Calm, Collected Egotism-Busting
Watch some personality disintegration and reintegration in real-time
Egotism has come up repeatedly in our Political Ponerology workshops over the past weeks. At one point in the book, Lobaczewski points out that young people are naturally egotistical and, not having kids, I asked participants who was worse: three year olds, or teenagers. They said teenagers, for sure. You can bribe three year olds. Teens have it all figured out. And even if parents and adults can see they’re being idiots, that is only more evidence in the teens’ favor, and against the adults.
Young people are not just little egotists; their opinions are shot through with the force of moralizing. There’s an energy behind their convictions. Those who disagree are not just wrong, they are wrong. It’s what makes youths such good activists. They have the conviction and the moralizing force to stake out a position, berate those who disagree, and forcefully tell others what the correct stance is. This faith in their own judgment isn’t always a bad thing, but it leaves them open to manipulation.
Young people in particular want to believe they freely choose their intentions and decisions; at the same time, however, an experienced psychological analyst can track the causative conditions of these choices without much difficulty. (p. 18)
[Paralogical and paramoralistic arguments] inspire aversion among cultivated and logical people, but they enslave less critical minds, e.g., people with other kinds of psychological deficiencies, people who have already been subject to the egotistical influence of individuals with character disorders, and, in particular, a large segment of the young. (p. 88)
Proper rearing and self-rearing thus always aim at de-egotizing a young person or adult, thereby opening the door for his mind and character to develop. (p. 134)
Young people and less cultured circles always have a greater propensity for [moralizing] interpretations. (p. 137)
Teens may be the worst when it comes to run-of-the-mill egotism and moralizing, but it’s not as if adults are free of them. In fact, intelligence and education aren’t always helpful in this regard. The more you have been proven right, the stronger your conviction might be in all of your judgments. (Lobaczewski called this the “egotism of the natural worldview.”) You can even be right and an egotist. Whenever a statement is presented as being so obvious as to be self-evident, egotism is probably hitching a ride. “Anyone who can’t see that [insert conclusion about random thing here] is an idiot.”
So what to do about this unfortunate feature of human nature?
Lobaczewski also writes about personality disintegrations. Some such disintegrations can be thought of as the breaking down of egotism, producing an uncomfortable state of uncertainty and, even worse, “being wrong.” No one likes feeling like an idiot. But it often comes down to a choice between egotism leading you down a dead-end path and the temporary discomfort of admitting one’s error. Egotism is a means by which we avoid minor mental disintegrations, and by extension, the beneficial reintegrations that can follow.
As Lobaczewski puts it:
Our personalities also pass through temporary destructive periods as a result of various life events, especially if we undergo suffering or meet with situations or circumstances which are at variance with our prior experiences and notions. These so-called disintegrative stages are often unpleasant, although not necessarily so. …
A disintegrative state provokes us to mental efforts and explorations in attempts to overcome it in order to regain active homeostasis. Overcoming such states—in effect, correcting our errors and enriching our personalities—is a proper and creative process of reintegration, leading to a higher level of understanding and acceptance of the laws of life, to a better comprehension of self and others, and to a more highly developed sensitivity in interpersonal relationships. Our feelings also validate the successful achievement of a reintegrative state: the unpleasant conditions we have survived are endowed with meaning. Thus, the experience renders us better prepared to confront the next disintegrative situation. (pp. 34-35)
Egotism fosters the dominance of the subconscious life and makes it difficult to accept disintegrative states, which hampers a personality’s normal evolution. (p. 134)
Someone who has experienced such disintegrations and reintegrations, who is familiar with the process, and who knows that the discomfort is worth it, can assist others and even guide them through the process, making it less painful. It helps not to be an egotist oneself in this regard. Calling the person an idiot at the outset will only put up their defenses and block the process from taking its natural, creative course.
In a sense, Lobaczewski himself does this for the reader throughout the course of the book. As he writes:
This book therefore aims to take the reader by the hand into a world beyond the concepts and notions he has relied on to describe his world since childhood, and trusted perhaps too egotistically, because his parents, surroundings, and the community of his country used concepts similar to his own. … However, this tour of another reality will not be a psychological experiment conducted upon readers’ minds for the sole purpose of exposing the weak points and gaps in their natural worldview, or perhaps just to de-egotize their attitudes. Rather, it is an urgent necessity due to our contemporary world’s pressing problems, which we can delay only temporarily and ignore only at our peril. (pp. 4-5)
He’s rather nice about it:
Perusing this book will therefore confront the reader with similar problems, albeit on a much smaller scale. A certain impression of injustice may be conveyed due to the need to leave behind a significant portion of our prior conceptualizations, the feeling that our natural worldview is inapplicable, and the expendability of some emotional entanglements. I therefore ask my readers to accept these disturbing feelings in the spirit of the love of knowledge and its redeeming values. (p. 24)
It doesn’t always work, of course. Egotism is the king of human faults for a reason. But when it does work, it’s a beautiful thing.
Browsing Xitter the other day, I cam across a great example where you can watch the process of de-egotization and disintegration followed by reintegration in real time. Here’s the tweet, but I’m embedding the video directly below just in case the original account ever gets deleted:
That’s the way to do it. Calm, collected, confident. On some level, the kid already knows he’s just spouting someone else’s talking point (“J.K. Rowling is bigoted and transphobic”). Yet he repeats it with the force of youthful egotism and moralizing, as if it were something self-evident. But notice how relatively simple it is to provoke the disintegration. The thing about paramoralisms and paralogistics is that when you take a minute to look at them, it becomes clear that they’re obvious BS. You just have to be willing to slow down, engage in a bit of dialogue, and be honest with yourself. Part of you already knows all of this. It just takes a little bit of a push to bring this awareness up to the level of consciousness.
You have to hand it to the kid. He tried, even when it was clear it was a losing battle (with himself). First he hedges, stating that he doesn’t necessarily have an opinion on Rowling’s tweet one way or another. It’s just what other people have said, how other people “might” interpret it. He even shares an opinion that can be considered based: “To me, no, stating that sex is real is not transphobic. It’s just a fact of life.”
After the process, the teacher points out the disparity between the kid’s initial statement and what he sees from his new vantage point. “Do you think that that was the best way to phrase it?” The response is perfect: “No. I feel like an idiot now. (Laughs)”
At no point did the teacher call the student an idiot. He was supportive yet firm in his engagement with him. As he told the kid, “It’s okay, though, it’s why we do this. To learn how to think.” That’s it. The reintegration comes naturally. The experience is imbued with meaning. And despite feeling like an idiot, the kid knows and feels that the place he is at now is much more desirable than the place he was at mere minutes ago.
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