The Big Fat Skyhook
We look for security in the world. That’s just what we do. This however creates no end of difficulties for us. It creates an impossible situation – it’s not just that the sense of security we seek doesn’t exist, neither do we (at least, not in the way that we imagine ourselves to). How can that which doesn’t exist obtain something else that doesn’t exist? How can something which doesn’t exist hope to obtain psychological security? Clearly this type of project is never going to work out! That which does not exist cannot hope to obtain any validation from the real world, its only possible option is to stick to the artificial world which it itself creates and look for whatever validation it can find there.
When an illusion seeks validation that it exists (or when something that doesn’t exist tries to obtain something else that doesn’t exist) then this is what we could call the Impossible Struggle and the Impossible Struggle is just about all any of us know. This isn’t how we usually understand our lives to be, of course; we certainly don’t see what we’re doing in life as ‘being blindly engaged in an impossible struggle’. We don’t see things this way and, what’s more, we would be absolutely resistant to doing so. Of all the philosophies that exist in the world, the philosophy that says we are all engaged in something called ‘the Impossible Struggle’ (which we’re too blind to see for what it is) is without any doubt always going to be the least popular one.
Most – if not all – the philosophies we encounter in life are positive ones. We like positive philosophies because they talk about the great things that we can attain, if we try hard enough and/or are clever enough. Positive philosophies don’t say that it is necessarily easy to attain whatever the ideal is, but they do say that it is possible. They say that it is both possible and highly desirable and – even more to the point – they say that this is what life is all about. Positive philosophies say that life is a struggle to it attain the important thing and that therefore this is what we should all be doing. There’s no mystery about it, no question about it – it’s just a matter of ‘getting down to the task that lies ahead of us’, it’s just a matter of us keeping our noses to the unquestionable and forever unsatisfied grindstone. Positive philosophies always trap us in polarity.
Just about all of us adhere to some sort of positive philosophy or other, whether we are prepared to admit it or not. We believe that we have to struggle to obtain some sort of goal, and that the attaining of this goal is what life is all about. This formula covers a lot of ground, needless to say – it doesn’t matter whether I’m a typical basic ‘materialist’, striving for success in materialistic-type things, or whether I am a pious Christian striving for my reward in heaven. It is of course exactly the same thing in both cases – there is the goal and there is the struggle to obtain it and although this struggle constitutes a challenge there is always the chance that we can win through. There is always the chance that we can win through and if we do then this will be the best thing in the whole wide world. This is what we get most excited about – chasing this dream.
The key thing about the positive approach in life is that it seems to be the only possible approach – we argue endlessly about what particular positive approach / philosophy is the right one, but we certainly don’t question the basic formula; how could we question it – what else is there, after all? There is only winning or losing in the world and this therefore has to constitute the ultimate judgement of our worth. There is – then – a type of blindness that positive philosophy instils in us when we get caught up in the struggle to resolve polarity and this blindness means that we can’t see how that could be anything else but the struggle. We’re locked into it, in other words; we can’t understand how opting out could ever be anything else but disastrous in the extreme. Our only option is to keep on struggling as hard as ever we can and keep on hoping that it’ll work out for us. To struggle is the only legitimate thing.
What we’re looking for when we buy into the positive approach to life is ontological security – as we’ve already said – and this is why there’s such a big, big problem with it. There’s a big, big problem up with the positive approach because there isn’t any such thing as ontological security and (as we started off by saying) that fact is, on this account, going to create no end of trouble for us. We have made winning at the struggle into ‘the thing to do’, the most important thing in the world, etc., but what we can’t see is that winning secretly represents to us is ‘obtaining this magical thing called ontological security’ – that’s what we’re really after but we can’t let onto ourselves that it is because that would give the game away. That would let the cat out of the bag and no mistake.
Where we to acknowledge that when we strive towards being successful in our struggle what this actually comes down to is ‘us trying to obtain the prize of ontological security’ then this would give the game away because if we have to struggle to achieve OS then this obviously means that we don’t already have it, and if we’re starting off from the position where we don’t have any OS, how is it ever going to be the case that we’re going to achieve it? This is like saying, as Krishnamurti does, that if we don’t start off with freedom then there’s absolutely no way that we can end up with it, no matter what rigours we put ourselves through. The only reason we’re looking for security is because we are insecure – it wouldn’t occur to us to make a big project of it otherwise, obviously. But if ontological or psychological security isn’t there in the first place then there is no way that we can invent it. We get around this by focusing our efforts on the token for ontological security, which we call ‘winning’ or’ success’, or possibly ‘salvation’ if we are coming at it from a more traditionally religious point of view.
Whichever way we come at it, whatever type of language we might want to use, it always resolves down to the very same formula, as we keep saying. The formula is that if we strive hard enough we can win the prize, however we might understand that prize. It doesn’t matter how we understand it because the bottom line is that whatever form it might take the prize is ‘the greatest thing ever’ and to not achieve it is an unthinkable disaster. ‘Failure is not an option’, as we say. This is an awful lot of hype and an awful lot of pressure, and it is all directed towards the pursuit of something that simply doesn’t exist and never could. How – we might ask – is this a good idea? We are locked into an impossible struggle and at the same time we are in total denial about the fact that it is impossible. We’re trying to beat polarity at its own game and that’s never going to happen.
The question is, what is this until logical or psychological security that is so impossible to attain and which we absolutely refuse to ever see the truth about? What is it that doesn’t exist but which we insist on believing in? This again is something that we find it very hard to see – if someone were to ask us what having a sense of psychological security is all about we would probably reply that it is to do with having a certain basic predictability in our environment, that it has to do with our situation being regulated, or with us having the perception that ‘things are under control’. Whilst this definition of psychological security is true in one way it’s not really expressing things correctly. It’s looking at things backwards – if I say psychological security has to do with having predictability in my environment then I’m actually missing the point – what creates this sense of psychological security is me having my assumptions confirmed, me having my assumptions reflected back at me as being ‘right’.
Superficially, this might seem to be a reasonable enough requirement of ours since (we might say) we all need to be orientated towards a definite view of reality. We all need confirmation from the world around us that our way of seeing things is the right way. However reasonable this might sound however there is nevertheless a problem (as we have said) and the problem is that no positive or objectively true external reality exists out there for us to correctly orientate ourselves to. We’ve nothing to get feedback from. We would like it to be the case that there was something to get feedback from but there isn’t! Since it isn’t the case that such a thing as a positive or objectively true picture of the world exists, it is also not the case that there could be any such thing as ‘a correct assumption regarding what that objective reality might consist of’!
There are no ‘right assumptions’ therefore and because obtaining a sense of psychological security means having our assumptions validated as being the right ones we are in a very tricky situation, to see the least. We’re hanging everything on a big fat Skyhook, a hook that doesn’t exist, and this isn’t going to work out very well for us. Psychological security isn’t to do with the environment we find ourselves in – no amount of controlling can ever help us in this regard and – in any event – it’s not really our surroundings that we’re interested in. What we’re looking for is confirmation that not just our assumptions about the world are true but – more importantly – that this is the case with regard to our assumptions about ourselves! The Number 1 Assumption I make about myself is that I exist as a separate, authentic, and distinct entity and I don’t. The sense of security I seek is the security of finding proof that I exist as a separate distinct entity (as ‘the Extrinsic Self, in other words) and this is the Impossible Struggle. My absolutely solid denial that the problem I’m fixated upon is actually insoluble is what allows me to believe in myself as ‘a going concern’.