Sunday, February 13, 2011

Doublethink and Acting

I've been reading Less Wrong. Several posts--mostly the comments section--inspired this post, but the Franz Ferdinand style sparks were the comments section on this one, and a practice SAT essay prompt asking whether we, the people, need to question authority.

Starting with the easy bit. Yes, we need to question authority. I believe the state of an ideal mind is perpetually and always questioning authority.

There is an important line to be drawn here: Thoughts and Actions.

> And of course, no matter how much you profess your love of mere usefulness, you should never actually end up deliberately believing a useful false statement.

I haven't yet needed to "deliberately believe a useful false statement" (to my knowledge), but I wouldn't be particularly disturbed if I tried to, and found it repeatedly successful. Another tool for my tool belt.

--manuelg 30 January 2008 08:04:00PM

I don't see the line in that statement. It isn't an insult to the person, because the difference, I believe, is merely one in communication. We would do the same thing.

Believing that the sky is blue allows me to behave as if the sky is green. The fact that in my head, I think, The sky is blue, the sun is yellow, and clouds are either white or gray, occasionally becoming dark enough to look black, does not stop the words, "The sky is green and there is never anything but green in the sky," from leaving my mouth. Believing that I should always question authority does not mean I believe I should always defy authority. It means that, if the authority is unjust, I have a system in place to recognize that fact. My system is probably not perfect. However, if everyone is questioning authority, and believes that this state of being is acceptable, then chances are good that someone will notice, and enough people will listen to make it possible to change the injustice.

In the absence of a telepath, what I think does not matter in terms of what other people think of me. If I need to appear to give into peer pressure to avoid being fed to wolves, then the answer is not to give into peer pressure; the answer is to give that appearance. There are places where this thinking reaches a stumbling block--"But I'm not a good enough actor. I have to believe what I'm saying or I can't say it convincingly!"

This state of mind is dangerous.

This mind says, "I can lie to myself easier than I can lie to others." Lying to one's self is also lying to others. And this lie is much more difficult to fix. A lie to yourself needs to be protected to remain, and so questions to it make more lies, before you think about it. You can't admit the truth to yourself; how could you admit it to someone else?
Parable Time
Continuing with peer pressure: Underage drinking. If you don't drink, the people you're with are going to leave you--and you'd rather not be alone in this neighborhood. So you figure one drink can't hurt...and then you're buzzed enough to figure that one more's okay...and then you get home, and your Mom asks you if you're drunk, and, well, you can't exactly lie about that one because you're walking funny and you smell something awful. You get in trouble, but tell yourself that it was your only choice to stay safe, and your Mom's being totally unreasonable, and...


If you don't drink, they're going to leave you, and you'd rather not be in this neighborhood alone. You look around and confirm, yeah, there's really no one who'd stay with you, except that one girl who's smaller than you are and shrinks in enough to basically be shouting, "Hey! Muggers! Easy target!" So you take a beer and sip at it, moving around enough that no one notices that you're not actually drinking more than a sip of the cheap, weak, beer. You also start walking a little funny, which is easy enough because there are some blasted people around to mimic and no one has ever seen you drunk, so any mild mistakes are dismissed as quirks specific to your drunkenness. You get home and decide that the people you were hanging out were all being unreasonable. Honestly, who would leave a friend like that? And the girl who always draws in on herself probably needs some help, she drank from peer pressure and you know her Mom's going to ground her for that, so maybe you should bring her a cupcake at school tomorrow to cheer her up, and find some new friends who won't ditch you for following the law...

You told yourself the truth, and so reacted to the truth, rather than a comfortable, confining lie.

If anyone has a counterexample short of telepathy, I would love to expand my knowledge.

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