The Red Queen Effect

red queen

The psychostatic mind is a closed shop, a closed system. What this means is that it appears – on the terms which it itself takes for granted – to be the whole story, the A to Z of what is possible. The descriptions provided by this rule-based mind appear to be an exhaustive account of whatever it is that is going on (and whatever else could possibly go on). Aside from ‘the terms that the psychostatic mind itself takes for granted’, nothing else gets a look in. No other terms are allowed, no other terms get acknowledged and this is what makes the closed system a closed system.


We never look beyond a closed system, in other words. The question of looking beyond it never arises. How could it? How can we look beyond what is supposedly an exhaustive account of what is going on? How would we know to look? Believing that the closed system is the whole of everything is the same as imagining that there is nothing beyond it, obviously, but the key thing here is that there is something beyond the closed system, despite what that system might lead us to believe. There is a lot beyond the closed system – there is everything beyond it! What we believe to be the whole story isn’t anything really – it’s a finite set of artificially-obtained possibilities nested within an open-ended universe, which isn’t saying very much therefore. The closed system is the pseudo-world which is created by the limited measuring stick of our ‘assumed terms’ (which are the terms of our game, the terms of the game we are playing without knowing it).


When we are trapped in the pseudo-world that is the closed system (and we are trapped, all the more since we don’t know that we are) then this casts a shadow over us, a shadow over our lives. Again, how could it not do? How could we be deprived of reality without this deprivation having some dire consequence? There is a ‘dullness’ (or ‘flatness’) to us – we are afflicted with a curious blankness, a curious lack of curiosity. We can’t be curious because curiosity means that we have a conscious orientation towards the mystery of everything, towards the vastness of everything, the unfathomable profundity of everything. How can we have a conscious orientation to the mystery of everything when we have no sense of there being any mystery there? In the pseudo-world that is created by the closed system there is no mystery, no vastness, no profundity – there is only the banality of the known, the unremitting tedium of the known…


Instead of curiosity (which is as we have said an orientation towards the mystery of everything) we have what is generally referred to as ‘nosiness’. Nosiness is of course where we are keenly but ridiculously interested in finding out anything that might be to our own narrow advantage! If there is something that could possibly be to our advantage then we want to know all about it; it is as if we feel ourselves to have the divine right to know all about it, just as it would be our divine right to pursue this advantage to the hilt if indeed it turned out to be such. Our ears are twitching like demented little radar scanners; our eyes are bugging practically out of our heads. This is nosiness – as we all know only too well!


When we’re being nosey therefore we’re simply scouting for information for the sake of what this information can do for us, not for the sake of the information itself. Its ourselves that we’re interested in, not anything else! We’re not interested in broadening our horizons, we just keen to improve our situation such as it already is. We just want to secure our position, whatever that may be. We have no love for ‘the romance of the unknown’, we just want to know how to improve our game. Mysterious stuff won’t help us with this – that will only annoy or confuse us. We’re being very concrete in our approach there – anything that is to our concrete advantage simply doesn’t matter to us. Paranoia is the flip-side of this situation – when we are paranoid then it could be said that we’re ‘nosey’ about all the stuff that could happen which would prove to be to our disadvantage. We’re every bit as concrete in our thinking only this time we’re concrete in a negative way. We’re still preoccupied with the mundane, we’re still restricted to the realm of the concrete, only this time it’s all about avoiding the unfavourable outcome rather than obtaining a favourable one. It makes no difference whether we’re chasing the advantage or fleeing the disadvantage – we’re irredeemably concrete-minded both ways!


The reason we’re so concrete (so restricted without knowing that we are restricted) is of course because we’re always thinking about ourselves and the self that we’re always thinking about is a very concrete or literal thing. The concrete self is very banal, very tedious! Coming at this from another angle, we could also say that the reason we are so concrete is because we’re always playing a finite game. A finite game – says James Carse – is where we are always playing to avoid being surprised. The only outcome we want is the outcome we have already specified – anything else is a fail! To our normal everyday goal-orientated it is completely obvious (so obvious in fact that it doesn’t really need to be said) that obtaining the outcome we have already specified is a good thing; as far as the goal-orientated mind is concerned this is of course the only thing we care about – it’s ‘the goal’, after all! “Winning is great” we say and the reason winning is great (the reason we feel so jubilant about it) is precisely because we never look any further than the fact that we have already agreed that the goal is the goal. The goal is the goal and that is that. Winning is great because we cannot question the rule that has been put in place. Winning seems like ‘the ultimate good thing’ to us, in other words, because we are being very concrete about it! If we weren’t being concrete then we wouldn’t be able to play the game…


This way of seeing things (which is limited without being able to see that it is limited) is the way of the finite game player, the way of the psychostatic mind. We don’t look beyond winning, we don’t look beyond the rule, we don’t look beyond the specified goal. If we DID look beyond the tautology of the mind-set which says “Winning is good” then we would see that “winning is good” really means ‘forever staying the same’. If playing a finite game means playing to avoid any surprising outcomes then this clearly means that we are implacably resisting change. It means that we have made a virtue out of resisting change! The whole point of the game is to freeze everything in never-ending stasis – to make sure that nothing ever changes. As James Carse says, this is what winning means – it means perpetuity, it means that nothing ever changes. This is actually a very bizarre thing to want, a downright perverse thing to want, but when we’re locked into the goal-orientated mind-set we simply don’t see that. On the contrary, we see it as being a very commendable sort of thing to want. We clap each other on the back over it…


As we have said, the reason we see aiming at stasis as being a very commendable sort of a thing is because we have identified with the rule. If we have identified with the rule (i.e. if we have taken it for granted as a template, if we have accepted it being a kind of ‘automatically-applied standard’) then of course we see results that agree with this rule as being a good thing. That’s tautological! But suppose we don’t look at what’s going on in this biased way – this biased way that doesn’t see itself to be a biased way. If the only reason we see ‘reaching the assigned target or goal’ is because we are specifically biased to see it this way then clearly once the bias in question is removed then we will see that there is nothing intrinsically ‘worthwhile’ about reaching the target at all. We won’t get to feel good about it anymore! We will see that repeatedly trying to control things so as to keep coming back to this same old value (and thinking that it is good when we do and bad when we don’t) is simply a meaningless mechanical procedure that we have put an awful lot of energy and dedication into validating! This is the thing about all games – this is the reason why we generally stop playing games when we see that they are they are meaningless mechanical procedures that we have put a lot of energy into validating. When we stop identified with the rule we stop playing the game and so we stop valuing never-ending stasis.


With the removal of the bias (with the removal of the conditioning) we see the activity that we have been putting so much energy and effort into as being frankly meaningless (as any game, when seen from the outside, is frankly meaningless). Another way of putting this is to say that we see the activity as being null.  ‘Null’ means that the system resets to zero every time – it means that all positive developments are – as John Bennett says – inevitably compensated for later on by an equal and opposite ‘negative development’. Compensation comes about as a result of our blindness with regard to the identity of the opposites – we see PLUS as having an independent existence of its own and so we chase it, seeking to isolate it and put it in a bottle. We want to catch it and hang it on our wall as a trophy. But PLUS is simply one end of the axis with MINUS at the other end so wherever PLUS goes MINUS goes too. This gives rise to a rotation – PLUS succeeds MINUS which succeeds PLUS which succeeds MINUS and so on ad infinitum. If we take a short-sighted enough view we will see little periods of progress and little periods of reversal and we can believe that it is possible to get ‘the one without the other’; when we take the wider view then we see of course that there is no progress and no reversal – there is simply stasis. As G. Spencer-Brown says in The Laws of Form,

To cross twice is not to cross; thus a mark within a mark is indistinguishable from an unmarked space.  …


…Each mark is a crossing, to recross is not to cross.


Or to put this another way – nothing ever happens in a closed system!  Nothing ever happens in a closed system because actually there isn’t such a thing as ‘a closed system’ – it’s just an abstraction, it’s just a game that we play without knowing that we are.


In a closed system there is the appearance of movement that masks an underlying lack of movement. We running as fast as we can but we’re not getting anywhere! In plain language, all our efforts are being wasted. This is ‘the red queen effect’ we’re jogging on the spot, we running as fast as we can simply to stay still, so that all of our input (in terms of time, energy, attention, cleverness, resources, etc) are being harnessed for the task of ‘postponing the inevitable’ – the inevitable being change….


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