The Foreign Installation, or Depersonalisation
Every once in a while, I come across some insightful remark on what I have been calling “the foreign installation”, somewhat after Carlos Castaneda’s usage. The “foreign installation” is the alien presence in the mind, an imposter, an invader and occupier who is mistaken for being even the very sense of oneself, and who is referred to in Buddhist literature as the demon “Mara”, Architect and Lord of Illusions and Delusions. Freud similarly referred to the foreign installation as “the superego”, the authority figure in the mind, the inner tyrant and despot, the inner repressor and Censor.
The most recent description of the foreign installation (and it’s quite a good one) comes from Derrick Jensen’s and George Draffan’s book Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control. I like to cite these observations from time to time to give readers more insight into the foreign installation and its tricksyness. In some ways, it makes sense equally to say that the foreign installation is the mind itself, or is the cause for the sense of self-estrangement, alienation, and those things which make for depersonalisation.
Here is Derrick Jensen’s description, which opens the book:
“When I was a child, I was taught – as a fundamentalist Christian – that while the devil could not read my mind, he watched everything I did, scanning for the slightest shift of my body or expression that would reveal my thoughts. He did this, I was told, because he wanted to know me. And he wanted to know me not because he loved me – as God did, who watched me also and who knew in addition what went on in my head and in my heart – but because he wanted to tempt and even control me.
My response as a child was to attempt to control myself, to let neither my face nor body, nor especially my actions, reveal my thoughts. I’d fool him! But I knew even at age five that this was a waste of time. I knew – though of course I could not have used this language – that if the devil, or for that matter anyone, could assemble a large enough body of data about my external habits, he could in time effectively read my mind. I knew also that the capacity to read my mind, whether by God, man, or devil, would lead necessarily to the capacity to control me: surveillance controls, and absolute surveillance controls absolutely.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that by attempting to control myself I was effectively surrendering my freedom. I was allowing my fear – of the devil, and in retrospect even more so of God – to determine by actions, my expressions, my thoughts, and most damning of all, what I did not think.”
The foreign installation begins with the internalisation of the social and parental authority figure, and in George Orwell’s terms, this was equally called “Big Brother”. It is in those terms that we find mentioned, in much of the wisdom tradition, that the first obstacle to be overcome is the parental authority in the mind, for the parental authority is the agent of socialisation and the first source of the “infection” of depersonalisation, as it were.
This is also acknowledged in the book of the Christians, for although the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament commands “honour thy father and thy mother”, the law of Jesus and the New Testament states it differently (beginning Matthew 10:34)
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. 37 He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;…”
This is quite revolutionary, of course (which is why the New Testament is called “new”), and must have been considered seditious language in his time. This passage makes sense only for the one reason that Jesus is the teacher of total freedom, as he reveals in John 8:31 – 36, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” and “if the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed”.
Likewise, Rumi’s poem “Craftsmanship and Emptiness” speaks to the parental authority figure in the mind in similar terms,
The mother and father are your attachment
to beliefs and bloodties
and desires and comforting habits.
Don’t listen to them!
They seem to protect
but they imprison.
They are your worst enemies.
They make you afraid
of living in emptiness.
Some day you’ll weep tears of delight in that court,
remembering your mistaken parents!
And so we find in Castaneda, too, that don Juan has his apprentices imagine they are crushing the images of their parents between their thumb and forefinger, not because of any especial cruelty towards one’s parents, but of the “imprisoning” authority that the parental image has in the mind which, correspondingly, always puts you in the position of being the permanent child with immature, childlike dependencies.
This is the reasoning. You must overcome the “foreign installation” in the mind in order to overcome this permanent sense of childhood dependency. And the social authority that is transmitted down from generation to generation, which is called “breeding”, is transmitted through the parental image. So, we could call the foreign installation “the Potentate” also, as well as the “Censor”. And this is what William Blake was equally referring to as “the mind-forg’d manacles” in his poem “London“,