This is an extract from Self and Unself, Darren Allen’s new ‘philosophy of all and everything’. Some of the terms herein — consciousness, self, ego, etc — may appear somewhat mysterious or abstract as they are explained in earlier sections of the book.
Self produces manifest culture, and then that culture shapes self. First, self is externalised as an expression — some kind of act or presentation. The expression appears as an object, a thing in the world, which is related to other objects, which are then reappropriated by man back into the self.
A band releases an album, a building company constructs a block of flats, an advertising agency puts up hoardings around town, an individual recounts a few anecdotes. The songs, the dwellings, the signs and the stories become part of a world which then shapes those within that world.
If self is unselfish this process ultimately begins “beyond” culture, with consciousness, to which the reappropriated modifications are subject to some kind of evaluation — I can reject the bullshit music, the ugly council estate, the advertising lies and the witless jibber-jabber.
If, however, self is fundamentally egoic, consciousness is given no freedom to operate, and the caddis case is formed almost entirely from without, walling up inner quality, and with it, genuine individuality.
First self speaks, then the words get set in stone, then the stone speaks to the self, writing its words back into the human heart, which speaks again. If there is freedom to speak, and to be heard, and to walk away, this dialogue (or dialectic) is fruitful and serves man.
But, just as if one person screws another down and forces words into her head it is no longer a conversation, so if society (culture plus self, or selves) fills its schools and lines its streets with messages that all say the same thing, with no way of escape, then we are no longer individuals participating in a society, but stackable storage units for whomever or whatever is filling us with the things we are forced to feel, eat, look at, think about and energetically engage with; in short, build our selves with.
Culture was once built from nature, and, more intimately, from the unselfish origin of that which nature and culture have in common. This is why pre-civilised man considered nature and culture to be identical. The more culture came to be built from itself, the less it served the essence of man, until it came to compel man to accept its objective validity or suffer the consequences. Not in an overt tyrannical sense, but in the unalterable fact of its existence.
You can think away culture or pretend it doesn’t matter — ignore, say, the rules of language or pretend that they are dispensable, but you will be punished, mocked, excluded, brought back into line or killed. Likewise, if your social self is at odds with your individual self, then all kinds of problems are on their way. This does not mean that I must be something other than my social self, but that I am continually compelled to harmonise the two, and if I can’t — if I cannot be in the world who I feel I really am—then I will suffer in the world, as everyone who is honest does.
Ego keeps this suffering at bay by endlessly affirming its social self. As that most unreal and egoic of sources, the average Teevee-American has it, ‘I am a cop, it’s what I do…’ ‘I am a mother, it’s what I do…’ Or, alternatively, ‘This is my town, these are my people’.
Such a ‘self’ is not something which is invented, it is there, ‘inside me’. I look inside and see that I am the cop or mother that society takes me to be (or, for the fake outsider, that I wish society to take me to be). And I have no desire to be anything else. Not that there is anything wrong with inhabiting a role, nor with identifying with a community, nor that there aren’t always elements of self that do not fit into what is required by the social world; rather that ego hides from itself in its social representation.
Man may be psychologically and spiritually deformed by his activity within the egoic group or institution, he may work in a mechanical manner, in mediated environments, in order to produce or manage things which have no recognisable human meaning, and he may be forced to conceal his horror and disgust behind an upbeat mask of emotional management, but if there is no truth beyond a self-constructed from the group, he will defend his deformity, and consequent duplicity and misery, as truth.
All criticisms of the group are taken to be criticisms of the self — ‘I am mortally offended by your prejudice’ — and all criticisms of the self are taken to be prejudice against the group — ‘It’s not because you are repulsed by my moral deformity, it’s because you are racist/homophobic/anti-white/anti-American etc’.
The seamless unity of self and society in the egoic mind explains man’s total blindness to systemic constraints, and to the fundamental paradigms of the system. They are one with his ego, which is why, today for example, man spends so much time thinking and talking about voting, about reforming teaching, about having fairer laws, about creating cleaner motorways and so on and so forth; but not a word on how disabling democracy is, or education, or law, or transport, or the encompassing system, which is as invisible to him as water is to a fish, or anger is to a van driver.