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Asserting The Thing

Unconscious life, if we were to strip it down to its bare essentials, is entirely a matter of ‘asserting the thing’. We don’t know what it is that we are asserting – we don’t even know that this is what we are doing – but this is what our life comes down to all the same. We just have to keep on doing it…



We’re not in the least bit interested in looking at what we’re asserting so vigorously, we’re not that interested in the fact that we are asserting something, or why we’re doing this, but what we are very much interested in is that we can do it, that we are able to do it. We’re very much interested in the practicalities of ‘asserting the thing’, in other words, but not in the bigger picture of what’s going on. There are many other things we could be doing – less aggressive things! – but we’re just not interested!



We call this business of ‘asserting the thing’ by lots of names – we call it ‘getting a result’ or ‘achieving the goal’ or ‘succeeding’ or ‘winning’ and various terms like this. In a nutshell, what we’re talking about here comes down to ‘successful control’ and the feeling of satisfaction or vindication it gives us is the same in all cases – it’s the very same feeling no matter what we have to do in order to get it. Our behaviour is motivated, therefore, by the desire to obtain the euphoric reward that comes when we get things to work out the way we want them to.



This is – needless to say – why we are so interested in being able to ‘assert the thing’, and not-so-interested in what the thing is and what the bigger picture of what we’re doing might be. That’s why we’re not in the least bit orientated towards a philosophical (or ‘wanting to look a bit more deeply into things) outlook on life. This is why we’re so ‘unreflectively driven’ – because all we care about is getting the euphoric reward or validation of feeling that we have ‘succeeded at the game’, whatever that game might be. There is a button that needs to pressed in order for us to get the reward, and so finding out how we can manoeuvre ourselves into a position where we can ‘push it’ is our only concern.



Unconscious life is a matter of ‘heedlessness’, therefore. It’s all about being single-minded in our pursuit of the reward; the reward justifies everything – just as it the case in an addiction. There’s more to it than just this however because we have to disguise what we’re doing and dress it up as something else. We can’t allow ourselves to see our own crass heedlessness; we can’t allow ourselves to see our meaningless addiction to ‘pressing the button’ because this doesn’t make for a very pretty picture! Far from being a pretty picture, it is a frighteningly bleak one, and so we are extremely resistant to seeing to ever seeing the truth of our situation. ‘Seeing the truth’ is a very aversive stimulus (so to speak) and we will on this account fight to the bitter end to avoid it.



We simply don’t see the activity as being all about the humourless mechanical search for the pointless satisfaction that comes with ‘winning the game, whatever that game is’. We don’t see what we’re doing as ‘chasing the reward that comes when we are able to successfully ‘assert the thing’ even though we neither know nor care what this actually means. We don’t see it like that at all. The euphoric reward that comes when we are successfully able to ‘assert the thing’ is what we are addicted to, but there’s no way we want to have any insight into this. On the contrary, we see something else entirely going on; we have a glamorous ‘cover-story’ that we can buy into which is a lot more pretty to look at….



We avoid the truth by (needless to say) validating this business of ‘mechanically asserting the thing’. We say (both personally and collectively) that ‘it’s a very good thing to assert the thing’; we say that doing this  is  ‘the best thing ever’ and then – having made this statement – we simply charge ahead on this basis. Once this standpoint is there – the standpoint that ‘it is a very good thing to assert the thing’ – then it naturally happens that everything gets pressed into the service of this over-arching aim. Everything gets to be seen in this way, from this perspective, and this very conveniently simplifies the profoundly business of ‘being in the world’. We now have ‘an angle’ and that’s great; we don’t have to scratch our heads and wonder what exactly it is that we’re doing, or supposed to be doing, we can just ‘get on with it’.  Life has been converted into a crude mechanical formula and that takes away all our troublesome existential angst in one go…



‘Having an angle’ gives us two pay-offs, not just the one. One pay-off is the euphoric reward that we started off talking about and the other is the convenient ‘simplification’ that takes place when we reduce the whole of life to the matter of ‘asserting the thing’. This is of course true for all addictions, not just the archetypal addiction of ‘asserting the thing’. Actually – as we might expect – these two pay-off are very closely linked – whenever we simplify the universe, whenever we avoid the challenge of life by reducing the business of ‘being in the world’ to some simple mechanical formula, we obtain the reward of euphoria.



We all know this, were we to reflect on it. The ‘easy answer’ is an avoidance of the truth that does not allow for any easy answers – or, indeed, any answer at all. There isn’t ‘an answer’ or ‘a solution’ to the challenge posed by life – the only ‘answer’ (so to speak) is to avoid or hide away from life, and this isn’t a legitimate response. It’s a cheat! Whenever we avoid a lot of work by cheating, and seem as a result to gain the same result that we would have done had we ‘taken the hard road instead of the short-cut’ then there is a euphoric reward. It’s like getting something for free, or finding a fifty euro note in the car park, or getting a bargain in a shop – we get a euphoric high as a result. Euphoria – we might say – is the intensely pleasant (addictively pleasant) feeling we get as a result of ‘successfully fooling ourselves into thinking that we have avoided something we seriously want to avoid’!



The reason deception always has to be involved is because (as we have just said) the existential challenge that we are trying to find a solution for has no solution. There are no easy answers to life, not really. There isn’t an answer or a solution to life and any attempt to come up with one, or say that we already have it, is always going to be illegitimate. The only ‘answer’ (if we can use that word) is to not resort to short-cuts or spurious solutions and become what one actually is, rather than adapting oneself to some convenient generic mould. We can (and do!) adapt ourselves for example to society, to the social world, and because society implicitly presents itself as being reality itself (i.e. the only world we need concern ourselves with) we will feel that by adapting ourselves successfully to the social system we have ‘cracked it’. We have done nothing of the sort however – we have simply deceived ourselves. We have taken an illegitimate short-cut without admitting to ourselves that we have done so…



We do not see ourselves as seeking an illegitimate solution to the existential challenge of life by following a formula or adapting ourselves to a generic mould. The ‘generic mould’, we might say, is the template that has been provided for us by society and the ‘formula’ is ‘asserting the thing’ in whatever particular way our social milieu says we should. The social milieu doesn’t make us ‘assert the thing’ (we would do that anyway) but what it does do is to give guidelines on the approved way to do this. Furthermore, society offers us as much validation or conformation as we want that ‘asserting the thing’ is what life is all about!



So this brings us to the million dollar question – what is ‘the thing’ and how do we go about asserting it? Intuitively, we all know what is involved here. Every time I state my opinion I am ‘asserting the thing’. Every time I reiterate my beliefs, and – ideally – impose them on someone else, I am ‘asserting the thing’. Every time I prove a point, or win an argument, I am ‘asserting the thing’. Every time I get things to work out the way I want them to, or win some kind of competition, I am ‘asserting the thing’. Every time I control successfully, and obtain the goals that I have set for myself, I am ‘asserting the thing’. The ‘thing’ – in other words – is simply the ubiquitous everyday self. It’s the old tin can we keep on kicking down the road ahead of us…



We assert the self all the time without knowing why we are doing it. It’s a fundamental reflex – a reflex we enact without ever questioning it. We don’t have a clue as to what it is that we are asserting all the time either – we just know that we have to assert it and that it feels bad if we don’t! We never look into what it is we are asserting and why it is so damn important that we always should assert it, and keep on asserting it. We know the thing is ultimately important, and we know that we need to keep on promoting and perpetuating it, come what may. We never look closely to see what it is, and for good reason too – if we did look into the matter we would discover that there’s actually nothing there! We would find out that ‘there’s no such thing as the thing’, and so that would be the end of the game…







Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.

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