The nullity puts infinite pressure on us to achieve something that is not at all possible and which cannot therefore ever be achieved. Needless to say, obeying this relentless pressure cannot ever lead to happiness. Instead, it leads us to experience many shades of utter profound misery. Where else can we expect the nullity to lead us but into misery?
It’s not as simple as this of course because if this were all that there were to it then none of us would ever get caught in the thankless trap of trying to do what the nullity wants us to do! There would be zero incentive. The nullity’s trick is (of course) to make it look as if we are succeeding (or at least as if we stand a chance of succeeding) in such a convincing way that we never suspect that we are being tricked, no matter how many times it happens, no matter how many times we end up falling flat on our faces. On the one hand we have a ‘futile task’ therefore, and on the other we have the non-negotiable compulsion to succeed at it. ‘Failure is just not an option’, as they say (at least, not as far as the nullity is concerned, anyway).
There is something else to the trick the nullity plays on us – the ‘finishing touch’, so to speak. Not only does the nullity trick us by making it look as if we are on the very point of succeeding, or that success is not too far off, or at the very least that success is distinctly possible if difficult to attain, it also tricks us by getting us to think that it us who wants to succeed at this task, and not some external mechanical force. This is the ubiquitous phenomenon of identification, which isn’t too different from what has become known as ‘Stockholm syndrome’ (apart from being a lot more common). It’s a lot more common because there isn’t anyone who isn’t in the state of passive identification!
Here then is the human situation in a nutshell – we are more or less continuously identified with mechanical forces that are demanding that we ‘succeed’ at various impossible tasks. The tasks are either ‘impossible’ because they can’t be done to the standards that are required or because they never stay done for very long and have to be repeated endlessly. We don’t – obviously enough – generally recognise this as being the case, but this is what’s going on nevertheless. We assume ourselves to have more dignity than this – the idea that we are being driven in everything we do buy something as ridiculous as the nullity is not one that we find particularly convivial, naturally enough. That robs us of all our dignity.
This does not sound like any description of the human situation that we have ever heard of, it’s true. We are familiar with more ‘positive’ formulations of what our lives are all about – we are inclined to be more upbeat about it, in other words. Any account of what it means to be a human being that does not take into account the key role of the nullity in our affairs is however merely a fresh coat of paint on the walls of our cell prison cell, and if we choose to be excited or inspired by that and this is their own business. If rather than focusing on the overall deterministic condition of our existence we wish to preoccupy ourselves with ‘something else’ (whatever that something else might be) then that is entirely our own lookout. If we do ignore the nullity then this makes a mockery of everything we do however, and this is a high price to pay for the fragile and highly temporary ‘semblance of peace’ that we might be able to obtain for ourselves if we are vigilant and persistent enough in the exercise of our ‘intelligent stupidity’, as Chogyam Trungpa puts it.
The nullity drives us in everything we do. It plays with us constantly and it never stops playing with us. It is no more going to give up ‘doing what it is doing’ than a blackmailer who has discovered a good way of applying leverage to his victim is going to give up his meal ticket. The nullity will keep our nose to the grindstone forever, and what a terrible grindstone this is! What keeps us pursuing the futile task that we are locked into is the hope of relief from the tedium and pain of being caught up in this never-ending futile task, which is an irony we never pause to reflect on. The nullity does provide us with the temporary appearance of relief from time to time – it provides us with the tantalising illusion that we are (or might be) getting somewhere, and why wouldn’t it? Without this prospect of relief (or progress) we would very quickly reach the point of utter despair after all – we would not take another step forward. The price of this morsel of relief is the future intensification of the very pain and frustration that we are seeking relief from however, just like a person who takes heroin in order to gain (temporary) relief from the pain of cold turkey that this very drug has produced.
What we’re really hoping for – although we’ll never pause to acknowledge the fact – is for the nullity to take pity on us and stop doing what it is that the nullity always does! We are hoping for the nullity to take pity on us and yet nullity is the most pitiless of all things. This is like hoping that the worst bully in the world will one day have a change of heart and start showing kindness to us if only we keep on submitting to his twisted will. It is also like hoping that the greatest liar that there ever was – Satan himself, perhaps – will one day turn around and start telling us the truth, if we make a point of believing all his lies wholeheartedly and uncritically enough! What a forlorn hope this is, and yet it is what we all do hope, whether we know it or not. We are hoping that the mechanical life which we are ensnared in will one day deliver us from the torture of sterile mechanical existence if only we throw ourselves into it enough; we are hoping that if we ‘obey the rule’ slavishly enough, assiduously enough, it will one day turn us free. If we become a diligent enough slave therefore, our master will one day doubtless see fit to grant us our liberty…
‘Never give a sucker an even break’, the saying goes, and so if we think that by becoming ever more gullible, evermore uncritical, ever more dependent we are one day going to get that break then there is something very amiss with our thinking. We think that if we obey the nullity faithfully enough (and this involves never doubting it, never doubting for a second the veracity of what it tells us) its motives) then we will be rewarded. We see our uncritical belief and allegiance to the nullity as a virtue and we are ridiculously convinced that one day our unwavering faith in the Great Liar will be repaid and ‘paradise’ (in whatever form you might like to imagine it) will be ours. We take obedience to be a virtue whilst – in reality – it is our greatest vice, as P.D. Ouspensky says. We work hard at cultivating stupidity because we have made ourselves stupid enough to believe (on some obscure, unexamined level of awareness) that this will help us. This is the human condition; we are ‘serving a false master’, a master who doesn’t care about us, a master who will treat us badly. This is ‘service in error’, therefore, as Philip K Dick. There is worse to come however. Eventually – when we follow the process of false identification right through to the bitter end – the stupidity turns malign; it turns malign because we are fighting our own nature, it turns malign because we can’t help knowing (in our bones, so to speak) that we have become our own worst enemy, and this denied awareness transmutes inevitably into pure undiluted malice. it transforms into a means of ‘transferring pain’, a means of ‘shifting it somewhere else’ – where to exactly, we couldn’t care less!
We could try to get more specific about what the nullity actually is by saying – perhaps – that it is the thinking mind which holds us all under its control, or we could equivalently say that the nullity is the social world which we are being hopelessly suckered by every single day of our lives. We could also point out the very great similarity to the Gnostic ‘Charlatan God’, the malign Deity who has created a reality for us, supposedly as an act of unparalleled magnanimity, but really as a way of controlling and imprisoning us. We could also say – from a psychological perspective – that the nullity is our fear, or rather, our single-minded attempt to escape from what we fear, which is reality itself. Our single-minded, all-consuming attempt to escape from reality also includes the attempt to escape from knowing that we are trying to escape from reality; it has to include this or otherwise we wouldn’t be escaping from reality at all – we would be ‘knowing about reality’ not ‘escaping from it’ in this case, and that’s not what we want at all…
The psychological definition of the nullity is to say that it is our ongoing attempt to escape reality therefore and this explains why the nullity is forever compelling us to engage in futile tasks – the attempt to escape from reality is the ultimate futile task, after all. How can we escape reality, after all? This is another way of saying that we are ‘fleeing into illusion’ but since illusions aren’t real we’re not really ‘fleeing’ at all! It’s an illusion that we’re fleeing! All the nullity can do for us is to enable us to play a kind of long drawn-out delaying game, which it does by compelling to keep chasing after things that aren’t real as if this matters more than anything else. What we’re ultimately chasing after – as we have said – is ‘reality as it appears to the unreal sense of self’, which is of course nothing to do with reality at all. It is a distorted echo of reality – utterly hypnotizing for us but quite without substance. The self is busy chasing after its own projection, but since this self doesn’t exist in the first place neither does its projection. This brings us to our final definition of the nullity, our final definition of the ‘futile task’ – the futile task is the maintenance of the construct of the self as if it were not a construct, as if it were something real. All of our effort goes into this task – all of our effort goes into self-maintenance and self-validation and this itself is the nullity. By obeying the nullity we consistently turn our attention away from everything that does matter, everything that is real in our lives, and there could be no crueller trick than this…