Empathy for the Lost
Understanding how we all delude ourselves
Inside of our heads, we assimilate (or reject) information into our mental model of the world. Each one of us does this. We construct a mental map of how the World truly is, and we then judge further experiences based on that mental map.
It is impossible to escape these maps. I am fairly confident that none of us can directly experience the territory of the World (and if we could, would we ever know we could?).
The issue of course remains that our maps are frequently wrong, and that acknowledging this, consciously recognizing that our maps is wrong, is extremely disorienting and sometimes painful:
And so, I already have my Truth before I encounter a new event. I may not be consciously aware of this, but there is information that can be assimilated and information that must be rejected. If I fail to properly curate my experience to fit my preexisting map, I will fall into existential crisis.
To have your map proven demonstrably wrong is to lose one’s bearings in the world. Where do you go? What do you do? Who do you trust? Your map is useless. You are Lost.
And every single one of us does this, at least to some extent. We have beliefs that are contradictory, areas where we are willfully blind, and projections of patterns onto the world where none may exist.
Most of us would rather drive off a cliff than admit that our map is leading us astray. Because putting down our maps is hard. It is emotionally and psychically disorienting. Because our map of the World reflects not only what we think the World is like, but also how we perceive ourselves.
Bear in mind: we understand the world we inhabit through narrative, motivation, values, and norms. Our maps of the World are simultaneously maps of Moral Space (which is a dimension of the World). And, our identities are directly tied into our values:
“To know who I am is to know where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose.”
(Taylor, Sources of the Self)
But I have talked about all of this before, so why am I revisiting this now? To simply jog your memory? That would be rather boring.
No, I am returning to this now because I believe it is time to interrogate some of the most pernicious and serious delusions that plague our society. Specifically, a tweet by an account I respect, Lo-Fi Republican, spurred me to action:
It is not that I view Lo-Fi Republican as being wrong. The demographics are there:
But the problem remains that people are ensnared in Capital-I Ideology. They do not want to admit that their values contradict (and most of them have convinced themselves there is no contradiction):
Lo-fi Republican @LoFiRepublicanColossal wealth disparity and rapid cultural decline are the biggest issues in America right now. The first political party to brand itself as "public restoration socialism sans insufferable liberal woke shit" is gonna hit serious pay dirt
And make no mistake: you and I are almost certainly taking part in this too, convincing ourselves there is no contradiction between two of our beliefs, even if we are entirely wrong. We must approach this issue first with humility on our own part, which means a willingness to acknowledge when and where we have gone wrong, along with a perhaps "radical" loosening of our grips on our maps. But we must also approach this issue with empathy. We must understand that yelling at others and pointing out the issues and contradictions in the worldviews of others endears us to no one, and is more likely to cause people to "turtle".
So how do we approach this? A kind of immanent critique on the individual level. We all have a constellation of values. It is exceptionally rare to change someone's most deeply held values (most of them are pre-/non-rational of course) absent a traumatic experience. But we can show people the contradiction in their moral map without necessarily pulling out a lighter and making them burn the entire thing. Perhaps we just need to fix some of the topography. A few applications of an eraser here and there is far more palatable to people than beginning from ground zero.
When we say things like "group X appears willing to sacrifice some of their values so they must not really care about them!", understand that this is a delusion all its own (perhaps one of the behaviorist variety). These people don't believe that their values actually contradict. It is one of the reasons "rebels" frequently end up helping the system they genuinely intend to oppose.
In the face of all of this, I say: practice humility and empathy. I hope you all will take this journey with me over the next few weeks to identify some of the more pernicious delusions plaguing our society today, and how to escape them.
As usual, I hope you enjoyed the article! Like, join the email list, and leave a comment if you would like to discuss anything.
If you want to support my work, consider a paid subscription!
Thanks everyone. Hope your week and month have gotten off to a good start.