The starting point for our journey is ‘blankness that does not know itself to be blankness’ – that’s where it all begins. ‘Blankness that doesn’t know itself to be blankness’ is another way of talking about the ‘generic self’ or ‘ego’, which is a highly curious entity to try to understand. We all imagine that we already understand what the ego is of course and so we’re not open to learning anything new about it, anything that contradicts our existing ideas. The poor old ego is just the poor old ego; what more is there to learn about it, after all? This is hardly ‘rocket science’, after all – every fool knows what the ego is…
There is a lot more to learn about the everyday self or ego than we realize, however. Instead of talking about ‘the ego’ we will from now on use the term ‘generic self’ instead because there is less familiarity about that. The ‘great peculiarity’ of the GS is that it is fundamentally deceptive in nature – it couldn’t actually be more deceptive! Our everyday experience of being the generic self that we perceive ourselves to be is unquestionably ‘special’ or ‘unique’ – this sense of specialness is of course what our whole existence as the GS is predicated upon. This perception is fundamentally untrue however – the whole point of the GS is that it is ‘regular’ rather than ‘unique’, identical in all respects to all the others, rather than being ‘one of a kind’. My experience is that this is happening uniquely to me and no one else and this is what makes the GS feel like ‘my’ self and not anyone else’s. This is something we frequently say both to ourselves and others – that we are ‘unique’, that we are ‘special’, that there is ‘only one of us’. That’s what we tell ourselves.
That may be what we tell ourselves but it is absolutely not the case however – not when we are identified with the ego or GS. This is precisely the ‘deception’ that we are talking about – the GS is exactly the same for everyone, which is of cause what the term very much implies. The experience of being an ego is exactly the same for all of us; there’s nothing ‘unique’ about it at all. The experience of ‘me-ness’ is utterly ubiquitous, it is as common as muck, and yet we imagine that it is peculiar to us alone and that no one can ever know what it feels like to be ‘me’ (even though the truth is of course that everyone does). It is on this false basis that we live our whole lives: not only is it the case that the generic self is the very same for everyone, it is also the case that the world we all subjectively regard as real is nothing more than the projection of this ‘one-size-fits-all’ generic identity. The life we lead on the basis of the generic self isn’t our life; we could say that’s a life that ‘doesn’t belong to anyone’, but this isn’t true either – it isn’t a life that doesn’t belong to anyone because isn’t really ‘a life’ at all. The ‘generic life’ is a very strange thing therefore; on the one hand we could say that it isn’t a life at all since it’s based on a ‘false premise’ (which is to say, because it’s a life as it is experienced by someone who isn’t us and who doesn’t exist anyway) and that the whole thing is on this account completely absurd, but on the other hand we could point out that – absurd or not absurd – this type of ‘life’ is completely ubiquitous and totally taken for granted wherever we go, and that no one finds anything problematic about it all. The whole issue raises no questions. It may be absurd but we are running with it quite happily.
Mistaking the GS for ‘who we really are’ isn’t just a ‘small mistake’, it’s as big a mistake as it is possible to make! Between the GS and ‘who we actually are’ lies an incomprehensible abyss. The former is the perfectly bland and perfectly ubiquitous viewpoint that is supplied to all users of ‘the system of thought’ as part of the package (and which also only works within the virtual reality world that the SOT also supplies us with) and the latter is the staggeringly unprecedented viewpoint of the true individuality, which is utterly incommunicable and operates within the realm of actual reality (which is indescribable). A usefully simplified example of the generic mind or generic self would be a standard role-playing game for computer or game console – when a number of people play a particular RPG and identify themselves with a particular ‘player’ in that game then the experience is – of course – the same for everybody. This is ‘one size fits all’. How could this not be the case, after all? The way we play a game in the first place is by adapting ourselves to the world that is given to us when we temporarily make ourselves ‘blind’ to all other possible worlds (or to all other possible ways of looking at the world). The game is real to us only because we do this – this is James Carse’s mechanism of self-veiling whereby we temporarily (but very effectively) veil from ourselves the freedom that we have not to play it.
When we make ourselves blind to the freedom that we have to not play the game then we are also making ourselves blind to our own uniqueness. It is our freedom that is unique – freedom is always a ‘unique’ experience because we can’t say anything about it, because we can’t ‘put it in a box’. Who can regulate freedom? We can only say stuff about unfree (or ‘regular’) situations. When we make ourselves ‘blind to our own uniqueness’ then our experience, needless to say, is going to be exactly the same as the experience of any other person who might happen to find themselves in this position. This then is the ‘generic self’ – the GS is the self which is defined by the game, the self which actually is the game. We identify with the GS by ‘adapting to the game’ and when we ‘adapt to the game’ not only does the game become a reality for us so too does the generic ‘player of the game’ become ‘who we really are’. The generic ‘player of the game’ doesn’t miss reality (in the sense of ‘being aware of its absence’) because for it reality can ever exist. The GS has no means of relating to reality because it itself isn’t real, and it can’t relate to reality then it can’t miss it either. It will never know reality and it never can. This is our situation when we have identified with the GS, or when we have adapted ourselves 100% to the game. Adapting to the game is a choice, a deliberate action that we take (we freely opt to veil our own freedom from ourselves) but at the same time it is ‘a choice to have no choice’, it’s a choice that we no longer know that we’ve made because we no longer have a concept for it. Intrinsic freedom isn’t a concept for us and so ‘missing it when it’s gone’ isn’t going to be a concept either.
Adaptation to the game means that ‘the generic becomes real’, but the rub here is that the generic is never real. Things don’t exist in classes. I live my life on the basis of the GS and the viewpoint that it gives me seems non-generic to me, it seems to be the complete opposite to generic, which is to say I feel very much as if I am a genuine individual. This then is the illusion that is ruling my life – the illusion of individuality and autonomy where there is none. As we have already said, there can be no individuality or autonomy in a game! The fact that autonomy and freedom can be lost or eradicated without anyone ever knowing it, without anyone missing it in the least, represents a very neat ‘solution’ to the problem of uniqueness, therefore. Uniqueness is a ‘problem’ because there is no method of approaching it, no means by which it can be apprehended or anticipated, no way in which we can ‘get a drop on it’. Looked at from the point of view of our need for some kind of psychological security in life, the unique unprecedented nature of reality represents the biggest problem ever and so turning the unique into the regular without – it seems – any price having to be paid appears like an absolutely fantastic solution. The feeling of relief that we get from applying this solution is tremendous; from a psychological point of view, this sense of relief comes about because we have ‘escaped risk’ – we have escaped the risk of unique existence (which is the only type of existence there is). We have found a successful hack or cheat for the surpassingly great problem of existence. We have solved the problem of ‘the new’.
Regular existence isn’t a challenge in the way that unique (or unprecedented) existence is, after all. Once we have a ‘formula’ for it all we need to do is keep on putting this formula to practice; once we have worked out what the rules are then all we need to do is keep on following them, all we need to do is keep on obeying them. A game isn’t an existential challenge in the way that reality – it’s not a challenge in the way the reality is because there are never any ‘new’ situations arising it. Just as nothing new ever happens within a framework, so too nothing new ever happens in a game – these are two ways of talking about the same thing. There is no freedom in a game and that is the whole point of a game; there’s no freedom here because all we ever do in a game is follow the rules of the game and rules – by their very nature – never lead us to freedom. If there’s one thing that can’t come out of rules is freedom! Instead of saying that ‘rules will never lead us to freedom’ we could say instead that ‘rules will never take us anywhere new’. These two statements are telling us the same thing. ‘Newness’ is the existential problem that we are attempting to solve, and we solve it by turning reality into a game. We ‘solve the problem of the new’ by looking the world exclusively from the generic standpoint of the thinking mind. The self is the absence of the new.
‘Turning the unique into the generic’ (or ‘turning reality into a game’) only works because this radical switchover is completely invisible to us, as we’ve already indicated. The hack or cheat only works because it’s impossible to spot it happening; the reason we can’t spot it is because true uncertainty (i.e. ‘radical uncertainty’) has been substituted for by uncertainty of the trivial variety. Uncertainty of the trivial variety is uncertainty which been built into the system (or game), which is the uncertainty regarding the question of whether I am going to win or lose. Or in terms of the framework of thought, we can say that TUC is the type of uncertainty that exists in relation to ‘whether I get it right or wrong’; when we worry, therefore, we worry about whether we will make the right decision or not, or about whether things will work out for us in the right way rather than the wrong way. TUC absolutely needs to be ‘solved’ (or ‘resolved’) and – generally speaking – it can be. Problems have to be solved, so it is up to us to figure out how we can do this. The whole point of the game is that we are under pressure to win rather than lose, that these are two very real possibilities for us, and – above all – that there is a way in which we can respond successfully to this pressure (i.e. escape it) if we play our cards correctly. The challenge to exist in a unique way (which has no ‘generic’ or ‘rule-based’ answer) is replaced by the much more prosaic challenge to ‘get it to happen the right way rather than the wrong way’, which keeps us firmly within the Domain of the Known. The difference is therefore that the ‘surrogate challenge’ of playing the game successfully can be solved, the only proviso being that once we have succeeded then we have to start all over again. The ‘proviso’ is that we can’t ever stop playing the game, in other words. That is the downside of the deal.
We don’t ‘cease to exist’ when we lose at a game, or when we ‘get it wrong’ in terms of the task that we are supposed to be completing. Rules can’t lead us to freedom and they can’t direct us to ‘cease to exist within the terms of the game that is being played’; from the point of view of the rule, there is no way in which we can not be in some sort of relationship to it – that would mean that the rule is irrelevant and as far as the rule is concerned it is always relevant. Rules are very sure of themselves that way – a rule has something to say about every eventuality and it can’t conceive that there could be anything beyond the defined world which it knows. A rule can’t know about freedom and it certainly can’t bestow this gift upon us; the rule can’t grant us liberation from the rule! What the rule (or the game) can do (and does do) is to create a virtual world in which there are ‘two modalities of existence’: there’s the ‘winner-type existence’ and there is the ‘loser-type existence’, there is successful existing and then there is failed existing, we either make the grade or we don’t make it. We are either ‘up on a pedestal’ or ‘relegated to the doghouse’ but both the pedestal and the doghouse only exist in relation to the all-determining authority of the rule. The system doesn’t grant us freedom therefore – that would be too much to expect. What it does do is make us a present of the world of duality which is the world that is made up of two poles that seem to be genuinely different but which are really the very same thing. The system grants us ‘the wonderful boom of false freedom’, in other words.
Coming at this from a slightly different angle, we can say that when we ‘play the game’ (and therefore inhabit the world of conditional freedom rather the world of unconditional freedom) then our freedom not to be the mind-created generic self is taken away from us; it is taken away from us and we don’t miss it because we have another type of freedom instead – we have the conditioned freedom of ‘being able to do whatever we like on the basis of this generic self’, and that’s the type of freedom that we really get excited about. ‘Doing whatever we like’ means doing whatever the thinking mind tells us we like’; it means ‘pursuing our goals’ only they’re not our goals they are the thinking mind’s goals. The freedom that we are getting so excited about is not the freedom that is intrinsically ours therefore; it is freedom that has been given to us from the outside, freedom that has been precisely defined for us, and this comes down to ‘the freedom to do what we’re told’. The root of our ‘lack of freedom’ is the generic self and we don’t spot the GS for being an obstacle to our freedom because we think we are it. We don’t spot the lack of freedom because we are in too much of a hurry to exercise the so-called freedom of the generic self, and seeing where this trail needs to. This will surely lead somewhere, and we can’t wait to find out. Hopefully – we think – it will take us somewhere good and not somewhere bad.
The conditioned or generic self is a linearity, or as Wei Wu Wei might put it, ‘a seriality’. The GS is a serial offender – it can’t help doing the same old thing that it always does! The GS can’t help doing the same old thing that it always does and what’s more, it sees this as where its freedom lies! The linear-or-repetitive-self sees its freedom as the linear track that it is running on, just as the serial self sees its freedom as is being linked with its capacity to go on serialising. Linear change doesn’t get us anywhere however and so it doesn’t represent freedom at all (the only freedom here is the freedom to think we stand a chance of getting somewhere when we don’t); ‘serial change’ is the type of change that comes about as a result of us enacting our freedom to keep on asserting the same thing old thing over and over again (which is the freedom not to change). We can see the problem here however because – as we have already said – the real meaning of freedom is that we can experience new possibilities, possibilities that are not inherent in our starting position; the freedom not to know that these possibilities exist not to ever know that these possibilities exist is inverted freedom; i.e. it’s a parody of freedom). True freedom exists as Wei Wu Wei says in the vertical dimension rather than the horizontal dimension, which is the only dimension we have knowledge about. The ‘problem’ here is of course that the self can’t exist in the vertical dimension so that whilst we might say that we value freedom we certainly don’t value it enough to sacrifice the self in order to get it.
It’s not just that the linear or regular self can only exist in the horizontal dimension, it is the horizontal dimension. The self is the horizontal dimension and all it can ever do is to keep on extending itself, or trying to extend itself, with no end in sight other than this. That is its ‘freedom’, as we have said; endlessly extending itself is what its freedom consists of. The linear track which is the ‘horizontal dimension’ represents the avoidance of existential risk; it represents the avoidance of existential risk because nothing new is ever going to happen this way! The GS represents the avoidance of the new (or the avoidance of genuine freedom, if we want to put it that way); whatever heroic or noble ideals the GS might come up with are always going to be secondary to its ‘key agenda’, the key agenda being that we must never under any circumstances encounter ‘genuine newness’, (which is to say, the vertical dimension). We can do anything we like just as long as we stick to the realm of the linear, which stretches out and out in front of us forever but never gets anywhere. Newness is out there for sure, but the rule is that we must never know about it – just as long as we can keep on denying the existence of the new (which is what we do by absorbing ourselves completely in the trivial uncertainty of our hopes and fears (i.e. the question of ‘am I doing well or doing badly’) we will stay safe therefore. As long as we can keep doing our best, denying all the way, sticking to the script that has been provided for us, then everything is going to be just hunky-dory and we are going to remain in the state of ‘blankness that does not see itself to be blankness’. Everything is going to be just hunky-dory until the day comes when it isn’t…