Ego made this world. Ego and world are each a metaphor for the other, with a common origin which, when consciously experienced, can free the individual self from both. This experience is neither objective nor subjective—it is what I call panjective—which means it can neither be literally described nor solipsistically moodied up, only gestured towards; by critically exploring what it is not and by metaphorically describing what it is like. This is what the present work does.
To put this another way, reality is ultimately mysterious, a mystery that is everywhere you look—because it is that which is looking. This doesn’t mean that unmysterious thought—the kind that reasons about subjective impressions and objective things—is useless, or that the facts that it handles are illusions. It means that such thought reaches a limit beyond which it cannot pass. Something else has to cross over, a something else which, obviously enough, cannot be expressed with the thought it had to leave behind. If it does think, or reason, or attempt to express itself, it has to do it in another way; through the means of expression we call metaphor. And again, this is what this book aims to do.
Although it has to be presented as a linear a-to-b account, every part of the book is both connected to every other part, and also connected to the whole. This means, firstly, that it should be read twice, as only the linear account will be grasped the first time while, the second time, knowledge of what is to come will inform what is bringing the whole into focus. Secondly, some ideas presented at the beginning, particularly those referring to unself, consciousness and context, will initially appear rather hazy (or confusing, or even unpleasantly abstract). This is because the key terms in this book cannot be literally defined, or at least not all at once, and must either appear later, or ‘reveal themselves’ implicitly, gradually, in the whole. On a second reading, the difficult earlier sections will feel clearer and realer and erroneous objections—and, worse, opinions—will not get in the way.
Opinions have almost nothing to do with experience. You can have an opinion about love and death, but only while you’re not experiencing them. So it is with everything of importance that I cover in this book. Please put your opinions aside as you read, not in order to blindly accept what I have to say, but to ensure that your experience is not filtered by second-hand ideas, as so often happens, particularly when reading a critique of that filtering mechanism.
This filtering mechanism is the self. It is a kind of psychological tool which has taken over the consciousness of mankind and become what we call ego. Ego doesn’t like to be criticised and employs various strategies to deal with the threat of criticism. Its usual response is to ignore the threat, ridicule it, drown it out with opinion or attempt to refute it with some kind of ‘reasoning’; an avalanche of facts disconnected from the point. But because ego is not merely conceptual, but also affective, it will start to feel under attack before it has discovered the intellectual reason why. Something will feel ‘off’, something not quite right here. Ego will then start looking for reasons why it feels uncomfortable. It will find sentences it does not understand and accuse the author of being pretentious, or deliberately obfuscating, or a poor stylist. It will look for and find evidence that the author is not properly qualified to speak, or it will look for, and again find, inconsistencies in the system here presented and dismiss the whole thing as factually incorrect woo, or it will take ideas out of context and accuse the author of being racist, sexist, homophobic, hypocritical or downright evil. Ego will find these reasons, and it will then declare that the reasons have created the feelings, when the opposite is true, as it nearly always is. Nobody ever reacts negatively to a truthful philosophy because of what it says, but because of how it makes them feel.
Some parts of this book are quite difficult. It demands some effort, particularly at the beginning, where I have had to outline the metaphysical foundations and explain the key terms that follow in the [lighter, and more entertaining] main body of the work. Metaphysics is, actually, straightforward and enjoyable. One reason it appears, particularly for us in the West, difficult, dense and abstract, is because we are forced to talk about it in a language that has been degraded by thousands of years of unconscious use. This language has to be unpicked or reimagined, which doesn’t always make for easy reading, particularly after a hard day’s work.
I have been forced to use some ordinary words in a new way—chief among these self and ego (and ‘selfish’ which has a much broader meaning here that it usually does) but also various value-laden words, such as beauty, truth, sanity, love, quality and so on, along with a few less common technical words, such as physicalism and solipsism, all of which also have here a much wider meaning than they normally do. I have also invented a few new terms, such as unself (that which is not self), panjective (that which is neither objective nor subjective), and nous, soma, thelema and viscera (terms taken from Greek and Latin and adapted to describe the various fundamental elements of the self). Once you get a feel for these terms, the reading will be more agreeable.
That said, I have largely used language as it comes. This means that, as with all ordinary language, what I have to say takes its meaning not from diamond-like logical precision, but from the context—from the context that we share, and from the context of what I am saying in this particular book. I must therefore ask for a charitable interpretation of what I am saying; which of course is how friends communicate.
We are unlikely to be friends if you are in the habit, as many are, of taking language to be reality, or of taking language as it comes to be an adequate representation of reality. My criticism of ideas and attitudes which are not real will then appear to be an intolerable attack on reality—or perhaps on the real people who hold these ideas and attitudes, or perhaps on you?—and my reimagined, contextually oriented language will appear to be quite outrageous, perhaps unsettling, as if reality itself is being rearranged. This will give you an irresistible urge to view what you disagree with as opinion (what you agree with will seem like cold, hard, obvious fact), and counter what I say with opinion—your own opinion, mass-opinion, expert-opinion, dictionary-opinion, rich-and-famous-opinion—or you’ll zero in on inconsistencies, or on the style of my writing, or on me, in order to ‘prove’ me wrong, or to win an internal argument.
In the end, it is better that people who find my style annoying, or who are already starting to feel a bit put out, stop reading as soon as possible; that those offended by my use of ‘man’ to refer to ‘humanity’ (because it is stylistically superior) give up in a huff; that those who wish to enjoy a beautiful view, but aren’t prepared to burn a few calories to do so, don’t bother climbing; that literalists (atheists and theists, rationalists and empiricists, physicalists and idealists) give up trying to literally understand the non-literal truth of what I say; and that readers who are attached to their beliefs and personalities, and who feel swelling outrage when they read an attack on all beliefs and personalities, throw the book out the window. It is better that the easily offended, and the aggressively contentious, and the entirely conventional, and the completely rational, and the completely irrational read books that they agree with, that are popular, that sell well, that are ‘of the time’. I haven’t written Self and Unself for them. In fact I have deliberately written a book that is out of step, not just with this time, but with time itself; because I only wish to speak with people who are. Even if there are only the two of us.