The Generic Life

Society is the Great machine for producing the generic life. It’s not that society doesn’t or couldn’t have any other more practically useful functions aside from this but just that these ‘useful functions’ are completely overshadowed by this unacknowledged negative aspect. In this, the social organization of which we are all a part acts as ‘negative parent’. Just as a negative or toxic parent will – when challenged – point to the nurturing functions which they do provide, such as food, shelter, clothing, protection from external harm and make the indignant claim to be benevolent rather than malign – so too will society reject any accusation that it has failed us, and more than just failing us that it is doing us harm. This argument is easily seen through – suppose that I am a parent who does all of these things (and who even perhaps provides emotional support too) but who nevertheless has an underlying agenda to sabotage the developing autonomy of those under my care. Suppose that I am fostering dependence rather than independence. In this case can it still be said that I am acting as a ‘good parent’? This is of course a purely rhetorical question – we all know that a parent who provides food, clothing and shelter but nothing else is abusive. The rudiments of parenting are there but not the ‘higher functions’, which is something an uncaring robot could perfectly well manage. Physical health – in a very narrow sense – may be being fostered but not emotional or mental health. The trauma that is caused by emotional neglect is tremendous and may take many decades to work through. If the child has been kept dependent and subservient and has thus been prevented from reaching the state of true adult autonomy, this is too is a complete failure of parenting – the children then in this case become nothing more than versions or copies of the dysfunctional parent.

 

So the point we are making is that society is an abusive (or ‘negative’) parent in exactly the same way, no matter what claims it may implicitly make to the contrary. The evidence is all around us! We don’t see this – it is true – but blindness is par for the course. That’s how things work – we don’t know anything different, we don’t have anything else to go on. Society – the common system of relations that we are all part of – is a negative parent, an abusive guardian. ‘Culture isn’t your friend’, as Terence McKenna says. The reason society isn’t our friend is because it doesn’t allow us to grow; it doesn’t do all the really important things that a parent quite naturally does if they really care about the well-being of their children. If you care about your children (rather than just caring about yourself) you will let them go, you will let them evolve beyond you. Society never does this – it would never occur to it to do this. As far as ‘growing as people’ or ‘developing as individuals’, this absolutely isn’t going to happen – we have to copy or mimic the template or else we’re misfits, we have to ‘fit in’ or else we’re ‘weird’. It can’t happen – there is no growth within the generic life. The generic life is the generic life and that is that; the only time growth is going to happen is when we go beyond the limits that have been set for us, not when we stay faithfully within them like a machine that always works the way it is supposed to work. Moving beyond the prescribed way that we have of understanding ourselves is growth but this happens to be the very thing that society doesn’t allow – that is illegal, that is prohibited by the whole weight of society. This is of course how systems get to be systems: by enforcing limits, by treating limits in a very serious way. When we look into it, we can see that systems actually are the limits that they enforce, that they take seriously.

 

Whenever we collectively agree – by whatever process – that this is the way we do things and that this is the way we think about things then we have created a system. We have created a set of limits which we are now taking seriously and this set of limits, this system then acts so as to mould and regulate us. This is what we call ‘society’ – it’s a working template that we set above ourselves. The point here is that this template then develops a ‘life of its own’ – it becomes more important than the human units that make it up and so it prioritizes its well-being and survival over that of the individual lives that make it up. Of course it is more important – the mould is always more important that what is being moulded. Naturally the template tells us what to do – it tells us what to do, we don’t tell it what to do. We can’t play fast and loose with society’s laws, society’s conventions. Even the least of these laws or conventions, if we go against it, will bring huge penalties down on our head. Anyone who has ever had the experience, in any way, of ‘not fitting in’, will know what a tremendous force ‘peer pressure’ is to come up against. This is why we always do conform to conventions in the way that we do – because we know how it works, because we know that there is this tremendous coercive force there and we don’t want to find ourselves on the wrong side of it!

 

What happens when we ‘conform’, when we take seriously the limits that the system takes seriously (i.e. when we allow the system to mould and regulate us in accordance with these limits) is that we become generic. As we started off this discussion by saying, the societal life is the generic life. When we reflect on it, this is so obvious as to be hardly worth saying; it’s ridiculously obvious – it’s like saying that people who are sad are no happy or that people who are under five feet in height tend not to be tall. Yet we need to say it because we never actually think about it; we just don’t appreciate the implications of what we have just said here. The ‘implications’ couldn’t be bigger. The implications here simply couldn’t be overstated:

When we are living what we have called ‘the generic life’ – which is the default setting where everything is running smoothly ‘on automatic’ and nothing has happened to knock us off our pre-established trajectory – then we aren’t living as ourselves but simply as an idea of ourselves (i.e. as a generic idea of ourselves).

This is very easily said and it comes across perhaps as being rather glib, but when we come to grips with this idea and actually appreciate what it means to us then we can see that that it is an enormously disturbing revelation. It’s as if someone stole your life when you were still really young and then lived it instead of you, leaving you sidelined, leaving you marginalized, leaving you quite forgotten about. And not only this, it is also the case that the ‘thief’ who stole our life isn’t actually anybody but is only an idea, only a notion that has been passed on randomly from person to person like a cold, like a dose of the flu in winter.

 

This is what it means to ‘lead the generic life’ – it means to catch a cold! It means to catch cold and never get over it because you immune system has been suppressed. This then is not by any means a small thing; the enormity of what has happened to us can’t be overstated, as we have already argued’. When Jean Baudrillard speaks of ‘The Perfect Crime’ and ‘the murder of the real’ he is essentially speaking of this (although he is coming at it from a different angle). He is talking about the murder of who we really are, which is a job that has been started by our parents and then continued by everyone else we have ever met! Obviously, this is not done with any bad intent (or at least not usually) but it is done all the same. We don’t – as parents – have any choice in this: when we are ‘unconscious’ (i.e. unconscious of who we really are) we can’t help passing on the virus. That’s what we do when we’re unconscious – we act as passive vehicles for the generic impressions or imprints. Being unconscious means that we act as a passive medium or substrate which the ‘generic identity’ utilizes in order to propagate itself; our common understanding of ourselves is as this generic self (which is essentially nothing more than a cultural meme) and so naturally we’re going to see nothing wrong with this state of affairs – that’s why we are ‘passive’ in the process. Far from seeing anything wrong about it we’re going to see the situation in which the false or viral idea of self is maximally facilitated in propagating itself (at the expense of the true or ‘non-generic’ self) as being pre-eminently ‘healthy’ and desirable. We will adopt whatever strategies we can to bring this situation about, and maintain it. This is what we consider to be ‘the state of good mental health’, after all – ‘good mental health’ (to us!) means the continued unchallenged ascendancy of the generic self, the generic identity…

 

Nothing about the generic self is true – it doesn’t exist anymore than ‘an average value’ exists. Averages don’t really exist and yet they may all the same loom large in our minds as something to be aimed at or something to be avoided. We may live our whole life in the service of these ‘averages values’, in one way or another (we’re governed by social constructs, in other words). When we lead the generic life we’re living ‘someone else’s idea of what life is’ and not only this, we’re living ‘someone else’s idea of what life is on the basis of who or what someone else thinks we are (or ought to be)’! It’s no good pretending – as we generally do pretend – that this isn’t what the socially-conditioned life is like, that society (or our peers) are actually encouraging us to be our true authentic unique selves. It would be absurd to believe this. You would have to be asleep and dreaming (you’d have to be asleep and dreaming a socially-conditioned dream) to believe this!  When we say that we’re living ‘someone else’s idea of who we are or what life is’ it’s not really ‘someone else’ of course – we’re simply trying to approximate ourselves as best we can to an abstract idea that doesn’t belong to anyone. The generic ideas own us, we don’t own them! The generic idea owns us, but at the same time it doesn’t really exist; we’re putting ourselves through the wringer trying to approximate ourselves to an illusion – sometimes we fail and then we beat ourselves up (or are beaten up by our peers), or we succeed and we then go around feeling good about this, in a perfectly absurd fashion…

 

Life isn’t a matter of fitting into the pattern that we have been given; it isn’t a matter of ‘going along with the obvious answers that have been given to us without ever questioning them’. Life is a test, but it’s not that sort of test, it’s not a ‘test of obedience’ in the way that the fundamentalist Christians tell us it is. That’s just paternalistic bluster, that’s just ‘the Negative Father Image trying to frighten us, as always’! That’s just ‘The Old Tyrant‘! Life isn’t a test to see how good we are at going along with the prevailing bullshit – how could we possibly short-sighted enough to think this? We might like to think that it’s all about doing what we need to do in order to be good girls and good boys and get patted on the back or awarded medals but that of course is just a cop out so we don’t have to think for ourselves. That’s slavery, not life, even if it is slavery that we ourselves willingly walk into. Life’s not about embracing the generic life (and feeling either good or bad depending upon whether we are able to successfully do this), it’s about seeing through it.

 

This might sound like a rather simplistic or limited way of saying what life (which is obviously a pretty big thing) is or isn’t about but it hits the nail on the head in a lot of ways. It’s a pretty accurate way of putting things; after all, it’s only to the extent that we can see through (or beyond) ‘the generic life’ that we can live at all…

 

 

 

 

No Pressure…

Pressure, in therapy, is always counterproductive. There’s no such thing as ‘helpful pressure’, no matter how much common sense may seem to indicate the contrary. We may define ‘pressure’ by saying that is when some force outside ourselves is making us do something. It is an ‘external authority’, in other words. It is an extrinsic motivating factor. Pressure is what creates society – it is the force that we find at work in the domain of our collective reality. It is what operates in families, relationships, friendship groups, organizations, nations – pressure is really all we know! Just about everything we do and everything we think is the result of pressure. Our perception of reality, of the world, of ourselves is the result of societal pressure that has been applied to us from the very earliest age. It is all ‘forcing’ via peer pressure and in the very same way what we fondly call ‘therapy’ is almost always just more of the same – it is simply an extension of the forcing-house which is society. It is the arena within which we enforce – yet again – our social programming, our unexamined biases, our deep-rooted cultural assumptions. What we refer to as ‘therapy’ is generally just an exercise in normalization, in other words – we’re putting people under moral pressure to be normal!

 

There is really no way any of us can do otherwise just as long as we ourselves remain unconscious of our social programming. How can I call myself ‘a therapist’ if I myself am just as hopelessly conditioned as my clients, if I myself am afflicted with the same unexamined prejudices? If I haven’t come to be in any way aware of the biases that inform my thinking, my perception of reality, then very clearly all I can ever do is enforce these biases on everyone I meet. This is a very basic principle: when I am ‘psychologically unconscious’ then all I can do is to unwittingly (or wittingly) apply pressure to everyone I meet to subscribe to the same assumptions about life that I do. More simply expressed: when I am unconscious then I want everyone to see the world in the same way that I do! The unacknowledged expectation that everyone should share our arbitrary viewpoint is what social interactions are all about; this is what all conflict is about. If we wanted a guiding principle by which to understand human history then this is it.

 

When we are unconscious pressure is all we know, all we are capable of knowing. The implication of the word ‘therapy’ is that there is the possibility of helpful change occurring as a result of it – there is the suggestion that there a possibility of us gaining freedom from our suffering-producing conditioning, freedom from the rules we follow without knowing that we are following any rules. There is the inference that we will – by some means – be enabled to discover our true, authentic selves! In socially-prescribed therapies however this just isn’t ever going to be the case. In any type of therapy that is generic in nature (which is to say, any type of therapy that comes from a template) this never can be the case. It never can be the case because the template IS the conditioning. The (psychological) theory here is that if we ‘do the right thing’ then the right result will surely follow. This theory however is the purest nonsense – there is (needless to say) no method to being one’s authentic self…

 

To go back to our original point: the reason pressure (or forcing) in therapy is always counterproductive is because it results in change (if indeed there is any change) that isn’t real. It results in change that is ‘convulsive’ rather than organic. The change – if there is any – isn’t happening as a result of a naturally occurring process but rather it is occurring as a result of what we can only call ‘artificial contrivance’. It suits the agenda of the thinking mind that there should be this change and that is all. That agenda might sound ‘good enough’ to us but – really – what does the thinking mind know? Rational understanding is only ever ‘skin deep’  – when we act of the rational or thinking mind we are acting out of our unexamined assumptions, we are ‘thinking our way through life’ rather than ‘feeling our way’. When we act out of our assumptions we are acting aggressively – we are acting aggressively because we defending a bunch of assumptions that we have made without realizing that we have done so. We’re ‘defending a fixed position’ and implicit in our defence is our blind refusal to look at why we think this fixed position is worth defending. What we are calling ‘aggression’ is simply activity that proceeds on the basis of fear, in other words. Action that comes out of fear isn’t sensitive, it has nothing to do with any interest in the world, any curiosity about the world – it is purely concerned with escaping from whatever it is that is challenging us and what is ‘challenging’ us is ultimately nothing other than reality itself…

 

The ‘fixed position’ that we are defending is the everyday mind with all of its assumptions, all of its prejudices, all of its conditioning. Every time we try to change things (in accordance with our ideas about how they should or should not be) then we are acting out of the fixed viewpoint which is the everyday mind. There is no way we can have ideas about ‘the way things should be’ without operating from a fixed (or ‘unquestionable’) position – if we questioned our viewpoint then we’d have to question our goals and if we questioned out goals then that would be the end of our goal-orientated or purposeful behaviour! Acting on the basis of our thoughts about the world, our beliefs about the world, is always aggressive. We are being fundamentally insensitive because all the emphasis is on getting things to be the way we want them to be, and none on questioning or examining the fixed position that we are taking on order for us to be having such clear-cut and inflexible ideas about ‘how reality should be’ in the first place! Thought itself is always aggressive, is always violent, as Krishnamurti says, and when we are unconscious we are perpetually acting on the basis of thought…

 

‘Sensitivity’ is a very different thing to the activity that comes out of the thinking mind – activity that comes out of the thinking mind is all about changing stuff on the outside, it is ‘the one-way arrow of control’. ‘Control’ –we might say – is another word for unconsciousness; the whole point of control, in the psychological sense of the word, is as we have just said that it deflects attention away from our assumptions onto ‘changes that supposedly have to be made’. Our attention I deftly deflected away from our assumptions onto the changes that these invisible biases cause us to see as being necessary. Control – as we keep saying – is aggressive – you have to dance to my tune whether you like it or not. You have to fit into my way of thinking and not vice versa. Everything has to give way to my way of thinking because my way of thinking is not open to questioning – there is no way it is ever going to be questioned and so the only thing we can do is try our best to fit into it. If we can’t fit into it then we’re wrong.

 

Is it possible, we might ask, to have a type of therapy where we are remaining open, remaining sensitive to what is going on? This would appear to be the best answer to the dilemma that we are faced with – the dilemma of ‘how not to be aggressive’. Any sort of control is aggression – as we have said – is always counterproductive when it comes down to having an honest relationship with oneself or others, which is what therapy is ultimately all about. No one can deny this, but what we aren’t so quick to see (or dwell upon) is the fact that controlling or forcing can never result in a relationship with anything. On the contrary controlling alienates us not just from whatever (or whoever) it is that we are controlling, it also alienates us from ourselves. An honest relationship is the only sort of relationship there is and where there is aggression – which is to say, the exercise of power – there can be no honesty.

 

Things are very simple when it comes to pressure – either there is pressure in the situation or there isn’t. It’s either one way or it’s the other; there is no middle ground. The idea that we can use some sort of pressure, some sort of external motivation to achieve some goal or other, and yet at the same time be open and sensitive to whatever it is might unfolding. What we are actually talking about here – when it comes right down to it – is something that the thinking mind calls risk. Risk is something to which the thinking mind is infinitely averse! We can explain the activity that comes about as a result of the rational-purposeful mind by saying that it is activity that is geared towards reducing risk as much as possible. We can define goal-orientated or purposeful behaviour by saying that it is behaviour that is directed towards eliminating (as far as possible) the risk of the goal not being achieved. Or instead of risk we could talk in terms of uncertainty and say that the activity which comes about as a result of the thinking mind is activity that is geared towards getting rid of all uncertainty. Ultimately, it’s not uncertainty with regard to anything in particular (i.e. in relation to any particular goal being achieved) that the purposeful mind is averse to but simply uncertainty in general!

 

All of this is really just going around in circles – we’re saying the same thing in several different ways. The rational-purposeful mind operates by identifying goals and then working towards them and ‘working towards obtaining a goal’ is of course the same thing as ‘working against the risk of not obtaining it’. But none of this has anything to do with therapy – it’s all just pure control, it’s all pure ‘uncertainty avoidance’. Therapy is the antithesis of ‘risk-avoidance’, as any psychotherapist will be happy to tell you. Therapy is not ‘trying to get what you want to happen to happen – that’s just the rational mind pursuing its perennial agendas…

 

Trying to secure the outcome that we want (and avoid any other unspecified) outcome is simply ‘conservatism’ and conservatism is nothing other than ‘a fear of change’ that has somehow been validated and made to look heroic rather than cowardly. Fear of change – needless to say – doesn’t really qualify as therapy! It’s something else entirely – it’s ‘hanging on’. What we’re afraid of happening is – as always – the unknown, and whilst the rational mind is superlatively good at avoiding the unknown, it is no good at all at helping us face it! The thinking mind, with all of its tools and strategies, has no useful role to play here. All it can do is ‘temporarily stave off the inevitable’, all it can do is hang on (for as long as possible) to the known, in stubborn denial of the ultimate futility of this endeavour. ‘Hanging on to the known’ isn’t an option when it comes down to it; it isn’t an option for the simple reason that ‘the known’ is a mind-manufactured illusion! It might seem like an option but that’s only because we’re afraid to see the truth. We’re invested in not seeing the truth. ‘Seeing the truth’ is what we’re fighting against…