in their classic sociological text The Social Construction Of Reality:

The human organism lacks the necessary biological means to provide stability for human conduct. Human existence, if it were thrown back on its organismic resources by themselves, would be existence in some sort of chaos. Such chaos is, however, empirically unavailable, even though one may theoretically conceive of it. Empirically, human existence takes place in a context of order, direction, stability. The question then arises: From what does the empirically existing stability of human order derive? An answer may be given on two levels. One may first point to the obvious fact that a given social order preceeds any individual organismic development. That is, world-openness, while intrinsic to man’s biological make-up, is always pre-empted by social order. One may say that the biologically intrinsic world-openness of human existence is always, and indeed must be, transformed by social order into a relative world-closedness. While this reclosure can never approximate the closedness of animal existence, if only because of its humanly produced and thus ‘artificial’ character, it is nevertheless capable, most of the time, of providing direction and stability for the greater part of human conduct. The question may then be pushed to another level. One may ask in what manner social order itself arises.

 

The most general answer to this question is that social order is a human product, or, more precisely, an ongoing human production. It is produced by man in the course of his ongoing externalization. Social order is not biologically given or derived from any biological data in its empirical manifestations. Social order, needless to add, is also not given in man’s natural environment, though particular features of this may be factors in determining certain features of a social order (for example, its economic or technological arrangements). Social order is not part of the ‘nature of things’, and it cannot be derived from the ‘laws of nature’. Social order exists only as a product of human activity. No other ontological status may be ascribed to it without hopelessly obfuscating its empirical manifestations. Both in its genesis (social order is the result of past human activity) and its existence in any instant of time (social order exists only and in so far as human activity continues to produce it) it is a human product.

Berger and Luckman are saying that the human species is very adaptable (or ‘plastic’) in terms of behaviour, and that, unlike any other animal, our genetic programming has to be supplemented with social programming. An example of a less plastic organism would be a blackbird, which lives in a ‘closed’ world, almost completely subject to the laws of nature. A blackbird has no choice over the design of the nest that it builds, the sort of food that it eats, or the type of song that it sings, it courtship behaviour and so on. The tracks are already in place and all that is left is to run on them. We humans, in contrast to this, display a wide variety of behavioural norms – what is correct sexual or courtship behaviour in one culture, for example, can be a grave transgression of etiquette in another. The authors further suggest that humankind’s lack of ‘biological stability’ would give rise to such openness that the result could only be chaos if an additional checks were not in place. So much freedom would be deleterious, in other words.

Having said that, Berger and Luckman (p 78) then proceed to point out a very strange thing, namely that ‘man is capable of of producing a world that he then experiences as something other than a human product’. The authors (p 106-7) later explain this in terms of what they call the reification of social reality:

A final question of great theoretical interest arising from the historical variability of institutionalization has to do with the manner in which the institutional order is objectified: To what extent is an instituational order, or any part of it, apprehended as a non-human facticity? This is the question of the reification of social reality.

 

Reification is the apprehension of human phenomena as if they were things, that is, in non-human or possibly supra-human terms. Another way of saying this is that reification is the apprehension of the products of human activity as if they were something other than human products – such as facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestations of divine will. Reification implies that man is capable of forgetting his own authorship of the human world, and, further, that the dialectic between man, the producer, and his products is lost to consciousness. The reified world is, by definition, a dehumanized world. It is experienced by man as a strange facticity, an opus alienum over which he has no control rather than as the opus proprium of his own productive activity.

 

It will be clear from our previous discussion of objectivation that, as soon as an objective social world is established, the possibility of reification is never far away. The objectivity of the social world means that it confronts man as something outside of himself. The decisive question is whether he still retains the awareness that, however objectified, the social world was made by men – and, therefore, can be remade by them. In other words, reification can be described as an extreme step in the process of objectifivation, whereby the objectivated world loses its comprehensibility as a human enterprise and becomes fixated as a non-human, non-humanizable, inert facticity. Typically, the real relationship between man and his world is reversed in consciousness. Man, the producer of a world, is apprehended as its product, and human activity as an epiphenomenon of non-human processes. Human beings are no longer understood as world-producing but as being, in their turn, products of the ‘nature of things’. It must be emphasized that reification is a modality of consciousness, more precisely, a modality of man’s objectification of the human world. Even while apprehending the world in reified terms, man continues to produce it. That is, man is capable paradoxically of producing a reality that denies him.

WHY REIFY?

What is the benefit in all this? The cost is immediately obvious: as Berger and Luckman point out, we have created a reality that denies us, a reality that is somehow against us. Basically, we have conspired against ourselves! The benefit can of course be seen very straightforwardly as the production of a world which is unquestionable. If I create a thing, and know that I have created it, then it is questionable. I can question myself: “Why didn’t I create it otherwise?” It is very hard for me to accept and put up with the draw-backs inherent in a situation that I have myself created, but relatively easy to do so if I know that it is ‘out of my hands’. So, if we accept that there is a psychological need to operate within in environment without questioning the rules upon which that environment is built, a need to live out our lives in an essentially ‘unreflective’ way, then we can agree that we have solved the question – we can see how it makes sense that we should do this. Berger and Luckman are careful to state that they are not implying that there is anything morally wrong in social reification – indeed, they tend to see it as a necessary process. Without it, there could be no such thing as ‘society’. From the point of view of the individual, however, a process of psychological avoidance such as this represents an implacable obstacle to a genuine development. There is no way whatsoever that I can abdicate responsibility for my situation, and outgrow that situation at the same time – the one precludes the other. As Jung would say, until we claim our projections as our own, we cannot even start off on the journey of becoming the unparalleled individual that we secretly are.

SUMMARY: THE SOCIAL CONTROL OF MEANING

In essence, the argument is that society co-opts our basic psychological drives and motivations for its own purposes. The radical economist Schumacher made this point when he said that the economy is fuelled by the motivations of greed, envy, and fear (or anxiety). These, Schumacher notes, are precisely the motivations that all religious systems warn us about, as being the root cause of human misery! To this list, we can also add the all-powerful motivation of sex: one only needs to think about the psychology of advertising to see that the energy of sexuality has been enlisted into the not-so-noble cause of making people want products that they don’t really need. One of Freud’s basic ideas was that biological motivations (i.e. sex) are obstructed to create a head of pressure that, when released through ‘legitimate’ channels, serve to drive the wheels that turn the engines that make society run. Civilization itself is nothing other than a set of restrictions and taboos designed to prevent the immediate satiation of basic drives, and it was for this reason that Freud was able to shock everyone by saying that civilization is at root nothing more than the sublimation of sexual energy. In his article The Sociology of Desire, Mike Presdee makes the same point in relation to ‘greed’, when he says that the conjunction of advertising and the prominent display of desired products in high streets and shopping malls create the tension that fuels the consumer/producer machine. In order for it all to work, people have to be kept in a near permanent state of acute dissatisfaction, i.e. permanent wanting. Moreover, it is also necessary that the majority of people be kept in a state of wanting for commodities and life-styles that they can never expect to obtain, since in any competitive system, it is only the few who can claim the reward or successful competition. Therefore, most of society is doomed to dissatisfaction, and a view of themselves as being essentially ‘losers’ in the game of life. All I can do is keep on hoping for a win on the national lottery system, and attempt to drown out my feelings of inferiority with anaesthetic drugs like alcohol, and by living vicariously through the television and video films. It is not by chance that the only local shops that seem to do well in those estates where there is high unemployment are the off-licences and video-rental outfits.

 

Presdee states that civilization equals the repression of emotions. Although it is obviously true that civilization operates by placing blocks on the straightforward expression of emotions, and the inhibition of sexuality, it is also true that by resisting these motivations, the underlying tension is heightened and intensified. Therefore, when the social system places restrictions upon greed and envy and lust, this is not because they are enemies of the system at all. On the contrary, by making their fulfilment problematic, they are made all the more important. It is all part of the game: when society says NO, it implies YES. The point is to make an issue of the thing, so that it becomes a magnetic attractor to hold us in its orbit. When something is made an issue it becomes real and then we can no longer see beyond it. Society consists of nothing more than a collection of rules, which we get tangled up with so that they become issues for us. These issues then become a perennial source of interest for us – they become pastimes, occupations, ways of pleasantly diverting ourselves. We can agree with the rules or oppose them, either way we obtain as a benefit a sense of meaning about what we are doing. We feel that what we are doing actually matters, and this pseudo-mattering drives out the uncomfortable feeling that perhaps there is ‘something else’ out there that we ought to be taking account of in our calculations.

WHEN THE SYSTEM IS NO LONGER OUR FRIEND

Of course, just as long as we identify with the drives and motivations that society harnesses, then there is no conflict. Conflict only comes when we start to ‘dis-identify’ with the agenda, so that it starts to look like something that is imposed upon us, rather than something that it self-evidently ‘right’. We have asserted that all the decomplexifying emotions (along with all goal-orientated urges) have the secret agenda of avoiding uncertainty. We have also said that that the avoidance of uncertainty is basically an act of denial, i.e. a way of escaping from reality. For this reason we can lump together all of the drives and urges and motivations that have been variously co-opted into the social system, and say that they all come down to the psychological equivalent to the third law of thermodynamics. Society, therefore, is denial – it a game that takes itself seriously, a game that has taken over from Reality.

 

We get caught in the system through exercising control – we feel that something matters, and so we feel pressurized to do something about it. ‘Mattering’ comes down to ‘wanting’: either it is ‘positive wanting’, which means goal-orientatedness (i.e. desire or greed), or it is ‘negative wanting’, which means avoidance (i.e. fear). These are the two faces of extrinsic motivation, which we have defined as ‘the motivation of games’. In a game, we do not react to what independently is, but to what we arbitrarily said that it is. At the moment of saying “It is this!” or “It is that!” we have freedom, because we didn’t have to say it was this or that (obviously, since we have just said that the naming was arbitrary), but afterwards all we can do is react within the system we have created. This is the quintessential mechanism of games: we say that you are it, and therefore when we see you we run away so you can’t catch us; for the duration of the game we don’t react to you as you really are – which has no relevance to the game at all, and must absolutely not be taken into account or allowed to influence things – but we react to you as we have identified you, as being it. This is an arbitrary assignation of value, a system based on extrinsic meaning, and although we have no problem whatsoever understanding the principle as it operates in the children’s game of ‘catch’, we are peculiarly resistant to seeing that the society in general is exactly the same thing, only it is played mainly by adults.

 

By encouraging us to take control (by attracting us with lures from the front, and frightening us with horrors from behind) the system of society facilitates us in getting trapped within the context of meaning that it has provided. Needless to say, the better we do in the social game (i.e. the more effective we are in our controlling) the more we are trapped in it – the more we control in society, the more we are controlled by society. On the other hand, this is not to say that if I am relatively far behind in the scramble for social success I will necessarily become freer from the power of the illusion since illusions tend to look all the more real when they are out of reach. Even if I revile society I am still trapped by it, because I wouldn’t deny it if I didn’t secretly believe in it. In addition, we may note that those who feel that they are never going to attain the wonderful things that the system offers (those suffering from what sociologists call ‘status frustration’) either create alternative systems of their own, within which to seek rewards, or they resort to cruder games such as drinking, gambling, and violence (directed towards oneself or towards others, depending upon one’s inclination).

THE FALSE LOGIC OF THE MONKEY PEOPLE

Here is a riddle: What happens when everyone copies everyone else? Answer: society! What we are talking about here is self-duplication, or ‘precedence’ – this is a type of force (rather like peer-pressure) which seems to be our friend if we align ourselves with it and don’t question it, but which comes down on us like a hammer if we start to question the logic behind the compulsion. If you agree with my prejudices, then I’ll be nice to you, but otherwise…
If we wanted to put this point across in a more neutral fashion, we could simply say that the logic of self-maintaining systems is the logic of precedence: “I’ve done it this way up to now, so I’ll carry on doing it this way, thank you very much”. Another aspect of the stability of society is the powerful re-assurance that comes from seeing that everyone else is doing (and thinking) the same sort of thing. This is the false logic of the monkey people in Kipling’s Jungle Book: “We all say it, so it must be true!” The power of this usually unstated argument is tremendous. If one can come across an annoying smugness in a small clique of people, perhaps numbering no more than four or five, then how much more effective will this mutual validation be in mass society, composed as it is of conglomerates of hundreds of millions of like-minded people? Exponentially increasing efficiency in global communication (the internet, satellites, fibre-optic information superhighways etc) do not result in greater cultural diversity, but exactly the opposite. There is a universal principle here: making everything into one big consistent system benefits nobody apart from the system that has thus been created! As a result, I can visit a shopping mall in any major city in the world and, apart from the difference in language, I might as well have stayed at home. The same big names, the same big mega-corporations and their ubiquitous products, are all that I will see. Global media means that we all tune into the same consensus reality, we all orientate ourselves around the same framework of meaning – we all live out our lives in the same bad movie. This bad movie is what rebel economist Schumacher calls the global consumer megaculture.

 

Therefore, although improved communication seems like a beneficial sort of a thing, a progression, what it really means is that the ‘social control of meaning’ becomes consolidated to a frightening degree. A truly global culture would represent a tremendously effective instrument for the fulfilment of the purpose of psychological denial. In this respect, modern society does possess a significant advantage – if I want to hide from reality then I have a potent ally in my ‘mission to forget’. The more of us that choose to avail of this ally, the more powerful the ally becomes. On the other hand, if I change my mind and decide that I don’t want to get sucked into unconsciousness after all, then I am in trouble because what was previously a great help and comfort to me, is now an implacable force acting against me. When I realize exactly what I am up against, it is undoubtedly the case that there will be a part of me that would like to go straight back to sleep again – and if this intention gets the upper hand, then there is absolutely no difficulty at all in implementing it, because all the mechanisms are already in place. Those who have seen the film The Matrix will recognize this particular dilemma!

AVOIDANCE OF THE HERE AND NOW

One basic way of approaching the idea of ‘information-collapse due to emotional state’ would be to say that all the compulsive emotions have the effect of increasing predictability in the individuals who experience them. If you hate me then that makes certain behaviours (and cognitions) on your part much more likely than others. I can also predict, to a high degree of accuracy, what you won’t do – you won’t nip out to the shops and buy me a box of chocolates, for example. Another way to talk about the compulsive emotions is to say, as Chogyam Trungpa does, that they are all games, i.e. ways of distracting oneself. As games, each creates a highly convincing ‘pseudo-reality’ which we can get trapped in, and busy ourselves pursuing the type of goals that makes sense within that particular oversimplified world. Psychologically, we can say that each compulsive emotion is a door-way to unconsciousness, and this is a way of saying that they are evasions of reality.

 

The idea that emotions such as anger are essentially acts of denial is not entirely foreign to our understanding since we have all had experience of ourselves and others finding such emotions (most clearly sulking) as being rather convenient ways of ‘getting off the hook’. A person who really doesn’t want to talk about a particular subject (and this is a characteristic male reaction) will often blow up and conveniently get very angry, and this has the advantageous result that they no longer have to talk about the thing they didn’t want to talk about. The first time someone does this, one tends to be distracted by the red-herring – type quality of the manoeuvre, but if I am living with someone who does it every time that I broach that particular subject, then I start to see what is going on. This example is easy to accept but to go from this to stating that ‘all compulsive emotions are avoidances’ presents a fair challenge. All the same, we have already covered the ground that makes this conclusion inevitable when we said that compulsive emotions are based upon a central information-processing bias (or agenda), since, in terms of complexity, any bias whatsoever amounts to an ‘avoidance’ of the total picture.
We can approach this in terms of perspective: zero bias produces the state of maximum perspective, which equals maximum information content, W max. This corresponds to the notion of being in the ‘here and now’, i.e. present in the moment so that I am directly experiencing what is going on, rather than conceptually filtering it in order to get an angle on it. Being in the ‘here and now’ necessarily involves dropping my ‘context of understanding’, which in turn means dropping ‘the self of the system’. What happens then is that we have the situation of maximum openness, maximum vulnerability, maximum communication, maximum possibility of change. Such a state of profound intimacy with my environment tends to be extremely threatening however, and for this reason we utilize ‘here and now’ avoidance, i.e. we play games. Therefore, although we have implied that the compulsive emotions are a way of avoiding focussing on specific topics, in a more profound sense they are a means of denying Reality itself. We can also understand this idea by considering the strangeness content, or numenosity, of experience. As we have repeatedly said, normal reality comes across as being fairly dull and familiar – its strangeness is at a low level. When we fly into a rage, or sink into a sulk, this ‘index of strangeness’ decreases even more, in fact it decreases exponentially – it collapses to virtually nothing. If we take it that being wholly in the ‘here and now’ is concomitant with experiencing Reality, and that Reality is pure strangeness (or undiluted numenosity), then it is easy to see that the compulsive emotions amount to nothing more than a way of shielding oneself from the infinite strangeness and ‘unexpectedness’ that lies waiting for us in the heart of the present moment. Rather than take the ultimate risk, and expose myself to that moment of terrible intimacy with whatever it is that lies ‘out there’ (or ‘in there’), I adopt a fundamentally defensive posture – I manage to ‘hold onto myself’ (or, rather, my idea of myself) by the simple expedient of (as Alan Watts says) chasing my own tail. Closed-minded self-reference is how I contrive to be unaware of the all-pervading voidness, the universal acid-bath of radical uncertainty.

 

The idea that the lower emotions are ways of blocking awareness of Reality is of course central to Tibetan Buddhism, and this comes out very vividly in the following commentary on the Bardo Thodol by Chogyam Trungpa (1987, p 22-4) where he talks about a particular junction (the ‘sixth day’) in the after-death experience in which it becomes impossible for the deceased person to avoid seeing Reality:

Next there is a crescendo of all the forty-two peaceful divinities. The five tathagatas, the four guardians of the gates, the four goddesses and the six realms of the world appear simultaneously. We have a situation of basic bewilderment within which the five tathagatas fill up all the space, all the directions, as well as any corners of emotional situations; there is no gap, no escape or sidetrack of any kind, because the four gates are also guarded by the four types of herukas.

 

The eastern gate-keeper is known as the Victorious One, which is connected with pacifying, but he appears in a wrathful form to provide an awe-inspiring situation at the gate, so that you do not even think of getting out. He represents the indestructable, invincible quality of peace, that is why he is victorious.

 

Then the second one, in the southern gate, is the Enemy of Yama the Lord of Death. He is associated with the karmic activity of increasing wealth. Wealth in terms of time and space is very limited, rationed, so he who goes beyond that limitation is the Lord of the Lord of Death.

 

In the western gate is the Horse-headed Hayagriva. He is the equivalent of an alarm system, as the neigh of a horse can wake you up in any unprepared situations. It is connected with magnetising, which is a kind of intelligent passion, so that you do not get involved in passion but it wakes you up.

 

In the northern gate is Amrtakundali, the Coil of Amrta or anti-death potion. He is particularly associated with death. If there is any suicidal impulse of giving up hope, the anti-death medicine revives you; suicide is not the answer at all. You have the peaceful presence of victory, the increasing one which conquers any extreme concept of time and space, the magnetising principle which sends out an alarm, and the suicide principle which gives you the anti-death potion. Fundamentally you are completely locked in without any sidetracks.
Moreover, there are the female principles of the gate-keepers. There is the female principle with a hook, to catch you like a fish if you try to run away. Or if you try to escape in terms of pride, to fill up all the space and not allow any other possibilities, the goddess with a lasso ties you from head to toe leaving you without any chance to expand. Another possibility is to run away through passion which is based on speed, but then the goddess with the chain chains you down so that you cannot move your feet and run away. And if you try to frighten anybody by aggression and make your way out, then the goddess with a very loud bell subdues your loud scream of aggression and your deep voice of anger.

 

Then you are reduced to facing the six realms of the world: the buddha of the gods, the buddha of the jealous gods, the buddha of the human beings, the buddha of the animals, the buddha of the hungry ghosts and the buddha of the hell realm. All these visions appear from your heart centre, which is associated with emotion, passion and pleasure.

Therefore, on the sixth day of the after-death experience, as related in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, we find ourselves confronted with reality. This is a remarkable idea – it implies that the ‘negative freedom’ which we always have available to us (i.e. the freedom to avoid freedom), is at this particular junction taken away from us. At this point we have zero freedom of avoidance – we no longer have the freedom to have no freedom. This is on the one hand a tremendously exciting prospect because we have to see our own freedom, we have to see Reality in all its Glory, but it also has the possibility of being an immensely frightening prospect. On the one hand is ecstasy, and on the other unlimited terror, and the tendency to go one way and not the other (according to this teaching) depends upon whether we have learned during our lives how to let go, and allow reality to be what it is.

HAZARD

The idea that we have just mentioned is common to many esoteric traditions, not just Tibetan Buddhism. Jean Hardy (1987, p 130) quotes from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

The Gnostic gospels were discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945 and are thought to derive from original sources dated AD 120-150. What this quotation is referring to is the law which says that a blessing, if ignored, turns into a curse in order to attract one’s attention. As Kevin Ayers cryptically says in one of his songs: ‘it begins with a blessing / and ends with a curse / making life easy / and making it worse’. If we turn a blind eye to the signs that try to let us know that we are more than we take ourselves to be (and, likewise, that life is more than it seems to be), and grimly set ourselves to the joyless task of being what or who we think we are, then when the hidden depths re-assert themselves (as they must inevitably do), this re-assertion will come in a terrifying and destructive guise, since it will overthrow everything that we have worked for. The force of the blessing derives from the fact that it is true, and this is also the reason that the curse is so overwhelming and irresistible in its impact – because the Law is true, to go against it must necessarily end in disaster. To shield ourselves against this truth, all we have is the power of our denial; thus, it can be said that for us who live in the world of ‘pseudo-mattering’ (i.e. within the system of thought), the only real power we have is the power to deceive ourselves. This is not to say, of course, that somewhere within us we do not know that things are going wrong with our lives, merely that we cannot actually come out and admit it either to ourselves or others. This is the nature of the conspiracy that the generic mind fosters – an unclean and dishonourable avoidance of what we all know (on some level) to be true.

 

The ‘degenerate’ version of the Law of Hazard is so familiar to anyone brought up within Christian tradition as to be practically invisible: ‘If you are good you go to heaven, if you are bad you go to hell.’ The reason we say that this law is ‘degenerate’ is because, in this over-simplified (or reversed) version of the principle what is required for salvation is perfect adaptation to an extrinsic system of order, which means that I must hand over my responsibility to see Reality for myself. This means unquestioningly obeying rules that are external to myself, i.e. remaining safely unconscious. When I see Reality for myself, I see that there is no fixed rule for how to see it, and no fixed rule for how to live it; there is a rule, or ‘law’, but it is a living law that reveals itself to us moment by moment, in a surprising rather than a predictable way. Thus, the traditional Christian demand that we adapt ourselves to a moral code that can be written down in a book, or on tablets of stone, is actually an inversion of the message in the Gnostic gospels.
This is not to say that a more subtle understanding of the matter has not arisen within mainstream Christianity. Hardy (p 146-7) quotes Dorothy Sayers as saying (in her commentary on the Divine Comedy) that Dante Alighieri shared:

The belief of all Catholic Christians that every living soul in the world has to make the choice between accepting or rejecting God, and at the moment of death it will discover what it has chosen: whether to remain in the outer darkness of the alien self, knowing God as only terror and judgement and pain, or to pass joyfully through the strenuous purgation which fits it to endure and enjoy eternally the unveiled presence of God.

The ‘outer darkness of the alien self’ corresponds to what we have been calling the false ‘I’, the ‘self of the system’ which by the very conditions of its existence must deny any reality outside itself. The completely unprejudiced and unconcerned nature of the true ‘I’ means that Truth for the false self is the most terrible of enemies, an enemy too deadly even to be mentioned. This ‘infinite prejudice’ (or ‘antipathy’) on the part of the false ‘I’ tends to make us think in terms of a battle or war that is being waged between the two sides, and yet this assumption is over-simplistic. From the point of view of the system of thought (which is to say, extrinsic mind) the unconditioned state of affairs (which is the true ‘I’) is indeed the ultimate enemy: extrinsic mind is absolute limitation, limitation that is so absolute that it cannot even see itself, and so sees itself as being free, or at least as having the capacity to be free, and for this reason awareness of true freedom would spoil everything. From the point of view of the true ‘I’ however, there is no question of the false ‘I’ being seen as an implacable enemy because that would mean that the false ‘I’ was being taken seriously on its own terms, and it is the fact that Truth does not take falsehood seriously on it own terms that makes unconditioned Reality so scary for the system of thought. There is no opposition at all in the usual sense of the word because the ‘conflict’ only looks like conflict from the limited point of view. From the unlimited point of view there was never any question of opposition in the first place because there never was an enemy; the ‘enemy’ is simply an artefact of thought – real only if we choose to believe in it.

 

And yet, this still isn’t a satisfactory way of explaining things. We can’t just say that ‘there is no opposition really so everything is okay’ because, for consciousness trapped in the system of thought, the limitations are real – in other words, everything I believe in might be an illusion, but because I believe in it is is real. We are talking about real illusions here! The problem is that if I actually believe in the false self, and the false world it inhabits, then I really am in thrall to falsehood, and the suffering that results from ‘serving the wrong master’ is not an illusion, but true. Therefore, inasmuch as the false ‘I’ is a web of deception that is supremely efficient at trapping consciousness, and leading it to betray itself, it must be an enemy in some sense. So how do we acknowledge the danger inherent in illusion, without reifying an ‘enemy’ (reification itself of course being the ‘enemy’ that plunges us into the darkness of false understanding)? One way to do this is to consider the matter, as John Bennett does, in terms of hazard, which basically means ‘uncertainty with regard to the outcomes of the process which may potentially lead us to freedom from the counterfeit reality of the false self’. This is of course a perfectly straightforward idea, and yet it introduces a new and distinctly disturbing element into the picture.

THE DRAMATIC UNIVERSE

John Bennett, who was a student of Gurdjieff’s over a period of thirty years, as well as being a teacher in his own right, invested much of his later life in elucidating an elaborate and subtle framework of knowledge within which he sought to examine in painstaking detail the cosmic ‘drama’ of the universe around us. One of the ideas he set out is that of the ‘Nullity’, which is a possibility of spurious selfhood in which all one’s thoughts fail to connect with reality, and in which all one’s actions consequently come to nothing. In order to understand this idea it is necessary to know a bit more about Bennett’s working out of the ‘systematics of human nature’. The following diagram shows seven worlds, and the seven selves that belong to each world:

World III Cosmic Individuality
World VI Universal Individuality
World XII Complete Individuality
– The Higher Self
World XXIV The True Self – The ‘I’
– The Lower Self
World XLVIII The Divided Self – Psyche
– Personality
World XCVI The Reactional Self
Material World The Material Self

The autonomy (or ‘freedom’) of the selves diminishes as we descend to the material world. Bennett stresses that this does not mean that the lower selves are ‘burdens’ upon the True Self, because they are vehicles for, and instruments of, the higher levels. When this connection is severed, however, then the situation is altered for the worse because the lower selves act as if they were themselves ‘the master’, and not merely vehicles of a higher power, and this reversal has consequences that are to the benefit of no one. It might therefore be said that these consequences are ‘evil’. Bennett’s central idea is that there is no certainty involved in the working out of the cosmic process, and this is the reason that it is ‘dramatic’. We are subject (whilst in this particular realm of existence) to the law of hazard, which means, as we have already said, that the outcome of processes occurring in the lower worlds is uncertain: the force of evolution may prevail, allowing the individual to achieve unity with the higher selves, or that chance may come to nothing, as a result of actions originating in the ‘nullity’, which is the Reactional Self when it gets separated from the higher worlds. This comes across clearly in the following passage, taken from The Dramatic Universe Vol 2, (1962, p 184-5):

….Where, however, the Reactional Self loses contact with the higher selves, it usurps their functions. Since it is sensitive, it picks up from the external world an artificial content of experiences, memories, habits – in a word, of reactions – that produces an ‘Imaginary I’ or false personality. Being dominated by existential and negative triads, it tends to believe in the reality of Existence only and to regard negative reactions as normal and even legitimate. In this way the Reactional Self falls into sin and, being cut off from Individuality, comes finally to repudiate the essential worlds and to deny their existence. The servant becomes the master, the instrument comes to behave as if it were the owner of the instrument. Under these conditions, man falls into delusion and comes under the sway of the material forces of the lowest world. The isolated Reactional Self can therefore also be called the ‘Deluded Self’.

THE IRREDUCIBLE DUALITY OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS

A state of deluded selfhood in which one’s actions have no relation to reality, and serve only to perpetuate the deluded world-picture which they arose out of is hardly a new concept to us at this stage, but we see the idea in a somewhat different light here – there seems to be a somewhat darker feeling to it, although it is undeniable that Bohm’s idea of ‘thought as a system’ is pretty sinister itself once one gets a grip on it. The awareness that there is ‘dark’ side of life very easily tends to get lost to us, which is to say, it gets rationalized away by our nice, neat models and theories. Everything has a part to play in the greater scheme of things, we say complacently. We can see that it is possible to say (as we have been doing in these chapters) that there are two ‘forces’ in operation in the universe: one force that renders us more fixed and more predictable, and causes us to exist more and more within a specific framework of understanding, and a complementary force that acts so as to give us to possibility of transcending all specific frameworks, and move beyond the known. On the one hand there is confirmation, on the other, novelty. It is all perfectly satisfying to our rational minds – it doesn’t give us indigestion. What we almost always fail to see, however, is that the first of these two forces has already come into play in order for us to derive satisfaction from the formulation of the dual principle of confirmation and novelty. In other words, there has already been an information collapse so that reality has been transposed into the terms of a particular conceptual frame, which basically means that there is no longer such a thing as ‘novelty’.

 

What is going on here is in fact a perfect example of what we mean by ‘dangerousness’: we say that there are two complementary directions to travel in, increasing closure versus increasing openness, and then – without realizing the irony of what we have just done – we use this understanding to drive us further in the direction of increasing closure, i.e. we use it to make ‘a better theory’ and thereby make our position more secure than ever. The problem is that when the two directions are represented in our minds, they cannot help becoming the two terms of Aristotelian Logic, [+] and [-], but of course both of these two terms are the purest confirmation. So when we say something like “Everything has its role to play in the cosmic scheme of things” we have actually lost the true dynamism (or complexity) of reality, and replaced it with the ‘non-dynamism’ of the everyday thinking, which John Bennett calls the situation of ‘psychostasis’. In his book A Foot in Both Worlds Arthur Guirdham, a consultant psychiatrist who was also (rather unusually) a mystic, expresses his exasperation with people who blandly asserted that because both good and evil (along with everything else) are part of the cosmic unity of the One, then everything is actually ‘okay’. At the time Guirdham was writing there was a renewed wave of interest in Indian and Buddhist cosmology in Britain, as in the West generally. Of course good and evil are ‘ultimately One’, Guirdham says, but that doesn’t mean that the opposition between them is not real, that it is not fought in deadly earnest on the level of reality that we know about!

 

The point that is so hard to understand is that the opposition exists in reality, which is a totally different kettle of fish from opposition that exists within a theory or model. Opposition within a theory (i.e. within the rational mind) is not opposition at all but agreement! There is no reasonable ‘satisfactoriness’ to be had from true opposition, in fact there is the exact reverse of satisfactoriness – it is eternally insoluble, unanswerable and painful. It cannot be ‘resolved’. The dark force is not something which it is wise to conveniently rationalize away, but is something that makes the greatest possible demand upon our integrity. The only sane response we can make is to maintain a healthy respect for the awesome potential of this force to keep people in that virtually interminable state of unhappiness and confusion known in the east as samsara. Bland complacency about an enemy like this means that one has already fallen to it, one has already slipped into illusion! Another way of explaining this would be to say that life cannot be reduced to a rational understanding because then it becomes ‘answered’, and the demand life that is makes on us can never be answered. When we think that we have answered it, then we are simply asleep!

WHEN IT IS SMART TO BE SCARED

As Guirdham noted, Westerners, once they get a glimpse of the vastly more expansive Eastern metaphysical framework, often tend to lose some vital sense of what Bennett calls hazard. This, as we have observed, is a subtle and potentially confusing point. We start off in a normally neurotic mode of consciousness in which we feel that our happiness is dependent upon the purposeful attitude that we use to confront life, we are anxious because we are taking on responsibility that is not ours. The discovery that we don’t have to drive ourselves cracked trying to get the universe to conform to our ideas about how it should be behaving produces an enormous sense of relief, and rightly so, because this is a genuine discovery of freedom, our freedom not to believe in the ‘oughts’ and ought nots’ that constitute the prison house of our rational mind. However, this initial sense of relief quickly tends to be hijacked by that very same mind, which has not gone anywhere really. What happens now is that it starts to become important to us that we should be free, and therefore genuine freedom slips imperceptibly into counterfeit freedom, by which we mean ‘freedom-with-an-agenda’.

 

What this means in simple terms is that we get complacent and think that ‘everything will work out fine all by itself’. We think that happiness is guaranteed us. It can be seen that there is a very fine difference between the insight that the universe (and therefore our own happiness) is not dependent upon our rational manipulation, which is a perfectly valid insight, and the complacent idea that no effort has to be made, that there is not a grim force out there that still has to be reckoned with. This is where the idea of the ‘two types of strength’ comes in handy. Type-1 strength, as we have said, is the strength to get things to be the way we think they ought to be. This is linked with extrinsic meaning, i.e. pseudo-mattering, because with our neurotic or anxious concern with irrelevent details we are successfully distracting ourselves from what really matters. Whatever that may be! Type-2 strength, on the other hand, is the strength to allow things to be the way they already are, i.e. the strength to allow reality to unfold before us without pre-empting it either by physical action, or, more importantly, by the mental action of ‘identifying’. This is linked with intrinsic value, which is the value that things already have, and which we previously had not allowed ourselves to see. This means ‘mattering’ as opposed to ‘pseudo-mattering’.

 

In terms of work, Type-1 strength, although it requires effort, and although it can (and does) totally exhaust us, is not work at all but unconscious suffering. Nothing real is achieved, or, rather, what is achieved in Reality is actually the opposite of what we were hoping that we were achieving, i.e. we are in a worse situation as a result of it rather than a better one. This type of ‘pseudo-work’ is associated with anxiety, in fact anxiety is a very pure example of what we are talking about – we go through hell, and for nothing. When we see through the self-trickery that lies behind pseudo-work (which is self-distraction or pseudo-mattering), we stop the whole insane business, and naturally we feel a vast relief. This is where the error creeps in, however. We have learned that pseudo-work is not needed, that it is in fact the root cause of our troubles, and so (at long last) we refrain from it. Somehow, though, we slip into thinking that no work is needed, that there is no need for work at all, that all effort is foolishness! This is the complacency that we have been talking about: the freedom from the need to continually distract ourselves is a genuine freedom, but before we know it this turns into a species of false freedom, which can simply be explained as the freedom to ignore the necessity for real Work!
As we said, the extrinsic or rational mind, which is no more than an accumulation of biases (i.e. tendencies to react), does not simply ‘go away’. It is nothing other than the runaway juggernaut referred to in Chapter 4, and the awful momentum of that juggernaut does not, as we noted, simply evaporate into thin air the moment we wake up in the cab and see what is happening. On the contrary – that is when the real work starts, if indeed we choose to take it on. At that precise moment we are faced with a stark choice – face the pain of consciousness, and the tremendous amount of work that is needed to exhaust the momentum of the juggernaut, or slip back into the comfortable world of pseudo-mattering, which is where we where before, and which is why we are in the mess in the first place! What we are saying, therefore, is that there is a very serious danger that a genuine insight will degenerate into ‘insight-that-serves-the false-master’, i.e. phony insight. If I notice myself relaxing, and entertaining comfortable thoughts such as ‘everything is going to sort itself out’, then I know that I am fooling myself, yet again! The truth of the matter is that we never get free from the force of entropy, we only get ‘free to pay it consciously’. The former is actually negative freedom, which is ‘freedom from freedom’, whilst the latter is the genuine thing. Because we tend to interpret Eastern mystical teachings in a ‘degenerate’ fashion, when we hear an idea such as the ‘Law of Hazard’ it has the capacity to shock. The Law of Hazard means, in Bennett’s terms, that there is “uncertainty whether Harmony can be realized within the limitations of Existence”. In the terms of the gnostic gospel quoted earlier, hazard would mean that there is uncertainty whether one is destroyed by what is within, or saved by it. In Gurdjieff’s very uncompromising terms, there is uncertainty whether one will ‘die like a dog’, or attain actual Being. In the terms set out by Carlos Castaneda, there is uncertainty whether one will die to provide food for the Eagle, or avail of the Eagle’s impartially offered gift, which is the opportunity given to all to become truly free. The word ‘uncertainty’ in itself does not perhaps give us much of a hint as to just how uncertain the realization of the opportunity is. From reading Bennett, Gurdjieff or Carlos Castaneda however we are left in no doubt at all that it is a frighteningly small chance. Actually, most of our lives would be better described in terms of cast iron certainty, the certainty that we will carry on indefinitely the same pattern that we find ourselves enacting at the moment, give or take a few minor variations.

 

There is a real difficulty here because what we seem to be saying, at one and the same time, is that unconditional freedom is both intrinsic to us (i.e. already accomplished or attained) and profoundly unlikely of realization. In fact, the sources we have been looking at assert in the strongest terms that there is a very serious risk of our losing our chance to actualize this freedom, and it is this idea that really shocks us, especially if we had slipped into the way of thinking which we earlier characterized as ‘spiritual complacency’. But is it not the case that certain Eastern schools seem to say that all entities are bound, in the end, to reach the state of Buddhahood? In the Lotus Sutra, for example, there is a bodhisattva named ‘never despise’ because he went around saying to everyone “I cannot despise you for you are destined to become a Buddha” (which, it is said, annoyed people so much that they tended to throw stones at him, and force him to retire to a safe distance). And yet in the same sutra we hear time and time again of the staggering improbability of even encountering a Buddha, let alone attaining the state oneself. For example, in the Juryo chapter, we read:

…The reason is that even after the lapse of infinite, hundred, thousand, ten thousand, hundred thousand aeons, some of the men of little virtue may chance to see a Buddha, but others still may not. …..

And later on, in the same chapter:

These people with their various crimes, because of the effects of their evil deeds, will never even hear the name of the Three Treasures, though countless eons go by.

THE ‘REVERSE INFINITY’ OF NEGATIVE FREEDOM

One way to look at this would therefore be to say that although intrinsic freedom is inalienable, since it is what we truly are, the probability levels associated with us never actually appreciating that freedom are so astronomically huge that it is virtually true to say that we can ‘lose our chance’. In The Tibetan Book of the Dead it tends to be stressed that if certain opportunities for liberation occuring in the bardo state are not availed of, one will have to wander in illusion for a tremendously long time. The sense of urgency is instilled over and over again. But here we are attempting to resolve two types of teaching that are not resolvable at all! If we have to try to reconcile the two views, then possibly the best way to do it is in terms of ‘fear of illusion’. In the great Tibetan Saint Milarepa’s autobiography he states that the one thing that gave him the strength to reach realization was fear of samsara, the realm of illusion. If one does not fear illusion, it is because one does not see how easy it is to fall into it, and how terribly difficult it is to become free from it. Samsara, although a state of limitation, is like an infinite ocean because it goes on and on, virtually for ever. What we are talking about here is the ‘reverse infinity’ of virtually absolute restrictiveness – the capacity of the same thing to go on looking new and different to us, the capacity of illusion to keep beckoning us on, no matter how often it has proved empty in the past. On the one hand, as we have already said, it suits us very well to be so distracted, and so samsara is our ‘friend’. On the other hand, if we want to stop being endlessly distracted, then we find that the power which illusion has to totally delude us makes it a terrifyingly effective opponent, an opponent whose capacity to undermine our essential integrity simply cannot be overstated.

THE POWER OF ILLUSION

We have just put forward a definition of what might be called the efficiency of illusion: we said that it is basically the capacity of the system to look as if it is offering us something new and real, when actually what is being offered is only the same old thing in disguise. There is the appearance of change, without the substance, and this is what we have been referring to as quantitative change (i.e. linear transformation). The system of thought cannot offer anything new because everything it presents us with is itself; the deck of cards remains the same, but it can be reshuffled endlessly. Of course, if we were perceptive enough we would notice this, and very quickly get bored with the game, but somehow our awareness is too limited and too localized to see this. Perhaps, as a rough sort of an analogy, we could say that it is like reading a book over and over again and never realizing that it is the same book. This isn’t a very good analogy because it is not the case that our experience is the same over and over again in terms of the details of what happens, but rather that the meaning which that experience has for us always falls into the same limited set of categories. It is not life that gets stuck in a groove, but our minds, because the rules which we use to make sense of life are always the same. For this reason we can say that mind is a circle, because we always come back to the point we started from. It never actually gets us anywhere, and in fact that is the whole point of the extrinsic mind, i.e. to get nowhere whilst at the same time appearing to.

 

To say this still doesn’t help us much in our attempt to understand the power of illusion, however. There is also an actively attracting force to illusion, which basically means that it pulls us in: somehow, by going in the direction of focussing in on it, we rapidly lose the ability not to focus in on it, and at the same time we lose the ability to know that our awareness is being restricted in this way. One way to consider the ‘power of illusion’ is in terms of realms of endlessly extending intricacy. Once the whole is broken down into parts, the intricacy of the detail that we find is inexhaustible – it gets more and more fascinating, and we get more and more absorbed in the attempt to ‘get to the bottom’ of it all. This is exactly the same thing that happens to us when we get into some sort of hobby or specialized interest like train-spotting or entomology – the details lay disproportionate claim to our attention, even though if we withdrew enough from it we would have to admit that the details, in themselves, are vanishingly trivial. Curiously, their inherent triviality does not make the details less attractive to us but more: the more arcane or ephemeral a fact, the more we savour it. The crucial point is of course that this love affair with the ephemeral does not draw us into the world, but away from it, because we get progressively more abstracted from reality; it is as if we are travelling down a road that keeps splitting into smaller and smaller roads – they never actually peter out, they just keep getting less and less relevant to reality! Thus, what we are talking about is a ‘reverse infinity’ where we seem, tantalizingly, to be getting ever closer to something of value, whilst never actually getting there.
Mathematically speaking, this is an asymptotic curve: we are forever approaching the absolute definition of a finite value, but we can never reach it because we only get half as close again each time we approach. It is perfectly true that we are getting nearer, but it is also true that we are faced with the ‘rule of diminishing returns’ so that in the end a virtually infinite effort is needed for a virtually non-existent return. What draws us on is the intensely powerful magnetic pull of our mental projection that we can in fact reach absolute definition of a finite value (i.e. one hundred per cent separation from the whole). This state of mind is akin to being hypnotized, it is the result of seeing part of the truth, but not the rest of it – we see that we are continually getting closer, but we do not see that we are at the same time getting less and less of a return for our money. In other words, we do not see that our effort is nothing other than the effort to achieve the impossible, since the perfect match (or conjunction) between MIND and REALITY can only take place in the domain of imagination. We ought not to underestimate the power of the imagination however – it is this absolute belief in the efficacy and meaningfulness of goal-orientated behaviour that drives all the bustling activity we see around us. Everyone thinks that we are getting somewhere and certainly we do obtain the impression that we are, yet if we were to become a bit less unconscious one of the first things we would see would be that the motion is a gimmick, just as if we were sitting in a stationary mock-up of a car with a film of scenery rapidly shooting past being projected on a canvas back-drop. The reason we aren’t getting anywhere is because we are so convinced that we are – if we saw that we were getting nowhere, then we really would be getting somewhere!

PSEUDO-RICHNESS

We have a split here, therefore, between qualitative richness, which we can also refer to as complexity (or diversity) and qualitative richness, which, in terms of information content, is a degenerate analogue of true richness. By ‘richness’ we simply mean how much is in it, which means information content; quantitative change, as we know, involves no new information, but it does involve the superficial appearance of development. This is, in a nutshell, is what samsara is all about, and why it is so frustrating and unsatisfactory. Bennett seems to be referring to the same sort of idea when he speaks of the essential law of expansion, which is creativity, as opposed to the existential law of expansion, which is causation. The difference between these two laws, Bennett says, is what distinguishes the realm of essence from the realm of existence.

NEGATIVE FREEDOM AND NEGATIVE ORDER

Before we finish this discussion, we will take a further look at two more of John Bennett’s ideas, and see how they tie in with the approach that we have been working with. The first on our list is ‘negative freedom, which we have already explained by saying that it is ‘freedom from freedom’. Here Bennett (1961, p 210-211) introduces the idea of negative freedom, and links it with another term which we are familiar with, identification:

We shall adopt the term Identification to designate the basic negative freedom of the Nullity. Negative freedom is neither abscence of freedom – which is determinism – nor subordination to a stronger power, which is one of the forms of Identity. In identification, the Reactional Self is cut off from its own higher self and loses itself in what is not itself. Each of the impulses in the triad – (3-2-1) is negative. There is no receptivity in the denying impulse, but just non-essence. The triad has at its heart the inability to be oneself.

 

Negative freedom is ‘negative’ because it constitutes the ‘inability to be oneself’, but, on the other hand, if it so happened that we wanted to look at things backwards, (so to speak) then that inability becomes a positive ability, i.e. it becomes the ability to be ‘not oneself’. If we don’t want to be who we really are, then the negative freedom which has been obtained through identification seems highly positive to us! In general, we can of course link negative freedom with the notion of ‘pseudo-mattering’ – there is created in pseudo-mattering an internally consistent ‘virtual’ world for me to get lost in, a world which is complete in its own terms, a world which contains no references at all to what originally mattered so much to me. All my energy is ‘safely’ diverted to false (or ‘null’) ends, until that time when I have no more energy left to need diverting…

 

It is also clear that Bennett’s pseudo-self – ‘the Nullity’- corresponds very closely to Bohm’s idea of ‘Thought as a System’, as we can see from Bennett’s (p 206) discussion of ‘negative order’:

 

Negative order is not disorder, but order in the wrong place. It is characteristic of the Nullity that it believes in its own world. In place of the universal determining-conditions which alone can distinguish between possible and impossible situations, the Nullity substitutes its own accidentally formed views and convictions as the criteria of truth. ‘Man the Measure’ is interpreted by the Nullity to mean that its own subjective attitudes are the realities with which all experience can be tested. We shall call this condition of the Will subjectivism.

 

One consequence of subjectivism is the inversion of values. What is objectively insignificant appears to be most important. The Nullity feels itself the centre of the universe. It cannot participate in any will other than its own.

 

The subjectivism of the Nullity is reflected in its attitude towards time. Not only is it incapable of perceiving, or even visualising, lines of time other than its own, but it is not even able to grasp the nature of time itself. For example, it cannot picture its own dissolution; an objective fact, which, not being present, is subjectively non-existent for it. So we have the very strange situation that the Nullity fears everything except the real terror, which is its complete dependence upon a perishable body. The Nullity lives either in the past or the future, neither of which exist for it – it cannot live in the present, for it does not itself exist. So it lives in a false world upon which it imposes its own false order.

 

Moreover, subjectivism confuses time with eternity. The Nullity takes the potential for actual and the actual for potential. In this way – as in many others – it apes the situation of the Complete Individuality, which really does possess equally both the actual and the potential.

 

Subjectivism results in the distortion of value experience. What happens at a given moment to appear desirable is taken to be an objective good, valid for all time. The Nullity builds about itself an unreal world, and so remains isolated from existence no less than from essence. The Reactional Self adapts itself to this unreal world and so produces ludicrous manifestations that would be intolerable in any real state of objective awareness. We have but to open the pages of the satirists of all ages, from Aristophanes to Dickens, to see the absurdities of subjectivism portrayed. Not all subjectivism is destructive – Bottom and Don Quixote both live in a null-world – but it is always comic. The world order of nullities is one of the absurdities of the universe, yet it is a condition to be reckoned with in the life of man and, as with all negative laws, it can produce disturbances in the order of higher worlds.

Although we have said something before (rather carelessly) to the effect that the Nullity is ‘unconnected with reality’, this, as Bennett notes in the quotation given above, is not the case. Null events are null in one sense, since they are conceived in a view of reality that does not have a real relationship with anything outside of itself, but this does not mean that they do not impact on reality. If I think that you are a member of a secret criminal brotherhood who has been sent to eliminate me, and so I kill you first, that is an example of a deluded view of reality that has very real consequences. This type of interaction, where action is based on a model which is an inaccurate representation of reality, and goes on to create problems in the real world that weren’t there before, is what Bohm calls ‘incoherence’. To take our example of the paranoid pre-emptive strike again, there actually wasn’t a problem at all, but there is after I make my incoherent move – then, I have real problems, and so do those people who are unfortunate enough to be around me. Another way to describe incoherence is in terms of violence: when our problem-solving action is removed from the realm of the dramatic to the realm of the theatrical (i.e. when we make the shift from mattering to pseudo-mattering) then the price we pay is an increasing toll of unacknowledged violence in the real world, against what really matters. For this reason we have grounds for saying that society, as the named (or known) reality, is an institutionalized system of violence against the spirit, which is the invisible and nameless world that we have turned our backs on in our celebration of the known. Rule-based interactions create a terrible bleakness, a bleakness that is all the more bleak because it is never acknowledged. The garden of the soul falls into neglect because we are elsewhere, wholly preoccupied with our games, wholly given over to the terrible ignorance of unbridled rationality.

RETURNING

Having looked fairly thoroughly at the sneaky bag of tricks we have for ‘avoiding intimacy with our environment’, and spinning our own well-managed, sealed-off ‘virtual-reality worlds’ instead, we can move on from examining the ‘backwards infinity’ of restrictiveness, and look at the way in which we re-establish the connection with the true self, or ‘openness’. We have dealt with the decomplexifying emotions, which shunt us off down dark cul-de-sacs where we end up trapped and miserable, and now we will consider the ‘complexifying’ emotion of love, which returns us to the main thoroughfare, the main highway of life. If emotions like greed or anger cause us to identify with the false self of ‘the system’, then, contrariwise, surrendering to the higher emotion of love allows us to partake in the ‘I’ of love; one participates in what Bennett calls the ‘Universal Individuality’. This is the ‘true Self,’ which can be said to be ‘open’ (or ‘non-local’), having nothing to do with any notions of time and space, and nothing to do with anything else that we know about. The True Self is the Universal Set, it is Everything, and it manages to be Everything without the need for any trickery, unlike the false self of the System, which very effectively masquerades as ‘Everything’. The system of thought manages to pass itself off as ‘Everything’ by virtue of its endlessly deceptive powers of illusion, and this is why it is all that we know, generally speaking, since we do not trouble ourselves sufficiently to challenge this power…

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