The Art of Anarchic Artha
A look through the void via Alan Watts
Do not expect finished product. This is only the first blanking that follows
a new reincarnation of ideas.
1. A PREAMBLE FOR ORIENTATION
Something is missing. It's everywhere and it's missing. In the desire to
escape the unbearable compression of the blockage at the heart of consumptive
culture, those attempting to escape are leaving something out. Or rather
taking something with them-something that twists them even more tightly
into the maddening enantiodromic circles of the spectacle which they most
urgently desire to avoid. "The" counterculture becomes just more
of the same. Always it's stasis > rebellion > assimilation > more
conformity > stasis. Yet the OOO has found a source of information that
breaks vicious circles by using nothing less then things involved in their
creation, namely words and self-consciousness. We don't like the dimming
of intelligence involved in creating hero figures, but in this essay we
are concerned with creating a sounding board that resonates to ideas in
the here and now, not in the past. Our source of words is to be found in
the writings of a supposedly "60s" supposedly "guru"
called Alan Watts. In order to learn the rules on which many of the subsequent
developments of the counterculture are implicitly or explicitly based, we
have found no better writer. After reading certain of Watts' books, concepts
that are lazily taken for granted in countercultures leap into clarity.
And some ideas that seemed good become as dross when awareness shines on
Awareness is something that shows up the misuse of language by the dogmatic.
This could be why Watts got into a lot of trouble with those who thought
he was somehow duping people through not being entirely serious about philosophy
and ethics (and these are very serious things, right?), especially in the
more self-consciously "serious" circles of (barf) "personal
development". In fact there is a clue here as to why his work is still
so deeply refreshing and exciting long after countless other 60s "gurus"
have faded into deserved obscurity. He was fascinated with the idea of the
"rascal-guru", as exemplified by figures such as Gurdjieff, Crowley
and Krishnamurti. They were all people who lacked the ponderous niceness,
the correctness that for some reason is your passport to acceptance in the
conventional, reactionary spiritual community. Yet perhaps this is why he
has been abandoned, both by lazy New Age pensioners, and more individual
seekers of escape from the hallucination of history. Many of his "followers",
especially in the 70s, took chunks of his ideas with the deepness taken
out, and used them for stupidly shallow games that paradoxically repressed
those they were meant to help. Belief systems the same as the ones that
went before, but with a surface gloss of eastern culture, with magickal
methods as opposed to intuitive insight. Methods aren't the most humane
and efficient thing to use when you are suffering the freezing fear of death
or feeling cut off from society.
In Psychotherapy East and West Watts drew a parallel between the attitude
of psychotherapists and that of eastern gurus when faced with a potential
'disciple'-all gurus, like psychotherapists, trick people into awareness
by getting them to act and think consistently on their false assumptions.
This is a hard path for those suffering from arrogance or excessive submissiveness,
and so people go off in search of a surface solution, which then invariably
fails when the crisis comes. And yet the answer to everything is right here
now, and therefore the search is strangely pointless, a mysterious comedy.
The humour/serious dichotomy can easily be used to cover up lazy thinking,
which in the context of a "guru" is indistinguishable from self-righteousness-"Look
it may not add up but I think it's right, it's my unique insight, so believe
it, OK?" This never occurred for Watts, for he had an impeccable self-doubt,
frequently insisting 'think for yourself and don't trust me.' Perhaps his
most important transcendence was his compassionate humour. Humour should
go with insight in order to be true humour-it offers escape from painful
misuse of the mind's capabilities. And in today's countercultural milieu
perhaps this sort of humour could do with being cultivated. ("The outward
and superficial aspect of religion should be ascetic and solemn, to conceal
the guffaws in the inner sanctum" - In My Own Way, 1972.) But through
compassion Watts realised too that existence is an unusually ecstatic form
of Joy, ranging from that of intense fear and screaming agony, to pure delight.
He had great respect for the existentialists, valuing their ideas, but also
insisted that the meaninglessness of life was in fact an intensely powerful
working of what can only be called Love, in a completely new sense.
"This is where Freud and Jung seem to be wiser than the
existentialists: they see that death is the goal of life. Nonbeing fulfils
being, just as space does not negate what is solid."
At times there is a dash of something sinister in his writings, a devil-may-care
attitude towards things that are supposed to be important-something far
too rare amongst scholars of eastern philosophies. This shows that it appears
that Watts had vaulted over the most restrictive bastion of Control, authority,
the Spectacle: he no longer regarded death as serious. This is in fact the
key that opens the door to freedom-but this is by no means clear (even though
you might think it is). Your mind is almost certainly more muddied than
Psychotherapy East and West, p.114 (1961)
He "grounded" spirituality, bringing it back to earth with his
assertion that "matter is spirit named", and with his contemplation
of nothing less than the "mystery of existence itself". This helps
to explain his complete avoidance of the "heady", "spaced-out"
escapist wish-fulfilment scenarios usually found in nearly all so-called
spiritual circles, from theosophist through gnostic to beat Zen, with their
snobbish disdain for "mere" matter. To matter-hating gnostics
the OOO says: the fear of gravity is groundless.
"I'm not saying that there is no afterlife, but that believing
in it keeps us in bondage."
. . . as does making a belief out of denying it. This may make him seem
something of a wet liberal Bishop of York figure given to much "well
of course we mustn't take this too literally" type platitudinising
but as anybody who has experienced even a small threat of dissolution of
the ego will testify, this sort of theorising can be dangerous. Yet
only by taking life lightly can we enjoy it and be creative.
The Book, 1967
There are two modes of knowledge-external and internal. External knowledge
is excellent for forming theories, predicting and taking note of the outside
world without getting cluttered by psychological prejudices. Internal knowledge
is to do with things such as feeling that you exist, emotions, aesthetics,
and so on. Tragically, these two modes have become horribly mixed in the
course of history. Religion as become a truly sadistic assault on the inherent
freedom of the conscious human organism through becoming an external system
of rules enforced by a spurious "higher authority". Similarly,
the world of objects has been reified as something that human life revolves
around, with psychological happiness depending on acquisition. But it is
no exaggeration to say that for some people at least a thorough, concentrated
reading of Watts' writings could actually help untangle this crossed wire
situation. Because his language is alive. It is written from the viewpoint
of interior knowledge and thus carries the feel, the intuition
of Eastern philosophies through the way he puts his words together. Picking
up on what is lying behind the words, what they're actually driving at,
is a very good way to cultivate your inherent bullshit detector. Everybody's
got one, they just get scrambled and disconnected by the Spectacle. It means
that the externalised trappings (and we use that word advisedly)
are unwrapped. Sometimes the scales fall away from the eyes to reveal a
lucid aid to existence, sometimes just a rotten, desiccated mummy of dusty
dead book-learned drivel flops lifelessly to the floor.
In terms of supposedly "concrete", "objective" theory,
eastern philosophies are empty. They don't actually have much inherently
to do with Zen monasteries, sensitive landscapes, tea ceremonies, buddhas
and that deadly dull kindliness of spirit associated with the standard New
Age approach to the spirit. The philosophies of the east change action,
and in essence are therefore invisible if you're looking for coded sets
of beliefs that can be just plugged into to get enlightenment (whatever
that is). Analytically searching for the essence of, say, zen buddhism
by just acting Japanese is like trying to work out somebody's personality
from a photo of them. You can only get so far, and can easily be misled
by appearances. (This is why we mistrust sympathetic magick.) But Watts'
writing flowed from insight-they were simply unblocked linguistic activity.
It was the Tao, but being language also suggested the Tao.
As a result, Watts thoroughly avoided the obscurantist mumbo-jumbo and world-denying
wishful thinking that has come to be associated with 'mysticism' in most
peoples' minds. Neither was he anti-intellectual. His prodigious naturally-occurring
intellect worked so well because it worked without strained effort. Intellect
for Watts was an essential aspect of the Self, its very own blissful dramatisation.
It would spoil it to misuse it. Big words and unusual terminology would
tend to obscure the feel of the philosophies-as would shallow easy-to-digest
simplifications. This seemed to almost demand the populist approach of his
books from Wisdom of Insecurity (1951) onwards. Despite the dangers of the
message not getting across, Watts had such a keen grasp of every conceivable
subtlety to be found in eastern ideas that this introduces an active element
on the interested reader's part to try and understand more fully what it
is he's writing about, an effort that goes beyond merely reading the books.
The "populist" approach Watts used also tends to guard against
the ethereal precious-isation that tends to go with interests in eastern
philosophies, keeping the writing more direct, more practical. This is especially
useful in these days of rampant politicised elitism.
Music is a good point of comparison, as there have always been prodigies
who write sterile music, and only second division composers who sometimes
"hit a right note". A Bach fugue has no particular meaning outside
of itself yet seems to speak directly to the human heart. A music analyst
would dissect and point out the amazing complexity of structure and get
us absolutely nowhere. At best one could turn out a Bach-ish fugue of no
transcendental content, or join the dots while listening. But a critic
could actually enlighten the listener by giving him a kind of "rough
guide", "fuzzy logic" set of rather vague ideas about how
to listen or what to listen for. They may appear "illogical" under
rigid analysis, but they would work.
We must also note that Watts had no political correctness whatsoever-some
anarchists are going to have to come to terms with this sooner or
later if they want anarchy to catch on at all. Personally we're a bit tired
of the various agendas involved in old-style anarchy today, such as hating
Macdonald's (why not something even more evil and damaging like Rio Tinto
Zinc?), never eating even organically reared meat (as if organic consumption
and death could somehow be cancelled from creation-the "eating competition"
as Watts put it), and being sorry for having a penis.
With Watts ruined old doctrines such as karma, reincarnation, even xtain
symbolism, are given a vibrant new depth of meaning and practicality (and
strange aesthetic beauty) by solely referring them to the world in which
we find ourselves now, but from the viewpoint of internal knowledge.
They speak instead for psychological realities that it is enormously therapeutic
to be aware of. It's a measure of how clogged with abstraction our minds
are that people frequently complained they didn't know what 'sort' of philosopher
he was. Formally he was a Mahayana Buddhist, a Jungian christian, a zen
buddhist, a Taoist. But because he was basically following up his own interests
something curious happens. You can paradoxically make allowances for his
personality and therefore find the real depths of what he was verbalising
about in much truer, fresher form than you could with somebody desperately
pretending to be objective. This gives you something suited to your
personality, your particular needs for development.
We must note there are obviously traits in Watts' writings that would not
be found if he was writing today. For example, some of his later writing
showed various attitudes that led to the downfall of the 60s countercultural
movements. He was too easy going, too naive about how evil the major socio-economic
interests were. He was also writing before feminism became a major issue,
which personally we find somewhat refreshing in the post-feminist times.
Contexts always change, and one has to sift through the more localised "fashionable"
stylistic traits and information to find the important material. Enlightenment
is not time-dependent with regard to culture, and therefore will tend to
show up through various cultural influences as still being recognisable.
One shouldn't let current reactions against New Age pensioners and pill
popping middle class hippies get in the way of the fact that once certain
slightly quaint 50s/60s references are removed from Watts' writings, there
are enormously powerful ideas contained within.
The first important point is that Watts always knew that books about books,
thoughts about thoughts are a serious, almost comical, waste of time. In
a way this includes his own books:
"Let's say (since in writing a book one has to say something)
that reality or existence is a multidimensional and interwoven system of
varying spectra of vibrations, and that man's five sense are attuned only
to very small bands of these spectra. That sounds very profound and may
mean nothing at all, but in reading it one should attend to the sound of
the words and not their meaning. Then you will get my point.
This is indeed more profound than it may first appear. It is connected with
the first thing that needs to be addressed if we are to gain anything worthwhile
from ideas of "spirituality". Watts' attitude to his own philosophising
was that of somebody who regarded life as in a special sense poetic. This
"special sense" has nothing to do with conventional ideas of art.
Instead this sense, this feeling, of poetry was intimately connected with
his idea that just as a tree might grow fruit, so thoughts of various kinds
are also "grown" by the mind. And this includes philosophical
thoughts. But the whole thrust of eastern philosophies is that there is
something that easily tends to go wrong with the mind under social conditioning.
Although this problem is "natural" in the sense that anything
that exists must therefore be natural, it's painful for many people, and
in fact is now beginning to threaten our continued existence on this planet.
In the world of out thoughts, we should be keeping biodiversity and weeding
carefully, instead of trying to blitz our mysterious forests, our hidden
earthworms, our plants that don't fit, with pesticidal dogmas, bold assertions
that certain types of thought must either die or be killed. The problem
doesn't magically vanish when there's enough cultural distance, so that
we can laugh off the ideas of other cultures as being irrelevant. The very
idea of cultural distance is connected with this problem, as our culture
has evolved the way it has because of it.
- Does it Matter?, intro.
That problem is EGO.
There has been a longstanding fight going on due to the way that eastern philosophies
tend to aim for a dissolution of the ego whereas in the West the ego is extremely
important. In one corner we have Jung, Freud and their psychoanalytical offspring-on
the other various extreme behaviourists, consciousness researchers and of course
the mystics. It's going to be a long fight. Yet must we concur with Jung's view
that the ego is so important you're unconscious without it? That only the unusually
advanced individuation in the east allows the ego to be temporarily switched off?
That in the West we are actually psychologically built to have an ego?
Or on the other hand that consciousness doesn't really exist, being only a sign
that the brain is functioning? Surely not. We'd rather go on an empirical argument:
There is no such thing as the perfect human brain-this is a meaningless concept.
Yet if any one mind has become enlightened in its imperfection, then any
mind is open to enlightenment. Our brain structures are highly similar, and enlightenment
is at heart the fullest acceptance of what we are anyway. Simple, no? (1)
Too simple really, so here follows the rest of this essay.
For Alan Watts there was a way through the East/West impasse, one that did
not destroy the useful intuitive insights of the West in the process. He
pointed out that we have resonance, a feeling of feedback that gives
"depth" (intensity) to life, much the same way that singing in
the bath is so much more enjoyable (or even possible) than singing in a
soundproof room, or that myths suggest several levels of meaning around
the central theme. If this insight is linked with another very useful neurological
model we can really begin to get somewhere. (Remember-if the model leads
to intractable contradictions and difficulties, always exchange it for a
new one if necessary.)
Although Watts looked with extreme askance upon Timothy Leary's rampant
use of drugs to expand consciousness, they were nonetheless good friends,
and it is Leary's model that is important here. Leary's viewpoint concerns
different neurological circuits that have built up in the course of evolution
for different "needs" and which function in different ways. Circuit
I is based around basic eat/avoid commands and is inherited from out reptilian
forebears, whereas circuit VIII is non-local and some way outside space-time.
Only circuits I to IV (the socio-sexual circuit) are usually developed to
any complex level in the average human. Circuit III is the one that interests
us here, as it contains verbal, logical, analytical thought. It is also
self-reflexive, in the way that dictionaries all refer to each other, the
way infinite regress creeps into logical operations, the way that trying
to avoid particular thoughts gets you straight back into them. It is this
circuit that forms "sketches" or makes models of reality for purposes
of communication and scientifically probing things further. But it is all
too easy for a strange phantasmic "stuck groove" ideas of the
self to form in this circuit, which thinks it is disconnected from the outside
world. This is the ego, not the whole of circuit III. It can
be thought of as too much feedback from the left brain (where circuit III
resides for the most part) which than leads to a kind of persistent cramp.
It's circuit III's identification of the essence of being human with its
own fixed idea of what it thinks circuit III is! All done without any help
from the outside world. This illusory break between inner and outer can
make the very idea of existing seem utterly horrifying, and ruins the natural
functioning of the intellect.
The constant identification with a socially induced linguistic hallucination
is what leads this false idea of the self, and the resulting profound sense
of not being at home in this Universe. It is connected with the idea, first
proposed by the biologist Gregory Bateson, of the "double bind".
This is a self-contradicting instruction, which traps its subjects in two
logically contradicting courses of action. It's found par excellence
in the SubGenius admonition "Do as we say and think for yourself!".
A double bind is to be given two mutually exclusive courses of action and
not being allowed to comment on them. This touches at the heart of anarchism.
"Society gives us the idea that the mind or ego
is inside the skin and that its acts on its own against society. We are
to play the game as if independent, but not to know we are playing
as if. The individual is self-determining, but only by virtue of
the rules. This is an insane definition of sanity."
This is probably where Jung went completely off-track-as Watts pointed out, Jung's
idea of the ego had more to do with the Western linguistic division in subject
and object that "goeswith" (2) ego. Jung made the classic,
all-pervasive mistake of confusing the map with the territory. Just because we
split everything subject/object doesn't actually mean they're there.
- Beyond Theology (1964) italics the OOO's.
We can think of the ego as a "false" circuit, circuit IX, that
interrupts the normal functioning of circuit III, causing it to block, stammer
and crash, making input from higher "non-verbal" circuits seem
2-dimensional and intolerably inexact because they don't fit into the self-reflexive
circuit's boxes, taking out all the insight and leaving a dust-dry dead
inflexible book. It's a form of uncleared mental rubbish that if left to
accumulate leads to all manner of mental ill-health, from neuroses to full-blown
schizophrenia. (Note for qabalists: IX is of course the mirror image of
XI, the number of the "false" sephira on the Tree of Life. Is
there anybody out there who'd like to let the OOO know their thoughts on
"A 'thing' is a unit of thought, a 'think'" (3) and
because circuit III chops things up it is not actually suited for forming ultimate
theories of everything (regardless of GUT scientists' claims-in fact in order
to come up with a real GUT, that explains chaos, emotion, and so on, it would
have to resemble something really mysterious rather than a typical equation).
When the "snapshot consciousness" of circuit III is operating as it
was designed to, we find once again that we are "artistic", because
of our resonance. Selfconsciousness is not ego. This explains partly why the standard
distinction between hard-headed realism and "artistic" activity is sensed
to be false from the viewpoint of eastern philosophy. And for Watts' part instead
of thinking that he was revitalising art by making it concerned with the "tough
facts" of life, which everybody from the kitchen-sink dramatists of late
19th century France to the poetic postmodern politicals viewed as a way forward,
he simply viewed all aspects of Mind as aesthetic, artistic, devoid of meaning
outside themselves, rich with meaning in themselves. This is simply wu-wei
of circuit III. (Wu-wei has been translated at "knowing when to stop",
see further on in this essay.)
"As soon as any psychic content, any feeling, any thought
appears to be an object of knowledge and we begin to look into it, the very
act of looking into it bores a hole in it and it becomes hollow in the very
act of doing that ... So when we find that there's only the shapes of nothing,
shapes around nothing, hollows inside everywhere-however small, however
minute-ultimately just hollows, then the form itself becomes the substance
and action acquires a totally genuine quality. In other words, play and
genuineness become the same."
Naturally there is still a tendency to overflow (decoration, pleasure in
non-functional art, etc.) due to our self-consciousness. Resonance acts
against mere plainness in art, and identification of art as being "only"
life. Indeed while Watts insisted that much modern art is pseudy copyist
garbage, he nonetheless has great enthusiasm for art which "is cleaning
our eyes and ears", such as the music of his friend John Cage, or minimalist
painting. This attitude paradoxically leads to proper compassion for the
external world, and tends to militate against art for art's sake, as instead
all the activities of the human mind are artistic. And it isn't a call to
only create "nice" art since if the artist is fully involved with
life, then he will reflect all of life in his activities.
- Play and Sincerity, from 'Live in the Moment', transcribed lectures vol.
Thus we can see a new kind of identity between artistic activity
and life in general, one that freely admits human beings' tendency to create
without tying it down to preconceived ideas that spring from stupid theorised
abstractions. Our self-consciousness produces attractive/exciting art, and
also can be viewed as the universe unfolding itself further by creating
human beings, with all the psychology that socially-based self-consciousness
implies. It's an interesting idea, anyway.
The addition of "depth" can also be understood not just as a kind
of "consciousness algorithm", but also as the way we perceive
things psychologically, as an interplay of complex ideas and emotions.
Life is maya, which Watts interpreted as meaning not so much illusion
as "magic"-impressively skilful activity that fulfils itself through
playing out a drama. This is a central idea in the philosophy of Vedanta.
Watts' conception of this beautiful and incredibly advanced philosophy was
radical-too radical for many Vedantists, who in practice tend to be aesthetes
and world-deniers. As Watts was by nature nothing of the sort, his conception
of Vedanta as being a call to truly live life to the full ruffled a few
feathers. Still, it's easy to see in the long run who's philosophy looks
Vedanta (4) is notable for the way it regards the development
of psychology as inherent to the Universe-humanity was inevitable. There is latent
is Vedanta philosophy an extremely potent interplay of art and science and the
OOO is surprised not more people have explored this. Watts elucidated Vedanta
by performing an act of mental judo on reductionist materialism by running it
to the point of (synergistic) self-destruction. In The Book he used the metaphor
of a dead planet that evolved tubes. These tubes began to discover that they could
eat at one end and excrete at the other, which permitted an evolution in complexity
to the point that they could make noises to each other for territorial, warning,
and mating purposes. Eventually they developed to the point where they could make
noises about the noises they were making. This is futile and yet so marvellous
in its futility and strangeness. Why should it seem so remarkable? Why not just
adopt the standard tone of crypto-Protestant despair that's so fashionable in
the art world these days? Why not just complain about it all like most
In the myth of Vedanta, at first there was the Self (also known as Brahman
or atman, the soul). It was unified, blissful and perfect in every
way, and therefore got lonely and bored. So It had a tendency to make things
more interesting for Itself by forgetting its existence. For creative kicks,
it temporarily lost control and went random. It went to sleep and dreamt.
At first there were just reasonable "dreams" of pleasant, unsullied
creative play. This was krita-yuga. It was unhurried and lasted ages. But
eventually to keep things alive some instability had to appear, a touch
of evil, a cloud on the horizon, a fleck of ugliness in the beauty. Furthermore
the Self decided to forget that it was dreaming (think about it).
This was dvapara-yuga, and because of the increase in entropy, it went more
quickly. Then to really get things going evil gained an equal footing with
good, which led to a lot of temporary imbalance and in-fighting. This was
dritta-yuga. But in the end even this was not enough of an expansion of
creativity, and so it was inevitable that evil must gain the upper hand.
The Self would utterly dissolve and shatter into an endless abyss of decay,
destruction and despair. This is kali-yuga. Everything rots from the inside.
Kali stalk the earth to destroy all people. As time has been accelerating
logarithmically throughout this scenario, things begin to race for destruction.
And at the end, when the darkness is infinite, everything is utterly destroyed
in the tandava, the fire dance of Shiva. And the Self wakes again
with an orgasmic shiver of unalloyed delight. It has gone to the utmost
to create an outpouring of Itself into forgetfulness, for this is how love
works. Everything is perfect and pure once more. Until It becomes bored
Here again we see a re-telling of the problems of ego more vivid than in
any other religion. The ego is kali-yuga. The idea of accelerating time
is seen most clearly in serious panic attacks and schizophrenia, where time
seems to stall and stretch into an infinity of agony as the ego fights to
get out of the Universe, the mind, that gave rise to it. Furthermore, the
idea of uncleanliness and disease is special to those with too much ego.
In depressive states entropy is seen as a hellish burning or rotting away
of matter. This is why if you can see Kali as beneficent, performing a good
and useful purpose, your mental hygiene will improve drastically. Black
goeswith white. Decay is what gives rise to new life. Hence Kali's femininity.
She also has the shortest time cycle to be found in Hindu mythology-a total
of 28 days. The cycle of new life.
So we can see that the "dead" planet wasn't-rather it was more
like a tree that fruited. The planet "peopled". Quite slowly,
but it did, whether by Darwinian selection or whatever. Then we note that
this means there's a "self"-ish quality to the universe as it's
been and gone and made selves. Never mind that there weren't any once-that
was in the past, and the past only exists as an idea in the present moment.
Even if it was a random "monkeys with typewriters" scenario, then
it's still happened. It all seems to make a passionate kind of sense. Not
logical at first glance, but entirely understandable on the deepest levels
4. TAOISM & BALANCE
We need pay no attention to the tedious feminism that insists that Female
is Good, somehow "better" than maleness. Matriarchy, patriarchy-they're
all archist and therefore pointless static dualisms that simply show their
proponents haven't got rid of their dualist christian cultural psychological
conditioning as much as they may have at first thought. With Taoism we get
the idea of a dynamic balance, where it's OK to link femininity with destruction
because destruction is an entirely natural thing. As Watts said, "nothing
is the most dependable thing there is". The idea of somehow coming
to terms with the darker side of existence is of the utmost importance in
Taoism. Western culture as a whole is based on an entirely humourless, furious,
unyielding rigid and neurotic denial of the ying, negative, mysterious,
female. This in turn leads to a great deal of mental ill health that in
fact is regarded as being somehow normal by "respectable" people,
laudable even. Philosophers such as Bertrand Russell write books like The
Conquest of Nature, moralists insist that we purify ourselves by suffocating
our darker side, and nearly everybody simply refuses to seriously acknowledge
the existence of death (while simultaneously gorging themselves on horror
films by way of a non-serious compensation for the very real horrors that
are lurking in their subconscious).
Most peoples' predicament is like that of somebody who's noticed the boat
they're in is keeling to one side, and in their haste not to fall over the
edge move further towards the side nearest the water for safety.
But the dark goeswith the light. It can't ever be annihilated, so when temporarily
repressed it tends to just come back on the double, at the most inopportune
moment, and with extra destructiveness. The sickness of trying to annihilate
the dark side is at the heart of Western civilisation. If you cling to the
light or the dark, your mind cramps. And if you want to avoid cramp, you
must learn to accept the dark.
"And so in order to feel good, to feel that life is worthwhile,
that existence is worth going on with, in order to bring out that feeling,
just as the red brings out the violet, there has to be in the back of our
minds, maybe very far away, the comprehension that there is something that
could happen, that absolutely must not happen, that is the horrors, that
is the screaming meemies at the end of the line."
Or as Watts used to say of himself, "What else could a light shine
in if it wasn't the darkness?"
- 'The More Things Change', The Essential Alan Watts, p.80
Furthermore, we must note that whether you're following the Left or Right
hand path, you're following a mere path, a static, stuck plan of action
that tints everything one colour, tilts everything one way. (And we all
know what we think about One Way xtians don't we?) There is no need to make
a point of following a path at all in the first place-they're just earlier
versions of rails. To take the example of the Indian vama marg, and
excremental path much lauded by magicians such as Kenneth Grant-all the
supposed new flexibility and freshness of outlook that comes from following
this path reminds us of is feeling better after you've finished banging
your head against a brick wall.
Because of the constant neurotic clinging to yang ways of existing, we do
indeed lose touch with the darker side. Thus in order to come to terms with
it we have to rediscover what it is. But this is an ongoing process which
doesn't mean that any attempt to manifest the dark side should be made.
An attempt to explore, yes, an attempt to dig up, no. The ying is dark,
hidden, and ceases to be that way when forced into the open. In the open,
it is simply deformed and destructive to those foolish enough to do this
(such as those who insist on following "left hand paths" without
ever straying off them). The dark side is something that shocks the conscious,
rational mind out of rigidity when discovered. It's not something that you
just mix in like putting milk in tea. This is very hard for Westerners to
understand because they have very little feeling for the dynamic interplay
between yin and yang, the idea that everything moves and cannot be made
static. One good analogy can be found, however, in mental processes summed
up by phrases like "We have nothing to fear except fear itself"
or "We only hate hate". Thinking for a while on what is implied
in processes like this can give a good feeling of how to integrate the darker
side into life without splattering yourself with it and ending up an utter
The decision to follow a path at all in the first place implies a lack of
trust in the organism itself. But this is the old tedious double-bind again.
If you can't trust your organism then how can you trust any course of action
you take to repair it? The realisation of this absurdity is what has given
Taoism its well-known anarchic bias. Laws, conventional book-learned morals,
repression of the weird and so on, are all indicative of a lack of trust
in human nature (which mistrust is also unfortunately promoted by many counter-culturalists).
But even if we are born murderous, what can we really do about it,
bearing in mind that repression is one of the very things that promotes
irrational outbursts of passion? To even be conscious and think anything
at all means that we're working as well as we can work. Anything else is
just mental knotting and delusion-illness.
Because Watts wasn't scared of the negative, he never made the mistake of
thinking that nature's nice and pretty and life is gentle, pointing out
instead that nature is based on mutual murder. For Watts it was an "eating
competition", though this didn't stop him from taking to task Darwinians
for having ideas regarding reality in general that had long been surpassed
by other branches of science. He avoided sentimentalism even, or rather
especially when talking about philosophies such as Taoism, which
normally are used for orgies of wishful thinking about life.
So what does "accepting the negative" entail? In a balanced state,
fear and negativity is still possible-it is just not indulged in in the
same crushingly static, insistently serious way. It wears off after a while,
instead of being made a constant mode of life, of artistic expression.
With regard to the Big One, we note Watts' attitude to death:
"You were kicked off a precipice when you were born and
it's no use clinging to the rocks for security on the way down."
This type of utterance is used as an upaya - a skilful means - to
help readers realise the non-reality of the ego, by way of at least attempting
to come to terms with their own negativity regarding death. He pointed out
that there is no point whatsoever in repressing fear of death (compare that
to most 60s gurus' inane fantasising) or any aspect of the dark, ying, side
of existence. Y¸n-men's admonition, "when sitting, just sit, when
walking, just walk-don't wobble", can be the basis of a profound living
of agony without being so foolish as to try to escape unbearable pain, which
only makes the pain worse and dulls our deeper, inner understanding of what
it really is. The truly enlightened person is not afraid to scream when
being tortures, and in fact screams for all his worth because he is fully
involved in the situation.
- The Book, 1967
Taoism leads to a relaxed but intensely aesthetically attentive attitude
summed up in the concept of wu-wei - "knowing when to stop".
Wu-wei is literally "non-action", but it means only a lack of
the illusory mental striving and comically overdone tension that normally
is mistaken for action anyway. It is doing everything totally without
breaking off from it to self-check all the time. It is not dimming the resonance
of your thought by splitting it against itself. It's easy to see here how
martial arts developed from T'ai Ch'i (which system itself is based on imitation
of various animals' movements).
Another important concept is that of tzu-jan - spontaneity. In the
absence of having a King Ego ruling your head, the Universe isn't thought
of as having a ruler either. So things happen "of themselves"
-tzu-jan. A good example is the one quoted by Watts of crystal formation.
It seems to require a coordinated formation of molecules that mysteriously
come together synchronously to form the crystal. This can't be explained
by reductionist science, and was a phenomenon that added to Rupert Sheldrake's
musings on the morphogenetic field.
Finally we note that the "fuzziness" of Taoism gives its proponents
enormous mental/physical strength because they go with the flow of nature.
When the reed bends it does not break. Far from making you just nice, Taoism
makes you you, which is something very interesting compared to the
dullness of aspect that comes from assuming you're separate from nature,
with all the moral, work-based, self-fighting repression that goeswith that
egotistic attitude. This is why Taoist Masters tended to have very interesting
characters. Ego makes people all alike-being rid of it permits people to
be fully, unconditionally original. When you're acting in a unified field
with your environment, well, that's the Tao.
5. ZEN, GRAMMAR, COMPASSION
Ideas can only be communicated when they are understood from the inside
(i.e. "practically") as opposed to merely intellectually. This
is the whole point behind zen buddhism. Intellectual understanding isn't
everything-how do you intellectually understand a beautiful sunset, or a
particularly unnerving serial killer? You don't - you feel from the
inside something powerful about the human condition. Practicality is not
The central communication of zen is that life is not a problem. It
aims to unblock circuit III and thereby bring about a clear awareness of
the organism/environment process. Nothing more, nothing less. We have all
had experiences where we were dreading something because of what was probably
going to go wrong, and what a lot of possible hassles there could be, and
then found when the time came everything was simple, enjoyable, even.
We shall be very annoyed if when we die, we realise that we are not scared,
yet we have spoilt our whole life worrying about death.
The "problem" of life (in fact all that "Human Condition"
boils down to) is circuit IX's attempt to last forever even though nothing does
(except nothing, of course) (5). Awareness of this is what we
lack, because our heads are humming with too much self-referential verbal overactivity.
The way around this is to observe. We are to work with everyday life instead of
carelessly abstracting through reductionist logic. All systems, including the
body, are too complex to warrant divisive, exacting measurement of every known
variable before action is taken. Indeed chaos maths has shown us that it is outside
the conventional magnitudes of measurement that important information is sometimes
found (like the chaos mathematicians' discovery that it was the nth decimal place
that was affecting equations' outcomes). To stop entanglement in over-analytical
thought, first clear the mind and LOOK. This isn't as easy as it sounds-it's easier.
The main problem seems to be people are curiously unable or unwilling to accept
this. Yet just a few minutes of not thinking about experience, just doing it,
seems to bring results.
"It is important to unthink at least once a day,
for the very preservation of intellectual life. If you do nothing but think,
as you are advised to by most of the academic teachers and gurus, you will
have nothing to think about except thoughts."
Thinking about thinking is sometimes called postmodernism.
- Om: Creative Meditation (lecture transcripts)
Zen uses koans as a kind of double-bind to get people to feel the uselessness
of linear language when used to plumb problems such as being alive, existence,
etc. One well known one was the answer to a zen student who complained that
his mind just couldn't be pacified: "Bring out before me your mind
that needs pacifying!" Koans use the illogicality of language against
itself in order to disarm it, judo style. Like many psychotherapists
do, they get the sufferer to act on his own false assumptions, primarily
the one big ingrained assumption that we are somehow separate from the world.
There is one notable Western philosopher, however, who seems to be aiming at something
similar. Watts viewed the writings of Wittgenstein as a form of jnana-yoga,
intellectual bending and stretching which makes the mind supple and ready to realise
profoundly its identity with It. As he was led to point out, many of the questions
that seem so deeply meaningful, such as "Why are we here?" and "What
is Existence?" are strictly speaking meaningless; somehow we get ourselves
tied in mental knots whereby this isn't understood or felt at all. (6)
Wittgenstein started out using the linguistic logic first developed by Frege
and Russell, but in trying to explore the construction of language, ended
up transcending philosophy itself in the process. His jnana-yoga
starts with using Russellian analysis to show how grammatical form can conceal
the logical form of a sentence. This analysis acts extremely corrosively
to get rid of self-contradiction and hidden assumptions by applying self-evident
rules of logic to analyse grammatical constructions and break them into
their most basic component parts. Complex sentences very often feature a
grammatical "clouding over" of logic as they compress assumptions
into too little a space ("Try me for size, babe" would be a good
example of a very complex construction hiding out in a simple sentence-what
could it exactly mean?). This is where metaphysical problems tend
to creep into arguments-they refer to things that don't exist, but we become
grammatically deluded by the seemingly convincing layout of language that
the questions raised actually mean something in the first place.
And as language gains its meaning socially, we can already see a similarity
(concerning ego) with eastern philosophies. Wittgenstein was originally
involved with logical 'atomism', which states that complex sentences are
derived by linkages of 'atomic sentences'. These are in turn built out of
atomic facts, which are the basic, 'given' units of language that cannot
be analysed further (e.g. saying 'apple' to refer to, well, an apple). This
already brings to mind a link with zen-style mysticism via Korzybski, who
liked to point out that the experience of 'water' is not a word-you can't
drink the word 'water'.
The jnana-yoga reaches another level when we start to work out how
atomic facts are linked with atomic sentences in order to be logically linked
together into complex sentences. In order to make a proposition that links
an atomic fact with an atomic sentence, you already have to think of an
atomic sentence that goeswith it. This is because they're atomic, not complex
facts. (All we can do here is recommend that the reader checks out some
Wittgenstein, sorry). Any attempt to describe the linkage will be itself
a logical, and therefore complex, statement, capable of being analysed back
to its atomic components. Wittgenstein used peculiarly suggestive language
to suggest how the linkage is actually made-he called it 'showing'. An ironic
slant on the old Chinese saying "a showing is worth a thousand words"!
We're also reminded of zen's insistence on 'direct showing' of reality.
We 'picture' (not mentally, but logically) due to the activity linking the
atomic fact with its sentence, . . . but . . . something's gone wrong here
. . . what about the theory of talking about all this in the first place?
It's not logical, it's not atomic, it's not even tautological. It must therefore
be meaningless, complete nonsense. The whole of Wittgenstein's philosophy
is a giant koan used to tease the mind out of linear, logical thinking,
and "that whereof one cannot speak one must consign to silence."
The parallel with mysticism is obvious.
There are also implications for the place of mystical writing in the overall
scheme of things. Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logicophilosophicus (which
ends with That Sentence About Silence) states that the limits of thought
are the limits of what can be said. Again, another feel of what "stopping
thought" could imply. Philosophies can only analyse the use of grammar,
grammar being how language use derives its sense and nonsense. This means
that Wittgenstein required that philosophers stop lapsing into language
use connected with non-philosophical thought. When analysed using Russellian
logic, many apparently philosophical writings turn out to have chunks of
language use that are instead connected with language "games"
such as condemnation, commendation, and so on. This led Wittgenstein to
state that his aim was to bring language back to its "everyday use",
i.e. its proper home. Language can only truly be analysed as it is actually
used. The use of course depends on the world view of the user, which is
a given, non-analysable set of assumptions that are left after the analysis
has reached the atomic level. A world view is the "logical space"
inhabited by language, and is a framework of true/false constructive activity.
It can only be 'pictured' through the use of language. World view cannot
be viewed in a broader concept, as that broader concept would itself form
a world view. In other words, to assume there is an essence of language
is meaningless and pointless. The same words can be used in entirely
different languages. This is perhaps what gives rise to that feeling
that some people who are appearing to talk sense are talking drivel, and
vice versa. This is very important when trying to deal with eastern philosophies,
as people can become easy prey to the next passing guru who will sell another
version of institutionality with nice eastern trappings. As Wittgenstein
said, "DON'T LOOK FOR THE MEANING, LOOK FOR THE USE".
To press the point one more time, let us look at music again. Although all
Western music uses a 12 tone scale, nobody (from the West) would ever dream
of confusing Schoenberg with Wagner. The very essence of what their
music is about, what it stands for, is utterly different. It is exactly
this way with words. Words are empty (as John Cage enjoyed over the course
of several records and a book).
There are further links between Wittgenstein and 'eastern' thought. Wittgenstein's
later philosophical investigations led to his own version of ego destruction-the
public language argument. In essence this stated that as language only gains
meaning publicly (through 'showing'), it is nonsense to give descriptions
of mental states as if the first person is uniquely placed to understand
them. If you say "I'm dying for a drink", you are using third
person language systems. If otherwise, nobody would be able to understand
what you were talking about! This is an a priori condition of being
able to make sense of language.
We note then:
1. Spiritual ideas are often asked to prove themselves in the wrong language.
When anarchists indulge in that jovially feisty no-nonsense rubbishing of
spirituality as being irrelevant, they aren't aware that they're joining
in with the language game of the scientists that would rubbish them.
2. "Spirituality" is a valid word, found in connection with attempts
to describe or simply to make poetry, to "sing", about non-verbal
profound experiences. ("Mysticism precedes the subsequent argument
about it" - Gneurosis 1, editorial [ii]). But the word "spirituality"
needs destroying and rebuilding due to its persistent historical misuse
in connection with semantic histrionics of authoritarian Control. For example
(although he wouldn't thank us for this) Bob Black is very spiritual due
to his refusal to accept anarchism's standard misuse of ideas and due to
the uncompromising, concentrated playfulness of attitude he adopts. On the
other hand, any number of eastern gurus are only concerned with selfish,
symbol-ridden "personal transformation" that exists in isolation
from the extremely ill society we find ourselves in today. Their language
use shows this when analysed. (But remember this "analysis" is
itself something that strangely tends towards the non-verbal-it isn't just
an academic activity.)
3. Ultimately words do not have any meaning in themselves. They are a form
of given activity, like consciousness, like the Tao.
What happens when we have realised the meaninglessness of language? Things
become effortless, for a start:
The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection
Watts compared it to sparks coming from two flints. Life goes on anyway.
This leads to a painfully important point Watts was very keen on putting
across. We must not get the idea (unfortunately rather prevalent)
that nirvana is a kind of persistent vegetative state whereby all
differentiation is abolished, where everything dissolves into holy, gently
glowing light. Watts viewed this viewpoint, common in the Pali Canon of
Hinayana Buddhism, as fundamentally flawed for the simple reason that life
continues anyway after Enlightenment. "Stopping thought" is a
language game that points to something outside thought, not an end in itself.
The physical world cannot be abolished-and seeing as the outcome of Enlightenment
should be a form of connection with the outside world which is commonly
called karuna, compassion, then obviously we must carry on relating.
Not because we have to, we just do. Karuna is simply
The water has no mind to reflect their image
- Zenrin poem (quoted in The Way of Zen, 1957)
"The appropriate attitude of the organism to its social
and natural environment when it is discovered that the shifting boundary
between the individual and the world, which we call the individual's behaviour,
is common to both. My outline . . . is also the inline of the world."
The nirvana of the Pali Canon (Hinayana Buddhism), with its blanking
out of everything into an undifferentiated whiteout, tends more towards
"religion" for religion's sake, whereas Mahayana Buddhism is concerned
with really living life to the utter utmost, including all the compassion
that that has to involve for life to be truly lived.
- Psychotherapy East & West (1961), p.67
Buddhism regards the cultivation of intuitive (direct) insight, prajna,
as essential, and as Watts pointed out:
"Because ultimate reality has no qualities and is not a
thing, it cannot become an object of knowledge. Prajna, direct insight,
knows the truth by not knowing."
- Way of Zen, p.102
"If prajna is to see that 'form is void', karuna
is to see that 'void is form'. It is therefore an affirmation of the everyday
world in all its 'suchness' [tathata]."
It is karuna that is so lacking in anarchist/spiritual circles these
days. Everybody's in it for the intellection and role playing, i.e. the
quasi-religious aspect. Indeed look at how lacking in practical advice this
essay is for a start!
- Way of Zen, p.90
Karuna is the answer to those who would say the "everyday use"
of religious language games is simply something that cuts them off from
everyday life (such as the Marxist assertion that religion is purely neurosis
and will fade out if properly treated). Conventional religions, yes (the
language doesn't point to something beyond itself-e.g. Jesus really did
physically resurrect), mysticism no (the Tao that can be named is not the
So much metaphysics and philosophy falls into the trap of becoming fascinated
and then entirely concerned with verbalising about itself. In academia,
bibliographies are becoming strange attractors with the passing of time.
They bifurcate over and over again, gaining more and more branches, ever
more interlinked books-yet they are always contained within the same boundaries.
Those boundaries may not change, but the scale of their reference grid which
contains them has got progressively larger, to the point where philosophy
as a separate discipline is being dwarfed by simply the everyday activity
of our information-overloaded existence.
Yet when someone asked the Taoist sage Chaou-Chou what the Ultimate answer
was, he replied, "Your everyday mind is the Tao." He followed
this with, "By intending to accord with the Tao you immediately deviate."
Similarly Watts hints at the magical nature of existence but precludes all
egoist systems of self-improvement. This may seem impossible, but that's
a good thing to expect, and so the OOO says Ipsissimus or nothing. Regardless
of whether it is impossible or not, the abandonment of any effort to improve
yourself, or to deliberately not improve yourself, should be experientially
tried first-you may be surprised. The point is to clear the mind
of self-blocking inadequate images, symbols of itself, in order to let it
function to its best capacity.
Words may be regarded as creating reality in some way (as the gnostics might
say), but it has been discovered that the ceasing of verbal thought seems
to lead to awakening, Enlightenment. Because it is a different perception
that is beyond the use of language, therefore language has to be stopped
- hence zen stopping it with itself. Despite the common Western misconception
of Eastern philosophies, thought itself does not stop (how could
it?) but instead it's not all caught up in itself.
6. "WESTERN" "EASTERN" PHILOSOPHY
Never mind labelling ideas 'eastern' or 'western'. Look at whether they
treat everyday life - your life - as a vague, ill-defined problem
or something that in itself is the greatest mystery. Philosophy's doing
you a disservice if your daily problems only remotely intrude into a somebody's
irrelevant abstraction for mental stamp collectors who want a nice album
of cleverly vacuous ideas to stop them from having to engage with the outside
world. If an argument seems to require any number of buzzwords and special
glossaries to work - get suspicious (and yes that may include this essay).
A good test for philosophies is what they imply about man's significance
or otherwise in the cosmos. The newly commonplace western notion that Man
is insignificant is not really the entire picture. Due to our consciousness
we feel as if we are significant individually. It's no use trying to explain
this away as it's just how our consciousness works. It's given. Frames of
reference shouldn't be casually mixed. For the interplay between self/other
to be well defined, for the unified field of organism/environment to be
fully unified, self and other have to be there in the first place. So in
some ways ("external knowledge") we are indeed not the centre
of the Universe at all, but in others ("internal knowledge") we
are. There is an interplay between voluntary/involuntary that is what defines
the unified field in the first place.
To return to the "reductionist materialism" of chapter 3, we note
that this language game insists that reality is "only" material
and entirely mechanical, with a pejorative, destructive slant to the idea
of mechanism (the language game of condemnation). But if the entirely mechanistic
universe of determinism has produced these thoughts of theology, metaphysics
and poetry, emotion and aesthetics, then how can reductionist materialism
say they are somehow false, as when Richard Dawkins constantly keeps snidely
barracking religion? Evidently reductionist materialism is not what it always
claims to be. Instead of a passionless, disinterested, purely-logical approach
to unlocking how things work, it often becomes a language game that it inappropriate
to the subject matter it barges into trying to get rid of. The very same
reductive attitude that produced Darwinism was also the fictitious ego split
that alienates us from that very same supposedly "Darwinian"
nature. Furthermore, the moralist scientist (Dawkins is a good example)
tells us we are wrong and we have to listen or remain stupid-and many of
us do! They play on the love of repression we have that authoritarian society
has given us. It is exhilarating to realise that you don't have to. The
whole point of spiritual language is that a non-verbal reality has been
sensed, so it's nonsense to expect "proof" of spiritual states.
It is also impossible to suggest that that means they're not there-they
are from a different use of language. What can be thought can be said, indeed,
but if the thought is something non-linear, then the language use will be
Yet the actual practice of science is very useful. It starts off with quasi-Buddhist
leanings in trying to clear peoples' minds of confusion and illusion-and indeed,
isn't it almost spiritual to speak of illusion in the first place? "Clearing"
the mind is of course related to what scientists do-observing, recording what
is actually happening. This may sound obvious but it's been a long time since
this was popular in academic philosophical and political spheres. (Although Wittgenstein
managed to do this, we have yet to see philosophy disappear-and why should it
necessarily do that, bearing in mind that humans have that streak in them?) Science
is extremely valuable as long as it doesn't set itself up as a new and useless
myth, and Watts frequently used scientific analogies to telling effect.(7)
He pointed out the fearless attitude of science, whereby questions are followed
up without shying away from what is discovered. He was quite happy with the idea
that matter might be all there is, because nobody know what matter actually is,
how it really behaves, how time affects it, whether there are other sorts of matter,
and so on. Besides, our organs of perception are limited. "Matter" as
commonly understood doesn't exist, except in certain language games. This means
that Watts was never truly a pantheist as many labelled him. Instead he was concerned
with correcting the painful illusions caused by society's conditioning and myths,
that are upsetting our whole sphere of existence. From his viewpoint the backlash
against science seems inordinately silly because the myths of science are just
myths, no more, and certainly no less. They have a certain use, and no more. Technological
progress depends on the psychology that gives rise to it, as well as the society
that psychology is part of/produces (more on this in the next chapter).
The awareness that was part and parcel of Watts' philosophies meant that
he could be oddly prescient. Compare the earlier quote regarding play and
sincerity from 'Live in the Moment' with the following:
"But electric circuitry extends the brain itself as an
externalisation of the nervous system, and will therefore perform wonders
of art (that is, of playful patterns of energy) which have to heretofore
He seemed to have some idea of fractals around the time they were still
in the process of being discovered. These quotes show another way in which
Watts' writings were so powerful. Because people are whole, not disjointed
in themselves, frequently insights from science can be applied to human
psychology, or vice versa, enriching both as a result. The first quote isn't
strictly speaking about fractals as such-indeed the lecture from which it
is taken was about play and sincerity. Yet it somehow seems to also have
a connection with chaotic mathematical models of reality. Modern day chaos
magicians such as Pete Carroll frequently make similar links, but from a
viewpoint more narrowly specific to the world of magickal ritual than human
psychology in general.
- 'Art with a Capital A' in Does it Matter? (1969)
Regarding many "artistic" disciplines, such as "the humanities",
it is actually rather amusing to see various tortured academics moaning
in intellectual agony (before they go home to their zen-influenced ultra-expensive
gadget ridden warehouse flats) because they take for granted certain assumptions
that are based on scientific ideas that were refused at the start of the
century. Occasionally postmodern theorists will address some trait of eastern
spirituality, but they often spoil it by trying to remove what makes it
special. They remove the non-linear, irrational elements by appropriating
them into a system that seeks to explain away non-linearity and irrationality.
They attempt to place the spiritual worldview into a scientific, analytical
one, and then wonder why nothing fits properly. The OOO finds postmodernism,
especially when it descends to sociology, darkly amusing. For the wrong
As we shall see later in this essay, the enlightened attitude to matter
has striking, important implications.
8. THE BODY, WORK, TECHNOLOGY, THE ENVIRONMENT
Miraculous power and marvellous activity
Outdated scientific attitudes and christian ethics (interestingly not so
much Hebrew, Watts noted) still combine to deny the body. Watts however
viewed the body as nothing less than a particular flowering of the Universe,
frequently stating, "You did not come into this Universe, you
grew out of it, like a leaf on a tree." You may say "So
what?", but of course the implications are gigantic, as our whole social
and economic structure is based on the illusion that we float around inside
our heads and are "confronted with a world of alien objects",
that we don't belong here, that we're a mistake. This wouldn't matter so
much except that it clashes with out own psychology (never mind our own
illusory conceptions of ourselves!), giving rise to suffering of
every description, and also clashes with the way we see the Universe behaving.
Another analogy often used by Watts was that of astrology, whereby a chart
is drawn up at the moment of a person's birth. In psychological terms, this
is equivalent to saying that at that time, all the forces of the Universe
were what combined to produce you.
Drawing water and hewing wood!
- Chu'an Teng Lu
The realisation of the worth of the body naturally meant that eroticism
was important to Watts. His spiritualisation of sexuality seems much more
balanced than most sexual writing from the 60s, and one can only wish that
his ideas had been more influential. The main difference was that Watts
saw that treating sex as the big thing about life only seems to entangle
its practitioners even further in society-based problems such as alienation,
loneliness and the commodification of sex (e.g. advertising). In fact placing
a be-all or end-all importance on genital sexuality actually comes from
the repressive structure of society. This prefigures several anarchists'
current ideas that the labelling of 'sex' as a distinct, certain type of
genital activity renders passivication and control much more easy (see the
'Cervis' essay in Anarchy issue 35). It also echoes Freud's idea that the
earlier 'polymorphous perverse' sexuality of children is stunted by societal
pressure and the 'reality-principle' into solely genital activity that is
really a form of repression.
Nonetheless Watts was allergic to celibacy:
"If sexual abstinence is, as in so many spiritual traditions,
the condition of enhanced consciousness, it is because consciousness as
we know it is an act of restraint."
Furthermore he didn't oppose homosexuality as so many gurus do. They don't
like it because it spoils the interplay between male/female, yin/yang that
their philosophies depend on. It reminds them that there are more possibilities
for pleasure in the human body than their overly 'spiritual' (i.e. intellect-ual)
beliefs would permit. Instead Watts took the view that gayness obviously
fitted into the overall scheme of creation, arguing in Does it Matter? that
macho repressal of homosexuality creates alarming levels of violence in
state institutions such as the Army, Police, etc., and may even help to
create them in the first place. Furthermore, yin/yang applies to all aspects
of humanity, such as personality, sexual orientation, temper, physical build,
and so on, so it's of course impossible to casually label people as sexually
all one or the other.
- Nature, Man & Woman (1958), p.143
It's interesting to note Watts' reference to restraint when we discover
that he was something of a perv himself (he said this was due to his public
school upbringing). He liked to spice up his sex with a bit of spanking
for a start, yet managed to write about sadomasochism in very negative terms.
Perhaps this is because in the 50s and 60s it wasn't really something you
could accept-and indeed he seems unable to accept it in himself. One can
only wonder what his attitude would have been today. Maybe he would have
noted that SM involves a body based, less overly genital sexuality that
involves creativity, sensitivity and imaginative flair not normally found
in standard repressed relationships.
The discovery of a spiritual sexuality has important implications for work.
The ego can be thought of as a mechanism of repression of unacceptable desires.
We are not able to accept our repressed desires so a loop starts up whereby
control can be wielded, but that control creates repressed desires, which
cannot be accepted. The link with work becomes clearer when we begin to
see that work is a "necessity" because of the way society is structured.
Time control is an essential feature of the ego, with its redefinitions
of the past and its inventive imagining of the future. Yet once the ego
and its repression are gone we are living in the present moment, i.e. eternity.
There is no more measured, clock-time. This is the state of Enlightenment,
Freud's polymorphous perverse again-an egoless childlike (not childish)
oceanic state. Reason, creativity, art are now at the service of Eros, not
the other way round. Survival is no longer a necessity. Existence is a form
of play-it's pure art. And art is basically play ("destroy art(ifice)
by making everything art" - Gneurosis 1, Organum interview). Play is
what humans are actually psychologically and physically made for. Yet via
work, the double-bind strikes again. Although being already implies
non-being, work is ? presents us with a choice between these opposites,
with the full force of societal necessity. We must work to store up security
and goods, to avoid our impending demise, to feed our dependants, to have
something to pass on. Work is therefore tainted with death. This is not
a negative to be accepted either: while existing it is illusory and meaningless
to act as if your nonexistence was somehow already entirely present. Watts
here was therefore a precursor to ideas such as those of Bob Black and the
When life is play, work is simply impossible. There is no need for repressive
This very earth is the Lotus Land of purity
This sort of quote tends to be misused by "everything's all right"
New Agers, but of course they forget two things-the return to the world
of the boddhisattva and the interplay of yin/yang, which goes wrong
if one attempts to either enhance or deny each aspect of the play.
And this very body the Body of Buddha
- Hakuin, Zazen Wasan
If work is to be abolished in favour of play, technology must radically
change its character. All advances in technology come from flashes of insight
and inspiration-a mix of Taoist observation of the-way-things-are and something
creative acting out of conscious control. Therefore technology needs to
remember its right brain origins. When acting in a unified field with the
environment, i.e. without an ego, at maximum resonance, technology is less
likely to be something inherently destructive and alienating. It's therefore
worrying to note that avant-technologists tend to have no particular perception
of how work could be done away with effectively in a non-alienating way.
They only seem to want to streamline it and thereby make it faster, or make
it ever more gadget-ridden, thereby lessening face to face "interface"!
Furthermore, as the ego is a matter of both individual consciousness (circuit
IX) and society (the double bind) ecological ideas should address both these points.
Watts again was way ahead of his time in that his concern for matters of ego and
societal double-binding meant that he made the ESSENTIAL connection between society
and Nature which is still woefully lacking in most present day Ecological movements.
(8) Too many radical ecologists treat mankind as a sickness-could
they do us all a favour by killing us then?
The OOO bitterly resents attempts to deny the worth of mankind by using
idiotic Malthusian, Darwinian and downright Calvinist arguments to suggest
that we shouldn't be here. This is a great way of increasing feelings of
alienation from nature and each other. Indeed we cannot turn the clock back-but
we could progress. We feel that as the left brain has overdeveloped on its
own and has made us pathological, the right brain can and should be developed
and integrated. We will then at last start to become intelligent enough
to fit in properly with Nature. The signs are this is happening. There already
is a growing new intelligence in mankind. It can be called psychotherapeutic,
or metaprogramming. It's not something that you pay a qualified person who
you've never met before to deal with. It's there when you start to realise
your own conditioning, when you talk it over with friends, when you start
to notice funny ingrained habits that you never knew were dominating you.
It starts when you give up rationally grinding your way with the
ego's machine code through piecemeal ideas of what you are, and begin to
see just what your "darker" side might be. It starts when you
actually fully accept existential limits. And in a strange way it ends there.
9. THE END
Watts was not a pampered rich guru. He worked for a living, putting himself
through an increasingly hectic schedule of lectures, all the while getting
ever more seriously into boozing. Eventually he simply burned out and switched
off. His third wife Jano Watts found him not asleep but dead in 1974, aged
Where does this leave us?
Firstly we note that those who promote aggressiveness, macho nihilism are
doing the work of the tabloid press, regardless of whether they're involved
in a "counterculture" or not. They are the enemies of those who
truly want anarchy, as they are stultifying peoples' desires to escape an
already oppressive daily existence. In the very places where you might expect
to find some insight, instead there is the moronic braying, the idiotic
blind cruelty of those who seem (in print at least) to consist of nothing
but a solid, constipated ego. Why are these rigid fools content to restate
and recycle outdated and oppressive myths? But our enemies must be respected
as the ying and the yang depend on each other and can never "win"
over each other. Anybody who suggests otherwise is bullshitting, fantasising
a dogma with nothing to do with how things are in practice. Even so, the
ying should be in place, kept mysterious while explored. It shouldn't be
rammed down people's throats. Perhaps we should concentrate on a certain
fierceness, bring out our collective yang-be active rather than too verbal
and passive, and avoid this common mistake of new agers and those trying
to get fair play between the sexes. This has nothing to do with conventional
male macho attitudes. If it is to do with macho ideas, it is those of the
code of Bushido, a state that can only be reached by leaving well and truly
behind conventional ideas about masculine strength. To move to another tradition,
it is a fierceness that perhaps could have something to do with Kali, the
destructive that brings true wisdom. Fierceness that goes with the flow,
that "knows when to stop"-wu wei. Watts pointed out that wu
wei only means "non action" in the sense that "no mind"
refers to enlightenment-there is still plenty of action, it is just unblocked.
The implications of action being unblocked are too subtle to put into words
and must be sensed in real-life situations.
By mindlessly following the path of late 19th century materialist scientific
myths, many anarchists are making sure there is a minimal apprehension of
"spiritual" matters, thus ensuring that anarchism tends to be
picked up as a fad and then dropped or modified out of existence within
a few years. For one quick example, read Dick Martin's somewhat misguided
essay on 'Spiritual Anarchy' in the Factsheet 5 book 'Anarchy and the End
of History'. The problem appears as one of whether you "believe"
in "God" or not, a painfully shallow treatment of the whole idea.
Martin seems to realise that wonder is inherent in the human organism, yet
makes no allowance for the fact that our intelligence is qualitatively different
from all other forms found in nature-it must be or else we wouldn't have
ruined the planet. Attitudes such as Martin's, which somewhat miss point,
have plagued revolutionary movements since time immemorial. As a result
they become too time-dependent and are superseded by greater unforeseen
geopolitical changes because they are slow to react (out of accord with
the Tao). Regarding this we should note the Tibetan Buddhist saying regarding
following the spiritual path: "It is better not to start at all, but
once started it must be followed right through." If you want to change,
change yourself right through first, or don't bother starting. Years spent
flitting from one fad to another are wasted time at the end of the second
millennium-unless perhaps you are learning how fads form in the first place.
Once belief in belief has been removed, you are more concerned with acting
in accord with the Tao (whatever that is) than trying to construct some
silly aesthetic intellectual theory that will somehow bring about a change
in human society at all levels, or even adequately describe it.
Anarchism isn't catching on as much as it might because it needs somehow
just to be more aware of how it's been affected by problems such as the
mind/body split, the subjugation of matter as somehow tainted, the relativity
of all beliefs, the remarkable fact of existence, good and bad. If you want
to call these "metaphysical" fine, but they're also entirely practical,
balanced and sensible issues that for want of being properly examined are
strangling the growth of a new (or even better) society. They are the blank
words, the empty thoughts, from which springs all the complex music of the
game of human existence. These things are analysed, but only by academics-language
is thus misused by being in the wrong context. It is not actually necessary
to tie yourself in conceptual and verbal knots to see a situation(ist) clearly.
Yet the more clear, the less verbal the realisation-this is where "living
language" comes in.
And real anarchism is nameless. A newspaper columnist once said that "ism"s
shouldn't be abolished because that would do away with optimism. No. The
phonetic sound "ism" is in fact used to refer to a certain unthinking
solidification of outlook centred around collections of ideas and beliefs.
Optimism now no longer refers to such a state, but instead to a feeling,
to something more spiritual, something that could be called desire. And
to complicate matters further, these two "ism"s can be mixed.
Feminism, for example, includes both this sort of desire (to see the feminine
liberated) and a lot of mental pseudo-scientific deadwood that people feel
is wrong yet feel duty bound to follow. The same goes for all other "ism"s.
The use of "ism" in a pejorative sense is there for a reason-a
good reason if you are aware of language games. Some "ism"s don't
end in "ism" (e.g. Scientology), some words that end in "ism"
aren't "ism"s (e.g. optimism!). The whole point is that an awareness
of language use can sort out where labelling is being used for hidden language
game purposes. This would mean that "anarchism" in the pejorative
sense does indeed exist, but it isn't the "real" anarchism, which
being something that's different all the time can't be pinned down for purposes
Meanwhile we note that action that follows from enlightenment cannot really
happen in isolation-as it is a removal of the isolation between individual
and environment. Therefore for philosophies to be practical they must have
a collective aspect. This partly explains why good ideas are never put into
practice-the good ideas are simply lost in the noise of what the real world
is actually like. There are a lot of stupid, or rather stupefied people
out there, content not to think for the whole of their lives, or even unable
to through circumstance. Therefore we need individual enlightenment to become
widespread first. But when verbalised about this becomes yet another belief
system. This is why we must try to cultivate some feel for internal knowledge,
esoteric but alive. It is patently obvious that too many of those
inspired by Watts' ideas rapidly forgot his incessant warnings about confusing
analytical thought with what is being analysed, thereby missing the whole
idea of his communications, and producing very silly mystical meanderings
that just don't work psychologically, mythically or physically. They become
just another commodity to check out.
The creation of consumer goods is the result of the faulty capitalist conception
of matter as being separate to "wealth" (i.e. paper money). We
feel separate to the environment so it can be plundered to create "wealth".
This is of course pure confusion of symbol with reality. For example, most
ancient art was actually functional (for ritual, war, etc.) as well as aesthetic,
whereas nowadays we have personality based art produced solely for galleries
and consumer goods mass manufactured as cheaply and shoddily as possible
and with no worth whatsoever. This results in imbalance at all levels of
society with real wealth (goods, mutual aid, services) not shared
because the abstract juggling of figures on paper prevents it. Naturally
this connection between metaphysics, art, politics and economics has implications
for anarchism, and we can perhaps see a thinking through of such ideas in
connection with anarchists such as Hakim Bey and Bob Black, who bring a
sense of spirituality and very intense, joyful playfulness into their writings.
For us the most exciting realisation was that the society of consumerist
production is only there because of the mind/body Manichean split.
Consumerism IS dukkha ("The desire to make life repeatable"
- quoted in D. Rowe's Depression: The way out of your prison, RKP 1983).
So when anybody thinks they're being rebellious by denigrating consumptive
culture while nonetheless adhering to nihilist materialist myths (such as
those found in Apocalypse Culture, S. Home's Smile, Vague, Re/Search, etc.),
no matter how shocking those ideas are, they find themselves gradually absorbed
into the Spectacle, the object of the next consumer fad. (The only way out
is to treat dark side information as one half of the equation, in which
case you're being spiritual just by doing that.) Spectacular society, being
based on dukkha, PRODUCES and assimilates its own rebellion rather
than engage with the outside world or inside psychology. That "rebellion"
is in fact trishna, which is a feeling of grasping desire (this may
seem like a big clash with the Situationists, but in life without ego, desire
is stronger through not being constantly divided against itself).
It is an attempt to stop time, to avoid suffering and death. Situationists
torment themselves over the way this happens, never realising that their
own unexamined metaphysics is ensuring that they remain entangled in this
very process of assimilation of rebellion by mass culture. Perhaps this
is why their "desire" seems a bit vapid and uninteresting. Mass
culture, especially from a Thatcherite view, is a negation of matter, an
elevation of a non-existent individual (the ego) over nature, based on society's
conditioning who does battle with blind nature. Such processes lie beyond
mere politics, instead arising from a philosophy that implies we do not
belong in the world of matter. This negative nihilist materialist philosophy
is a mental dis-ease that neatly manages to infect both the middle-class
mediocrities of Grey Society and equally all those trying to escape
that Society by exploring radical politics, and gnostic/quasi-gnostic self-enhancement
techniques (e.g. the New Age, Jungian psychoanalysis). As Robert Anton Wilson
mentioned at his 6.5.92 lecture at ULU, "Forget politics-it's the last
place change happens." This is because of trishna - the clinging
consciousness arising from incorrect metaphysics that makes everybody pointlessly
attempt to make things last just for the sake of it. The difference between
rebellion and conforming is only explicit, whether done with massive verbalisation
or not. Implicitly they are part of the same process. And the Process is
inherently destructive. It is a blockage in circuit III. This is why the
perennial wisdom is so important, so urgently needed in these Last Days.
(It's also why we really could not give a shit about matter-hating gnosticism).
Alan Watts loved a good witty but devastating diatribe against competitive
society and its mass production of worthless zomboid crap, and there was
a deadly serious reason for this. We will simply self-destruct, slowly,
agonisingly, wishing it wasn't happening to us, as a result of the self-fulfilling
prophecies of those who hate matter and love the ego.
The OOO looks with despair on the way that the latest generation seems only
to find politics, money and drugs of any interest. Fuck politics-the last
thing this tortured planet needs now is politics (and that includes academically
self-conscious anti-politics). If you want people to start treating each
other and this planet with respect it's time to accept the complete sacredness
of the very fact that anything is even there in the first place - including
ourselves. Bring on the blooming of perennial wisdom. Let the rain come.
ß ß ß
0 - 1993 - 0
(1). So why haven't you become enlightened yet?
(2). "Goeswith" was a word Watts invented to get rid
of conventional misguided ideas of cause and effect. Of course if things are interlinked,
as mechanistic science insists, then everything is actually part of a single process.
Use of "goeswith" can cut through ego-induced mental blindness almost
limitlessly, simply because it's a simple but useful idea. It's a very necessary
counterpart to Occam's razor.
(3). From The Way of Liberation, Weatherill
(4). Literally "the end of the vedas", these being the
standard Hindu religious texts. In a similar way that Christ said he came to fulfil
the Law, so Vedanta was meant to be the living version of the previously rote-learned
versions of Hinduism.
(5). And not even that, actually.
(6). Mention could be made of the sufi story 'Why We Are Here'
as an illustration, perhaps, of the mental processes involved here.
(7). The thermostat analogy in The Way of Zen (page 158) is a
particularly good example.
(8). For more on this urgently important topic, read George Bradford's
superb booklet How Deep is Deep Ecology? from Times Change Press, c/o Publishers
Services, PO Box 2510, Novato, CA 94948, USA.
There are so many editions of Watts' books that we've just listed the ones
we used, which are for the most part the most easily available ones, with
ISBN for ordering purposes. However, for reference we have also included
the date of the first hardback editions, nearly all of which were published
in New York either by Random House or its subsidiaries Pantheon and Wildwood
The Wisdom of Insecurity (1951), Rider 0 7126 9588 5
The Way of Zen (1957), Pelican 0 14 020547 0
Tao: The Watercourse Way (1975) (with Al Chung Liang Huang), Pelican 0 14
Psychotherapy East and West (1961), Vintage 0 394 71610 8
The Book (1966) paperback only, Vintage 0 679 72300 5
Cloud Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown (1973), Vintage 0 394 71999 9
Beyond Theology (1964), Vintage 0 394 71923 9
There are also several other books of more specialised interest.
The Way of Liberation (1983), Weatherill (Japan) 0 8348 0181 7
Does it Matter? (1970), Vintage 0 394 71665 5
Om: Creative Meditation (1980), Celestial Arts 0 89087 257 0
Essential Alan Watts (1977), Celestial Arts 0 89087 403 4
In My Own Way (1972) - His autobiography, Vintage 0 394 71610 8
Genuine Fake (1986) - Monica Furlong. Unwin, London, paperback 0 04 44049
7. Furlong's autobiography tends to regard Watts as being schoolboyishly
naughty, as if that negated or cast doubt on his ideas. But why should he
always be happy, always swooning with bliss? Krishnamurti may have been,
but he had it easy. And why, especially in the late 60s, should he conform
to the sort of "nice" behaviour expected by new age pensioners
Into Each Life a Little Zen Must Fall - A. Keighley. Wisdom Publications,
London, paperback 0 86171 034 7. Horrible title but recommended nonetheless.
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