I believe there are three “Greater Denials” that represent fundamental concepts we then draw upon to imagine all of our other forms of denial. These fundamental denials describe real, physical aspects of our existence. It’s not sane that we consider it acceptable to reject them as we do and our emotional addictions are responsible for the appeal of our false beliefs. We’ve all internalized rules and expectations by which we induce emotions compatible with maintaining these forms of denial because this is what our ancestors have been doing for a very long time.
The first great denial is prerequisite to all others and it is the rejection of our own agency to choose. Our expression of this frequently involves rejecting the facts that our elective emotions are both voluntary and deliberate on our parts. We choose to trigger emotional responses in ourselves by thinking and when we reject this idea we become ruled by our emotional addictions through a loss of emotional self control. We end up juicing ourselves with whatever emotion we’ve deemed most appropriate to the stimulus of the moment based on our false expectations. I remember how this feels; feeling at the mercy of my emotions. Without correcting course we tend to compound our abuses of denial and dishonest emotionalism in order to maintain our self deceptions. This can be a progressive thing throughout our lives and it can also occur on smaller scales, happening more rapidly due to stress or hardship. In extremis a person who rejects their own agency may cease to care what is real at all. This is sure to cause unnecessary suffering in their life and the lives of those with whom they interact. In such a state our decision making capacity deteriorates and conscience is ignored.
The second great denial concerns our place in the Universe and our physical nature. It is anthropocentrism – the idea that we are in any way separate or different or better than our environment or the other forms of life that also inhabit our environment. Our civilization itself is modeled on isolating us from our unruly and dangerous environment. We live our lives hiding in boxes to block out the suffering surrounding us as much as to keep out the weather and the insects. Our entertainment frequently centers on fantastical ideas of human capacity that far exceed our natural capacities yet it’s in our refusal to accept what we are that limits us from being more, or better. We’re extremely good and practiced at imagining ideas that permit us to avoid doing the work of honestly accepting ourselves and our nature. At every step of the process we abuse our emotionalism to “make it make sense” that we must avoid this. It’s true addiction.
The third great denial concerns our mortality. I don’t think this should be as big an issue for us as it is, honestly. Death is without doubt awful but no more awful than many fates we suffer while alive. I don’t understand why people fear non-existence when non-existence precludes the possibilities of both awareness and suffering. I sometimes read about people terrorizing themselves with ideas of endless and eternal black voids, and stuff like that, but these fears are borne of ignorance of the fact that without a functioning brain we’re not perceiving anything – not even a void. In death we truly cease to exist. And since this final state is final, and non-existence cannot suffer, what is there to fear but the pain of dying itself?
Still, we overwhelmingly do reject our mortality and we disproportionately visit the harm of our false beliefs on our elders when they approach death and our children when they’re born living with terminal defects. We’re more humane to our pets than our families, and we’re reasonably self aware of the disparity – it frequently comes up in discussions – but the idea of changing our views? Impossible. Or so they say. It remains impossible while people deny themselves the possibility. Self imposed limitations can be absolute and very real even when they’re based in falsity and the only way to overcome such false limitations is to change our minds.
Taken together, these three denials form the foundation for us to lie to ourselves with abandon about any and every aspect of ourselves and our environment we find unappealing or unacceptable. Some of our other important denials include the rejection of our insignificance on various scales (mostly deriving from our anthropocentrism), our sexual denials that are too numerous to list (mostly deriving from our rejection of our mortality), and our casual rejection of our own and each others basic humanity (mostly deriving from our rejection of our agency). We are so far gone we find it sensible to pretend people aren’t real and the more physically distant they are, the less real they become. We attack ourselves similarly, rejecting on demand our basic needs, desires and the expressions of our conscience. The condition we consider normal daily life is nothing short of tragic.
When we reject these things we do it for the emotions we induce at the thought. Our choice of emotions in any given situation is governed by the beliefs and expectations we’ve internalized and turned into our held moral values. The deficiency becomes clear, as does its solution. We must expend the cognitive effort to choose to value self honesty more appropriately so that we don’t feel it is reasonable to entertain such dishonest ideas as the denials I’ve described here. While nobody tells us we are free to examine and alter and even completely rewrite our own expectations and values according to any criteria we want – we certainly can – and these pages in part document my process of discovering these aspects of myself.