Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Lies We Live By

Originally posted on March 20, 2014

I have evolved from my role as psychiatrist in part into the role of cultural critic, because I found that part of what has come to be regarded as neurosis is just that some folks take to heart the lessons they’ve been taught or picked up from the ambient culture. It began to dawn on me in my residency 50 years ago and has grown.

The culture is to some degree crazy, insofar as many parents, teachers, ministers, authorities mouthing ideas that are deeply dubious. Yet part of what compounded this craziness is that it has been culturally taboo to say this out loud.

In reflecting on humanity’s follies. I am not exempt; I don’t hold myself above the fray. I continue to discover yet more subtle and not-so-subtle things I’ve believed that I’ve come to change my mind about. This is just one aspect of cultural evolution: questioning assumptions.

A significant percentage of the follies of humanity—and they are legion—involve believing falsities. As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t the things you don’t know that get you into trouble. It the things you know for sure that just aren’t so!”

Here are a few examples of the “lies we live by” that make trouble:
   1. Women should be submissive, obedient. The man should “rule the roost.”
   2. Religious authorities know the truth. That’s why they’re promoted to their position. Denying their rulings on policy is impudent, and even refusing to believe with sufficient devotion deserves to generate guilt and repentance. Don’t talk to me about consciously doubting anything.
   3. The obvious corruption of some—many, in fact—clergy and their minions are exceptions that should not reflect on the goodness of the cultural institution that birthed them. The gross evils generated by the radical strictness of missionaries should be overlooked. Etc. Don’t get me started.
   4. Hell is real, worthy of being afraid—very afraid. Fear is the way to live life as a good person.
… and on and on. It could fill many books.

Please note that it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe any of this! It’s not unlikely that your parents or grandparents did, and we should not underestimate the degree to which fear and inhbition carries over from generation to generation—diluted perhaps, but not absent. There are layers upon layers of slave mentality that need to be cleaned out. They’re sticky. You can tell them in many cases by the echoes of a shiver of anxiety at even doubting what “they” affirm.
     What if there were classes in every school that addressed these unspoken rules?

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