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Delusion control, or the tricky art of personal honesty

Updated on November 13, 2010
it's not that far from one synapse to another, but it's pretty easy to change course while getting  where you need to go.
it's not that far from one synapse to another, but it's pretty easy to change course while getting where you need to go. | Source

One of the strangest concepts in human mentality is the belief that anyone knows what they're doing. Despite an impeccable history spanning thousands of years in which the human race has successfully proven beyond contradiction that it has absolutely no idea what it's doing and has spent most of its time making life as difficult for itself as possible, this concept persists.

Homo Collective and Individual Idiots Sapiens is if nothing else excellent proof of the fact that mistakes are created specifically by people who do think they know what they're doing. This particular delusion is based partly on vanity, and partly out of a pathetic desire to avoid the feeling of insecurity that believing oneself to be an idiot causes.

Delusions are often merely expedient, to prevent confrontation with a rather irritating problem known as reality. No vaccination against this nuisance has yet been developed despite the desperate efforts of politicians, mainstream media, public relations saints and other repositories of human wisdom and strong, immutable ethical practices.

The net effect has been to make humanity what it is today. A sparkling, effervescent species in a world of endless enchantments governed by fantastically interesting people with large breasts or larger egos and high, unquestioned intelligence without parallel.

Or perhaps not. Ironically, all this collective brilliance is based on the sometimes rickety intellectual practices of individuals. Some of these individuals don't actually get a lot of practice, mainly because they're too busy being interesting.

Individual opinion of one's own intelligence and competence can be as dangerous as a chainsaw. Self-doubt may be infuriating, but as an alternative to turning yourself into a train wreck, it's often the better option. The fact is that people have to either talk themselves into making mistakes or avoid thinking entirely to make them.

Everybody has "better judgment" after the event, hardly anyone has it beforehand, and if they do nine times out of ten it’s accidental. Most people have the ability to think of something, and then provide themselves with endless interpretations of the thing they just thought.

This useful process is commonly known as stupidity, and is often derived direct from the personal knowledge base. A person may see a rock perfectly clearly, and then proceed to trip over it. If survival instincts are allowed to get a word in, the incidence of stupidity usually lessens considerably.

Fortunately Homo sapiens has a remedy for that, too. The delusion of high personal intelligence is quite sufficient to make an idiot out of anybody. The more convinced you are of your own infallibility, the more likely you are to do something unbelievably stupid.

Because delusions are usually preferable to reality, the default perspective in many cases requiring the use of intellect is the delusion. Sanity may interfere with this process, but its success rate is debatable.

Arguably the best and certainly the easiest option for avoiding the worst effects of your delusions is a form of constructive self-distrust. It should also be pointed out that self-distrust is a lot safer and far less stressful than usual response to making mistakes which provide such inconvenient, and worse, irrefutable, proof of stupidity.

For those to whom self-congratulation is a sort of hobby, self-distrust can also be used to prove one's cleverness, rather than indulge in the messy process of attempting to understand exactly how one could be such an idiot. For people who actually are stupid, and prefer on principle to be stupid, self-distrust can be used as a method of ensuring that irritations like death, bankruptcy and serious injury do not interfere with one's TV watching.

For ordinary humans (Surely you remember them... No? Perhaps just as well...), self-distrust is best viewed as a portable defence against oneself. Given that the average human being is able to find endless different ways of creating problems for themselves, self-distrust can work as a sort of medical bracelet.

The alternative to delusion is reality. It’s probably better to avoid both, and sad to say the only way to do that is personal honesty. Self-distrust is about as honest as you can get. Mistakes always cost something, and undoing mistakes can be a pretty grim process.

So let the delusions babble on, just don't take them seriously and try to avoid being any stupider than actually necessary. You'll find that your relationship with yourself improves immensely with a bit of extra backup from self-distrust.


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    • Paul Wallis profile image

      Paul Wallis 7 years ago from Sydney, Australia


      It's not straightforward because it can't be a simple issue for anyone and self delusions, the subject, are by definition confusing and have to be put in context.

      I don't mind giving people having gigantic problems getting over themselves a kick in the pants, but self-distrust boils down to "Do you know what you're doing?" as a working principle. Being at peace with your own mistakes is a great way of falling into a sort of coma of self acceptance and apathy.

      "Given that the average human being is able to find endless different ways of creating problems for themselves, self-distrust can work as a sort of medical bracelet...." That's the risk. Self trust can mean not looking for your own blind spots. You can't just assume you're right about anything.

      Given a choice between "Am I sure?" and anything else, I'd take the "Check it out" option, any time. If asking for personal honesty from oneself is too much, the delusions are winning.

    • profile image

      sdub 7 years ago

      This article is confusing. What was your goal, exactly? To insult people who have large and blinding egos, or to try to help people be happier and more at peace?

      Sure, "big heads" can be deceptively debilitating. But self-distrust is not the answer; quite the contrary. The trick is, yes, to be honest with yourself...but also grant yourself the gift of compassion. We are all fragile, feeble human beings working with the same set of emotions and inner motivations.

      So, if one is capable of personal honesty, why should one not trust himself? Not trust to be better than, superior to, or infallible...but trust that, with hard work and dedication, goals may be realized. Trust that all mistakes can be transformed into valuable learning experiences, if one is willing to be flexible in his thinking. Trust that short-comings may be improved through conscious effort and persistence.

      Without self-trust, someone is very likely to come up against an obstacle and, rather than finding a way around it, give up before he even breaks a sweat. Comfortable? Sure. Fulfilling? Not a chance.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I tried to be social an dit turned out to be a disaster. I am a hermit by nature and luckily I have so many interests that I am more than occupied. Your first paragraph really nails it down. I'll never undertand humans so I gave up. Thanks, Paul, for a great, great hub.

    • Paul Wallis profile image

      Paul Wallis 7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Yeah, have to wonder about the people who go looking for "their true selves".You'd think they'd know better

    • 666divine profile image

      666divine 7 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      I don't trust myself and think that anyone that does must be out of their minds.