to top

Distraction Mode

Without a doubt the most valued skill in what E.F. Schumacher calls ‘the Global Megaculture’ is the skill of wasting time. Or we could say that the most precious skill in our culture is the skill of distracting ourselves, the skill of entertaining ourselves in an inconsequential manner. We are born, we entertain ourselves, we die. We are born, we distract ourselves, we die. End of story…

 

 

 

There are a few other things to it, it is true. We have to survive, we have to maintain ourselves, and this is not ‘entertainment’, but in-between times most of what we do does come down to no more than mere frivolous self-distraction, one way or another. We solemnly concern ourselves with trivialities, as they were not trivialities at all but the most important of matters. We absorb ourselves in inane banalities of one type or another, as if they were not inane banalities. It’s as if we can’t tell the difference – it’s as if triviality has sneakily taken the place of profundity in our lives, as if it has replaced it, become the same thing as it, although of course this is ridiculous.

 

 

 

No one can disagree, if they actually think about it, that it is a most astonishing thing that this is our response to the most unparalleled phenomenon of being born on this planet, or actually being alive. We get born, and straightaway – or almost straightaway – we go into distraction mode. We plug in to all of the bullshit, all of the nonsense that is going on around us and proceed to take it seriously, as if it were actually worth paying attention to, as if it were the purest gold instead of the absolute dregs that it is. This is unquestionably what we are doing – we may not particularly like to admit it to ourselves, we may wish to express it somewhat differently (in a way that is more flattering to ourselves) but this is what it comes down to – we are entertaining ourselves, as best we can, until the time comes to depart this life again, as mysteriously as we came…

 

 

 

Most of what we do in the cause of self-distraction gets called something else, gets called by other names – after all, how often do we sit down and say to ourselves “Now I’m going to waste some time…”? It happens, but not very often. Most of the time we see what we’re doing as being somehow intrinsically valid or worthwhile in its own right – we see it perhaps as our solemn duty, we see it as the right thing to do, we see it as something that confers validation on us as a result of doing it. What gives us the special dispensation to carry out these supposed solemn duties, and feel good about doing so, is of course our culture, which is in its essence no more than a random collection of validated routines and protocols.

 

 

 

This is really a brilliant trick! We can do the most preposterously nonsensical stuff, get involved in the most ridiculous jackass tomfoolery, and because X number of generations have done it before us this makes it not preposterous at all! The fact that everyone else is doing it actually converts the pestilential tomfoolery into something sacred, something we all have to bow down to! The tomfoolery becomes the cornerstone of everything we hold dear. And if someone dares to suggest that it’s all just empty nonsense (that its all a type of socially-sanctified OCD) then we’ll all be thoroughly taken aback, we’ll all be thoroughly scandalized. We’ll be horrified. It’s not the done thing to say this about culture, any sort of culture, even if its not our own. It’s just not politically correct…

 

 

 

There are very few things that we spend our time doing that are not empty mechanical routines that have been spuriously validated for us by our culture. Most of what we do, most of what we say, most of what we think – its all like this. On the whole it’s all socially-validated stuff and anything that is socially validated is bound by its very nature to be empty, to be mechanical. Stuff that isn’t sanctified by the social template we pretty much tend to keep to ourselves after all, because those around us will look at us in a funny way if we come out with it! There is really only one way that stuff that we do and say and think wouldn’t be ‘validated nonsense’ and that would be if it somehow helped us to become conscious beings, if it helped us to discover who we really are, rather than simply falsely confirming that we are who (or what) society says we are (which is – naturally enough – the only thing that the social machine can do). Society can only ever confirm and reconfirm us in its own image – it simply wouldn’t make any sense for it to do otherwise! Society is a self-replicating system, a self-validating system, and as such it is functionally incapable of acting against itself. It will not disagree with itself, and neither will it encourage those of us who by our ‘irregular’ or ‘non-standardized’ views on things might be inclined to disagree with it. Society is an equilibrium system which operates, as all equilibrium systems do, but by ironing out all disequilibria, by ironing out all the perturbations…

 

 

 

So either I automatically agree with the template and remain safely unconscious, or I start becoming incongruent with the template, I start diverging from the template, in which case I am becoming conscious. Actually we’re all incongruent with the system really, we’re all ‘irregular-shaped pegs jammed into regular holes’, and so all we need to do is to stop denying our own irregularity, and allow ourselves to be the way that we actually are instead of repressing it in the name of conformity, and we will become conscious straightaway! Being conscious means being irregular, it means not fitting in, it means being yourself.

 

 

 

Understanding this clarifies things enormously! There are only two possibilities here, really – either we engage with the sort of stuff that that helps us become conscious (helps us become who we are) or we engage with the sort of stuff which helps us stay unconscious, the sort of stuff that helps us think that we are who (or what) the system defines us as being. The process of becoming who we really are is meaningful (how could it not be?) whilst the non-process of remaining fully engaged with stuff that prevents us from being aware of the truth (and on the contrary causes us to see nonsense as being true, as being valuable, as being important) is clearly pure time-wasting!

 

 

 

It tends to be said a lot that we need to work, that it is right to work, that it is meaningful to work, but the only problem with this is that what our society sees as work is for the most part nothing other than maintaining and promoting and indefinitely perpetuating the system, which, of itself, is a wholly meaningless and empty concern! The only way society wouldn’t be an empty concern would be if it served us rather than us serving it, and that simply doesn’t happen. The social system (like the rational mind, which is its progenitor) has become ‘an end in itself’ since no values outside of its closed frame of reference are in any way acknowledged. So because the system is an end in itself we’re working away our whole lives at maintaining and promoting and perpetuating an empty fiction – an empty fiction which has moreover the function of preventing us from ever discovering who we really are, of preventing us from ever discovering what it feels like to be conscious beings! The greatest taboo in society is after all – as Alan Watts has said – ‘the taboo against knowing who you are’.

 

 

 

True work – in whichever way it comes to us – involves becoming conscious, not remaining unconscious. Where’s the ‘work’ in staying asleep, after all? Where’s the work in copying an established pattern? When we stay obediently congruent with the collective pattern of routinized existence that we have established for ourselves then we are putting our energy towards maintaining a way of life which is essentially perverse. It is perverse because it is all about wasting time, whilst claiming that it isn’t, whilst claiming – quite outrageously – to be ‘the one true way of doing things’, ‘the right and proper way of doing things’.

 

 

 

The collective way of life that we have established for ourselves, which E.F. Schumacher calls ‘the Global Megaculture’, is dedicating to providing all its paid-up members with a multitude of different ways of distracting themselves, entertaining themselves on an ongoing basis. The material products that we manufacture in such vast amounts are not for the most part essential to life, but rather they are there to service ‘imaginary needs’ – pseudo-needs that have been implanted in us by the marketing division of this very same manufacturing industry. We are skilfully led to believe that we need this, or that we need that, that we must have this, that we must have that, that we would benefit from this or benefit from that, and so we end up devoting our lives to what is for the most part meaningless mechanical work that we need to carry out in order to purchase all the pointless products that we have been encourage to believe we want!  This is of course what is widely known as ‘the rat race’. We want to move forward in life, we want to advance ourselves, we want to benefit ourselves, but the way in which we are being guided to do this is always in terms of increased self-distraction! Once we’re established on the path of denial in the first place, better and improved methods of denial are all we want to know about…

 

 

 

In the set-up that we have created for ourselves, self-distraction is enshrined as the ultimate benefit, the ultimate good, even though no one is going to actually put it like this, even though no one’s actually going to say it. That’s what we’re all working for! Successfully distracting ourselves feels good, whilst becoming aware of the mess we’re actually in doesn’t feel at all good, so it’s a ‘no-brainer’ really with regard to what direction we want to go in. Technical progress isn’t necessarily going to be used for distraction purposes, its just very likely to be used this way because that’s the direction we’re interested in going in. A good example is communications and computing – our vastly enhanced capacity in these areas have led to a vast increase in the amount of distractions that are available to us (‘distraction’ meaning, as we have suggested, anything that pulls us in the direction of forgetting who we really are and what we are about). We have social media sites and smart phones and tremendously expanded means of data storage and data transmission, but does this mean that we kept pace with this development in terms of the profundity of our communications? This is of course a rhetorical question. The increase in the extraordinary banality of our communications has clearly increased in direct proportion to our increased capacity to communicate, with the result that we are now getting better and better at waffling on inanely about nothing at all!

 

 

 

This is not a moral point. It’s not as if there is some kind of moral imperative that we should all be poets or philosophers or that we should be ashamed and shut up if we’re not! It is more of a question (as we’ve already said) of not being afraid to be who we really are, of not being afraid to be unique or irregular. Anything we say on the basis of ‘who we uniquely are’ is straightaway valuable, straightaway creative and worthwhile, but what happens in a system that is made up of collective values and collective ideas regarding what is worthwhile and what isn’t is that we allow the banalities of mass mind to communicate themselves through us (zombie-fashion!) instead of communicating our own genuine thoughts. The products of the mass mind are ALWAYS banal because they are always second-hand, because they are always inauthentic, because they are never the expression of any actual unique individual. And as Jung says, it is the individual who is the only true carrier of culture. It’s only the individual who counts – what else is there apart from the individual? The ‘evil’ of non-stop socially-sanctified self-distraction – if we may use this word – is therefore that it prevents us from discovering our own true individuality, and unless we have become the individuals that we truly are nothing we do or say or think means a damn thing!

 

 

 

The goods our manufacturing industries produce for us are all for the purposes of enhancing our capacity to pointlessly entertain ourselves. As we have said, the only way this wouldn’t be true would be if they helped us become more conscious instead of less conscious, but this – as we’ve also said – is not what we are focussed on at all! We don’t value consciousness, we value a particular mode of being ‘switched off’, a particular mode of being blankly distracted. Our idea state of existence is that of being fully distracted by whatever entertainment modality we are plugged into. We don’t need to try too hard to imagine what this state looks like – we could perhaps think of someone sitting on a bus, listening to head-phones, chewing gum, and looking at their social network page on their smartphone. Or we could picture someone who is fully absorbed shopping, or watching sport on TV – these are all examples of how we’re ‘supposed to be’ when we’re enjoying ourselves. There is no socially-sanctified (or mass-advertised) image of a person enjoying themselves by being conscious because being conscious is not something we have to buy products or services to help us attain! There is no app for the undistracted state of awareness – although there are of course plenty that may claim to be!

 

 

 

When we’re in this ‘ideal state’ of being fully absorbed in some modality of entertainment all our attention is safely taken-up, safely taken away from us, and that’s the way we like it!  If there’s any consciousness left over, unabsorbed, then that’s an irritant – that makes us feel at a loss, ill at ease, uncomfortable, restless and bored. ‘Left-over consciousness’ doesn’t feel good at all and so we immediately go looking for something to fix the problem, something to get safely absorbed in. The definition of something that isn’t facilitating this blankly distracted (and highly desired) state of mind would therefore be a scenario that throws us back on ourselves so that instead of having all our awareness absorbed like a drop of spilt orange-juice by a thick wad of luxury kitchen towel we are left in a situation where we actually become ‘self-aware’.

 

 

 

In this situation we discover ourselves to be something other than what we had previously assumed we were. An incongruity, a discontinuity, appears between ‘who we thought we were’ and ‘who we now see ourselves to be’. In the distraction mode this never happens because we’re always looking the other way! Because we’re always looking outwards, looking out at the world on the basis of our assumptions, this facilitates us in remaining unconscious of these assumptions. Or to put it another way, it facilitates us being able to assume that we are this, that and the other and get away with doing so. The ‘assumed self’ is the ubiquitous everyday ego, which isn’t anything really – it’s only a kind of a half-baked notion or idea that never gets properly examined, never gets to be really looked at. What happens when the self-distraction mechanism starts to fail is that we can’t help becoming uncomfortably aware of this assumed-but-wholly-unsubstantiated pseudo-self.

 

 

 

The fact that our attention is not being siphoned off somewhere automatically constitutes a challenge for ‘who we think we are’. This challenge results in a change in perception, a change in how we perceive ourselves. For the everyday sense of self that we have been identified with on a long-term basis to be challenged in this way is not good. This sort of a challenge is a deadly threat – it’s a knife held to the throat, a loaded gun pointed at the head! For the assumed self to be challenged is bad, and to be not challenged is good. If it remains unchallenged it can go on and on forever, and this is precisely what it wants to do!  If on the other hand awareness starts to enter the picture then everything starts to crumble, the status quo immediately becomes fatally compromised. The reason the assumed self has no capacity to maintain itself in the face of awareness is because it isn’t true, because it isn’t real. The assumed self was only ever a make-shift fiction and as such it was never designed to stand up to scrutiny! Being actually examined is the one thing it cannot cope with…

 

 

 

There is of course nothing wrong at all with the process in which awareness comes into the picture and the assumed self gets eroded as a result. This is a very healthy process – this is how we grow, this is how the process of life unfolds. This is how the psyche extends itself, reaches beyond itself. The only fly in the ointment in the growth process is the fact that we are so resolutely identified with this challenged self-image. This creates huge difficulties. The state of passive identification is, we might say, the state in which there is no consciousness, and because there’s no consciousness the self-image rules the roost!  It calls the shots – it gets to say what goes and what doesn’t go. The self-image – which is an unexamined assumption of identity which is determined to go on being unexamined – is in complete control of the show and because it is in control (at least in a superficial way) it makes sure, if it possibly can, that there is a constant stream of distractions happening to keep our attention elsewhere. The self-image is the skilful conjuror, and we are the gullible, open-mouthed audience…

 

 

 

This manipulative self-image is really a most peculiar type of an entity – it is a pseudo-entity, a non-entity that pretends to be a going concern. The self-image, which is nurtured by unconsciousness and ignorance, is a stale fart of a thing, and yet it is a stale fart of a thing that has been elevated to the status of supreme executive! It’s a stale fart that gets to rule the world! Whenever we come face to face with the reactionary authority figures of this world, the dignitaries of this world, the ‘movers and shakers’ of this world, the kingpins of this world, it’s really this shadowy pseudo-entity that we’re coming up against. If we were to find ourselves wondering who or what it is that’s running this world of ours (and running it in such a devious and sinister way) then we need look no further than this tricky old self-image. The principle behind all the activities, all the plotting and scheming in the world, all the underhand and sinister business in the world, is the principle of ‘active unconsciousness’ which never rests in its job of keeping us all firmly in the dark. As always, there’s only ever one agenda and that is to keep on distracting our attention away from the fact that the whole sorry show is really just a big old hoax!

 

 

 

The fascinating question is of course what happens if we stop going along with the hoax? We all know what happens when we carry on with it because that’s what we do all the time – nothing happens, its just the same old story, the same old story, over and over again. But if we stop going along with it then everything changes…

 

 

 

When we’re in distraction mode nothing ever changes, although in a deceptive sort of a way things often seem to be on the very point of changing. Superficially, there might seem to be changes, but it’s all very thin, all very superficial, and it falls through almost immediately. It’s like a guy who keeps saying he’s going to do something but never does. Or it’s like a government which is elected on the basis that it’s going to enact certain changes but which – once it gets in power – never does. It just keeps passing laws to consolidate its own power base. When we stop voting for this government, when we stop buying into the bullshit (and paying their salaries), then everything really does start to change. Movement finally starts to occur.

 

 

 

When we stop buying into the distraction machine what changes is not on the outside but on the inside. What’s changing is how I see the world. What’s changing is my standpoint for seeing the world – my assumed or taken-for-granted identity. When the ‘me’ stays the same then nothing ever changes – how can anything change, how can anything be different, when it’s all being seen from the same tired old viewpoint? The world that the ‘me’ sees and gets either excited about (or worried by) is itself, is its own projections reflected back at it. The ‘me’ never changes and neither do the projections that it fixates upon – they come in different guises but they’re all cut out of the same cloth. It’s all just a turning wheel, a claustrophobically confined circle.

 

 

 

So what happens when we stop going along with all the distractions that we are provided with is that we discover that we’re not the stale old two-dimensional joyless pseudo-entity which is the ‘assumed self’, on whose dreary behalf we had been living life. Free from pernicious distractions, we discover that we are not this small-minded wretchedly-repetitive ‘assumed self’ at all but the very Reality itself, the Dharmakaya, the ‘Body of Truth’, the Illimitable Light of Pure Consciousness…

 

 

 

 

 


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.

(Visited 36 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Comment