Aggression, when we throw ourselves fully into it, can seem to be getting us somewhere in the first phase, but it inevitably proves itself to have got us nowhere in the second phase. Initially, I appear to be gaining territory – and this feels great – but then the next thing that happens is that I lose it again, and this feels correspondingly bad. This is really just a mechanical kind of a thing – nothing more than this. It’s like the piston in a two-stroke engine where the compression phase always follows the expansion phase because that’s how the engine works. Or to give an even better example, it’s like a wheel spinning around. If we paint a little dot on the edge of the wheel then the dot will appear to be moving away from us half of the time, and moving towards us the other half of the time. But really it’s not two movements at all – it’s all the same movement. The wheel is just spinning around because that’s what wheels do.
Aggression – we might say – is action that proceeds from a false basis. It’s action that proceeds from what seems to be but actually isn’t a basis. We could also say that aggression is ‘the action of the part against the whole’. Or we could say that it is ‘action that proceeds from a fixed point, a fixed centre’. All of these definitions come down to the same thing, even though this may not be immediately apparent. When actions proceeds from a fixed point it never departs from that fixed point. We may think that it does, but it doesn’t. Really, any movement or change that proceeds from the basis of a fixed point is that fixed point. It never stops being that fixed point, it never goes beyond it, it never becomes something that isn’t it. If the action takes place on the basis of the fixed point, then clearly it can never depart from this basis. This basis remains the basis – the basis never stops being the basis, no matter what…
We can say that the ‘fixed point’ which is forming our basis is part of the whole picture, but that it is not the whole picture. Obviously it is not the whole picture because it is fixed! The fact that it is fixed means that it can only ever be what it is – it can never be what it isn’t. This is what it means to be fixed – it means that you only are what you are defined as being, nothing more. To be fixed (or to be defined) means to be separate from, or distinct from everything else. It means to be isolated, abstracted. Talking about a ‘part’ isn’t quite right, therefore. Really, what we are talking about is an abstraction – anything that is separate or distinct from the whole is an abstraction. This gives us an improved way of defining what is meant by ‘aggression’ – we can now say that aggression is action that proceeds on the basis of an abstraction!
Action that proceeds on the basis of an abstraction may seem to be getting us somewhere in the first phase, but it inevitably proves to have got us nowhere in the second phase. Initially, there is the feeling that I have gained some territory and this feels very good, but what happens then is that we lose it again and this feels bad to the same extent that it originally felt good. If we say that ‘progress is good’ then the reversal or erosion of this so-called ‘progress’ must necessarily be ‘bad’; if the first phase of the aggressive action is sweet then the second phase is bitter! Another way of putting this is to simply say that aggression always rebounds on the aggressor.
This is in one way a very clear and easy to understand principle but in another way there is nothing clear or easy to understand about it at all! It’s actually totally obscure. We don’t get it at all – we couldn’t be further from getting it! We’d understand quantum mechanics quicker than we’d understand this! This is obviously the case because if we could understand that aggression always rebounds on the aggressor then we’d all give up aggression immediately. We’d stop thinking that aggression is the way to go. We’d give up our aggressive ways and become ‘peaceful’ instead! As we have just said however, this particular understanding doesn’t come easy…
There are two problems that we have in seeing that aggression always rebounds on the aggressor.  is that we don’t generally see it happening, and  is that we don’t really understand what aggression is. Both of these two points come down to the same thing really and that is that what we are calling ‘aggression’ is so fundamental (and therefore so taken-for-granted by us) to us that we simply can’t spot it. Aggression is everything for us, and ‘everything’ is just too big a thing for us to see. Why is aggression for us, we might (very reasonably) ask? It is after all a rather counterintuitive assertion. We have of course already gone some way towards answering this question when we stated that ‘aggression is the action of the part against the whole’. A slightly different way of putting this would be to say that we are aggressive in everything we do because everything we do is based upon our abstract understanding of ourselves rather than who we actually are (which is not ‘abstract’).
If we were acting from who we really were then we would not be fundamentally aggressive, in other words. Where the aggression essentially comes from therefore is the need to make things be different from the way that they actually are. If we were to reflect on this we would see that we are doing what we have just said pretty much on a full-time basis – we’re ALWAYS trying to make things be what they’re not and as a result this type of activity (i.e. ‘striving’ or ‘straining’ type activity) is 100% normal for us! What else is a goal other than ‘an idealized state of affairs which doesn’t accord with the way things actually are’? Goals and their successful attainment are what it is all about, according to our usual way of thinking about things. To succeed in our goals is just about the only way there is to feel good about ourselves, so the conventional view on the matter tells us. We’re told this when we’re at school and we continue to be told it all our lives – the message is rammed home at every available opportunity. People who CAN’T successfully actualize their goals are called ‘losers’, after all! Losers are people who no one respects and no one wants to know because they can’t control the world to be whatever way it is they want it to be! We could of course equivalently say that losers are people who have not managed to be successful in their aggression. How can we possibly admire them in this case?
What we have just said – in a nutshell – is that aggression is the result of us acting on the basis of a false version of ourselves. Everything we do is aggressive because all of our activity, all of our behaviour, all of our thinking, comes from this ‘false self’ rather than from who we really are. Who we really are doesn’t need to be aggressive because there is no underlying insecurity involved; the false self on the other hand is inevitably going to be fighting against insecurity the whole time for the simple reason that it is false. The false idea of ourselves is not a true thing, it has no legitimacy, no actual basis in anything and for this reason it always has to be fighting to prove (to itself and its audience) that it is a true thing, that it does have legitimacy, etc. This of course is a very well known principle and we are all to some extent or other aware of it – people who are truly themselves don’t need to be aggressive, don’t need to compete, don’t need to prove themselves in any way. People who aren’t being true to themselves (who don’t ‘know’ themselves, so to speak) and think instead that they are their fragile mind-created image of themselves are on the other hand always ‘fighting’ and ‘struggling’ in one way or another. They can’t afford not to; if they didn’t then the fiction of who they think they are would straightaway start to disintegrate.
When we are identified with the false notion or image of ‘who we think we are’ then we are forever striving to attain goals. The successful attainment of these goals is the validation of the false self, and this validation is the sweetest thing in the world to us. When we manage to validate the false idea of who we think we are we get to be winners and being a winner is of course the best thing ever! And the other side of the coin is of course that when we don’t manage to attain the goals, when we fail to control successfully, then we get to be losers and everyone looks down on us. No one wants to associate with us when the dreaded ‘loser-smell’ is upon us. This is why it is automatically a good thing to be famous (no matter what you are famous for) – it’s a good thing because if you are famous then you must be real and the insecure (and fundamentally unreal) self-image covets nothing as much as the glamour of being real. For the false self this constitutes the ultimate intoxication – the delicious intoxication of falsely imagined realness…
Aggression is the attempt to validate what cannot ever be validated, in other words. It is the attempt to validate the infinitely fragile self-image as being robustly real. When we seem to be moving in a positive direction with this validation then we obtain euphoric gratification and this is (when we’re identified with the false self) what we are always aiming at in life. What else would we be aiming for, after all? What else does the self-concept care about except for validating itself? As we have being saying however, aggression always rebounds on the aggressor. When the rebound kicks in then instead of gaining territory we are losing it; instead of being pleasurably validated we are painfully de-validated. Instead of the euphoric gratification that we are so fond of therefore we come in for a dose of the very opposite of this, which is the dysphoric distress of perceiving oneself to be ‘a loser’. If nothing is as a sweet as the perception of being a winner, then there is also nothing as bitter as the belief that one is a loser. Nothing hurts the fragile and insecure self-image more than having its insecurity cruelly exacerbated by having the salt of failure rubbed vigorously into the wound!
The point is therefore that if everything we do (when we are identified with the self-image or self-concept, which we almost always are) is aggression, and if aggression always rebounds on the aggressor (as it inevitably does) then exactly what sort of a life is it that we are creating for ourselves here? What exactly – we might ask – is the story with us?