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Lost in the System

The truth bursts unbidden from the mouths of fools and small children yet the sophisticated man never utters even a single word that is true.

 

 

As long as I control myself or direct myself to say whatever it is that I say then what I say is a lie – it is insincere, it is blatantly self-serving. How could it be otherwise? I say it because I direct myself to say it, I say it because I want to say it, I say it because it suits me to say it…

 

 

If what I say suits my purposes in saying it then what I am saying is part of my mask, part of my deliberately-projected image. If I say what my mind tells me to say that what I say is part of the act, and the act – by definition – is not who I really am. Thus, what I say as part of the act is not what I really want to say.

 

 

The prize for insincerity is acceptance in society, acceptance within the circle of our fellows. If I speak correctly, express the right sort of sentiments and ideas, then I am accepted. If I play it safe and am properly careful about what I say, then I get to ‘belong’ to the group.

 

 

This prize is undeniably an attractive one and it is not hard to understand why we would all strive as hard as we can to win it. Generally, the only reason I would have for not opting for inclusion into the group in is if for some reason I find myself unable to do so – if for some reason I cannot operate the mask successfully. If this is the case then life is hard for me – I can never find that ‘safe place’ behind the mask, behind the act, behind the façade, where I can hide. Everyone else has the benefit of this safe place, this hidden place from where they can ‘operate unseen’, but I do not. I’m out in the cold…

 

 

Not being able to hide behind one’s mask is a great disadvantage from this point of view (from the point of view of us thinking how nice it would be to have a secure and invulnerable spot out of which to operate) but it is an advantage in another way. It is an advantage simply because whilst having a safe place to ‘hide out’ behind the mask is a great advantage from a superficial or short-sighted point of view, it is an absolutely tremendous disadvantage when seen in a ‘non-superficial’ way. Really, if we look behind the immediate attractiveness of the obvious ‘PLUS’, we see that there is actually a truly formidable ‘MINUS’ to content with. What we imagined in our short-sighted way to be ‘an advantage’ is actually a disaster of cosmic proportions…

 

 

The disadvantage – simply put – is that we get ‘trapped in the lie’. We get so trapped in the lie that we no longer know it to be a lie…

 

 

How this fate could befall us is not particularly hard to see. The thing about a convincing mask is that it not only convinces those ‘on the outside’ (the audience), it also ends up convincing the one on the inside too. Thus, the actor falls under the spell of his own home-made illusion…

 

 

Why this should happen is clear enough – if everyone else believes in it, is taken in by it, accepts it at face-value, etc, then this sends me the message that it must be true. If everyone else thinks I am ‘such-and-such’ then, by the mechanism of group-confirmation, I end up thinking so too. After all, it is very hard to go against the grain and ‘believe in something different’ when one belongs to a group. Furthermore – it is undeniably true that if I was good at not going along with the group, not going along with the collective viewpoint, then I wouldn’t have had to take the step of investing in a mask. It’s only because I wanted group confirmation that I went along with the game in the first place.

 

 

The way that I portray myself when in the group is not ‘up to me’, it is ‘up to the group’ – I simply conform to the group norms. As Stephen King says, I learn the very important lesson that you can ‘get along by going along’. So I present myself via a mask that reflects the group values and everything is fine. Everything is dandy. No one tries to ‘pry the mask off’ to see who is hiding behind it because I am sending out all the right signals. I am looking the part, so everyone naturally assumes that I am the part. That’s how it works. That’s how the diplomatic immunity works.

 

 

But this means that ‘who I think I am’ is ‘a socially constructed self’ – who I take myself to be is a ‘mass-produced identity’, a ‘generic human being’. So all of us in the group – because we’re all socially adapted – think that we’re this generic human being which is actually no more than a construct or product of the system we are adapted to. The system itself isn’t a person – it’s just a kind of ‘automatic process’ that takes over when everyone hands over responsibility for how reality is perceived. It is a dead mechanical phenomenon, not a living conscious entity.

 

 

The ‘disadvantage’ to social adaptation is looking worse all the time: not only do I get trapped in the lie, a victim of my own deception, the prisoner of my own device, but I lose sight of who I really am in the process and become defined by an inanimate automatic process, a mere mechanical system. So strictly speaking it is not really the case that I get ‘trapped in my own lie’ because it isn’t my lie! It is ‘someone else’s lie’ – to be specific, it is the mechanical system’s lie.

 

 

So what this means is that I am not me, I am the mechanical system. After all, the mechanical system is providing me with my identity, my ‘image of myself’, and that identity or image is a product of the system, so that identity or image is the system. The system provides me with a self; it provides me with the extrinsic self, which is ‘the self-which-has-been-externally-defined’.

 

 

This is really quite extraordinary – when I see the world I see the world that the system wants me to see. When I think about things I think about those things that the system wants me to think about, in the way the system wants me to. When I see myself I see myself as the system envisages me, constructs me, reproduces me. The illusion is total – it encompasses all…

 

 

When I think about things this is really the system thinking about things! When I see myself this is really the system seeing itself! This – we need hardly point out – constitutes a ‘disadvantage’ of the most far-reaching nature…

 

 

The disadvantage – if we may call it that – is that I have been lost in the process of adaptation, so that I am now what I have adapted to. I have adapted to the system and I am the system. We’ve all adapted to ‘the system’ and we’re all ‘the system’.

 

 

But what happened to me? How did I get ‘lost’? Where did I go to? Amn’t I still sitting in there in my ‘safe place’,  behind the screen of my projected self-image, behind the reassuring solidity and opacity of the mask, like ‘Oz the Great and Terrible’ in his curtained booth, pulling levers, turning dials, pressing buttons, and speaking through a megaphone? That was what we started off saying, anyway. That was the original idea…

 

 

The problem is that something unexpected has happened. A strange inversion has taken place. What used to be the tool, the instrument has now become the master. I started off using the machine, but now the machine is using me.

 

 

The problem is that I had thought of the instrument as being purely passive kind of a thing that I could make use of as I pleased. This however was a serious mistake on my part – the instrument in question was active with its own virulent brand of ‘pseudo-life’, and being not just active, but aggressively active, it ended up taking over…

 

 

The ‘instrument’ that we are talking about here is a whole way of seeing things, a whole way of being in the world, a whole self-contained modality of existence. It’s a complete package. How could I think that I could get away with carelessly utilizing an instrument like this and not get caught up in it, not get lost in it?

 

 

In order to operate the machine we have to think in its way… In order to engage with the instrument effectively we have to become attuned to it, we have to become ‘instrument-like’ in our thinking. So the instrument conditions us, which means that it has neatly ‘turned the tables’ on us so that it influences us rather than vice versa. The hired help orders the boss around. The tail wags the dog…

 

 

The long and the short of the story is that the system always ends up taking over.

 

 

It takes over essentially by not giving us the space to be ourselves. It takes away our space, our freedom. It makes us be the way it wants us to be the way it wants us to be, which is its way not ours. It ‘squeezes us out’.  And when it has taken away all our space we really have been well-and-truly squeezed out, we really have been well-and-truly evicted. It’s like someone saying to you, “You have to go. There is no place for you here…”

 

 

So that’s it. You go. You leave.

 

 

You leave the machine to run itself. You leave the system to operate itself.

 

 

Which is of course just the way it likes 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.

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