The Deception of Self

“You must become an expert concerning your own habits of self-deception. Most of us deceive ourselves with little dramas all the time. We have blind spots of which we’re not even aware. We intentionally avoid seeing things because we believe that what we’ll uncover about ourselves will be too painful to bear. Self-deception is so insidious because its very process “covers its tracks”– so when you look back, you not only don’t know what you deceived yourself about, but you don’t see the method by which you did so.

Tony Bevacqua

“Self-deception, by its very nature, is the most elusive of mental facts. Self-deception operates both at the level of the individual mind, and in our collective awareness of the group. To belong to a group of any sort, sometimes the tacit price of membership is to agree not to question anything that challenges the groups way of doing things.”

Daniel Goleman, “Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception”

 

What is self-deception?

I’m reading the book Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception by Daniel Goleman, PhD

This idea that we deceive ourselves has been a fundamental aspect of my journey toward self-mastery. It’s what propelled my interest in philosophy since, for me, philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom, of what is righteous and real and optimal, devoid of bias and self-interest. Philosophy as a process, as a method of discovery, is about identifying inconsistencies in thinking, about examining the nature of problems and determining the most empowering methods for overcoming them. This process directly involves dissecting our assumptions, or the values we bring to experience about the way things are, their order of importance, the nature, and their relation to other aspects of perceiving.

What are assumptions?

Assumptions are inherent in our perception. They are unconscious. They operate as fixed values about the nature of things, consisting of the properties and relationships inherent in objects of perception. Thus, assumptions are the foundations of perception. They are the material that construct the schema’s in which we organize our point of view. They are the intellectual and emotional structures occupying our frame of reference, which we use to derive meaning, to determine cause and effect, to prioritize our attention, to conclude understanding.

Assumptions exist as an absence. They are not conscious. They exist as a result of our conditioning, a consequence of repetition, of repeated confirmations of reality which highlight pain or pleasure, and thus validate their veracity or truthfulness of the world.

Assumptions are implicit. They are rarely observed until there is a conflict, a dissonance, a disagreement, or pain or a threat to our existence, either physically or socially, as in the threat of ego annihilation.

Philosophy is the process of challenging assumptions. Socrates referred to himself as a “gadfly”, an annoying pest which diverts attention and causes discomfort.

If humans never existed, problems would never exist. Problems only exist in man, as a result of a dissonance, a conflict in his will to survive, to self-preserve, or his will to power, which is to exert influence amongst his human peers in a way that organizes him around his self interest for his preservation.

Problems exist in the mind. They are what separates us from what we want. Its when the internal doesn’t match the external. It is a cognitive dissonance which produces an emotional distress, which is directly proportional the threat of physical existence.

We wish to avoid this threat at whatever cost, by denying its reality, by compartmentalizing, by diverting our attention to more comforting or resonant thoughts and activities, which reinforce the existing state of self, or any state of self which is more comfortable or more stable, which is at equilibrium with a more predictable and familiar world “outside” the self, or us.

“The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency — the belief that the here and now is all there is.”

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind

“Lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“It is a self-deception of philosophers and moralists to imagine that they escape decadence by opposing it. That is beyond their will; and, however little they acknowledge it, one later discovers that they were among the most powerful promoters of decadence.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power

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