The ‘Zero-Risk’ Environment
The reality our thought shows us is a very two-dimensional one, it is ‘tinny’ like cheap cutlery and completely lacking in depth, and yet – astonishingly, amazingly – it passes itself off as being perfectly above-board, perfectly legitimate. The reality our thoughts show us works perfectly well – we certainly never seem to stop to question it as we go about our daily business. ‘Questioning our reality’ isn’t really our thing; if anything, we tend to laugh at people who show a tendency to do this. It sounds a bit too much like self-doubt to us and self-doubt is something none of us want to flirt with. If we doubt ourselves then others will too and so that’s our credibility gone, and in a culture that is based on superficial self-confidence this signals our social death, so to speak. There is an army of motivational speakers and life coaches out there who are super-keen to tell us how important confidence is, and how everything else follows on from this, but never is anything said with regard to what this confidence is based on. It’s as if that doesn’t actually matter!
We won’t actually say it, but it doesn’t matter if our glorious confidence is based on a very superficial understanding of life – naturally we aren’t going to say that – but this is nevertheless our position. This is precisely our position; it’s just that we’re sneaky and won’t admit it. If we did allow ourselves to become aware of this then our precious self-confidence – which we are trading on so heavily – would evaporate like the morning mist on a hot summer’s day. Why are we so insistent that our collective way of understanding things is ‘superficial’ however? This would seem on the face of it to be a rather contentious and unwarranted assertion. There’s nothing contentious or unwarranted at all in saying this however – all understanding is superficial, all understanding is only skin deep. When we say that we have ‘an understanding of the world’ what we really mean is that we have a description or theory of it that we have opted to buy into, that we have opted to take seriously. When we feel that we understand ‘what it’s about’ this is no more than a game that we’re playing, therefore. It’s a game because there’s nothing real about it, it’s a game because we get to feel that we understand what’s going on via the strategy of assuming that our description of theory of the world is the same thing as the world and then proceeding on this basis. That is our trick for generating confidence and there’s nothing honest about this at all.
It’s not easy for us to appreciate why our understanding is always going to be superficial and this difficulty derives from the blind-spot that we have in relation to what we might call Fundamental Uncertainty. FU means that order is secondary and ‘chaos’ primary, which is the reverse of how we always see things. It is also something that we just can’t (or won’t) get our heads around – we have deep-seated aversion to seeing that uncertainty is primary that goes back at least as far as the ancient Greek thinkers, according to Rudy Rucker. If uncertainty comes before everything else then this perfectly inverts our world-view – it pulls the rug out from under us in a big way, therefore. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is (we might say) a specific example of much broader grander principle – a principle that no one ever (including no doubt more than just a few physicists) wants to take onboard. If uncertainty ‘underpins’ everything then this calls into question everything we think we know. We are – for the most part – convinced that it is possible to exhaustively describe the world in which we live and this belief is entirely illusory. This prized belief of ours has no basis at all, and – what’s more – neither does any other belief we might hold…
What we’re talking about here is ‘lazy thinking that we have invested heavily in’. We’re all guilty of this type of entrenched lazy thinking – we’re assuming that our ideas about the world legitimately corresponds to that world and this – as we have just said – provides us with the confidence to engage in the purposeful activities which we customarily regard as being so important. If we weren’t so lazy in our way of relating to things then we would immediately see that there is more to life than our thinking would lead us to believe; we would immediately see that there is more to the world than is indicated by our philosophers, as Shakespeare says. There has – after all – never been a person who has taken the trouble to actually look into any aspect of the world who hasn’t discovered reality to be a far deeper affair than our customary descriptions and explanations would lead us to believe. This is bad news for the conservative and the neophobic, but the best possible news for those who find the radically new stimulating, exciting and liberating.
Expansion of our consciousness takes place when we take a genuine interest in our situation, we could say, which would be a perfectly natural thing for us to do were we not in the grip of fear. When we’re operating on the basis of fear then it doesn’t make any sense for us to take a genuine interest in anything because if we did then who’s to say what we might discover? All bets are off. We might after all discover to be true that the very thing that we are subconsciously afraid of discovering to be true, and we can’t allow ourselves to risk that. When we’re in the grip of fear then we can’t allow ourselves to risk anything. What we’re looking for then is a special ‘zero-risk’ type of existence. Instead of being ‘interested in our situation’, so to speak, we become interested in improving it – which is to say, we opt instead to take our situation totally for granted and look for ways in which we can make it more comfortable or more rewarding for us. Instead of expanding our consciousness we go for self-improvement in other words, which is a very different thing – consciousness expansion inevitably results in the loss of the self since when we let go of our old, limited ways of understanding life we are at the very same time letting go of ‘the self we thought we were’. A different view means a different viewpoint. When we’re being conservative in our attitude then our money is not on being curious about things but sticking rigidly to what we think we know and who we think we are even though ‘what we think we know’ isn’t true and ‘who we think we are’ is frankly mistaken.
The type of culture we live in is a deeply conservative one, in the psychological sense that we’re talking about here as well as in the more traditional political sense. Political conservatism is where we put all our effort into the task of maintaining the structures and systems that make up society (or – more essentially – where we maintain and protect the power structure as a whole). Even when we’re right down at the bottom of the power hierarchy (and are in fact being actively oppressed by it) we still show a very strong tendency to support and protect it – we support and protect it because it provides us with stability, because it provides us with a basic predictable set-up that we can comfortably adapt ourselves to. It provides us with what we have called the ‘zero-risk environment’ which we value so much. Psychological conservatism is the very same thing, only instead of maintaining and promoting the structures and systems that make up society we maintain and promote the structures or systems of thought, which essentially comes down to ‘the ego’ and ‘our way of seeing things’ (which equals ‘the ego’). Being exploratory in the psychological sense means therefore that we don’t have this automatic allegiance to the status quo, to the view that the thinking mind is kind enough to provide us with. We don’t have this automatic allegiance and as a result we are free to take an interest in ‘the world as it actually is in itself’ (as opposed to ‘the world as it is said to be by our ideology’). When we are interested in ideology (or in our thoughts) then we’re not interested in reality – it’s as simple as that.
Adapting for the zero-risk version of reality is the very same thing as opting for the second-rate two-dimensional world that is being presented to us by the mechanism of thought. We are putting all our money on the world of our conceptualisations. This is what we might refer to as flatland – it is a world which is like a stage set in that it is ‘all front and no back’, all ‘wrapping and no content’. It is – as we started off this discussion by saying – absolutely astonishing that this could pass muster for any type of authentic reality – for the world that actually does have depth in it, that actually does have a genuine content. What we’re talking about here is the difference between ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ and what bigger difference could there be than this? ‘Open’ contains a lot, obviously enough; ‘Open’ contains everything that there is to contain – it functions by not excluding anything at all. ‘Closed’ on the other hand is closed to everything that hasn’t been specified by the rule, permitted by the criterion. This turns out to be the same as ‘nothing at all’ however since when we specify something what we’re actually doing is ‘pointing at our own descriptions’, ‘pointing at our own system of referents’. There is after all nothing certain or specific in the real world – ‘certain’ or ‘specific’ are functions of our frame of reference and our frame of reference is arbitrary – we make it up ourselves, after all. Stuff is special only if we say it is.
We can’t point at the real world (because the real world doesn’t have anything specified in it) but only at our own definitions – the consequences of pointing (apparently meaningfully) at our own definitions however is that the only type of meaning we can ever come across is tautological meaning (which is to say, ‘meaning that only means something because we say it does’ or ‘meaning that only means something according to its own private terms of reference’). The tautological meaning of our definitions is the only type of meaning we know or believe in therefore and so by being wholly engaged with ‘what doesn’t matter but seems to’ we have become well and truly disconnected from what really matters. This is called ‘playing a game’. We have become blinded by the phenomenon of certainty (so to speak) and having been blinded by certainty we go on to become addicts of it, slaves to it, since ‘the sure and certain’ is the only reality we can relate to, even though what we’re relating to so determinedly isn’t actually there at all.
Just to repeat the point for the twentieth time, in order for us to recognise something as being real (in order for us to recognise it as being anything) we first have to precisely define it; this sounds reasonable enough perhaps when we first hear it but that’s only because we don’t understand clearly enough what this little word ‘define’ actually means – to define something is to cut it out from the greater body and with regard to Reality this just happens to be something that no one can ever do. We can divide flour or sugar into parts for sure, but we can never do the same with ‘the entity of Reality’, if we can get away with using such a clumsy term. Everything that is contains a little bit of everything else that is, says Anaxagoras and if everything contains everything else, how can ‘one thing’ ever be pulled out? How can anything ever be meaningfully ‘defined’? We arbitrarily pull something out of the Undefined Whole and say that it is ‘special’ and then we embark upon a way of life that is predicated upon the fundamentally shaky notion that this ‘special’ really is special, that it really does ‘mean something’. We derive all our self-confidence from this supposition, we derive our sense of identity from it and go on to construct our whole world on this as a basis. ‘Special’ is only special because we say it is, and yet we base our whole lives on it. ‘Special things’ (i.e. elements that have been specified by thought) are all we ever care about and yet there are no ‘special things’…
Image – taken from smudgyguide.net/anaxagoras
You see, why all of this? Why this insouciance, why this inertia, why this ‘lazy thinking that we have invested heavily in’, why this ‘please don’t disturb’ door hanger?
Yesterday afternoon, as I was having a banal conversation with my wife on a topic I simply don’t remember the next morning, she reacted quite strongly to what I was pointing to her; that she doesn’t know what she was talking about as she talks. And so once more she slammed the door at my face. Of course, that is ‘lazy thinking she has invested heavily into.’ What would be the opposite of lazy thinking? Well, profound and rigorous thinking, and as we dig deep enough, we might found out that we know nothing for sure and thus accept our deep ignorance. But there is more to it than just that: PRIDE and humiliation, being primary. We take pride in the simple fact ‘that we know what we are talking about as we talk, leaving very little room for uncertainties. And when someone comes to show you that ‘you actually don’t know what you are talking about as you talk’, something strange happens; we get humiliated, which is to mean that we got caught for showing ourselves for what we are not; we have been seen into, unmask. Humiliation reveals a ‘hiding into’, and there is nothing we dislike more than being unmask. We invest a lot into our masks, and as we do so, we try to maintain those ‘intact’; the zero risk approach. And since we all wear masks, (society as a whole being a masks manufacturer) we even hide to ourselves that we all wear those masks, even though at some level we know that we do. At some level, we know that we do wear those masks, which is to pretend to be what we are not, to pretend to know what we actually don’t know. To be a good player in society, one must wear masks, unless you live like a hermit, this is unavoidable. And as a good citizen, we try the ‘don’t disturb’ approach with whoever we meet with. But with the few one we really love, we can try to ‘lift’ some of those mask away, after all, it seems a good idea to be fully honest with those that we love. To truly love, is to be able to drop our masks away, and that means in part, to be able to expose ourselves for what we truly are; vulnerable. Not all powerful, not this all in control, not this ‘Mr. smart ass’. To expose ourselves as what we are; vulnerable, which does not mean ‘weak’, out of control, but as ‘I truly don’t know what I am talking about as I talk’, I truly have no idea at all of who and what I am as I am. I am without any support, without ‘veils’, just as we are, having nothing to show (or promote) for ourselves and as ourselves. That is pure love, the pure bliss of just being.
When one has abandoned all veils, one has nothing to show as oneself, there is nothing left that could be called oneself. I am just stand there, still, at peace, totally naked without attributes or characteristics.
The point is that we invest a lot in those masks/masquerades; it is a question of making it credible to ‘our’ ‘ignorant’ public. It basically is a game we play with each other; trying to make our stories credible to each other. When we succeed in our effort, we feel as if we are on the top of the world, and when we fail, we feel as if the whole world has turned against us. We must make our masks credible, digestible, and we spend a lot of time and effort in doing so, until a bully comes around and does some damages to this credibility. The danger of not being taken ‘seriously’ anymore and thus having ‘their’ back turned against us constitute a serious threat that we all try to avoid at all cost. Do whatever is necessary, whatever the cost, whatever the effort to maintain a ‘semblance’ of credibility to your mask, in such a way that you will never be who you truly are.