Our thoughts distort reality, our ideas distort reality, our beliefs distort reality. This is of course in direct contradiction of what we understand to be the case, which is that our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs tell us about reality. More than this, we feel that our thoughts, ideas, etc, tell us something specially true about the world, something specially true that other people can’t see (unless they happen to subscribe to the same beliefs that we do, that is). When other people’s thinking distorts reality in the same way that ours does then we experience great affinity with them, at the same time as experiencing great antipathy to all of those who have allegiance to a different type of distortion. We don’t put it like this of course – we justify our affinity or antipathy by saying that we’re on the side of the truth, whilst some other people clearly aren’t.
This is all a big distraction, however. It’s all an elaborate smokescreen – it’s not the truth we’re protecting so vigorously, it’s the distortion. When we go around trying to pass on our ideas and beliefs to others (as we are obliged to do if we have them) then we say that we’re telling people about the truth, we say that we’re ‘spreading the light’, no less. This is extremely validating for us, intoxicatingly so in fact, but the truth is that what we’re passing on is ‘an unwarranted distortion of reality’, which isn’t quite so glamorous. When we make the claim that we are ‘transmitting the truth’ then the truth is the first casualty! Our understanding of ourselves is that we’re volitionally choosing to pass on the truth, because we want to help people and benefit the world and so on, and this view portrays us in a distinctly heroic mould. What we’re saying here therefore is that there is nothing volitional about what’s going on here – we’re compelled to protect and promote the distortion, or as we are might also say, the distortion promotes and protects itself through us. The distortion promotes and protects itself through us, and at the same time it renders us totally incapable of seeing that this is what’s happening. An illusion is being manufactured.
Taking this analysis one stage further, we can say that society (which is, needless to say, a group of people sharing the same basic beliefs) is nothing other than this same distortion ‘writ large’. To the extent that we are part of society our lives have to take place within this distortion, therefore. We take this distorted version of reality as our basis for understanding everything, and this means that will never see anything that isn’t the distortion. We wouldn’t know undistorted reality if it came up to us and slapped us in the face. And if it happened to be the case that undistorted reality (which is to say the actual truth of our situation) did come up to us give us a poke, just to make itself known, then we would pathologize this encounter with ‘the real’ and do our best to make sure that it didn’t happen again! For us, when we are seeing everything from the viewpoint of the collective distortion, ‘mental health’ is that state of affairs where we can carry on playing the game that ‘the distortion is reality itself’ without ever being disturbed. If we do get disturbed in our playing of the game, in our perpetual seeking of the ‘golden equilibrium value’ (which doesn’t exist), then we will count this as a manifestation of mental ill-health, and we will deal with it accordingly.
This isn’t our usual way of understanding society, it is true. It’s not our usual way of understanding whatever social group we might happen to be a member of, and that’s because the distortion doesn’t see itself as a distortion; to the distortion – as we’ve just said – anything that isn’t the distortion is ‘the distortion’. When we’re biased then anyone who doesn’t agree with our bias seems biased and this skewed perception is what lies behind all the conflict in the world – one distortion is warring against another, both of them under the impression that it (and it alone) is the true viewpoint. If we want to understand human history then it is this point we have to grasp – our history is the ongoing story of all the warring and competing ‘reality distortions’ that we have been so very helplessly swept along with over the centuries, and continue to be swept along with to the present day. This isn’t a particularly flattering picture of course, but we are protected from having to see it by the way in which the particular distorted version of reality that we have been indoctrinated with validates us and keeps us feeling that we’re ‘in the right’ and as long as we continue to value the good feeling of validation over the actual truth (which is shockingly ‘non-validatory’!) then we will stay in this thoroughly ignominious situation.
There is a kind of ‘jostling activity’ going on here – a kind of ‘Brownian Motion’ such as we learn about in chemistry. All the distortions or biases are reacting mechanically against each other, but the ongoing war (where each one pushes back automatically against the other) never gets us anywhere. No one ever wins, nothing ever really happens. When we get swallowed up within a distorted version of reality then we are recruited into promoting and protecting the distortion and so ‘we do all the work’. This jostling activity may be considered to be driven by ‘a force’, the only thing about this being that it’s a blind mechanical force – there’s ‘nothing behind it’, in other words. The illusion is that we have ‘agency’, that we have ‘autonomy’, but that’s just a facade covering over the mechanical forces that are acting through us. Really, there’s no agency, no intelligence behind what we’re doing – there is only Brownian Motion (which is another way of talking about the Nullity). The frightening face of the Nullity is covered up by our tinsel-town dramas in which we know what we’re doing, in which we can either achieve the correct outcomes or fail to achieve them. That’s the make-believe domain which we are constrained to live within – the domain where we ‘know what we are doing’ and where it is possible to either ‘achieve a meaningful outcome or not achieve it’. None of this is true, however – we couldn’t be more wrong regarding what we think is going on, and there are no ‘meaningful outcomes’ as far as blind mechanical forces are concerned.
The ‘blind mechanical forces’ (the self-cancelling vectors that make up the Brownian Motion Soup) are what G.I. Gurdjieff calls ‘Universal All-Purposes’, and these Universal All-Purposes are what effectively take charge of our life when we operate on the basis of thought. When we say that we ‘have a purpose’ this sounds very good to us, this sounds very positive, and in a very limited or short-sighted way it is. When we fall under the power of some mechanical purpose this provides us with a total sense of orientation and this feels good to us. It puts all our existential vertigo to bed, and that comes as a tremendous relief. When we talk about having a purpose this sounds unconditionally positive, therefore. We look no further than ‘the nominal idea of a purpose’ – that’s all we’re looking for. The Universal All-Purposes that Gurdjieff talks about fulfil this need of ours perfectly therefore. This is a bit (or a lot) like hanging around with someone who seems to know what they’re doing, someone who has that type of brash confidence that comes from not questioning their ideas, not because they really do know what’s going on – which is why we don’t want to look into that either – but because we can hitch a comfortable ride on their coattails. There’s nothing behind the Universal All-Purposes however – absolutely nothing at all. They’re not called ‘blind mechanical forces’ for nothing! Just as we are prone to electing political leaders who sound as if there know what they’re doing when they absolutely don’t (because manufactured certainty is the product we’re in the market for) so too do we align ourselves with the blind mechanical forces. The result of this terminally unwise behaviour – we might say – is the very same in both cases. It’s a complete and utter disaster…
Image – pond5.com