A Short Taxonomy of Denial and Mulishness
“You can beat 40 scholars with one fact, but you can’t beat one idiot with 40 facts.” –Mevlana
Watching a fly repeatedly bonk into a window to get outside we shake our heads. That fly seems like the dumbest thing on earth, but if we encountered an invisible force field preventing us from leaving the house through an open door, I bet we’d spend half an hour throwing ourselves at it. The moment we figured out a practical solution we’d drop the failed approach and never look back. Of course, right?
In many aspects of life, the answer is no. The average human being probably has more than one life issue where they reject solutions and embrace failure. We may be more loyal to our failures than our stated goals.
This behavior is known as Escalation of Commitment and the mindset enabling it is called: The Sunk Cost Fallacy.
Escalation of commitment is a human behavior pattern in which an individual or group facing increasingly negative outcomes from a decision, action, or investment nevertheless continues the behavior instead of altering course. The actor maintains behaviors that are irrational, but align with previous decisions and actions.
Economists and behavioral scientists use a related term, Sunk-Cost Fallacy (aka commitment bias), to describe the justification of increased investment of money, time, lives, etc. in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment (“sunk cost”) despite new evidence suggesting that the cost, beginning immediately, of continuing the decision outweighs the expected benefit.
The classic example is people who go bust on a stock purchase by tenaciously riding it down one devaluation after another until it craters. From the outside, it looks like they drove off a cliff despite having every opportunity to …not drive off a cliff! In any investment, there are more things at stake than the obvious ones. Internally, they made a series of decisions shaped by loyalty, denial, magical thinking, social embarrassment, AND their earlier decisions.
Here are two likely areas to make you hunker in the bunker and here is what that sounds like:
- We just need to get past this rough patch.
- It just seems exhausting to start over and we’ve been through so much together.
- He says he wants to change.
- I couldn’t bear that “I told you so” look from friends and family. Even having to hear all the sincere sympathy would crush me.
- Nobody is super happy all the time, don’t be such a princess.
- The kids would be so disappointed, what sort of an example would I be setting?
- I can’t even think about that with so much going on.
- Only 9 more years.
- I’m lucky to have this in the current economy. I’d be an idiot to jump ship now.
- I have no idea what I’d do instead.
- It’s not so bad, I kind of feel at home here.
- My family would think I was crazy. Everyone is counting on me holding it together.
- Who would I even be if I wasn’t this?
Most of us are caught somewhere between compromise and refusing to compromise, a place that isn’t quite either: living in half-assed misery and so-so happiness. I’m not suggesting everyone should cash in their chips on commitments and choices. I’m just audio micing some of the most common voices in the head as we mull things over. Many of the voices aren’t even this obvious, they surface as sighs and twinges of regret that we dutifully ignore.
Of course in culture and politics, we begin to encounter philosophical and team-based intransigence.
- Belief perseverance is when the belief hardens and becomes MORE resistant when it encounters new and contradictory or debunking information. When you go to a climate change denier with scientific facts they come away less confident about Science.
- Cognitive inertia is the persistence of our style of resisting new information, our attitudes, and approaches to examining our beliefs. We may feel a lack of motivation to take things seriously or display a condescending impatience toward other opinions for example.
- True believer syndrome refers to clinging to thoroughly debunked or disproven beliefs. This is a good place to mention Apophenia which overlaps a bit. Either google it or take a look at my article “Apophenia: The liar inside” it’s basically being swallowed whole by an idea.
- The Asch Conformity Experiments were a series of studies directed by Solomon Asch studying if and how individuals yielded to or defied a majority group and the effect of such influences on beliefs and opinions. We are more deeply wired into the reactions of those around us than we know. If you cave in to outside pressure it’s generally something that doesn’t feel volitional. It’s more like something you observe yourself automatically doing than something you choose to do after reflection. This the painful filter that conscience or bravery must battle through to take an unpopular stand.
“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results” – Not Albert Einstein as it turns out
When you consider all this auto-pilot cussedness you have to wonder what the hell is wrong with us. Don’t we sound just awful? When beliefs are threats to the safety and autonomy of a community they are clearly toxic. The beliefs of Nazis or the Khmer Rouge are cultural poison gas and the most common sense response is hitting them with a frying pan till they stop moving.
But day to day human inertia and resistance, even when it’s infuriatingly dumb, is a feature, not a bug. From nature’s point of view, we are a hive species that operates through massed individual actions but above the pay grade of those individuals to interpret. Your prickly intransigence in certain areas is pretty much your marching orders from human central. Whether you are conservative, progressive, religious, atheist, narcissist, or concerned citizen you are a die-cast component of a bottom-up, beyond-control species life script.
By Hannah Arendt
- “One of the greatest advantages of the totalitarian elites of the twenties and thirties was to turn any statement of fact into a question of motive.”
- “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
- “Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.”
- In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.
- The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”
- “The outstanding negative quality of the totalitarian elite is that it never stops to think about the world as it really is and never compares the lies with reality.”
- “True goal of totalitarian propaganda is not persuasion, but organization of the polity. … What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.”
- “Caution in handling generally accepted opinions that claim to explain whole trends of history is especially important for the historian of modern times, because the last century has produced an abundance of ideologies that pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”
- “Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest—forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries. It is as though mankind had divided itself between those who believe in human omnipotence (who think that everything is possible if one knows how to organize masses for it) and those for whom powerlessness has become the major experience of their lives.”
- “Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”
“Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.”
- “Nothing perhaps illustrates the general disintegration of political life better than this vague, pervasive hatred of everybody and everything, without a focus for its passionate attention, with nobody to make responsible for the state of affairs—neither the government nor the bourgeoisie nor an outside power. It consequently turned in all directions, haphazardly and unpredictably, incapable of assuming an air of healthy indifference toward anything under the sun.”
- “To them, violence, power, cruelty, were the supreme capacities of men who had definitely lost their place in the universe and were much too proud to long for a power theory that would safely bring them back and reintegrate them into the world. They were satisfied with blind partisanship in anything that respectable society had banned, regardless of theory or content, and they elevated cruelty to a major virtue because it contradicted society’s humanitarian and liberal hypocrisy.”
- “Factuality itself depends for its continued existence upon the existence of the nontotalitarian world.”
- “Revolutionary action more often than not was a theatrical concession to the desires of violently discontented masses rather than an actual battle for power.”
- “The truth is that the masses grew out of the fragments of a highly atomized society whose competitive structure and concomitant loneliness of the individual had been held in check only through membership in a class. The chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships. Coming from the class-ridden society of the nation-state, whose cracks had been cemented with nationalistic sentiment, it is only natural that these masses, in the first helplessness of their new experience, have tended toward an especially violent nationalism, to which mass leaders have yielded against their own instincts and purposes for purely demagogic reasons.”
- “The most striking difference between ancient and modern sophists is that the ancients were satisfied with a passing victory of the argument at the expense of truth, whereas the moderns want a more lasting victory at the expense of reality”
I intended this as a 4 part series, to be read in sequence. That plan failed. Here’s the solution to a very small problem that no one knew they had.
This is a story about me being a naive, selfish asshole who learns to love…badly at first, through several icky flavors of codependency, before finally seeing the truth of loving and being loved. This is a big read and I wouldn’t expect anyone to tackle it unless they felt a need to. The pictures are linked. There is an audio version on each page.
Naked 1: Base Camp
Naked 2: The Rise and Fall of Lizard Boy
Naked 3: Wasting Everyone’s Time
Naked 4: Wake The Fuck Up!
(This series will be way better read from beginning to end, rather than end to beginning.)
A little context: I’m not mindlessly arguing for relentless, hurried personal change for everyone. That sounds awful. This is a naggy but loving pep talk for people feeling very stuck.
Life is Trouble
Life is a constant struggle between us and any random shit, little or big, that crops up. Some of these struggles are life choices though they don’t seem weighty at that moment. Small choices can be deceptively deep. A metaphorical Sphinx is checking in with you like: “Love or No Love? Past or Future? Fear or Hope?” hundreds of times a day.
The results are navigational data points along your personal trajectory. The important question isn’t what you chose but why you chose it. Does it point up, down, back, or forward? If you win a fight to stay the same, you learn nothing new and win nothing except a temporary extension of the status quo. But the status quo will inexorably roll forward into change like an unmoored parade float. The change will come but guided by who? With what goal? Maybe we’re just taking our hands off the steering wheel.
In the context of your life struggle, rationalizing standing still is a choice to remain in the shitty room temperature shallows of life where it’s comfortable enough. This is the inertia of the weary, defensive human heart and we know perfectly well that our cover story for this kind of choice is masking something like “I’m rudderless and utterly flat inside”.
Everything better seems too high UP to reach from here. As enthusiastic as we may sound talking about a life choice, we’re often staging an official personal PR release simply to cover the truth: “I’m afraid and this was the least scary option”. Rationalizing downward is choosing to become a slightly worse and smaller version of yourself, moving forward. Slightly worse because you stopped hoping, slightly less because you’ve given up trying. You without hope or determination is you on a slippery slope.
We downward rationalize every day. Sometimes it’s healthy: Holding steady and keeping things together or maybe NOT accepting some exciting risk because it’s dumb and dangerous. More often it means incrementally settling for less and offering less. It gradually lets the air out of the bouncy castles of human hope. If you lack hope you may well conclude that this, this right here, this stupid mess, is as good as it gets, at least for you, then sigh and return to polishing the turd at the center of the problem. Continue reading
(This series will be way better read from beginning to end, rather than end to beginning.)
Last time on Naked: Lizard boy began his quest to find love without fixing his broken heart first.
Because I didn’t know I needed to work, I didn’t do the work that needed to be done. And so I passed through the lives of many wonderful women: confusing, annoying and confounding them as I walked confidently in two different directions. Continue reading
I don’t believe Chakras are the literal mystical energy centers believed in by new age people. I also don’t believe they are the nonsensical-fantasy-things-that-don’t-really-exist, as believed by nearly everyone else.
Chakras are symbolic foci for real aspects of our selves, our sub-selves, the parts of your overall whole being. They are defined as 7 modular aspects of self that come on-line by stages as we grow and experience life. They absolutely can be blocked and out of balance, under or overactive. Below is the traditional list though it can vary a bit, they work upward from the bottom of the spine to the top of the head and each is associated with specific areas of our lives, feelings, and personalities. They are distinct color-coded points on the spectrum. But ultimately their functions blend into a healthy, unified self.
- Root – Base of the spine; red; governs survival instincts, grounding.
- Sacral — Lower abdomen; orange; governs sexuality, intuition, self-worth/-esteem.
- Solar Plexus — Upper abdomen; yellow; governs impulse control, ego.
- Heart — Center of the chest; green; governs compassion, spirituality.
- Throat — Throat; blue; governs communication, emotion.
- Third Eye — Between the eyes; purple; governs rationality, wisdom, imagination.
- Crown — Top of the head; indigo; governs connection with the Divine
The Chakras rather neatly mirror Abraham Maslow’s almost universally accepted hierarchy of needs. Notice how the artist used defining colors for different levels.
- Physiological needs
- Safety needs
- Social belonging
(There are somewhat alternative versions as well.) If a sub-self is broken at the physical safety level, of the self-confidence level, for example, self-actualization is blocked. The person experiences various psychological symptoms expressing the fears and frustrations of lack and instability in those areas of life. The chakras and the H of N chop up the human pieces a little differently and each one tilts a bit toward the surrounding belief system that hatched it. Still, it is the same invention, spontaneously cropping up to fill the same need for vastly different communities.
The invention is a simple map of the human soul and what it needs to thrive. It describes the places we can break down and suggests a course of treatment.
The Chakras and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs also dovetail nicely with Carl Jung’s Individuation, the challenging synthesis of becoming a complete, integrated person.
I’ll be writing here soon about some original and creative ways I’ve recently found to work with this material but I think this overall idea is interesting enough to consider on its own.
(This series will be way better read from beginning to end, rather than the end to the beginning.)
Long ago, my love was smugly avoidant and entitled. I was an arrogant little sexual aristocrat totally certain of my hotness. I wanted “love” but I only understood it as desire, satiation, and friendship. I was unaware of any lack of perception in myself and felt that mostly, I was always right about everything. Getting whatever I wanted seemed like the universe functioning correctly. I was as contentedly self-involved and selfish as a cat and almost as innocent and guileless about it. I didn’t lie about who I was or sneak around, I legitimately believed I was a special exemption. For a certain period of time, the world seemed to agree.
All the men in my family are on the ADHD/ASD axis and we all begin life with an emotional astigmatism about the meaning and value of other people’s feelings. We aren’t narcissists who don’t care, we are shortsighted moles who don’t notice it. We don’t lack emotional depth, we lack emotional depth perception. It has to be shaken into us.
I asked relatively little of love and received far more than that in return. At this superficial level, I was loveable and did deserve it because I was handsome, sexy, smart, and funny. I was of high value in a low-value economy. Love at this level is better written as “love” and better understood as a consumable experience like cocaine or a carnival ride. If it was a planet, the gravity would be low and bouncy. We would only have first names.
When my first marriage (11 years of the “selfish innocent” phase) failed, the concept of deeper and truer love formed in me, and my soul walked in that direction as if it smelled food cooking. I entered a different economy of love where the person I really am was small change. I could be high value again if all I wanted was a thrill, but down here everything cost more and demanded more true value, more purity of essence. This was the only coin accepted for anything worthwhile. True value meant possessing the ability to love with natural reciprocity, belief in a bright future, alone or together, and honest faithfulness. Continue reading
“We are so convinced that past evils must repeat themselves that we make them repeat themselves. We dare not risk a new life in which the evils of the past are totally forgotten; a new life seems to imply new evils, and we would rather face evils that are already familiar… Hence we cling to the evil that has already become ours, and renew it from day-to-day, until we become identified with it and change is no longer thinkable.”
–Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
This is the first of a short series about happiness, freedom, and love that I feel the need to share, having recently heard about them for the first time. If any of this ever seems like a gloomy confession for the sake of confessing, it isn’t. I’ve had crazy wonderful breakthroughs since ~April of 2019. I’m happy and hopeful in a way that isn’t much like previous me. I’m cheery, for god’s sake.
What allowed me to become so much happier, was persevering in the worst godawful codependent bs relationship ever…with such intensity…that I broke through to something I find rather hard to explain. The over the top pain and longing of it tore open a membrane between me and a completely new level of spiritual perception and energy. Since then, it has quietly and consistently transformed my life.
This new perspective isn’t wisdom gleaned forensically from the crash site of that bad relationship. I’m not “Sadder but wiser” and I haven’t gathered a basket of bitterness and resentment but rather trapped them between a cup and some cardboard and then released them into the yard.
This unexpected introduction to spirit was like elevator doors opening on a floor with a number you’ve never heard of and it’s so nice here that you are a better person for even knowing about it. There’s a mysterious sweetness to be followed, and you follow it. There’s no dogma or cliches attached, it is fresh original territory. This is what it is like: Perhaps somehow you have believed in NO your whole life. Suddenly, irrefutably, YES.
in European countries per 100.000 inhabitants (2016). (Phone users the info-graphic is at the bottom, in case it’s hard to see on your phone, the male numbers are to the left and females on the right.) I knew male suicide rates were higher but I had no idea the difference was this stark. The male suicide rate is at least double and often triple the female rate. In Russia, it’s 6X higher! We live in an absurd time where every opinion that could POSSIBLY have a political ax to grind is assumed to have one.
I want to turn that assumption around and ask questions:
- Why do I feel vaguely self-conscious and a need to clarify my motives when posting this? Is showing concern specifically for men seen as rejecting concerns about women? Has discussion of male-female issues grown to resemble the charged atmosphere surrounding discussion of Israel? I refer to the fear of being called anti-semitic that comes with any criticism of Israeli policy or show of concern for Palestinians. If so, how have relations between the sexes sunk low enough to mirror the most vicious and entrenched argument in the world?
- In general, why isn’t the cause of this situation (male suicide numbers) a bigger, more pressing public health question? If the numbers were reversed do you think would there be a higher level of concern and more discussion about what is happening to girls and women?
But outside of politics or any kind of moralizing, just pondering the composition of the human race, I think one of the most revealing questions we could ask to understand our species is simply:
Why is this so?
I’m discussing the idea of control. For example, controlling ourselves, our social scene, romantic life, work issues and money.
There are several common variations of what we call Control. They differ sharply in meaning though each is intended for the same use. When we use the word Control about our lives it resembles one of these descriptions:
Dynamic or Responsive Control: The healthiest and happiest, also the least like the conventional meaning of control. This is a person who responds to life’s problems like a good tennis player responds to the match: Her moves are alert, timely, and proportional. She handles each problem as well as she can and doesn’t get distracted by grief over missing one or waste energy chasing a ball she could never catch. This person has confidence in themselves and knows that spontaneously handling everything as it comes to you is the only way to win. This style accepts incoming serves without protest as the core of the game, in other words as a basic truth about life.
The negative alternative is Anxious Control: There are several substyles to the spectrum of Anxious Control:
- Tense-Jumpy-Irritable Anxious Control – This style is stressed out just under the surface at all times. Problems scare them into hypervigilance and this generates “false positive” problems. Sadly this means they experience way more problems than people who aren’t on such high alert. Their moves are nervously alert, premature, and disproportionate on the “too big” side. They lack confidence in themselves and each problem costs them deeper emotional stress than necessary. Their response to incoming serves is bitter/resentful. “I knew it!” Oddly, they don’t put much focus on improving life in ways would generate fewer problems.
- Big Picture Prudence Anxious Control – The main difference between this one and the previous is time and space. BPP takes the long and global view of potential trouble. It embraces systems of avoiding and minimizing problems. None of that is pathological in itself, it shows good sense if it is in balance. The negative imbalance appears when fear and dread are the motivators and try to control EVERYTHING. Their moves are suspiciously alert, their timing is preemptive, and they are disproportionately risk-averse. There is a fundamentally negative world view with a dislike/distrust of anything that they cannot control. At the extreme end, this style avoids love, growth, and change. Their response to incoming serves is to manage them remotely or avoid them entirely.
- Helpless, Fatalistic Anxious Control – Utterly lacking confidence in themselves this style expects failure and allows it to happen through passivity and by telling themselves it doesn’t matter anyway. They grieve over their weakness but can’t find any way to address it. They avoid many problems by not trying or risking. They don’t bet on themselves. This approach can be global or limited/specialized to areas like love or work. Some, for example, might be highly accomplished in their career and helpless/fatalistic toward ever being loved. Their approach to incoming serves is wistful and sad as they passively let them go by. More rarely they take a feeble swing fully expecting failure.