Stating The Obvious

Nick Williams
5 min readMay 22


The problem with ‘stating the obvious’ is that when we do this we aren’t stating anything. We might think that when we take care to use practical, concrete, down-to-earth language to describe a situation then we’re nailing it, but we’re not. We might think that when we speak in a strictly literal fashion then we’re ‘saying it like it is’, but this is very far indeed from being the case. It’s just not as simple as that even though we — in our charming naivety — are all pretty much convinced that it is.

The consequences of our naivety in this regard is that instead of living in the real world we get imprisoned instead in the spurious world of our own unacknowledged projections. We never go beyond our own thoughts and our thoughts don’t do justice to the reality that lies outside of them. Thought is linear, whilst what is being thought about isn’t, and so it all gets lost in translation. If we get tired of the world, tired of our own mechanical activity within it, then it’s our own crude oversimplified representations of the world that we are getting tired of, that’s all. If I’m bored then it’s myself I am so bored with, nothing else.

To worship our own mental constructs, our own mental productions, is to deny any reality that is subtler than this, and so what is really being denied here is our own true nature. To overvalue rationality is to deny our actual nature and there has never been a time that this has been as much the case as it is now. Rational thought is the supreme principle as far as we’re concerned — if the machinery of thought doesn’t rubber-stamp something as being true (or as being real) then we won’t have any time for it. We take actual pride in this attitude of ours.

Whatever thought describes it always describes in the very same way. We might as well be reading a shopping list, or a list of ingredients on the side of a can of soft drink. Everything is described on the same level, in the same tone of voice (so to speak) and the result of this ‘rational homogenisation’ is that everything becomes rather dull, rather flat, rather tiresome, etc; we can’t generally admit this to ourselves — since to do so would be an act of disloyalty — but we’re all familiar with this dullness, this tiresomeness all the same. Everything thought describes becomes matter-of-fact and unremarkable — the world has been turned into a thing, or into a collection of things, and our relationship with this world of mere things is always going to be a disdainful one. The describer is always disdainful of what is being described, the regulator inevitably looks down upon what is being regulated.

It is hardly contentious to say this — we’re all aware of this principle from personal experience. If we know all about someone (or rather if we think we know all about someone) then we can’t help respecting them less for this. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt,’ as it is said, but the point here is that there’s actually no such thing as ‘familiarity’ (not in the way we understand the term, at any rate). We can only be familiar with what we can know but the problem here is that we can’t know anything real and this means that all of our ‘knowing’ isn’t actually knowing at all. All we can ever know are our own categories, and our categories do not correspond to anything outside of themselves.

Reality can’t be represented in literal terms and so when we do this (as we do all the time) it follows that we are relating to the unreal as if it were ‘the real’. What’s real can’t be represented in a concrete or little literal way without it ceasing to be real — when we ‘re-present’ reality to ourselves then we straightaway lose it. The mode of existence in which we are immersed in the world of our own projections an irritable one — we are irritated by anything that interferes with our arbitrary so-called ‘will’, and we’re also irritated by our own projections for being so obedient, for being so tame. This is the contradiction that is going on within the purposeful self — we are driven to control everything (and we get accordingly nasty if anything threatens to stand in our way) but at the same time we are contemptuous of (and annoyed by) what we have successfully controlled. We are angry when something stops us getting what we want and we’re angry when we get it, which is the ‘self-contradictoriness of finite play’ that James Carse is talking about.

We can see this self-contradiction acting itself out in abusive relationships — the abuser is angry either way, which puts the person being controlled into a double-bind. The abuser isn’t genuinely looking for a solution, they are merely ‘acting out their pain’ and that is that — they have become a demon who cannot be appealed to. The same ‘principle of contradiction’ can be found at the heart of all our purposeful action — because our understanding of things is so crude, because our actions are so ham-fisted, whatever we do is banjaxed before we even start. If I do what is obvious (i.e., if I try to obtain the designated goal) then this action is banjaxed, and if I describe the world to myself in a literal way then it is my so-called understanding that is banjaxed. In the first case I obtain the opposite outcome to the one I wanted whilst in the second case what I understand to be ‘straightforwardly true’ is actually self-contradictory. ‘We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe, we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.’ says Michel de Montaigne.

Very clearly, it isn’t possible for us to either obtain or avoid our own projections! I can’t ‘obtain my projection’ because there’s nothing there to obtain (there’s nothing there because what I take to be ‘something happening’ is actually ‘me doing it’). What saves us from disappearing down the gullet of the Nullity is things not working out for us the way we want them to, therefore (i.e., our redemption lies in the mistakes we make, not in our successes.) Or — approaching this from the other side — we can say that what ‘saves us’ from the horror that we are doing our best to bring down upon our heads are those elements of our experience that don’t fit with our established worldview. What saves us is when the universe fails to play ball with us, in other words. These are the two ways in which salvation reaches out for us, and they are also — of course — the two things that we will fight the hardest against. What we call ‘winning’ is when we’re able to make things be what we want them to be and what ‘saves’ us is the fact that we never can win, not really…