The Primacy of Illusion and the Co-creation Reality (2.02.10)
Just remember, we are speaking in great generalities, which is always the case in metaphysics, which involves the most general statements one may make about reality. You may even think of what I am about to say as a "modern fable" about our psychic origins, a fruitful myth of psychogenesis.
Because human beings are born in a neurologically immature, completely helpless state, we are steeped in illusion and fantasy while our brain and nervous system are being assembled. Early experience is "hardwired" in, so that the substrate of the human mind is built on the illusion that we are not really helpless and powerless, but that our painful and frightening needs will be magically alleviated through our wishes and desires. No one is as powerful as an infant, since an infant is omnipotent.
For example, we are cold, lonely and hungry. We cry. Suddenly we are swooped up, carressed, comforted, and spoken to in a soothing manner. Nourishment appears out of nowhere, converting painful stomach contractions into pleasant fullness, while at the same time we are bathed in the radiance of a soft, enveloping, benign universe we will eventually know as "mother." But at this point it doesn't have a name. It just is. It is the psychic ground from which the (m)other will gradually emerge.
Given good-enough parenting, we will gradually become “disillusioned” from the idea that we are the center of the universe, that our feelings are urgently important to other people, that life is fair, that it is possible for all our needs to be magically taken care of -- that it is possible for heaven to exist on earth. Under ideal circumstances, we will first have the edenic experience described above, only to be gradually awakened from it in a non-traumatic way, as the reality principle seeps in little by little. A conservative is born!
For a variety of reasons, other children will never experience this blissful paradise, experience it only sporadically and unreliably, or be traumatically banished by the premature impingement of reality. For such individuals, there will always be a painfully nostalgic longing for what they missed, the infantile utopia in which frustration does not exist and desire is instantly converted to satisfaction. A few of these individuals will be lucky enough to obtain lifetime tenure at a major university, but the rest must deal with an unyielding world that does not mirror our unresolved infantile needs.
I think this underlying template of infantile illusion has a lot to do with false beliefs. Not merely false in the sense of “untrue,” because no one can know everything, and it is not possible to get through life without holding some beliefs for which there is no proof or which will later be proven wrong. Plus, healthy fantasy plays a vital role in the ability to imagine and engage with the Real. What I am talking about is not so much false beliefs as what might be called “motivated stupidity.” These are beliefs that are not only untrue, but could not possibly be true, and yet, are embraced just as fervently as any truth. You might call this the realm of "lower vertical fantasy."
In fact, one of the giveaways that we are dealing with motivated stupidity is that the false belief is held onto more fervently than a demonstrably true belief. Someone who thinks something is true is generally more than willing to submit the truth to scrutiny and to allow reality (i.e., the Real, not to be confused merely with the exterior world, the fallacy of scientism) to arbitrate. But when a belief rooted in motivated stupidity is challenged, it raises the psychological hackles of the individual, triggering a cascade of easily observable defense mechanisms: projection, denial, splitting, etc.
I think the problem of motivated stupidity especially afflicts contemporary liberalism. President Bush is not Hitler. He is not, as Cindy Sheehan said, "the biggest terrorist in the world." The war in Iraq is not being waged for the purpose of enriching his "wealthy friends." "Global warming" during the seven years of his administration did not cause hurricaine Katrina (in fact, global temperature has been unchanged since 2001). This has not been the worst economy since Herbert Hoover, another thing that is easily provable, since it is finally undergoing a downturn after what, 24 consecutive quarters of growth? President Bush is not a racist. Unlike liberals, he doesn't hate Condi Rice or Clarence Thomas just because they're black. There are not 200,000 veterans living under bridges that are crumbling on them. Women don't earn "87 cents on the dollar," the middle class isn't shrinking, real income is rising, more jobs are created than lost as a result of global trade, third world poverty is not caused by our wealth, and the environment is getting better, not worse.
True, we are in a crisis, but as always, it is a crisis of stupidity.
As I mentioned a couple of days ago, it is much more difficult to do battle with a weak mind than a strong one. You understand their assumptions but they don't understand yours, so you inevitably end up on their level. Plus, weak thinkers embrace their false ideas in a manner disquietingly similar to religious groups who predict the second coming, or the arrival of space ships, or the Cubs winning the World Series, but who do not modify their beliefs when the event fails to come about. In fact, it is a well-known observation that a few of the disappointed may depart from such a group, while the majority only become more thoroughly entrenched in their belief system, defending it all the more stridently. No matter what happens, attendance never dwindles at Wrigley Field.
What this obviously means -- obvious to a Raccoon, anyway -- is that the primary purpose of worldly beliefs is not necessarily to comprehend reality. Rather, belief systems are superimposed on a deeper ground of emotional need for comfort, predictability, and meaning. There is a deep emotional need for the world to make sense, even if the explanation actually makes no sense outside its own closed cognitive circle. This is why people throughout history have believed such nonsense. (This also touches on the critical importance of a revealed belief system, but I won't get into that at the moment.)
What sets humans apart from the animals is not just our ability to know reality, but our even more striking ability to not know it -- to create patently erroneous systems of thought that we then inhabit, and which actually compromise our survival prospects or reduce the quality of life (cf. Sick Societies, by Edgerton). No lion ever entertained the idea that it might be healthier to live on grasses rather than flesh. Penguins don’t decide to live near the equator, where it isn’t so cold. Only human beings can hold ideas that are completely illogical and self-defeating, since only human beings are desperately in need of an ideology, or "mental-emotional environment," to organize the external world and their internal experience, irrespective of whether it is actually functional or true.
In fact, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the majority of beliefs human beings have held about the world down through history have been false, usually ridiculously so. For example, just consider medicine. Until the early 20th century, the average visit to a doctor was likely to leave one in worse shape, not better. But useless or harmful treatments helped people cope with their otherwise intolerable anxiety, and were obviously psychologically preferable to the frightening truth: that no one knew why you were sick or how to cure you.
Even today, the majority of Americans, and certainly all liberals, are economically illiterate, much preferring wishes to indisputable facts and principles. As it pertains to Republicans, it's as if they have a chronic condition, whereas for Democrats it's intellectually fatal. Ron Paul is not wrong about everything.
Last night, while watching parts of the Democratic debate, I wasn't just struck by the vacuity of the combatants, but equally importantly, the low intellectual level of the MSM questioners. In all of these debates, nearly all of the questions come framed in wacky leftist assumptions, as if they are just natural to the human condition instead of a perverse aberration. Why doesn't someone ask, "where in the Constitution does it say that the federal government is permitted to run healthcare?," or "on what grounds do you think it is permissible for the government to steal people's money at gunpoint in order to fund your collectivist fantasies?"
So there is something about human beings that makes them uniquely susceptible to bad ideas. Therefore, it would appear to be axiomatic that there must be something about bad ideas that is paradoxically adaptive. But adaptive to what? Clearly, they are adaptive to internal reality, to the emotional needs and anxieties of the person who holds them. Leftists don't really want Bush to be Hitler. They need him to be. Desperately. As uncomfortable as it is, it is far preferable to being left alone with their own internal infantile anxieties, with nowhere to project them. The internal world is just as real and enduring as the external. Thus, it will be interesting to see what they do with their hate should a Democrat win the White House.
In fact -- and this should go without saying, but it doesn't -- the internal world is ultimately the source of the external world, since, if we remove the human subject, there is no world at all. Unless we deeply understand the nature of this human subject -- both vertically and horizontally -- including its genesis, its purpose, and its pathologies, we will end up not knowing where we came from, why we're here, or how to get where we are supposed to go; in short, our origins, our present being, and our cosmic destiny.