You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

March 12, 2005

It's Very Important That I Write This IN ALL CAPS

Yesterday I wrote something about the recent Hezbollah demonstrations in Beirut, and how they helped show the disturbing way technology now allows people to live in an all-encompassing fantasy world. Given certain comments there, I think it's worth expanding on it a little.

As I said, everyone tries to fit new information into their pre-existing mental schema. You can't be alive otherwise. However, this phenomenon is potentially dangerous. The best explanation I've ever seen of this appears in Life and How to Survive It by John Cleese and Robin Skynner.

So, I've pasted the Cleese/Skynner explanation below. It's worth reading all of it.

P.S. You may be wondering whether Reliapundit is real, or an extremely sophisticated psy-op run by me. I'm not telling. However, either way, it works out the same in the end.

Or, perhaps I should say: IT WORKS OUT THE SAME IN THE END.

From Life and How to Survive It, p. 236-239.

SKYNNER: Thinking back over what we've said so far, what would you say are the most important indicators of real mental health?

CLEESE: ...The most compelling measure of health seems to be the degree to which you face reality; that is, the degree to which you perceive it, and accept it.

SKYNNER: Well, let's examine the idea of "reality" a little further. Man's achievements are due to his extraordinary capacity for abstraction. Without it neither our science, nor our art, nor our literature, nor our philosophy could exist. All our most positive achievements arise from this gift for abstraction; that is, for simplifying things by selecting our those aspects of reality that we want to concentrate on, while ignoring the other aspects as if they don't exist...

However, the snag is, all our most negative qualities also come from the same gift... madness, crime, evil, everything that's unhealthy. All of it arises when we get hold of the wrong ideas—in other words, when our abstractions have gone wrong, when our simplifications have ignored aspects that were important.

CLEESE: ... what determines whether we use abstraction positively or negatively?

SKYNNER: The easiest way to answer that is to look at the scientific method. A scientist observes certain available facts and then "abstracts" a theory that fits them. Then he carries out further experiments to test the theory. If it holds, he regards it as "true," but only in the sense that it's "the best to date" for explaining and predicting what happens. So, when some new fact is observed which the theory doesn't cover, he has to go back to the drawing board to try to come up with a new theory that covers all the old facts, and the awkward new one too...

So the essential feature of the scientific approach is that facts come first, theories second. Theories are adjusted to facts, not the other way around. It's the same with maps. If you look at a map, and then at the piece of territory it's supposed to represent, and on the territory there's a river, and on the map there isn't... which would you rely on?

CLEESE: I'd tear up the territory. Sorry! I panicked.

SKYNNER: You ignore the map—if you don't want to fall in the real river and drown! So the principle is—never confuse the territory with the map...

But the problem comes when we move from ordinary maps to our famous "mental maps." We must have these mental maps, because we couldn't operate in the world without them. We couldn't know what to do—because they're our guide to how the world works, and how we work, and we relate to the world. And, of course, they're abstractions in the same way. They're never comprehensive, and sometimes parts of them are wrong. They're not reality.

CLEESE: I sense that you're about to say something interesting.

SKYNNER: Here it is. To answer your question: whether we use our capacity for abstraction positively or negatively depends on whether we make reality primary, or the map primary. Everything hangs on that... If you are constantly open to "reality," if you're always checking your mental map, your perception of "reality" will slowly clarify. But that all depends on your fundamental orientation being toward the primacy of reality.

CLEESE: So if being in contact with reality is a measure of good mental health, that means that, at the lower levels, people will prefer their map to the real world. In other words their belief system will run them, and they'll have no interest in checking it with reality. In fact they'll reject any bits of reality that intrude by accident. [emphasis added]

SKYNNER: Yes, people like this are completely out of contact with reality. They have withdrawn into fantasy, the kind of insanity you get in lunatic asylums; or in Nazi Germany, where a particular crazy idea led to six million murders.

Posted at March 12, 2005 10:27 PM | TrackBack

Bingo! Fascists (exploiters) HATE the TRUTH.
Because under all the bullshit they KNOW what the truth is but they have to deny because it will mess up their number they have got going. Ever wonder why people are tortured to extract confessions that the torturers must know are false? It's to reinforce their own denial. This sets up major inner conflict which is hidden most of the time but explodes whe someone steps on their corns with the truth. Evidence Rush, A.C. et al. Mad as meataxes.
"When deceipt is universal, telling the truth is a truly revolutionary act." St. George Orwell.
Keep it up, Jonathan!

Posted by: Jim Shanahan at March 13, 2005 04:13 AM

By writing anything even remotely resembling the truth, you lose the game Jonathan. The coprolaliapundit who graced your blog with his wisdom knows this.

Posted by: Harry at March 13, 2005 06:53 AM

There have always been people who favor ignoring reality in a particular way: religious fanatics, race theorists, flat-earthers. The problem we face is that modern sociotechnologies allow such people:

1. to meet, exchange such fantasies, and eventually interact only with each other.

2. to construct alternate realities that reinforce their fantasies.

In the long run, these technologies will become fully individualized, and each person will sink into a completely separate alternate reality, no longer needing to share "facts" or values with anyone else. This state will be safer than the current one, where individuals still feel the need to identify with groups by creating constellations of facts and values, many of which express themselves violently or disruptively.

Posted by: Jim Tobias at March 13, 2005 07:19 AM

Jon, re the "astute" blogger -- see what happens when you allow comments?

Posted by: Dennis Perrin at March 13, 2005 07:31 AM

Yeah, Dennis, but he also gets us! And if having comments saves just one life, it's worth it.

Posted by: Harry at March 13, 2005 08:26 AM

Harry -- ok, I'll grant you that. After all, the life you save might be mine . . .

Posted by: Dennis Perrin at March 13, 2005 08:37 AM

Jim Shanahan:

Bingo! Fascists (exploiters) HATE the TRUTH.

I think attributing this problem just to "fascists" or "exploiters" is much too narrow. Rather, fascism and exploitation AND many other unpleasant things arise from a certain mental tendency shared by all people (certainly including me).

Because under all the bullshit they KNOW what the truth is but they have to deny because it will mess up their number they have got going. Ever wonder why people are tortured to extract confessions that the torturers must know are false? It's to reinforce their own denial.

I believe that in such systems it's not just the people running things, the people on top, who are frightened of reality. It's the people on the bottom too. For instance, there are reports that the people convicted at Stalin's show trials actually appeared to believe their own confessions.



Nice! Too many people, such as Pe-Nart, don't appreciate a good portmanteau.

Jim Tobias:

In the long run, these technologies will become fully individualized, and each person will sink into a completely separate alternate reality, no longer needing to share "facts" or values with anyone else. This state will be safer than the current one, where individuals still feel the need to identify with groups by creating constellations of facts and values, many of which express themselves violently or disruptively.

I don't quite agree with either proposition here. First, there will always be an objective reality. The further people drift from it, the more violently it will eventually intrude on their imaginary world(s). Second, I think the need for group-identification is hardwired into humans. It will never leave us, particularly the more troubled among us. Especially on the lower rungs, people have to have some form of group identification, because they barely have any sense of who they are themselves.


see what happens when you allow comments?

I hope it doesn't make you uncomfortable when I reveal that, excluding yours, every comment ever posted on this site has been written by me under assumed identities.

Also, if you look up you will see that I am typing this while attached by suction cups to the ceiling directly above you.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at March 13, 2005 09:17 AM

Why do you people want to IGNORE cbs, cnn, AP, and al jazeera when they publish CONFIRMATION of the FACT that SYRIANS were bused into LEBANON for the neo-jihadist terrorist group HIZBALLAH's pro-Baathist rally?

And how can you argue that those who deducted this FACT from the rally, and who provide multpiple sourcing for the it are fantasy-based?

I argue that your position is untenable EXCEPT by denial and delusion.

This is delusional complex common for Leftists and others afflicted with BDS - Bush Derangement Syndrome.

The principle cause is psychological discomfort with the truth that:

(1) the entire Leftist ideology one has believed in has been entirely discreditied; (READ: USSR and Red China BOTH now free market economies which are doing better for their people than under Marxism); and (2)hat Bush is spreading actually doing a GREAT JOB of spreading liberty and democracy all over the world (and of exposing hypocrisy and corruption at the UN)with a robust and agressive foreign policy which comprises both multilateralism, AND unilaterialism; both diplomacy, AND military actions.

The technical term for the cause of your anger and delusion (and the reaction formation which causes you to call me "delusional," when it is in fact YOU who are delusional) is COGNITIVE DISSONANCE.

Have a nice day.

Posted by: reliapundit at March 13, 2005 09:21 AM

It's okay, Mr. Reliapundit, we don't hate you. Put your trousers back on, stop yelling at the mind control satellites and we won't mention this outburst to anyone.

Posted by: Harry at March 13, 2005 09:27 AM

I'd like to put a damper on things with another excerpt from Life and How to Survive It that's particularly relevant right this second. John Cleese has just been complaining about the reaction of religious fundamentalists to Life of Brian, and Skynner responds this way:

SKYNNER: To spell it out, it doesn't make sense to judge and condemn those members of society who use religious ideas to judge and condemn others—in fact, if you do so you are obviously just joining them and misunderstanding religious ideas in the same way. Criticizing, attacking or even making fun of them may make us feel a bit better temporarily, but it just locks them more tightly into their paranoid, black-and-white attitudes. In the long run they can only change, and we can only help them—and ourselves—to change, through understanding. Which means understanding ourselves, and seeing that in some part of us we are exactly the same as them.

While I agree with this, the self-control it requires is generally beyond me.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at March 13, 2005 09:39 AM

This a nice way of looking at things, but it assumes they're sincere and not just murdering people because it gives them a thrill, torturing people because of a sick need and anxious to do more of it because it's been such a success. The wingers don't need to change. They're remaking the world in their image.

Posted by: Harry at March 13, 2005 09:55 AM

Was gonna go into a bit of Mid East history for the sake of relia-hoot, but what's the point? And don't dare mention Israel's rather bloody role in southern Lebanon -- that makes the hoots howl with fury. Some occupations are fine. Certain massacres acceptable. Keep that in mind when they cry about Syria's involvement in Lebanon, staged emotion that's politically timed.

Posted by: Dennis Perrin at March 13, 2005 10:49 AM

How did you know I was naked? Okay, okay, I ordered the book. And for what it's worth, I'm pretty nutty too.

Posted by: Harry at March 13, 2005 11:00 AM

*thought. Stupid alphabetical writing system.

Posted by: at March 13, 2005 05:27 PM

perhaps I shouldn't respond straight off the top of my head. Using labels is self defeating, I ,and generalising has to be done
view of the world is that everyday we are constantly faced with choices between compassion and exploitation. Consistently choosing one way or the other will lead us out of delusion into reality/life/creativity or deeper into the mire of lunacy and destruction for ourselves and others around us.
It is my (and others) observation that those that choose exploitation/hatred/division, call it what you want, try to relieve the ensueing mental distress for themselves by spreading it around, trying to suck others in with them.
I have found the comments of Matt Taibbi and Robyn Skinner most helpful and even comforting. Thank you for linking them. And thank you for the opportunity to post here and to read others' posts.
You can never know how far a generous act will travel.

Posted by: Jim Shanahan at March 13, 2005 07:57 PM

Oops, the beginning of my post got a bit scrambled somehow. But I won't burden you with rewriting it . I think the gist is there.

Posted by: Jim Shanahan at March 13, 2005 08:00 PM

Monsieur Ravenhurst—if that really IS your name—

Can you expand on your Korzybski comment?

Jim Shanahan,

I think you're right on the money about the way the exploitation/hatred/division people try to suck others in with them into whatever unpleasant mental landscape they inhabit. If they didn't have such a negative impact on the planet I have to live on, I'd feel deeply sorry for them. I still do, kind of.

Also, VERY glad you like the Skynner (and Taibbi) stuff. The Skynner/Cleese book has genuinely improved my day to day happiness, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's the only book about psychology that's ever made immediate sense to me.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at March 14, 2005 09:33 AM

Alfred Korzybski began a sort of guide to thinking clearly, starting from the premise that "the map is not the territory." When someone uses the verb 'to abstract' the way Skynner did in this passage, it strongly suggests they know where the map/territory quote comes from. Sure enough, Robin Skynner's name appears on a list of notable or weird people with connections to general-semantics. (See previous link.) Google also reveals an article he wrote in the 50s on this subject. I didn't know anyone had combined John Cleese with GS, I'll try to lay hands on this book.

Posted by: Omar K. Ravenhurst at March 14, 2005 10:38 AM

Omar K.,

Ah, I see. I'd actually thought you meant Taibbi, not Skynner, was referring to Korzybski. Which was confusing.

Anyway, I'd never heard of Korzybski before. Very interesting, thanks.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at March 14, 2005 10:52 AM

Skynner is also linked to Gurdjieff, and the central scene of "Monty Python's the Meaning of Life" - the one that includes "people aren't wearing enough hats" - can be taken as a summary of the Gurdjieffian perspective.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at March 15, 2005 06:26 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Comments usually close after seven days, and comments from open proxies won't post. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you're having problems.