Will Self-Delusion Be Our End? In recent months I’ve become acutely aware of our unlimited capacity to live in self-delusion, and the specter of catastrophe that accompanies it. It’s not like I didn’t know that before. But it was relegated to that realm of below the conscious awareness. Sort of like the bougainvillea’s in our front yard. They silently and steadily grow until their thorny branches interfere with our passing by. I knew they were there, slowing encroaching on all the space around them. At some point they take up so much space that I couldn’t ignore them anymore.
So, it is with self-delusion. It’s a part of the human condition that extends back to the Garden of Eden. It’s always been there. But, it seems to have seeped into almost every area of our lives and become the accepted habit for much of the culture. Self-delusion is proliferating in our culture.
Do you watch American Idol? In some of the early auditions, it is clear to everyone that some of the contestants have no business trying to sing. They just don’t have it. Yet, after they are told that by the judges, they often accuse the judges of ignorance. They really are talented, they tell themselves, it’s everyone else who is wrong. And so, they waste time and energy on an endeavor fated to fail. Their shortcoming is covered by self-delusion.
Some years ago, a similarly themed TV contest encouraged inventors to have their inventions judged by professionals. One contestant had created an expensive board game. At a time when video games where more interesting, more challenging and cheaper, he had invested his life saving into this concept, and was living in a car, funneling all his energy and resources into developing it. It was a good idea for a different time and fated for failure in his lifetime. Yet, in spite of the flaws the judges pointed out, he was convinced that his invention was viable.
Self-delusion ruled his life
In a more professional setting, I was struck by the self-delusion in a board of directors for one of my clients. When confronted with the evidence that only one of their top ten customers was profitable, they shelved the report and pretended it didn’t exist. Better to delude ourselves then to confront the implications of the truth.
While we can all point to self-delusion operating in some of those around us, the real danger occurs when it becomes part of the culture and infects the majority of people. I’m afraid that is happening today.
Self-delusion is everywhere.
I see it in the politicians who made decisions that impact our lives. It is easier to pretend the world is on their side then to face the truth of the real positions of their constituents. They delude themselves by characterising people into categories, and then condemning that category. That’s easier and more fun than actually uncovering the truth.
I see it in what we used to call ‘news media” and ‘journalists,” who routinely choose to bury stories that don’t fit their agenda. They choose to cover only the stories that support pre-exiting agendas or present such a one-sided perspective that it impossible to ferret out the truth from their rendition. Since it doesn’t fit their pre-existing agenda, they pretend it doesn’t exist. Or, lacking any concern for the truth, refuse to investigate anything beyond the superficial. That’s an everyday example of self-delusion, coupled with intentional delusion. They delude themselves into thinking that they somehow have wiser insight into what is important than others.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Self-delusion is ubiquitous in our culture, operating at every level, and proliferating daily.
Self-delusion always results in wasted time and energy. The American Idol hopefuls will waste time and energy on a dream they have no likelihood of realising. The inventor will have thrown the better part of his life way wrapped in the cocoon of self-delusion.
My board of directions had, a few months previously, endorsed a proposal to build a new 300,000 square foot warehouse. The implications of the truth on that previous decision were too big to handle. Rather than untangle the implications, it was easier to pretend the truth didn’t exist. Self-delusion allowed them to be comfortable for a while. Ultimately, the consequences of the truth will catch up with them, and their business will be threatened because of their adherence to self-delusion.
The deluded social media followers will have caused incalculable damage to undeserving people, while wasting their own time and energy – resources which could have been better investing in producing something positive.
Self-delusion, when it operates at a serious and broader level, wastes lives and destroys family and cultures. It continues unabated because the process of acknowledging the truth and its consequences is often uncomfortable. It’s easier and less demanding to continue in self-delusion than it is to view reality more clearly. We have often invested so much of our energy and ego into the delusion that we find it difficult to walk away from a mistake of that size. It’s just easier to remain in the lie.
To challenge a commonly-held delusion takes courage, strength of character and independent thinking – all characteristics that seem to be in dwindling supply.
This growing tendency to delude ourselves, to accept and promote lies, does not portend well for this civilisation. Just like in individual lives delusion leads to wasted lives, so too delusion on a larger scale leads to more wasted lives and maybe even, a civilisation lost.