A reader (and fellow blogger) left the following comment on a recent post:
"A shift in perspective can lessen the impact of an event...but it does seem to me to be a trick that one can play [on] oneself, which may work sometime, and not...actual freedom from the impact."
This is a very interesting point, and one worth exploring. To begin, let us say we essentially agree with our reader's statement--in fact, many (if not all) of the strategies we have suggested in this blog could be categorized the same way. None, in and of themselves, are intended (nor should they be expected) to effect fundamental changes in one's perception of the world. After all, no matter how hard we work at pretending to be Nicolas Cage, such efforts to delude ourselves are simply that. Aren't they?
Regular readers will notice we have (purposely) wandered into a thicket here--if one views "reality" and the concept of self as delusions, then what does it mean to say one is deluding oneself in the first place? Let's come back to that...
Again, our reader is correct that our "recommendations" are essentially thinly-disguised methods for imposing an alternate view of reality on oneself, and do not prima facie change anything about a given situation. If (to return to an earlier discussion) our wife has an affair, pretending it happened 300 years ago (or to someone else) doesn't change the fact that she did in fact have the affair; moreover, any comfort we take from this alternate view of events seems to come from fooling ourselves rather than representing a long-term solution to the pain we understandably feel. (In our reader's words, it is "a trick," rather than "actual freedom from the event.")
However, in our opinion this is to focus on the effect rather than the cause. Put a different way, the point of all these tricks is to get one to focus on the fact that our feelings and emotions are not representative of some larger "truth"; instead, they merely represent millions of years of genetic hard-wiring. Consider again the example of our wife's affair. Why does it bother us? Well, she and I promised each other we would be "faithful." Why did we do that? (Indeed, monogamy is the rare exception in nature.) Most likely, human monogamy is a tradition that grew out of agrarian cultures where it was advantageous (i.e., increased one's chances of survival) to set up a family "unit" to work the land. Going further, why did we find her (or women in general) attractive in the first place? On and on, until...we come to the root of the issue, which is that we are all (as Richard Dawkins so eloquently put it) "gene survival machines," and all the things that seem so important and relevant turn out to simply be byproducts of whatever survival strategy worked best for our ancestors.
To return to the original issue, our reader is correct that the "strategies" we offer on this blog for dealing with the absurdity of human existence are nothing more than tricks--but that is precisely the point! Let us put it this way. The "conventional wisdom" is that things have meaning, and this belief system is constantly reinforced by extraordinarily powerful genetic and cultural factors. To cite just one example, our knowledge that the sex drive is entirely due to evolutionary factors does little to diminish its effectiveness.
Thus, even those who recognize the absurdity of the human condition--who believe, as we do, that the entire notion of "existence" is cut from whole cloth, right down to the concept of the self--find it difficult to maintain this view on a day-to-day basis, as it goes against everything we see and hear (not to mention being taught to believe, essentially from birth). It is with this in mind that we offer these tricks; not to delude ourselves, but precisely the opposite--to remind ourselves, on a fairly consistent basis, that reality itself is the true delusion.