Everything’s a metaphor – if only we could see it as such. When we can’t see all the metaphors around us to be metaphors then we are asleep. We are enmeshed in the deadly trance of psychological unconsciousness – we are dreamers who do not know that they are dreaming…
When we don’t spot the metaphorical to be the metaphorical then we unwittingly enter into the opaque realm of literal conceptions. Once in this realm, it is practically impossible to understand just how utterly entrapping it is, how fearfully devoid of meaning it is, what a terrible inescapable dead-end it is. None of this do we see.
We just don’t get it. We can’t get it. The reason we find it so hard to ‘get’ the idea that the realm of literal concepts is a dead-end, a trap, a complete cul-de-sac, is because we are under the influence of a particular type of misapprehension – the misapprehension (or ‘illusion’) that there are possibilities where there are none.
The way this illusion works is very simple – each literal concept or idea that we are attracted to seems to be offering us the possibility or opportunity of a particular kind of freedom, a type of freedom that we didn’t have before. The promise of this new type of freedom makes the literal concept or idea glitter for us – it causes the idea in question to become very glamorous, very seductive, very attractive. The glittering sparkling alluring shine of the idea is therefore essentially a function of our ‘hopefulness’ – it seems to embody for us what we have not got, and there is nothing more seductive than our own deficits being reflected back to us in the form of ‘positive projections’. As Wei Wu Wei (1963, P 187) says,
All desires represent a craving for the essential deprivation, which we seek to gratify vicariously.
‘Desires’ can of course just as well work the other way too – projections can be negative or positive. Literal concepts/ideas/images can repel instead of attracting us, and in this case they exude a negative type of glamour – they glitter in a menacing or frightening way, they excite us in a different way, they induce a state of fear rather than desire.
This still has nothing to do with any genuinely independent (or ‘external’) reality however. In the case of positive projection what we are so intoxicatingly attracted to is the promise of our own inner deficits, our own lack of interiority, somehow being ‘made good’. This is my ultimate dream; having this unacknowledged but all-determining need met constitutes the ultimate ‘positive outcome’ when I am in the state of psychological unconsciousness – even if the obligatory lack of awareness of this deficit or need means that I am condemned only to gratify it ‘vicariously’, as Wei Wu Wei says.
The ‘neediness’ in question is inherent in the unconscious mode of existence. In this state all I know is the tight little grasping clinging knot of ‘self’ and so – as a consequence of my constant grasping and clinging to what I think I have, what I think I know, I have nothing, I know nothing. What I think I have, what I think I know, is a hollow illusion – it is the surface-appearance of something that covers up an actual absence. It is absence disguised as positive presence. The conceptual world that I am grasping hold of is a hollow illusion, and so is the insecure little self that is doing the grasping. We only know the ‘outsides’ of things, the outer appearance of things; we have no time for what is on the inside. According to Wei Wu Wei (1962, P 69) –
We think of insides as being the insides of outsides – for it is only outsides that we know, and even what we think of as insides are only outsides within other outsides.
It is the painful lack of interiority that causes our projections to glitter attractively, therefore; it is because I have no inner life that I am so very hungry for the outer. The problem is that what I am reaching for (or hungering for) will only ever be ‘out there’ somewhere in the form of my own unrecognized exteriorizations. Even if my projection is attached to some material object that I can physically grab hold of, as soon as I possess that object and secure it as ‘my own’, the glamour flies off elsewhere, and finds some new object to attach itself to. It perches in another tree. I can never possess what I am looking for because as soon as I possess something, as soon I add it to my store, it becomes part of a painfully hollow empire, it becomes part of what Joseph Campbell calls ‘the empire of Me and Mine’.
My negative projections are also only myself – only in this case I am not being attracted by my own deficiencies that have been turned around and represented as ‘positive possibilities’, but rather I am being terrorized by some secret knowledge I have about myself, and which I am feverishly trying to avoid. If I feel vulnerable and fragile and exposed and liable to be extinguished (or contaminated) by any one of a number of hostile forces out there in the world this is simply a reflection of my actual situation. The ‘I-concept’ is frighteningly fragile and precarious and vulnerable, and what it is vulnerable to is the truth. Needless to say, if my enemy is the truth then I really do have something to be frightened about. I will in this case do an awful lot of running but the one thing that will remain constant in all this avoidant activity is the fact that what I am trying so hard and so determinedly to outpace will always be hot on my trail…
What then is this ‘secret knowledge’ that I have about myself, and which I am displacing in the form of projections that appear to have an objective, independent existence in the world around me? One way to look at this is to say – as we have done – that the projections arise as a result of a fundamental non-acceptance of some ‘deficit situation’ that I have within me. In this case we can say that a positive projection is one that carries the promise of making good the deficiency, and a negative projection is one that threatens to – in some way – make it known. Because I am completely non-accepting of the fact that I do have some sort of ‘inner deficit’ – this denial being the first rule of the game – the positive projection is seen as ‘an actual value in itself’ (rather than being merely the ‘inverted reflection’ of my need), and the negative projection is seen as ‘an actual negative value in itself’, rather than my own ‘issue’ (my own ‘shadow’, as a Jungian psychotherapist would say) being reflected back at me. So the projections that attract me attract me because they promise to remedy the deficiency that I have within me – even though I cannot admit its existence – and the projections that repel me repel me because they remind of the existence of this deficiency, this darkness – even though I still can’t admit to there being such a thing…
The glamour that attaches to the positive projections which I covet so much derives from the fact that they offer an ‘out’ – they offer some sort of release from the painful situation which I am operating out of. My actual situation – even though I cannot see this – is impoverished and restricted, and this state of restriction and impoverishment (when turned a blind eye to) gives rise to any number of attractive projections, all of which are this state of restriction and impoverishment in disguised form. Because I do not see that these attractive projections are simply my starting off position in disguised form, and think instead that they represent an independent reality, it is natural that I will chase after them as vigorously and determinedly as I possible can. And if I catch up with them, it is natural that I will then attempt to secure them in an equally vigorous and determined fashion.
So this gives us a neat way of talking about the essential mechanism by which literal ideas or concepts automatically give rise to the deterministic type of activity that is associated with the unconscious (or sleeping) state of being. We can say that the deficiency in question has to do with a deficiency in freedom, i.e. it has to do with the fact that the literal thoughts or conceptions have no freedom in them.
This is really not such a hard thing to prove. The very fact that a literal statement is ‘a literal statement’ means that it contains no freedom, no ‘leeway’, within it. Saying that an idea is ‘literal’ is just another way of saying that it comes equipped with a particular predetermined context of meaning, a particular definite way of interpreting it. This is what makes literal ideas or concepts literal – the fact that there is only the one (authorized) way of interpreting them. They’re not fuzzy, they’re fixed.
This is a great thing in one respect – it is a great thing in the sense that there is tremendous security in such a situation. X means X and that’s the end of the story… Things are ‘absolutely what they are defined as being’ and so there is no need to fear them slipping away from us into the abyss of radical uncertainty, which – if we were to admit it to ourselves – is a terror that is always there in the background somewhere, threatening to undermine everything we value, everything we cherish, everything we place our trust in. Once the basic building blocks of reality are fixed in this way (‘fixed’ in such a way that we never have to suspect them of changing into something that they’re not supposed to be) then we can relax and get on with the business of doing whatever it is we do when the basic structure of reality has been nailed down, when any question of things being radically uncertain has been gotten rid of once and for all. This ‘business’ – i.e. the supposedly important stuff we get on with when the basic structure of existence has been nailed down with six-inch nails and made absolutely unquestionable – is nothing strange, its just the stuff that we all do pretty much every day of our lives…
‘Maximum ontological security’ is great in one respect, therefore, but it is not so great in another respect. The fixed building blocks of reality (the ‘known units’ out of which we construct our daily experiences) are very secure indeed but the way they get to be so secure is because we have taken every last bit of freedom, every last bit of leeway, out of them. So we are basing everything on a ‘unit’ that has as its defining characteristic the complete and utter lack of freedom. Because everything is founded upon this basis – the basis of zero freedom – it doesn’t matter what we do (or think) in life, it’s all going to partake in exactly the same ‘lack of freedom’. After all, if there’s one thing we really ought to know it’s that freedom cannot arise out of the absence of freedom. It just can’t happen.
This idea is put forward here by Philip K Dick, in this passage taken from his novel Valis –
Two realms there are, upper and lower. The upper, derived from the hyperuniverse 1 or Yang, Form 1of Parmenides, is sentient and volitional. The lower realm, or Yin, Form II of Parmenides, is mechanical, driven by blind, efficient cause, deterministic and without intelligence, since it emanates from a dead source. In ancient times it was termed ‘astral determinism’. We are trapped, by and large, in the lower realm, but are, through the sacraments, by means of the plasmate, extricated. Until astral determinism is broken, we are not even aware of it, so occluded are we. ‘The Empire never ended’.
The Empire that Dick is speaking of here is the Roman Empire, which he uses as a metaphor – a metaphor, we might say, for the ‘Empire of the Literal’, which is the same thing as the Empire of the Rational Mind. The rational mind is an empire because it colonizes the world, and forces it – at the point of a sword – to submit to its own brand of order. In this empire there is peace ‘of a sort’ – but it is the peace of the conquered, the peace of the powerless, the peace of those whose spirit has been broken. Or we could say that it is the peace of those ‘who have not only forgetten that they were once free, but have also forgotten what freedom actually means’.
The rational mind is our way of obtaining a firm grasp on reality, but because that ‘grasp’ is only meaningful or valid with respect to the basis assumed by that mind itself, we unfailingly involve ourselves in a tautology in the process, which means that the gain we think we have made is neatly cancelled out by ‘the loss we cannot see’, which is simply ‘invisible redundancy’, or entropy. Entropy is a way of talking about predictability, and so when the entropy in question is maximized – as it is in the Literal Realm (the Empire of the Rational Mind) – then this means that what we are talking about is a state of being in which there can never be any radical surprises.
In the literal realm, things just don’t have it in them to surprise us – they don’t have it in them to surprise us because we made damn sure to take it out! We made sure to take the surprise factor out; we took the surprise factor out when we defined everything, when we took away that world’s freedom to be any other way than the way we say it is. That is when we murdered reality! The state of ‘maximized entropy’ is therefore a state of being in which there is zero freedom – there is zero freedom (zero leeway) for things to be any other way than the way we already ‘know’ them to be…
James Carse speaks of the situation where the entropy of the system has been maximized (which we have called ‘the Realm of Literality’) as being ‘a state of unrelieved theatricality’, which is where everything is done for effect, with no regard to any other consideration. In the state of unrelieved theatricality it is not what something is that matters, but how it appears. To live in a state of unrelieved theatrical is therefore to live entirely for show, entirely for appearances. We can reformulate this in terms of the Principle of Simulation by saying that in the realm of literality it is not what a thing is in itself that matters, but how it is described, or defined.
The truth of the matter is however that it is actually completely impossible to live in the state of unrelieved theatricality, to live in a state of ‘zero freedom’, to live in an abstract world of definite or literal descriptions. This just cannot be done – it’s a complete ‘non-starter’.
Why this should be so is clear enough intuitively – it is not hard to intuitively sense that living entirely in a world made up entirely of one’s own descriptions, without any mention of the actuality of what is going on, is not going to work. This entails, after all, being not only excruciatingly over-extended, but being excruciating over-extended and also – if that were not enough – completely getting rid of one’s source, one’s point of origin into the bargain. This is like sitting on a branch of a tree whilst sawing off that very same branch with a chainsaw, under the extraordinary delusion that not only does the tree itself not matter, but that it doesn’t even exist…
From a more explicit, intellectual point of view we can say that it is impossible to actually live in the abstract realm of formal descriptions because this world does not have within it the possibility of any genuine form of change, or movement. This is – therefore – one way of talking about the ‘essential deprivation’ spoken of by Wei Wu Wei. All formal descriptions are necessarily static in nature – if they were not static in nature then they would immediately proceed to ‘escape from themselves’, they would immediately proceed to slip away from their safe moorings and drift away into the uncharted ocean of radical uncertainty, in which case the so-called formal or definite descriptions would not be descriptions at all. A definition that fails to define (i.e. that fails to exclusively describe whatever it is supposed to be describing) is a pretty poor excuse for a definition, after all. Definitions (or literal descriptions) are in essence RULES and the whole point about rules is that they contain zero leeway, zero ‘give’, zero flexibility. If a rule says something (as it obviously must if it is to be a rule!) then it means exactly what it says it means and nothing else.
What this means then – at the risk of labouring the point – is that within a system that is based on rules (or ‘literal descriptors’) there can be no possibility of uncontrolled change, no possibility of fluid, unregulated movement. In order for there to be change (which is like a fresh breeze blowing onto one’s face from an open window) there has to be the actual undefined reality; there has to be the actual ‘genuine article’, reality as it is in itself. This is of course the meaning of Chapter 11 of the Tao Te Ching (translation by Ursula Leguin) which states –
Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the centre hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes that make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.
If we say therefore that the spokes are the literal conceptions, the formal descriptions, the products of the thinking mind, then the ‘central hub’ – upon which everything turns – is the actual non-literal reality, which cannot be pointed at, and which in ancient Chinese philosophy is called the Tao. So when we attempt to say – as we do attempt to say – that the positively stated world is ‘the only world there is’, that our concepts and ideas are ‘literally true’, and that they can used therefore to meaningfully encompass the world, then in effect we have come up with the brilliant idea of inventing a wheel with no hub, no fulcrum upon which it can turn. We have hit upon the ingenious idea of a clay vessel with no inside to it, a house with no interiority, and then – having come up with this notion – we proceed to build ourselves this ‘house with no interior space to it’. We then do our level best to shoehorn ourselves into this construct, we endeavour to actually live in it.
This is as we have said a perfect impossibility and so we are forced to come up with a drastic solution – the solution being to live outside of ourselves in the two-dimensional world of our projections. This is – in a rough sort of an analogy – like a man who is too lazy (or too frightened) to leave his cluttered unhygienic living room and who distracts himself from the unholy claustrophobic mess of his squalid living quarters by watching cable TV the whole time…
This is Wei Wu Wei’s ‘outside without an inside’ – only the outside when it comes right down to it faithfully reflects the deficiency of the inside inasmuch as it is purely virtual in nature. Within the literal realm there is never any movement – there is never any possibility of movement – and so whatever it is that arises out of this static, abstract core, the one thing we know for sure is that is can never be true movement, true change. In the absence of freedom in the beginning, there cannot be freedom at the end. So the strategy we use to overcome this impossibility is to settle for a static picture of movement, a fixed token of freedom, as actually being ‘the real thing’. This is like the word ‘running’ which stands for running but isn’t the thing itself. This is of course the case for all words, all literal descriptors – all words or descriptions are static or abstract tokens for something which they are not. The word ‘running’ does not run, it stays still; it remains forever rooted in the one spot, as all words do!
The underlying immobility, therefore, cannot give rise to anything other than itself, even if it is projected outwards onto the screen of the theatrical world, which is the ‘world of outward appearances’. As we have said, if the thing is immobile to start off with, it will be every bit as immobile further on down the line. There is however a type of movement (a variety of change which is not really change) that takes place in the world of our projections, and this is the type of movement that seems to be getting somewhere from within the limited framework of the polar realm, but which never actually leaves the framework that we are using as our point of reference, our base-line.
This is the movement of approaching and receding, waxing and waning, coming and going. From the point of view that we’re looking at things from, we are getting closer to something real, which means that the movement itself is real. We are either getting closer to winning, catching up with the goal, or we are receding from winning, getting further away from attaining the goal. In the first case we feel good, in the second we feel bad! In reality, however, both ‘getting closer’ and ‘getting further away’ are the same thing, ‘approaching’ and ‘receding’ are the same thing, ‘waxing’ and ‘waning’ are the same thing. It’s all the same unbroken movement – it’s all the one same circular movement with ‘winning’ at one pole and ‘losing’ at the other.
Both YES and NO, ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ are literalisms belonging to the system of thought and so just as long as we are equally fascinated, equally hypnotized, by the prospect of ‘obtaining the one and avoiding the other’ we are glued onto the continuum of thought as if by superglue – we are stuck fast like flies on flypaper and so there is no way we are actually going to get anywhere. Taking literal concepts ‘at face-value’ means that I am maximally adapted to the system of thought and so just as long as I do take literalisms at face value – which is to say, as long as I remain psychologically unconscious – I’m not going anywhere. The only way I could be getting somewhere (in a real rather than a virtual sense) would be if I start using descriptors in a metaphorical rather than a literal way. This would mean diverging from the system of thought rather than according to it – it would mean moving out of the immense gravitation pull of the ‘world of literal descriptions’ into free space, which is where things are allowed to be what they actually are.
The ‘circling’ that we are talking about here – the ceaseless repetitive orbiting around a fixed point – is really nothing more than an infinite regress, and an infinite regress is always a demonstration of impossibility, the impossibility in question here being the impossibility of either catching up with my positive projections or outrunning my negative ones. This impossibility is very easy indeed to see when we have a bit of perspective – I can’t either catch up with or run away from my projections because my projections are myself! From within the closed context of the game however the impossibility is quite invisible to me and so I keep running frantically around on the samsaric hamster wheel until I have no more strength to run…
Borrowing Philip K Dick’s terminology from the quotation given earlier, we can say that since the starting-off position or origin of the activity that takes place in the literal realm, the realm of outward appearances (which is PKD’s ‘lower realm’) is ‘dead’, ‘non-sentient’ and ‘mechanical’, this will also be the nature of the activity (i.e. ‘the theatrical pseudo-life’) that it gives rise to. The activity, the ‘pseudo-life’ which proceeds to unfold when we take our projections seriously, at face value, will just be a disguised form or manifestation of the ‘dead source’ (whatever that is).
We can go on to say that the ‘dead source’ of which Philip K Dick speaks is our conditioning, which is to say, the various pointless automatisms that operate by mechanically express themselves through us, creating a type of a parody or mockery of life as they do so. This is the same as saying that the essential nature of the dead, mechanical source which drives us in the lower or deterministic realm, is THE RULE, which knows only the logic of continually asserting itself, continually extending itself, continually perpetuating itself, continually replicating itself.
We could also say that what deterministically drives us when we are in the lower realm is the self. The self – when it comes down to it – is a rule – it behaves like a rule and it functions like a rule. When I do what I want to do, this is the rule asserting itself. When I secure the results that I want to secure, then this is the rule extending itself. When I stick stubbornly with my own ways, my own opinions, my familiar routines and habits, then this is the rule perpetuating itself. When I pass on to others my beliefs and value-systems, then this is the rule replicating itself.
The rule – as we have already said – knows only the viral logic of asserting itself and denying all else; this is all that is required of a rule in order that it might be a rule. This is all that there is to a rule, and similarly, this is all there is to the self. All that is required for the self to be a self is that is should be continually seeking for its own advantage, under all circumstances, and that in ‘seeking its own advantage’ nothing else shall matter to it. This is not particularly hard to understand since we all understand the concept of ‘selfishness’ – what is hard for us to understand, however, is that selfishness (albeit in many disguised forms) is the only form of motivation that exists in the unconscious modality of life, which is pretty much the only type of life we know. Or to put this another way – being what we normally call ‘selfish’ and being ‘mechanically (or deterministically) driven’ are one and the same thing.
The everyday self has only the one type of motivation and that is the motivation that comes from outside of it, ‘motivation’ that operates on it from factors that are external to it. This ‘extrinsic’ form of motivation is also known as attachment – which is where we either try to grab hold of what we feel attraction to or avoid what we feel aversion to. Either I try to obtain a outcome I like or run away from an outcome I don’t like – either I operate on the basis of desire or I operate on the basis of fear.
This is not life however – this is pseudolife, this is a ridiculously oversimplified version of life! The graceless jerky mechanical puppet-dance that results from being continually deterministically driven to be attracted to some things and averse to others is far too banal, far too sterile, far too predictable to be called ‘life’, and yet it is generally the only life we know. We are given to understand that there is a lot more to it that just YES and NO, like and dislike, want and don’t want but in unconscious living all our dramas come down to just this one, over-riding, super-predictable motive-force. It all comes down to the question of whether my conditioned needs are met or not, whether my pre-programmed wants (or dependencies) are successfully ‘acted-out’ or not…
When my wants are fulfilled then the rule (the pattern) has successfully stated itself, extended itself, replicated itself, perpetuated itself, etc. When this happens then we might say that the established static pattern of being has managed to conquer everything around it – it has managed to ‘subsume the world’, in effect. When the established pattern has subsumed everything then it is everything (or everything is it) and so there is nothing that is not the pattern. But when everything is the established pattern (i.e. when ‘everything obeys the rule’) then everything has become a tautology, everything has become a nullity.
The perennial, the perpetual aim of the system – even if it is an aim which it itself is quite incapable of understanding – is therefore to engulf or subsume the whole world so that the whole world becomes itself. The perpetual aim of the established pattern, the system is thus to transform everything into an empty fiction, a blank nullity. This tendency can be seen on an individual level, when people attempt to compensate for their ‘inner nullity’ by controlling in a tyrannical fashion the lives of everyone around them, and imposing their own dead pattern of thinking upon them, and it can be seen on the scale of social groups, where an established pattern of seeing things and doing things keeps on expanding and expanding, continually consolidating and entrenching itself, and pointlessly perpetuating itself through the lives of all the people in that social group. The pattern itself is quintessentially ‘a dead thing’ – it is a dead thing precisely because it is a static or fixed pattern, and the only way that it can validate itself is to be utterly intolerant of all competing patterns, all other ways of looking at things and doing things, and build thereby an unrivalled (but hollow) ‘Empire of Itself’.
Thus, the dead mechanical ‘self’ (or ‘literal identity’) continually has to promote itself, and eradicate any other interests, simply because this pointless viral expansionism is the only way in which it can offset its own nonentity. The only way it can promote itself is to ‘take out the opposition’ even though the opposition is reality itself (which is another way of saying that in order to promote and perpetuate itself it has to nullify the whole of reality, and thus make the whole world just an extension of itself). The mechanical or literal self does not see it this way however – it represents both itself and its goals in a very different light.
On a largely unacknowledged level ‘winning’ is of course all about its own glorification, its own exaltation. But blatant self-glorification is too ugly, too hideously sterile a sort of a thing for even the mechanical self to countenance, so it exalts and glorifies itself by proxy, by continually and remorselessly validating its own literal concepts, its own literal constructs, and confusing them thereby with the actual reality. So by praising and supporting what it sees as right and true in the world, the mechanical self is covertly praising and supporting itself…
The ‘self’ we are talking about here isn’t our idea of who we are, it isn’t the persona or self-image but what lies behind this theatrical identity – it’s the puppet master not the puppet we are talking about here! We could say that the puppet master – the one who pulls the strings – is rationality, or what David Bohm calls the system of thought. This is undeniably true in that the rational mind (which is our literal picture of the world) governs how we see ourselves and the world, and thus it absolutely controls the possibilities or options that we see as being open to us. The possibilities or options that are ‘open to us’ in the mind-created world are the mind-created world, are the System of Thought, so there are certainly no doorways to freedom here! There are no literal paths to freedom…
The system of thought – we might say – has only the one aim and that is to represent everything in its terms. The System of Thought – pretty obviously – seeks to rationalize everything, to make everything rational. This is what it does, this is its modus operandi. The rational mind seeks a rational explanation for the world and everything in it and that is all that it seeks. It is a machine for rationally explaining things and this is precisely what it does, just as a lawn mower mows the lawn and a coffee maker makes coffee. Because we don’t see thought as a tool (or as a machine) we fall victim to it and foolishly let it explain the Whole of Everything to us, including our own identity and motives. What happens then is that everything gets subsumed in the System of Thought – the entire universe gets simulated by this logical system and so then we end up thinking that this simulation is the universe itself. How would we know otherwise when all sense of perspective has been taken away?
We could also say that the ‘puppet master’, the force behind the puppet-show, the ‘string-puller’, is the one known variously as Mara, Lord of Illusion; Ahriman the Deceiver; Shaitan the Whisperer; Satan the Father of Lies; Yaldaboath or the Demiurge, Samael the blind god…
All of these names are not to be taken literally, however – otherwise we will fall straight into the power of the one we are struggling against, the one we are supposedly trying to free ourselves from.
This is the secret power of the Adversary – that the more we fight him, the stronger he becomes.
We become what we oppose, we become what we resist, and since literalism is in its essence simply resistance, by seeing the Ancient ‘Adversary of The Light’ in literal terms we immediately fall prey to him.
When we think that there literally is ‘a deceiver’ and ‘one who is deceived’ then we are straightaway deceived…