An Essay Featured In (Re)constructing “A Is A” by O.G. Rose

Outside Catastrophes and Inside The Real

The Good Intentions and Temptation of the Outside Versus Going Inside

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust

Toward the beginning of The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky tells us about an old doctor who confesses to Father Zosima that ‘the more [he loved] mankind in general, the less [he loved] people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons.’¹ The old doctor claims that he became ‘the enemy of people the moment they touch[ed] [him],’ but notes that ‘on the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity as a whole.’² Dostoevsky here suggests that real love requires being “face-to-face,” for that is where we suffer the Sartrean “gaze” and have a chance of realizing how full of self-deception we are while also being self-righteous about it. But Ivan Karamazov laughs later on, and tells us that ‘if we’re to come to love a man, the man himself should stay hidden, because as soon as he shows his face — love vanishes.’³ Whether we like to admit it or not, we all “naturally” agree with Ivan, hence why we do everything in our power to keep what’s inside of people inside.

Nobody likes seeing themselves as someone who doesn’t love others, but at the same time loving others is very difficult and something we don’t really want to do. We claim that we want to love others (when we mostly just want to be loved), but love isn’t something that comes naturally (only “liking”), and we must work very hard to “overcome ourselves” and make ourselves able to love (for more on the topic, please see “On Love” by O.G. Rose). Todd McGowan argues in Emancipation After Hegel that love is central to Hegel’s thinking, for it is this experience where difference and contradiction become most unavoidable and evident. Two people in love never “merge” and become “utterly one” with the other: it is an act which proves “an essential lack” that we can never overcome, and yet it is precisely this “lack” which makes possible beauty, wonder, and sublimation. More can said on this (and I suggest “The Philosophy of Lack” series for elaboration), but the point is that “real love” is hard, and for that reason we will not naturally want to do it, and yet we still want to see ourselves as “loving people,” which is to say we will want to figure out ways to engage in effective self-deception. How do we go about doing that? Well, this suggests what Dostoevsky warned us about: we come to love humanity.

Similarly, like loving humanity versus loving individuals, if we want to be seen as “doing something important,” as trying to “save the world,” we can be tempted to focus on stopping future catastrophes versus The Real of everyday life (which is an allusion to Lacan). As we naturally want to “love humanity” versus “love individuals,” we want to “solve catastrophes” versus “manage The Real.” There are real catastrophes in the world, yes, and we should indeed try to stop them, but problems emerge when we try to “solve catastrophes” without simultaneously taking seriously The Real. If we account for The Real, then we can try to stop catastrophes, but if we avoid or overlook The Real, we will easily make our situation worse. Similarly, if we want to help humanity, we need to do so after helping individuals: the order must be individuals, then humanity, as we must account for The Real, then try to stop catastrophes. Otherwise, our lives will be organized and orientated by “The Unreal,” per se, the opposite of what Lacan discussed, and we will likely be effaced. On this point, I will make a distinction in this paper between working on “Outside Catastrophes,” which is Unreal and problematic, versus going “Inside Catastrophes,” which faces The Real. Ultimately, we can summarize this paper by saying we are tempted by “Outside Catastrophes” to avoid being “Inside The Real,” which ultimately could cause “Double Trouble,” as I will explain.

This paper emerged out of a discussion I had with Dr. Cadell Last, whose collaboration and brilliance I am always grateful for and to whom I am always indebted. As readers may have noticed, lots of my papers are inspired by him, and if you are not familiar with his work, do change that as soon as you can.

I

Audio Summary

Humanity is faceless. It has no gaze. It exists, sure, but it is not real like our husband, which is to say humanity is not a personalized individual who we could find in our kitchen chewing food loudly and talking about the laundry. Our husband doesn’t realize that we hardly slept last night, that our legs are aching, and that we cleaned up his closet without him even asking — does he realize everything we do to make his life better? We don’t say anything, fighting the thoughts in our heads, which also makes us upset, because our husband doesn’t even realize that we’re having to fight thoughts in our heads because of what he’s saying. It’s all “inside.”

We all live with a great “inside.”

“The inside” is arguably the most difficult problem with which we have to organize our lives managing, and we never solve it away.

We never asked to live with an “inside.” We were “thrown” into it (to allude to Heidegger), born with a mind and thoughts and feelings and doubts and fears and anxieties — so much we never asked to undergo. And our husband talks like we can’t effectively clean the living room. Does he earn the majority of the house’s income while also having to deal with the reality that the toddler naturally comes to us before coming to him? We work in accounting, while he unloads trucks. We’ve never made him feel bad for earning so little, but we’ve been tempted to do so, and he has no idea how many times we’ve held back our anger and judgment. If we told him we did, that would function as a judgment, so we can say nothing. All our fighting must be invisible. What we do for him must be “inside.” We must all live “inside.” What is “inside” is “for us” and for us alone. We constantly live with what is “for us” for others, and they cannot know.

The “inside” (which is also the name of a short story we wrote) is with what we all must live, and it is what makes “The Real” (to allude to Lacan) of social interactions and people so difficult. There is no “inside” in the world, only in people, and hence why we naturally do everything we can when we are around people to avoid their “inside.” We small talk. We focus on tasks together. As we engage in endless self-deception, so we engage in endless “inside-avoidance.” Of ourselves, yes, but especially of others. The “insides” of others is what we avoid most of all, but we also know that we shouldn’t and that we should love others. How do we avoid “insides” while still being “loving?” Well, by “loving humanity” — that’s our “out.”

Humanity has no “inside,” only individuals, and “loving humanity” rarely if ever causes us to have to deal with the great “insides” of others. It is a tremendous tool of “inside-avoidance,” which is to say focusing on and loving humanity is a fantastic way to stay “outside.” Everything “outside” is likely a tool of self-deception and “inside-avoidance,” which isn’t to say that it is always bad to “be outside,” but it is to say that “being outside” easily becomes a way to avoid The Real. Again, this is an allusion to the work of Lacan, and it basically means the reality of human existence. It appears in marriages, where people discover that relationships are like “pressure cookers” that can bring out the worst in us. People are difficult to love, difficult to understand, and we spend most of our time misunderstanding one another, especially if we love one another (as Chekov taught). When it comes to people, we want to be around them so that we can feel like and see ourselves as “loving people,” but we then do everything in our power to avoid the nearby “insides.” “Insides” are too unpredictable, too Real, and unfortunately, just like with “loving humanity,” we can use “solving problems” and “stopping catastrophes” to contribute to this “inside-avoidance,” all of which is the temptation of “Outside Catastrophes.”

Unfortunately, “loving humanity” can be easy to do, as is “trying to stop Outside Catastrophes,” because there is social and moral incentive. People who “love humanity” are seen as selfless, as focusing on people beyond their loved ones and immediate friends (note today how many people discuss children and family as “selfish acts,” a sign that “the love of humanity” is spreading across the globe). It seems sacrificial, self-giving, and humble, attributes which can be socially praised. More importantly, these attributes can help us receive self-praise, to help us feel good about ourselves and how we spend our time. When we feel good as such, it becomes easier to avoid The Real. Heidegger was right that we don’t tend to notice a doorknob until it breaks; likewise, we don’t tend to introspect and fight our self-deception until we sense there is something wrong with us. If we feel good about ourselves for loving humanity, we will have little reason to think there is something wrong with us (unless we just know that “loving humanity” can be problematic). In this circumstance, if problems emerge, it must be the fault of others, and so The Real is avoided. Because we avoid facing anxiety, we face conflict, and the concern of this work is to suggest that the same can occur in the name of stopping catastrophes. Where we try to solve catastrophes “outside The Real,” catastrophic conflicts will likely emerge.

II

Generally, we can associate abstractions like “humanity” with “the outside,” while Reality is “inside.” This might seem backwards, for aren’t abstractions created inside the human brain? They are, which is why getting this straight is so difficult: there is a difference between ideas which signify experienced and concrete realities, versus ideas which signify “abstractions upon abstractions.” “Humanity” as an idea is an abstraction which signifies an abstraction, but “I’m sad” as an idea is an abstraction which signifies something I am feeling. Yes, my subjective state is “an abstraction” to others, but it is not an abstraction to me. Abstractions like “humanity” exist “outside” anything — they cannot be found “in me,” “between me and others,” or “in others” — they signify only themselves. That doesn’t mean terms like “humanity” are useless or don’t refer to anything at all, but it is to say such terms are totally “outside” and refer to something “outside” everything. Relative to “parts,” this can be “the whole” which “the parts” make up — say how humanity is what individuals compose — but do note how “the whole” is “outside” all “the parts.” That doesn’t mean “the outside” doesn’t matter or exist, but it is to say there is a risk in it. As hopefully we’ve made clear throughout O.G. Rose (such as in “Objectifying Objects”), it is dangerous to claim “wholes” don’t exist (this is reductionistic, as Alexander Elung also speaks on), but there is also a danger in “running to wholes” to avoid The Real of “the parts.” We’re always searching for dialectical balances, I fear, demanding much of us.

Yes, it seems like abstractions are “inside” because thoughts come from our brains, but this is a mistake. Indeed, there are parts of our inner lives which are illusionary and false, but a hard binary where the inside of us is an unreliable subjectivity, and outside of us is an empirically reliable world, is very problematic (and contributes to us avoiding The Real, empowering self-deception). We are a mixture of our Real and efforts to avoid our Real: we contain The Real and efforts to avoid it. Why “the inside” is full of illusion and self-deception is because it is trying to avoid The Real of itself and “other-insides.” “The inside” doesn’t equal self-deception and illusion: it is precisely because the “inside” is The Real that it tries to run and hide from itself. The “inside” is the home of both The Real and efforts to avoid The Real which our “inside” creates and simultaneously tries to avoid but finds itself attached at the hip, like Siamese twins. We are paradoxical in this way, suggesting the wisdom of Hegel to ontologically understand us as contradictory.

We cannot lie to ourselves to ourselves — we’d know it was a lie, and self-deception cannot function as self-deception if we know it is self-deception — all self-deceit must involve ourselves to something “outside” ourselves. Where there is self-deception and “inside-avoidance,” there is a presence of “the outside” making this self-deception possible. If all we did was relate to ourselves as ourselves, we could try to deceive or even ignore ourselves, but self-deception would likely prove impossible, for relating to ourselves requires a conscious act, and if we are conscious that we are trying to avoid something, then we are aware of it (in other words, if we say that “we’re lying to ourselves,” we’re in denial). Considering this, self-deception requires an “outside,” and that means whenever we are dealing with “the outside,” aware of how hungry and desperate our minds are for self-deception to avoid The Real, we must be on our guard. All “outsides” are risky, regardless how necessary they may prove for our dialectical development.

Realities are “inside,” while abstractions are more “outside.” If we want to use the language of “the map and the territory,” we could say that “the inside” is “the territory,” while “the map” is “the outside.” This is the exact opposite of what is usually supposed, with “the inside” being full of illusions while “the outside” is concrete and empirical, and though there is truth to this, we will not find The Real in trees or rocks. The Real is found in us, and we do not want to find it. After all, ‘the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.’⁴

Moving forward, though we will now emphasize in this paper how large catastrophes like Global Warming can cause us to overlook The Real (and feel moral in doing so), the same logic applies regarding problems in general. In marriages, people can “look for problems” and spend all their time trying to solve them as a way to “avoid The Real.” There can always be a yard to cut, an anger issue that needs correcting, a mean boss — on and on. All of these, regardless how actual and legitimate the problems might be, can function as ways to avoid “the inside” and stay “outside.” Perhaps problems always entail the risk of keeping us “outside’ and avoiding The Real, as talking of humanity always entails the risk of loving an abstraction made in our own image and likeness. This doesn’t mean we should ignore problems or pretend like they don’t exist, but it is to say we must always be on our guard: our brains are masters at using any and everything in service of self-deception and avoiding “insides.”

At the same time, our brains also like to define “facing The Real” as thinking that our spouse is causing all the trouble (for example), which “seems like facing The Real,” but really it is scapegoating to avoid “facing The Real as something we are part of and mutually create.” Not all examples of drama and difficulty are a result of “facing The Real,” and in fact a lot of drama results from avoiding it through “scapegoating,” seeing problems that don’t exist, and the like. How can we identify “facing the Real” from “creating drama?” That’s a complex and expansive topic explored throughout O.G. Rose, but a good place to start is by asking ourselves if we feel self-righteous, annoyed, or other emotions that suggest the presence of ego. Also, does the situation make us a savior? This can be a red flag, seeing as we all need saving ourselves.

III

We all naturally hate “being inside,” and we naturally do everything in our power to “stay outside,” especially regarding others. Introspection is hard enough, but dealing with “other-insides” is a whole different ballgame — not even the best of philosophers who have engaged in the most profound of introspections find “other-insides” easy to live with and understand (hence why perhaps so many great teachers seek isolationism, and why the Humean “return” can seem so foolish). Traditionally, philosophers and theologians have fled from “insides” by running to massive abstract systems and “abstract ideas” which are universal and “above the world,” and only now with thinkers like Zizek and McGowen is there a hard insistence that philosophy must be psychoanalytical and Real. This is a “psychanalytical turn” that I think is incredibly important, and for similar reasons I believe philosophy needs to be more literary and economic. Unfortunately, it was easy for philosophers and theologians for centuries to “get away with” this escapism because the society honored them as geniuses for constructing “abstract systems.” They received tenure and respect, and so why should they ever think they were engaging in problematic self-deception? If they were, wouldn’t others tell them so?⁵

It was noted earlier that it is easy to “love humanity” because we receive social praise for it; likewise, it is easy to “try to save the world” because people love people who try to save the world. Colleges, big businesses, neighbors — everyone talks about ways to “make a difference” and about “making things better for the future.” We love saving and being saviors — just so much as we can stay “outside” The Real. If we start trying to help people face trauma, overcome alcoholism, admit their possessive and manipulative tendencies — all things which must occur if the lived experience of a particular family was to be improved — then we can be hated, told we need to mind our own business, and worse. If we try to stop Global Warming, we can be honored; if we try to stop family manipulation, we may never be invited to Thanksgiving again.

Since we are rejected and hated when we try to work “Inside Catastrophes,” which is to say we face The Real, it becomes easy to think we are doing something wrong and quit. Earlier, it was said that the “self-praise” we can gain from working “outside” can help us not doubt ourselves and “feel together.” If we constantly feel “in the wrong” when facing The Real, that means we will find ourselves undergoing introspection constantly, which is very hard. In this way, we can’t help others face The Real unless we face The Real in ourselves, an incredibly difficult task for which we likely won’t receive praise. However, if we avoid The Real and try to “save the world,” we won’t have to suffer our own Real and will likely receive social praise. Considering this, it’s only a matter of probability that the majority will work “outside,” likely causing problems which we as a society will have to fix, which may only be fixable by us “facing The Real,” which is unlikely we will do if we didn’t do it the first time — on and on.

Religions like Christianity commanded that people “love their neighbor” and suffer rejection, and there was even a threat of Hell if such was not done. Perhaps that was too extreme, but religions at least had a sense that “facing The Real” was incredibly difficult, and it was far more likely that we would figure out way to instead “be seen as a savior,” making it seem like we “faced The Real” when really we just boosted our pride. Religions understood that the only “good work” we’re ever naturally interested in doing is outside — we want nothing to do with “good work” that is done inside, where our goodness is invisible. We love “Outside Catastrophes” and efforts to “inside-avoid,” precisely because these contribute to self-deceptions that help us “feel good” without realizing we are self-deceived. It is another topic, but religions were in the business of fighting self-deception constantly (sin is a doctrine not merely of morality but “psychological acrobats” and self-justification); now that religion is in decline, I fear that self-deception is in full force.

This might sound extreme, but religions generally understood that we’d rather stop Global Warming or reform Wall Street than help a victim of sexual abuse overcome hording or feel valued through a genuine relationship. Hording can develop from trauma, because it becomes a way to “hold the world together” when it feels so fragile, and so helping a person stop hording, which for us might be easy, can be one of the most difficult tasks in the world. The apparent simplicity of it can make us irritable and easily frustrated, and yet we somehow must fight that tendency. Is this harder than sitting in a room with ten college educated people as pollution statistics are studied and discussed? Certainly, Global Warming is a major problem, and it does take genius to solve the problem, but sitting with a victim of sexual abuse is a full body experience. Perhaps it is less intellectually challenging than Global Warming, but I submit to you that helping a victim of sexual assault can be harder overall. In a society though where intellect is prized over all else, it will be easy for people with IQs to tackle Global Warming and receive praise, never once thinking that they are avoiding the harder work of sitting with a victim of trauma. In fact, the society may not view helping trauma victims as difficult at all: those addressing the harder task overall may not be seen as carrying out a difficult task at all. So can be the unintended consequence of not taking seriously The Real, of letting ourselves stay “outside”…

We need people to solve Global Warming, and we need intellectuals to solve pressing problems — I am not questioning that at all. My point is that we need to see the effort “in its proper bounds.” Ultimately, what religions understood is that our efforts to stop Global Warming must not forsake The Real. The people fighting Global Warming must also be able to sit with those who have suffered trauma — we need people to do both or else efforts to “stop catastrophes” will likely become efforts to avoid The Real.⁶ This is against our human and “natural” tendency, for we are creatures of radical pride and self-deception. And if we think we would never make this mistake, we likely already have.

IV

In conclusion, if we skip individual “insides” and The Real, we will easily make our problems worse, potentially creating for ourselves a situation I will tentatively call “Double Trouble.” “Double Trouble” is when we avoid The Real and suffer the consequences, and also worsen the potential catastrophes we are trying to stop precisely because we don’t take seriously The Real which must be part of it. “Double Trouble” is when we suffer both on the personal level and systems level for overlooking The Real.

Though the phrase might cause confusion, given our tendency to associate “unreal” with “not occurring,” we could say that “The Unreal” is anything that helps us avoid The Real, not because The Unreal is fake or illusionary, but because it fails to account for “the insides” of human beings. Since nothing can exist that doesn’t have an “inside,” we can thus associate a denial of the “inside” as Unreal. Considering this, we could say:

The Real = The Inside
The Unreal = The Outside

We naturally avoid The Real/Inside with The Unreal/Outside, and have to spend our lives diligently fighting this tendency. Anything, from humanity to global catastrophes, can be used by us to “naturally” avoid The Real/Inside. We are masters at self-deception and “Inside-Avoidance.”

The concern of this paper has been on how we can use humanity to escape individuals and “Outside Catastrophes” to escaping going “Inside the Real,” precisely because this can cause “Double Trouble.” “Outside Catastrophes” are often inspired and “made in the image and likeness” of actual and/or possible catastrophes, so there is often if not always truth and reality to them. Unfortunately, they are sources of their own problems once they become ways of avoiding going “Inside the Real.” And it is incredibly hard to stop this mistake once it has been made, because there is always “a moral code” which can conceal and protect those who try to solve an “Outside Catastrophe” — anyone who tells them that they are avoiding The Real is likely to be met with replies about “how we have to do something” and “at least I’m trying.” For this reason, because people love humanity who try to save the world, we will have to fight “love” to correct them, and is not love god?

In closing, I repeat, the point of this paper is not to say that we shouldn’t care about Global Warming or anything of the sort — my point is that it is extremely easy to use Global Warming, fighting Wallstreet, making American great again, and the like to avoid The Real, as it is easy to use humanity to avoid individuals. Only given people can know if they are making this mistake, though it will be hard to identify, given the power of self-deception. We’re always trying to get “outside” and stay there, and if we are not aware of this, it is very likely we will only ever face “Outside Catastrophes.” Where the real work can be done is by going “Inside Catastrophes,” which is unnatural for us. This would require completing Hume’s “philosophical journey” and “phenomenological journey” of Hegel, as taught by Dr. Last, neither of which we “naturally” want to finish. We naturally long to stay “outside,” but real life is found “inside,” then out.

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Notes

¹Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. North Print Press, New York. 2002: 57.

²Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. North Print Press, New York. 2002: 57.

³Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. North Print Press, New York. 2002: 237.

⁴Nabokov, Vladimir. Speak, Memory. New York: First Vintage International Edition, 1989: 310.

⁵This suggests the problematic power of a zeitgeist, and also suggests that “others” will not necessarily help us see our errors. In fact, if they’re avoiding their “insides” like us, we all might contribute to our self-deception (“social-deception,” perhaps). Is this the problem with paradigms?

⁶What I call “Phenomenological Pragmaticism” is a method which attempts to stay “inside” more than “outside,” to focus on The Real versus The Unreal. Whether this method always succeeds or not, I leave up to others to decide.

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This piece was inspired by Cadell Last during our 2.14.22 Discussion. For more by the wonderful Dr. Cadell Last:

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Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart. https://linktr.ee/ogrose

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O.G. Rose

O.G. Rose

Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart. https://linktr.ee/ogrose

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