Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wikifray Symposium: Self-Deception

(Caveat: I'm a terrible writer. Therefore, this may or may not make ANY sense. I'm hoping that it does.)

Do we set our standards for ourselves so high, that sometimes the only way to reach them is through self-deception?

"We do like our see-no-evil self-deceptions, though. I mean, we wear clothes made in sweatshops by children, and believe ourselves good, ethical, enlightened people (and by 'we', I mean 'me')."
Dawn Coyote. nuponuq forums, 8 October, 2007.
It should be remembered that positive self-regard (or self-esteem, self-love, positive self-image, or whatever it's being called this week) is learned. That is the likely state of a "blank slate" is likely more or less neutral. We learn this from the people around us whose opinions of us that we have learned to value. Despite what they might say, their own positive feelings towards us are conditional, to one degree or another. Those conditions might be very easy to fulfill ("I love you because you're my child."), or they might be more difficult ("I admire you because made top earner at the company last year."), or they could be somewhat extreme ("I respect you because you've won the Nobel Prize for Physics."). This conditionality is what prevents us from having positive feelings about everyone we may encounter, as a default state.

But that conditionality filters down to the persons regarded, and the end result is that we, as people, tend to have a certain number of conditions that we feel the need to fulfill before we can see ourselves as worthy of love, respect, et cetera. And it can be argued that we often expect that others live up to certain conditions before we allow that they be able to respect themselves. But the real question becomes: do we set our conditions realistically, given the lives that we lead, and effort that we're willing to put forth?

If I'm going to predicate my self-image on the idea that I don't contribute more than my "fair share" of greenhouse gases to the environment, do I know what I'm letting myself in for? Am I willing to move to the desert, and live in an "earthship" so that I can go "off the grid?" Am I willing to forgo career opportunities, so that I can avoid having to commute? Will I limit my diet to things that don't have to be moved more than 100 miles, so that you don't have the effects of transporting things long distances? (Some folks in Seattle tried the "Hundred-Mile" food lifestyle - and found that the Puget Sound area has no local production of salt.) Am I actually willing to put the work into really understanding what things truly help, and what things just make me feel good? Or, I am simply going to buy a Prius and some Owens-Corning, call it good, and plug my ears when some obnoxious radical starts spouting off about it isn't enough?

In the end, the question is a simple one - do we set ourselves up for intractable conflicts between the facts on the ground, and the conditions that we set for our self-esteem through carelessly adopting standards that are too stringent for the day-to-day infrastructure of our lives to support? And, in doing so, put ourselves is a position where the path of least resistance is one of hiding - if not from the truth as we know it, then from the truth as we fear it to be?