Carlos Castaneda: The Warrior’s Way

I wish to return, today, to the beginnings of that thread I began earlier with the reproduction of Carlos Castaneda’s definitive statement concerning his extra-ordinary experiences as an apprentice of the Indian “sorcerer” don Juan Matus. Every now and then, I’ll be interweaving comments about events and issues in our shared contemporary social life to demonstrate its relevance, and why it is truly a pragmatic statement about our human condition which is universally corroborated in the experiences and testimony of others.

In the last couple of posts, we’ve had occasion to comment on contemporary propaganda practices and the social construction of “the foreign installation” or false self, as well as the evident disintegration or de-coherence of the modern self — its “deconstruction”, as post-modernists refer to it. Both contradicting trends are at work, and it might even be said that the essential tension — the play of stress and distress in our time — is this contest and conflict between these tendencies, both sociological and psychological in nature.

The “foreign installation” (or false self) is what William Blake also called “the Selfhood” and it is a parasite — a mental and psychic parasite — that is really no authentic part of the “You of you”. It is the self-image or mask with which this “You of you” has become confused. When some today speak of “the culture of narcissism” (such as the late Christopher Lasch) they often get only part of the story right, arriving at the correct conclusion but through all the wrong routes and means. What you sometimes think of as your personal “identity” is all-too often not even your identity. It is erected in you to turn you into something useful or functional to others — a role and a routine, even as a “cog in the machine”. But people often confuse what is merely their “role” as being their true individuality, and they are, in fact, encouraged daily to do so, their value or worth being equated with their social utility. This is self-alienation, and self-alienation — one’s flowing out into a mere self-image or what is called today the “me brand” and the commodified self — is the issue of narcissism and our contemporary collective narcissism.

“If you want to influence him at all, you must do more than merely talk to him ; you must fashion him, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than you wish him to will.” — Johann Gottlieb Fichte

This is the rule of all propaganda. But… to what ends? It is certainly not to facilitate authentic self-realisation or the “free development of the personality”, but is a formula for enslavement and for the co-optation and exploitation of the vital energies and creativity of the true self. The function of the foreign installation or mental parasite, then, is not just to constrain freedom of choice, but to narrow and predetermine the choice that will be made while conserving the illusion that one is truly a free agent exercising free will or choice. The illusion preserves a sense of personal dignity even if it is delusional. The function of the foreign installation is to maintain and uphold a “world view” or Weltanschauung that is even contrary to the innate inclinations and deeper desires of the authentic self — the “You of you” — which “You of you” comes to be denied all self-realisation and expression, and which denial may lead to feelings of intense guilt, Angst, depression, malaise, or even mental illness.

It is in this context that Nietzsche’s often misunderstood formula for self-overcoming, “Become what you are!” takes on its radical existential and revolutionary character, and his critique of values is pretty much the question of how human beings are brought to think and act in ways completely contrary to their innate, vital interests. This hindering and inhibiting repression, however, is the work of “the foreign installation”.

And what you are authentically is the issue of Castaneda, Seth, William Blake, Nietzsche, Rumi, Gebser, Emerson, Meister Eckhart, and so many others. The authentic Self is the energy of life itself, and it is this has been denied until people come to feel inwardly much like automatons, machines, zombies, and so on, which is very often the complaint of those suffering from extreme narcissism.

“A wrong philosophy leads to a wrong society”, wrote Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, and he set about to reveal in his works why ours had become dreadfully and deadly wrong under the impact of a totalising utilitarian philosophy and ethic. This is where the contrast between the “warrior” ethic of Castaneda’s don Juan and that of “the average man” is very revealing, and why the “pragmatism” of the warrior’s way and the “utilitarianism” of mass society should never, ever be confused, as they seemingly are (again, the work of the foreign installation to reduce and confuse and confabulate).

The utilitarian ethic gives that a human life oscillates between the poles of pleasure and pain, and that the “sensible” man (implied supreme ethical value here), the truly “rational” man, cleaves to pleasure and avoids pain. This is called “pursuit of happiness”, and is considered the norm and standard of human conduct, behaviour and thought.

But contrast this utilitarian philosophy with the “pragmatic” cognition of Castaneda’s don Juan, as given earlier, that is the warrior’s path: “The aim is to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive.”

Terror and wonder correspond, obviously, to pain and pleasure, but are of a higher order of existence. They are not comparable values otherwise. Moreover, there is no moralising prescription here that insists a “rational” or “practical” man must eschew the one and cleave to the other. Terror and wonder are not portrayed as mutually exclusive opposites, as are pain and pleasure in the utilitarian calculus, but as polarities that are reciprocally related. To put it in another comparable way, he who wishes to behold the head of Athena, goddess of reason, must also be prepared to behold also her alter ego, the Gorgon’s head. And he who wishes to embrace Dionysus, must also be prepared to embrace Hades, who is also one of the personae of Dionysus.

For that, says don Juan, a man or woman on their way to knowledge and “total freedom” needs “guts of steel”. And he or she also requires, from the outset, another quality — the deconstruction of “the precious self” — that is to say, the dismantling of what we have been calling “the foreign installation” or “the Selfhood”, in Blake’s terms, or Mara (the Architect) in Buddhism’s terms or “Prince of Lies” in Christianity. One must willingly pass through the valley of the shadow of death; through the alchemist’s crucible.

But a “common sense” or “sensible” utilitarian ethic of the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain keeps the human spirit and consciousness in a permanently infantilised situation — the degenerated and spiritually timid type characteristic of Huxley’s Brave New World, but governable and exploitable to be sure.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern. — William Blake

That self-enclosure — this cavern — is the foreign installation. And its deconstruction and dissolution is the first necessary step in cleansing “the doors of perception” or, in don Juan’s equally poetic terms, “unfolding the wings of perception,” in order to become what we truly are.

2 responses to “Carlos Castaneda: The Warrior’s Way”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    By the way, the “You of you” is a Sethian phrase which attempts to draw out the proper relationship between what some refer to as “Self” and “ego”, with “ego” being more or less equivalent to the self-image or the foreign installation, for it is this self-image that is manipulated by much advertising, for example. Implicit in that advertising, however, is a system of metaphysical statements and express values of what it means to be “human” — that is, an implied definition of “man”, and all definitions are limitations.

    This Sethian “You of you” isn’t such an odd or mysterious phrase. We call it “our Heart of hearts”, and we certainly don’t mean by that the beating pump in our bodies. This “You of you” and “the Heart of hearts” are one and the same.

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    “What you sometimes think of as your personal “identity” is all-too often not even your identity. It is erected in you to turn you into something useful or functional to others — a role and a routine, even as a “cog in the machine”. ”

    Indeed. Everything (science, religion, emotions, thoughts and ideas, instruction, minerals and matter, etc.) is used to commodify the individual and the masses. When I observe a colleague, who critisizes capitalism as “It’s extortion!” acts exactly like devout capitalists by getting deeply involved in the equity markets, then I know that he, despite his socialistic and Marxist ideas that at one time had gotten him in trouble with the law during the cold war, has been turned into a “cog in the machine”. He in his old age, in fact, has become “permanently infantilised”.

    The distinction you have drawn between the “utilitarian ethic” and the “warrior ethic” is very meaningful and has given me much to ponder.

    I also do have to catch up on my Greek mythology 🙂

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