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Peeling Off a Generic Self

What happens when we peel off a generic self from the True Self and leave it to get on with things on its own, leave it to get on with life as best it can as a ‘self-contained unit’? This turns out to be a very interesting question, as well as being a rather relevant one. It’s an interesting and relevant question because it happens to be the one that we’re faced with every day, even if we don’t realize it!



Perhaps the clearest answer to the above (admittedly somewhat obscure) question is to say that when we split off a generic self and send it off on its own it is like throwing a rock as hard as we can right up into the air: to start off with it is shooting up there at a tremendous pace, disappearing up into the sky. It’s moving so fast we can’t even follow it. If we didn’t know any better, we’d say that this rock is really going somewhere! What a tremendous adventure this rock is on, we might say. Who wouldn’t like to be like this intrepid rock flying off so wonderfully into the sky in glorious defiance of earth’s gravitational pull, shooting up so bravely into the uncharted blue yonder?



This isn’t what really what happens however, as we all know very well! It’s not really that much of an exciting adventure. The intrepid stone quickly loses its initial vigour, it runs out of steam, it falters at its apogee, ceasing in its flight and starting its inevitable plummet back to earth – it’s early glory reversed… This then is exactly what happens to the split-off generic self. If we wanted to know what the story of the generic self after it has been peeled off from the true self and sent off to ‘get on with it’ on its own, then this is it. There is no more to it than this – this is the whole of the story, there’s nothing else to it, there’s never any other variation to it. Every single generic self that gets peeled off from the true self and left to get on with things by itself has exactly the same story – there’s never any difference! It’s up for a while, until the momentum falters, and then it all comes tumbling down again…



This comes as something of a surprise since from the perspective of the generic self it’s not like this at all! From the POV of the generic self there’s an absolutely huge potential variance in all the different possible stories. From its perspective anything could happen! The suggestion that ‘only one thing’ could happen (and not a very good thing at that) simply does not compute. It makes no sense at all. From our usual perspective – which is the perspective of the split-off generic self – it is not only the case that the field is completely wide open with regard to ‘what might happen’ (at least at the start of the journey), it is also understood to be the case that things may work out well for us, or that they may work out not-so-well. The possibilities that life holds for us seem to be divided starkly into two in other words – either we make it or we don’t make it, either we succeed or we fail, either its thumbs up or its thumbs down.



From outside of the perspective of the generic self however there is only the one possibility and this ‘one possibility’ isn’t really a possibility at all when it comes down to it because whatever ‘progress’ is made in the first phase of things gets to be neatly reversed in the second. The ‘one possibility’ that is open to the generic self consists of two halves, therefore – the first half is where we are subject to the illusion that we really can get somewhere, and the second half is where this illusion falters, wears thin, gets frayed around the edges, and then finally comes completely undone. So with regard to the notion that we can – if things go right for us – ‘make it’ in life and succeed rather than fail miserably (which is the notion that life is divided into ‘winning’ and ‘losing’), this really does put a completely different perspective on things. It makes what we usually believe in so completely 100% absurd. As we have said, the same thing always happens to the generic self and this thing has nothing to do with the ridiculous notion of winning versus losing!



If we win we lose and if we lose we also lose – it’s exactly the same story in both cases. And as for the notion that there are lots and lots of different things that could happen in the life of the generic self, this is absurd too. There’s only the one thing that’s going to happen to us as the generic self and this ‘one thing’ has two parts: the part in which we fall under an illusion, and the part where this illusion reveals itself for what it is. There is the illusionment half of the journey and there is the disillusionment half, there is the enchantment half and there is the disenchantment half, and both halves always cancel each other out! What more needs to be said on the subject than this?



It is of course perfectly true that the illusion whose spell we fall under can seem to be endlessly diverse. It appears to be that way. It’s a stretchy illusion, it’s a stretchy dream. But it isn’t the open field of possibilities it appears to be – we can after all dream of anything we like but not matter what we dream of it’s still only ever going to be the same old dream! To say to someone, “You can dream anything you like just as long as it’s a dream” might sound (very superficially) to be empowering but it is of course nothing of the sort – it’s terminally disempowering. It might sound like a sort of freedom but actually it’s taking away the only sort of freedom that matters – it’s taking away the freedom to be in reality, the freedom not to be dreaming! The freedom to dream whatever we want to dream is therefore the freedom not to be in reality, the freedom not to be real…



The question we might want to ask however is why things should be like this for the poor split-off generic self? Why should its prospects be so dreadfully curtailed, so uncompromisingly truncated? Curtailed and truncated to the point where it doesn’t actually have any prospects at all (or at least, only unreal ones)? This sounds like a supremely pessimistic view of life. The metaphysical doctrine of determinism, when applied to human life, sounds dismal enough, but the view that we have just put forward appears to combine determinism and nihilism all in the one unique package. Not only is the life of the split-off generic self predetermined from the word go, but the ‘journey’ that has been spelled-out in advance isn’t actually a journey at all since it’s completely self-cancelling, completely self-negating. Not only is what’s going to happen set in stone right from the very beginning, but what it is that’s going to happen to us in this predetermined way is actually nothing at all – it’s ‘nothing disguised as something’, it’s a ‘non-event disguised as an event’! We think at the time that ‘something’s happening’, but it isn’t…



This therefore is the ‘unpalatable truth’ that we don’t want to be acquainted with. This is the most unpalatable of all possible truths in fact, which is why we won’t see it as any sort of truth – we will instead see it as utter nonsense, total balderdash. We will see it as something not worth taking seriously even for a moment. How could we continue with the daily business of our lives if we saw things like this, after all? This is a philosophy that denies life, a philosophy based on pure, undiluted nihilism! The only way to continue if this were true would be to work hard at distracting ourselves the whole time by engrossing fanatically ourselves in short-term pleasures (or perhaps in nonsensical dogmatic doctrines that we take care never to examine too closely). But if we think like this then we’re missing something very big. We’re missing the biggest thing we ever could miss – we’re missing the fact that the peeled-off generic self isn’t who we are! The peeled-off generic self isn’t who we are so why are we getting so upset?



The true self ISN’T restricted to only the one self-defeating, self-frustrating, self-cancelling possibility! The true self isn’t restricted in any way at all. No one said anything about the true self being limited or self-negating – far from being ‘predetermined’, it is not determined in any way. The true self is unconditionally free and this unconditional freedom is inseparable from its very being. It obeys no patterns – its path is a mystery and it itself is no less of a mystery. There’s actually nothing we can say about the true self because everything we say (or try to say) only comes down to putting it in some kind of a box or other, putting it in some category or other, making it sound like it’s some kind of regular old generic kind of a thing – and it isn’t. The thing is though, we haven’t been taking about the true self. We have been talking about what happens when we peel off a generic self from the true self and send it off to make its way through life, on its own, cut off from its source, cut off from any knowledge of its source. And as we have said – the reason this scenario is of interest is because it happens to be the situation we find ourselves in!



The generic self – we might say – is something akin to a two-dimensional slice or cross-section of the true self which gets to be reproduced virus-fashion over and over again to the exclusion of any other considerations. Or we could also say that it is like a static ‘snapshot’ of the true self which – although it is only a static snapshot – gets to be taken as the ultimate unquestionable expression or definition of ‘who we are’. The generic self is thus a ‘limited formula’ that gets to be taken up as a holy dogma; it gets to be taken up like a drum which is beaten repetitively over and over again in denial of any other non-generic aspects of ourselves, in denial of the living reality which the dogmatic formula is supposed to represent. Talking about ‘the tail wagging the dog’ doesn’t come into it therefore.



A peculiar inversion has taken place here – the whole thing about the true self is that it isn’t a two-dimensional cross-section, that it isn’t a static representation of a living reality. It’s not a fraction, it’s an integer. It’s the whole thing (whatever that ‘thing’ is). If we say – in order to try to convey something of what we are getting at here – that the integesic reality is like one undivided movement that is on its way (as Jung says of consciousness) from an unknown source to an unknown destination, then the cross-section or static snapshot of the integesic reality (taken as ‘the beginning and end’, the limit of all that is possible) is in flagrant denial therefore of the true nature of things. It represents (although we can’t see this when we are trapped in it) a parody of the natural order of things…



Movement replenishes (like the circulation of the blood replenishes, like the circulating currents of the ocean replenish) but the fixation on the one static pattern, the one static formula, impoverishes. There is therefore no direction for it to go in other than the direction of increasing manifestation of this inherent impoverishment – even though at the beginning there doesn’t seem to be any sign of it at all. The fixation upon the static formula which is the generic self starts off energetically – like an explosion (or rather ‘implosion’) of energy, but the seed of its downfall is to be found in its very genesis since in order to be what it is it has to deny its own source. It is like the branch of the tree that has to deny the tree, or the twig on the branch that has to deny the branch!



This situation might also be said to be like the well-known story of the Viceroy or Steward who takes over the role of the true King and rules falsely in his stead. Things are not at all the same under the rule of the upstart pretender to the throne, however – whilst the rule of the true King is just and wise, generous and patient, the rule of the pretender is unjust and harsh. The rule of the false king (the steward who takes over the role of king) is cruel and violent, mean-spirited and vindictive. The difference being that the true King has the best interest of his subjects at heart, whilst the pretender has only his own interests in mind! One is a giver, the other a taker. Everything works backwards therefore – although the Supreme Monarch of all that he surveys, the true King exists to serve the kingdom and not vice versa – this being of course is what being a good and just ruler is all about! The false king on the other hand is of course thinking only of his own glory and thus takes the role of kingship as being that of the ‘supreme taker’, the supreme ‘exploiter of the system’. It is not a question of the sacrifices he has to make in order to safeguard the well-being of the people, but rather what the people can do in order to service his pathologically inflated sense of entitlement!



The generic self doesn’t really have any choice in being like this. It can’t – on its own – be any other way. It starts off right from the beginning being defined – it starts off being defined because ‘being defined’ is what makes it what it is. That’s what makes the generic self the generic self. The whole point of being what we call a self is to be ‘this but not that’, ‘me but not you’. It has to be either/or logic – it doesn’t work otherwise. If I am you as much as I am me then there is no ‘you’ and no ‘me’ and so the game is over! But the thing about being the defined self is that there is no way out of it. It’s a trap. Definition can only ever lead to more definition, certainty can only ever lead to more certainty, rules can only ever lead to more rules… We can never work towards freedom from lack of freedom – if we’re not free right at the start then we NEVER can be free! If we’re not free to begin with then it just not going to happen. It can’t happen, not ever. There’s no way for it to happen since freedom only comes out of freedom…



Although there are lots and lots of ways to be defined, once you are defined then it’s always going to be the same old story. That’s why we say that it’s a ‘generic’ situation – if you know the story of one generic self then you know the story of them all! There’s no need to look into what it’s all about any further – you already know it. It’s the same story in every case, as we have said. Because the generic self starts off (as it must do) as being defined, it has to carry on being defined and being ‘defined means’ that you can’t escape from being what you are arbitrarily stated as being, no matter how hard to work at it. If I start off as being defined then all my actions, all my thoughts will be defined in the same way. It’s all the same thing, it’s all the one cloth. It’s a straight line, it’s a linear equation that can never leave itself behind no matter how far it travels…



We could call this ‘determinism’ but really it is just being defined. It’s all just a static snapshot so there’s no genuine future development (or future change) to be predetermined. It’s not that everything I do and everything I think has been predetermined in the past – it’s just that I can never escape from being defined, I can never escape from my defined identity. Everything I (purposefully) do is ‘acting out this fixed identity’. Everything I (rationally) think is ‘acting out this fixed identity’. Escaping from my defined identity means psychological death, after all, it means ‘ego-death’. I want to be free ‘on behalf of’ (or ‘on the basis of’) my fixed ego-identity, not free of it! I want to be free to ‘obey the rule’ that is the fixed identity (not be free from it) and that means being a slave to conditioned existence forever. This is not life however, it is – as we have said – the conditioned parody of life. It’s being ‘trapped in the static snapshot’, like a fly in amber, whilst imagining the whole time that we are getting somewhere. It’s a parody of life but I can’t see it to be a parody because I’m seeing everything from the upside-down viewpoint of the generic self.



Being the generic self means that I can never escape the definition that I have opted for, and it means another thing too. All defined (or positive) statements are inherently self-contradictory in nature, which is to say, they contain YES to the same degree that they contain NO, although we are incapable of seeing this from the standpoint of the defined statement. This corresponds to J.G. Bennett’s idea of the Reactional Self, of which he says, “When it experiences the affirming impulse, it is unaware of the denying force that opposes it.” Bennett sees the constitutional inability of the Reactional Self to see the identity of opposites as the root of our lack of genuine volition, since our so-called ‘volition’ is merely our attempt to assert one opposite against the other! Our blindness with regard to the true nature of the opposites is also the root of what Bennett calls our nullity (or ‘the nullity in man’) since all we are ever doing with our narrow purposeful activity is repeatedly negating ourselves whilst deludedly imagining that we are getting somewhere by doing this.



So being the split-off generic self means not only that my life is completely ‘predetermined’ right from the word ‘GO’, it also means that I am inevitably bound to keep on cyclically cancelling myself out, it means that I am incapable of doing anything other than systematically negating my own potential over and over again ad infinitum…




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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