The self operates by asserting the definite, by asserting the known. This constitutes the entirety of its ‘modus operandi’. Just to say this is not enough, however; we also have to point out, and emphasise as much as we can, that in reality itself nothing is known, nothing is definite. The modus operandi of the self is flies in the face of what is actually true, therefore! The self functions by ‘denying what is true’ and ‘shamelessly asserting what is not true’ and this is one hell of a ‘modus operandi’ therefore! In one way we might say that it requires an awful lot of audacity to be operating in this way; in another way however this isn’t quite the right word since the self actually believes in its own untrue assertions – it is audacious but it doesn’t know that it is. A much better word for the self would be ‘brash,’ – the self is by its very nature brash. It is unaware of itself and what it is doing; it is sublimely unconscious of its own modus operandi and so it is brash rather than audacious.
The self is – we might say – riding high on the wave of its own unconsciousness, riding high on the wave of its own ‘not knowing what it is doing’. The self is like the Silver Surfer – it is a cartoon character, a preposterous ‘hero in its own imagination’. Far from recognising how much it is going out on a limb by absurdly asserting its own concrete existence in the way that it constantly does, it takes this supremely audacious act of its completely totally for granted. The self-construct thinks nothing of what it does; it asserts its own concrete existence in a completely habitual or unconscious fashion. As we have just said, it is only because the self is unconscious in this way that it is able to continue with what it is doing – if it actually took an interest (any interest at all) in what it is doing (which is to say, in its own modus operandi’) then the whole endeavour would fall to pieces very rapidly. Our confidence in the reality of our own conditioned existence rests entirely upon our obliviousness as regards what is actually going on there.
This is why the whole question of therapy (or what we call therapy) is so fascinating. When the hollow identity which is our purposeful-rational existence is solely based upon loses confidence in itself – in a way that it can’t ‘bounce back’ from immediately – then we understandably perceive a need for psychological therapy of some sort. The purposeful self (the ‘me-construct’) needs to be ‘fixed up’ in some way; its concrete confidence in itself needs to be re-booted in some way. The way to do this is not cultivating any kind of self-awareness however since this would have quite the reverse effect to the one we want, and although we at no time acknowledge this (how could we acknowledge that the ongoing health of the me-construct depends upon our continued unconsciousness?) we are certainly in no hurry at all to encourage awareness in any way. Instead, all our attention, all our effort, goes into ‘fixing -type’ activities.
As a culture, we are all about the ‘doing’ and not at all about being reflective about what we are doing or why. Reflecting on these questions is not going to help the concrete identity any since – as we keep saying – this identity operates not by questioning yourself, or by ‘looking at itself’, but by unreflectively asserting itself. Unreflective self-assertion is the magic formula by which we are able to continue with this type of existence, this type of ‘ego-based’ rational-purposeful existence. We are a brash, unreflective culture because – as a culture – what really matters to us is the ongoing celebration of the concrete (or hollow) identity. Society is a life-support machine for the concrete sense of self, in other words…
This explains the astonishing ‘crudity’ of our psychological therapies. The crudest psychological therapy of all – perhaps – is what is called ‘positive self-affirmation’. Positive affirmations illustrate the hollow nature of our culture (and the hollow nature of our approaches to mental health) perfectly – we assert the existence (and ‘worthwhileness’) of who we are not. Moreover, we assert the existence of ‘who we are not’ despite the deep-down awareness that we have that what we are asserting is a lie. We are in denial of our own awareness, in other words; we’re struggling heroically – if misguidedly – to keep a lid on it! The underlying belief is that if we make a statement emphatically enough, confidently enough, positively enough, then what we say is true actually will become true, and this is really a type of ‘magical thinking’. Another example of this type of thing would be where we put our best face on, so to speak, and hope that just because we are acting as if we are feeling OK, this will have the effect of making us OK in reality. The pretence will become real if we pretend hard enough, in other words, so the onus is on us. An expression that is sometimes used in mental health circles is ‘action precedes motivation’, which means that even if we don’t feel like doing something if we force ourselves to do it before very long the motivation we desire will come on line. In short, this approach assumes that the thinking mind can manipulate the psyche to provide the motivation that it has withdrawn from us. We imagine that we can ‘force’ our own motivation.
Our ‘subtler’ psychological therapies (supposedly subtler), such as CBT or DBT or ACT (or whatever acronym), also come down to ‘forcing’ the psyche to play ball. The rational ego is attempting to play top dog, as usual. We might think that ‘forcing’ is too strong a word to be using here but when it comes down to it there are only ever two possibilities – either we allow the psyche to do whatever it ‘wants’ to do, no matter how painful or uncomfortable this might be, or we try to get it to behave as we see fit. We wouldn’t put it like this because we wouldn’t see things in terms of us exerting (or trying to exert) our will but in terms of correcting matters, which is to say, in terms of ‘us trying to return things to the way they are supposed to be’. The flaw in our (implicit) argument is of course that we are trying to ‘correct’ matters in accordance with how we think they should be, which comes down to us asserting our will. In short, whether we bluntly assert ‘how we should be’ (or ‘how we should feel’) or whether we try to bring about the desired outcome via some sort of logical methodology, it comes down to the very same thing, which is control.
So we could say that the self operates by ‘asserting the definite’, or by ‘asserting the known’, or we could say that it operates by control – it’s all the one. We can easily see that there is always this tendency (or more than a tendency) for us to come out with definite points of view, definite opinions (and there is of course no such thing as a point of view or opinion that is not definite). We don’t do this because we have ‘an interest in what’s true’ – even though this is very much what we take to be the case, very much what we would claim to be the case – but because we like asserting definite viewpoints, definite opinions, definite beliefs. We are in fact addicted to coming out with our opinions and beliefs about this, that and the other. That is our drug, that is our heroin. Of course we see ourselves as heroically promoting the truth and struggling against all those evil forces which would deny the truth (seeing things like this suits us very well indeed, thank you) but all we are really doing is ‘servicing our addiction and justifying ourselves at the same time’, and that isn’t actually so heroic after all.
The reason it feels good for us to come out with our opinions and beliefs the whole time (and striving to control the world/other people on this basis) is, as we have said, because this is how the ego-construct creates and perpetuates itself, no matter how peculiar this might sound. When we look around us all we see is people frantically asserting this and that, and then fighting about what they are arbitrarily asserting, for all the world as if they had succumbed to some strange fever or affliction. When we get a bit wiser in the ways of the world then we see that society (when it comes down to it) is all just ‘one big game of control’. This ‘controlling’ is the madness that we are heir to. The activity of ‘asserting beliefs’ camouflages itself by claiming to be about the truth, which it is not. Controlling justifies itself – when it feels that it needs to – by saying that it’s ‘for the greater good’. None of this is true however – all that’s going on here is that the illusion is striving – as ever – to perpetuate itself. The ‘me-construct’ wants to keep on surfing forever…