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The Adventures of The Generic Self

What sort of troubles could the generic self run into? What type of sticky situations might it get itself into? What issues will it face? What sort of problems does it have to overcome?

This is a joke of course – what sort of troubles won’t the generic self run into? It will of course run into them all! What problems won’t it have? When we identify with the generic self we can expect to get ourselves in every sticky situation going; then we can expect to get caught up in every issue going.

So just to be adequately clear on this point: there is noway that the generic self isn’t going to run headfirst into every problem going. The reason we need to be perfectly clear about this is because we all do identify with the generic self, and we do so one without knowing that this is what we are doing,and without having the slightest intimation that there are going to be seriously adverse consequences to going down this road.

And yet if there is one thing in life that could be said to be vital in life, something to understand clearly if we are to understand anything, then this is surely it. To make a big act of being ‘responsible’ about other things, ‘adult’ about other things, and yet not taking the responsibility of getting to grips with this particular issue, makes a mockery of everything we do. Everything we do becomes ridiculous and we just can’t see it. Our purposeful activity becomes ‘overvalued’ – it is endowed with a weight of seriousness (or pretentiousness) that it just doesn’t warrant, whilst what actually should be given consideration is given no attention at all. All of this tends to sound fairly obscure of course; it sounds obscure but it isn’t. It’s nonsense that we can’t see and because we can’t see it everything seems right and proper and ‘just as it should be’, but if we could see it then it would be like being hit in the head with a plank of wood. There’s this big thing that we not allowed to see, and because we can’t see it this makes fools of us.

Point one and point two are the same thing really; we can’t disentangle them because if we knew what this business of ‘being identified with the generic self’ was all about then we’d also have a good idea about what the consequences would be. Everything we’ve said so far is going to be completely incomprehensible – of course – unless we first had some insight into ‘what identifying means’, and ‘what the generic self is’ – and the thing about this is that we are not equipped to understand either of these points, we have completely the wrong orientation for that. We take the GS totally for granted; it’s the basis for everything we think and everything we do so of course we’re not ever going to have any actual awareness of it.

The point is that identifying with the generic self means forgetting about who we really are. It means losing who we really are. This isn’t an inconsequential matter but all the same ‘forgetting about ourselves’ is always done in the most casual way! Identifying with the generic self as the most casual of acts and we are completely unconscious of it. Identifying with the generic self means that we are saying that ‘this is who we are’; more than just saying it, it means that we absolutely believe it to be the case. We couldn’t be more convinced – we’re so convinced that we haven’t even the capacity of questioning it. The chances are overwhelmingly that we’ll never question it.

We live in a world therefore where we might dream of many different things (dreaming comes naturally to us, after all) but the one thing we will never dream of questioning is whether who we think we are has any actual validity to it. Somehow our interest (or ‘curiosity’) doesn’t extend this far – it might extend to certain things, but it certainly doesn’t extend to this. This fundamental blind-spot puts everything we take for granted in a different light, as we have already suggested; I might feel that I’m the sort of person who is interested in the world, the sort of person who is interested in all sorts of things, but if I’m not interested in the question as to ‘whether who I automatically think I am really is who I am’, then what exactly is my so-called’ interest ‘in the world worth? It’s clearly no more than fraud! To say that one is interested in ‘the world’ and yet be not at all interested in oneself simply doesn’t hold water!

This is therefore a type of ‘fraud’ that is very widespread– if not actually universal. Who is ever going to say that they are not‘interested in the world’, or not interested in things’? We might say this on occasion when we’re in a bit of a mood but we’re hardly going to admit to a permanent lack of interest in the world because this just doesn’t feel very good. It’s very hard to live with and yet at the same time be aware that one has no real interest in anything, no real interest in ‘the bigger picture’ – or indeed in the question as to there is one! It feels so obviously wrong to be not having any curiosity about anything; to have no interest in things beyond immediate pragmatic concerns is to no longer be truly alive, and we all know this. What we do rather than tolerate this painful awareness therefore is to nurture the illusion that we do indeed have a healthy interest and curiosity in the world, and for the most part we get by perfectly well on the basis of this illusion.

No one wants to be ‘shut down’, and yet for the most part we all are. We adults are experts in the business of being ‘shut down’ and not letting on to ourselves (or anyone else) that we are. That’s what we do everyday. We’ve got this type of collusion going on; a collusion that we call ‘society’.In this collusion we cultivate a certain flattering illusion of ‘being interested in stuff’, of ‘not been switched off’, and this illusion works remarkably well. We might for example try to justify this fiction by pointing to what we call ‘culture’ or ‘art’ and declare this to be evidence that we are not switched off, that we do in fact have a healthy interest in the world around us and in ‘life in general’. Yet how much of our ‘art’, how much of our ‘culture’, actually goes as far as questioning if who we believe ourselves to be really is a genuinely true proposition?

If this ‘radical questioning’ ever did place however, then this would be very disturbing, very unsettling for society, and those of us who are part of it. What could be more unsettling? Society only hangs together because we don’t question the things that we aren’t supposed to question and – into the bargain – don’t even admit that that is anything there to be questioned in the first place. Society is based on unspoken or ‘implicit’ rules, in other words, as any sociologist will tell you. If we are to be members of the club, then we first have to sign on the dotted line and agree to all the conditions. Not that we ever  knowingly sign up to anything of course – we are trained from an early age not to ask the question, we are trained never to question the bigger picture but just to ‘go along with it’ without ever admitting that we are going along with anything. We ‘go along to get along’.

Given this unconscious core agreement of ours to fit in dutifully without questioning what we are fitting into, how can we ever be genuinely curious about anything? How can we be interested in anything if we are not interested in this nefarious ‘agreement’ that we have signed up to without ever admitting it? The answer is of course that we can’t; of course we can’t – we can’t be shut down about some aspects of life and yet not be shut down about others! It’s all or nothing,obviously – if we going to be unconsciously ‘risk averse’ in some areas then we are going to be unconsciously risk averse in all areas, that’s just the way things work. If we are ‘unconscious’ then we’re unconscious and that’s all there is to it.

What we call ‘culture’ is just another form of ‘anaesthetic gas’ therefore, just like sport or gossip or entertainment is. It’s all just anaesthetic gas – we’re not really in the market for anything else. Our so-called ‘culture’ (everything around us) simply serves to confirm that we are right in our basic assumptions as to who we are and what life is about. That’s why we get so smug in ourselves when we are partaking in so-called ‘art’. But this isn’t art at all; as Gurdjieff says, art isn’t produced by sleeping people. What we call art is mere ‘confirmation’; it’s the way that we have are putting ourselves to sleep, along with everything else we surround ourselves with. Real art would wake us up – and our situation is that we don’t even know what being ‘woken up’ means. We don’t know and we don’t care.

Anything that causes us to question whether we are who we think we are is ‘waking up’. Waking up is a disturbing thing therefore because we have so much invested in the idea that we already have of ourselves – our whole way of life (no more than society) is based upon this picture of ourselves, this image of ourselves, and an investment like this is not simply disregarded or let go of at the drop of a hat. What really matters to us – when we are in this unconscious or socially-adapted mode – is having some kind of ready-made picture or model of things to fit into, system, and our image of ourselves as being ‘this person’ is the key to this particular arrangement. We aren’t about to allow anything upset this particular apple-cart in a hurry, and if we think we are then we are deluding ourselves!

What we doing in life – for the most part – is saying a big resounding ‘no’ to any awareness that tells us that who we believe ourselves to be is false. We’re saying ‘no’ to novelty. And this is the only type of awareness there is; all awareness tells us this! If something tells us any different then it isn’t awareness talking to us – it’s something else, something unconnected with awareness. It’s part of the fiction in other words; it’s the thing we attach ourselves to instead of ‘being aware’. This is all part and parcel of the setup – the generic self, if it is to function as the GS, has to go the whole hog. We can’t pick and choose here, we can’t be ‘serving two masters’, as Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas. We can’t serve the truth and the lie at the same time. We can’t have our cake and eat it.

When we identify with the GS we forget all about who we really are and there are no two ways about this therefore. Not only do we forget about who we are we also – as we have just been saying – have to ‘take sides’ and put all of our resources, all of our powers, towards making absolutely sure that we don’t remember. We have to fight against this possibility with everything we’ve got, whilst remaining completely unaware of what we’re doing. Within this logical setup, the awareness that we’re not really who we take ourselves to be becomes ‘such a bad thing that we can’t allow ourselves to know about it’. We have to fight against the outcome without knowing what we’re fighting against; we just know that it’s bad news, that’s all we need to know.

So the thing about identifying with the GS is that we get locked into the game of denying who we are on a full-time basis and this is a job that we have to stick at for the rest of our days, come what may. Once we start denying then we can’t stop! If we can see this then we can also see that it would be a good idea to look into the long-term consequences of this act of unconditional identification/denial. We might want to know what sort of difficulties, what sort of problematic situations might lie ahead of us! We might want to know where we’re going with this. We might want to know what the prognosis is when we hand over responsibility to the system of denial...

The most essential way to think about this is to consider the following question: suppose I’m following some interest of mine that I find very motivating and meaningful, but let us also suppose that this ‘interest’ or ‘commitment’ of mine has nothing to do with me  and that I am actually serving the interests of some external factor. Suppose it belongs to the ‘generic self’, in other words. This being the case (that I am leading the life of the generic self) can I really be said to be enjoying myself?Am I really being ‘fulfilled’ by this type of life? I’m not actually doing what I want to do, after all – I’m doing what I’ve been compelled to do and I’m deceiving myself that what I’m doing is what I actually genuinely wanted to do.What’s more, everything that we do on the basis of the generic self is part of our ongoing unconscious attempt to deny the true self.

 This isn’t just a supposition of course – this is our actual situation. This is our situation when we have identified with the generic or mind-created self.This is what this word’ identification’ means– it means exactly this and nothing else. So the question we are asking here is ‘what does it feel like to have the generic self living our life for us(and thrusting us completely out of the picture as it does so’? Does this feel like a good thing? Very clearly it doesn’t – what we’re talking about here is‘being used’, we’re talking about being turned into a ‘mere thing’ in order to facilitate someone else’s plan or agenda. The only reason we don’t feel as if we’re being used (or abused) is because we have identified with the mechanism that’s using us – that’s the only thing that’s protecting us from the awareness of what’s really going on.

Words can’t really convey the depth of horror implicit in this realization. Our entire ‘purposeful’ life has been spent striving against (or denying) who we really are and what life really is, and – needless to say –there is no meaning to be found in life ANYWHERE unless we can unless it is to be found within the realm of who we really are and what life really is! We’re locked into this game whereby we are denying everything on a full-time basis, and there is no state of being more sterile than this. What can we say about this situation in which we are in denial of everything, and yet are still insisting that we are leading a meaningful and or fulfilling life, or at least have the possibility of doing so? The only chance we have of feeling that we doing well, and that everything is ‘as it should be’ is if we can somehow restrict our awareness to the extent that we never see the bigger picture at all, but only see reality as it appears from this very particular ‘inverted viewpoint’. This very specific inverted viewpoint is the viewpoint of the generic self, which is the viewpoint that we all share, the viewpoint that we all take for granted in everyday life.

This is such a peculiar thing to consider: if what I am denying with all my willed or purposeful activity is ‘life’ or ‘everything'(which it is) then what does this make me? If I’m denying Everything then this means that I’m now ‘outside that Everything’. What I am doing here with this reflexive act of self-definition (the act of denial that is the assertion of the self ) is separating mys elf from the Wholeness that can’t be divided; I’m putting myself outside of the Wholeness,outside of that ‘Everything’. If I’m in denial of Everything then I must be nothing,therefore – not the ‘nothing’ in the sense of the Buddhist Void (which is said to be pregnant with everything) but ‘nothing’ in the sense of an empty fiction that fatuously takes itself to be real when it is not, or ‘nothing’ in the sense of an abstract point of view which never looks at itself, but which compares everything to itself in order to allocate meaning to life. What doesn’t make sense to the abstract inverted POV which is the generic self doesn’t exist for us, when we’re in this mode.

This is what the ‘inverted’ or ‘unconscious’ life is all about in a nutshell, and it’s a pretty crazy situation! This awareness shows a whole new light on what we thought we knew. The assertion of the self is denial of reality, and where exactly does this leave us? We think that ‘life is great’ and that the ‘assertion of the self is great’ and we are insistent on conflating the two! We insist on believing that these two can be conflated, that there is no conflict here. Our bottom-line is that the celebration of life and the assertion of the self are at root one and the same thing. On the basis of this insanity therefore, we try to live our lives, and we won’t hear anything against what we’re doing no matter who tells us. We’re ‘closed to awareness’, after all – and that’s what the social collusion is all about. We surround ourselves with people who agree and go along with this insanity (as we do) and we exclude all other voices on the subject.That’s how social groups are formed.

We are going about things in a completely perverse way, therefore. You could say that we are going about things in completely the ‘wrong’ way’, but it isn’t really ‘wrong’, it’s just a very hard and unsatisfactory way to go about things, that’s all. Living life in way that is set up in advance to be ‘100% self-defeating’ is very hard and unsatisfactory proposition – it equals suffering, in other words, which is the First Noble Truth of Buddhism. We spend our lives fighting against the Great Mystery, which is reality, which is our true nature, and we are fighting against the Great Mystery on the basis of the fiction,on the basis of some ‘half-baked notion of ourselves’ that doesn’t exist (and never could exist). The official line is that ‘Life is a Great Adventure’ but the thing about this is that when we’re in the unconscious mode (i.e. when our business is ‘repressing life’) then what we’re doing is repressing the adventure! When we repress the adventure then there IS no adventure, obviously! This is what Joe Campbell calls ‘the negative adventure’. The only adventure is that we’re going to experience is when we can no longer effectively control or regulate or suppress  life and then – when this happens – we interpret what’s going on as a pathology and don’t learn from it…

Identifying with the generic self is the most lost we can ever be – we’re frighteningly lost and yet at the same time we’re constitutionally unable to see just how lost we are. We walk around – for the most part – not feeling lost. Or rather we’re lost as a collective, and we never look beyond the viewpoint of this collective, and so we don’t see that we’re lost. We ‘belong’ to the group after all, so how can we be ‘lost’? This isn’t to say that the unacknowledged existential despair that we’re feeling won’t leak into our bubble because of course it will – it’s just that we will interpret it wrongly, we will project it on something or someone else, where it will can’t perform its true function of reconnecting us with our lost Wholeness. When we dissociate from our care existential despair then instead of helping us – which it would because it serves truth rather than the fiction of the false self – it complicates the picture by adding yet another level of empty drama, yet another level of ‘false reality’. The ‘adventures’ of the generic self are no  adventure at all, as we have just said – they are an ‘inverted adventure’, they are how we avoid the real adventure. The generic self ‘gets its kicks’ from repressing all genuine joy, wisdom and awareness – that’s how it works. It (and us through it) feel good when we successfully fight against the Great Mystery that is Everything, and organize the world instead into some kind of appallingly meaningless grey bureaucracy. This is how we get lost – via the bureaucracy of thought! The only saving grace in this situation is that the more we repress (or organize) life, the more we potentiate the suffering that will one day come to save us…

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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