Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Illusions and Foolishness I

Originally posted on April 10, 2011

A few months ago my son David and I were chatting about ways people lapse into illusion and foolishness, and he suggested that I write it up as a book, or at least put it on the blog. I came up with several score items—well, actually I blurted out, “There are a hundred of them!” and he called me to deliver. Yikes. I did, although in my following blog entries I confess I’ve conflated different items—like a discussion of the “seven deadly sins.”

The key point is that people kid themselves. The mind likes to keep on an even keel, and if it needs to distort the perception of reality a bit, or a rational analysis of what’s perceived, so be it. I’d like to see this topic taught in every late middle school or early in high school—it’s as fundamental to looking at the world realistically as realizing the world isn’t flat and the sun doesn’t go around the earth. We live in many, many illusions.

Some of those are mere habits that feed our present status, so we come up with rationalizations to preserve them. Some of these ideas are really subtle rules and customs sold to us by the more powerful, with the help of spin doctors, so that we’ll refuse to believe that we are oppressed. This is beginning to wear thin with the middle class, though only beginning. The lower classes sort of knew it for many generations, but haven’t been able to marshal a plausible critique. And the critique of mere socialism seems too one-sided for most people.

But it’s not just economic. Fashions can keep up mentally enslaved, and general social custom. And those so caught up in the system—like me not willing to rebel against wearing ties in the mid-late 20th century world of professional life—hardly experience some of these elements as oppressive.

I’m going to start posting mini-essays on various kinds of foolishness and other ideas that deserve to be called into question. I won’t always have a neat alternative. Sometimes it may suffice to begin the process by casting some doubt on what previously we had all taken to be obvious or unquestioned truth.

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