The Devices By Which We Are Ruled
Our basic sense of security in the world comes from the formula ‘If I do X then Y will happen’ and this — of course — equals control. If we control successfully then this gives rise to euphoria (which is the good feeling that I get when I obtain a sense of security about my situation in the world), and when we don’t control successfully that results in the sting of dysphoria. We love euphoria just as much as we hate dysphoria.
This is the whole of human life right there! This is the whole of human mechanical life, at any rate! It’s the whole of our life that is spent in seeking ontological security, which is a very large part… It doesn’t sound like this would be interesting enough to make up a whole world, whole way of life, a whole modality of being, but it is. The best thing in the whole wide world (as far as we are concerned) is ‘success in controlling’ but what does this really mean? What are we actually doing when we ‘control successfully’? On the surface of things control appears to be wholly beneficial to us, it appears to serve us well, but when we look into it more deeply we see that this is far from being the case.
The need to control keeps us in a trap. The formula says — ‘A bad thing is going to happen unless we do X, Y and Z’. So we do X, Y and Z but what we don’t realise that it is being obliged to complete this protocol that is the bad thing! The obligation to complete the protocol is ‘a bad thing’ because we have lost freedom without realizing it — we think that we’re using the protocol to benefit ourselves but really it is the protocol that has the upper hand. The protocol has the upper hand because we are obliged to use it — we serve it rather than vice versa.
This is an interesting irony therefore. The only reason we are doing X, Y and Z is because we are afraid that the bad thing is going to happen if we don’t and yet the only ‘bad thing’ here (when we’re talking in psychological terms) is the bad thing of being compelled to do X, Y over and over again when we don’t really want to. We aren’t enacting the protocol for its own sake after all but only because we think that this is the only way we can obtain the result that we want. It’s a ‘means to an end’ and so we are a ‘slave to that means’. We are being ‘controlled by that means’, we have created a fine healthy dependency for ourselves. There actually never was ‘a bad thing’ — that was just a gimmick that the thinking mind uses to us to buy into its procedures. Our mental evaluations necessitate control — thought flashes labels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ at us and so we are obliged to buy into its bureaucracy. These evaluations leave us no choice!
This gimmick works the other way round as well. The message could be — ‘The good thing is going to happen if you do X, Y, and Z.’ In this case we still don’t want to enact a routine for its own sake; we still don’t actuallywant to do X, Y, and Z but we do so all the same because we think that the good thing will happen if we do. This is the very same gimmick that we started out talking about of course, only now it’s been flipped around. In the first case it was a bare-faced lie that the bad thing was about to happen, and in the second case it was a lie that the good thing is going to happen! These are both devices.
Whether it’s a threat that we are looking at or a promise it’s the same thing — it’s control, it’s manipulation. There never was any bad thing in the first case so we never had to enact the procedure at all; in the second case the lie has been ‘turned around’, so to speak — the good thing was already there and so there was absolutely no need to engage in some kind of methodology to cause it to happen. We have been wrong-footed both ways, therefore.
We have been wrong-footed in the first instance because the bad outcome is happening to us precisely because we allowed ourselves to be manipulated by our fear of it (and not for any other reason) and we’ve been wrong-footed in the second case because by being manipulated into instigating the procedure we have blocked the good thing from happening; we have blocked the good thing from happening since the truth of the matter is that the ‘benefit’ or ‘blessing’ was being provided anyway until we ourselves started to interfere with it. We spoiled things by trying to get something to happen that was already going to happen!
So — in short — there never was a bad thing that going to happen to us but we brought it onto our own heads by trying to avoid it (because our fear triggered us into unwisely interfering) and there never was a danger of the good thing not happening but by trying to secure it or ensure that it does happens we made it not happen. We have messed up both ways. This principle is far more significant than it might at first sound — the ‘routine’ or ‘methodology’ that we’re talking about (the X, Y, and Z) is the type of life that is prescribed by the thinking mind. It is ‘the rational/purposeful life’ that we are all engaging in on a more or less permanent basis. By leading the purposeful (or ‘managed’) life we will definitely obtain the good thing, thought tells us; by controlling carefully we will avoid all the pitfalls, all the bad outcomes. Because we believe this (and it certainly does sound plausible enough from the viewpoint of our habitual way of looking at things) we buy into a way of life that is based on nationality/purposefulness, a way of life that is governed by thought. That is why we have put thought in charge of everything in the way that we have — because it seems like ‘a good idea’, because it seems to us like a ‘prudent measure’. We’re ‘safeguarding’ ourselves in this way, we’re ‘avoiding risk’…
Leading the rational/purposeful life is itself ‘the bad thing’ however. We can say that it is ‘a bad thing’ because when we are in this mind-moderated modality we are inevitably living in order to win life, rather than simply living (in a spontaneous or non-goal-driven way). We are constantly trying to obtain life, and this means that we are constantly in a state of ‘waiting for life’. We are existing in the state of mind-created anticipation, either with regard to a projected positive or a projected negative outcome. The rational–purposeful life is made up of either positive or negative anticipation; that’s all that’s in it, all that ever could be in it. Because we’re orientated in this way — towards our mental representations or evaluations of life — we are ‘playing to live rather than living to play’, to paraphrase James Carse. When we’re living under the grim governance of thought then we’ve ‘got everything backwards’; by pretending that it can ‘lead us to life’ the thinking mind suckers us into playing by its rules, which actually suffocate rather than vivify us. ‘The finite play for life is serious; the infinite play of life is joyous.’ says Carse.
Negative anticipation corresponds to ‘threat’ and positive anticipation corresponds to ‘reward’ and these two together equal what we can call extrinsic motivation, which is the type of motivation that we operate under when we are under the spell of the rational mind. This is very often the only type of motivation we know. We are being ruled by our greed for the reward and by our fear of the punishment and the thing about this — as we have just said — is it neither the promise or the threat is real. They’re not necessary. They are merely ‘the devices by which we are ruled’.
How could the expectations of thought correspond to reality anyway? What does thought know about reality and what could it ever know? Our thoughts represent aspects of the world rather than actually ‘being what they stand for’ and to imagine otherwise is a tremendous mistake! The thinking mind can only ‘know’ those (predetermined) outcomes which correspond to its own categories, its own criteria, its own rules and that is just another way of saying thought can only ‘acknowledge as being true’ that which it itself has already decided to be true. This is a hollow or tautological knowledge therefore, and as such it has nothing whatsoever to do with reality. Thought can never anticipate the real because it has absolutely no way of knowing what it is — the only way we can ‘get real’ about the world is by dropping thought, not via thought!
Because the thinking mind can in no way know reality what it does instead is to create surrogates or analogues for it within its own closed terms. It creates games in other words, it creates ‘circular polar dramas’. In a game (or in a polar drama) there are only ever two things — there is winning and there is losing, there is doing well and there is not doing well. ‘Winning’ in the mind-created polarity is an analogue for gaining reality, just as ‘losing’ signifies failing to do this (or ‘failing to gain life’ if we were to look at things that way, since it is life we are playing for, although we don’t consciously know this).
The irony — which we keep coming back to — is that nothing in the game is reality, nothing in the game is life. The game is only ever the game, after all; a game is a game because it plays at something. It is a game because it plays at not being a game, it is a game because it plays at ‘being real’. There is no way in which playing at ‘being real’ can end up with us being real, just as no amount of lying, no matter how skilful we are at it, can never result in our lies actually being true! There is no way that we can never obtain life by striving for it, no matter how hard we strive to do so, matter how many hoops we jump through! The more we strive to ‘obtain life’ the more life runs away from us, in fact…
This is what the mind-created simulation of life is all about therefore; it is all about striving to obtain (or win) life, it is all about obediently jumping through all the hoops that society (or the thinking mind) provides us with. The more purposeful effort we put into trying to win life the more removed we become from it, and this is the trap thought catches in. Thought traps us in games, and the whole thing about a game is the belief that if we do well at it, if we succeed at it, then we will at last win the prize. There would be no game without this belief! We are incentivised by the threat of not winning, the thought of missing out, just as we are incentivised by the promise of obtain the good outcome’ (by which we mean ‘obtaining life’, as we have said). Just as long as we continue to be incentivised in this way however — just as long as we continue to oblige the thinking mind buy jumping through all of its interminable pointless hoops — life will always continue to elude us.