Thought is a salesman wearing a flash shirt and a cheesy smile. Thought is a salesman and what he is trying to sell us is security.
Thought always tries to sell us security – that’s all it ever does, over and over again. Thought keeps on selling and we keep on buying!
There is a problem with this, though. There is when it comes down to it a very big problem with this arrangement and that is that security (which is the product that is being sold) doesn’t exist. We could say therefore that thought isn’t so much ‘a salesman’ as it is a conman.
What thought is busy selling us the whole time simply doesn’t exist. ‘Security’ – in the psychological sense of the word – doesn’t exist. When we say ‘security’ what we mean is ‘absolute validation for the arbitrary position we have taken in life’. As soon as we express it like this we can see where the problem comes from – what we’re (implicitly) asking for is a contradiction in terms.
We don’t of course express what it is we want as clearly as this and so the stark contradiction is never visible to us. The self-contradictory nature of what we are asking for isn’t visible to us and so we keep on asking for it – we keep on asking for it, yearning for it, and yet at the same time we can never have it.
We don’t know that what we are asking for is for our arbitrary position (or standpoint) to be absolutely and unreservedly validated for us by the universe. We don’t – in all honesty – see that this is what we are asking for. We have no understanding at all of what it is we are actually requiring in our automatic desire for ontological security. All we know (and this somewhat dimly) is that we are feeling painfully insecure and we want this painful feeling to go away and leave us in peace.
This requirement of ours for ontological security isn’t something that we have carefully thought out (or even thought out at all) – it’s simply an automatic response to the unsettling feeling that we are dimly or not-so-dimly aware deep down in the core of our being. This uncomfortable or unsettling feeling is niggling away at us, it is gnawing away viciously at our vitals (so to speak) and our way of running away from it is by looking for external validation.
This is of course where thought comes in. thought comes in – as we have said – by offering us this external validation. It offers us ways of getting what we so badly want. This is not to say that thought (or the thinking process) is bad or wrong n any way, simply that it causes no end of suffering and confusion for us when we use it in a way that it was never really ‘supposed’ to be used (so to speak). When we let thought perform a function that it is not legitimately able to perform, then this is when all our troubles begin…
The ‘correct’ usage of thought – so to speak – is when we use it to fix legitimate problems in the external world, the physical world around us. There are of course many times in the day when such ‘legitimate’ problems may arise. What to cook for dinner might be one example; how to find the quickest route from A to B in a city with which we are unfamiliar might be another. Locating my mislaid mobile phone or set of keys is another. All such ‘technical’ matters are legitimate problems for the thinking mind to be solving.
Alongside all these legitimate problems there is however one huge illegitimate problem and this is where all the trouble comes from. The ‘illegitimate problem’ is that we want to fix the world so that it can provide us with the sense of security about things that we so badly want (even if we aren’t necessarily acknowledging that this is the case). The illegitimate problem is the existential pain that we’re in, in other words. We want to find the remedy for the ontological insecurity that we’re experiencing but not admitting to experiencing and this is the illegitimate problem, the problem that isn’t really a ‘problem’ because it can’t ever be fixed. It isn’t a problem at all – it’s simply reality!
Very often when we think we’re trying to fix purely technical issues what we’re unconsciously trying to fix is this underlying ontological insecurity. We may think that the reason we’re trying to attain X, Y or Z is what we say it is, but this is really just a smokescreen. We’re wanting something else really – something that we can’t ever have! When we are trying to solve insoluble problems (that aren’t really problems at all therefore) under the guise of solving regular or legitimate issues then this brings huge stress and anxiety down on our heads and we don’t know why. This is of course what we refer to as ‘neurosis’ or ‘neurotic fixing’.
Our trouble – as we have already suggested – is that we seem to be functionally incapable of seeing the root cause of all of this neurotic suffering. It’s not just that we seem to be functionally incapable in this regard, we actually are incapable. We’re incapable of seeing what the root cause of our insecurity is just as long as we’re operating on the basis of the rational mind. The reason for this is that it is the rational mind (and the fact that we are identified so solidly with its constructs) which is responsible for the insecurity we’re suffering from. The thinking mind is the cause of all the trouble, not the solution!
Why – we might ask – is the thinking mind the cause of our ‘unfixable insecurity’? The very simple answer to this question is that the thinking mind is always ‘insecure’ in itself because it presents a view of the world to us which is very far from being the whole picture whilst at the same time implicitly making the claim that this is view is exclusively (or ‘exhaustively’) true. A false claim is being made therefore and it is naturally quite impossible to make a false claim without on some level being fundamentally insecure about what is being claimed! We may compensate for our insecurity by being aggressively assertive and overtly sure of ourselves but this aggression does not make our insecurity any less!
A classic example of this sort of thing is dogmatism – when I am being dogmatic I am not any the less insecure for being so overtly confident in my assertions. On the contrary, my insecurity is visibly manifesting itself in the form of my aggression, inflexibility and obstinacy, all the characteristics we associate with dogmatism. We could say that our aggression and inflexibility is our way of compensating for our insecurity (and this is of course perfectly true) but it is also true that our aggression, our forcefulness, our rigidity is our insecurity, made plain for everyone to see. To be certain of something is to be insecure!
The self partakes fully in thought’s fundamental insecurity. How can it not when it is a construct of thought? What makes the self the self is the certainty it embodies – the self is ‘this but not that’. ‘This-but-not-that’ is the very essence of what it means to be the self. But if the self is this unyielding dogmatic assertion that I am ‘this but not that’ (as it is) then this straightway makes it heir to a fundamental, irreducible, irresolvable anxiety. The self equals ‘identification with a boundary that doesn’t exist’ (except according to itself) and this means that it is always going to be afflicted with the demon of insecurity, the demon of ‘secretly (or not so secretly) doubting what it itself proclaims so loudly’…
Saying that thought is a salesman is not quite the full story, therefore. Thought is a salesman and it is always trying to sell us little ‘sound-bytes of security’ in this quintessentially uncertain world but it is also the author of this insecurity at the same time. In this, thought is just like Duff Beer in The Simpsons, which is the cure and the cause of our woes at one and the same time. Thought (or rather ‘the unwise use of thought’) creates the problem at the same time as promising to fix it so that the more we depend on thought to shore us up and make us feel (however temporarily) OK, the more prone to anxiety and insecurity we become…
We’re really just going around in circles because if thought (which is fundamentally insecure in itself, as we have argued) is responsible for creating our idea of ourselves, our understanding or ourselves, our reassuringly concrete sense of ourselves, then how can we use thought in order to remedy the insecurity that thought is itself the cause of? We’re using thought to correct the problems that arise from (unwisely) using thought and this is causing us to spin. This spinning is being created by thought, is being aggravated by thought, is being perpetuated by thought, so when the next thought comes along fresh off the assembly line and offers us some kind of plausible ‘quick-fix’, some kind of ‘failsafe remedy’, are we going to believe it?