Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Deffils (Part 2)

Originally posted on October 13, 2011

As I said in the last blog entry (yesterday), deffils are the personification of the tendency to buy into simplistic beliefs. Another form this takes is to identify with the role of innocent victim, projecting one’s selfishness on the blameworthy “other.” This justifies defensive aggression: Get them before they get you, undermine your culture. Again, these complexes disguise themselves; they don’t seem to be really wicked or mean devils, but something softer, more wide-eyed and innocent—yet they support such nastiness as genocide.

Here’s another variation of the aforementioned deffil: Things should be nice so if they’re hard, or if there’s a price to pay, or if they seem at all complicated, it must be someone’s fault. Let’s find the one who is to blame and punish them! The deffil is innocent, but this simplistic sentiment can morph into the most monstrous sadism and wickedness—true devils.

Another deffil is that there is no shame in resisting the warnings of people who warn us that our folly may lead to unpleasant consequences. “They’re ol’ meanies and grumps, and we don’t have to listen to them, la, la, la.” Seemingly innocent and childlike, this feeling of being okay feeds the general state of inertia and complacence that again generates a lot of trouble—the trouble of waiting until the problem reaches the level of generating monstrous complications. Then the deffil is all innocent and betrayed: “Why did mommy and daddy let this happen? It’s all their fault!”

Then there’s the deffil that denies that we get the news and the government we vote for and deserve. “But they’re supposed to be wiser! They promised! It’s not fair! Let’s vote for the other side! They promise not to be as limited as the last people we voted for. We know it’ll change, now, because they promised.”

Please forgive me if I seem to be patronizingly saying that most people think like young children. That’s clearly not true in many roles in their lives: They raise kids, do a good job, exhibit real cleverness in some roles—far beyond anything a child is capable of. It just doesn’t make sense that someone so smart can unconsciously be thinking like a young child! Wait, the reason it doesn’t make sense is that what does make sense is that people are either little babies or grown-up. Right? Wrong: In fact, people play many roles and some can retain deeply immature attitudes and modes of operation while other roles are forced to become very mature. It’s possible to be both very sophisticated and very childish, and this explains a lot of history and our human predicament.

What evokes our compassion is that humans are sincere and innocent, feel themselves good, even as they subconsciously avoid grappling with more complex and difficult modes of thinking. There is indeed a fundamental moral obligation to think more deeply and to synthesize seemingly opposing ideas, and most people really don’t get this. I’m not sure that this is even taught in school, because it challenges those who presume to construct a politically correct curriculum.

In spite of the great deal of information taught in school, what tends not to be taught is the idea that what they teach may be (a) mistaken; (b) partial; ( c) politically biased; (d) evocative of the sense of righteous taboo if challenged; (e) may be irrelevant to the current situation, etc. The volume of information is confused with true wisdom. This confusion is itself a deffil.

Folly often takes the role of sincere innocence and simplistic idealism. Still, its naivete about its own limitations can lead to terrible evil. It starts off with child-like simplicity, along with a subtle entitlement that the world should match it, and if doesn’t, then the world is to blame for being an old meany. Thus disguised, folly may be personified not as devils, who are sophisticated, clever, manipulative, sociopathic schemers—and wicked to boot; but rather soft, cuddly, “deffils” (almost daffodils!) who aren’t hurting anyone! Awww.

Folly wants to be left alone to play. What’s wrong with that? It uses our natural yearning for the simplicity and care-free life of the young child, and the flush of good feeling, of nostalgia, helps to disguise the reality that this entitled foolishness is a source of great evil.

The dynamic partakes of something similar to wanting to stay in bed and dream rather than get up and get into the game of living a truly engaged life. That engaged life is more complex can easily be misinterpreted as being “no fun.” In fact, living an engaged life can be great fun, but not the same kind of dreamy fun as being half-asleep or wallowing in the simplicity of carefree la-la land. Many people do not have this distinction clear in their mind, and our consumerist culture does its best to give us both—the freedom to be truly semi-conscious, passive, free, while at the same time enjoying the illusion of being engaged and grown-up and involved. The television boob-tube is a major tool for this, but now there are scores of other media that deliver the same service.

So the television set is a deffil, as are all the time-wasters. How can we engage more actively? Can we allow ourselves to feel morally obligated to limit our own distractions? Could mindless pastimes and mythically rich shows be deffils, leaching our time away from constructive engagement?

There’s also a peculiar circular madness that says that the world should be the way it is supposed to be unless someone is messing it up—the devil?—and deserves to be blamed and punished. We should not under-estimate the power and prevalence of simplistic thinking, which, though seemingly innocent, child-like, even, is the actual source of a great deal of our troubles.

I may add more to this theme. It points out, to summarize, that many of the more nasty behaviors of humanity can begin with what feels subjectively to be innocent and even noble. But there is a naivete about the potential for self-deception and for unintended consequences that needs to become part of the mainstream ethos.

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