I’ve been breaking down the chapters of Beyond Order by doing a deep dive on each half of the chapter, but I’m going to start off today by rehashing some stuff from yesterday that I couldn’t quite get around to in the time I had.
Near the end of the first part of this reflection (read here), I was talking about the role of self-deception and how that process works, and how one can achieve essentially infinite self-deception by achieving a feedback loop of conscious and unconscious actions that contribute to life in unreality.
I’m going to start by addressing that more. I’ve really been enjoying Beyond Order (Amazon affiliate link), and I feel that it’s become something of a salve for my spirit.
One way to think about self-deception is as a multifaceted entity. We do not fool ourselves in just one way. A single deception may fool us for a moment in time, but it will resolve to truth or compound itself with further fiction before long, and self-deception is a practice.
Each element of self-deception builds upon itself until the total of lies becomes unbearable. These lies can be independent of each other, and in fact that is often what makes them so dangerous. One lie can build upon another until there is no room left for truth.
Like a fractured mirror, each returns a part of an image, but the image is incomplete and often flawed. The consequence of deception is to miss reality itself, as one who aims may miss their target.
A problem is that our perceptions of truth are often not so much more than our deceptions.
Dissociation of thought and action is necessary for abstract thought even to exist.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
The distinction between a perception and a deception is this:
Perception is a fraction of the absolute Truth.
Deception is not.
I think this aligns with what Max Stirner theorized about “ghosts of the mind” because it is entirely possible that a perception errs fatally and is nothing more than a figment.
This does not mean, however, that a perception is less useful than a deception. Further, a deception is crafted to avoid dealing with the truth. This is dangerous on deep moral and practical levels.
Take-away: Be skeptical of what you perceive to be true, but do not let this diminish the love of truth within you.
The Fear in the Fog
One aspect of the fog that Peterson talks about in this chapter is that it’s an aversion technique. The fog always exists, in the sense that it represents the great and unquantifiable unknown.
But it also serves as a place where we can put things and take them out. Our control over what we are aware of an unaware of is finite, but there is that which we can know which we do not choose to know. Hic sunt dracones.
Imagine that you are afraid. You have reason to be. You are afraid of yourself. You are afraid of other people. You are afraid of the world. You are nostalgic for the innocence of the past; for the time before you learned the terrible things that shattered the trust characterizing your childhood.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
One consequence of knowing is that it often reveals things which we would prefer not to know. Loss of innocence is this process, but there are also things that do not impact our lives as significantly that we would still not desire to know.
Think of how a crowd will react upon learning of the death of a celebrity. They are numb to the existence of the very person whose demise they have just learned of, yet this fills them with grief.
There are some, of course, who experience legitimate empathy for those who are dealing with a loss more personal to them. This capacity does not extend to everyone, nor is it such a shame that it does not, because this investment of emotional power can negative and lead people into weakness rather than strength. This is not a tirade against sharing burdens. But empathy at a grand distance often meets an apathy within one’s own domain of influence.
But for most of the crowd, their grief does not stem from any real empathy. There may be something anhedonic to the idea that someone who creates happiness has ceased to produce happiness, but more often this is because death is, for most of us, hidden in fog. That reminder pulls back the curtain on things which we would rather not deal with.
So it is with our own personal lives. Not only can we lie about things as they enter our perceptions, we can voluntarily or involuntarily push the things with which we cannot deal out of our lives and into the fog of the unknown.
This may work as a short-term solution, but as a pattern of behavior it brings ruin and destruction.
Take-away: Be aware of what you do not desire to be aware of.
The Power of a Word
The chapter ends on a positive note, a guide to how to avoid hiding things in the fog and avoid self-deception.
It ends with a focus on the power of communication.
I will trust you—I will extend my hand to you—despite the risk of betrayal, because it is possible, through trust, to bring out the best in you, and perhaps in me.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
One of the greatest barriers to improvement is a desire to operate without support. Some of this comes from individualism in our culture, which is not bad but requires an understanding of virtue outside oneself to pull off.
However, it is difficult to talk honestly to people.
As Peterson points out, it is often embarrassing. Express your own concerns and failings in order to resolve them, and you ultimately air your own mistakes in judgment.
It is also a vulnerable process. When you talk to people in full openness, you tell them what you want, and if you’re not sure what you want you give them a chance to assess you for your honesty.
If you’re unprepared, you need to be clear about that upfront or you risk alienating your conversation partner. They might understand what’s going on with you better than you can, especially if you’re breaking out of a cycle of self-deception, but this is also an opportunity for malice to enter the scene.
If they desire your destruction, that becomes possible because they know not only your goals but also your weaknesses.
There’s also a chance that they may bungle, but I don’t think this is actually a major risk. Assuming that open communication is maintained, issues of understanding will resolve themselves in an iterative process.
Take-away: Talk through your problems, even if it means vulnerability.
I found this chapter interesting. I was revisiting Rule 5 from the 12 Rules for Life, and it talks about not letting your children do things that annoy you. For me, there’s a strong parallel there with the need to communicate about annoyances, but there are deeper elements here.
One of them is that the consequences of doing what harms you perpetually are not really all that different from external harms perpetuated across a relationship. In fact, they may even be more dire, since nobody can fix yourself but you. Someone could interact with a person who engages in bothersome behavior and cause them to amend their actions, but nobody can save you from yourself.