Celebrating The Hollow Identity

The game that we are playing is the game that we ‘know what we are doing’, and that we ‘know what it’s all about’. This isn’t some sort of ‘minority interest’ or ‘niche’ game either – we all play this game, every single last one of us. Obviously, we think that it is a good idea to play this game, on some level or other. We don’t consciously think that it’s a good game to play of course because if we consciously thought that the game was a good game to play then we wouldn’t be able to play it! Nevertheless, we do all play the game and so it is reasonable to surmise that there must be something in it for us.

This is a very ‘serious’ game too because if we get caught out not knowing what we are doing when we are trying very hard to act as if we do then this is acutely humiliating for us. The whole world laughs at us then – the only one not laughing is us! This is why being called a ‘fool’ is such an insult because a fool is someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. A fool is clownish in this respect. Not being able to project this air that we ‘know who we are and what we are doing’ is profoundly uncool – this is the very definition of ‘uncoolness’ as we all know very well. Being brought up in this world means that we all learn to make out that we do know who we are and what we’re doing at a very early stage – it’s a ‘necessary’ thing for us to learn this. It’s very necessary, apparently.

This is – we might say – a key element of the process of socialisation: we learn to do this particular thing, we learn to pretend that we know three things (all of which run together, of course). These three ‘things’ are, as we have said, [1] that we know what we doing, [2] that we know what it’s all about and [3] that we know who we are. The ‘pretence’ that we’re talking about here might be thought of as a type of bluff, just like a poker player who doesn’t have a good hand but is acting as if they do. What we are talking about here isn’t just bluff however – it’s double-bluff; it’s double-bluff because we are not just bluffing the others, we also bluffing ourselves. It could be said that we start off ‘wearing the pretence’ in a conscious way, but that we very quickly fall into the trap of believing it ourselves and that – before too long – we become flatly convinced that we really and truly do know these things. Were life ever call our bluff therefore (as it is prone to doing), then the experience would be highly unpleasant for us. The experience would be overwhelmingly unpleasant.

What’s surprising to us is the suggestion that we are pretending – this is not how we see it at all therefore. It’s very far from how we see it! There’s nothing more obvious to us than the supposed ‘fact’ that we do know who we what we are doing as we go from place to place – we’re being purposeful after all and so if we are asked what we are doing we will say that we are pursuing our goals, and this means that we definitely know what we’re doing. We know what we doing because they are our goals. Moreover, we can go on from this to say that we know what life is all about too – we can simply say that life is all about ‘pursuing our goals’. This also gives us an answer to Point Number 3 – if we are asked ‘who we are’ we can say that ‘we are the one who has such and such a goal and is trying to obtain it’. That’s how we define ourselves. We derive our identity from our views about the world (i.e. our beliefs), the goals that we have in relation to our beliefs, and how successful or unsuccessful we are in obtaining these goals.

This is all a trick however. It’s nothing more than a scam – my goals are after all only my goals because I myself said that they are and so any meaning that I might derive from this is purely tautological. When I say that the meaning of my life is to follow my dreams or strive to obtain my goals this is empty meaning, made-up meaning – it’s the meaning that we ourselves agree on, it’s the meaning that is to be found in our games (which means that it is not meaning at all). It is extrinsic meaning – meaning that is imposed on us from the outside but which actually has nothing to do with us at all. We derive our identity from the game that we are playing but because our games are hollow, so too is the identity that we derive from them. All of this – therefore – is just another way of saying that all the things we think we know, we don’t know at all. What we ‘know’ is our own made-up system, and our own made-up system is ‘only true because we say it is’.

This game of double bluff that we are playing is of course a trap, as we have already said. It’s a trap because when we are pretending without knowing that we are pretending then we can’t escape our pretending. Everything we do on the basis of pretence is that pretence and so we can’t ever move away from what we are pretending. Furthermore, we can say that there is absolutely no freedom in this situation; we are ‘slaves to the need to keep on maintaining the illusion’. We are ‘slaves to the need to keep on maintaining the illusion’ because we can’t see that the illusion is an illusion, we are ‘slaves to the need to keep on playing the game’ because we can’t see that the game is a game. When we are pretending but we know that we are pretending then our pretending is playful, it is carried out with a light touch, with a humorous touch. We are consciously taking part in the ‘play’ that is reality. We are consciously taking part in reality therefore and this type of activity is not based on fear (or the loss of freedom that obeying fear brings about) because we know that when we stop our pretending, when we ‘let go’ of our pretending, then there are going to be no adverse consequences to this letting go! No harm will befall us as a result. We don’t have to hang on (with such grim desperation) to our made-up identity come what may, in other words.

When we don’t know that we are pretending then it’s not like this at all however. This is ‘unconscious play’, not the conscious variety. When we don’t know that we are pretending then we are compelled to keep on pretending – there is no leeway here! There is no way out. Letting go is not an option. In this case the play is very seriously serious indeed and we are constantly being haunted (whether we know it or not) by the spectre of what will happen if we can’t successfully ‘keep up the pretending’. We are not able to see it like this course because are not aware that we are pretending. We are haunted (whether we admit it to ourselves or not) by a very great fear but we don’t know what it is that we are afraid of. We’re not in any hurry to find out either! We just know that whatever it is is very bad indeed. We just know that the threatened outcome that we are trying to avoid is very terrible indeed, too terrible to name, too terrible to look at, and so all we want is to get away from it. Our ‘interest’ lies totally in ‘getting away from the fear’ and not at all in ‘finding out what fear is all about’. We’re fundamentally incurious, fundamentally driven. That is why – in this rational-purposeful culture of ours – we are so profoundly un-philosophical in our outlook. We have zero interest in ‘the big questions’, we have zero interest in the profound enigma that is existence; all we care about is ‘getting better and better pursuing our goals’ (which equals our so-called ‘progress’) and what this really means is ‘getting better and better at keeping up our pretending’.

Art: Hollow Identity, by Kris Mort

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