“Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.”
― Sigmund Freud
However one feels about Freud and his impact upon our collective understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit, he had a keen sense of our immense capacity for self-delusion. Ironically, we can blame Freud and his theories for the immense self-absorption that began to take hold when the G.I Bill generation went off to college and discovered the wonders off bandying about bookish theories that might somehow explain the stupendous inhumanity of World War Two—and perhaps help us to learn to curb our own dark instincts for hatred and violence.
Given that our belief in a loving God died on those bloody battlefields and in the stinking concentration camps, our world was left with only a raw and painful void where faith once existed, and we mere mortals yearned for some new system in which to believe. The nascent science of psychology was eagerly embraced to provide the answers for which we so desperately craved.
And so we learned to believe that we could actually understand ourselves and intellectualize our lives into some approximation of sanity after the utter insanity of Nazism and fascism. The illusion that resulted was this: The infinite variety of human motivations, actions, and beliefs could be systematized into a framework that could explain us, comfort us—and ultimately improve us.
And so have been born billions upon billions of self-help gurus, retreats, workshops, books, counseling sessions, lectures, and all manner of academic and educational fads masquerading as as a science that purports to help us banish our demons and improve our productivity, happiness, and personal fulfillment. The overall result seems not to have actually worked very well—depression, anxiety, drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide are at epidemic levels—but we have all become incredibly facile with psycho babble and fancy jargon that claims to explain our miseries.
There is no doubt that self-reflection and self-examination are important components of mature and responsible lives; however, self-involvement and self-importance trap us in childish and destructive patterns of behavior that cause untold harm to ourselves and others.
Our worship at the altar of Freud and his many descendants has caused damage beyond reckoning to both individuals and our society and led to the terrible reality we face today: Endlessly peering within ourselves in order to excuse our own failures while blaming others, futilely attempting to “cure” ourselves with prescription drugs that dull our senses while providing no solutions, and loudly insisting the world conform to our needs while taking no account of our own responsibilities toward our families, friends, and communities.
What a trap so many of us have laid for ourselves to ensure our own anger and denial can continue unabated! Perhaps some find some perverse pleasure in this—or at least in being assured that all their problems are not really their fault—but the end result is a lot of whining, complaining, and blaming. Little wonder our nation and much of the world are in the mess we are today.
Taking responsibility for ourselves and recognizing we are owed only the opportunity to successfully navigate our own lives is kind of a drag. It is much easier to embrace one’s own special brand of victimhood and hold everyone else accountable for your own failures—and this worldview is openly encouraged by many opinion makers, politicians, and pseudoscientific jargon spewers angling for a quick buck. This manner of living is, however, the deadest of all dead end strategies for a happy and fulfilled life. It both disables our own sense of personal agency and teaches that hating others is both appropriate and necessary because they are, after all, responsible for your own miserable existence—damn it!
A life driven by hatred and self-pity is not really a life at all. It is a prison from which there is no possible release or relief. Freud himself would perhaps be astounded at our capacity for denying the obvious; although he counseled that we accept reality when it conflicts with our comforting illusions, we instead choose the illusions and angrily dismiss the reality. Therefore, any effort to suggest that perhaps one’s failures or missteps are the result of poor judgment, lack of effort, or easily avoidable mistakes is now categorized as “victim blaming” instead of a valiant attempt to inject some necessary intelligence into the discussion.
Sadly, we have now reached a point where to deny anyone the comforting illusion of victimization is viewed as a mean-spirited and unjustified assault that must be condemned with yet more anger and denial. A reality check from another is now proof positive that one is indeed a victim—and the absurd circle is complete.
I am unsure how we somehow change the mindsets of the broad swathe of our nation’s people who have adopted the therapeutic model pushed by the many who are either making a living or winning elections by convincing Americans to rant about all the injustices of the world—regardless whether these are fact or feeling. Although there are clearly those who need mental health care due to serious chemical imbalances or trauma-induced depression or anxiety, the real money and power derives from convincing those dealing with more manageable issues that—if only they will pull out their credit cards or vote for a particular candidate—they too can revel in the joys of blaming others for their difficulties and unloading their anger upon those terrible, terrible folks. What a comfort this is for us all!
We have a very steep uphill climb to escape the epistemological hellhole we find ourselves in today. Perhaps it is best to start our ascent sooner rather than later because illusions are destroying our nation.