One new trick this old dog has learned is elegantly simple. The more certain I am that I’m right, the greater the probability I’m wrong. Before we dismiss this concept as simplistic or nonsensical (because we’re absolutely certain we’re right) why don’t we take a closer look at the underlying supposition and then apply what we learn to “The Crash” meme that’s widely held among a clear majority of Zero Hedge posters, contributors and commentators, including myself. It never hurts to check our math, right?
For those readers looking for an in-depth analysis of the current sociopolitical and economic climate, stop right here because this isn’t what you’re looking for. Other people can, and have, covered that ground better than I could. This is a collective self examination of how we arrive at our beliefs using denial and how this can lead us astray, especially when something’s “obvious”. I wish to swim a bit upstream of the contrary waters, which is not the same thing as taking a dip in the consensus reality pool.
When talking to family and friends about the greater probability of being wrong when we’re absolutely certain we’re right, the initial reaction I get is usually an assumption on their part that I’m applying a high probability of being incorrect. This isn’t the case. For something to be greater, all it needs to be is a bit more than the baseline measure. Often our biggest mistakes materialize when we assume something (because it’s obvious, right?) when more often than we care to admit, our assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth.
Mispricing Risk and Reality
For the sake of this discussion, let’s say there’s normally a 10% chance I’m wrong and a greater chance is defined as 15%. While we might brush this away as minor and immaterial, if you knew the next time you got behind the wheel of your car you had a 10% chance of getting into an accident, would you call that minor? I don’t think so. More to the point, we all have a tendency to minimize risks we’re familiar with and maximize risks we don’t understand or that push our buttons. Since we’re intimately familiar with our own thinking, it stands to reason we don’t recognize the real risk of being wrong.
I suspect we’ve all seen articles or news stories that highlight the public’s misperception of risk in our daily lives. For example, many people consider the risk of being attacked by a shark while swimming to be greater (there’s that term again) than of being hit by a bus or lightening. Of course, none of these risks are even a tiny fraction of 1%. But try telling that to someone after watching the movie Jaws, walking across a bus filled street or playing golf during a lightening storm. Proximity has a lot to do with our perception of risk. For this reason and more, we “misprice” risk in all facets of our lives, especially when developing and maintaining our worldview.
When it comes to our own decision making thought process, our so called inner dialogue, we rarely recognize this variable nor do we properly incorporate it into the conclusions we reach. And I deliberately use the term “inner dialogue” here because when we’re thinking or contemplating, the vast majority of us believe we’re all alone and “talking” to ourselves. Even when we’re conversing with others, either in real time by phone or in person or with a delay via letters, email or blogging, for the most part we believe it’s “us” that’s doing the talking and writing. Why wouldn’t we think this? Who else could it be?
For those who’ve been reading me for awhile, this is an old theme that I’d like to freshen up a bit. Our ego is always present and often front and center. Most people consider their ego to be an inseparable part of themselves and give little thought to what’s really going on in the background. Much of our day to day activity, be it physical, intellectual or emotional, is either ego driven or on “ego” auto pilot. I call it that because when we’re not consciously engaged, it’s still the same body being flown by someone or something other than our conscious awareness. If you think about it, that something’s the ego, though we think of it more like instinct or training.
Our Ego Maniac
Our ego is quite insecure and overly sensitive to being ignored or rejected. It’s assumed that the primary purpose of our ego is to take command of the ship of state during times of stress or emergency and to do whatever it takes to pull our butt out of harm’s way.
What’s tragically misunderstood by most is that the ego considers itself to be a separate and sovereign entity and not a part of the “self”, thus not answerable to or affected by “our” decisions or (in) actions in the same way you or I perceive “being affected”. It helps if we view our ego as a parasite or virus rather than a friend or companion because the ego considers you and me to be nothing more than the host.
For all intents and purposes, we’re living the life of someone with a dual personality. But we’ve been seduced into believing there’s only one person, the “self” or “I” we refer to when speaking about our personal being. The ego doesn’t share this perception, which means there’s an entity involved in our day to day affairs that doesn’t have “our” best interest in “mind”. Consider this concept carefully for a moment because its eye opening. A potentially malicious stranger is permanently living within my house. Do I leave him unattended or ignore his motives and actions?
Our ego is an ego maniac (no pun intended) that possesses (or should I say is) a severe sociopathic personality disorder. It seems our ego will go so far as to create disaster in our lives, in effect sabotage us in order to be needed, wanted and paid attention to. That’s the very definition of an ego maniac and the sociopathic personality. While this self destructive impulse varies from person to person, it’s there in everyone and must be recognized in order to deal with it.
The world’s most disturbed human beings aren’t dropped off on Earth by visiting space aliens nor do they grow on trees. They spring from within and the potential seed of their insanity can be found in all of us. This is why I endlessly repeat that in order to understand why people do certain things, one must look inside oneself. It can be shocking to realize that the raw material of these personality types resides in us all.
Our ego is seamlessly integrated into our lives and society, to the point where its influence is rarely understood by the vast majority of us. The more direct control we cede to our ego, something our narcissistic naval gazing entertain-me-now consumer culture tells us is desirable (which in turn feeds the ego) the more out of control our lives become. A severe side effect of this ego centric life is how it turns us into walking talking intellectual and emotional trip wires that can be, and often are, triggered for a variety of reasons. And this triggering almost always occurs without us being consciously aware of what’s going on or why.
Trip Wires and Mine Fields
Let’s examine a small but commonly shared example of egoic response to outside stimuli. How many times have we read a (Zero Hedge) article or comment and before we’re even finished, we’ve hit the reply button and are pounding away at the keyboard. We leave a caustic or snide reply, or even a heartfelt opinion, and then we move down to the next comment. Ten minutes later, we check back and the next response below ours doesn’t make any sense or isn’t what we expected. “What the hell’s wrong with that idiot? That’s not what I’m talking about.”
When we go back and re-read what we originally responded to, we find that somehow we completely missed what the person was saying. We’ve all had those “I don’t remember reading that” moments where it feels as if we’re absorbing something for the first time, not the second or third. This foolish “error” of ours is sometimes so obvious that we thank God no one knows who the hell we really are.
And this happens more often than we care to admit. It’s almost as if we didn’t read that particular comment but an entirely different one instead. What the hell just happened? You see it all the time in the comment section, to the point where you really don’t pay much attention since it all blends into the back ground noise and shouting.
You really only notice when it happens to you. And even then, you might deny it and blame it on the other person. Then there are times when the comment section degenerates into nothing but shouting and ego responses, where no one listens and everyone’s right.
If we pursue some quiet reflection on the matter we discover that somehow we missed nearly everything except a word or phrase that’s a hot button or trigger for us. Once we’re triggered, it’s usually game over and nothing else is making its way into our central processing unit except how to crush that fool who just triggered us. This is why I talk about reading everything twice, once to feed the egoic trip wires and the second to absorb the information into our conscious awareness. And maybe even a third time just for the joy of it.
While on the surface it might appear that it was “me” who responded, in fact it was most likely my ego. And as I said before, they aren’t the same thing. In today’s fast paced world, it’s our ego that’s often interacting with everything in our personal universe. Only we don’t recognize it because we see little or no difference between our conscious mind and the ego.
A careful reading of centuries of history shows us that while our ego has always been a major influence in our daily lives, our present day ADD need for constant stimuli and entertainment has mostly blurred the dividing line between our inner consciousness, our inner “spirituality” (to use a trigger word) and our ego. In a world where our collective and individual ego has run riot and the ego is nearly always front and center, is it really that surprising we live in an insane world?
Contemplation and Reflection
It’s only during quiet reflective times (some call this meditation, others deep thought) where we deliberately box off and isolate outside distractions and diversions while also restraining the constant chatter of our inner voice (our ego) can we begin to find, and then reinforce, that dividing line. Most of us believe that the inner voice we “hear” is “us” when in fact it’s most often our ego. This misidentification of who and what we are, along with being manipulated by our own ego and the control system, is in my opinion the primary source of many of our personal and social woes.
We’ve been separated for so long from our genuine inner self, our true consciousness, that for many in today’s world being reacquainted is a frightening experience to be avoided at all costs. The control system feeds this fear in order to maintain order and control and we go along because we’ve been told it’s all a part of modern life. The average person flips on the radio or TV as soon as they enter their home or get in their car. It’s all just the back ground noise of the control system and for most people; it’s a shock when it’s gone.
At first I thought this accelerating fusion of the ego and our consciousness appeared only to be affecting the younger generation, mostly I assumed because they quickly assimilated the newest entertainment technology. But over the past decade its spread and I’ve noticed in the general population that there’s almost a quiet desperation never to be alone for long with one’s thoughts. I’ve written in depth about “why” in other essays so I won’t dwell on it here.
A few years ago, while riding my motorcycle solo along a popular mountain ridge with spectacular views and exhilarating switch backs, I pulled into a rest area for a break. In the back corner of the parking lot was a large group of fellow riders. While their ages varied from what looked like the early 20’s to the late 60’s, everyone was riding two up. Most of the riders had communication devices that allowed them to talk to each other or at a minimum MP3 players plugged into their helmets or ears. Here they were, in the heart of Mother Nature, and still they required distraction and communication within the collective.
After exchanging pleasantries and while surrounded by those who came over to look at my bike, one middle aged lady asked me the most remarkable question. She observed I was riding alone and then asked “How can you ride alone? Aren’t you lonely? Don’t you get bored?” I could tell it was a sincere question and she was genuinely perplexed. Immediately the small talk within the group hushed as everyone waited for my response. It kind of surprised me that they would care to hear what I had to say. I soon understood why.
Without thinking I quickly said “No, not at all. In fact, I consider myself quite good company. I love riding alone because it gives me time to think. I’m never bored.” The group just stared at this strange man from another world and then quickly broke up and remounted. I remember seeing combinations of surprise, confusion and even fear in people’s faces and eyes.
From their point of view they were trying to avoid exactly what I was trying to achieve, communication with the inner sanctum. For many years I’d thought the growing lack of quiet reflection among the general population was just distractions and busy lives, but now I see it as overt avoidance and even fear. People are running from themselves and the control system is encouraging this with its constant “me me” consumer meme. We’re becoming passive beginning with ourselves.
It’s All About the Drugs
When examining information for the purpose of forming opinions, we often overlook our own unavoidable but correctable confirmation bias. Ironically our confirmation bias gains considerable strength in part from making “correct” choices in our day to day decision making process. Remember that proximity affects our perception and often being correct in the small daily tasks of life seduces us into believing we’re extremely capable in our decision making process.
During our waking hours, we make hundreds of small decisions that are immediately confirmed as “correct”, at least in our minds. This, along with other influences, encourages us to believe our analytical process is efficient and nearly foolproof, particularly if we’re already influenced by emotional confirmation bias and ego triggers.
We, or more accurately our ego, positively love to be correct. And each time our brilliance is confirmed, even if only in our imagination, our brain floods our body with powerful endorphins such as dopamine, a natural drug that’s dozens of times more powerful and much more subtle than crack or heroin. This biological process has evolved over millions of years and was, and still is to some extent, essential to our survival.
But modern society, or should I say society’s control systems, have distorted this natural mechanism. One only need study psychological warfare techniques or even the advertising, entertainment and official (government) and unofficial (corporate news) propaganda industry to see how our own natural biological responses are being used against us on a daily basis. Because we’re totally immersed within our own world, for those who don’t or won’t pay attention, it’s nearly impossible to see these influences for what they are. After a while, few wish to wake from wonderland, especially when it morphs into hell.
Biologically speaking if we’re doing something “right” it might be in our best interest to continue to be “right” if we wish to survive a while longer. But we need proper incentive beyond just survival to ensure we replicate the survival behavior. Cue that wonderfully delicious feeling we get when we’re “right” on the money. In fact, that natural high we feel is the dopamine drug rush. It’s only a matter of time before we find a way to induce that high on command. And confirmation bias and denial are sure fire ways to that Rocky Mountain high.
(Biased) Junkies Are Us
In effect we’ve become evolutionary dopamine junkies, craving the natural high we get when we’re rewarded for being right, even if it’s all in our mind. It’s better than sex, lasts longer and is infinitely repeatable. Jesus, talk about being biased. Does a super high quality drug factory located inside our brains count as biased when we control the dopamine dispenser?
Is it any wonder we accept transparent lies from those we love or those who lead? We shouldn’t be surprised when we practice deep denial and self deception in order to keep ourselves drugged with dopamine. Not only are we getting off on the (self) love endorphins (which are also triggered by nationalist or patriotic feelings) but we get the confirmation bias endorphins as well in the ultimate two-for-one drug deal from Mother Nature. No wonder we call her Mother since we suckle on her drugs all the time. It’s amazing we get anything done during the day considering we’re all walking around stoned to the eye balls. What a way to go.
This brings to mind old YouTube videos of monkeys or other animals pushing a lever or pecking at a button to solve problems for bits of food or sweets. Or how about those lab rats solving a complicated task for food or a quiet evening of wine and necking with the opposite sex? Does it sound a little like our own rat race?
Of course, even as those images flash in our brains, our ego takes over and tells us “But we’re intelligent human beings who possess reason and logic.” Who exactly are we trying to convince with that little ditty? Just take a look around at the utter insanity we’re currently immersed in and tell me again about the human intellect and logic. Ticks run their lives better than we do. They just lack running water and DirecTV.
Driving to Denial
For a more subtle example of denial, let’s look at my own personal decision making process and the intellectual denial it spawned. While driving to my office I make dozens of decisions that if in error could affect life and limb, particularly mine. Yet I’ve not had an accident in over 16 years and I quite naturally consider myself a good driver. In fact, I’m a great driver. Yet as I’ve aged, I’ve noticed that for some strange reason I drift left and right a bit more and the close calls seem to be occurring with increasing frequency.
So despite the fact that I’m an excellent driver and without ever acknowledging otherwise, I’ve compensated for my aging by slowing down, looking more carefully before changing direction and so on. In other words, at some level I’ve recognized the increasing error rate and I’m compensating, even though I consider myself a superior driver. Or maybe I should say I’m compensating despite being an expert driver that ostensibly would have no need to compensate what-so-ever.
Like walking through a hall of mirrors, we’re never quite sure exactly what we’re seeing. But this doesn’t slow us down one bit. In fact, when facing a conflict, our ego takes over and just barrels on through, pushing aside uncomfortable cognitive dissonances as immaterial, unimportant or just plain silly with little to no conscious thought involved.
Actually, the only reason I’ve slowed down is because it makes sense to be careful, especially considering all the crazy distracted drivers on the road these days. I most certainly didn’t slow down because I needed to change my behavior. It’s them, not me. And even if it were possible that I might have something to do with this, my age has nothing to do with it. At least that’s the cover story I tell myself.
The above illustration might seem ridiculous to some and there’s no doubt I used exaggeration to push the point home. But we’ve all been there and to say otherwise isn’t true. Some might even say that at worst all I engaged in was a simple “white lie” or a harmless self deception to make me feel better about getting older. What’s the big deal? Or maybe I was just playing with “semantics” and it’s all of little consequence. But in fact it’s a wide open window into the mechanism of denial and well worth our time to explore precisely because it’s so insidious and seductive.
The Slippery Slope
Consider that on the physical level I’m compensating for an obvious degradation of my driving skills in order to live a little longer, thus fulfilling my basic survival instincts. Of course I acted this way. Why wouldn’t any sane and prudent person do the same?
However, at the same time I’m maintaining the mental and emotional illusion that few driving skills have degraded or been lost. In fact I use the continuing streak of accident free driving, accomplished in great part because I’ve slowed down and I’m more careful, to support the illusion that I’m still an excellent driver. I’m engaging in a self deception in order to soothe and placate an ego I don’t consciously recognize as material. Why am I stroking my ego to begin with? Isn’t it enough just to survive longer?
As with all lying and self deception, the key to continuing is to rationalize and justify past deceptions in order to continue in the future. To do this successfully, first we deny there’s a problem (even if we fix it) then we deny we ever denied there was a problem in the first place. Then, in the ultimate intellectual coup, we forget we ever indulged in denial what-so-ever. In the closed loop isolated environment of our mind, we create our own reality along with the proofs needed to affirm that reality. We’re masters of our own universe and we make the rules where we rule.
We should recognize that we can still be engaged in denial even if we agree with or recognize some facts or information. It’s how we deal with it that matters, not if we deal with it. We bargain with ourselves all the time to avoid what we don’t wish to see. There’s a great deal of subtlety and subterfuge employed in day to day denial. When juggling reality and fantasy while avoiding the ugly monsters, we determine what’s important and what’s not. So we can play games of all kinds to bury what bothers us.
If denial and self deception is present in such a mundane task as driving to work, wouldn’t it be an act of denial itself to claim that denial doesn’t affect our thought process when considering items of much greater importance, such as the end of the economic world as we know it? From a survival point of view, might we need to concede the possibility that we’re not considering all pieces of information at our disposal when coming to conclusions as to what’s going to happen as well as when where and why?
Tricks of the Denial Trade
One of the tricks we employ when trading in denial is to dismiss (deny) contrary information as quickly as it comes in the front door. This way we rarely experience an uncomfortable cognitive backup that might nag us for attention and create an emotional crisis if left unattended. If one is to self deceive on any scale, out of necessity one must become efficient self deceivers if we’re to live comfortably with ourselves in our insane world.
I’ve often thought that the job of the professional therapist is to untangle the dissonant log jams and get them moving towards the saw mill, not to actually deal with the dissonant logs themselves. Or maybe I should say they deal with just enough of them to get things moving again so the patient can happily remount their hamster wheel. After all, in our society, the measure of sanity is how well we’re coping with our insane world, not how “sane” we are.
In fact, people who in my opinion are declaring their sanity by unplugging and walking away from financially lucrative but morally or emotionally stressful jobs are considered by society to be crazy. When the only goal offered and rewarded by society is to ascend the ladder of “success”, how else would society treat those who chose to descend that very ladder but with disdain? Society tells us “Here is the only reality that exists, now fit in, shut up and be happy” rather than “Here is the raw material, now go forth and create your own happiness and self worth.”
Faced with no real substantial choice other than to fit in and confronted by a society, aka the control system, that shuns and ostracizes those who go against the flow and think and act too far outside the small box, is it really surprising we engage in massive self deception in order to kill the pain and go with the flow? And wouldn’t the control system encourage this self deception in order to keep the hamsters on the wheel? God forbid you think for yourself because left to your own devices, who would remain to fleece investors with another helping of CDO on rye or serve up coffee and cardboard muffins at McSlop’s?
To remain emotionally safe and “happy” on the hamster wheel, we increase our denial efficiency by creating mental rules of judgment, sometimes called rules of thumb or the smell test or ideology or simply assumptions. There are dozens of names and terms to describe this process. The beauty of this intellectual shorthand is that we don’t need to participate in the complicated process of outright denial each time. Once we’ve denied something for whatever reason, we give ourselves permission to do the same with every other piece that’s similar or that we wish to believe is similar.
And we don’t process denial in big pieces but in tiny little bites. We remove the more easily refutable parts and discard the rest. Then we wall these parts off and isolate them from corroborating evidence and context that would disturb the denial process. We use a form of “a priori” to make sweeping generalizations that key off other denials, half truths and outright lies we keep ready for instant deployment and presto, the problem is gone
In the world of denial, all we need is reasonable doubt to deny and we determine what reasonable doubt is. But we demand rock solid proof when defending our denial and any proof offered can always be refuted because we determine what’s valid and what’s not. We can’t lose using these rules of evidence and we never do unless we chose to.
In the ultimate twist, we then use these subsequent denials as further proof that our initial denial was correct. Faulty handling and processing of information (aka denial) is used to deny something as incorrect. Then additional denials are used to buttress the initial denial, thus strengthening our resolve to deny similar future information. We come to the denial party with guns load. That my friend is a closed loop circular logic positive reinforcement mind game taken to the nth degree and it’s the staple of basic long term denial. And it all happens in seconds and it’s almost exclusively handled by our ego auto pilot.
In Chapter Two, we shall continue down the rabbit hole and see what Alice has to say about “The Crash”.