We create ugly things and then – as a second step, so to speak – we very carefully refrain from paying any attention to what we have created. We ‘withdraw from seeing them’ into some kind of fantasy. The result of this ‘two-step mechanism’ is that the ugly things that we have created can then proceed to rule our lives unopposed. They are given free reign. We call these ugly things ‘desires’ and ‘fears’ and ‘habits’ and ‘opinions’ and ‘beliefs’. We also call them ‘organizations’ and ‘institutions’ and ‘commercial corporations’ and ‘nations’. These are the ugly things that rule our world and determine the course our lives will take in this world. These ‘things’, these ‘entities’, thrive on our inattention. They live and grow strong in the darkness, in the shadows, in all the places where there is never going to be any scrutiny. They thrive and they breed there and their dominion over us is complete…
It could be said, as Philip K Dick does, that we ‘serve a false master’. We serve, but we do not know who we serve. We serve, we diligently do what we are required to do, but we carefully refrain from looking at what we serve or why. ‘What’ and ‘why’ are not questions we are going to ask when we serve the false master! Our entire focus is on how best to discharge our role, not on whether the role is worthy of us or not. Our efforts all go into figuring out how we may best carry out our instructions, not on whether these instructions are deserving of being carried out or not. It’s not part of our job to question the job – that isn’t within our remit, that isn’t our concern.
The world we have built for ourselves is the result of this attitude, this narrow and terminally irresponsible focus. If we wanted to know that the long-term consequences of ‘serving a false master’ are we need only to take a good look around us! The world we live in is all geared towards serving the false master in all its multitudinous guises, whether we wish to refer to it in terms of our habits, or desires, or opinions, or beliefs, or whether we are calling it an organization, institution, corporation or nation. These entities are the beneficiaries of our efforts, our ceaseless industry, our slavery, and yet it has to be pointed out that at the same time as being the sole beneficiaries of all our efforts they also don’t really exist…
The false master is an unreal master therefore, but his unreality does not in any way make him any the less voracious, any the less demanding, any the less cruel or ruthless! The false master is voracious, demanding, cruel and ruthless precisely because he is unreal – the need to fill this particular hole is infinite precisely because there is no filling it! The false master cannot be permanently placated or satiated in his demands by us serving him faithfully any more than the fire of jealousy or greed can be quenched by us fulfilling what those controlling mind-states want of us. As we know well, the fire or jealousy or greed only burns more fiercely when we feed it. The more we feed a fire with its fuel the more hungrier that fire becomes for more fuel, and in the same way the more we seek to placate or please the false master by faithfully serving him the more impossibly demanding he becomes.
The whole system is driven by denial – we are in denial of the impossible situation that we have ended up creating for ourselves and so we work all the harder to keep ourselves distracted from seeing what we are actually doing. This process of denial, and the ever-escalating activity in service of the denial, starts the moment we create the ugly thing. Or rather, it starts the moment we decide to look away from it! At the precise moment of creating the ugly thing we are faced with two possibilities, two distinct directions to travel in. The two possible directions are ‘seeing the ugliness that we have created’ and ‘not seeing it’. To see the ugliness is difficult – it requires integrity (integrity being ‘the willingness to see the difficult thing’), whereas not to see the ugliness is easy, with no integrity at all being required. The two directions or two roads we are talking about here are the direction of ‘psychological work’ versus the direction of ‘psychological non-work’ – the latter being what we might call ‘passive mechanical existence’ (which is to say, the state of existence in which we obey rules without ever questioning why we are obeying them, without even being ‘interested’ enough or ‘curious’ enough to bother noticing that we are doing so).
If psychological work is where we are actively climbing out of a hole then psychological non-work is where we are falling ever-deeper down one! These two situations represent two mutually exclusive orientations in life, two completely different ‘attitudes’, so to speak. Psychological work equals pain, we might say, whilst the moment we successfully avoid the pain of work this is experienced as pleasure. Pleasure is concomitant with the successful denial of the necessity for psychological work therefore (just as Johannes Fabricius says that manic elation is the denial of despair). The ‘mechanical direction’ starts the moment we flinch or waver from seeing the ugliness of what we have created. The mechanical rules cut in (and take their hold on us) the moment we act on the feeling of aversion that we feel towards seeing the ugly thing that we have created. This is the moment at which we ‘adapt to the system of denial, this is the moment at which our orientation towards life switches around by 180 degrees.
From this point on everything is about avoiding the pain and obtaining the pleasure – there are no other considerations that need to be taken into account. The game is simple and all we have to do is play it – if we obey the rules successfully then we are rewarded with pleasure and if we fail to obey them then pain is our immediate and uncompromising punishment. Either we get the carrot or we get the big stick! This constitutes the alpha and omega of mechanical existence – all we care about is obeying the rules. In the mechanical life seeing the ‘bigger picture’ is profoundly irrelevant therefore. Being interested in the bigger picture (or being interested in the fact that there might be one) is not part of our mental repertoire – we couldn’t care less about the big picture! All the emphasis is on serving the master; no value at all is placed on wondering about what sort of a master it is that we are spending our lives serving…
The whole point about this business of ‘serving the false master’ is that we lose either way – we lose if we do well and we also lose if we don’t! We lose no matter what. If we fail in the task we have been given then we are punished and are made to feel terrible that we are the worst in the world, and if we succeed then we also lose because what we’re succeeding at is an endeavour that is there to benefit the system not us. The system is actually against us. We’re rejoicing and feeling good about the system being benefited in other words, but this is completely perverse because ‘the false master’s victory is our defeat’. He’s only taking us for a ride, after all. The system of denial’s ‘success’ is our pain, our misery and so for us to feel good about this is utterly insane! We’re in trouble either way: to do badly in the task that we have been set, to fail to ‘get it right’, means that we will have to suffer the lash as a result, but to do well in the task, to successfully follow the rules of the game, simply means that we are getting drawn ever-deeper into the plot that is being hatched against us, and so this isn’t going to do us any good either!
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.