The everyday unconscious mode which we routinely exist in may be described as a state of being in which the most important thing in life – the ingredient without which everything becomes utterly absurd, utterly pointless – is sacrificed (or ‘given away’) for no good reason at all. So the ‘unconscious mode’ is where we lose this key ingredient and carry on without any perception that we have lost anything. Needless to say, we don’t refer to this charade as the ‘unconscious mode’ – we just call it ‘living’!
The idea that there is such a thing as ‘the most important thing in life’ might sound more than just a little bit ridiculous, but it isn’t – what we’re talking about here is simply authenticity. Without the key ingredient of authenticity then of course everything just becomes a pointless charade!
What is lost in the unconscious mode is who we really are and this – needless to say – represents a rather major deprivation. You can take away anything from a person but when you take away who they really are you have taken away everything! This is not to say that someone else comes along and does this terrible thing to us – we collude in this process ourselves just about every moment of our lives. There is hardly any time when we’re not engaged in this process. We deprive ourselves of who we really are – we deny our true selves on an ongoing basis, on a routine basis, on a continuous basis and we’re so used to doing this that we don’t see anything strange with what we’re doing at all.
As a result of this process everything gets turned on its head so that we see ourselves as being the mechanical reflex that denies our true being rather than seeing ourselves as ‘what is being routinely denied’. We ally ourselves to the mechanical reflex that denies us – it has all of our allegiance, all of our loyalty, all of our regard, and who we really are has none. In fact it’s not just that we have no allegiance or regard to who we really are – we are actively against it! Or rather we should say that it is this ‘mechanism of self-denial’ which is against who we really are, and we collude with it by automatically aligning ourselves with the self-denying process. We unthinkingly go along with it. We give it our energy. We nurture and support it.
The way this mechanism of self-denial works is by devaluing the present moment by relating it to some overall framework of reference which alone has the power of assigning either ‘value’ or ‘the lack of value’. The present moment is thus consistently devalued in favour of some point in the future which – according to the framework – has a far greater value, an incomparably greater value. This highly-valued event is yet to arrive but when it does – so we believe – then it will make all our deprivation in the present moment worthwhile. As Alan Watts says, the message which we hear all our lives is: “The great thing is coming, its coming, its coming…!” The much anticipated and unduly highly-valued outcome (which will vindicate all our struggles, all our tribulations, all our waiting) is however always just round the corner. It’s always about to come, but it never does come. And because this highly-valued outcome never does come, we are left undergoing this ‘deprivation’ on an indefinite basis!
The question is therefore, what is the essential deprivation that we are undergoing in order to facilitate hypothetical ‘great event’ that is to occur at some point in the future? We can answer this question by thinking in terms of an extremely long-winded official form that we are required to fill in correctly (making sure of course not to miss out any pertinent sections or perjure ourselves by knowingly making false statements) before we can (eventually, after a great deal of tedious effort) obtain the desired outcome. And if this were not bad enough, each section of the form – of which there are many – requires us to obtain official documentation and stamps from other offices, other departments, and in order to get these documents and stamps we have to fill in yet more official forms and hand them in within the correct time-frame, with all the particularities being correct and no details being left out. Only when all this has been done can we finally submit the form and begin the long drawn-out business of waiting for our application to be duly processed.
If we go along with this analogy, this way of getting around to answering the question that we started off with, the chances are that we will still be not much clearer what the essential deprivation is. We can see that the process of filling in the form and dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s correctly is a terribly dry (if not to say mind-numbingly tedious business) but what exactly is it that are we being deprived of with all this infernal bureaucracy? We can come right to the point (and put a stop to all these perambulations) by making the following statement – what we being deprived of is life itself.
Life is the essential deprivation! Life is what can start when our application has been approved by the proper authorities. Life can start when the correct conditions have been fulfilled, and duly approved by the correct offices, but not before…
To paraphrase James Carse in Finite and Infinite Games, “We play to live, we don’t live to play.” Life is something that we are granted as a result of successfully playing the game, not something that we start off with! After all, if we started off with life, then what would we have to play for? Why would we have to jump through all those hoops, and tick all those boxes? It is the fact that we play in order that we might life that makes finite player serious in nature, and therefore not at all playful.
The long-winded official form that we have to fill in order to qualify for life is our thinking, and the proper authority that we have to submit the completed form to is the rational mind. Only when the thinking mind says that everything is OK, that everything is as it should be, that everything is ‘present and correct’, can we relax and get on with the business of actually relaxing and enjoying life! Until that time we are obliged to keep on thinking, we are obliged to keep on ‘filling in the form’ and obtaining the various relevant validations, the various official stamps from this department and that department. Until the rational mind decides to validate what we have submitted to it for official approval and certification then our application is pending. Until it gets approved we are obliged to keep on ‘waiting to live’, and this is the nature of the game that we are playing.
The key to life is our thinking – or so it seems. Or so our thinking tells us, anyway! We’re trying (no matter how absurd the attempt might be) to ‘think our way into life’ – the assumption is that if we think about it in the right way (i.e. if we ‘have the right thoughts’) then everything will be solved. Then we will be able to live life. Then we will be allowed to partake. Then – and only then – will we get a slice of the Big Pie! Life is for the winners (or so we are told) and what we’re trying to win at is the game of thinking. The assumption is that when we win the game we can give up all the wretched thinking and actually live life, but until that time we are obliged to keep on trying. Until that time we are obliged to keep on thinking for all we’re worth, thinking, thinking, thinking, until finally – at long last – we ‘get it right’.
The absurdity here is of course that thinking is a form that we never get to the end of. Thinking – as we all know – goes on and on and on, and then after that it goes on some more. We start thinking the moment we wake up and we carry on until we fall asleep. We keep on thinking just so long as we have the energy in our bodies to keep on doing so, and when we eventually run out of energy we fall asleep to recharge our batteries, so that we can do some more thinking when we wake up again…
So thinking is a long, long tunnel that we craw down because of what we imagine we will get at the other end of it. We imagine that if we crawl long enough then we will finally get to the end of the tunnel and then we won’t need to crawl any more! We submit ourselves to the endless deprivation of the crawling because of what we ‘think’ we’re going to obtain for ourselves at the end of it all. The optical illusion that there is indeed ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ validates our crawling, validates our deprivation, and – very ironically – we can say that this particular illusion is created and sustained by our crawling.
The ongoing crawling and the persistent illusion that there is light at the end of the tunnel are in fact ‘mutually dependent phenomena’: it is our thinking that creates the fantasy that thinking will eventually free us from our thinking. We think that our thinking will free us from the need to keep on thinking! Our indefinite deprivation (i.e. our ongoing impoverishment of being) is therefore validated by an illusion that is actually a function of that very deprivation, that very impoverishment.
We can also look at the essential deprivation (which is as we have said the condition which characterizes the ubiquitous state of psychological unconsciousness) in terms of something as simple as goal-orientated behaviour. We all understand goal-orientated behaviour – its something we do just about all of the time: there is the goal (which is good) and there is what I have to do to get the goal (which is generally a pain), and the idea is that I put up with the pain in order to get the gain! This simple formula makes so much sense to us that it’s practically impossible for us to question it. It’s inbuilt into our approach to life. The goal is out there all right, I firmly believe, but it’s not just going to drop in my lap – in fact it’s not going to happen at all unless I go out of my way to wangle for it to happen. I first have to figure out a clever way of wangling it for the situation to happen, and then I have to translate this plan, this protocol, this method into ‘effective action’.
The idea that we first have to figure out a plan (which takes cleverness) and then we have get seriously stuck into the action (which generally takes effort and persistence) is as we have said neither radically new nor particularly hard to understand. In day to day life there are innumerable examples of this sort of thing – from peeling a heap of potatoes in order to make dinner to washing a whole load of plates and saucepans and cutlery so we can have something clean to eat the dinner off tomorrow. Going back to the earliest stages of mankind’s existence on this planet, we could say (overlooking for the sake of the argument the significant role that intuition plays in this) that the basic behaviour of foraging exemplifies this same formula – we have a idea of where to look and what to look for in terms of what is going to sustain us, and then we invest time and effort and persistence actually putting the foraging into action. Growing crops is the same sort of thing – we have to have both a method for doing it, and a willingness to put in the hard work before we can reap the benefits. Making tools and agricultural implements would be another example.
All these examples represent goal-orientated behaviour that is both functional and – if we might put it like this – healthy. They are healthy (or wholesome) examples of goal-orientated behaviour because they have both a beginning and an end, and because they do not on this account become ‘more important than life itself’. The ‘method’ remains a useful servant, rather than becoming a tyrannical master. The ‘deprivation’ in these cases is not essential because it does not involve us being removed from reality and shifted instead into some kind of juiceless (and pointless) bureaucratic hyperreality. We stay real about things, we don’t have to get into our heads too much…
As things stand with our modern-day way of living however the deprivation that we are required to undergo has changed in a way that is distinctly unhealthy or unwholesome. Modern culture is as Jean Baudrillard says an exercise in hyperreality and this means precisely that there is no beginning or end to the methods which we follow in order in order to obtain whatever goals it is we have within our sights. The goals we seek (and are pervasively intoxicated with) are every bit as abstract and juiceless as the mechanical procedures which we submit to in order to obtain them! Life has thus become an idea for us, rather than something that comes both before, and after the idea – the tool has become more important that the one who uses the tool. As a result of this switch-around the system ends up using the one who sought to use the system. As has often been noted,we exist for the benefit of the machine, rather than vice versa – the machine operates the former operator of the system.
We work to obtain food in order to sustain our physical bodies just the same as we always did it is true, but over and above this we work to maintain the pervasive mind-created virtual reality that we have become unwittingly embroiled in. We work to maintain the illusory mind-created identities that we have been provided with… We work to maintain the game…
No matter what our station in society might be what we are really struggling to protect and maintain is the illusory mind-created image or concept of ourselves. It is this mental image that we work for, not who we really are – the effort we put into life is almost exclusively geared towards obtaining affirmations or validations for this conditioned sense of self, and avoiding denials and devaluations. Or to put this another way, the effort we put into life is almost all about obtaining hyperreal targets, hyperreal achievements, hyperreal goal-states and none of this has anything to do with the actual reality of our situation – other than to deny it, that is! We chase phantom goals, and this is not surprising because we ourselves have become phantoms…
Hyperreality has of course been around as long as we have – all that we need for that are our thoughts. We need only remember Aesop’s fable of the milk-maid and her pail of milk. In order to create the realm of the hyperreal I just need to think about how great it would be to get something or other and then, when I get it, immediately start thinking about how great it would be to get the next thing! Or alternatively, I can create the realm of the hyperreal in a negative way by thinking about how terrible it would be if some catastrophe happens, and then when it doesn’t happen (and it generally doesn’t) immediately start thinking about how terrible it would be if the next catastrophe I think of were to come about.
Both ways work equally well – the positive is as good as the negative. Either way I get a continuous chain of thought that propagates indefinitely outwards in an uninterrupted fashion. Either way I am creating a ‘castle in the air’ which I then proceed to inhabit, even though it has no foundation, no basis at all. I stay living in the castle for as long as I do because of the ‘thing’ that I think is going to happen – in the positive scenario I continue inhabiting my thoughts (and cutting myself off from reality) because of the good thing that I think is going to happen, and in the negative scenario I continue inhabiting my thoughts (and ignoring reality) because of the bad thing I think is going to happen!
Thinking is the machine that we operate either in order to obtain the result that we want, or avoid the result that we don’t want. Either way we are addicted to the machine, dependent on the machine. Because I either want the positive result or want to be free from the negative result I have to submit to the necessary ‘nuts-and bolts’ of the mind-created method, I have to submit to the mind-created protocol, I have to submit to the dull mechanical way of looking at things and doing things. Because I’m either positively or negatively attached to what the machine says is going to happen (if I don’t put my trust in the machine to sort things out for me, that is) I’m permanently stuck in the dull mechanical way of being in the world – which is actually a way of not being in the world.
As we’ve said, this is like being in a job that we don’t like, but can’t afford to walk out of. I have to put in the hours in the dusty, musty, stale old office, sitting at a desk overflowing with piles of forms waiting to be processed, surrounded on all sides by rickety over-loaded old filing cabinets and malignant treacherous photocopiers, when I could be out in the sun letting the warming solar rays land on my skin, feeling the balmy scent-laden summer breeze caress my face. I deprive myself of all this in order to get my wages at the end of the month and the thing about this is that these wages are supposed to recompense me for missing out on a glorious sunny day, and yet they don’t at all. How can a bunch of numbers in a bank account recompense me for missing out on life itself? I put in all those hours in the dreary old office and yet all I get for this are vouchers entitling me to yet more dreariness since in order to spend the money I earn I have to go back into the system since its only in the system that this crappy old money has any meaning.
The essential deprivation is the price we pay for submitting to the mechanical process for an outcome which that mechanical process itself is recommending to us. We are working away doing something that we don’t enjoy (doing something that is actually denying us, if we were to be quite clear about it) for the sake of obtaining an outcome that we supposedly do enjoy, an outcome that supposedly doesn’t deny us. This however is simply not the case! There is no benefit to anyone in partaking in the hyperreal – the only thing that benefits as a result of investment in the hyperreal is the hyperreal itself. Hyperreality comes about – we might therefore say – when we submit to a mechanical process that for a benefit that is itself mechanical. Hyperreality is when we submit to a process that denies us for the sake of an outcome that is also going to deny us.
What’s going on in this process of being translated into the realm of the hyperreal is that we are adapting ourselves to a world of formal descriptions so thoroughly that before we know there just isn’t anything else. And this isn’t even a case of ‘before we know it’ because we never do know it – we don’t have the referents to know it. The world of formal descriptions doesn’t supply us with the referents to know that it is a world of formal descriptions. A system of formal descriptions can’t let us know that it is a system of formal descriptions – it doesn’t have any way of doing this, it doesn’t have any way of being anything other than formal any more than logic can have a way of being illogical, or certainty can have a way of being uncertain.
As a result of adapting ourselves to the world of formal descriptions we inevitably forget what the point of anything was before we adapted to this world. We forget what things were like outside of this closed frame of reference – we forget that the closed frame of reference is a closed frame of reference! This is like going on an important mission and getting so lost in all the petty details that we quite forget about what the mission was all about. We don’t even know that we’re on an important mission and when we no longer know this then all the petty details naturally become supremely meaningless. I’m doing all these things but I no longer know why I’m doing them – I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture and so all the stuff that I’m so busy doing has just become plain ridiculous. The whole thing is utterly insane.
What we’re talking about here is ‘the Principle of Cosmic Forgetting’, which we could also refer to as ‘the Principle of Continuous and Ongoing Distraction’. Cosmic Forgetting is when we irreversibly lose vital information – we lose sight of why we’re doing what we’re doing because we’re so caught up in the how. “How?” has driven out “why?” and because there is no more “Why?” (because we have lost sight of ‘what it’s all about’, so to speak) then everything becomes instantly absurd. Everything becomes instantly absurd, but instead of falling about laughing – which would be the appropriate thing to do – we put a great deal of energy into pretending that it isn’t absurd, we put a great deal of energy into validating what we doing and what we’re thinking, so that if anyone does come up to us and dares to suggest to us that its all absurd we get extremely insulted.
So we carry on doing whatever we’re doing as if there really was a point to it, as if it weren’t totally absurd. We carry on as the most important thing in the world is ‘to keep on doing what we’re doing no matter what’. We are obliged to keep on pretending to ourselves and everyone else that it isn’t absurd and this of course puts us in the most hideously tedious situation that there could ever be! This situation defies description – we are caught up doing something that is not just utterly meaningless but actually self-denying and yet at the same time we have to keep on convincing ourselves that what we’re doing is both unquestionably meaningful and also profoundly positive, profoundly ‘self-affirming’. If we didn’t keep on convincing ourselves in this way then how could we carry on? And yet to carry on in this way is profoundly perverse.
Absurdity can’t stand on its own two feet – it can’t stand alone, it needs non-stop heavy-duty validation. We have to keep on validating for all we’re worth and if anything gets in the way of our validation than that upsets us a lot. It upsets the hell out of us. It upsets us so much because without the validation we’re in dire danger of learning something we really don’t want to know. (Or at least – we are in danger of learning something that we think we really don’t want to know, but which we’d be actually unthinkably better off for knowing…)
We are caught up in the absurd situation of having to prove to ourselves (on an ongoing basis) that what is absurd, isn’t absurd at all. We’re caught up in the situation of having to keep on flogging a horse that is long since dead – a horse that never actually showed any signs of being alive in the first place! We’re caught up in the situation where we have to keep on doing what we’re doing even though what we’re doing is against ourselves because we think that we’re eventually going to benefit from it, because we think that eventually some good is going to come about as a result of doing it.
The point is however that the ‘good thing’ never will happen. The point is that ‘the good thing’ never was going to happen, and because we are infinitely averse to learning anything as challenging as this, we are 100% committed to the terminally thankless task of keeping ourselves firmly in the dark about this unpalatable truth forever – if we possibly can get away with it…
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.