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Fake Joy

The only genuine (i.e. ‘non-fake’) type of joy is the type of joy that comes when we discover that what we thought was true, actually isn’t true at all! This is the joy of concept-falsification, which is the joy we feel when we have been freed from a false idea about reality.

The very odd thing about this is however that we don’t see concept-falsification as a ‘joy’ at all, but rather as something to be afraid of, something to be avoided or fought against at all costs. We regard anything that disagrees with the way that we see the world as a very bad thing indeed. As far as we are concerned, concept-falsification is the very devil himself.

In this world what makes us feel good isn’t discovering what we thought was true actually isn’t true at all, but the reverse of this. What makes us feel good is finding out that what we thought was true really is true! What we are always looking for is the confirmation of our ideas, the confirmation of our beliefs, the falsification of our biases. We are hungry for that confirmation and when we get it that feels very good to us – no nectar was ever sweeter!

Confirmation is like a drug to us in other words, and it is moreover a drug that we are very thoroughly addicted to. Confirmation is such an insidious thing however that we never see it for what it truly is. We see confirmation (and the striving towards confirmation) as a genuinely ‘life-affirming’ sort of thing when the truth is that this is very far from being the case.

Our chasing after goals is a good example of this. We see this business of ‘fulfilling our agendas’ as an integral part of mental health. ‘Goals’ and ‘mental health’ go together like strawberries and cream or apple pie and custard as far as we are concerned. We can barely differentiate between the two; very often we can’t differentiate between them – to be achieving our goals is to be mentally-healthy. And yet the good feeling we get when we succeed in attaining our goal is ‘the pleasure of concept-confirmation, not ‘the good feeling of idea falsification’. We’re proving to ourselves that we have been right in our way of looking at the world.

Our goals come out of our way of looking at the world. They arise from the assumptions that we have made about life. This is obviously true – our goals are part and parcel of our world-view, our goals are our world-view projected outwards onto the world as it actually is, which has no goals in it. Our striving towards our goals is us aggressively asserting our world-view; when we achieve these goals then this is proof positive that our view of things is right.

If we can’t realise our goals, on the other hand, then this feels bad not just for practical reasons (not just because that goal has to be met for some genuine pragmatic reason) it feels bad to us for another type of reason entirely – it feels bad to us because it is in some way undermining the validity of our worldview. This becomes particularly clear when we look at what happens when we keep on failing to get things to be the way we want them to be. When this happens our view of ourselves (or our self-esteem) gets eroded – our identity loses its shine.

This is why the word ‘failure’ has become such a stinging insult in our culture – really ‘failure’ should only be a technical term denoting that the designated target has not been met, but in our culture it means something much more personal, much more derogatory. To be a failure is to have our identity spoiled – we don’t deserve any respect at all. Rather than respect, we only deserve contempt. To be a failure is the worst fate that could ever befall a person.

This shows that when we are not able – in a consistent way – to a certain successfully assert our world-view then this is fatally damaging to the buoyancy of the self-image. The ability to say ‘what reality is’, or say ‘what it should be’,  is the key to the ‘health’ of our idea of ourselves (even though ‘health’ isn’t really the right word to be using here).  Our world-view and our view of who we are – naturally enough – come out of the very same place. The satisfaction that we get when we are able to validate our concept of the world or the concept of ourselves is the satisfaction of ‘successful control’ therefore and successful control means an awful lot to us – it would be no exaggeration to say that it means everything to us. A person who is seen as being superlatively good at controlling is ‘a winner’ and that is what we all aspire to be.

And yet although the ability to control seems like the ultimate measure of how well we are doing in life, it clearly isn’t. What control means (very obviously) is ‘the ability to get things to be the way that we want them to be’ but there’s a hidden hollowness to this business of controlling that we just can’t see. The hollowness derives from the fact that we don’t really know what it is that we want. We want to get what we want, but we don’t really know why we want it. The way it works is that we pick something at random and then forget that we ‘picked it at random’ and deceive ourselves that the goal – whatever it is – isn’t really arbitrary chosen at all but is – on the contrary – something very special, something very important in its own right. It’s a genuine ‘external value’.

The other way of putting this is to say that we can’t control until we assume a particular position, a particular stance and this is because ‘controlling’ means bringing everything into line with the framework of reference that we have (arbitrarily) chosen. The position or stance itself only exists because we have identified with it; if we didn’t identify with a particular stance then it wouldn’t be one; this is a ‘choice’ not a pre-existent fact (just as all definite statements are choices, since if we don’t choose the particular frame work of reference that makes that definite statement possible then the whole thing is a non-starter). Although this might sound a bit of a rigmarole all we are really saying here is that our mind-created goals only matter to us because we have said that shall will.

In one way this is so obvious as to be hardly worth saying – we all know that goals are something that we ourselves have to make up! A goal can’t be a goal unless we ourselves say that it is. No one is going to win a Nobel Prize for stating this. But if our goals are arbitrary, and we are only playing at caring about them (because what we really care about is the game) then our much vaunted ‘ability to control’ (which is said by everybody to be so very important) is really nothing more than ‘our ability to play whatever game it is that we are playing’. So if I’m doing various jobs then I’m doing them in order to score points of some sort rather than doing them for their own sake. If I’m in charge of a bunch of people then rather than telling people what to do for the sake of get the project completed as effectively as possibly I’m telling people what to do for the sake of telling them what to do – I’m ‘controlling for the sake of controlling’, which is to say, ‘I’m getting off on it’. This isn’t to say that this is wrong or that we shouldn’t ever do this – all we’re doing is putting things in perspective, which turns out to be rather a devastating thing to do. It’s devastating because we find out that we’re only playing at life, which comes down to finding out that we are fundamentally insincere in everything we do. When we do everything for the sake of obtaining goals of fulfilling our agendas then this means that we are insincere in just this way – a person who is sincere isn’t doing what they’re doing because of goals, because of ‘profit’.  

Everything we do in the unconscious life is for the sake of obtaining euphoria, and euphoria – as we have been saying – is the wonderfully sweet feeling we get when we are able (or think that we are able, which is more to the point) to control successfully. It is of course crucially important that we are able to control elements within our environment successfully – to carry on living requires that we  do this – but when we do what we’re doing in order to obtain the euphoria of being a ‘successful controller’ then this means that there is some kind of a glitch there. To be able to effectively control is essential for us to survive at all but when ‘we control for the sake of controlling’ then what we are actually doing is ‘validating ourselves’ and ‘validating our way of looking at the world’ without admitting to ourselves that this is what we’re doing. So whilst controlling is a legitimate and important part of life, when we operate entirely out of our thinking mind (and have therefore a reason for everything we do) then we’ve missed the whole point. We’re forever validating our idea of ourselves, and that’s all that really matters to us. We’re not living life in an honest way, but rather we’re playing a game that we’re not admitting to, even to ourselves.

Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are playing a secret game therefore. We’re playing a game without knowing that we are and this is the game of affirming the existence of the self-concept to ourselves! Obviously this has to be a ‘secret’ game – if it wasn’t then we’d know that we were investing a lot of energy proving to ourselves that we exist in a solid way and that we are ‘important’ and if we could see ourselves doing this then we’d immediately be aware of the contrary proposition. We’d be aware of just how insecure we are and that would be very uncomfortable awareness to have! If our sense of ‘being who we say we are’ was really a sound as we take it to be then surely we just get on with life instead of spending most of her time affirming and reaffirming our ‘concrete identity’!

The ‘gross’ example of this sort of thing is of course the clownish ego, which can’t obscure its true agenda because it sticks out a mile. The clownish ego’s motivation in what it does is as obvious as big red boil on the end of your nose and that’s why it’s so funny. But the subtle games of ‘validating the identity’ are not so easy to spot at all – they are almost certain to go unnoticed because they’re all doing them. It’s a way of life. We’re not clownishly pretending that we are at the centre of everything but what we are doing is allowing ourselves to feel good as a result of achieving goals (without ever taking the time to notice that we’re chasing euphoria as if this were a valid thing in itself). If someone were to ask why this isn’t a valid pursuit (if someone were to ask why we shouldn’t be basing everything we do onachieving our goals) then the answer is very simple. The answer is simplicity itself and we have already touched upon it – the pleasure or satisfaction we get from proving that our core assumptions are true is always false. We’re busy proving to ourselves that ‘what is false is actually true’, and this is hardly a good road to go down!

When we are ‘unconscious mode’ all we are ever doing is ‘covertly trying to prove that our core assumptions are true’. These core assumptions are what go to make up our concrete picture of the world, as well as our concrete picture of ourselves. Living in that world as if it were the real world has become supremely important to us – we’re clinging on desperately to this concrete picture of ourselves and our constant inveterate ‘euphoria-seeking’ is a function of this desperation. It actually is this desperation, in disguised form. If it so happened that our core assumptions were perfectly true and sound then there would be absolutely no need for the desperation of trying to prove stuff to be true when it isn’t. There would be no need for all the aggression, for all the fighting. There wouldn’t be all this unholy grasping, striving, straining and yearning – there wouldn’t be all this pain-producing ‘holding on’ – but when we take the trouble to look beneath the façade of this attachment then this ‘unholy deception’ is what we always find. This is like saying that when we look beneath the surface of our lives what we invariably find is fear – we’re afraid of the lack of ‘concreteness’ in life and we’re greedy for the validation of our core assumptions, and these two are of course the very same thing.

The question as to ‘what the big problem is’ in basing our life-activities entirely on ‘euphoria-seeking’ answers itself, therefore. Euphoria is ‘fake joy’! Implicitly, what we are saying (and saying loud and clear, really) is that the only thing that really matters to us is that our core assumptions about the world be proved correct, even though it is absolutely the case that this can never happen. The only thing we can be ever be happy about is when our half-baked ideas about the world are validated or confirmed, and since reality itself is never in the business of confirming our unfounded assumptions (how would we expect it to be, anyway?) this means that we are in for a very rough time…

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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