Unreality principle vs. the reality habit

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Following up to “Consensus trance“, “A plan is like a weather forecast“, “The meaning in our mistake“, “What do you need?“, “Truth is a niche market“, and “You don’t even know what you’re procrastinating on“.

According to Howard F. Stein and Seth Allcorn, “The unreality principle and deregulation: a psychocultural exploration”, The Journal of Psychohistory 38 (1) Summer 2010, pp. 27-48.

Most recently Chris Hedges (2009) has written Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. He writes that “A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies. … And we are dying now. … Those who cling to fantasy in times of despair and turmoil inevitably turn to demagogues and charlatans to entertain and reassure them. …”

and

American society’s very adaptation to reality and future adaptability are in question. John Ralston Saul writes that “Equilibrium is dependent on our recognition of reality, which is the acceptance of permanent psychic discomfort. And the acceptance of psychic discomfort is the acceptance of consciousness” … The opposite … lies in the “refusal to recognize the reality of society” … An imaginary, virtually hallucinated, alternate reality, “replaces” the reality of society. Hatred of thinking itself and of emotions becomes the foundation of the inability to “learn from experience” … .

In a similar vein Gordon Lawrence writes that psychosis in general is “the process whereby humans defend themselves from understanding the meaning and significance of reality, because they regard such knowledge as painful … To do this they use aspects of their mental functioning to destroy, in various degrees, the very process of thinking that would put them in touch with reality” … . Not only do individuals do this, but organizations and whole cultures as well. The flight from distressing experience grounded in reality into unreality comes to be preferred, even required, over recognition and acceptance of reality. (We owe the insights in this paragraph to Dr. Burkard Sievers …).

Unreality may gain expression if not hegemony in culturual ideology, religious dogma, political propaganda, and even economic policy. It may be propounded by leaders who are “true believers” or manipulative opportunists.

The first chapter in Robert J. Ringer’s Million Dollar Habits is “The Reality Habit”. In the subsection “A World of Delusions”, he writes

To paraphrase author Robert DeRopp, man inhabits a world of delusions, which obscures reality and creates dangers for himself and others. He rarely understands what he is doing or why he is doing it. His actions and beliefs indicate that he lives in a state of waking dreams.

The most obvious motivation for one person to delude another is personal gain. In some cases, the delusion involves deceit (clandestine in nature); in others, honest overzealousness (innocent in nature). But regardless of the intent, the consequences are the same: you are deluded into believing something that isn’t true. You are persuaded to ignore reality and accept an untruth in its place.

In addition to being deluded by others, there is also the problem of self-delusion. The results of this destructive practice can be devastating, ranging from mental illness to financial failure to war. Therefore, anyone who is serious about achieving meaningful financial results — or meaningful results of any kind — must develop the habit of carefully examining his own premises and beliefs to make certain he is not feeding himself a diet sprinkled too heavily with the spice of self-delusion.

and

An old marketing axiom states: If you want to do well, sell people what they need; if you want to get rich, sell people what they want. How? Simple. Just invite the prospect to do something realistic like “Come to Marlboro Country.”

and

Try to sell people what they need, and you’re liable to end up in bankruptcy court.

On the other hand, your success is very much dependent on your commitment to develop the habit of not straying too far from reality, so you don’t become a victim of such delusions.

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2 responses »

  1. Not sure if I agree. Flights of fantasy mark some of the literary high points of cultures throughout history. In many cases, they also help to define or even expand our moral and ethical boundaries to accept a broader perspective.

  2. @Dan There’s a huge difference between a systemic fantasy built as a social narrative (think “Manifest Destiny” in the US, or the “Danish Pillage” myth that is the backbone story of Iceland’s independence movement) and individual acts of thought and contemplation.

    It’s exactly the same distinction you would make between Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount” – how it can enlighten and uplift an individual – and how the Catholic Church’s Catechism, texts and rhetoric are built around supporting a global economic and political power-structure.

    I’m not picking specifically on the Catholic Church here or extolling Christianity or whatever, it’s just an example. My point is that conflating individual acts with systems is a category error.

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