Most of us if asked the question; “Who are you?” would rattle off a number of characteristics such as our vocation, perhaps some family relational positions, an ideological affiliation or two mixed in with a sprinkle of what we’d like to think we are, but when we dig deeper into the nature of that question we soon come to a dark horizon, beyond which there is still much more to explore. If we explore the question with any degree of honesty, we also discover the notions we hold are often in error because of the many cognitive biases through which we see ourselves. When we honestly assess the real capacity we have for self-awareness we have to concede that it typically bounces around on a scale between pitiful, nonexistent and delusional.
The value of self-awareness as a tool to pursue the balance of nourishing social and physical relationships on which we depend cannot be rationally disputed. To effectively navigate these treacherous waters of reality we need clear vision. Our current underdeveloped capacity to differentiate between fact and fiction in relation to what fulfills us is to our disadvantage. In social settings, some of us can’t tell we’re being invited to dinner as part of the meal, and not as a guest. This makes negotiating a fulfilling experience of life a difficult proposition.
There is some consensus among those that study human behavior that deception, including self-deception is often used as a tool to prevent ourselves from feeling dissonance over guilt, shame, the feeling of being unloved or of unjustly gaining some advantage at the someone else’s expense. We are very good at our own internal game of peek-a-boo. The fact that we have such a tenuous hold on our own nature is why so many advertisers, cultural institutions and interpersonal relationships have a similar theme of “giving away the sin for free; then selling you little doses of salvation for the rest of your life”. Deception is typically parasitic in some way.
Robert Trivers outlines our tumultuous on-off relationship with reality in his book; “The Folly of Fools”. As it turns out, deceit is nothing new or unique to the human species, nor is the destructive side effects. Contrary to the certainty we deceive ourselves with when we believe what we see, as it turns out, we are naturally equipped with host of spatters on an opaque and myopic lens which is then spattered with more mud and opacity once our culture gets hold of it.
Brood parasites are creatures that deceive another species, or their own into feeding and raising their young at the expense of the victim. This parasitic relationship is illustrative of the nature of deception in general. It seems to generate some kind of poverty, whether of vision, resources, or both. When we use deception to escape from something we don’t want to face about ourselves, others, or reality in general, it comes at a cost. While self-deception can serve as a tactic to temporarily sooth or gain something, it is much like the oyster that secretes nacre to sooth the irritation of a bit of sand. This is a short term solution, but in the long run it is a deceptive tactic that actually makes the problem worse over time, requiring ever more nacre. I suppose it is a good thing for some oysters we deceive ourselves into the belief that hardened clam snot is valuable. Now there’s a pearl of wisdom!