We have all been “bitten” by the false self survival strategy serpent. All human beings have this psychologically normal wound. Simple Reality is the snake-bite kit. If we do not acknowledge and begin to confront the underlying cause of the failure to create a sustainable human community then we have no chance to avoid the unfolding catastrophe that awaits us and it will become increasingly difficult to pretend it isn’t happening.
Religions have always known about the temptations of the false-self survival strategy although the labels used in the scriptures are different.
- Security-seeking behaviors can lead to materialism calling for vows of poverty.
- Sensation-seeking behaviors can lead to immorality calling for vows of chastity.
- Power-seeking behaviors can lead to rebellion calling for vows of obedience and surrender.
In the mythologies of both Jesus and Buddha they were tempted by appeals to their false selves—in the case of Jesus by Satan and Maya in the myth of Buddha. The stories are about the three energy centers of the false-self survival strategy. Jesus was told he would have security by being able to turn stones into bread. Secondly, Satan said he (Jesus) could throw himself off the roof of the temple and be unharmed and the people would worship him as a god. In doing so, he would experience the sensation or the affection and esteem of the people. And finally Satan says “worship me and I will give you the world and all of the power that you would desire.” Both Buddha and Jesus refused the appeals to their false-self identities because they recognized the illusion associated with the pursuit of plenty, pleasure and power. In doing so, they demonstrated that they were awake.
Satan (our own false self conditioning) is still up to his old tricks with humanity at large and with much more success than he has had with mystics past and present who are too wise to be conned by his all too obvious scam. The false self is alive and well in America today.
How does the modern 21st century false self reveal its behavior?
- “In a fast-paced, dehumanized workplace (expressed by the apathy of an alienated work force, the unplanned obsolescence produced by automation and the hubris of success).”
- “In a materialistic hedonism (expressed in conspicuous consumption, exploitative advertising, waste, and rampant pollution).
- “And in our ever-present fear of death (expressed in an obsession with health and fitness, diet, drugs, and longevity at any price).
Treating materialism as a disease with the clever label “affluenza” has been given legal sanction by a judge in Texas. After a drunken 16-year-old Ethan Couch killed four bystanders in Fort Worth, he faced 20 years imprisonment for manslaughter. His wealthy father hired a defense team that would come up with a unique and successful strategy.
“‘Affluenza,’ at least as invoked by the defense psychologist G. Dick Miller, is not a recognized disorder, a legitimate exculpatory condition akin to post-traumatic stress, or even insanity itself.” But the defense strategy worked very well indeed.
Ethan Couch got off with 10 years’ probation and will be sent to a California treatment facility that offers equine therapy, cooking classes and martial-arts lessons at a cost of $450,000 a year. Luckily Ethan’s father, a wealthy sheet-metal executive can afford both the expensive defense and the treatment facility’s tuition.
How is this new disease described? According to Miller, the psychologist on the defense team, “affluenza” is a “state of immense, amoral privilege.” According to Simple Reality, affluenza is an expression of the security energy center of the false-self survival strategy. Whatever strategy we may want to try to understand we can say that all behaviors related to affluenza are essentially self-destructive.
The American criminal justice system is a P-B institution and subject to all the dysfunction of that illusion. Justice can be persuaded to remove her blindfold if there is enough money on the table.
Ethan Couch may have avoided jail time for the crime of manslaughter. But like the rest of us, for the remainder of his life, he has to try to survive the universal sentence of suffering in the context of P-B. He beat the rap like some small-time players do. In the meantime he has to do the time as a “lifer” in the slammer of his own mind.
Columnist Michael Koenig describes behaviors that are expressions of the sensation energy center of the false self: “According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 11,326 teenage girls got breast implants and more than 210,000 teenagers underwent other cosmetic procedures in 2004. Two girls I know in Colorado proudly received breast implants as high school graduation gifts last year from their parents.”
The false self wants to be hip and cool and can find an infinite number of ways to become delusional. Even just the sound of an activity can excite and distract the disillusioned identity that wants to escape its suffering. Sue Furdek, a spokeswoman for the champagne maker Domaine Chandon, provides our example. “People love the pop when they open a bottle of bubbly. It tells them the fun is about to begin.” Those poor saps would not be receptive to the counter-narrative of Simple Reality that would inform them that indeed the “suffering” was about to begin—and again and again—ad infinitum.
Francis Ford Coppola is also in the business of selling champagne and is smart enough in his marketing strategy to appeal to the sensation center of the false self. He is putting his champagne in a can with a straw. He knows that if he can influence the creation of an illusion related to a hip and cool identity, he can sell the pop and fizz. Beverage manager Saeed Bennani understands the importance of marketing to a new identity. “You’re drinking champagne out of a can with a straw. It’s different. So you’re different.” At least you “think” you’re different as long as you can maintain the illusion.
“Women are the engine of growth for the American wine market and are being arrested for drunken driving more often than before, as the numbers for men have remained stable or diminished. (According to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report from 2011, four out of five drunken driving incidents still involve men.)”
In her book Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink—and How They Can Regain Control, Gabrielle Glaser reveals a shocking false-self behavior from the last century. “Even during a time of more rigid gender roles, Glaser notes, women were the ‘principal users of opiates, which were available over the counter and by mail order. In 1897, the Sears, Roebuck catalog offered a kit with a syringe, two needles, two vials of heroin and a handy carrying case for $1.50.’ Today’s Mommy Juice and Happy Bitch, wines marketed to women, seem prim by comparison.”
American culture is toxic. Immigrants, seeing opportunities here would be well-advised to look beneath the surface at the hidden pit-falls, the pathologies built in to our worldview. For example, is it worth it to sacrifice one’s health in order to live in “the land of opportunity”? “Long-term exposure to American culture may be hazardous to immigrant’s health.”
Associated Press correspondent Lindsey Tanner gets specific in the title of her piece: “Study: U.S. immigrants’ obesity rate rises with length of stay.” “Those who arrive in the U.S. tend to be healthier than those born here, but weight changes over time.” What is being referred to here is the threat of addiction, a behavioral component of the sensation energy center of the false self. Specifically an addiction to eating with obesity as the end result, at least for some.
As long as we brought up the subject, let’s continue with other favorite American addictions. Is there a gap between what immigrants imagine life in America to be and the reality? There is such a gap for Americans so there would have to be for immigrants and the gap is growing. Take life on the Great Plains for example. “Among teenagers, there is now a higher level of illicit drug use in rural areas than in cities or suburbs, recent surveys indicate. The middle class is dwindling, leaving pockets of hard poverty amid large agribusinesses supported by taxpayers.” This is one reality that will greet some newcomers from abroad—poverty, drug addiction and injustice. Perhaps not what they had imagined “America the Beautiful” to be.
Next let’s consider the pitfall of process addiction, namely gambling. “Experts warn that casino gaming opens the door to a jump in associated problems—anxiety, depression, insomnia and suicide.” Immigrants should perhaps stay away from Las Vegas for starters.
Lisa Murray, marketing manager for the Colorado lottery and president of the Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado (2003) makes the connection between gambling and other false-self behaviors. “‘There are two types of problem gambling,’ she said—escape and thrill-seeking action gambling—and ‘slots work for the escape gamblers. They go almost into a hypnotic trance.’” Gambling is a strategy to avoid suffering and remain unconscious. We should let immigrants know. It doesn’t work.
We are all immigrants or descendents of immigrants except for one group. Native Americans, however, are just as vulnerable to the false self as anyone. They too are beginning to accept the promise of the American dream. Gambling is no longer confined to racetracks, bingo halls, lotteries and casinos in Nevada and Atlantic City. Indian casinos have become big business, very big business. “By 1982, it had grown to a $10.2 billion industry. Twenty years later legalized gambling had mushroomed to a $69.7 billion industry.” There is some form of Indian gaming in 29 states.
Another link between gambling, technology and addiction relates to how people are using their iPad or cell phones. Pundit Gail Collins describes her addiction to a game called Candy Crush Saga. “It’s about matching little colored thingies on your iPad or phone. About the game: It’s been played about 150 billion times over the past year. There is no reward for winning; you just advance to another level in an ever-growing chain of chocolate mountain and lemonade lake.” Sounds harmless enough.
How do the app inventors get compensated? Ah well, we don’t have to worry about the plenty-seeking energy center of the false self—it knows what it’s doing—at least as far as making money is concerned. If you get stuck on one level of Candy Crush you can purchase extra moves, extra turns or extra weapons. You can see where the neurotic, compulsive and addicted false self becomes the patsy here.
We don’t have to feel that the London-based company King is going to go broke offering a “free game.” The consulting firm Think Gaming estimates that King is taking in more than $900,000 a day.
American politicians and entrepreneurs have not failed to notice this easy source of revenue that the new technologies offer. Like many states in the U.S., New Jersey has a budget shortfall. Governor Chris Christie signed a bill earlier this year to legalize Internet gambling in New Jersey which is projected to raise $150 million in tax revenue.
State residents can now go online, create an account with one of the sponsoring casinos and play blackjack, poker, slot machines, etc. at home in their pajamas. “Congress is looking at bills to create a national Internet gambling system, some of them proposed by Tea Party conservatives.” Well, at least the addiction-prone sensation center is good for something.
There are some of us who have what you might call a nagging anxiety about these kinds of developments. We are not the only ones. Earl Grinols, an economist at Baylor University who has written on gambling issues sees a downside. “Slot machines are the crack cocaine of gambling.”
“‘It was like electronic heroin,’ Maureen O’Connor said of the machine she thought she could beat. ‘You know, the more you did, the more you needed—and the more it wasn’t satisfied.’ But in the end it was the machine that beat O’Connor, leaving the former San Diego mayor and heiress to a $50 million fortune all but destitute.”
Gail Collins is honest in admitting her own compulsion and might be headed for a meeting of Gambler’s Anonymous or perhaps we need a new organization: Internet Gaming Anonymous. “I speak from the experience of a person who spent $32 last month buying extra turns for a game that involves moving bits of candy around an iPad. Just because it was there.”
We do need organizational support to address the power of the addiction-prone false self. We knew that cigarettes were linked to lung cancer 50 years ago and although gains have been made in reducing the percentage of smokers in the U.S., we seem to have hit a wall lately in further reducing suicide by tobacco. “‘Seven out of 10 smokers say they want to quit,’ says [Paul] Billings at the [American] lung association, but their addiction is too powerful. More than 400,000 Americans still die  prematurely each year from smoking.”
Whether you are coming or going or have been here all along, there is no escaping the false self in America. No escaping, that is unless you are reading this book and then you at least know what to do. Whether you can find the courage to do so is up to you but don’t think the grass will be greener anywhere else on the planet. You may think escaping to Costa Rica would be a good idea; but alas immigrants always take their false self with them wherever they go.
The cars we drive say a lot about our identities and our delusions. Although they may symbolize for us any of the three false-self energy centers, they seem to often relate to our aspirations for power and control.
Psychologist James Hazen who works in the auto industry says, “About 25% of people choose cars that make them feel powerful. They go for the big engines, the big tires. Some people want cars that look good and stand out. Others find comfort in blending in with all the other white Camry’s on the road.” The 25% Hazen is talking about are probably mostly males.
We can see that the human persona enters into our car choice. This means, as we have learned, that our narrative is also key since our identity derives from that. “Our cars, then reflect how we want others to see us, particularly those in our peer group.”
Consumer psychology expert Charles Kenny believes that expressing our persona in our choice of automobiles is “natural, normal and healthy. Expressing a unique identity is what makes us human, and that’s what our cars let us do.” Human, yes, but as we are learning, not healthy. As we come to understand more of the details of human behavior we can begin to sort healthy from unhealthy behaviors and in that way begin changing those habits that drive our self-destructive, neurotic behavior.
Look around and see if you don’t see or participate in the desire for power and control expressed …
- “In an uncontrolled power drive for knowledge and domination of nature (expressed in the amorality of the sciences and the unregulated marriage of business and technology).”
- “In the maximization of business growth and progress (expressed in leveraged buyouts, profiteering, insider trading, and the savings and loan debacle).”
- In the sexual behavior of adolescent boys. “We teach boys, overtly and implicitly, that sexual potency is a marker of masculinity and that empathy and emotional depth are purviews of a lesser sex. The ways we force boys to adhere to a perilously narrow reading of ‘oppression all dressed up as awesomeness,’ as Lisa Wade, an Occidental College sociology professor, put it.” “Boys are not taught to value themselves as fully human, but only as conquerors of everything—women, the workplace, the world.”
This is only a small sample of what false-self behavior looks like in contemporary America. We spend a lot of time and energy distracting ourselves from the suffering associated with these self-destructive behaviors. Therapy, medication and 12-step programs are only a few of the ineffective strategies that we believe will alleviate our suffering. They do not.
Simple Reality is a synthesis of centuries of wisdom proven to be an effective strategy to stop the destructive behaviors of the false self.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry:
Who Am I? The Second Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Where Am I? The First Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival