Arguments III: Self Mythology and Understanding Chaos

We love to tell successful stories about ourselves and have an astonishingly adept ability to find nonexistent patterns in chaos—we can see faces in wood grain, or bunnies in clouds—we tend to make neat narratives about our lives where none really existed. Of course, some of this is done just to simplify, but more often than not we strip our stories of the vast amounts of confusion and flat-out anxiety over the unknown.

Self-help gurus would have us get up every day and say a bunch of self-affirming dreck into a mirror. While there may be positive results of doing such (maybe you were about to slit your wrists?), no one can say there’s any evidence that doing so has the slightest influence on the outcome of our lives. Devotions to spiritual deities are much the same self-help nonsense. These games we play with ourselves may help us survive by convincing us, at least temporarily, or parochially, that we matter.

Facing the world as it is, which is to say, random and without concern for us, scares the piss out of some folks. Especially folks who grew up in that bubble of religious belief that cradled them with this idea that human beings are somehow the children of greater super parents who are looking out for us. I get the desire for this comfort, and it makes sense that so many cling to it with fervor, however it’s utterly immature, virtually by definition.

In other words, desiring a kind of super-parenting beyond your childhood is in fact the ultimate “Peter Pan” syndrome.

And I’d go so far to say more destructive to society than drugs. Why? Because belief in this supernatural sense of self-importance related to cosmic care hinders actual social progress. Believers have a tendency—despite the dedication to family and even some admirable charitable causes—to press belief over rational causality. While most American Christians have a tendency to variably define their God, it is almost certainly the case that each one considers all others wrong. It has long been understood that our nation of individuality breeds religious variation, in fact, long ago quipped by some founding father intellectual that every man in America with a Bible has his own religion. But I stray from my point.

Our self-narratives, linear and clean, expressed as solutions to problems overcome, reflecting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (especially in terms of esteem and love), are inevitably as full of bullshit as our popular movies. We adore a clean story of success and admirable, possibly even, ethical process. We want our heroes to be heroic down to their boot soles, their prosperity the result of their genius and hard work. I will admit that without some hard work and smart thinking chances for prosperity likely plummet, but it is also the case that the prosperous are, more often than not, just as shiftless and lazy about their choices as any of us are. Good fortune does not favor anything we can pinpoint. Randomness cannot be harnessed or influenced. This is why investments are gambles. This is why there are hedge fund specialists. This is why corporations and research institutions employ risk analysts. We don’t like hearing about these things. We are discomfited by the idea of so much risk and gamble. But these elements are solid truths of our society. While the blue collars sweat and toil, every night putting their hands together to appeal to God, the owners and bankers are reading the statistical research from their analysts.
Statistics are the language of science. Understanding statistics is the antithesis of con artists and bullshit. While statistics can be used to lie, the lies are only very successful with the statistically illiterate. And so, I suggest to you to read a stats book. There are many good ones. One of my favorites is Statistics Explained by Perry Hinton. I’m sure you can get a cheap used copy! And to wrap up, don’t be fooled by people’s excitable mythology about themselves. We can’t help making up the shit to make our stories seem vital and reasonable. It’s a human folly that we have little control over.

It’s as irresistible as imagining we can easily solve anyone else’s problems!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *