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Double Bluff

The idea of someone carrying out a ‘bluff’ is well known to everyone – generally speaking, if I am bluffing then there are two implications to this:


[1] That I am not actually able to do whatever it is that I am bluffing that I can do.


[2] That I am projecting an air of absolute confidence that I can in fact do it.


Now it goes without saying that I know perfectly well that I can’t do whatever it is that I am confidently implying that I can do, but the point is that I want to create a certain impression in others so that I can take advantage of the situation in some way. With such confidence, it is incredible what I can get away even, even though I know that the confidence is actually ‘false’.



There is nothing new in what we have said above, but we can now make the jump to considering a second, more profound type of bluff. If the first type of bluff is where I remain more or less immune to the deception that is being perpetrated, then the second type of bluff is where I too come under its sway. We can say therefore that the aim in the case of ‘double-bluff’ the point is not just to create a certain impression or belief in others, but also in myself. This really is a whole new ball game because in the first, more familiar situation, I am performing the bluff consciously – I know that it is a bluff, but the fact that I know it doesn’t matter because I am using the bluff to manipulate others in order to obtain something from them. The ‘tool’ is turned outwards, and so it does not affect me. In the case of what we have called double-bluff, the whole thing is unconscious. It has to be so because I have set things up so that the central deception captures me in its spell just as much as it captures everybody else. That is the whole point of the double-bluff, after all.




The inevitable consequence of this is that a highly significant reversal takes place: the ‘system of bluff’ becomes the controller and I become the controlled. Yet at the same time, precisely because this business (the business of the bluff) is unconscious, I don’t know that it is there, and so I don’t realize that I am being governed or controlled by the deceptive system that I have set up. This is an important point because in Type-1 bluff I am still the master, the bluff is my tool and I use it for my own ends. In Type-2 bluff I can no longer be said to be ‘the master’ because I am just as fooled by it as everyone else. The tool has switched places with the ‘operator-of-the-tool’ and so now the tool operates the operator. This is exactly like having a shovel that decides where it wants to dig, and I (despite thinking that I am calling the shots) go helplessly along with it.




The reason we are dwelling on this particular point at length is because it describes very well indeed the situation of unconsciousness, which is the mental mode that we operate in for most of our lives. The one thing we didn’t really pay much attention to so far is the question of motivation, which is to say, what would my motivation be for unconsciously bluffing myself and everyone else? What possible advantage is there in it for me?



There is a gain here, curiously enough, and that ‘gain’ is actually a loss. What I lose by this unconscious manoeuvre is responsibility, or ‘freedom’, because no longer do I have to make genuine choices. I think that I am making choices, but really I am being unconsciously manipulated by the need that I have to carry on believing in whatever it is that I have ‘bluffed myself’ to believe in. This unacknowledged need calls the shots. It is a well known principle both in existential philosophy and humanistic psychology that the one ‘gift’ that we fear above all others is the gift of freedom. With absolute freedom comes a terrible responsibility and so our automatic response is always to run away from freedom, and let some external authority make the choices for us.



But the choice to run away from freedom, and to choose to conform to the rules that someone else has made, is also a free choice, and so we also have to run away from the knowledge of that freedom. In other words, we run away from seeing that we are running away, and so we gain the impression that we actually are courageous and independent and responsible when we are not. This way, we get to have it both ways – we get to have our cake and eat it!



The attractive thing about living unconsciously – which means being operated by the system of thinking we have conformed to without feeling at all that we are being passively operated or controlled in this way – is that it is a ‘virtual duplicate’ (or simulation) of the state of consciousness, only it isn’t real, and it doesn’t therefore have the same ‘risks’. So we get to choose without choosing, risk without risking, and feel free without actually being free.




It sounds very condemning say on the one hand that we are all psychologically unconscious, and then on the other hand explain in painstaking detail just how appallingly ignominious this state is. But it need not be ‘condemning’ if I simply take enough of an interest in the idea to bother to honestly and stringently observe myself, and see to what degree it is true. After all, my responsibility is myself, and that is where I should look. Of course, the next thing is that we might think that I would simply run the risk of becoming ‘self-condemning’ instead. But this too is a preconception – condemning means judging and judging means coming to ‘what I see’ with my preconceptions about what is worthy and unworthy, good and bad, etc.  But my preconceptions are nothing other than the ‘system of thought that rules me’, and so judging (which includes equally both praising and condemning) is really just the surreptitious way that the system has of glorifying itself.



Now once we understand this we also understand that seeing reality for what it is has nothing whatsoever to do with praise or condemnation. Praise and condemnation are the sneaky ways that the ‘system of thought’ has of infiltrating itself into the equation, and so glorifying or validating itself. By praising something I sneakily validate my role in praising, which is to say, I implicitly emphasize the importance of me seeing and saying that ‘it is so’. Without admitting it to myself, I have made myself more important than the thing that I am praising! This is the omnipresent ‘hidden reversal’ (or invisible ‘upside-downness’) of unconsciousness.



Therefore, any talking of condemnation or blame is a complete red herring – only the system of thought condemns or blames or judges, consciousness simply sees, and there is nothing odious about the process of seeing, no ‘secret taint’ of superiority. Consciousness sees everything from an exactly equal footing, neither placing itself above or below that which it sees. It sees ‘eye to eye’, as a brother sees a brother, or as a horse pulling a heavy cart along a road sees another horse, as the two draw momentarily along side each other.




We started off talking about bluffing, double bluffing, and then we ended up discussing the process whereby we give up our freedom without acknowledging to ourselves that this is what we are doing. But what has all that got to do with bluffing, exactly? Well, we can tie in the two ideas by making the following statement:


The ‘bluff’ in question is that my preconceptions, my assumptions, my beliefs, are actually true.


In other words, the bluff is my unfounded (and unthinking) acceptance of the absolute validity of what I assume to be true. This is a ‘double-bluff’ because it acts in an outwards direction as well as an inwards direction – I convince everyone else that my position is ‘as solid as a rock’ and I also convince myself of this. The inference of the existence of a ‘rock-solid basis’ produces what we have referred to earlier as false confidence.




We could ask at this point what exactly is so terrible about generating a false sort of confidence like this. If it helps us get by, then why question it? Well, we have really answered this question already by calling this type of confidence ‘false’ – because my confidence is in actuality ‘groundless’, it is absolutely guaranteed to fail me whenever I run into real difficulties. My game of double-bluff seems to work fine just so long as everything stays within the normal range of things, but when one of life’s crises hits me (as will surely happen sooner or later) then my ‘false confidence’ evaporates in a second. To put this in terms of a metaphor:


As soon as I am forced (by circumstances beyond my control) to leave the shallow waters of my habitual, superficial, uncosncious life, and move into deeper water, then I find to my horror that I am the legitimate prey to those great grey ‘sharks of fear’ that roam the ocean depths. And once these sharks get the scent of blood then the game is all over. They attack ceaselessly, tirelessly, relentlessly – like avenging furies. I sense the sharks closing in, smelling my fear from afar. I am desperate to get back to the shallows again where I felt safe, where I didn’t have to think about anything. Getting back to the shallows waters is all I want, all I care about…


Yet what I don’t understand is the shallows of the ‘unconscious life’ give rise to the great grey sharks of fear in the first place. The two are forever inseparable – the shallows give rise to the sharks and the sharks keep me penned in the shallows. There never was a time when the sharks didn’t have my scent, there never was a time when their jaws were not closing in on me. The sharks are there every time I ‘wake up’ out of unconsciousness – their jaws are always just about to close in on me and this is why I am in such a hurry to get back into the comforting realm of the ‘double bluff’, which is where I tell myself that everything is OK and then proceed to believe in my own lie. The lagoon of denial is both my escape from fear, and the origin of it since awareness is bound to appear as a terrifying demon when we are committed to the sleep of unconscious (or superficial) life…




There is another angle we can take on this. We can say that when I am in the state of psychological unconsciousness –which relies on false certainty – then I am the legitimate prey of two particular psychological demons. One of these demons is called anxiety, the other depression. Because I am living my life on a false basis, this gives rise to two types of ‘fraudulency’:


The first is the false belief that I can DO, and the second is the equally false belief that I can BE.


When I start to gain insight into the fraudulency of my power to ‘do’ (which is the power I believe I have to control effectively) then this is called ‘anxiety’, and when I gain insight into the fraudulency of my power to ‘be’ (which has to do with the assumed authenticity of the false self that exerts this fraudulent control) then this is called ‘depression’. Both of these involve an accurate perception of my true situation, and therefore, as M. Scott Peck says, this means they are actually not demons at all really.



To be accurate, we would have to say  – as Scott Peck does in The Road Less Travelled – that these ‘demons’ start off as persecuting Furies, but end up as the Eumenides, the ‘benignant ones’, helpful spirits whose good advice helps us to live life more wisely…









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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