The Box Is The Rule

Nick Williams
6 min readMar 4


If there is no rule saying that there has to be a rule (as James Carse says), then what this means is that the rule isn’t really ‘a rule’ at all! It’s only pretending to be a rule; it’s only apparently a rule. We are only playing the game that the rule is a rule, which is to say, the rule is only ‘a rule’ because we say it is.

The whole point of a rule is however — as we all know — that it’s not there purely because we say that it is. but that it is there regardless. The whole point of a rule is that it is there regardless of whether we say that it should be or not. The whole point of a rule is that it rules us, in other words, but if the rule can only be there — and act as a rule — if we agree beforehand that it shall, then this isn’t really a case of external authority at all. How can it possibly be a genuine ‘external authority’ if it needs us to agree for it to be there in the first place? We want an external authority (or ‘framework’) to hang everything on, but that doesn’t mean that there really is such a thing. That’s just our insecurity…

Really, there is no rule — that’s just theatre. In reality, there are no such things as ‘rules’ and there never could be. The impossibility of there ever being such a thing as ‘a rule’ is demonstrated by the utter redundancy of everything that comes about as a result of it. Redundancy is evidence that whatever action it is that has taken place on the basis of the rule taken is meaningless and that it is not — therefore — any sort of action at all. The term ‘action’ implies that something has actually happened, it implies that some sort of significant change has taken place — redundancy shows us however that this is not at all the case. Redundancy equals ‘no change masquerading as change’, or ‘stasis masquerading as motion’. Redundancy equals deception.

When we apply a rule to a situation no change comes about as a result, in other words. This time doesn’t tend to make much sense to us because, from our point of view, rules make a very big difference — they make all the difference in the world, in fact! Within the context of the social system we live in (i.e., within the context of the games we play) rules are all-important — they define what is real and what is not real. When we are playing a game and we don’t play by the rules then this is constitutes ‘a disallowed move’; this constitutes ‘an error’, and so within the closed frame of reference that is the game this is a very big deal indeed. In a game the rules are everything and to disobey the rules is to be disqualified entirely. Disobeying the rules isn’t allowed (according to those same rules).

The meaning of game rules (or societal rules) is strictly nominal, however — the rules wouldn’t mean a damn thing if we didn’t agree for them to. Actually — as we have just said — there’s no such thing as ‘a rule’. Reality isn’t defined by rules, it isn’t defined full stop. What is real cannot be defined and what is defined isn’t real. For us, however, it’s the other way around — it’s the other way around because we only believe in what we can define. To define is to take the freedom out of a situation, we might say, and when we take the freedom out of a situation that situation becomes purely abstract, purely formal. In thought’s surrogate version of the world, nothing is real unless it can be put into a predefined box, and so the rule here is that ‘everything has to be in its correct box’. More specifically, we can say that the boxes themselves are the rules.

The box is the rule. The box is the rule because it is itself the definition — ‘box’ equals ‘category’ and the ‘rule’ equals ‘the criterion for inclusion’. The box is only real because the rule says it is, in other words. In the world that thought makes only what is in the box gets to be real and so reality as simulated by thought is entirely made out of boxes with no gaps or spaces between them. Because the boxes aren’t real however (because they are only there because we say they are) this means that the Mind-Created Virtual Reality contains nothing real, even though this is the only world that thought permits us to know about. Rules aren’t real, and when we obey them neither are we. Obeying rules is how we become unreal, therefore.

This brings us back to the statement that we made earlier, which is that any activity or change that takes place on the basis of a rule is quite empty since there is no activity, no change that can ever take place as a result of applying a rule. Everything that conforms to the rule is the rule (because a rule can only ever agree with itself) and so the activity that comes out of the rule being applied is that the rule in question is asserted, over and over again, with no end in sight. The rule is that ‘the rule always has to be obeyed’, but that’s only true when we agree for the rule to be the rule.

The rule is that ‘only the rule is allowed’! The rule is that ‘all errors must be eliminated’ (they must be eliminated because they’re not the rule, they must be eliminated because the rule won’t allow them). This means that a rule always gives rise to a closed world — a rule always gives rise to a closed world because only stuff that has been specified by the rule is allowed in that world. To obey the rule is to live exclusively within a closed world therefore, but the thing about this is that ‘closed worlds’ don’t actually exist. ‘Closed’ doesn’t exist — which is just another way of saying that ‘rules aren’t real’. There is no rule saying that there has to be a rule, and so — by the logic of the rule itself — if there is no rule saying that there has to be a rule then there can’t be a rule (since things can only exist when there is a rule saying that they do, specifying that they do).

The rule doesn’t admit that there is no rule saying there has to be a rule however. On the contrary — it says (or implies) that there is a rule which says there must be a rule. This is circular logic however — only the rule says that there has to be a rule and so this doesn’t prove anything. The rule validates itself, in other words; it validates itself because as sure as hell nothing else will. So once the rule is there it will claim absolute legitimacy, it will claim the right to be there, it will claim that there is an actual rule which grants it legitimacy, whereas the truth of the matter is that the rule only exists because it itself says it does. This is a scam though— self-agreement is a profoundly meaningless act that produces nothing but tautologies. Self-agreement is a machine for producing redundancy. There is a hidden ‘twist’ (or ‘knot’) in our logic, as R.D. Laing has pointed out. It is only when we live exclusively within the closed world that has been created by this ‘self-referential operation’ that thought’s claim to legitimacy seems to be true (and that thought’s ‘abstract boxes’ actually seem to be real).