Our Tangled Web

I’ve maintained before that our reality is a story we  tell ourselves, and a lot of it isn’t necessarily true in any deeper sense. It is also not particularly consistent.

Imagine a tapestry around yourself as an individual. This is your world, and you’ve decorated each bit as you choose. You may have taken care that things that are close together go well together – let’s call it locally consistent, and that gives you the illusion that it all harmonises. This is only because you never actually see different parts of the tapestry at the same time.

Locally consistent worldview

Some examples

Recently Sam Harris pointed out that we associate wood fires with comfort and well-being, whereas of course smoke from a wood fire causes cancer, asthma etc. We just think of it in the context of warming ourselves by it, of cosiness and relaxation, not in the context of health hazards.

Typically, we expect others to adhere scrupulously to any rule or law, while allowing ourselves just that little bit of leeway. When I am five minutes late it becomes one-or-two, when you are are five minutes late I make it around-ten. Even when we are aware that we are tweaking the truth just a tiny little bit, this does not stop us from doing it.

Our judgement on any situation or action depends strongly on how we feel towards the person concerned. The same story, “I was late…” will provoke a “you just couldn’t help it, don’t worry” (to a friend) and an unspoken “well, I guess you just couldn’t be bothered” or “like you always are” (about someone we don’t like). And the same interaction will be judged differently, depending on which side we are on.

Amazingly, many people seem completely unaware of the double standards they use, saying things like: that was completely unacceptable/unfair/inexcusable etc., without even stopping to realise they themselves do exactly the same thing sometimes. Of course, when they do it themselves, they judge it rather more charitably.

Irregular verbs

Remember Bernard Woolley’s irregular verbs? Bertrand Russell called them “emotive conjugation”.

Bertrand Russell
I am firm. You are obstinate.  He is pig-headed.
Bernard Woolley   (Anthony Jay & Jonathan Lynn)
I have an independent mind. You are eccentric. He’s round the twist.
What about:
I am honest. You are outspoken. He’s abrasive.
I am diplomatic. You are evasive. He’s a liar.
And some of my favourites from a competition:
Carol, Belchertown
I peeked in your medicine cabinet. You nosed around in my stuff. He violated my personal space.
Bob, Philadelphia
I’m devout. You’re a heathen. They’re infidels.
Nowhere Man, Nowhere,CA
I am a soldier. You’re an insurgent. He is a mass murderer.

Can you think of more?