The self can never be separated from its own antithesis, its own personalised ‘Worst Case Scenario’. This is because the self is a ‘definite statement’ and every definite statement always comes with its opposite in tow! How could we imagine otherwise? This is after all inherent in the nature of certainty – that it always exists in positive/negative pairs. We are not saying anything new here of course; this is simply Aristotle’s ‘law of the excluded middle’ seen from a slightly different angle. The law of the excluded middle says that any logical statement must always either be affirming or denying, it can never be somewhere in-between the two. So we can say that the parrot is in the tree, or that the parrot is not in the tree, but we can never get out our deck chair and sit halfway between the one statement and the other anti-theatrical one. The middle, as Aristotle points out, is excluded. The ‘law of the excluded middle’ might be taken another way too, however, and this is to say that every logical statement is actually composed of two complementary statements (two ends of the seesaw, and not just the one). Whoever saw a seesaw with only one end?
This might seem like a somewhat dry type of a topic, but when we applied to psychology we find that it isn’t – it’s actually completely electrifying. Nothing could possibly be more relevant to us than this! If we say that the self is a ‘definite position’ then this means that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ come into the picture immediately – ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are the two ends of the seesaw. There is on the one hand the situation where we are maximally attracted to an outcome (because it agrees with our position) have we also must then – by the same token – find ourselves in the complimentary situation where we are maximally averse to the complementary outcome, the outcome that disagrees with our position. This is just another way of say that the self can never be separated from its antithesis, which is its ‘Worst Case Scenario’, or ‘the thing that it fears the most’. So no matter what we do, no matter how carefully we play it, the worst-case scenario (the most feared possibility) is always going to be on the cards. It is always going to be there, waiting at our elbow, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to shake it.
Any advantage we might think we have gained by identifying with a fixed position (or definite statement) is always going to be neatly cancelled out by this disadvantage, therefore. We get the upswing only if we also get the downswing. How therefore can we enjoy anything just so long as this particular spectre there looking balefully over our shoulder? How can we enjoy the upswing when we know that ‘what goes up must come down’? The awareness of the worst-case scenario, that it is out there somewhere and that it there is nothing we can do to guarantee that we won’t have to face at some point or other, is enough to spoil our enjoyment of any pleasure. It’s an insecurity that can’t be assuaged. What are we to do? How are we to get around this jinx?’ Pleasure (or euphoria) only comes about when we think that we are going to get something for nothing, when we think that we are going to get a ‘plus without a minus’. The awareness that ‘for every plus that comes our way there is always a minus waiting just around the corner’ does not permit any euphoria – not even the tiniest little bit of it.
Euphoria relies for its existence on ‘not being able to see the full picture’ in other words. It comes about where there is illusion, where there is ‘lack of awareness’. As soon as we see this then it becomes immediately apparent how it is that we managed to continue living our lives whilst at the same time being 100% identified with the fixed position (or definite statement) of the self. We ‘manage’ by staying unconscious; we manage by ‘cultivating illusion’. We manage by cultivating illusion because that is the only way that we can see ourselves standing to gain anything as a result of our struggles! The simplest possible way to express this is to say (as J.G. Bennett does) that we don’t see plus and minus as being on the same page. We don’t see them as being essentially the same thing but – rather – as being independently manipulable. This illusion is the key to the whole of what we might call ‘unconscious life’
Once we can’t see the essential interconnectedness of plus and minus, but see them instead as being independent variables (so that we can have ‘more of the one and less of the other’, if we so wish) then the scene is set for all of the rational/purposeful activities which we are so familiar. Essentially, the scene is set for us to play ‘the game’, the game in question being that pliable situation in which we can (in our imaginations at least) effectively separate the opposites. This of course presents us with two distinct possibilities, two distinct outcomes – one being where we get ‘the plus without the minus’ and the other being where we can get ‘the minus without the plus’. The ‘game’ is a very curious sort of a thing therefore – on the one hand, we have the apparent diversity of all the various possibilities that lie ahead of us (which all depend upon the successful separation of the opposites), and on the other hand we have the stark truth of the situation, which is that none of these so-called possibilities are ever going to come to anything.
On one side of the setup, which is ‘the side of illusion’, there are all these tantalising possibilities; each and every one of them however comes with its complementary opposite which it can seemingly be separated from, and on the other side, which is ‘the side of reality’, we see that there is no such thing as ‘an opposite that can be separated from its complimentary other half’ and so very clearly, none of these apparently diverse ‘tantalising possibilities’ mean anything at all. The very simple truth of the matter is that anything we do from the standpoint of a fixed position or definite statement is always going to come to nothing. It’s always going to rebound. What’s not to understand about this? We’re in a ‘world’ where every purposeful action always gets reversed later on – and not just ‘later on’ either in any real sense since the ‘reversal’ is inherent is in inherent in the displacement right from the very beginning and never wasn’t going to happen. We are – in this ‘null world’ – living in the gap between the action and the reversal of the action and that gap (which Krishnamurti calls ‘psychological time’) only exist in ‘virtual’ kind of a way. Really – when we look at the ‘Big Picture’ (rather than the ‘partial picture’) – it isn’t there at all.
The self always lives in a null world. Just as the self can never be separated from its own antithesis, its own nemesis, so too is it the case that actions which are carried out carried out from the standpoint of that self can never do anything but negate themselves. This might sound like a strange statement to most of us but all we need to do is reflect on it for a moment to see that this is of course true. We’re trying to pull ourselves up into the air by our own bootstraps, as the saying has it. When the self tries to ‘assert something meaningful’ (or ‘perform a meaningful action’) this is just like batting a ball that is attached to a post in the ground with a rubber cord – no matter how hard we hit the ball it’s always gonna come flying back at us with exactly the same force that we put into it.
We might object to this argument by saying, ‘But suppose we cut the rubber cord and then bat the ball?’ The point is however that if we cut the rubber cord then the action is no longer tied to the fixed point. We’ve given up control. If I ‘let go’ of my actions – so that they are no longer there to serve me – then they are of course free to go out into the world without negating themselves. What I am engaged in is no longer an act of control. In practice however, it is extraordinarily hard to ‘let go’ of our actions in this way – we are always ‘waiting for the result’ and the result is always therefore always going to be related to me. To let go of the action is to have no interest or attachment to the result, and to be ‘unattached to outcomes’ in this way goes against everything we believe in. It doesn’t make sense to us. The self is actually incapable of performing an action that isn’t carried out for its own advantage – it is in everything it does and everything it thinks. Very clearly, I cannot free myself from myself via purposeful action! That would be like thinking of a way to stop thinking…
Another example of this sort of thing would be where we say something, and then insist that what we have just said be heard in the way that we have meant it. This too is a guarantee of nullity. This is an example of what we might (following James Carse) call a ‘finite communication’, i.e. communication that is designed to always be received or read within the same framework of interpretation. As long as we insist on ‘communicating’ in this way than what we have said remains meaningless – meaning only comes when we let go of the right to say what the meaning of our statement is, when we let go of our own context. This is just another way of saying that we always have to ‘take a risk’ before communication can occur – we have to ‘take a risk’ because we don’t know how what we have just said is going to be heard! This is something we can’t stay in control of.
This is actually a Universal Principle – in terms of ‘actions’ we could say that all actions are meaningless just so long as we don’t reach out beyond the frame of reference from which they arose and thus interact with the real world (instead of interacting only with our projection of the world). When we interact with our own projections this is not an interaction! In terms of communication, in terms of ‘saying things’, this principle means that what we say always has to be heard from a different perspective order for us to understand what it is that we have just said. When we talk to ourselves this is not communication! There always has to be the ‘radical other’, in other words – there always has to be ‘something else’, something outside of ourselves, something outside of what we think we already know.
In practice, it is very hard to actually ‘let go’ of the self since the self’s goal-orientated actions are what sustain the existence of the self. The self operates by constructing itself with its own purposeful actions, we might say, which means that if it doesn’t have a viable projection of itself in the future, then it doesn’t have any ‘belief’ in itself. Even though there is a ‘tangled hierarchy’ involved here (which is a clear violation of logic) we can ignore the tangled hierarchy and say that the self creates or constructs itself via the game that it is playing and the simplest way to explain a game is that it is a situation where there is a contest going on to see whether we win or whether we lose, whether we succeed or whether we lose. Winning (or succeeding) simply comes down to the question as to whether we can obey the rule or not. We could also say that it comes to the question as to whether we can obtain the designated outcome or not, but this is just another way of saying the same thing. In a game, this is the only thing that ever matters – no other considerations can come into it. If something else does come into it (if something else apart from ‘trying to obtain the designated outcome’ ever starts to matter to us) then we are no longer playing the game. The overt motivation in ‘the game of the self’ is to win therefore and ‘winning’, for the self, could be anything at all. The actual nature of the designated outcome doesn’t matter – one thing will do as well as another.
The covert motivation of the game, on the other hand, is that ‘the self should be seen to exist’ and the thing about this is that it doesn’t actually matter whether we win or we lose because that isn’t the issue. It matters an awful lot on the overt (or theatrical) level of meaning, which is the only level of meaning we normally know about, but the question as to whether we succeed or fail is irrelevant to the hidden agenda of ‘maintaining the fiction of the self’ because both winning and losing, succeeding or failing, doing well or doing badly place the self-construct firmly in the centre of the stage, and this is the only thing that matters to the self. It has to be ‘centre stage’ – either with regard to its triumph or its defeat, its prestige or its lack of prestige – because that’s the only way the fiction can be maintained. This observation lends new meaning to our opening statement that ‘the self can never be separated from its antithesis, its ‘Worst Case Scenario’.
Going back to what we were saying about ‘letting go’, we can say that, from the standpoint of the self, it is actually IMPOSSIBLE to let go of the self! The self can’t see outside of itself so how could it possibly ‘let go’? What would be its motivation? If the self does try to ‘let go’ then it is only doing this because in some perverse way it imagines that this action will somehow ‘benefit’ it; it is letting go for a ‘selfish motivation’, in other words, because that’s the only motivation that is available to it. It can’t do ANYTHING that isn’t orientated to its own advantage, and yet ‘letting go’ is of course precisely this – it is doing something that is not to our own advantage. ‘Letting go’ is a ‘sacrificial act’ and sacrifices are not made so that we get something back; they wouldn’t be ‘sacrifices’ at all in this case but ‘goal-orientated actions’!
Everything the self does is mixed-up (or self-contradicting) and the reason for this is precisely its inability to ever truly ‘let go’, its inability to perform a genuinely sacrificial action. It can’t help staying in control even when it is trying to give up control; can’t help calculating the benefits it will receive for not being calculating. The irreducibly ‘mixed-up’ nature of the self can be seen in the self-contradictory nature of its positive assertions – when it claims that something is definitely true it is at the same time – unbeknownst to itself – also claiming the exact opposite! It can never escape this self-contradictoriness. The self – as we have said – can only continue to exist if it asserts itself to exist (or if it implies its own existence by ‘making plans for itself’ or ‘having goals for itself’) but the same time the self performs this act of self-creation (via attachment, via conceiving a goal) it also involves itself in an act of self-negation. Unbeknownst to it (and this is something we can never understand when we are flatly identified with the concrete self) ‘self-creation’ and ‘self-negation’ are one and the same thing.
Instead of saying that everything the self does is ‘mixed up’ or ‘self-contradictory’ we could just as well come out with it and say that ‘the self always lives in a null world’. The self lives in a null world because it cannot ‘let go’ of itself, because it cannot ever ‘sacrifice’ itself. The self lives in a null world because by its very nature it cannot ever see beyond itself (or ‘go beyond itself’) and ‘itself’ isn’t real…
Art: Escher. Day and Night