Self and Other by Alan Watts

Inability to accept the mystic experience is more than an intellectual handicap. Lack of awareness of the basic unity of organism and environment is a serious and dangerous hallucination. For in a civilization equipped with immense technological power, the sense of alienation between man and nature leads to the use of technology in a hostile spirit---to the "conquest" of nature instead of intelligent co-operation with nature. Alan Watts

Now, the subject of this seminar is 'Self and Other,' and this is therefore to be an exploration into the subject that interests me most, which is the problem of personal identity, man's relationship to the universe, and all the things that are connected with that. It is, for our culture at this time in history an extremely urgent problem, because of our technological power. In known history, nobody has had such capacity for altering the universe than the people of the United States of America. And nobody has gone about it in such an aggressive way.

I think sometimes that the two symbols of our present kind of technological culture are the rocket ship and the bulldozer. The rocket as a very, very phallic symbol of compensation for the sexually inadequate male. And the bulldozer, which ruthlessly pushes down hills and forests and alters the shape of the landscape. These are two symbols of the negative aspect of our technology. I'm not going to take the position that technology is a mistake. I think that there could be a new kind of technology, using a new attitude. But the trouble is that a great deal of our power is wielded by men who I would call 'two o'clock types.'

Maybe you saw an article I wrote in "Playboy" magazine called "The Circle of Sex," and it suggested at least a dozen sexual types rather than two. And that the men who are two o'clock on the dial, like a clock, are men who are ambisexterous, named after Julius Ceasar, because Julius Ceasar was an ambisexterous man, and he equally made love to all his friend's wives and to his good-looking officers. And he had no sense of guilt about this at all. Now, that type of male in this culture has a terrible sense of guilt, that he might be homosexual, and is scared to death of being one, and therefore he has to overcompensate for his masculinity. And so he comes on as a police officer, Marine sergeant, bouncer, bookie, general--tough, cigar-chewing, real masculine type who is never able to form a relationship with a woman; they're just 'dames' as far as he's concerned. But he, just like an ace Air Force pilot puts a little mark on his plane each time he shoots down an enemy, so this kind of man, every time he makes a dame he chalks up one, because that reassures him that he is after all a male. And he's a terrible nuisance. The trouble is that the culture doesn't permit him to recognize and accept his ambisexterity. And so he's a trouble spot.

But that kind of spirit of knocking the world around is something that is causing serious danger here. It arises, you see, because this tremendous technological power has been evolved in a culture which inherits a sense of personality which is frankly a hallucination. And we get this sense of personality from a long, long tradition of Jewish and Christian and Greek ideas which have caused man to feel that the universe of nature - the physical world, in other words - is not himself. You may think that that is a very odd thing to say, because one always assumes that oneself is one's own body, or at least something inside one's body, like a soul. And that naturally, everything outside is not oneself. But this is, as I've said many, many times, a hallucination. Let's think, here we are in the middle of New York City. And you know what happens when New York City goes wrong. When there's a subway strike, or when the power fails, or when the sewers back up, your life is in danger. Because you are not only constituted by the bloodstream of your veins and the communications network of your nervous system. An extension of your bloodstream, and of your alimentary canal, and of your nervous system, is all the communication systems of this city.

In other words, you know well every night streams of trucks pour into this city, carrying food. I understand there is even a kind of big drain pipe which brings milk in. You consume three million pounds of fish a week. You then also have to have the exit end of this. The sewers are very complicated. The water system and all it's pipes, the telephone systems, the electric light systems, the air conditioning things, the traffic streams. All these things going on are essential extensions of your own inner tubing. And therefore, you have to be aware, more and more, that the city is an extended body for every person living in it. And not only of course the city, because the city depends on untold acres of fields where farm products are grown, cattle are raised, on lakes and underground water sources; on the constitution of the atmosphere, and finally on the location of the Earth on this propitious spot rather close to the sun, where we have our basic heating system working.

And all that is not a world into which you arrived, from somewhere else altogether. It is a complex system of relationships, out of which you grew in exactly the same way that fruit grows on a tree, or a flower on a stem. Just as these blossoms here are symptomatic of the plant, and you identify the plant by looking at the blossoms - here are these little oranges, you see - we know that this is an orange tree. Now in exactly that way, you are all growing in this world, and so we know that this world is a 'humaning' system - and therefore it has a certain kind of innate intelligence, just as this tree, with its roots, has the innate intelligence which comes out in these oranges.

So the cosmos in which we live is a network of communications. You don't need to think of it in an authoritarian pattern, namely there is God the father, who makes it all work, because that doesn't really answer anything. That's just applying to the world an explanation derived from the political systems of the ancient Near East. You realize that? The great political systems of the Egyptians and the Chaldeans, where there was an enormous father figure in charge of everything, became the model for the idea of monotheism. And these great kings, like Hammurabi and Amenhotep IV, laid down legal systems so man thought of a prince, a king of kings, a lord of lords, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer. It's a political idea. And I often wonder how citizens of a republic, who have to curse and swear that they think that this is the best form of government, can put up with a monarchial conception of nature. Very funny. You know, a republic, and it says 'In God We Trust,' and most people by God mean a king of the universe. Very strange.

But you don't have to think that way in order to have the faith that the universe is something other than mere stupid, blind energy. What we are coming to see is that the total universe, consisting of all its galaxies, and not only this galaxy, is a living organism. How will we define that? What do we mean by a living organism? I mean a system of intercommunication of extreme complexity. Just like you are. You try to define what you are, and you go into it, you suddenly discover that as you take off the skin and look underneath, that we are an enormously complex system of tubes and fibers, beautifully patterned. When we look at it with a microscope, we say 'Oh my, look at that. Isn't that gorgeous?' Have you seen those models of cells that the Upjohn Company has made? They're exquisite. And incidentally, you should all, if you've never done so, go to the Charles Darwin Hall in the New York Museum of Natural History and see the glass models of the tiniest microorganisms, called radiolaria. They are also such things as are running around in you, and they are incomparable jewelry.

Now I suppose if we looked at ourselves from that microscopic point of view, all these funny creatures that are running around us that don't look like people, would if you got used to them seem like people. And they would be having their problems. They've got all sorts of fights going on, and collaborations and conspiracies and so on. But if they weren't doing that, we wouldn't be healthy. If the various corpuscles and cells in our blood stream weren't fighting each other, we would drop dead. And that's a sobering thought, that war at one level of being can bring peace and health at another.

So we are, inside us, each indivudial body, an enormous ecological system. And what we have to recognize is that that interconnected system which constitutes the beauty of a human organism, that sort of interconnection is going on outside us. Do you remember in early science fiction that was published in the 1920s, by people like Olaf Stapleton and some of the early writers? They pictured the men of the future as having huge heads to contain very big brains. It was expected, in other words, that the future evolution of mankind would be an evolution of the mind and the brain, and so bigger brains. But what has happened instead of that is that instead of evolving bigness of brain, we are evolving an electronic network in which our brains are very swiftly being plugged into computer systems. Now some very awkward things about this are arising, and we've got to watch out for it, because what has increasingly happened is this: nobody is having any private life left. The invasion of ordinary privacy by the telephone, by your watching television, which is after all looking at somebody else's life going on, by people watching you - all the people with bugging systems and snoopers, and credit agents, and everybody knows everything about you. Even in California, all the houses are built with picture windows looking at other picture windows, and if you draw the curtains, everyone thinks you're snooty. Like if you build a fence in most Midwestern communities, they think 'Who the hell do you think you are, building a fence to keep everybody else out? See, you're not democratic.'

But the reason for all this is, imagine the situation when all the original neurons became linked in with the central nervous system. They said, 'Well, we're losing our privacy.' So it's a very serious question as to how we're going to be linked in with other people. I feel - it may be old fashioned of me - but I feel very strongly that privacy should be maintained as much as possible. But the reason being that human beings, in my experience, are a combination of two worlds - the private world and the public world - such that a person with a very strong and different and unique personality is not an isolated person, but a person extremely aware of his identity with the rest of the universe. Whereas people with nondescript, mass-produced personalities tend to be unaware of this. They tend to be the kind of person who is taken in by the system.