(It took me a lot longer to translate this essay from the original version written in Spanish and already published. Luckily, in the process the text has been significantly improved, so now I hope to go back and do the same for the original.)
The fact that you and I are both human beings makes the question that titles this essay as valid for you as it is for me. This equivalence demands that the theme be developed assuming from the very beginning that what is essential is the existence that we share in equal measure. Although this basic premise may seem obvious intellectually, it is far from easy to stay with and within our common existential ground because it is unrelated to the knowledge we both use to know (to be) ourselves. The content that your memory holds and projects to the future through fear and desire establishes what you know about yourself, and I know myself in the same manner: by checking what I call “my” memory and by thinking about what this same memory imagines about “my” probable future. The peculiar conceptual trace left on the mind by experience establishes who each one of us is or, rather, who each thinks s/he is but, by the same token, this representational trace also determines the mental distance that separates us from one another and that abstracts us both (and humankind as a whole) from the unthinkable maelstrom of life. In other words, what makes us feel fundamentally different from one another is the exclusivity of our respective cultural and psychological identity, and that sense of unique personal being also makes us mostly unaware of that which is profoundly and unalterably common to all of us. The ever-changing and growing measure of our tribal and private differentiation is also the measure of our general alienation from the totality of existence.
What has already been experienced and learned and what is yet to be experienced and assimilated as knowledge, never ceases to increase, thus taking greater and greater possession of the human mind and the social milieus of its creation. The atomized psycho-social reality that results from this process of accumulation is, in itself, the negation of the vital immensity that lies utterly beyond all past, present, and future knowledge and thought. Our identification with the internal and external reality generated by experience is so intimate and powerful that it appears as more real than actual reality. The fact and consequences of this constant confusion between the mental map (what is merely representational) and the territory, the real, moment by moment unfolding of life, finds hardly any place in our conversations, and in the deliberations of the local, regional, and international institutions that so strongly influence the individuals who identify with them. We are so taken by our habits and institutional traditions and affairs that we pay little attention to the wholeness of life. We seem to be subconsciously aware that a radical shift in the amplitude and depth of perception could be devastating to our all-important self-esteem and our claim to a separate existence.
Seen from the narrow trench of thought, the whole of existence appears distant, clouded-over and amorphous, and, therefore, almost entirely unrelated to the experience and the projections that make you and I who we respectively think we are, and either related or unrelated to one another depending on our particular physical appearance and given sets of social, cultural, and psychological characteristics. Again, the actual cosmic presence of the psychosomatic organism is rendered nearly invisible by what each person knows, thinks, possesses, desires and fears. This same reduced constellation of images and ideas that represents what we all call “me” and “my” life, also isolates us from one another. Enclosed in our respective tribal, sectarian, and egocentric sanctuaries we live and die without ever gaining full awareness of our seamless inclusion within the general context of existence. If there is an awakening to the absurdity and toxicity of this state of mental alienation, it is because the fantasy of a separate and private life to which we all lay claim in slightly different forms and at different points in space and time has succumbed to the shock of seeing the unthinkable singularity of being.
Incidentally, this essay’s only reason for being is to sound an alarm that may facilitate this awakening in whoever may be ready for it.
In the general context of life and death we are all equal, and the only thing that presence in this natural common ground demands is the application of our perceptual acuity and intelligence to the satisfaction of basic personal and social needs. However, in the peculiar sphere created by recorded experience and its extension through thought, we conceive of ourselves as separate and distinct entities and, as such, permanently insecure and obligated to labor endlessly to protect ourselves and realize our particular material and psychological dreams.
The cultural and psychological isolation in which every human being lives generates a nearly constant level of physical and mental insecurity and an attendant impetus to find an efficient solution that tends to be exclusive because of the almost instinctive reluctance to see that the problem of suffering is not particular, but common to all. Every nation, group and individual plans to improve its own social and mental condition through an aggressive, if not outright brutal effort pitted against the same intention enacted by others chasing after the same goal. Naturally, this fundamental contradiction only contributes to the untrammeled continuity of the division, insecurity, animosity, and senseless hyperactivity in which humanity lives.
The human mind is an integral part of existence, however in its encapsulation by the physiological and psychic residue of experience (animal, tribal, transpersonal, and personal) this extraordinary manifestation of the totality has taken a space and a role that painfully contradicts it natural participation in the whole. We have privatized existence, and every instance of “my own life” is defined and experienced in contrast with different versions of the same aberrant appropriation claimed by “others.” This reduction of being to the particular mindset of countless cultural and personal entities has fragmented, desensitized, conflicted, and stupefied humanity with consequences that grow more worrisome by the day. One of the worst outcomes of this fundamental cognitive error is the practically universal belief that “human nature” resides in just this limitation of life to what each group and each person knows, believes, thinks, and covets, because it makes impossible the integration of the species within itself and with the totality. Being confused in ourselves, and more often than not at odds with each other in our relationships, we know of nothing better to do than continue attempting to improve or escape from a situation that our useless political, religious, military, and technological patches have, for millennia already only made increasingly more difficult and dangerous.
It is true, of course, that the survival and development of humanity is the result of our cognitive capacity and the mental differentiation and professional diversification that this capacity allows. Every aspect and component of the social organization thus far achieved is the result of the constant accumulation and application of knowledge through a creative and increasingly diversified thought process. However, a very significant part of this diversified representational hoard is directly responsible for the obtuse tribalism, sectarianism, and egotism that has, in our day, brought us to this permanent state of crisis that is eroding the species’very chance for survival. To avoid confusion later on in the development of this argument (that is not, for sure, advocacy for a benign form of amnesia), it bears reiterating that thought is, in general terms, an essential mental tool that standing on a primary base of sensory perception and previously accumulated knowledge, determines, divides, compares, codifies, and makes imaginary projections in order to solve practical problems. Humanity’s initial survival against considerable odds, and all our subsequent achievements are owed to this cognitive capacity. Nevertheless, in its gradual transformation into a plurality of conflicted entities each claiming a false separate existence, this same cognitive gift has come to serve, not so much the general well-being of the species and the health of its natural environment, but the deception, the injustice, and the violence that the achievement of exclusive tribal and personal goals demands.
It may also be useful to point out here that it is not entirely correct to refer to thought as a tool because that makes it appear as something other than the entity that utilizes it for its own ends, which is false. The truth is that thought itself has taken on a multitude of separate identities, all of which subscribe to the same fantasy of a unique and nearly autonomous “thinking” existence. A single, general system of thought has occupied the mind and created the self as a tool that through the atomization of the human presence in life keeps this system (and its shortcomings) undetected and in full operation.
There is no entity, either internal or external (institutional or “spiritual”) capable of solving the mental, social, and ecological problems that provincial/sectarian/egoic thought has created with its divisiveness and wrongheaded projections. The notion that the thinker is different from, and in control of its thoughts is a great falsehood that every human being internalizes and plays out simply by being born and educated in a given compartment of human culture. The fully programmed egocentric entity we all know as “me” is just the means through which the general phenomenon of mental conditioning preserves itself in time. The attainment and deployment of greater knowledge, and the projection of “better forms of thinking” can continue to change and grow indefinitely, but because these modifications serve countless different manifestations of a profoundly contradictory mindset, this otherwise splendid capacity is incapable of attaining the intelligence and, yes, the sheer goodness that its peaceful integration and the solution of its fundamental problems demands.
You and I
There is no good reason to avoid facing the fact that you and I are nothing more than small and ephemeral manifestations of a global mental system with limited recorded experience at its base, and a future that is merely a projection of itself, with relatively minor modifications, carried out by every thought and every action. We are what we are because the mental and social reality of humanity is what it is, and this reality is, and remains what it is, because you and I (and just about everyone else), are who we are and continue relating to one another the way we do. Put differently, we are not the genial authors of what we think and do, as we imagine, but only superficially different psycho-social containers of a millenary cache of additive information that, being intrinsically limited and fragmented is also the source of the permanent dissension and sorrow we experience as we struggle against one another to protect and extend in time our respective material and mental holdings. The absurd existential separation that the personalized mind claims and laboriously extends into the future, evidently does not serve well the billions of particular human organisms that make up the different and highly stratified cultural sectors of humanity and obey their ideological and methodological commands. The conflict, anxiety, and violence we all suffer (and inflict on others) is more than sufficient proof of this toxic predetermination.
Progress is one of our greatest fantasies, even though most of our logistical, technological, and organizational achievements have an ambiguous character that naturally yields very mixed results. Most of them only benefit certain sectors and levels of the human population, and others create new problems that are often greater than the ones they were intended to solve. The persistent inequality among us and the insensitivity with which we continue to deceive, exploit, and destroy one another makes plain that the human mind --so able, creative, and tender in particular (though mostly exclusive) circumstances and places-- more generally remains as primitive, irrational, and cruel as it has always been. Our progress does not alter the constancy of the conditioned self’s incapacity to love beyond what it knows as lovable and convenient, nor the isolation, corruption, and injustice still rampant in every mental trench and every geographical and ideological bunker. All the life forms that share the planet with us are now existentially threatened by our demographic explosion, our depredation of the natural environment, and our thermonuclear weapons, the most stupid and cruel creation of our endemic greed and fear. You and I are not mere spectators and potential victims of this great tragedy that goes on unabated under the pretense of great technological progress and even greater religious zeal. We are an integral part of it, puppets of a splintered and destructive thought process that makes us reluctant to see, let alone put an end to the destructiveness of our own cultural and personal insulation.
For many, this essay’s representation of the chronic situation of the individual and the species will appear as overly exaggerated or outright false. If this is the case, its rejection will only serve to consolidate a claim to innocence tied to long-standing identification with respectable groups and ideologies (secular and religious), and a record of personal behavior considered “normal” enough to avoid any significant sense of responsibility. However, if you happen to have a broad and accurate enough awareness of the conflict and pain incessantly created by the multiple and contradictory representational spin we have put on life, you may also be quite alert to the causal connection between the false innocence claimed by almost every person, family, group, and nation, and our sustained incapacity to solve the problems that afflict every human being alive, and humankind as a whole.
It is essential to see that we are all equally programmed to, in one form or another, turn a blind eye to conditioned mental separation as the root problem of humanity, or to conveniently blame its myriad consequences on the noxious traditions and ideologies that guide the thought and behavior of other individuals and other groups. In either case, hypocrisy at the service of cultural parochialism and personal egotism degrades our natural sensibility and impedes the deliberate and independent exploration of life that hinders profound relationship, and makes the fundamental problems of humanity impossible to definitively resolve. If we do not manage to somehow face the fact that all the ills of humankind have their root in the alienation of the self, the same cultural and psychological mendacity we all unwittingly imbibed along with our mothers’ milk will merely continue to routinely do and leave undone whatever satisfies our pre-established worldly and “spiritual” appetites.
If our concern for the state of humanity and its increasingly dark future is, somehow, sufficiently intense and sincere, fear and the false respects of habitual conformity will at some point stop blocking the mind’s natural impetus to see, and thus rid itself of whatever accumulated and self-projecting experience of pain and pleasure has been alienating it from the wholeness of life.
The mind conditioned by transpersonal, cultural, and personal experience makes of its minimal conception of the body a good part of what we believe we are. We identify all too easily with the images that, from the mirror or an identity card or passport, reflect our most superficial physical being. On the one hand, we see the body as if it were a horse owned and ridden by the egocentric intellect but, on the other, we suffer or delight in accordance to the consideration, both cultural and psychological, this otherwise lowly mount may deserve. If the values promulgated by the cultural context to which we belong determine that, in comparison with that of others, our body is better (younger, healthier, more beautiful, or whatever else), the distinction granted is a source of great pleasure and, often, a portal to special social status and privilege. However, if it happens that the same comparative values make it out to be the wrong kind, ugly, ill, or too old, our identification with the physical organism is an inexhaustible source of frustration and sorrow. Even though tremendously arbitrary and wrongheaded, these valuations (both internal and external) of who we are physically, have enormous weight in how we feel about ourselves and how we relate to others, and them to us. It is well established that we determine the value another person has for us after having observed his or her physical appearance and general demeanor for only a few seconds. We also go to great lengths to avoid seeing how similar all human bodies are, and how universal is their immersion in the general context of existence. This reluctance is another indication that, however darkly, we sense that a heightened awareness of our common material presence would erase much of the importance given to personal identity, and thus damage or outright extinguish its presumption of a separate existence.
We imagine that we are born within a given physical enclosure, this body and not that other, “mine” and, hence, not “yours.” We also imagine that we die when the fleshy carriage granted to us at birth, finally surrenders to the law of gravity and disintegrates into its constitutive elements: liquids, solids, and semisolids; cells, molecules; elemental particles and, ultimately, formless energy. As already mentioned, the drive to defend, expand, maintain, and improve our claim to separate existence and personal distinction makes us highly reluctant to consider, let alone stay with the fact that all human organisms have the same evolutionary origin, the same physical, chemical, and physiological characteristics, and the same vital cycle. It pleases us even less to ponder our physical presence as inseparable from its planetary and the cosmic contexts.
After all, only a couple of minutes of oxygen deprivation or a few days without food destroys the body, along with all our memories and inflated personal claims, feelings of pride, and most cherished projections. Nevertheless, most human beings manage to live their entire lives without entirely coming to terms with the fact that within the general context of life, the tiny, ephemeral presence of a particular human organism amounts to practically nothing. Put the other way around, a clear vision of oneself as an integral part of the vast flow of existence destroys the most ingrained personal claim to a separate and somehow special existence. There is no such a thing as a unique individual life. It is only an idea, a pervasive cultural invention with no other foundation than the propensity of self-centered thought to splinter everything by making representations of every-thing it creates and then place itself at the center of its creation. Early on in the process of the co-evolution of humanity, one of the many splinters of thought put itself at the center of consciousness, became self-reflective, and called itself “I.” From then on, the process of egoic thinking has been spending most of the organism’s energy in defending, strengthening, and projecting in time what it considers itself to be, physically and mentally. What can be said to exist, in the truest sense of that word, is the wholeness of the stream of existence that, being actual and indivisible is also imperceptible and entirely and timelessly beyond the grasp of both, knowledge/thought and the self as the presumed owner/manager of both.
So much for the body. Now, who do we say we are, mentally? In the traditional image we have of ourselves, the brain and the mind usually have far more significance and prestige than the body. This, as if the brain was not, just as the liver, the gallbladder, and the heart, an integral part of a standard issued organism, and as if all the forms of mentation did not depend on the proper operation of this organ, and as if its function were not a subtle material process among countless others. Certain religious ideologies teach the multitudes who subscribe to them to conceive of themselves as souls or spirits that are, as such, direct participants in what they also assert (without a trace of direct evidence) about the nature and purpose of the divine. Amazingly, this cunning but false remedy to our ancient dread of the sorrowful impermanence of life and the finality of death is differently (and contradictorily) codified and transmitted through multiple religious faiths to generation after generation of the faithful who continue believing the unbelievable in order to feel a bit better about themselves, their lives, and their ultimate fate.
Thought (considered in very general terms to include in it all aspects of the human psyche) is the manner in which memory --the accumulation of the representational trace left by animal, cultural, and personal experience-- reacts as it comes in contact with the unfolding of life at every instant. Put differently, the imprint left in mind by general, tribal, and “personal” experience, determines the manner in which every individual perceives, thinks, feels, and behaves. This conditioned mental content varies somewhat among different individuals belonging to specific cultures and groups, but the dominant occupation of the mind by the record of what has already occurred, what has already been formally learned, and what on those grounds is rejected or desired, remains a nearly universal phenomenon with significant consequences, both good and bad. Good, in so far as the shared accumulation of previous experience and knowledge makes possible the understanding and resolution of practical problems. Bad, in so far as the very nature of exclusive mental programming by experience and learning determines that human beings remain too caught up in themselves and their privatized lives to become fully aware that their sense of separate and relatively autonomous existence is an illusion. The “me” entity becomes dominant by relegating the rest of the psyche (and the whole of existence) to its periphery. However, this maneuver makes it unable to see that a great part of the memory and the thought process routinely claimed as "mine and ours" is not personal at all, but merely the cultural content that has been progressively internalized by the individual organism that is then robotically compelled to act it out.
“You” and “I” are unimaginable without the particular cultural endowment that enables us to learn, think, feel, imagine, and create. However, this same mental conditioning saddles the mind with the profoundly ingrained fantasy that we are intellectually and emotionally independent, Hampered, perhaps, by certain limitations, but essentially (or at least, potentially) unique, free, and intelligent entities. The famous Cartesian dictum: Cogito Ergo Sum, (I think, therefore I am) is the best known (if by itself, caricaturesque) expression of this practically universal belief that the mere presence of thought proves (and to a great extent constitutes) the independent existence of the thinker. The truth is, however, that thought conditioned by instinct and culturally-determined experience creates the thinker who then lives mostly to defend, expand, and project slight modifications of the same experience. The thinking self is a sort of phantom; it does not exist in and by itself, let alone is it capable of independent cognition and free action. What robs mind of freedom is precisely predetermined, tribal, sectarian, and self-centered thought.
How can it be adduced, however, that we are not unique and free-thinking entities when the immense majority of human beings feel so intensely that they are? Well, let us examine evidence that may have been missed or, more likely, systematically avoided.
Is there anything that anyone can affirm about herself without making any positive or negative reference (past, present, or future) to something or someone else?
Can anyone function mentally without constant access to the diverse languages that we routinely utilize, and that clearly are not a personal creation?
Even within the private ambit of personal experience/knowledge, there is nothing that can conclusively demonstrate the existence of a unique self. When it comes to loneliness, fear, timidity, love, rancor, frustration, disappointment, sexuality, happiness, hunger for food/power/pleasure, jealousy, violence, ignorance/knowledge, amity/enmity, the margin of what is yours” and what is “mine” is always minimal, certainly nothing special.
Who performs a social role or occupation that is her complete creation? Is there anything that is the unique outcome of creativity without precedence?
In the most general terms, who can claim to have a life and a death all of her own, and entirely and unarguably better or worse than those lived and died by others? Who am “I” in and by myself; and, who are “you”?
Honest answers to these questions and other similar ones (that may emerge while attending to these) make clear that, beyond the surface, the great mental difference routinely alleged to exist between human beings, does not exist. This fallacy of existential separation is especially noteworthy given that the conflictive and suffering atomization of the entire species stems from the enormous importance we habitually give to the false distinction that puffs every “one” up. More briefly put, underneath arduously cultivated and highly exaggerated claims of personal uniqueness, we are all fundamentally the same. Human consciousness is one, but this is not felt or recognized as such because it has been torn and covered up by the fantasy of unique personal being and an entire historical and socio-cultural reality in which everything conspires to keep us separate and hard at work at the service of our petty alliances and destructive worldly and otherworldly ambitions.
This universal regime of mental isolation and its capriciously divided and contentious tribal and psychological reality extends itself in a time dictated by its own volition, and is consequently unable to solve the fundamental problems that stem from its own inherently faulty perception and its consequent propensity to uncaring, and therefore irrational thought and action. Let us call by name just a few of the most prominent negative characteristics of human “civilization”: chronic inequality and injustice; war and countless other forms of physical and psychological violence; high incidence of mental illness; the primacy of exclusive power and wealth over compassion and sharing; and nearly infinite forms of deception and dominance-dependency in relationship. We are often extremely intelligent and highly skilled in the attainment of the things and experiences we crave after, but endlessly stupid and clumsy when it comes to perceive, feel, reason, and act together regarding the life and death we share in exact equal measure.
Even though its expression in this essay is plainly inadequate, the reality it describes is verifiable by anyone who cares to look. It is not an isolated personal opinion, much less an introduction to yet another false and disastrous ideology looking for gullible adepts and the power they are always willing to give away in exchange for a false sense of security and self-importance. Experience exclusively recorded conditions the human mind, and this conditioning has indeed divided the species producing endlessly self-replicating forms of insensitivity, conflict, and suffering. We are quite capable of gaining a clear and complete perception of how the unstable or outright toxic relationships of a culturally and psychologically isolated personal mind interminably generate the chaotic state of humanity. However, this direct contact with the truth as the falseness and danger of oneself as a separate and unique entity is an impersonal act. It involves the end of mental separation, the collapse of the exclusive past, present, and future of a singular, permanently evolving self. More about this later.
Existential Uniqueness and Its Pretense of Becoming Better in Time
The sense of existential isolation felt by the conditioned individual generates a nearly universal state of mental insecurity that is, in turn, the source of all the disparate and contradictory efforts we make with the intention of alleviating or altogether eliminating our particular experience of loneliness, fear, loss, and other forms of suffering. Every “I” thus journeys through a largely made-up reality (both internal and external), enclosed in a private memory deposit filled to the brim with the images and ideas that make-up “me” and “my” life to which no one else has complete access. Being an integral part of these memories, the “I” does not have either complete or accurate access to them, much less the degree of control it pretends to have in the automatic evaluations and projections that are made. Each personal memory recognizes, judges, and records every instant of actual life according to its private holdings, and the imperious need to protect and extend itself in time at whatever cost is also continuously born from this same cumulative register. Seen from one direction, every one of humankind’s cultural/personal constituents is a particular manifestation of the same mental record of a falsely unique, and therefore exclusive, past, present, and future, and seen from the other, the species as a whole inhabits this same self-inflated temporal bubble of stale accumulated representation. Every instance of the separate and conditioned self is then a sort of time trinity. What has already been experienced and learned is “my” past; “my” present is whatever this same past deciphers, judges, and utilizes of the slim slice of actual life it lets in at every moment; and, “my” future, is whatever the pleasures and displeasures already enjoyed and suffered in the past imagine and project forwards through fear and desire.
As already repeatedly indicated, the mental programming created by the additive record of experience is responsible for the conflictive division of the species and the historical continuity of this same situation, albeit with relatively minor modifications. Because the inherently egotistical isolation of every person and the ethnocentrism and sectarianism of their respective reference groups must protect and nourish themselves in order to go on being what they say they are, they are also notably unwilling to see their active contribution to all that makes life difficult for everyone and, all too often intolerable for many. In turn, this habitual myopia maintains a personal and general reality that, as the self-projective totality of everything that is broken-up, old, representational, and conflictive stands in permanent contradiction with the constant renewal of actual life. Many of the memories and all the reckless ambitions and self-protective fears that harden the culture of every group and the physiology and psychology of every brain, ceasslesly informing the percepción and marring the thinking, feeling, and relational capacity of every individual. A built-in proclivity for contradiction and conflict in all relationships is mechanically projected onto the future along with everything else, thus setting the querulous and lonely quality of just about everyone's life.
Thought that is beholden to a specific cultural environment and bent on self-interest is only capable of a pseudo mental and social development that can never go beyond the dysfunction implicit in its fantasy of separate being and progressive and exclusive becoming. It is for this reason that the central problem of humanity -- conditioned self-centeredness and tribalism, and a nearly universal alienation from life-- is only truly confronted when someone manages to see himself exactly as he is. That is, a second-hand cultural creation further diminished and calcified by the record of his proprietary experience and its attendant unwillingness to abandon the phony existential separation from which conflict and sorrow never stop emerging mixed with enough pleasure, power, and mirth to keep him (us) content and unquestioning. The core issue here is that the termination of all the sterile promises, obligations, and efforts typical of personal becoming, also dissolves that highly dynamic core of the sedimentation of mind by experience that claims a separate, unique, and permanently developing existence. In other words, the existential and evolutionary conceit of the “I” cannot survive a direct, instantaneous, and complete insight (that is, a perception not mediated by time-bound thought) of its falseness and the suffering and danger generated by its untrammeled continuity.
What would be left of “me” if this collapse of mental time were to occur, is a question this presentation of the central human issue is bound to immediately elicits. Any answer that may be given to this seemingly reasonable query would be just another extension of the false existence of the “I” and its perennial appetite for novel (yet already known) forms of security and status within preestablished secular or religious structures. All that is safe to affirm is the continuity of those most impersonal aspects of memory and thought that attend to the satisfaction of the fundamental needs of the organism deeply embedded in particular regions of a general social and natural environment.
(A) mind fully alert to the fact that the truth is unrelated to whatever self-centered memory may hold, imagine, and project necessarily limits itself to probe what is actually happening mentally and socially. In other words, the correct question to ask regarding the truth of one's existence, must not involve idealized projections, and the methods best suited for their attainment. Nothing that could be achieved if “one” does this or that or stops doing this, that, or the other, matters because any movement of thought in that direction is still within the old, dead-end territory of tribal self-centeredness and existential alienation. The pertinent question acts, instead, like a monkey wrench thrown into the mechanism that keeps adding warmed-over ideas and barren projects to the vast pile already cluttering and conflicting a mind convinced that it will eventually find a particular remedy (or escape) for a situation that is becoming more and more difficult for everyone.
All that matters, then, is to come directly and passively in touch with the personal and socio-cultural factors preventing the definitive end of the chronic factionalism, dissension, and suffering tormenting humanity and preventing its integration. Only a mental state that is free of any form of prejudice and pre-established desire is capable of seeing what is the actual content of consciousness conditioned by tribal and egoic experience, and how it limits and distorts perception, thought, feeling, and action. The intensity of this caring attention is, in itself, the end of the conceit of separation and, with it, the advent of a mode of being that thought with its intrinsic fragmentariness and fixed intentions cannot ever make out.
Cultural traditions and the myriad forms of personal thought in which they incarnate persist largely unchanged mainly because they impede the application of the natural intelligence of the brain (so evident in certain individual and institutional pursuits) to probing our conception of ourselves and its connection to the absurd manner in which we live and die. The survival of the separate “I” weirdly depends on resisting the level of sensitivity and intelligence that would effectively put an end to the self-sustaining mess we have made of our participation in life. The entire mindset of humanity is rigged to automatically reject a genuinely critical assessment of our mental and social reality if it dares put in jeopardy the self’s sense of an ever-evolving separate existence. Tradition, habit, desire, and fear narrow our view of the character and quality of human life by looking at it as a series of different stages in a permanent historical process of piecemeal and slow personal development and social and technological progress. Thus, an excellent life is almost never something actual. Something that is occurring in real time, but rather a mere mental representation, the idea of a better "me" experiencing improved circumstances that is differently and contradictorily conceived by every separate individual as an experience that is always in the future, and therefore unrelated to the moment by moment natural unfolding of life as a whole .
Left unattended, the conditioning of human consciousness by particular cultural and personal experience goes on and on led by the specific proclivities, ideologies, and methodologies that constitute its ever-changing, yet persistently barren reality. Only an implacable vision of the disastrous effect the false conceit of a compartmentalized existence has in our mental, social, and ecological reality, has the power to clear the mind and straighten-out the society that emanates from it. Full awareness bursts the artificial temporal bubble within which the fantasy of the separate self generates and sustains itself.
An Abrupt and Irreversible Transit Away From Self-Centered Knowledge
Let us end this brief probe into the problem of human existence by attempting to get a bit closer to the bone, hopefully fully aware by now that, if all we attend to is the words and concepts used to present who we think we are, this exploration will turn out to be just another waste of time and energy.
As we have already seen, the constitution and operation of every separate instance of mind stems from the evolutionary experience of the species, the individual psyche’s exclusive (positive or negative) identification with unrenounceable physical characteristics, a given set of cultural parameters and, at the uppermost level of consciousness, a self-additive record of physical and psychological experience. If this much is evident, then we are also probably aware that the differences between us are, when and where it truly matters, insignificant. No relevant distinction can be made, either, between the “I” as the presumed center of consciousness and the psychic, social, and natural periphery this conceit generates while simultaneously disassociating from it to some extent or another. Thus, when we confront ourselves in all honesty, the truth we face is, first, that we are but slightly different manifestation of a species-wide mental system of collection and processing of memories, fears, and desires. And, second, that this system sustains itself by generating and feeding the illusion of unique and permanently evolving cultural and psychological existence: the “me” that we all, separately, hold so dear.
What is, then, this great hidden treasure that we all work so hard to protect and increase, even though our efforts in this regard come accompanied so often by anxiety, aggression, frustration, and pain affecting not just oneself but others as well? Why is it that we continue identifying ourselves so carelessly with the psychological characteristics and the social roles traditionally assigned to race, gender, and other components of the organism’s general physical appearance and function over which no one has any choice if doing so involves so much confusion, conflict, and sorrow? Moreover, what is the real advantage of laboriously internalizing the ideological and normative parameters of the particular set of socio-cultural entities to which we each subscribe if this identification is the origin of the distance, inequality, and violence we all suffer? Must the essence of our being and the character of our lives and relationships be defined and ruled by the necessary small-mindedness of different and opposed nations, religions, political parties, philosophical schools, scientific or artistic disciplines, social and economic classes, types and levels of education, professional or occupational roles, and many other demarcations?
Whoever cares enough to look at everything most broadly and impartially, soon realizes that the inherently limited representational record of experience that has accumulated in the body/brain distorts perception, and reduces the sensibility and the intelligence of the organism. What is the chaos in the world today if not a colossal and persistent failure of sensitivity and caring intelligence?
If the on-going predominance of private memory and self-serving desire constitutes what is usually referred to as human “nature,” then there is no point in talking about any of this. However, there is every reason to stay in this dialogue, if it is probing a reversible situation into which the species fell eons ago when it inadvertently encapsulated itself in countless different and antagonistic versions of the same tragically aberrant characterization of life becoming conscious of itself.
Even though we cannot think ourselves out of this ancient problem, we can certainly ask why after all this time and “progress,” the human mind has not yet freed itself from the alienated self’s ethnocentric and sectarian entrenchments and the relentless pressures and brutal obligations imposed by its endless appetite for pleasure, certainty, and status? To stay with what is actually going on, internally and externally, is to see that something of unimaginable value is lost when our relationships (and, consequently, the world) continue to be determined to such a vast extent by exclusive and tenacious attachments and associations and their concomitant, and highly destructive, detachments and dis-associations.
It may be worth repeating one last time that the possible advent of a selfless mind would not change the fact that the satisfaction of the fundamental needs of any population and the species as a whole depends on a certain differentiation in both knowledge and function. However, no functional specialization based on impersonal knowledge does, in itself, require or justify that human beings continue deceiving and fighting one another in the effort to attain and expand an unnecessary and often harmful sense of personal distinction and, whenever possible, a social and economic position superior to that of others. The normalization of the peculiar isolation of the person, the family, and the tribe, and the indifference mixed with hostility with which this isolation regards and treats other people, beg for their overthrow, which can only occur one person at a time.
What does it take for “you” and “I” to wake up to the fact that this artificial personal entity and this splintered social reality that is so familiar to both of us is directly responsible for the interminable infighting and suffering of humanity? Must we remain blind to the fact that all the many reforms and revolutions that different sectors and levels of humanity, both secular and religious, have enacted throughout history, far from overcoming, have helped maintain, and often worsened, this horror? Again, there is absolutely no good reason why we should continue allowing the conscious life of humanity to be determined by each person's idiosyncratic combination of the nationalism, the sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, classism, religious and political sectarianism, and sheer egotism that the species as a whole embodies. It is the height of irrationality and heartlessness to continue struggling against all decency and absurdly large odds, to become a socially designated “somebody eventually.” Someone who has somehow managed to realize her self-idealization and is therefore finally deserving of private happiness in this world, (or who has died but is presumably enjoying the same privilege in some after-life expressly invented for that purpose).
The self-centered and traditional process of thought that sustains itself by its very refusal to see its darkness and the barrenness of its pursuit for personal success and tribal or sectarian progress may well come to an end. However, this termination of mental conditioning can never be the result of an action carried out by the “me” entity that is indistinguishable from it. In a seeming paradox, it is precisely a profound and impersonal perception of just this very impasse that ends the flow of self-centered and self-serving images and ideas. When “one” stops ignoring the vicious cycle in which a permanently conditioned and isolated mental entity and an ever disintegrating humanity create one another, a great clarity floods the mind simultaneously drowning any illusion of existential separation and personal success, liberation, or salvation. Awareness is the dissolution of the limited images and ideas that represent a personal past, present, and future; a time bubble that is different from --and either loving, indifferent, or outright hostile to-- those slightly different ones that inflate the time-bound identity of other personal entities and their particular sense of an entire universe of “not-me.”
There is no sane alternative to a mental revolution in which everything is taken in without identifying with any particular thing, because nothing exists other than the totality of what is occurring at every instant, and that is forever out of the reach of knowledge and thought. The only portal open to freedom, intelligence, and love is a mental space that precisely because it is not anything in itself is indistinguishable from the total flow of life.