Whenever we create a closed-system we always come straight back to the ‘thorny problem’ of self-referentiality – we come straight back to it and what’s more we also never get away from it in the first place! The bold-as-brass cock-sure positive statement that exists within the closed framework of meaning which it so easily takes for granted is not meant to be seen in terms of its relationship with the Whole. That relationship (which is what we might call the essential relationship that all phenomena possess) has been ‘chopped off’ or ‘curtailed’ by the system of one-sided boundaries which make up the rational mind. One-sided boundaries are thus termed because this is precisely what they do, and if they didn’t do this – if they didn’t arbitrarily ‘chop off’ the field of our interest or concern – then we would have to say goodbye to all our cherished positive structures, to our entire system of knowledge. We would then have far too much perspective to be able to take such games seriously anymore!
A closed system is ‘closed’ because it has no relationship with anything outside of it; because it lacks the possibility of such a healthy, out-going relationship it is condemned to go around and around in fatuous loops with no chance of a let up. If a statement has no relationship with anything outside of itself (which is to say, the closed framework of reference which it takes for granted, and which is its only possible source of authentication) then it only has a ghost-like existence; it only exists from the point of view of its own non-existent viewpoint and even this highly dubious form of ‘existence’ is marred – fatally so – by the non-correctable flaw of self-contradiction. If in other words we do ‘pinch off’ a portion of reality (which by virtue of the fact that it is real and not an abstraction is always quintessentially open or ‘unfinished’ in nature) to produce a fatally constrained version of reality that is closed and ‘finished,’ then the positively defined statements that are created within that closed reality happily demonstrate their own inherent redundancy by being exuberantly paradoxical. We can ignore this paradoxicality as much as we like, but we can’t ever escape it.
It is a demonstrable fact that we don’t – on the whole – perceive the countless positive statements that constitute our world as being paradoxical. We don’t perceive our beliefs, thoughts, and language as being paradoxical and if we did then the chances are that we would be extraordinarily upset, disturbed and terrified by this experience! After all, the huge majority of us live almost entirely within the system of thought, within our rational minds (i.e. within our rational descriptions of the world) and everything we know and rely on is here. To have all of those nice reliable rational descriptions explode in my face and start laughing at me and my stunted two-dimensional thought processes the way paradoxes do is hardly going to make my day – I like the individual elements that make up my language, my ‘system of communication’, to be well-behaved and orderly. I like my descriptive terms to have a meaning which is precisely defined in advance and which does not vary unpredictably, and I certainly do not like them to contradict themselves. And yet, if I insist, out of my knee-jerk attempt to maximize ontological security, on the meaning of my descriptive terms being exhaustively defined in advance then I have condemned myself to precisely this fate since as soon as a meaning is ‘trapped’ in this way it eludes me at the very moment of my triumph by turning paradoxical on me. The alchemists knew this very well and this is why they spoke of Mercurius as the ‘fugitive stag’ who disappears effortlessly into the forest just when we think we have him within our sights. This isn’t to say that we can’t ever get anywhere with our thoughts, our language, our communication-system, only that we can’t get anywhere when we use it in a crudely grasping or literal fashion.
If we were able to refrain, even to a modest extent, from immediately succumbing to the knee-jerk urge to maximize our sense of security by automatically attempting to validate our initial assumptions, with no regard to the price we might have to pay for this dim-witted short-sightedness, then we would be able to use our language with a light touch and therefore avoid brutally squeezing the life out of it. In this case – if we were able to refrain from viciously grasping at the meaning of our descriptive terms, we would have a language that is still, if even slightly, open and as a result this language would be friendly and helpful to us rather than being an unforgiving, implacable enemy. The meaning of our thoughts and words would not be entirely pinned down, entirely circumscribed, entirely tamed, but rather some undefined portion of them would be open to ‘infinite re-interpretation’ – to put this another way, instead of using signs we are using symbols, the difference being that while ‘signs’ signify only what the official handbook says they do, ‘symbols’ overflow with significance, a significance we can never categorize and systematize, no matter how we try. Each one of us is in this way like a ruler of a country – we can either keep on tightening and tightening our grip, until the poor citizens are so controlled that they end up doing and thinking only what I want them to, or we can relax a bit, take a risk, and let the citizens free, to some extent at a least, to do and think what they want to. In the first case the population are so controlled, so regulated, so tamed, that they aren’t actually individuals at all but mocking reflections of petty mind of the fearful controller. In the second case the citizens have a degree of honest-to-goodness individuality, which is to say, there is more to them then me, than my little governing mind. In the same way, when I clamp down brutally on the meaning of my language, my thoughts, concepts and ideas, then my language is an exact reflection or copy of the set of governing assumptions that is my rational mind and I am lost in sterile self-agreement.
If I ‘loosen up’ a bit, on the other hand, then the elements making up my language can take on meanings that my logic-governed mind did not intend, but which are sympathetic, so to speak, with the Greater Self which the system of logic is bound to exclude from consideration. According to Jung this greater Self shows itself in symbols of wholeness or roundness, thereby demonstrating its profoundly alogical nature since the Whole is the one thing about which logic cannot ever speak (the exclusion of the Whole being as we have said the essential precondition of all positive statements). The content of my language is therefore going to be greater than would otherwise be expected – my means of communication, which is my way of interacting with the world, is bigger than I am (‘I’ meaning my logical or defined self, which is the only self I tend to have day-to-day experience of). So what we have here is a means of communication that has a greater degree of spaciousness within it than it appears to have from the outside. If I had a literal system of communication then – naturally enough – it wouldn’t be ‘bigger on the inside’! In this case what you get in the tin is ‘exactly what it says you will get on the label’. Things are what they seem; things are what we take them to be…
From a certain perspective (the perspective of fear) this is excellent news, this is exactly how we like it – we don’t like any surprises because we can’t be sure that one of these surprises won’t turn out to be the thing that we are afraid of! This is the thing about control (or ‘surprise-suppression’) – once you start controlling then you have to control everything. After all, what’s the point in controlling for 99 per cent of the time if the 1 per cent of the time you didn’t control turns out to be the time when the ‘bad thing’ sneaks through to put an end to your fun. This makes a mockery of everything. This is like the rabbit fence running for thousands of miles through Australia – there is no point at all in going to the serious trouble of putting this fence in place if you are going to leave a gap of even ten feet. After all, all it takes is for a doe and a buck (or one pregnant doe) to get through and all the effort you put into erecting that fence is entirely wasted. If there is going to be a fence at all then it has to go all the way. Having a system of communication that is literal is the same thing as 100% control and although eliminating any chance of one of our descriptive terms meaning something that we haven’t said it can mean gives us the sense of security that we want, it also takes away all the joy out of life – we are safe but that safety is sterile.
Literalism means that I have already decided the meaning of everything – I say that this word means this, and this only, and in the moment of triumph attending this supremely successful act of control I feel great satisfaction. The satisfaction comes from the defeat of fear, but once fear has been defeated (which was my only thought) I find myself left in a rather uninspiring situation. I am safe, which is what I wanted more than anything, but beyond that I didn’t think and so it is that I find myself the inheritor of my own terminal short-sightedness. I am safe, but locked into the terrible prison of intentionality, which sounds like the most marvellous boon when we are striving for it, but is revealed as a terrible curse once it is obtained. When the whole universe is submissive to my dim-witted will, what do I do then? I can do anything I want, but the snag is that I can only want what I know, and what I know is the quintessence of all that is tedious and banal. All I can do is act out the choices allowed me by my categorical mind, but all of the choices that I have at my finger tips are in truth only trivially different from each other – actually they all boil down to the same choice, which is to restate the system of thought yet again (even though I have already stated and restated it a trillion billion times, and each time I have done so it has been exactly the same!
The choice of acting out the same repetition yet one more time, as if it hadn’t already been acted out enough times, is not in any way a choice at all – actually it is the complete opposite of ‘choice’ that we are talking about here. What we are looking at here is a lack of freedom so stark, so horrific, that we can’t even begin to appreciate just how appalling it is, and it is this situation which we find so impossible to let go off when we are afraid of losing control. The truly ironic thing about all this is that the less freedom we have (and therefore the lower and more miserable our quality of life) the more we are unable to ‘let go’ of what it is that we think we have – even though we have nothing really worth hanging onto. Actually what we do ‘have’ and are hanging onto so grimly onto is nothing more than an arbitrary set of pointless restrictions, a prison for the spirit, so to speak. Our inability to let go of our limitations is in fact a function of these limitations, the fact that we can’t bring ourselves to release control is not due to the presence of freedom or ‘choice’ (which is how the set-up convincingly represents itself to us) but to the stark lack of freedom. In other words the compulsion to go on reiterating the same tired old restrictive pattern is the pattern.
What we are talking about here is the freedom of a straight line to carry on travelling ever outwards – which sounds on the face of it pretty dynamic and exciting, like an arrow being fired off into the glorious blue yonder. On the other hand, if we think about a straight line the other way, as we have been doing, as a graphical representation of changelessness (which is what it most assuredly does represent since all a straight line is really is a fixed rule) then instead of looking like an arrow moving ever-further into unknown territories it is revealed as being all-too-straight, which is to say, as a tendency which is fundamentally conservative, if not to say down-right fascistic. The proud arrow of the straight line only appears to be moving ever-outwards into the unknown when we take the back-drop against which it moves as being a real back-drop, but in actual fact this ‘back-drop’ – which is of course nothing other than the continuum of logic – has only a virtual existence, which the straight line takes for granted in order that it might be a straight line. If I measure my progress against the assumed framework of the continuum then I will seem to be actually getting somewhere, but as soon as I see that the framework takes up no real space at all, then it is apparent that the superficial appearance of progress masks the complete opposite. The straight-line invents its own freedom – in truth the only sort of freedom it has is the freedom to ‘carry on obeying the rule’. The infinite extension of linearity is not into the new, but into the endlessly recycled past.
Instead of saying that the straight line of linearity is ‘a graphical representation of the complete absence of change’ we could equally well say that it represents a system of communication that is utterly literal. With a literal system of communication ‘what you get out is exactly what you put in’ – the world unfailingly confirms my assumptions and I am lost in the terrible trap of sterile self-agreement. Instead of interacting with the world, I interact with myself, which is no interaction at all because there is no leeway for change, no chance of anything new coming into the picture. When my language is not on a tight leash however, and there is a bit of a possibility of it escaping from my control a bit here and there, then we start to get the situation where my world is ‘bigger than I am’. As we have said, when my system of thinking is literal then there is zero spaciousness and my relationship with the world is strictly linear. The only freedom I have here is the freedom to ‘obey the rule’ of my own literal and therefore unchanging descriptions of myself and the world I live in. The only freedom I have is ‘no freedom’, therefore.
The idea of a ‘linear relationship’ is in fact total nonsense because linearity is the absence of relationship – linearity is where the connecting strand of relationship is turned back on itself to form a closed loop. This closure seals off our relationship with everything that is not the loop, and ‘opens up’ a world of infinitely extended redundancy – the illusory world which Buddhist metaphysics refers to as samara. In this world we go nowhere but are nevertheless under the strong and persistent impression that we are, we create nothing but imagine fondly that we do, we say nothing at all but think that we are communicating nuggets of pure gold. The sterility of this situation is a function of its lack of spaciousness – spaciousness is reality, so to speak, and when there is no spaciousness there is no chance for anything real to actually happen. There is only the abstraction and not the substance.
‘Reality,’ we might say, denotes the property of ‘constantly moving beyond oneself’ or ‘constantly changing’, as in Heraclitus’ idea of eternal flux. This sort of change goes beyond our normal idea of change because when we usually think about change we think of something that changes in a way that is itself known to us – we think of that change as occurred within a fixed or known framework. In this case the change is total – we are continuously moving out of our framework, continuously moving into the unknown, and in this journey we bring absolutely nothing with us, not even our idea of change or movement. It is of course second nature for us to visualize movement in terms of a point moving outwards in a straight line but as we have said this sort of movement takes place against a fixed backdrop, which is the dimension in which we conceive the motion occurring, but in total change there is simply no continuity of anything, and thus no possibility of imagination or visualization. Instead of looking at a river that flows along between its banks, we are looking that the situation where the banks also flow, along with the fields on each side of the banks, the bridge across the river upon which we are ‘standing,’ and of course ourselves as well into the bargain! There is nothing that is not the flow…
What we are actually losing here – in grammatical terms – is everything that is not a verb. Instead of me drinking the tea there is simply drinking, without any fixed points of reference, without any subject or object. Instead of you laughing at the joke, there is simply a sea of laughing in which everything else is lost, even the original joke. Instead me loving you there is just the ocean of all-encompassing impartial loving in which there is no lover and no beloved. All concepts, all entities, all ‘things’, are dissolved in the universal medium, in much the same way that shapes made out of a length of string are lost when the string is pulled tight, leaving no more slack in it. This image is of course apt from our point of view since we have been arguing in the preceding pages that all positively defined figures or statements only exist because of the entropic slack that has been introduced (albeit in a strictly provisional way) into the State of Original Symmetry. David Bohm talks about the universe in terms of it being a mighty river of unbroken change and says that all apparent fixtures come down to no more than local eddies in the relatively slow-moving shallows of that river which persist in a way as individual features, even though ultimately all that they are is moving water which is in no essential way distinct from the ceaselessly moving water of the river as a whole. In Verse 77 of The Gospel of Thomas (taken from John R. Mabry, The Way of Thomas, 2007) we read,
Jesus said, “I am the light which is above all things. I am the All, from me all things have emerged and to me all things have been revealed. Split the wood, and I am there; life the stone, and you will find me there.”
As we have said, to be in a world which is bigger than you are, where you ‘get out more than you put in’ is an ineffable delight, and this delight has nothing at all to do with successful control! If I am a master of control then I can only ever get out what I put in and thus I must rely on entertaining myself, and passing the time for myself in a way of my own devising. In this there is no delight – there will be periods of successful self-distraction but for every such success there will be a ‘failure’ in which I am unable to distract myself from myself, and where I will as a result have to confront my own sterility. In addition to this perception of ‘dryness’ or ‘unfruitfulness’ or ‘hollowness’ (which in its usual manifestation is generally called boredom or ennui) there is also disappointment (which is where we do not get the degree of successful self-distraction that we had been hoping for or relying upon). Disappointment shades into anger, bitterness, resentfulness, jealousy, and despair – all of which are miserable mental states caused by us not getting what we wanted to get, which can be seen in terms of successful entertainment or successful self-distraction. Similarly, we will also be prone to suffering from anxiety (which is where I am unable to successfully repress doubts about my own efficacy at entertaining myself). It might seem strange to bring everything down to a question of “Am I being successfully entertained / diverted?” but the life of the game-playing self is always thus – it has no contact with reality (it cannot, because this would spell its end) and so has to make do with its own simulations, it own projections. Even if my games involve real objects, real people, real situations, what I want out of these real objects, people and situations is invariably a state of euphoric satisfaction for myself and this euphoric satisfaction derives, as always, from my abstract relationship with the object, person or situation. It is my projection and my projection is all about me. When I am engaged with my projections in this way it has to be the case that I am relating to the world in a strictly superficial way – I am relating so superficially in fact that I am not really relating at all.
We do not of course go around saying that we are ‘relating to our projections’ – if we did say or think this then that would spoil the whole game. But inasmuch as I am relating to the world via a literal language (which is to say, strictly within the boundaries that I myself have drawn) I am not connecting to anything outside of myself; I can’t be connecting to anything outside of myself because what is outside of myself is fundamentally unknown, and always will be. In the world of the hyperreal, which we are being sold from all directions from the moment we are old enough to understand what is being said to us, everything is known; there is never a radical mismatch between what we expect reality to be, and what we find it to be (there might be a trivial mismatch, as for example when I look in my sock-drawer for a pair of socks and find instead a half-eaten ham sandwich, but this, though surprising in its own way, clearly isn’t going to radically challenge the way I look at the world). In this, which is more or less our normal mode of ‘consciousness’, everything is about winning and losing – every moment is either ‘RIGHT’ or it is ‘WRONG’ and so we are constantly bobbing up and down from being pleased to being displeased to being momentarily pleased again, depending upon how successful our controlling has been. All we ever do is bob up and down! We have the security of living in a concrete (or ‘literal’ world) but the price for this is that we are slaves to an illusion which denies who we really are.
we’ve cut ourselves off from the ‘non-concrete’, but the ‘non-concrete’ is what doesn’t deny us! It is true we may notice from time to time certain ‘intriguing though irrelevant’ features of the world we live in when we aren’t too pressed by the compelling necessities of the attention-demanding games that we’re caught up in, but this is only a very peripheral kind of a thing for most of us. Usually, we are just too ‘busy’ for the irrelevant, the ‘useless’. Our games (and we do not of course call them that) are far too important to allow us time to notice reality, which is sublimely – terrifyingly- irrelevant to both us and our games. The trouble, therefore, with living in world that is bigger that is bigger than I am (which contains more than just my tedious old projections) is that I tend to dissolve in it, just like – as Meher Baba says – a sugar-doll dissolves in a lake. Since all of my automatic processes are orientated around anxiously or greedily consolidating my identity rather than joyfully relinquishing it, whenever my sensors detect this tendency I will react with great fear and horror, and strive to resist it for all I am worth. But my resistance is fully automatic – it is a mere unconscious reflex that I have unthinkingly given myself up to by force of habit more than anything else – and so it is profoundly graceless, as well as being ultimately doomed, whilst the act of surrender is fully conscious and full of grace.
To say that we live in a world that is bigger than we are is to say that we live in a world in which there is depth. A world without depth is not a world at all; it is merely an appearance – and an illusory appearance at that. Without depth I am merely what I positively assert myself to be (or what you positively assert me to be) and the problem here is – as we have said – that all positive statements are inherently self-contradictory. If I make a self-contradictory statement and know that I am doing so then there is ‘grace’ in this – I am being light, or humorous, but if I make a self-contradictory statement and do not know it then I am graceless and heavy, with no sense of humour whatsoever. Rather than being humorous myself I am the butt of a joke that I cannot see, even though I may dimly sense it. The only ‘advantage’ in living in a world with no depth is that the self-image can take up permanent residence in it, so to speak, which is something it cannot do in a world of depth since ‘depth’ and ‘selflessness’ are equivalent terms – the one implies the other. The self never has depth, and depth never has a self!
The self-image, which is to say, the positive or defined ‘statement’ of myself that I like to hold on to, is like a delicate type of tropical fish in this regard, a fish that can only thrive in water of a precise temperature and pH – any variation in this it will be found the next morning floating belly-up in the aquarium. For this reason it is very much in the self-image’s best interest to maintain the conditions under which it can survive, and this means perpetuating a ‘bubble’ of literality (or ‘hasty unreflectiveness’) around it at all times. Psychologically speaking, the particular validating conditions which enable the self-image or ego to maintain itself correspond to ‘unconsciousness’. Being more brutally direct about it, we could also come right out and say that the conditions necessary for the continued existence of the conditioned self correspond to ‘stupidity’ or ‘ignorance’ – for the literal self to believe in itself and its world (which is a tautological reflection of itself) it must live safely with the remit of the absurd ‘one-sided boundaries’ that it itself creates and maintains. Mathematically, what we are talking about is the creation of a closed or finite set, which occurs as a result of the enactment of a rule. Or to put this in terms of language rather than maths, we may state the following –
The self can only continue as a going concern when it manages its descriptions of the world with an iron hand, like an absolute political dictator, disregarding or eliminating anything that does not fit into its own narrow (and arbitrary) definitions of reality.
The purposeful self is characterized by its resolute conviction that it can in some lever way manage its system of communication to create space, to create a bit of freedom for itself, to enable itself to move bravely forward, but this is a fundamental impossibility. As we have said, control equals linearity and that is the end of the matter, control equals ‘the enforcement of the rule’. The purposeful self is also the literal self; there is no way to be purposeful of one is not also literal – after all, if I outline a goal but nevertheless do not literally mean what I say then what is to be gained by striving to actualize that defined goal? And if I say that I do not mean one thing by what I say, but another thing (that ‘other thing’ being knowable and describable) then this is still literalism. Non-literalism means that I don’t actually know what I mean, I can’t find the words for it, I can’t define it or explain it – either to you or to myself. This being the case, purposefulness crumbles into the dust, it collapses into futility…
Of course I can still do things, I can still make positive assertions, but I do this in the spirit of open-ended questioning rather than heavy-handed assertion. I’m being playful, not violent. The difference between these two approaches, according to James Carse, is that in the first case I am playing in order to be surprised, whilst in the second case I am playing so as not to be surprised. There is a world of difference here between what Carse calls the Infinite game, and finite games. Finite games are played for the purpose of winning within a fixed framework and the way to play this sort of game is to maximize the strength of your position, so that all other positions have to give way before you. The player gathers up as much power to himself as he or she can, and uses this power to push all contenders out of the ring, just as a Sumo wrestler does. The point of being a finite player is to be invulnerable to any attack, and this means never being taken by surprise. The infinite player, on the other hand, allows himself or herself to be vulnerable and rather than using ‘power’, operates on the basis of ‘strength’ – which has to do with qualities such as flexibility, curiosity, openness, and so on. Power sounds strong – it’s a strong-sounding word – but at the very heart of power, all unsuspected, lies utter craven weakness – the sneaky and dishonest weakness that always makes damn sure to cover itself up with bravado and bluster. From an Eastern perspective, we can say that power is the only strategy that is open to us when we are committed to protecting our attachments. An attachment is an ‘absolute need’, it is when something has ‘got us by the balls’. Given the fact that we are well and truly caught, and we have to obey this cruel and unforgiving master, there is nothing else for it but to make absolutely sure that we always give him what he wants, so that he doesn’t squeeze too hard on the delicate part of us, the part of us that doesn’t like being squeezed…
If I am a powerful finite game player then I will not see myself as being ultimately motivated by cowardice – I will say that it is I who have got my opponent by the balls. I am the one who is in control. If asked what I am driven by I will probably say something to the effect that I am driven by my own personal will, or by my pride. The way to test this belief however is for me to ask myself if I really have, at any point, the freedom to (realistically) do otherwise. If I have to do what my pride demands of me, then where is the freedom in this? If I have to do what my so-called ‘conscious will’ wants me to do, then where is the volition in this? As a rule of thumb, if my personal will is geared towards defending a fixed position come what may – which is to say, if it is purely ‘reactionary’ in nature – then what we are looking at in this case is not genuine volition at all but merely attachment. If it were my conscious or free will, then I would be able to drop my defensive attitude at a moment’s notice – in other words I would be able to ‘change my mind’. But how many times does it happen that I freely or spontaneously change a fixed belief or attitude in this way? How often do I get angry or resentful, and then freely decide to let that anger or resentment go, ‘just like that,’ because I realize that the emotion is pointless and harmful? It is astronomically more likely that I persist with the belief, attitude, or emotional state, and put an awful lot of effort into validating it and telling myself that I am right to think or feel that way. The point is that our apparent ‘free will’ and denial (or, more specifically, the apparently volitional attitude that denial gives rise to) are superficially indistinguishable – there would be no point in denial otherwise.
When I adapt myself to what I understand to be ‘an absolute need’ then in this process my freedom is necessarily lost if I were to allow myself to be aware of this loss of this truly vital ingredient (without which life is meaningless, a sick joke) then my existence would be terribly painful. Since however all I am really looking for is an easy life, i.e. since my allegiance is to security rather than the truth, this awareness becomes an enemy to be repressed at all costs, and this thoroughly wretched situation – where I am in effect my own enemy – is the ubiquitous state of psychological unconsciousness, the state in which we pretend that the attachments that enslave us are in fact there because we want them to be there. In this situation there is no genuine life at all, only the senseless and graceless ‘acting-out’ of meaningless attachments, which constitutes a mechanical parody of life – an insult to life, in fact. When I am in the state of unconsciousness I am like a man who works for a ruthless and corrupt company (or government) who prefers the false, shallow peace of mind that comes from thinking that his allegiance is to the side of truth and justice, rather than the moral anguish that comes when he sees to his horror that he is actually working for ‘Satanic Enterprises Inc.’.
The purposeful or positive self, as we have said, rules its description of the world with a rod of iron. It would like very much to rule the actual world too, but since controlling reality is a manifest impossibility it generally settles for controlling how it interprets reality, and in this endeavour it is utterly impregnable. That impregnability is its power, and its finite game is to ‘never be surprised,’ reality-wise, by anything that happens. In the finite games that constitute the social world it may be said that a few players are very powerful whilst the rest of us are not and have to adapt ourselves to the positions that are forced upon us by the powerful. But in the finite game of our closed descriptions each one of us is the ultimate winner, since we can never be overthrown. And at the same time because in finite games it is always the case that we fight to maintain a position that is arbitrarily imposed upon us by some external authority, we are each one of us ‘all-time losers’ in this respect since our victory in controlling our perception of reality is a victory against ourselves. We ‘invent ourselves’ out of our own poverty of mind, and stick to this impoverished version of ourselves like glue, interpreting any attempt to ‘unstuck us’ as the ultimate insult. We bite the hand that attempts to free us; in fact we chop it off and burn it, or nail it to a cross, or torture it to make it agree with us – and we have a long history of doing this. When the self controls its own world in this fashion, so that its world is necessarily only as big (or as expansive) as it is then, as we have said, its ‘world’ is itself, and therefore is not a bona fide world at all. It tricks itself, in other words. To live in a world in which there is no space for anything new, where there is only ‘what has been previously mapped out,’ is of course an unendurable torment, and the way the system of though gets around this apparently insurmountable obstacle is by creating for itself a realm ‘pseudo-creativity’ where we can apparently move into the unknown, and think, say or do things that have (apparently) not already been provided for us to think, say and do.
The impossibility of ‘getting anywhere’ through linearity can also be stated in terms of ‘the paradox of intending openness’. Purposes are always closed, finished, complete, known in advance – if they weren’t then they wouldn’t be purposes. If I say, my goal is ‘for things to happen as they would have happened anyway if I hadn’t been here’ then this isn’t a goal, it isn’t a positive assertion. After all, the only way for this so-called goal to come to pass is if I actually wasn’t there in the first place, and then I would have my wish. But this is ridiculous – after all, the only view I have of things, the only understanding I have of the world, is that afforded to me by my position, my angle or slant, which – functionally speaking – is the same thing as ‘me’. So when I say that I want things to be ‘as they would be in themselves, without my interference’, I am asking for something that is – and must always be – a radically unknown element to me. All I can know is what my particular view shows me, the view that is conditioned by the set of arbitrary rules that I have taken for granted as the necessary prerequisite for me to have a view in the first place, and so I am asking for something that I cannot frame or conceive. Since I can’t frame or conceive it, how do I know that I want it? Is it at all meaningful to say that I want it, or that I am making it a goal? I don’t know enough about it to form any opinion since it is a content that is, and must always be, at right-angles to my way of thinking (i.e. invisible to me) and so any talk of intending it must be nonsense. Ultimately, as we have said, my defined or positive goals are myself in disguise and so what we are talking about here is ‘the impossibility of the system of thought ever going beyond itself’ (which is to say, ‘the impossibility of me being able to imagine what not imagining would be like’).
For me to try to ‘interfere so as to undo my own interfering’ takes me around and around in a very tight loop indeed – I am involved in the vicious paradox of ‘trying not to try,’ the infinite regression of me ‘trying to control myself so that I cease controlling,’ etc. The normal way in which we think of controlling has to do with exerting our will upon the physical elements making up our environment. The upshot of successful controlling is that I make ‘physical progress’ – that I get somewhere that is both new and advantageous. But as we have been saying, our attempt to describe, understand and communicate about the world is also a form of controlling (i.e. linearity) and we clearly feel ourselves able to make positive progress in this regard too. The only reason I think this however is because I have a blindspot. Like all good blindspots it is both as big and as brutally obvious as a barn door, and yet at the same time totally obscure to me. It is like a riddle I will never get – the Sphinx’s ultimate riddle which resounds through the millennia, a riddle that is guaranteed to defeat the greatest minds of the ages, and yet which at the same time really couldn’t be any simpler or more straightforward.
This power of this riddle derives from the essential ‘intentional act’ that underlies the self, which is to say, the choice that I have made to see the world in a particular way, a choice which also equals ‘the choice that I have made not to see my own choice’. So when I think of myself making positive progress, and I get a good feeling about this, I am taking a particular frame of reference totally for granted, the frame of reference which is myself. Without this ‘taken-for-granted’ framework there could obviously be no such thing as ‘progress,’ the very concept would be meaningless. After all, the advantageous changes that have occurred as a result of my successful control have to be advantageous with regard to me: I am the constant that never changes in this, I have to stay the same throughout or else everything is in vain! I do not of course ever pause to consider that there is anything strange or peculiar in this, of course the advantages are advantageous to me and of course I have to stick around in order to benefit from them and in order that they remain meaningful – this is so obvious that only a fool would mention it! Being such a fool is however the only way to penetrate the Sphinx’s timeless riddle. Only Parsifal the fool (or ‘Parsifal the simple’) can ask the obvious question – the rest of us are always tripping ourselves up with our own cleverness.
Progress without a framework – without a fixed definition of ‘the one who progresses’ – is a profoundly meaningless concept. In order for there to be progress there must necessarily be a fixed or ‘taken-for-granted’ point for it to be measured by, the two elements are inseparable. And so here we have the business of linearity in a nutshell – we can only have measurable change (or measurable improvement) in relation to a framework which is forever fixed, forever changeless. So our so-called ‘change’ is actually a trivial affair since it only exists in relation to a greater context of changelessness, a context which is absolute and immutable – a context which is in fact closed. As long as we don’t focus on the fact that our cherished ‘progress’ is on such a short leash as to be a complete joke we will get along just fine but as soon as we do start to become aware of the laughable incongruity of the idea of trivial or linear change we rapidly lose any possibility of obtaining a buzz from the concept. If I tell you that you can progress as much as you want just so long you never depart by so much as a hairsbreadth from the one, utterly limiting framework that I see fit to provide you with it is of course excusable if you do not shout out loud for joy immediately upon hearing this news, or if you do not straightaway jump up and dance without restraint on the table. There is not much to get excited about here!
The concealed glitch is the self, the ‘arbitrarily fixed position’ whose supreme value to us lies solely in the fact that its utter inviolability to questioning provides us with a sense rock-solid security. The ‘arbitrarily fixed position’ can be equated to the set of ideas that lie behind our controlling and we can therefore say that ‘controlling always smuggles along with it, in a covert or underhand fashion, a set of ideas or assumptions that we are incapable of examining’. Because our attention is neatly and more-or-less continuously distracted onto the goal of ‘getting it right’ we avoid seeing that ‘RIGHT’ could mean anything under the sun, if we wanted it to, and so we can contentedly carry on with our game until the proverbial cows come home. In a nutshell, controlling creates the need to control and once we are tied into this loop there is no way out (at least, not within the terms of the system). Another way of putting this is to say that controlling always brings the ‘controlling self’ into the picture, as if that controlling self were a vital, crucial, irreplaceable part of everything.
But nothing could be further from the truth! The implicit assertion that the fixed viewpoint which is the controller is the lynch-pin or fulcrum of the whole of existence is a barefaced lie, as bold as it is unsupported. This is a truly outrageous fiction, a fiction that is based upon nothing more than the controller’s self-conditioned need to ‘hang on to itself’, once it has entered in to the closed, unfree and repetitive game that is itself. The good old ‘controlling viewpoint’ – which is only as much given to controlling as it is because its outlook is so constrained – smuggles itself into everything that is going on because it loves itself, because it wants to be at the centre of things, because it wants a slice of every pie that’s going. Yet once it has infiltrated itself into the picture on the basis of its ‘indispensability’ it is stuck for now it has nowhere to go but itself, and ‘itself’ isn’t actually anything at all. On the one hand we have the absolute attachment to the self – which is to say the possibilities afforded by secure selfhood seem immense, tremendous, more wonderful than we can imagine – and on the other hand we have the equally immense and tremendous ‘let-down’ or deflation which is what we are left with after we actually achieved this station. We get married in a state of terrible manic haste, and then we have the rest of our lives left for leisurely regret! Although the self values itself beyond measure (since it doesn’t have the perspective necessary to see that it is ‘nothing special’) what it is left with after it achieves itself is a ‘dream that will never be realized’, a dream that could never be realized because it only makes sense to itself and ‘itself’ doesn’t actually exist anyway.
When it comes right down to it, the intoxicatingly glorious possibilities that seem to be opened up by the ratification and reification of the fixed and isolated viewpoint that is the self turn out to be no more than a truly dreadful misunderstanding, a sudden delirious vision that I in my madness seize hold of and pin all my hopes on – in reality my situation is that of a man who tries to scoop up the reflection of the moon in a pond, or a man who attempts to trap a sun-beam in a wooden box. The literal, commonsensical, plain-as-day concrete reality that we seize hold of when we utilize the exclusive and tyrannical viewpoint of the rational mind is just like this – for the briefest, most fleeting of moments it seems to be the real deal, it seems to be the real thing, and so we buy into it, like an investor who has heard on the grapevine that a certain company’s stock is about to go through the roof. But in truth that rational world which we buy into so whole-heartedly is a tiny little circle that represents itself as being an open-ended situation. It is so very tiny that it starts coming back on itself the very moment it seems to be heading off somewhere and yet despite this appalling lack of expansiveness (or ‘substance’) we make do, we hang in there, we ‘make a go of it’. This isn’t actually so hard at all because we simply don’t have any perspective on what has befallen us – we adapt perfectly and uncomplainingly, just like small children will adapt perfectly and uncomplainingly to the bizarre small-mindedness of their parents, never imagining for a second that there could be any other way for things to be, never knowing that it could be possible for their parents to be any other way.
If the fixed point which we base everything upon were to be real, meaningful, substantial, etc, then extrapolation or development would also be real, meaningful, substantial and so on. But it isn’t, and that is the long and the short of it. That doesn’t really go anywhere! We might find ourselves feeling moved to object that this is an extreme view and argue that whilst the humble fixed point can claim to represent only a very modest portion of reality, it does at least accurately and honestly and unpretentiously represent what it sets out to represent – one single and particular point out of what is admittedly a very large – in fact an infinite – number of possible points. To argue that ‘points exist’ however is to ‘miss’ the point! A point only exists because we arbitrarily pick it – points are a manifestation of the one-sided boundary, the ‘is’ versus the ‘isn’t’, and the one-sided boundary is only there because we pretend that it is!
The point which we are using to base our perception of reality upon does not see itself as being arbitrary and this is why everything the mind does is based on illusion – it’s based on the illusion of the arbitrary not being the arbitrary! To see the bias is the same thing as ‘seeing through the game of being this particular self’. The ‘central point’ that the mind operates out of only seems like a centre because we are biased to seeing it as such. And not only this, we are biased to seeing the assumed centre as being the centre without knowing that we are – it’s a thoroughly invisible bias that we’re talking about here, as we have just said! This invisible bias is the ‘anthropomorphic world view’ that makes our outrageous assumptions seem so very ‘matter of fact’. That’s how we manage to feel ourselves (and our beliefs) to be ‘the centre of the universe’ even though we’re not. This is also how I manage to feel myself to be ‘the centre of the universe’ when I’m not! It’s through the invisible bias.
The ‘invisible bias’ is the same thing as the rule that we take for granted and a rule is essentially ‘a lack of freedom’. This is a curious thing because we never (or very rarely) see ourselves as being unfree! I feel that my beliefs are an expression of my freedom even thought they are the antithesis of freedom. The conviction of my own rightness, my own validity is not an expression of my own inner freedom because I can’t help feeling that way! I simply don’t have the ability to step away from the viewpoint (or ‘framework’, or ‘rule’) that is producing the ‘anthropomorphic delusion’ of my own centrality for me. Love it or hate it I’m STUCK with it – just as I am stuck with my loved or hated idea or myself.
Without the invisible bias that forces me to take one accidentally chosen position as being the centre of the universe, the axis of all creation, the reference point against which all else is to be measured, there is no such thing as the self. It is nowhere to be found. But for everyone else apart from sages and saints the ego-self is a brute fact of life that has to be obeyed in all things without hesitation or question. It’s the ‘ultimate bully’! The idea of who we are determines us without us knowing that we are being determined; this is the rigid unyielding rule we cannot see as such. We can’t see the rule which is the self as a lack of freedom because we have identified with it – this is the ‘trick’ that allows us to avoid us seeing the fact of our imprisonment – we say that ‘what it wants is what we want’ and so we gain the painfully brittle illusion of free will. This is how we end up wedded to the framework that denies us, the framework that keeps us on such a very short leash…