The Horror of Total Organization

Aldous Huxley talks somewhere of the ‘horror of total organisation’ and the reason that the assertion that total organization is a horror is interesting is because, of course, we don’t normally see things like this. Normally, we see it to be the case that the more organised we get, the better it is for us. Organized is good, we say. Our view is that ‘maximum efficiency’ means ‘maximum benefit for us’!

This is what we’re always trying to do in life – we are always trying to ‘optimise our game’ – or to put this another way – whatever it is that we’re already doing, we always try to do it better. This sounds fine to everyone concerned of course; it’s music to our ears! After all, if we’re already doing it then it must be good; if we are already doing it then it must be what we want to do and in this case it makes abundant sense to go about it as efficiently as we possibly can. This is really just inertia, however – it is far harder to go back to the drawing board than it is to try to fix or perfect the existing set-up.

Optimization is attractive to us because it’s the easier option therefore, not because it’s the most intelligent thing to do, not because there’s any wisdom in it. What we’re really doing here (when we obey the logic of optimization) is that we’re taking it for granted that our approach is the right one, that our game is worth playing, that it isn’t just some sort of crazy, bizarre, half-baked nonsense that we have somehow got caught up in. Because there is an unacknowledged avoidance going on here (which is the avoidance of having to go back to Square One) we fall under the power of a mechanical tendency that ‘runs away with us’ – a tendency that ‘hijacks us’ and leads us inexorably to disaster. In short, the thing about optimization is that it results in both tunnel vision, and a great sense of urgency, which isn’t a good combination. ‘Once you pop, you can’t stop…’ as the advert goes.

As we have just said, if our approach really was the ‘right one’ (or if there could actually be such a thing as ‘the right approach’, which there isn’t) then there would be no problems – optimization would definitely be called for in this case. It would be nothing short of our sacred duty in this case and we would have no excuse for hanging back, no excuse in having second thoughts and dithering about. Commitment is compulsory – you’re either with us or you’re against us! What we’re talking about here is seeing everything in terms of absolutes and ‘seeing everything in terms of absolutes’ is another way of talking about blindness. The one thing that we can always rely on is that there aren’t any absolutes (outside of our black and white thinking, that is); there isn’t a ‘right’ way to look at the world and there never could be. As soon as we imagine that there is a right way to see things (or that there is a correct solution to the problem we’re in) then we’ve elevated Aristotelian logic over actual reality, which has nothing to do with logic. Reality is symmetrical – it’s not made up of ‘right way versus wrong way’, or ‘YES versus NO’. There is no right way to understand it because reality is simply not susceptible to ‘being understood’. What is actually real cannot be placed in a subordinate position to our ‘ten-a-penny’ crackpot theories…

In a complex universe there can never be such a thing ‘as a theory that explains everything’; if there was such a thing then that universe wouldn’t be complex – it would a mere thought, a mere idea (and so we would have the situation where ‘an idea is explaining itself’). If we lived in a universe that could be explained down to the very last detail (on the basis of some formula, some theory) then that would mean that our so-called ‘universe’ is nothing more than a tautology. It would be a ‘damp-squib’ – when all possible developments are already contained in the premise then that’s just another way of saying that there are no developments! The only way there can be actual development – which is to say, actual change – would be if the universe in question can’t be explained by any theory. The idea that we can contain reality within our thoughts (which come after the event not before it) is a very attractive one, but it is also a completely absurd one.

There’s no getting around this – if we want to live in a world where everything can be explained (which we do) then that means that we want to live in ‘a world that is based on self-referentiality’ (since self-referentiality is the only way to generate what we are pleased to call ‘knowledge’).  Of all the prisons that we could ever possibly design for ourselves, this is without any doubt the most horrible of them all – all we ever see are our own prejudices being reflected back at us and if that sounds good to us then we’re in trouble! It sounds good because we all want to be ‘agreed with’, because we all like to be ‘proved right’, but when we actually get what we want, when our wish is granted then we find that we have created a nightmare for ourselves. Our desire for security – when we ‘go the whole hog’ – results in a degree of suffering and horror that is quite incomprehensible to us. What we call ‘neurotic mental illness’ is the gradual unfolding of this inconceivable horror, bit by bit, degree by degree, stage by stage, in complete opposition to our will.

We talk glowingly about the impulse to grow, the impulse to explore the world around us, the impulse to be creative, the impulse to ‘realise the potential we have within us’, and so on, but all of that has to go by the wayside when we opt for the ontological security of a closed world. None of that is on the menu here – there’s no growth, no creativity, no exploration, no realizing of any potential. That kind of stuff is only possible in the open universe, which is the universe of risk. If we want to feel safe – ontologically speaking – then we have to pay a very high price, a price no one would actually pay if they were able to see what it entailed. We are warned about this ‘price’ in the Gospel of Thomas

If you bring forth what is within you what is within you will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you what is within you will destroy you.

If we hear this without being disturbed, without being shocked, then we’re not hearing it at all – the world we have been talking about (which is the world we’re living in) is a world where there’s zero possibility of bringing forth what is within us, the only ‘possibility’ here is the possibility of endlessly restating what was never true in the first place. There is no inside in the Formal World that is made up of our own definitions because ‘the inside’ means risk (or radical uncertainty) and that is exactly what we have screened out. If we didn’t screen out all ontological risk (and thereby deny openness) then our definitions wouldn’t mean anything, they wouldn’t be worth the paper they’re printed on. The only thing that exists for us is the ‘outside’, the world of our ideas, the world of our descriptions, and the only activity we can ever engage in (when we’re in this world) is ‘the recycling of the outside’. All we’ve got is ‘the outside’ and so all we can do is keep on repeating it. The endless tiresome recycling of the outside (the recycling of the same old closed world) is not creativity, but the very antithesis of it.

When we talk about ‘the horror of total organisation’ this is exactly what we’re looking at – to be totally organised is to be totally controlled, totally enslaved, totally imprisoned by the rules of the game. We can’t have it both ways, after all – we can’t be organised down to the nth degree and yet be free at the same time, and so what we have done is to ‘prioritise organisation over freedom’. We’ve ‘taken a gamble’ on this because we feel that the end result of giving up our freedom is going to be worth it – we have been sold on that point. We’ve taken a gamble because we’re greedy for the prize.A belief in absolutes causes us to behave like this; a belief in absolutes brings about the kind of impetuous madness that causes us to do extraordinarily stupid things, things that we will bitterly regret later on when we come to our senses…

Optimization blinds us – when we buy into a particular argument (when we commit to a specific viewpoint) then this distorts our perception of things so that the goal which we have in mind seems like the ‘most important thing in the world’.  To throw everything we’ve got into optimization is to give away our ability to question the importance of the goal that we’re fixated upon, and this is another way of saying that we have become the slaves of this goal. When we can’t drop a goal, when are compelled by an irresistible force to keep on trying to attain it, then this is clearly a state of slavery, even though we very rarely experience it this way. Normally, we have an inverted view of what’s happening to us, a ‘distorted view of things’ in which our need to bring everything to a final conclusion is an expression of our freedom of volition rather than being a sign that we have no freedom, that we have no actual volition. We’re happy to give away our free will to the compulsion because we believe that when the goal is reached this will be marvellously beneficial to us, because we think it is going to be all our Christmases rolled into one, but that kind of ‘happy ending’ was never on the cards – nothing good ever comes about as a result of handing over our free will to a blind, mechanical compulsion. The projected ‘happy ending’ is a hallucination that leads us to our doom.

We all know the tantalizing feeling that success is ‘only just around the corner’ and this is the attractive aspect of compulsivity, the other aspect being when we feel that utter disaster is only just around the corner (which is anxiety). We’re either being pulled or pushed. It’s the same thing whichever way we experience it – either way we are allowing ourselves to be entirely defined by what we’re trying to achieve (or trying to avoid). Optimization means that we are defined by the goal that we are chasing – we’re ‘nothing’ if we fail and we’re ‘everything’ if we succeed – and so this is a state of complete heteronomy, the state in which we are ‘owned’ by the struggle that we’ve committed ourselves to. When we’re in this mode then everything has come from outside of us; if we are to feel good then this good feeling has to come from the external authority and the only way to get rewarded by the EA is to do exactly what it wants us to do, exactly what it tells us to do…


‘Total organization’ is what we are handing ourselves over to when we adapt to the compulsive regime of the rational mind. We can say two things about this modality of being –

[1] is that, once we have handed ourselves over to it, we can’t question what’s going on anymore. We’ve been hypnotized by the closed world that thought has created for us. It ‘owns’ us completely.

[2] is that we don’t see this but imagine instead that we are acting autonomously, that we are acting in our interest. We perceive the goal state that we are orientated towards as being ultimately empowering for us and because of this we never question the compulsive nature of the struggle that we’re involved in. We’re blinded by the perception that something great is going to happen when we hit the jackpot. In reality there is no jackpot waiting for us however, all there is is ‘the System of Thought owning us’…

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