Rationality beavers away night and day like a state-of-the–art super-efficient fully-automated factory, manufacturing nothing. But this is no ordinary ‘nothing’ – this isn’t just ‘nothing’, this is ‘nothing that pretends to be something’.
As Jean Baudrillard says,
The great philosophical question used to be ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ Today the real question is: ‘Why is there nothing rather than something?’
This special type of nothing which pretends to be something is manufactured in industrial quantities every day of the year by the rational faculty and we just can’t get enough of it!
The reason we can’t get enough of it is of course because it is completely and utterly useless, so that just as soon as we get our hands on it we have to throw it away (or shove it somewhere at the back of the wardrobe) and rush off again to get some more of the stuff as quickly as we possible can…
This type of highly-superficial ‘something which is really nothing’ is like ‘candy-floss of the mind’; it is instantly disposable, instantly discardable, instantly redundant – designed only to be bought and then thrown away in favour of the next generation of instantly disposable mind-candy, the next brand, the next style, the ‘new improved’ version of mind-candy.
Or perhaps we could say that this product is designed by the global corporation which is the rational mind to fascinate us, to hypnotize us in one way or another. It is designed specifically to draw us in, like potential shoppers are drawn in to a shopping mall, or into a glossy high-street retail outlet, so that they will succumb to the temptation to buy the product that is on offer there.
The copywrited product of the factory which is the rational mind can fascinate us in one of two ways – it can fascinate us in an attractive way, or in a repellent way, but either way it fascinates us. When it fascinates us in an attractive way it is trying to get us to decrease the distance that exists between us and the product, and when it fascinates us in a repulsive way it is trying to get us to increase the distance between us and the product. In the first case it is trying to get us to grab hold of what is on offer, and in the second case it is trying to get us to push it away, eliminate it, or run away from it.
The ‘distance’ is what we might call the hidden (or implicit) product that the system is trying to sell us, the ‘invisible’ product that we don’t even know we’re buying. Whether we want to maximize or minimize the distance between us and the ‘visible’ (or explicit) product makes no difference – either way we are buying into the game that the mind is trying to sell is.
It doesn’t matter which way the fascination works on us, either in the attractive or the repulsive way, because either way it draws us into the game. It draws us in when we move in on the product, and it draws us in when we run away from it. Whether we accept or reject, whether we say YES or we say NO, it makes no difference – either way we are buying the product…
Once we’ve actually been tempted into buying into ‘the product’ (and the package that goes with it), then it’s all over. That was what it was all about – the product itself is quite worthless, quite meaningless. The point of the exercise is just to get someone to buy it, not to produce anything of any actual value. It’s all just an exercise in ‘virtuality’, its all just shiny surfaces, surfaces that frighten us or attract us, paper tigers or paper prizes. The whole set-up was only ever meant to be real insofar as it would get us to make the purchase – that’s the only sort of reality it has and that’s the only sort of reality it needs. The pretense can be dropped once the deal has been done; the attractive or repulsive illusion can be dispensed with once the mark has gone for the bait.
So once I’ve bought into the belief structure, the thought, the particular reality-construct, the mental production – whatever it is – then I find that I don’t get much for my money at all – in fact I don’t get anything. Be this as it may be, however, I still have to get on with things, one way or another, so even though I have entered into the null zone (the blank zone which is the construct of the rational mind) I still have to eke out some sort of living. Notwithstanding the fact that it isn’t exactly a very good start, I still have to make some kind of a life for myself. I have to ‘make it work’ for me…
The way I do this is by constantly looking for little bits of relief from the unremitting blankness of the blank zone and what is going to help me in this is of course the very same mechanism that got me into the mess in the first place – the mechanism of the rational faculty. The cause of the ill is also the cure – after a fashion! This is not such an unusual idea – after all, after a day’s heavy drinking the sure and certain cure for the horrors of the following morning is ‘the hair of the dog that bit you.’ Or if I have ended up in the unforgiving grip of an opiate addiction, and – due to a shortage of the product on the street – I am in the throes of cold turkey, the only thing that is guaranteed to cure me is the very substance that was responsible for my sickness in the first place.
So when I am ‘sick’ as a result of unwisely buying into the version of reality that has been recommended to me by the mechanism of thought then it is the characteristic activity of this very mechanism that will give me temporary relief or respite from my misery, my sickness. The sickness in question is – we might say – that of ‘lack of meaning in life’ of which Jung spoke of as being a ‘soul-sickness whose full extent and full import our time has not yet comprehended’. The malaise in question therefore is the lack of meaning which goes hand-in-hand with the grim business of living in a rational construct of life (as opposed to life itself) and this lack of meaning is due to the fact that although there might seem on the face of it to be ‘lots going on’, underneath this frenetic surface-level appearance of ‘stuff going on’ there is actually nothing going on.
Or we could say – as we did earlier on – that the rational construct of the world is the appearance of there being ‘something’, when actually there is nothing. The underlying hollowness of this situation is therefore the malaise that we need to find relief from, and so the way the rational mechanism helps us to find relief from the veiled hollowness is by ‘entertaining’ us by providing yet further appearances of something going on, by furnishing the illusion of there being something refreshingly new there to distract us from all the stale old blankness.
The cure for rationality is thus yet more rationality, the cure for the hollowness caused by living in a world made of ‘nothing disguised as something’ is to disguise more nothing as something, and keep on doing this as long as is necessary…
So once we’re caught up in this business, once we’re conditioned to react to mere appearances as if they are the real thing, then we just have to keep on going for it, looking for more and more of it the whole time. We have to keep on looking for those little flickers of relief from the insipient all-pervading grayness (or ‘nullity’) of the ubiquitous rationally-constructed world. Each little insignificant thought that comes along gives us some kind of a little flicker – that’s what rational thoughts are, little flickers betokening some kind of development, some kind of change, one way or another.
Every little thought that comes along is a shiny ‘virtual surface’, a false promise of something new to look at, something different, some interesting little development which might take us away from where we are, either into more fruitful (or on the other hand possibly less fruitful) regions of experience. The development in question appears to be either for better or worse – it is either desire-inducing or fear-inducing, it is either profit or loss, advantage or disadvantage, win or lose.
What rational thought isn’t like this? What rational thought isn’t either a little flicker of promise, or a little flicker of threat? Or sometimes – less frequently – something more than this – a big flash of promise, a big flash of threat?
What thought isn’t about profit or loss, advantage or disadvantage, winning or losing? And what isn’t dreadfully stale and tired about this terribly tedious old mind-produced nonsense? What isn’t vile about it? To quote Jean Paul Sartre from his novel, “…that filthy thing, the Nausea.”…
Profit/loss, advantage/disadvantage, nearer/further, is all the same mental (or virtual) distance, and this is as we have said the ‘product behind the product’, the hidden product, the ‘implicit’ product, the package we are unwittingly buying into when we buy the product. Virtual distance is the very same thing as what is often called ‘linear time’, and so we can say that just as the rational faculty manufactures virtual distance, it also manufactures linear time.
Linear time has no substance, no depth, no body to it, and so the only thing that can be done with it is to ‘while it away’ – that’s all its good for. Linear time is a purely quantitative kind of a thing, having extension in both directions but no present moment. After all, there is no way to quantify the present moment, no way to measure it, no way to define it, and so far as linearity is concerned it isn’t real. It can’t be nailed down and so the rational mind has no use for it. Because linear time has no present moment in it there’s nothing to be done except to keep on running, nothing to do but keep on racing ahead, looking for this goal and that goal. To quote Jean Paul Sartre again –
I think they do it to pass the time, nothing more. But time is too large, it can’t be filled up. Everything you plunge into it is stretched and disintegrates.
We keep on running because there’s nothing else to do but run. The hollowness of the thinking mind can never be filled up – we have to keep on stuffing our face with the product because the alternative is just too unpleasant for us; eating the product is the only thing that keeps the product from poisoning us.
The ‘nothing that is disguised as something’ that is manufactured by the rational mind is an inferior product. It is a dud. This is not to say that ‘nothing’ itself is an inferior product however. ‘Nothing’ itself is not a product at all because no one manufactures it. No one manufactures it and no one tries to sell it, to market it. No one buys it either, because it is given away free.
Nothing itself is far from worthless – despite the fact that no one has any interest in it. This is Wei Wu Wei’s ‘Open Secret’- the secret that is no secret (and yet which because of our ceaseless ‘cleverness’, our perennial need to turn a profit, gets to be the best-kept secret of all).
‘The best-kept secret of all’ is that nothing is actually everything; that ‘zero’ is actually ‘infinity’….
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.