The Lure of Automatic Pilot.

Pizza Hut have bought out a trainer. Embossed on the tongue of the shoe is a button that you can press to order pizza. It sends out a GPS location to your nearest convenient franchise and..


pepperoni at your fingertips.

In Greek mythology the magical shoes were Hermes department. He had a pair of winged sandals that allowed him to pass between Olympus and the Mortal Plane. The magical shoes mediated between worlds just as they did for Dorothy in her travels between Kansas and Oz.

Very handy.

The capacity to mediate between worlds with enchanted footwear is the nub of a developmental stage in childhood characterized by symbol formation which magically uses transitional objects to manage the gap between Self and Other. It is the essential condition for passing from “first-and-only”, wherein hell is other people, to “being-amongst-others”, where we not only learn to tolerate otherness but are redeemed by it.

“You are therefor I am.” Satish Kumar.

This shift of perspective, is from what the Gnostics called “hylic consciousness”,  It comes from the Greek “hyle”, meaning husk, the unnourishing and winnowed part of an ear of wheat and is characterized by the person who simply lets themselves live without reflection or enquiry…

” He takes life as it comes and does not worry about the problem of meaning, its worth or its purpose. He devotes his time to the satisfaction of personal desires, enjoyment of the senses, riches, ambition.” R. Assagioli.

Transition from ego as landlord to the experience of no longer being master in ones own house is expressed in the Alchemical tradition as “the problem of three and four”. taxing as divvying up a pizza between an odd number of people..

because three into four wont go. The conscious mind and the denizens of the deep Psyche are like oil and water. Making it across a threshold that demands acknowledgement and valuing of the Other without being swallowed up by them..

and with Pizza trainers instead of Hermes sandals for help…

is a way more tricky business than you might imagine..

“Not a few have perished in our work.” Alchemical saying.

A modern fairytale that expresses this sense of crisis and shows how it is resolved comes from an unexpected source, Robocop.

The hero Murphy has his humanity stripped from him and is largely reduced to robotic functioning, a fate suffered by many who adopt the first-and-only stance because it…

” contains the archetypal, omnipotent, defensive and mechanical, as well as the manipulative and destructive nature of Robot.” Lederman

The robot adaptation of the narcissistic character is, however, not entirely negative. Robocop can be redeemed by a combination of two factors. One is that his partner, Lewis, continuously reflects his humanity back to him. Her unflagging faith that he is in there somewhere gives him the courage to explore his obscure situation. Second, he finds his own dramatic solution to the problem of three and four.

Robocop has three protocols, 1) Uphold the law. 2) Serve the public trust. 3) Protect the innocent. As you might expect in any fairystory there is a hidden fourth directive which is entirely incommensurable with the first three..

Do not rise up against your masters.

Becoming conscious of this contradiction throws Murphy into turmoil. The law must be upheld… depending on who is involved. Serve the public trust, for as long as it serves the masters to do so. Protect the innocent, if its expedient…

Murphy realises hes been forced into a catch 22 situation that he cant win. Unless.. he plunges his hands into a massive electric generator that wipes out his programming but also nearly kills him.

Wright speaks of,

“the traumatic birth of self-consciousness, erupting into the still intact (and mechanical) symbiosis with mother.”

Realising that you harbour hidden and contradictory injunctions is shocking. Rewriting the inner script means first realising that you are being run from within by something so old, so habitual, so not-self that you can lose sight of its operation.

Folk simply clank through the day on automatic pilot fulfilling ancient expectations which may once have ensured survival but now serve the demoted purpose of simply keeping oneself on an even keel, maintaining the comfort zone, making sure reality does not intrude or question the preferred construct.

People will go to extraordinary lengths to keep the automatic pilot going because what they are up against is not a mere addition of information, another nut for the store house, but a shift of paradigm that threatens to bring the storehouse down.

Be careful what you wish for…

A good example of this is the story of Hiroo Onoda a Japanese soldier who continued to fight WW11 untill 1972 in the Phillipine jungles. He did this because he absolutely refused to believe that Japan could have surrendered. It was inconceivable. Surrender was more ignoble than suicide, something he had been expressly ordered against. Could his superiors be any the less accountable?

And so he fought on.

Many people have an inner Hiroo, an old soldier still fighting yesterdays battles,  disrupting the present with archaic material, fused to the Motherland, crushing the possibility of change or anything unscripted.

Over the years great efforts were made to persuade him that the war was over. Leaflets were dropped, photos and newspaper articles, all regarded by Hiroo as propaganda, fake news.

He was finally persuded only by hearing of Japans surrender from the lips of his own commanding officer, Major Taniguishi.

“Suddenly everything went black. A storm raged inside me. What had I been doing for all these years?” Hiroo Onoda.

Hiroo got a big shock, but he also went on to become a philanthropist and even donated some of his considerable back pay to local Phillipine projects as well as setting up a school Japan.

Many folk never get out of the Jungle. They remain omnipotently fused with the mother/land, content with the replacment of their autonomy by rows of endless choice, something to keep you occupied, hey, how about these new shoes you can get. They order pizza.

The Chicken Prince.

In my local town there is a putt-putt course. At the entrance a bold sign exclaims, ‘This game is played at your own risk!”

What are they afraid is going to happen? Might some senior citizen misjudge the strength of his swing and fatally club someone? Perhaps he could fall into the churning blades of Windmill or impale himself upon the plastic spires of Castle? Perhaps he might be swallowed by Snake or rudely thrown to the thundering tracks at Bude Station.

One of the hallmarks of Narcissistic Culture is our capacity to live with split realities. The strange torsion of your mind required to make the putt-putt sign meaningful entails a keeping apart, a split, between child and adult worlds that is really crying out for a unifying symbol to help us with the apparent contradiction of adults playing a child’s game.

Our world is full of such split realities. Collectively we fight for peace and oppress in the name of liberation. George Orwell called it ‘doublethink’, the capacity to hold opposing realities, believe in them both and, most importantly, not have your world disturbed by the contradiction.

Such splits are typical of both the Borderline Personality Disorder and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. They tend to be more obvious with the former which often makes the borderline person appear more ‘crazy’ than the dapper narcissist who rarely looses his cool, but in fact his veneer of calm is only permitted by the split in him remaining unconscious. The wounding that caused it is earlier, more damaging and requires stronger defences.. The borderline is actually a bit tougher and can spend at least some time agonising over their failings.

This is because the borderline has one foot across the developmental threshold responsible for symbol formation and the emergent transcendant function that can deal with splits like self/other, inner/outer, conscious/unconscious. The narcissist however, has fewer tools to bridge opposites. His wounding is prior to the developmental stage of a negotiated reality with the world, before the possible transformation of ‘between’.

The alchemists say that, ‘to those who have the symbol the passage is easy’. This is because the healing symbol turns contradiction into paradox and makes us better able to live with ourselves.

‘How can you live with desiring desirelessness?’ someone asked a buddhist sage. ‘It just doesn’t bother me,’ replied the master.

In the West we achieve this capacity to live ‘au dessus de la mellee’ with much greater difficulty. We devalue relatedness and the feast of alternative perspectives it brings. We also devalue ‘Mother’. Freud never uses the pronoun, not once in all his books on childhood. But it is upon mother that the capacity for symbol formation depends.

‘The main threat to the modern infant is that he is the child of a dissatisfied mother.” S de Bouvoir.

If the child is un-contained by mother’s justified yet grevious distraction, then the emerging facets of himself cannot cohere or reorganise themselves into more evolved forms. Time will pass to no avail. There will be no mediation between self and other, no dialogue between I and me and no baseline for behaviour. The world will be ‘ready-at hand’ to quote Hiedeggar, stock to be used and abused rather than having the world be’ present-to-hand’, which is characterised by care and that which is between.

What to do?

An old Sufi story will help us.

The Chicken Prince was so called because the Prince of the Realm would insist on being naked all the time and pecking the ground like a chicken. He could not be persuded to join in even one of the courtly occasions in the proper attire, nor heed a single nicety observed by the good people of that place. The king was in despair. All his wise men had failed him.

Then, one day, an old herder from the hills came to the gate. He knocked saying that in the woods he’d heard a voice telling him to come to the help of the people and so he was lead before the Prince who was in the courtyard pecking away. The old man threw off all his robes and began to peck at the ground alongside the Prince who was a bit surprised…

but a bit relieved.

They pecked and pecked.

Then the old man began to hum as he pecked. Everything seemed to be okay. The Prince was a bit taken aback but it also soothed and so he tried it and discovered to his amazement that he could peck and hum together. They spent the whole afternoon humming and pecking.

Next day, after much humming and pecking, the old man began to make music like water over stones while he pecked. He quietly gurgled and span his sounds as he pecked. The Prince was a bit startled but he was also comforted by the old man’s undinting pecks and so he was encouraged and tried it for himself . It was delicious. He began to sing and peck and got so excited that before he knew it, it was time for bed.

Next day the Chicken Prince found the old man under one of the tables in the feasting hall muttering words to himself as he pecked and he kept certain things that seemed precious to him close by. He pecked and coddled his treasures and made words. The Prince was amazed but with a whoop he scampered off and found a treasure of his own making words all the way.

All day they pecked and coddled their treasures and made words.

Next day the old man had words and pants. The Prince was deeply impressed. ‘Why are you wearing pants?’ asked the boy, making his words.

‘I can be a chicken and wear pants’, said the old man. It seemed to be true. So he tried it and his pants were wonderful. So were his cool shoes. He found that even knives and forks were no impediment to his being able to express his inner chicken whenever he wanted. When he was in the mood…

which was less these days…

and so the Prince grew up to be wise and just…

and the old herder went back to his hills and wondered about stuff.

So what had actually happened? The kindly herder had done what he did best, he gently herded the disparate fragments of the Prince’s psyche into the same space so that they could get to know one another. He gave the boy the chance of finding his transcendent function, his treasure, by bearing the tension between opposing realities.

”The transcendant function is not something one can do oneself, it comes from experiencing the conflict of opposites.’ C G Jung.

which then,

”facilitates transition from one attitude to another.” ibid

If there is a cultural pattern in early development, a collective trend in response to the schism between mother and infant inevitable in misogynistic society, one in which children are bound to feel they have to supress themselves to live and that being made to feel bad about oneself is for your own good, then we will become collectively split, people of the lie, ever in retreat from the horror that to follow one’s own destiny is a form of self annihilation. The threshold cannot be crossed.

”Madness is not simply a propensity to participate in alternate realities but a loss of  power to move freely among them.” J Nelson.

You can come across any number of examples of this in every day life. I was out walking my dog in the lane. A much older man overtakes at high speed, ‘power walking’, all sweat and gasping. A mile further on he’s ground to a halt. As I pass by he staggers over, grasps my arm and begins a monologue about potholes in the road where he comes from and how the roads here are like silk. The glory of the warm lane actually beneath his feet is apparently being saved for later, for when he in that traffic jam on the potholes. Morning or evening he’s a stranger to now. And the common thread of his day is that he’s never here.

A bit further on and my neighbour storms out of his cottage, flapping the sleeves of his jumper in frustration at the gorgeous indian summer sky. ‘You just don’t know what to do!” he yelled. As if the sun lacked the etiquette of observing proper form for the season.

On the way to the shop I bump into a mate with a long face. He’s certain his future is blighted despite the fact that he has just qualified in a new vocation and has been given a work placement. It doesn’t add up. Though this feeling of dependence and being unfed is congruent with his life script. His wife joins in the wail of inevitable poverty and miserlyness. It didn’t seem to occur to them that life is people and that they were therefore talking about each other, taking pythonesque comfort from the shared agreement and mutual head nodding of just how awful they really are.

Further along an aquaintance asks what I’ve been up to. I tell him I’ve been walking the dog and in the woods. ‘Ah the woods’, he muses wistfully. ” I love the woods but I’ve never got a good enough reason to go there,” .. all imparted jovial and calm, yet how it must tear at him not to have sufficient cause to do what he loves. Upon what precedent must such a double bind be nested? What can be inferred about the quality of life itself from such a trap? Does he feel the same about sex, friendship, a vocation? And if so what kind of fractious, driven, inner hell can it be when the richness of life is not a sufficient reason to live it?