Unhappy Consciousness 

Unhappy Consciousness; Poor, unhappy women. Painting.

In Hegel, unhappy consciousness is, of course, the result of the skeptical consciousness, of that consciousness that nowhere sees any truth. This consciousness has only itself, in its pure singularity, and nothing else, without any bonds to the world or others.

The lack of bonds with the world consists of the claimed incognoscibility of the world for consciousness; the world is outside, cold, and utterly foreign to consciousness, ignoring the latter entirely. The lack of bonds with others consists of the absence of any values, which would be a sharing of common ideas based on their truth. But since consciousness does not acknowledge any truth, it cannot back any value either.

Unhappy consciousness thus discovers an absolute opposition: itself on the one hand and external reality on the other. However, in its singularity and isolation, consciousness becomes aware of being part of the surrounding reality, as existing through that reality, as completely deriving from it.

This identity is not yet the identification that philosophers make, considering reality either material – and therefore consciousness material concerning its origin too – or ideal – and thus being a product of consciousness. This recognized identity is rather anterior to any determination of thought: something like a feeling or intuition. 

The whole of reality is no longer separate from consciousness, but neither is it known. It is rather a sort of pure presence, an indeterminate totality of Being. And this totality of Being is alive, not at all a totality of dead matter as many of us are accustomed to thinking of it nowadays.

Aliveness is recognized in the spontaneous transformation that consciousness witnesses everywhere: the succeeding of seasons, night and day; the change of the bud into a flower and of the latter into the fruit carrying the seeds that start the organic cycle anew; the transformation of the newborn into a child and then into a young, mature, and, finally, old person. 

However, this living reality is not speaking yet to man. Although alive, it is still far away from consciousness. The latter feels itself part of reality but cannot yet find its own path as consciousness in that all-encompassing reality, that way of being which allows it to have a constant relationship with the living whole of reality. Consciousness does not yet have any self-identity. 

How does someone gain self-identity or self-consciousness? This question amounts to the other, more common one: who are you? How do you know who you are? You might answer by indicating who your parents are, where you work, who your friends are, or how old you are.

But this is only half of the answer. It presents the external circumstances of your life but tells nothing about your internal being and what you know about that internal being. That internal being is first given to us as desire. 

We are beings of desire or, more generally speaking, emotional beings. Our emotions can drive us in all directions. Which of these directions must be followed? If we speak about an immature consciousness, it will follow most of its desires and certainly the most powerful desires. The immature consciousness doesn’t know anything yet about the risks of blindly following its own desires. 

While speaking about a previous, primitive stage of the development of consciousness, Hegel described desire as ignoring others and tending to transform them into instruments of fulfilling itself, into slaves. We can recognize the truth of this statement even today when wealthy people think they can buy themselves everything, including humans too.

However, following your desire blindly proves not to be a good idea because this weakens you. The more you deepen into the possession of the objects of your desires, the less you can withstand new temptations. You transform yourself into a slave of your own desires.

Of course, this emotional mechanism is usually visible only in the case of very wealthy people, who both can afford to do whatever they wish and do not want to refrain from anything. In the past, many such people lacked the education needed to strengthen them against falling prey to their own vices. Today, people are much more educated and therefore are instructed beforehand about the risks. 

But humanity was not always aware of the perils lurking in the boundless satisfaction of desires. So some people had to fall prey to them and thus show others those materialized perils. As a result, they often dehumanized themselves and those serving them. Society – the general individual, as Hegel calls it – learned from their example. But it also learned how to defend itself against those who wanted to enslave people. 

The process of fighting against slavery is an everlasting feature of human history and rules our society even today. There were, are and always will be states, companies, and people prone to transform others into instruments. If you accept this instrumentalization, you will lose the right to follow your desires and will only obey the will of your masters, whoever they are. 

Thus your inner being is much, much more complicated than the external side. Also, some of those who obeyed all their desires might have discovered at some point in life that such a path, although initially full of splendor, did not extinguish the thirst within.

And this is how they might have discovered how unhappy you can be when you have whatever you desire. This unhappiness might have banished the young prince Siddhartha – the future Buddha – into reclusiveness. Unhappy is the consciousness that is fed up with its own desires and no longer wants to wish for anything because it has experienced everything and found its emptiness.  

Paradoxically, this is the condition in which you are available for ‘illumination:’ when you are fed up with yourself, when you completely give yourself up, when you cry out, ‘Vanity of vanities! Everything is chasing the wind!’ (Wasn’t Ecclesiastes a king too?)

Then you simply cease to be attentive to yourself, to your desires with their mundane objects, and suddenly become aware of the world as a totality around you. You see the infinity of this totality and its aliveness as continuous, eternal motion.

You notice the almightiness of the universe around you and understand yourself as part of it. But this is still not real knowledge, either of what sets everything in motion or of yourself.

And Hegel says that only when a mediator comes and tells you that the Almighty sent Him and that He is God and Man likewise, only then can begin true knowledge as reconciliation with reality. 

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