Our society hasn’t just normalized a great deal of dishonesty in our thinking, feeling, and behaviour; our society demands that we conform, perform, and accept the false expectations foisted on us lest we be penalized. The penalties for non-conformity can be formidable – up to and including death by execution – depending on where in this world one happened to be born. There are still six nations where people are executed for apostasy, alone. Apostasy is deviance from participation and “belief” in the compulsory religion of a nation or jurisdiction. If you’re unfortunate enough to live under such a system you had better be prepared to lie both frequently and well about your nature. It is doubly difficult to remain true to one’s self under such circumstances and this is by design. This is an extreme example, so let’s “zoom out” a bit and look at a wider scope.
If you live in the West and you want to remain employed you must be willing to lie on command, sometimes in elaborately scripted ways, sometimes in simple denial of basic aspects of our humanity. In these situations – as varied as they may be across industries and services – the overarching constant is that we must all pretend to be what our company or employer wants us to be, if we want to remain employed. Employment strongly correlates with survival, particularly in the United States as their system couples healthcare eligibility to employment. It is sadly common for people living under this system to truly believe life can be no different, that they have no choice about what they do, and that the pain of this predicament is best offset with entertainment or other distraction. This, too, is by design. The regressive elements of our society are winning because they are unburdened from the effort of conscientious reflection.
Let’s “zoom out” some more and consider an even wider scope. It is normal in countries around the world for people to ignore the basic humanity and even the existence of people outside of our community or social group. The more distant people are from us the less real they become. Many people go through life pretending their neighbors in their apartment buildings aren’t really real, at least as much as possible. And the people down the street, or in the next city over? They’re practically hypothetical. The stuff of statistics.
It is easy to dehumanize and difficult to accept that this is what we’re doing when we reject the reality and humanity of some or most of the 8 billion other people alive in our world. It’s easy to see how people fuel their dehumanization of each other with emotion in the form of bigotry. Bigotry stems from our refusals to accept what are usually minor differences between us; decorative and reproductive features we cannot effectively change or control, short of drastic procedures in some cases. It is easier for people to experience the anger, hate, revulsion, and fear associated with bigotry than it is to accept that everybody alive is struggling with the same basic problems. Their false beliefs about the people they persecute and the emotions they induce in the process are reliable and reproducible as long as they frequently repeat their rituals, which usually involve consuming propaganda aligned with their false beliefs. While the people producing the propaganda may have some awareness of their ability to manipulate the masses with their material, everybody suffers emotional addictions and significant aspects of denial, and nobody up the chain of conservative evil seems truly aware of what they’re doing to themselves with the emotions they prize.
There’s an important, additional reason why we find it so easy to dehumanize large numbers of people that stretches beyond our limitations of memory. This limitation is widely accepted to be around 150 people; more than that and we have increasing difficulty keeping track of the personal details necessary to maintain normal social bonds.
Beyond this, we have the societal expectation that it is normal and acceptable to think and behave this way and it’s due to the way our emotional expectations are constructed. Most people I’ve spoken to about this aspect of emotionalism freely tell me that when faced with an uncomfortable concept or imagery they feel they must experience particular emotions attached to their expectations and beliefs. If they feel angry looking at a picture or news article it’s because their expectation of themselves dictates that this is the proper response. When and where in life we each internalize our various emotional expectations varies quite a bit, but with few exceptions, we all end up more or less conforming to the “system” by the time we live as adults.
So we actively de-realize the people around us, with more distant people even easier to deny because we think if we don’t we must spend our time and energy experiencing unhelpful emotions. Rather than deal with our emotionalism at its root we would rather pretend other people aren’t real, and accept into the world the unnecessary suffering concordant with our false beliefs. I can feel my disdain rising but I remember that for most of my life I was no different. I’m not really all that different, now, but I’m trying much harder than I have before. I can see these patterns everywhere I look but I still have difficulty articulating them due to the deficiencies of my own life experience.
Why does it not occur to other people that we don’t have to live this way; at the mercy of our emotions as dictated by our inter-subjective expectations? I believe it’s because of the overwhelming addictive power of our emotionalism. Emotion is the language of addiction. It facilitates the process by hijacking our senses of pleasure and reward, and by drowning out conscience in favour of impulse. In raw emotional states we don’t care what is real – we care only about what is on our mind at the time – even if it’s entirely unrealistic or downright dishonest. People frequently “lose control” of their emotional state and often cause unnecessary suffering in the forms of violence and abuse in the process. Other people suffer such extreme emotionalism it can lead to psychosis and an inability to distinguish real from imaginary at a fundamental level.
We can see the dangers and harms of our emotionalism but it’s still not enough to convince us to recognize and tackle it as the existential threat that it is. This suggests to me that we are very far gone in our emotional addictions. We’re losing the ability to distinguish and to care what is real, generation by generation, year by year. Our false beliefs are becoming more extreme rather than less, and our educational systems are largely failing to cope with the common devaluation of conscientious values along with the surge of regressive authoritarianism currently rising in western nations.
All dishonesty with ourselves is perilous and detrimental. Every false belief we hold burdens us with the emotionalism we deem necessary to keep our false beliefs compelling to us. The emotional intoxication we experience transfers over to other ideas and beliefs we consider in our deluded state and we run the real risk of ceasing to care what is real. We’re taught not to consider ideas like how lying about our feelings at work contributes to how we lie to ourselves about the reality and humanity of our neighbors, but it’s all connected. We don’t subscribe to just one or two false beliefs or dishonest emotional expectations; we each have layers of them impairing our perception of reality, already, and the monumental task of understanding and accepting the facts of these matters if we want to move beyond them.
I don’t quite know what compels me to continue my pursuit of self honesty. It feels truthful to say it stems from some intrinsic aspect of “me”, of the collection of beliefs and ideas held in memory, in my brain, that provide the basis of my individual identity. But I don’t know why, not with any certainty. It feels like an act of conscience and this means it’s probably about the survival advantage I perceive for the group, for my species, and if we have already precluded our survival with our climate crisis, I believe these ideas could prevent a lot of unnecessary suffering as things get necessarily more difficult for us in every aspect of life. In the act of trying to help myself I’ve stumbled on this thing that I think could help us on much grander scales than me. I’m still struggling to figure out what to do with it; hopefully without penalizing myself too much more severely for my non-conformity.
The suffering I’ve endured by resisting the emotional expectations of society and other people feels abundantly worth it because it afforded me the opportunity to better understand what I and everybody else are doing to ourselves and each other.