False Freedom

Reality has both an inside and an outside, but it is generally only the ‘outside’ that we know. The outside is everything to us. The ‘inside’ – we might say – is a kind of intangible energy or potential that facilitates the coming and going of forms, this ‘coming and going of forms’ being the tangible type of activity that is constantly taking place on the ‘outside’. So the inside facilitates the outside, but the thing about this, as we have just said, is that all we ever know about is the outside, which is the world of external appearances. We live in a one-sided type of a reality therefore – a reality that is made of ‘a façade but no interior’. We live in a world which has an outside but no inside and yet we never suspect that there’s anything missing. What we are calling in this discussion ‘an inside to reality’ is an alien concept for us, a foreign notion, a concept that we have no way of either taking in or digesting…


The world of external appearances is an odd kind of a world in that it is entirely made up of deterministic processes. There’s no freedom in it, in other words. There is freedom on the inside (what we are calling ‘the inside’ is nothing other than freedom), but what it gives rise to, what it facilitates, contains no freedom at all, not even a trace of it. Everything that happens here is simply the result of ‘following rules’.


‘Deterministic processes’ are peculiar in that there is – of course – never any chance of anything ever happening in any other way apart from the way it was always going to happen. That is the whole point of a rule; it is also (needless to say) what the word ‘deterministic’ means. But this is a curious thing – if there was never any chance of ‘things turning out differently’ then this means that there is nothing there at the end of the process that wasn’t already there at the beginning. Nothing’s changed, in other words – it’s exactly the same situation before and after. But if nothing’s changed, if it’s exactly the same situation before and after then there actually wasn’t any process taking place, deterministic or otherwise!


The curious thing about deterministic processes is therefore that they don’t actually happen. The curious thing about them is that they don’t really exist, even though we say that they do. When the starting off point is exactly the same as the end point then there was no journey and any claims to the contrary are absurd! The whole thing is quite hollow, quite vacuous; the whole thing is an optical illusion – it’s a phantasmagorical manifestation of something that simply isn’t there…


Why then do we talk about deterministic processes? What on earth are we doing discussing them as if they do exist? How would the situation of us talking about them even come about in the first place? The point is however that when we’re stuck in them (when they rule over us) then these essentially unreal ‘deterministic processes’ very much do seem to exist. When we’re caught up in the world of appearances then deterministic processes seem to exist. So instead of saying that deterministic processes aren’t real or don’t exist we could equally well say that the world of external appearances isn’t real, doesn’t exist. We have after all already said that the world of appearances is made up of nothing other than deterministic processes. What we’re airing here therefore is a version of the Eastern doctrine of Maya, Maya being the Sanskrit word meaning ‘play’, or ‘illusion’, or ‘trickery’. The world of external appearances isn’t there at all, but – when we stuck in it – it very much seems to be!


The reason the deterministic world of external appearances seems to exist in the way that it inarguably does seem to is – we might say – because it contains a false form of freedom. When we say that the ‘inside of reality’ is made up entirely of freedom and that there is no freedom whatsoever on ‘the outside’, this is just a way of saying that there is no outside. There is no outside because the absence of freedom isn’t a real thing. It isn’t possible for there to be ‘an absence of freedom’ because if there was such a thing then there would first have to be the freedom for this to be the case, and if that were so (i.e. if there was the freedom for there to be no freedom) then there would be freedom after all. It would be freedom that is facilitating ‘the lack of freedom’! Freedom is reality and reality is freedom but when we’re stuck in the artificial world of zero freedom (which is created out of the freedom to do so) then there very much does seem to be such a thing as ‘the world of rules, the world of external appearances’. We do not however see zero freedom as such – we see it as it isn’t, we know it as an actual form of freedom (the only form of ‘freedom’ we can know, in fact).


So what is the nature of this ‘false freedom’? How does it duplicate (or ‘mimic’) genuine freedom in such an effective way? If we say that what we are here calling ‘false freedom’ is the same thing as J.G. Bennett’s negative freedom (as it clearly is) then we can take into account what he says on the subject. Negative freedom, Bennett (1961) says, is the result of our inability (when operating from the basis of what he calls’ the Reactional Self’) to be aware of the two opposites at the same time –


The Reactional Self can experience the action of only one Cosmic Impulse at any one given time. When it experiences the affirming impulse, it is unaware of the denying force that opposes it. This produces a positive reaction that is manifested through the automatism of the Material Self. Likewise, a denying impulse produces a negative manifestation. In these reactions, there is no choice, and no decision. There is polarity, but only one pole is situated within the Self.


John Bennett sees negative freedom as a negative state of will in which our will is controlled for us from the outside whilst we imagine that we ourselves are calling the shots. It is the state of total identification with a mechanical process, in other words. As Bennett says here:


It is one of the earliest ideas that I was introduced to when I first came in contact with this teaching. Identification is a false freedom, the illusion of freedom, where we feel free because we are doing what we want to do. Instead of finding ourselves we lose ourselves in what we are doing; and then what we are doing may be free but we ourselves are enslaved. People can also become lost in what they are doing even if it is not what they want; even when it is something they have no choice about. When we are in this state we feel any interference with what we are doing is an encroachment on our freedom. If we are, let us say, cooking in the kitchen, we become so excited, so identified with what we are doing that if anyone comes and tells us that we are not doing it the right way, we become offended and feel that we are being interfered with. We feel that our freedom consists in doing it in our own way; but what freedom we might have had we have given away, and, having had a possibility to be free to do anything, we have chosen to become slaves.


When we are identified it is true to say that we are no longer ourselves at all because we have transferred our sense of our reality to something outside of ourselves. We even make it somehow seem valuable to be identified, praising a man who is really wrapped up in his work or spending vast sums of money for the latest sensational, that is, identifying, book or film. We become the slaves of everything that we are doing, enslaved by all the people we meet and the situations we enter into, and yet there is this terrible absurdity that in all of this we think that we are free.


This passive (or unconscious) state of being arises as a result of us not being able to see ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ as different sides of the same coin. When we operate on the basis of the thinking mind we suffer from ‘opposite blindness’ – we can only see opposites separately, as if they have an existence that is quite independent of each other. Any pair of opposites are related just as a concave dent in a thin metal sheet is related to the convex ‘lump’ on the other side. It is the same phenomenon we are looking at but we can’t for the life of us see this because we are ‘blinded by thought’. We are blinkered, we are ‘one-sided’ in our perceptions. The understanding that YES and NO (or POSITIVE and NEGATIVE) are not separate, are not independent of each other, is the furthest thing from our understanding. Logic demands that we see a YES answer as not being the very same thing as a NO answer, and it is this exclusive (or ‘either/or’) logic that rules our understanding of the world. Logic says that YES can’t mean the same thing as NO and so we’re stuck in the trap of treating the opposites as independent entities.


Once we understand this then the principle of false freedom (or negative freedom) immediately becomes clear – every time we work towards obtaining one opposites at the expense of the other (and believe that this is a genuine possibility) then we are operating in the domain of false freedom. Needless to say, this is the domain we very rarely leave! We pursue goals, we attempt to obtain positively defined outcomes in the world, and whenever we do this we are utilizing false freedom. We are functioning in a world that isn’t real; we are operating within a ‘bipolar domain’ that only exists because we imagine that it does…


Another way of talking about false freedom is to say that it is the same thing as ‘compulsion that we have identified with’, and perceive therefore to be the same thing as our own free will. False freedom and compulsivity are inextricably linked. They are inseparable. This is exactly the same as saying that a game and the sense of compulsion (to win and not to lose) that we experience when we are playing it are inseparable. As James Carse says, if we didn’t experience this sense of non-negotiable need with regard to winning (whatever that may mean) then it wouldn’t be a game! There’s no such thing as a game that you don’t have to try to win, any more than there is such a thing as ‘a rule that you don’t have to obey’. Games that you don’t feel that you need to win aren’t games any more than rules that you don’t feel you have to obey are rules. They might be games (or rules) for someone else, but they’re not for you because you’re not taking them seriously.


These are all ways of talking about the same thing – when we go all out to obtain the goal, to attain the desired outcome, then we’re trying to ‘have one opposite without the other’. When we try to win at the game rather than losing at it then we’re trying (of course) to have one opposite but not the other. When we strive to obey the rule then the very same is true – ‘successfully obeying’ is the opposite we want and ‘failing to obey is the other’. All purposeful activity is about trying to separate the opposites, just as all rational thought is.


This business of ‘thinking or believing that we can separate the opposites’ is a very peculiar type of a thing. We never see just how peculiar it is. We never suspect that there is something dodgy, something fraudulent about it – we never even come close to suspecting it. When we fall into the trap of thinking / believing / perceiving that we can (and indeed ought to) be able to separate the opposites then what is happening to us is that our motivation to obtain one opposite at the expense of the other (i.e. our motivation to win at the game) is being supplied for us by an illusion. We may think that it’s us who are supplying the motivation to ‘win the prize’, but it isn’t – it’s the game that’s supplying it. The game supplies everything. It’s not that I want to win – the game wants me to want to win. The game makes me want whatever it is that I do want and at the same time it makes me think that it’s me that wants it.


The illusion that is false freedom has this key ‘quality’ (or character) to it, and that quality / character is compulsivity. Between the one pole and the other complementary pole of illusion there exists what we might call ‘a subjective field of compulsivity’. It’s not an objectively existent field of compulsivity because the opposites – as we have said – can’t be separated. They can’t be separated and so there can’t be a gap between them; there can’t be a ‘field’ or a ‘space’ or a ‘gap’ or anything like that. But when we find ourselves in that subjectively existent space that arises (seems to arise) when we imagine that the opposites can (and ought to be) separated then the ‘compulsivity field’ that exists between those opposites defines or determines everything about us. We are ‘creatures of compulsivity’ – our existence, our thoughts, our perceptions or impressions of the world are all formed out of compulsion (or ‘control’). If there was freedom there then there wouldn’t have to be a wanter, any more than there would have to be a goal, a thing that is wanted.


Instead of compulsivity, we could also talk in terms of reactivity. The ‘me’, the ‘self’, is always reactive because it is always in a state of need – it always needs to be maintaining itself, it always needs to be holding itself together under the omnipresent threat of dissolution. This – then – straightaway gives us a pair of opposites to be working within – on the one hand there is ‘existence’ (or ‘validation’) and on the other hand there is ‘non-existence’ (or ‘non-validation’). We crave existence and we fear non-existence. We want the one opposite but not the other and so we are stuck in the eternally frustrating realm of false freedom.


We want to exist and we also want not to ‘not-exist’ (which is the same thing) but both of these poles, existence and non-existence, are equally unreal since the one who wants to exist / fears non-existence is a fiction in the first place. We aren’t that self, nobody is that self because there’s no such thing, and so the whole dynamic between ‘being validated’ and ‘not-being validated’ is a completely vacuous issue, no matter how compulsive it may be. The compulsivity (or ‘need to react’) acts as a substitute for being (which as we have said contains no compulsion since we are no compelled to be) – it is as if only by feeling the compulsion acting upon us in the way that it does (which is also called ‘attachment’, or ‘greed versus fear’) that we can know ourselves to exist. If we’re not desiring or fearing, how do we know that we’re there?


This is how it is with all games – games are always the same –there is a pole at one end which we are attracted to and another pole at the other end which we are correspondingly repelled by. The ‘motivation’ (or rather the compulsion) is therefore to obtain the one outcome rather than the other. A very particular type of illusion or hallucination is created by this situation, as we have already indicated, and that illusion is the illusion of the ‘wanter’, or the ‘fearer’. This is a fantastically compelling illusion or hallucination; just how compelling is easy to see – all we have to do is ask ourselves how often, in the course of the daily lives, we question the reality of this self, this ‘me’. As we have said, neither pole (either the attractive or the repellent one) matters a damn really in the bigger view of things, it only matters to the ‘game player’. The game player however isn’t us, it isn’t who I am and it isn’t who anyone is. It’s just a hook that’s provided by the game for us to hang our hope and fears on, for us to use as a basis for our mechanical reacting. The game player is an artificial viewpoint manufactured by the game that we are compelled to identify with…


Because the wanter or the fearer isn’t who we are, winning and losing don’t matter. They are meaningless for the simple reason that there is – in reality – no one there who can be either successful or unsuccessful in the game. Not only is the motivation to try to avoid failure and secure success supplied by the game, but so too is the one who is experiencing the motivation, the one who is being either attracted or repelled. This ‘motivation’ (which is the +/- tension provided by the separated opposites) is therefore creating the self – this self does not come into (apparent) existence unless there is attachment, unless there is either attraction or aversion. If there is something to desire then there must be a desirer; if there is something to fear there must be a fearer. If there is a choice, then there must be a chooser… There is no such thing as ‘a self that has no attachments’ – where there are no attachments there is no self.


The freedom to ‘do what we want’ is not freedom at all. It’s a nonsensical form of freedom – it’s nonsensical because both ‘what we want to do’ and ‘the one who wants to do it’ are both functions of mechanical compulsivity. We want and we want as a result of compulsivity, and we imagine ourselves to be ‘the wanter’ as a result of that very same compulsivity. So if we don’t have the freedom to ‘separate the opposites’ – if this isn’t freedom at all but simply illusion – then what is freedom? What constitutes freedom? How are we to genuinely utilize it? Clearly the only genuine freedom would be the freedom to move out of ‘the framework’, the logical continuum that is created by stretching PLUS and MINUS apart indefinitely. The only genuine freedom is the freedom to move beyond the illusory context which is the context provided by our thinking, the context provided by the game.


Or as we could also say, the movement of freedom is the movement which results in us not taking seriously what we always do take seriously. Our usual way is to take ‘the separation of opposites’ very seriously indeed (there is nothing more appallingly humourless than the business of separating the opposites). Genuine freedom is therefore to realize that this wretched tiresome thing that we’re always trying to do (the wretched tiresome wearisome task that we’re forever engaged in) isn’t serious at all. It never was serious. It’s all just a joke, but we never get it…


In conclusion, we can say that the freedom to obtain what we want to obtain, or avoid what we want to avoid, is no sort of freedom at all. It is the height of folly; the greatest folly there could ever be – it is the folly we engage in (cheerfully or otherwise) every single day of our lives. Freedom means freedom from folly, not the freedom to carry on committing it ad infinitum, without ever seeing it for what it is!



Image: Dali – Slave Market (1940)




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