Why Societies Fool Themselves about their True Selves

Have you ever wondered if there was a quick and easy way for identifying the weak points and deficits of any given society? Here is one..

A society usually lacks whatever quality, resource or attribute it portray itself to be  full of.

Maybe a few examples would help you understand my point.

Let us start with the USA as our first example. For some odd reasons, more than a few people from that country will never tire of telling you that it is full of happy, hardworking and honest individualists. However, as many of you also know, the reality is rather different. Even the casual visitor quickly notices that the USA is full of joyless, greedy and fat drones who will prefer to work in some ‘safe’ job selling their soul for a few bucks so that they can buy stuff to fit into a ‘cool’ crowd of people they barely know. Or take their much publicized “best healthcare system in the world” which is supposedly patronized by people from other countries. Oddly enough, it provides markedly inferior general outcomes when compared to less expensive systems in ‘socialistic’ countries. The American justice system, which is supposed to be fair and a system governed by ‘laws not me’, somehow manages to incarcerate more people than China or Russia- both in sheer numbers and percentage. Did I mention that most criminal cases in the USA never go to trial and are settled by onerous plea bargains and mandatory sentences.. kinda like they used to do in those ‘bad’ communist countries. Or what about the savage treatment of peaceful protesters during the recent OWS demonstrations?

However such cognitive dissonance is not uniquely American- by any stretch of imagination. Let us look at India as another example. Most people from that country claim that it is a functional democracy. While that country is certainly a democracy, it is well.. not quite functional. Or take the claims that Indians are vegetarians because they are compassionate and spiritual people. The reality is that vegetarianism in India is a stupid and self-destructive status symbol. As far as compassion and spirituality.. let’s just say that those qualities are rather uncommon in Indians. The average Indian is a greedy, dishonest, money and status obsessed shyster- just like your average American. Most Indians also claim to be keepers of a rich five thousand-year tradition. The only problem with that claim is that most people in India cannot read, or understand, the ancient languages in which those traditions were passed down- in written or oral form. Then there is the unique ability to make poor long-term decisions to pursue short-term profit, while proclaiming their ability to be good at long-term thinking. The progress of east-Asians in the last 100 years has been based on copying and selling products to the west. Sure.. east-Asians make good drones and indentured laborers, but much of their so -called superior culture and traditions are ways to cover their own inadequacies.

East-Asians are also full of shit. They talk a lot about their willingness to work hard, study boring crap, be financially frugal and progress in life based on their merit and competence. But they somehow avoid any discussions about the reasons behind their approximately 4,000 years of cultural, social and technological stagnation. Surely all of those wonderful and wise Confucius-based attributes should have resulted in continuous and relentless progress- but did it? Why not? They also talk about how their society places the group about the individual as an example of selflessness. Paradoxically that trait did not stop their social, cultural and technological stagnation nor did it result in any endogenous improvement in their level of prosperity until they found ways to copy and sell inexpensive stuff to western countries. The reality is that the average behavioral profile of east-Asians comes rather close to greedy, amoral sociopaths whose are unable to imagine a society not based on systemic theft, abuse and scams.

People from European countries are no less delusional. They keep on trying to live in a bygone era when they used to the center of the world. Reality, has however, moved on. Their self-image of themselves as civilized is at considerable odds with their history- especially the parts about numerous wars between themselves and looting of other countries. They pretend to be be more evolved when any objective reading of history will tell you that the lifestyle and mentality of the average European in the last century was not that different from a slum dweller in Nigeria today. They somehow like to brush over the fact that, even a century ago, their social institutions and customs were not that different from people they look down upon today. They try to portray the technological and industrial revolution of the last 200 years as an ode to their superior intelligence, when it was largely funded by stealing and enslaving people in other countries and abusing many in their own. I could go on, but let us get to the next point.

So, why do people and cultures try to cover their inadequacies by lying to others and themselves?

I believe that the answer lies in their efforts maintaining a positive ‘self-image’. Humans have an instinctive sense of right and wrong that is independent of religion, culture or other secondary belief systems. It is this instinctive sense that pushes people to make up lies, cover stories, rituals and propaganda to reconcile their instinctive sense of right and wrong with reality and their own actions.

Most propaganda, lies and misrepresentations are not meant for others. They are meant to convince yourself that you are basically a decent human being inspite of substantial evidence to the contrary.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. June 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    What evolutionary purpose does it serve for humans to delude themselves? Why do they need to do so?

    • P Ray
      June 22, 2012 at 10:34 pm

      It serves an evolutionary purpose for those in power to delude those below them that the current way is the best way. Keeps them in power. The only people who benefit from a society based on rules … are those who make them, and those who won’t be judged by them.
      Thousands of years of history true, but existing in a milieu where there were entrenched business interests to keep the new technology off the market.
      Who would be buying gunpowder if the society worked off that idea that “it is honourable to fight face-to-face” … and the military were the ones with the big money AND political immunity? Businessmen who tried anything funny would be sure to lose their assets AND their life.
      I posit that with the technologies of flight, electronic banking and mass transport … only then could the monopolies of hierarchies and laws designed to discourage competition, be overcome.

    • joesantus
      July 12, 2015 at 8:46 am

      Well, unless “evolution” itself was a sentience which could answer that, probably the best we as humans can do is speculate what the purpose of se-delusion (which I use for “self-in-a-more-universal-sense delusion” )might be. So, here’s my speculation:

      Our species, same as other mammals and other organic life, has developed (for lack of a more-precise term) instincts for survival and for reproducing, with the survival instinct essentially serving to ensure our capabilities and opportunities for reproducing.

      However, an attribute that we possess as humans that distinguishes us from other mammals (as far as we know to date, anyway) is the ability to rationally think. That attribute enables us (perhaps, “allows us” is more correct), within limits, to make choices about our actions and behaviors, in a way that mammals which operate by instinct alone cannot.

      Meaning, for example, that we might choose to override our instinct to reproduce or even to survive in certain situations. Individuals do that overriding in micro ways on a regular basis; for example, when I see that attractive 21-year-old strutting down the street in her tight leggings, my instinct is to have sex with her right then and there — my reproductive instinct — but my rational ability causes me to choose to override that instinct.

      Consequently, our rational thinking, while serving to help us survive and even reproduce in some situations, presents a threat to our reproductive instincts in other ways. For, if we as humans were to employ our rational thinking fully, with objectivity and logic, then we’d probably conclude that “existence ultimately has no point” with the corollary of “it’s irrational to reproduce”. We’d realize that, rationally, it’s absurd to bring children into existence, to seek societal progress, to even continue living, either individually or collectively. An unchecked rational thinking, therefore, potentially presents a threat to the survival of our species.

      So, evolution chanced upon a device that ends up skewing our rational thinking enough to, generally, keep rationality within safe bounds as far as species survival: se-delusion of our importance. Somehow, human biowiring generates, along with our instincts and our rational thinking, a sense that “I” and/or “we” are significant in the cosmos. It deludes us into believing that each of us and our familial groups are important enough that we should continue to exist, to reproduce, and to seek to progress (even if no real progress actually occurs). That delusion works out into various forms and particulars, such as the ones AD mentions.

      So, I speculate that se-delusion (along with emotion) serves as a mechanism to prevent our rational thinking frm totally overriding our instincts for survival and, primarily, for reproduction, thereby serving as a mechanism toward ensuring continuance of our species.

  2. jhbowden
    June 22, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Humans have an instinctive sense of right and wrong that is independent of religion, culture or other secondary belief systems.

    The universe is indifferent.

    Look at this from a value-neutral evolutionary perspective. Imagine of a small military unit, with men following each other in a dangerous situation single-file. The point-man freezes. Everyone following him will do the same without initiating a process of reasoning. Why does this happen? Conformity, for all of human pre-history, had clear survival advantages, from hunting to war.

    When Americans talk about equality, they mean conformity. Which is something Tocqueville picked up in his 1835 Democracy in America — the more equal people become, the more offensive any inequalities become. Which explains political correctness, the police-state mentality, the mad scramble for wealth to keep up with appearances, etc. etc. Anything is good, as long as it is not out of the ordinary. While hurricanes, terrorist attacks, etc., only result in the deaths of a tiny percent of the population, such events soil the appearance of a completely pre-packaged, predictable, sealed, sanitized way of living.

  3. Eric
    June 23, 2012 at 5:36 am

    But society,never ever seems to be happy,does it ?Living with the aim of pleasing society is self destructive.Sure,selling yourself to earn big bucks and gain approval of society,sounds pretty,and obviously it is easier to do that than stand out from the crowd.Are you familiar with the concept of Abstract Morality?

    • joesantus
      July 12, 2015 at 9:09 am

      That “never-happy” might be because the human species experiences the endless and irresolvable tension between individual fulfillment versus collective fulfillment, which itself seems the consequence of humans of being (more or less) biowired to seek social interaction.
      “Normal-range” humans want self-satisfaction yet cannot achieve it without it involving at least some measure of social interaction, yet, social interaction inevitably means one’s needs for satisfaction conflicting with others’ needs for satisfaction. That conflict produces unhappiness, since the conflict among specific goals allows neither the individual nor the collective of individuals around him to ever completely attain what each alone wants (or at least imagines each wants).

      Our own heterosexually-reproducing-species biology puts us in this inescapable trap, I’ve concluded.

  4. July 12, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    Confronting reality and exposing personal delusions is painful. In a world that encourages amusement and happiness as priority, why bother?

    It is much easier to acquiesce. Many people would go nuts addressing the cognitive inconsistencies that contemporary life creates. Pass the soma, and theyll be happy, at least until the next war.

  1. June 30, 2012 at 11:05 pm
  2. June 30, 2012 at 11:06 pm
  3. July 9, 2013 at 7:24 pm
  4. July 12, 2015 at 7:21 am

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