‘The world is intelligent, not us.’*1 This statement is of course in direct contradiction to what we like to believe, what we do believe. Our viewpoint on the matter is the complete reverse of this – we see the universe as being merely a convenient backdrop for us to strut our stuff against, and act as gods. We’re putting on a show for our own benefit – the world around us is mere putty in our hands, waiting passively for us to fashion it as we please. We are the controllers, the manipulators, the choosers and the deciders; we are the goal-makers and the universe exists purely to facilitate us in our designs, in our fantasies. Such is our extraordinary hubris! This is the hubris (or ‘hybris’) of the everyday mind, which Jung defines as follows:
In general, hybris is the naivety of the person who pursues his courses of action in an attitude of idolatry for his own decisions.
Everything – as far as we are concerned – comes down to control, and how effectively we are able to control. The greater our power to control, the better we feel about ourselves, and vice versa. We define ourselves by our ability to control, our ability to ‘choose what happens to us’, our ability to decide on one outcome rather than another. Whether we feel validated as who we like to think we are or devalidated depends upon the exercise of our will, i.e. whether things line up for us in the way that we (arbitrarily) decide that they should do. Life – for us – is pretty much synonymous with the business of ‘getting our own way’ therefore and the unspoken assumption that it is us who are intelligent, and not the universe we live in, is of course what lies behind this extreme one-sided emphasis on ‘personal will’.
It could be said that this is a very great folly but ‘folly’ is an inadequate word for what we are talking about here. What we’ve actually done in our ‘folly’ is to get everything exactly backwards. We’re seeing everything upside-down, just like a tail that imagines it is wagging the dog. This inversion of perception comes about – we might say – because of the way in which we fundamentally misconstrue freedom.
We see freedom in terms of our ability to obtain our goals. Everyone sees freedom like this – if we can actualize our desires successfully then this for us is the very epitome of freedom. There can be nothing better than this; when we have achieved this we have achieved all that there is to be achieved! It doesn’t take much insight however to see that this is an utterly ludicrous position to take – desire itself is a fundamentally unfree thing and so how on earth can acting that desire out be an expression of our own innate freedom? Does a slave become free by diligently and skillfully following his instructions? Do we become free by learning to be ‘better slaves’? Clearly we assume that we do.
We may try to get around this by saying that that our goals are not necessarily desires, even though they can be. Goals may be formulated as a result of our desires but they may also arise from our actual bone fide intentions; they may represent creative acts on our part. It is impossible to argue this however – the argument pulls itself to pieces as soon as it starts. Creativity has nothing to do with goals – if it is actual creativity that we are talking about then having a goal (having an idea about where we are going with our work) completely blocks the creative impulse. The very nature of the phenomenon is that I don’t know what it is that I am creating. That’s the whole point. To conceive a goal and then work away at achieving it is another thing entirely – this is ‘copying’ not ‘creating’. I am copying out my ideas into the world around me; I am using my thoughts as a template and then reaching out forcefully and insensitively on this basis of this template. Goals are all about ‘asserting the old’ therefore, and this necessarily precludes ‘being sensitive to the new’.
To copy out something from a template has nothing to do with freedom. This is the very inversion itself. Actually freedom is the declared enemy of this sort of process – freedom equals ‘deviation from the prescribed pattern’, freedom equals ‘error’. Freedom is the one thing we don’t want. When absolutely all freedom is eliminated from the picture then we can have ‘copying’, but not otherwise…. We might then argue that our thoughts – which are the template for our purposeful actions – are volitional in themselves, which means that freedom is present at this point or junction in the process, but this is not at all the case. Our thoughts are simply reflections of the unseen frame of reference which lies behind all of our rational activity. If something doesn’t agree with the framework that governs our thinking then it simply isn’t recognized – there’s no mechanism there to recognize it. The FW is the only mechanism here; it is our only means of registering anything! The FW determines whether something is ‘real’ or ‘not real’ and because the FW is absolutely fixed and inflexible in its nature any talk of ‘freedom’ is quite incongruous.
It’s all a deterministic pathway from ‘FW’ to ‘thought’ to ‘goal’ to ‘accomplishment of goal’. It’s all the same thing – it’s ‘the system of thought’ and there isn’t a trace of freedom in the SOT, not even a homeopathic trace of it. If there was then it couldn’t be the SOT. This isn’t to say that freedom doesn’t exist or that we can’t ever be free, but simply that it doesn’t exist in the cause-and-effect linear pathway of thought and thought-based action. How could there be – how could there be ‘purposefulness’ and yet at the same time ‘freedom’? Purposes are not free. We are compelled to act out our purposes just as we are compelled to think our thoughts – only a modicum of insight is needed in order to see this! Anyone who practices meditation can see this – thoughts are fields of compulsivity that we get drawn into and then identify with so that we don’t even see that we are being compelled ‘from the outside’. Freedom consists therefore not in ‘thinking the thought’ but in not having to think them! We can think if we want to be we are not obliged to…
Freedom is the reverse of what we normally conceive it to be, therefore. It is not about success within the positive world into which we are helplessly drawn, but in not being drawn into this world at all. There’s no point in getting drawn into the Positive World because there’s no freedom in it and if there’s no freedom in it then what’s it all about? Freedom is a negative thing not a positive one as we always imagine and this is where the inversion lies – the inversion lies in the way in which we perceive freedom to exist in the positive (or ‘stated’) world rather than in the negative, unstated world. This inversion of perception means that we are always looking in the wrong place for our freedom, which is the same thing as our ‘intrinsic well-being’. We are forever looking in the wrong place for our freedom, for our well-being; we are fundamentally convinced that all the good stuff is to be found in the positive realm which is the realm of definite statements, definite thoughts and goal-orientated actions. We’re always looking in the wrong direction because we’re identified with the positive self. We are forever trying to ‘live life positively’, unaware that this is a complete contradiction in terms!
Freedom lies everywhere apart from in ourselves. Out of ourselves, no freedom can come. Out of ourselves, no true intelligence can come. How, after all, can intelligence come out of a place where there is no freedom? All we can ever do is blindly throw out our tricks, our gimmicks, our mechanical strategies and hope as we do so that some of them connect with reality in a meaningful way (which of course they never will do). Just as long as we continue to function on the basis of the concrete or positive self (which is the deterministically-driven self) then our behaviour will remain wholly mechanical and thus abysmally uninspired. There will be no creativity involved, no empathy, no compassion. The concrete self doesn’t do compassion; it doesn’t do kindness, it doesn’t do love. It is on the contrary very businesslike and its business is itself, its business is ‘pursuing its own advantage’ (as it mistakenly conceives it). It can mimic these qualities and its mimicking can be very sophisticated and it can get quite far sometimes, but only ever on a temporary basis. It’s hard to mimic life, after all! The only way the concrete self won’t show itself up in its pretence is if we’re all living in a society made up almost entirely of other ‘concrete selves’, which is of course pretty much the case. In this case there’s no limit to what we can get away with!
We aren’t intelligent, the world is and the world’s intelligence can work through us if we don’t ‘big ourselves up’ too much. The universe will act through us with its intelligence if we step down from the pedestal we have put ourselves on, if we can find it within ourselves to rejoice in the role of the tail rather than hubristically seeing ourselves as the Big Dog itself! Our game of pretence with regard to being the dog not the tail, the master mechanic not the oily rag, the mighty tree not the branch, has gone too far and as a result we haven’t left ourselves any space to breathe, any space to move… ‘Cutting of its nose in order to spite its face’ is what it does every day!
All we have to do is give up our idea of ourselves as the Big Shot, the one who says what’s going to happen and what isn’t going to happen, the one who gets to say what reality is and what it isn’t. The predetermined self has such a supreme arrogance and yet at the same time it is never any more than a mouthpiece for the senseless mechanical conditioning that drives it and speaks through it, and which actually has nothing to do with it. This is what G. I. Gurdjieff means when he says that we are the unconscious slaves of ‘all-universal purposes’ –
Such is the ordinary average man—an unconscious slave of the whole entire service to all-universal purposes, which are alien to his own personal individuality.
All we care about is what our conditioning makes us care about and this conditioning is what we call our ‘personal will’. That is our ‘wilfulness’. Personal will is god to us – things or people that do what we want are ‘good’; those that don’t are ‘bad’ and we say rude things about them. People who agree with our views are our friends and we have warm feelings towards them; people who don’t are our enemies and we nurture feelings of spite and ill-will towards them. The concrete self’s random nonsensical views are the standard by which everything shall be judged and its whims are law, and this is the principle of inversion! “When I am not God is” says the Jewish proverb. Such a statement comes across as being distinctly devalidating for us – it doesn’t say very much about us! What’s the point in me being here at all, if I am nothing more than an obstacle to the Divine? There doesn’t seem to be any place for me at all in the Grand Scheme of things and this – needless to say – is an infinitely unpalatable truth to have to chew on…
From the hubristic viewpoint of the reified or mind-constructed self this is of course going to be the case – there is no other way it could be! the hubristic self-construct wants a stake in the glory after all – it doesn’t want to perceive the glory as belonging elsewhere. That would be the end of it. ‘The experience of the Self is always a defeat for the ego’, says Jung. The positive self’s implacable resistance to being written out of the picture rests entirely on a very big misunderstanding however – the positive self (like the positive world) doesn’t exist and yet we stubbornly persist in thinking that it does. We never were that so-called ‘self’ anyway – it’s all a purely ‘hypothetical exercise’, an exercise that only makes sense on its own unreal terms…
*1 The title of this essay is a quote taken from a personal communication from Jeffrey H. Shampnois (Negative Geography)
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.