The morass we are stuck in is the morass of compulsive shallowness. The mire we thrash around in, and finally sink spent and exhausted into, is the mire of hypnotically alluring superficiality. Shallowness shouts at us from all sides. We find ourselves constantly beguiled by it, bewitched by it, enthralled by it. We are assailed by it, assaulted by it, pulled in by it, and hopelessly intoxicated by it.
On the outside, what assails and assaults us from all sides tastes sweet – saccharine sweet in fact – but immediately beneath the sickly sweet surface it is dull, flat, and tasteless. ‘Dull’ doesn’t go far enough to describe what we are talking about here – what lies beneath the surface of the sweetness is dreadfully, dreadfully, dull. It is as stale as stale can be, it is as stale as an old joke that has been repeated far too many times, and which was never even that funny in the first place. It is stale in the way tired old clichés are stale.
The blandishments of the all-encompassing, all-absorbing ‘superficial world’ are fresh and new and exciting for a vanishingly brief moment of time, and then the heady, intoxicatingly exotic perfume gives way to the same unmentionable old staleness. It gives way to the exact same unmentionable old staleness in every case, like smelly socks, like dirty laundry that has been left in the basket far too long, waiting week after week, month after month for a wash that never came.
The all-pervasive superficial world is like Jean Paul Sartre’s nausea, which when it first starts coming down the street towards us looks for all the world like a fresh-faced young girl, only to be revealed moments later as an ancient whore, reeking with cheap scent, her face covered over with a crude mask of thickly-applied make-up. The hero in Sartre’s novel saw this ancient whore on all sides, he recognized instantly her wherever he looked, but we never see her at all. We never see the redundant cliché, we never notice the dreadful staleness, and the reason we don’t is that we keep moving on the whole time, seeking new treats before the old one can lose its flavour.
This is why we are always in such a hurry, always so keen to be diverted, always so hungry for fresh sensations, the latest fashion, the latest news, the latest scandal. This is why we are compelled to ‘keep it shallow’, and make very sure we never examine (or reflect upon) what we are doing.
Once we fall into the morass of compulsive superficiality we have no choice but to carry on. We have no choice in the matter, any more than a heroin addict has no choice about carrying on taking heroin – if he stops he starts to feel sick. We are caught, and the only way to avoid being sickened by the toxicity of it all is to keep on distracting ourselves, to keep on consuming, to be continually reaching out for the latest hastily re-packaged saccharine treat that the system has on offer for us. The latest eye-candy, the latest brain-candy, the latest emotion-candy, the latest attention-candy.
If we ever stop then it all starts to catch up with us. If we stop then we start to sink under the mire. We sink beneath the surface and choke on it. We sink beneath the surface and are poisoned by it, made overtly sick by it (although in truth we were sick a very long time before this, though we mightn’t have known it).
What happens when we ‘go under’ is that we suddenly feel very, very tired. Our interest goes. We are tired of our lives and we are tired of ourselves. ‘Tired’ is not a good enough word for what we feel – we feel sickened. It all comes home to roost at this point and we are left looking squarely at what we were careful not to see before – we are left looking squarely at that dreadfully stale, dreadfully sterile, dreadfully false old piece of nonsense which is the system.
The horror of this perception sends icy-cold fingers right down into our soul – fingers that freeze everything they touch. We are frozen with the horror, comatose with the horror, catatonic with the horror, locked up miles deep in a subterranean tomb of horror.
And when this happens, all the antidepressants in the world won’t pull us out of it. At this point, the stale, sterile and phoney system is not only in us, it actually is us. We ourselves have become the corruption, we ourselves have become the sickness…
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.