Essay

The Logic of Evil, part 2: Trapped by the Void vs Freed by the Void

By Duff McDuffee on October 19th, 2010 1

In my last post, I gave an argument for evil as if from the perspective of a sincere seeker turned psychopathic guru. There were some excellent responses in the comments (check them out if you haven’t already), attempting to answer my question of where this twisted logic went wrong. In this post, I’ll give my thoughts.

Somewhere along the path of growth or awakening (and sometimes more than once), there is a challenge to face the terrifying prospect that reality isn’t what you thought it was. All of one’s cherished beliefs come under question and there is nothing to hold on to. Metaphorically, one must cross the abyss or face the void. One must face this event with courage and the willingness for everything one knows to be symbolically destroyed. The experience can be terrifying and often feels like one is dying or going crazy, since you are literally losing touch with what you thought was reality—ideally to end up more sane and more alive once you pass through this trial.

Some undergo this test and fully surrender all notions and attachments, at least for a moment. Dying before death, they find that they somehow still survive intact. Liberated from some (or perhaps all) of their excessive clinging, they hold their beliefs, their gurus, and themselves more lightly. Recognizing that while none of these things are absolutely real, things like beliefs, values, thoughts, and emotions do indeed still have meaning and function as relatively real.

Only What I Want and Believe is Real: The Ontology of Narcissism

Others cling to their sense of self, their beliefs and values, their desires. Everything else in their conception of reality is demolished by the void (i.e. insight into the constructed and thus changeable nature of such things), but they themselves are not changed by it. Failing to be transformed, to surrender fully and be reborn (I’m speaking symbolically here, in case you didn’t get that), the world appears utterly meaningless except for that which they clung to. I think this is why we see gurus that question the reality of everything except their own desires and their own existence. In fact, the sociopathic guru’s desires are now the only thing that is real to them—everything else looks like a mirage, a projection of one’s own desires or an object to use to obtain one’s desires—and therefore everything revolves around getting what the guru wants. This explains why the climax of a LGAT like Tony Robbins “Unleash the Power Within” is the hard-core upselling, for instance.

The self, having become reified, asserts it’s identity with a violent desperation. The goals of the seeker become obsessively focused on proving one’s existence and importance to others. A big, expensive house, an extreme display of positive affect, an envious lifestyle—a thousand examples of such narcissism proliferate amongst personal development gurus. If one already had such tendencies before—and we all do to some extent—they become massively amplified once one has encountered the abyss since one now has to defend against a known yet utterly mysterious existential threat. (This threat however, to those in-the-know, is actually nothing to fear and in fact is the source of profound inner peace depending on how long and intensely one has been afraid—like turning the light on and finding there aren’t any monsters under the bed.)

All Beliefs are Limiting by Definition

For instance, the phrase “limiting beliefs” should refer to all beliefs, for any view of reality highlights certain things and obscures others. (I don’t think the goal should be to be “free from beliefs” though anymore than one should try to be “free from the body.” We need beliefs and bodies to function.) But in the context of personal development, “limiting beliefs” refers only to the beliefs that oppose the beliefs and desires one already identifies with and clings to.

Granted, some beliefs are more limiting than others—a belief that I am an abject failure is not likely to be very empowering, even if there is a lot of evidence to prove it. But an equally overgeneralized belief that I am a total and complete success is also unnecessarily limiting. Underlying such a narrow view is a sense of meaninglessness—for what kind of reality could it be otherwise where only one’s selfish desires are meaningful and real? (Note also that limits are often good—creativity for instance occurs within limits, such as what medium to use, or how long you have to work on something. Setting limits with children is often difficult but necessarily for their maturation.)

The solution is to inquire into one’s cherished identity, beliefs, emotions, and desires with as much vigor as one would deconstruct one’s disliked and thus “limiting” beliefs, identity, emotions, and desires. I used to believe that such a process must be violent, but have since found much more gentle methods of inquiry focused on compassion and understanding (I strongly recommend the latter).

Still, there is a need to face the void with courage, to be willing to be swallowed up whole—to die before death (but not literally like that psychopath James Arthur Ray who is a living example of someone stuck clinging to his cherished beliefs and identity IMHO). The reason this is a symbolic death is because there is a faith that one’s beliefs are not ultimately real, that one’s emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and identity are constructions. All these things are in fact relatively real though, and should be treated as such. In fact, the actuality of emotions and relationships, thoughts and identity in the relative, constructed sense is what generates meaningfulness. My life is meaningful precisely because it will end. The things that matter are meaningful because they matter to some being that can value them, some sentient entity like myself. We should care for all sentient beings precisely because they are sentient beings with cares, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings of their own. But we can also hold things lightly because we know and have come to peace with the fact that everything changes and everyone must die some day.

It is never too late to be freed by the void, to let go of the neurotically tight grasp you have on that small slice of reality which you identify with, but it takes courage and faith to let it all go and let only a question mark remain—if only for a moment. I don’t know if we can ever fully let go of all excessive clinging, I also don’t think we necessarily have to always live on the edge of mystery…but there are times when nothing less will do.

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments

Tags: , , , , , , ,

31 responses to “The Logic of Evil, part 2: Trapped by the Void vs Freed by the Void”

  1. Eric Normand says:

    This is the problem of gaining spiritual attainments without a teacher. You become self-absorbed and ultimately trapped in your desires. Nothing else seems real.

    It's just weird that people like Robbins don't outgrow that as they get older. He still talks about getting anything you want, it's just tuned to the trends of the decade. Now, getting what you want means a fulfilling relationship and a job that you love. That's as opposed to three helicopters in the 80's.

    Sit quietly and recognize how self-centered you are. Don't go out and show everybody else while you think you're spiritually enlightened. It's one thing to make a living and another to think that it's because of your enlightened insights into post-modern relativism.
    My recent post Here there be dragons- self-reference in the human mind

    • I hadn't thought of it as gaining spiritual attainments without a teacher, but you're probably right, especially in established traditions. Although I will say in the West at least, there seem to be a large number of teachers stuck in various degrees of the narcissistic guru-schtick.

      There also aren't many teachers available for personal instruction, due to the "dharma jet set" culture (phrase courtesy of Daniel Ingram), where teachers of all traditions tend to fly all over the world constantly in order to give dharma talks, go on book signings, and lead retreats. I've depended primarily on spiritual friends to let me know when I've gone off the deep end.

      Self-help teachers are explicitly about getting what you want though, so are probably worse, if not just more obvious in their narcissism.

    • LucyMontrose says:

      Now, getting what you want means a fulfilling relationship and a job that you love. That's as opposed to three helicopters in the 80's.

      No self-respecting narcissistic guru goes without throwing love and relationships into the mix of "must-have" items for happiness and enlightenment.

      The problem is, this encourages us to see relationships as possessions, as the latest must-have consumer item. Something to collect and display as a badge of our emotional health… which is quite a bit more serious and insidious than displaying three helicopters as a sign of wealth.
      Because we then become potential stalkers and emotional manipulators, potentially coercing people to give us love, that proof that we're all right, that we're healthy enough. This has always chilled me.

  2. @32000days says:

    This explains why the climax of a LGAT like Tony Robbins "Unleash the Power Within" is the hard-core upselling, for instance.

    When a guru believes 100% in their own message, how could it be otherwise? When you truly believe that your $10,000 course will transform the lives of its attendees, and give them value 10-100x greater than what they paid for it, how could you not pitch it hard?

    Of course, whether the rest of the world agrees with your belief in the value that you're giving is quite another matter. The world's belief might well be one of the following:

    – guru's right – it's worth every penny, and more
    – guru's sorta right – it's valuable, but not worth the steep financial price
    – guru's wrong, it's not valuable and I want my money back

    And if the guru himself is the only source of data about how awesome his premium seminar is, well, caveat emptor, right?

    The solution is to inquire into one’s cherished identity, beliefs, emotions, and desires with as much vigor as one would deconstruct one’s disliked and thus “limiting” beliefs, identity, emotions, and desires. I used to believe that such a process must be violent, but have since found much more gentle methods of inquiry focused on compassion and understanding (I strongly recommend the latter).

    This is one thing that seems to emerge from dabbling in Byron Katie's The Work questions. Applying the process of questioning to both limiting (i.e. negative) beliefs, as well as positive beliefs is useful, I think. (However, more recently, I think the Meta-Model has been a bit more useful for constructing my own The Work-style questions, on the fly.)
    My recent post Why I’m glad that I caught a cold the the other day

    • Byron Katie has taken the helpful technique of reframing and turned it into an ideology. In fact, she only uses a handful of possible reframes and just has you do them over and over until you get the result she wants. She runs LGATs that have some pretty negative reviews from the anti-cult forums online, so caveat emptor. The meta-model is a good alternative, so is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (see The Feeling Good Handbook, for example).

      If Robbins was listening, he would know for a fact that other people go bankrupt due to his sales pitch, but he doesn't care.

      • 32000days says:

        Byron Katie has taken the helpful technique of reframing and turned it into an ideology. In fact, she only uses a handful of possible reframes and just has you do them over and over until you get the result she wants. She runs LGATs that have some pretty negative reviews from the anti-cult forums online, so caveat emptor. The meta-model is a good alternative, so is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (see The Feeling Good Handbook, for example).

        I've seen some of the videos of Katie's seminars, and they look pretty par for the course – Katie in a chair on a low stage, talking kindly like the Grandma of Infinite Love to someone weepy in the other chair. I've also seen that rickross.com seems pretty bearish on her organization.

        For me, the $11 I spend for her book was worthwhile, but I don't see the need to go for a seminar – I think I got what I needed from the text, and want to move on to more sophisticated and/or versatile techniques (e.g. NLP, Core Transformation, yoga, ninjutsu, etc.)

        If Robbins was listening, he would know for a fact that other people go bankrupt due to his sales pitch, but he doesn't care.

        Yeah, I suspect most gurus would probably go into a Personal Responsibility speech upon hearing that someone blew their last few bucks (or went into debt) to attend one of their seminars. "I just put the information out there… they took responsibility for signing the checks…"

        • Most very cultish organizations have some really helpful stuff on the outer rims. That's both the good and bad news. It's good if you just read Loving What Is or Awaken the Giant Within and take what works and leave the rest. It's bad if it ropes you in to the multiple thousands of dollars mindf*cking LGATs.

          The guilt-tripping "responsibility" frame is exactly where the gurus go when someone spends too much on their seminars, which of course were pitched after inducing mania and using every psychological coercion technique known to man! LOL

        • p.s. Let me know if I can suggest anything to read/study/etc. along the lines of NLP, Core Transformation, and yoga.

          • And if you're practicing Core Transformation, I'll definitely want to chat. One of my personal goals is to create an online community of people doing solo CT to support each other and discuss things.

          • 32000days says:

            For some reason, I didn't see this until now. I depended on the automated system to alert me to follow up comments and it let me down.

            I credit you with introducing me to CT – I hadn't heard about it until reading your blogs but it's fascinating stuff. I bought the main Andreas and Andreas book and have been playing with it. Reminds me a little bit of The Work / Sedona Method insofar as it's a structured process but it definitely seems to be more versatile.
            My recent post Learn the secret Jedi mind tricks of the worlds most creative people

          • Yea, I think it's more sophisticated than The Work/Sedona Method. Sedona is more direct, but I can't get it to work when I'm really "stuck", and The Work is good reframing some of the time but other times seems too ideological or heady to do it for me.

          • Megan says:

            Could you suggest reading on NLP and Core Transformation? I am interested in learning about them.

          • Megan says:

            suggest books or websites, I mean. 🙂

          • And some other websites:
            http://realpeoplepress.com/blog – Steve Andreas' NLP blog http://steveandreas.com/articles.html – Steve's many great NLP articles

            Stephen Gilligan does Ericksonian Hypnotherapy (related/overlapping with NLP) and is a really gentle, kind soul. He has some audio downloads for reasonably cheap too: http://www.stephengilligan.com/

            I could give many, many more suggestions too depending on what you are looking to learn or do with NLP. Feel free to ask! 🙂

          • Certainly. I should mention that I currently work for Steve and Connirae Andreas whos work I recommend in NLP/Core Transformation, but don't get paid to promote their work here and I don't get any commissions.

            Here's the main website on Core Transformation:
            Core Transformation Official Website

            I highly recommend the book, if you have any interest in the process Core Transformation:
            Core Transformation Book

            I will mention though that I didn't like the book when I first picked it up! I read the first few chapters where it discusses the Core States like Being, Love, Peace, Oneness, etc. and though "yea, yea, I know all that stuff already." 🙂 A few months later, I picked up the book again and actually did the process, and it blew me away. Now I plan on becoming a trainer of the method, and have been working with clients privately for a couple of years.

            Other NLP intro stuff:
            Heart of the Mind – great intro book for brief therapy approaches to NLP

            There are lots more things on RealPeoplePress.com (where I work): http://www.realpeoplepress.com/

            …as well as NLP Comprehensive's website: http://www.nlpco.com

            There is lots more advanced stuff too, but usually you need a bit of background in the basics before trying that out.

            Also, I have in my mind the notion of making an entire NLP Practitioner Training course on video and giving it away free on YouTube. I'm hoping to actually get that idea rolling here soon….

          • Megan says:

            Wow! Thank you so much! I'll take a look at these. I'm mainly just wanting to use it on myself, so the basics is plenty. I've thought about doing some kind of therapy as a vocation, but I'm not quite ready to make that commitment yet. Maybe this will help with my indecisiveness! 🙂
            Good luck with creating the training course! I'll keep my eye out for it.

          • You're welcome. Let me know if I can point you towards anything else of interest to you. Feel free to email too if you want to chat about such things—it's basically my favorite topic, so I'm always willing to discuss! 🙂

          • Jacq @ SMRM says:

            Duff, a friend who's really a fan of NLP mentioned that this would be a good course to take: http://www.nlpco.com/training/practitioner-traini

            I wanted to do something interesting and educational on my summer vacation this year, and it certainly seems 'comprehensive' and is very reasonably priced. Cheaper and more fun than 2 weeks at an all-inclusive anyway. Is that a good course do you think? I don't absorb some of this type of work well through books, I have to be there and see it live. I started reading on NLP back with Bandler's incomprehensible (to me) Frogs and Princes, but it looks like it's come a long way.

          • That's definitely the training I'd recommend.

  3. wnaj says:

    In fact, the sociopathic guru’s desires are now the only thing that is real to them—everything else looks like a mirage, a projection of one’s own desires or an object to use to obtain one’s desires—and therefore everything revolves around getting what the guru wants.

    Love that quote, Duff.

    That's a perfect description for us non-sociopaths to understand what the hell goes on the minds of these baffling people. This goes for politicians, too.

  4. Evan says:

    I think it is possible and may be desirable to build the new within the old (the parasite strategy).

    I think one element of the guru's experience is their inflation by a sense of power. It feels great and can be addictive. I also think I would talk about avoiding vulnerability – which I think is what you mean about being threatened by the void.

    I'm not sure about ultimately and relatively real. I'd prefer to talk about different dimensions or layers of reality. Talking about the ultimately real easily slips into grandiosity I think.

    I think it can be important for people going through this kind of thing to have a sense of the process. That the void is not only empty but fertile – that it is not them but an old (and no longer suitable) way of being that is dying. And that their sense that the old no longer fits is the begining of the new emerging.

    • Avoiding vulnerability is definitely one way to express being threatened by the void, yes.

      Yea, I do think we should put parameters around so-called "ultimate reality", or define it adequately. It's historically something that philosophers and theologians have struggled to talk about.

      And indeed, the void is very fertile–some call it "the ground of Being" where all thoughts, emotions, and even physical matter emerges spontaneously from and returns to.

  5. These examples from Steve Pavlina were just too good not to share.

    From http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2010/07/30-days-

    Today is Day 5 of my 30-day trial of inspired living, as I explained in the previous post. If you missed that post, basically I’m testing what it’s like to live without thinking or planning ahead. I’m living in the moment and doing my best to act on inspiration whenever it comes to me, riding each wave for as long as it lasts.

    Is this inspiration, or impulsivity? Narcissism and psychopathology are associated with acting impulsively….

    From http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2010/08/subjecti

    I know this is a long update (over 7400 words), but it still barely scratches the surface of what’s been happening. Fortunately you don’t actually have to read it. I’ll simply dream that I get to read and digest your reactions to this as if you’d read it. But they won’t even be your reactions because there’s no you. I’ll be hearing the echoing projections of my own inner reactions to what I’m sharing with myself. I can accept that. I still need to write all of this down for my own processing reasons. My mind needs some time to digest the events of the past week.

    In other words, you don't exist to Steve Pavlina. In his reality, you are a figment of his imagination (and thus not a separate subject worthy of being treated as such). But he exists to him, and his desires and impulses are real to him. He's written about his New Age solipsistic view called "Subjective Reality" many times before.

    Here he refers to acting on "impulses" and not "intuition", and that this experiment could permanently "screw things up so badly…the damage would be irreparable":

    Initially I figured that I couldn’t screw things up so badly with this trial that the damage would be irreparable. Now I’m having serious doubts about that. As I ponder what’s beginning to show up now, I can easily see a pathway where I could do some real “damage.” I could throw a lot of things out there that would make it impossible to ever return to my Day 1 equilibrium.

    There are certain things that, once I put them out there, can’t be recalled. If I act on such impulses, my life will spin off in some new direction, and there will be no going back.

    His most recent blog posts have been about how he turned off his comment form because "the dream characters in my reality" are too repetitive, needy, and stupid. I can't blame him too much for that one, as I'd probably do the same, but it is interesting how when people become famous, they often lose empathy for their fans—the very fans who gave them their fame and often their wealth too.

    A classic, explicit example of what I'm talking about in this article. Note that Pavlina never calls his own identity, desires, impulses, or consciousness dreamlike—that's really real!

    It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to regard other human beings as separate and distinct from me now.

    This is an inversion of an insight into interconnectedness—instead of all being one, all is Me!

  6. […] last two posts have been about what I’m calling “the logic of evil”—the […]

  7. You have a good point here re: gurus and their followers forming a mutually reinforcing system. I think there are several other elements that take place though which make the situation more dangerous. One is if the guru/leader throws out criticism instead of integrating it, especially if done aggressively. I've seen this first hand–what happens is that all critical views of the leader are silenced because nobody wants to incur the wrath of the great and powerful Oz, so nobody speaks up. When someone inevitably does, they are thrown out of the fold and this dynamic intensifies until followers are no longer even questioning really bizarre stuff the leader says.

    The inverse also applies here–if a guru/leader integrates feedback and/or sets up systems so that they don't hold sole power within a group, the group can mature and grow rather than decay and wither.

    Another aspect that causes guru-type problems is when the guru gives an overly strong view or emotional experience. Extreme views and experiences create extreme praise (and criticism, but critics are kicked out). When gurus/leaders give balanced views and de-emphasize intense experiences, they tend to attract less exuberant students who feel more comfortable offering criticism, which is then more easily integrated, etc. In other words, stay away from black-and-white thinking groups and gurus and look for down-to-earth groups/gurus who can entertain an argument against their philosophy and methods. Or at least that's one rule of thumb.

  8. All it takes is being legitimately helpful in even a small way. If you can be helpful, can share a valuable insight – and you can share the insight with more than one person. The people you help can and will attribute to you a 'guru' status, if you seek it or not.

    Also, I disagree somewhat with this. If you are helpful but give a balanced view and are not at all interested in becoming a public figure/guru (i.e. have little narcissism or power trips waiting in potentia), than it is very easy to avoid gaining guru status.

    How could it be any other way – you're being bombarded with approval constantly!

    That's why you've got to keep a critical mind and listen to those who don't like what you have to say, really attempting to integrate the perspective. The only way to become a guru is to shut out critical thought and dialogue.

  9. jackchristopher says:

    Ever Cause Want To Be A Cult: http://lesswrong.com/lw/lv/every_cause_wants_to_b

    Ironically, the author of that wrote this because of cultishness around himself. Unfortunately the post handwaves over a coprehensive solution.

  10. jackchristopher says:

    "Trying hard to not become a public figure in that context becomes something at odds with the benefit you have to offer. "

    Not necessarily. Spreading ideas you like doesn't necessitate you need to become famous to spread them. For example I can share an idea with a friend. She likes it. So she passes it on to another friend and so forth. That spreads around the fame so to speak.

    IMO blogs encourage the opposite. Blog are mostly personality driven. Unfortunately while there are alternatives in the works, almost none a implemented yet.

Leave a Reply