When we are in the mechanical mode then everything proceeds from pressure, everything happens as a result of pressure. No other factor comes into it. Pressure means that everything happens as a result of pure, unnegotiable necessity, and yet the curious point here is that it’s not actually ‘necessity’ at all because reality doesn’t run on necessity. Only machines run on necessity! Absolute, unnegotiable necessity can only ever within an arbitrary mechanical system and outside this artificial context it doesn’t actually mean a damn thing. There is no necessity there really, only the illusion of necessity, but the qualification we have to throw in here is that we can’t in anyway see the illusion to be an illusion. The problem is that when we adopt a system’s frame of reference as being a legitimate one then it immediately becomes the only FOR we can know about. It’s a Tyrant FOR, in other words.
We can look at the mechanical realm as being a wheel of causality, a wheel of cause and effect where each cause always gives rise to a corresponding effect, a ‘necessary’ effect. We can also justify every cause by pointing at the effect that is to come and saying that we need to do X in order to bring about Y. This makes perfect sense to us of course – that’s the story of our lives right there. Any action that we are engaging in can be justified by pointing at what happens next, by pointing at the goal that we are aiming at, and this is a motivating factor, the motivating factor of ‘external necessity’ or ‘pressure’. This is the motivation of ‘obeying the rule’. Although this form of motivation works perfectly well it comes with a drawback and that drawback is that the whole thing is a racket, as Alan Watts says. It does nothing and it goes nowhere – the same as anything in the mechanical realm; the MR is all about pressure (or coercion) but this doesn’t mean that there’s any point to it, any meaning to it. It does not mean that at all – the cog turns, and turns another smaller cog as it does so, but simply because this is what it does, not because of any higher meaning that is being served. There is never any significant development in the working out of the mechanical realm, just ‘the ongoing enforcement of the rule’ and this never yields any ‘higher meaning’ because as far as a rule is concerned there never is a higher level of meaning. The whole point of the rule, the whole message of the rule is that ‘there IS no higher level of meaning’.
We could draw a connection here with Alan Watts’ ‘dictionary game’, which is where we pick a word at random and then proceed to look up one of the words that has been used to define or explain the first word. We repeat the process with this word and then move on to look up the word that is being used to explain that word – this being of course nothing more than the proper use of the dictionary, after all! Eventually, says AW, we will end up with the very same word that we started off with – sometimes via a big loop, sometimes via a shorter one. What this exercise spells out is the fact that the dictionary isn’t really explaining anything, not when we properly look into it. When the meaning loop is big enough, containing enough separate and apparently diverse elements, then we are unlikely to spot the defect or spot the tautology but when there are only a few elements in it then it becomes painfully obvious. It is of course perfectly possible to have just the one element in a circular argument and in this case the fallacy or absurdity of what’s going on is most obvious of all. An example of such a thing would be someone who claims that everything that is said in the Bible must be true, because it says so in the Bible itself, and the Bible is always true. Product X is the best on the market and we know this to be true because it says so in the promotional literature that comes with it.
Richard Feynman makes the point that we all have this general impression that science ‘explains stuff’, and that this impression is by no means as true as we think it is. ‘Explaining’ is a weird idea after all and we don’t really know what we mean when we say it. Feynman observes that whilst we have identified the various fundamental forces such as new nuclear, weak nuclear, gravitational, magnetic etc., this doesn’t tell us as much as we think it does because in our various theories we can explain one force to the other, in the manner of Alan Watts’ dictionary game, but all we really doing is chasing the definitions around in a circle. All that’s ever going to happen is that we’re going to get back where we started and end up – therefore – find ourselves none the wiser! If we were to relate all of the fundamental forces in a single unified theory, this would of course seem like a very good thing; on the face of it, it would appear that we have hit the jackpot since this is what we imagine science to be all about. We imagine science to be all about ‘explaining things away’. Actually, however, this would explain nothing since all we’re looking at here is yet another meaning loop. Nothing can really be ‘explained’ – the notion of ‘explaining’ is when it comes down to it quite meaningless, quite laughable. All of our definitions, after all, are nothing more than ‘us trying to make sense of the world by relating it to our own arbitrary starting-off point’. We are trying therefore to ‘escape randomness’ but we can’t – we can’t ‘escape randomness’ because our starting-off point has randomly chosen, even though we won’t admit this. There’s no other way to choose a starting-off point – we can’t ‘start’ unless we start playfully!
We can only explain what is already redundant. The very fact that we have explained something is the proof of this – the explanation is the redundancy after all. When we explain something we ‘explain it away’, as we have said, and to ‘explain something away’ is to show that it is in fact nothing. Anything that can be explained away is nothing – the very fact that we have managed to ‘put matters to bed’ in this way proves that the issue was only a trivial one. The problem disappears once we have solved it and then it is no longer of any interest to anyone. All positive knowledge is ‘of no genuine interest to anyone’, which is what the rebel economist E.F. Schumacher says in his Guide To The Perplexed. Once something has been spotted as being redundant (and has on this account been explained away) then we have shown that there is in fact nothing there to be explained away, and this is the case ‘across the board’ – it never turns out to be ‘not the case’. Our own victory immediately becomes hollow after the event because we have, by solving the problem, demonstrated that the problem wasn’t a problem at all! When we successfully ‘rationalize the world’ (which is our knee-jerk response to the ‘fear of the unknown’) we experience the excitement of the chase, followed by the flash of triumph that comes when we nail it down, and then – following this – there is the inevitable let-down, the disappointment, the despair, the empty feeling inside. There is no joy to be had as a result of ‘obeying the rule of fear’ after all, even if we do twist this around to look like the greatest of all virtues…
This is no different to what we feel when we achieve a goal, of course – it’s the same thing. At first the goal seems almost impossible, not very far off impossible, but attainable all the same (if we strive heroically enough) and this creates a sense of excitement and drive. Because of this excitement (or as part of it) we have the sense that something very great is going to be accomplished (or could be accomplished), something that will totally transform – in a good way – our whole situation. This is euphoria in a nutshell – the good feeling that we get when we believe that ‘positive change’ is taking place when in fact there isn’t and couldn’t ever be. We think that our situation has changed in a good way only to find (later on at some point) that nothing of the sort has happened; we think we’ve made ‘the critical breakthrough’ only to find ourselves right back where we started from. We’ve come back to square one, back to the old drawing board, and we have no option but to start from cold all over again, having gained nothing as a result of our efforts.
This is classic ‘self-defeating’ (or ‘self-frustrating’) activity therefore; this is the classic ‘self-contradiction’ of Finite Play that James Carse talks about – the motivation behind the play is to bring all play to an end, but once we do it this we find that we have nowhere else to go, once we do this we discover that ‘bringing the game to an end’ doesn’t solve anything and that – on the contrary – all it does is to leave us with an awful hollow feeling inside, the feeling of having been cheated, the feeling of having been fooled, and so there’s nothing for it but to start up the old, old game all over again. The whole thing is just self-distraction after all, and the excitement comes from believing that if I distract myself successfully enough then I won’t ever have to engage in this tiresome all distraction business ever again! That’s what gives us the buzz, that’s what gives us the addictive high – the false perception that what we’re doing isn’t just self-distraction but that it has a higher level of meaning to it. It absolutely doesn’t however and so no matter how convincingly we distract ourselves with the belief that we’re actually getting somewhere once we’re ‘done’ then we have no choice but to start up all over again. This is ‘the Wearisome Cycle of Mechanical Activity’, after all, and there is no escape from the wearisome cycle of mechanical activity via the dubious strategy of engaging even more wholeheartedly in yet more mechanical activity!
There’s no escape from the mechanical wheel any more there than there is some sort of higher level of meaning associated with it; the mechanical wheel gets to be a wheel by generating a phoney type of transcendence that is really (as we keep saying) just ‘the same thing all over again’. There is the glamour of apparent transcendence, but nothing more; the unconscious state is that mode of awareness therefore where we perceive the glamour generated by the mechanical system as real and it is this perception that keeps us motoring. The superficial appearance of glamour keeps us on the go and the ongoing purposeful activity that we are thereby engaged in keeps us unconscious, keeps us trapped in the ‘nullification trance’. This is our undoing – the fact that we are straining to achieve within the terms of reference of the thinking mind. What keeps us effectively nullified is our fixation upon our goals, in other words, and the thing about this is that these goals of ours are ‘promises of transcendence’ – they are the deceptive signifiers of a type of marvellous magical transformation that – in reality – isn’t ever going to take place.
There is a glamour that attaches itself to our goals and what this glamour is essentially saying to us is that these goals (or the attainment of these goals) are NOT just ‘the same old thing all over again’ but something very new and very exciting. Thought invests its productions with this intoxicating glamour and – thus inspired and motivated – we charge long towards it, blowing bugles as we do so, thereby ensuring that the wheel continues to spin around at a tremendous lick. The wheel continues to spin, continues to recycle the old, because this is all that it can do; it has ‘just the one trick to play’ and it keeps on playing it. The wheel has only the one trick to play and we continue to get excited or motivated by it as if transcendence was only just around the corner. For us, transcendence is always just around the corner! When we see that it isn’t – and that – actually – transcendence isn’t on the menu at all – then this translates as ‘clinical depression’. This is ‘the end of all euphoria’, which is a very desolate moment of realization indeed for the illusion-driven purposeful self.
In actuality, the mechanical system is ‘as dead as dead can be’, as dead as a dodo, as dead as a doorknob. The one thing that is absolutely and irrevocably missing from the Turning Wheel of Samsara is transcendence – thought only recognises and values what it itself has said to be true and so of course there’s never going to be any such thing as transcendence! There can never be any transcendence because thought can never let go – it can only ever hold onto what it says is true, what it says is right. Thought, as Robert Anton Wilson (along with Aristotle) says, operates solely on the principle of YES versus NO, such that if it isn’t the one then it must necessarily be the other. MAYBE Logic doesn’t come into it; MAYBE Logic is logic that embraces uncertainty – instead of only having the two terms and saying that reality must be defined via one or the other, we introduce another turn, an open-ended term MAYBE. So, we can say, maybe the proposition that we’re looking at here is true or maybe it is untrue and maybe the third term the proposition in question is neither true nor untrue, but something else yet again! MAYBE logic is the logic of transcendence – maybe everything we have ever thought up to this point is wrong. Maybe everything thought has ever stated to be true is utterly wrong, utterly unfounded, utterly misleading… This ‘MAYBE’ term is – therefore – the very thing that we never want to have anything to do with!
The mechanical system invents this thing we call ‘apparent diversity’ – it keeps on recycling the same old thing, it keeps on pumping out the very same generic product, and yet somehow the product is always new and improved. Somehow, we keep on queuing up to buy it in the supermarket, our cash grasped tightly in our sweaty hands. Somehow, we keep on buying into the idea that we can progress, and progress means that things can be improved upon, can be built upon, can be developed, can be used as a springboard to greater things. In short, ‘progress’ means that we can transcend the game by playing the game. Hypnotised by this illusion, we don’t see the truth. We don’t see the truth that a finite game is called a finite game because it keeps on stating the same thing over and over again (as if this were ‘the only virtue’), and that our goals – all of them – equal this same old finite game. A finite game is ‘coercion in disguise’ – we are coerced into defending and promoting our position as if this were actually ‘a meaningful thing’ when it isn’t. Our goals are emblems of our static unchanging way of seeing the world and so we can hardly expect to transcend that unchanging way of seeing the world by chasing our precious goals, by doing stuff ‘on purpose’, by doing things that ‘make sense’ to us…