Psychological Pitfalls

I’ve noticed a common theme from the side that is trying to counter this movement about justice for George Floyd, specifically, and social justice and equality for systemically oppressed populations, generally. That is, I noticed a theme of one-sideness and selection bias being rampant.

For example, to the latter point, people are selectively choosing to focus their attention toward anything but the deep, painful, raw, and pervasive issue at hand; instead, people resisting this sort of societal change are gravitating toward anything that they can use as a suitable straw man. Therefore, their arguments are usually highly fallacious, so it is better to limit engagement in these psychological trenches so the forward momentum can remain unified and targeted on the true goal: Justice.

The former point of one-sideness is intertwined with the biased selectivity outlined above; however, it delves somewhat deeper into the human psyche. Cognitive dissonance is the state of holding two opposing beliefs simultaneously, and it is well-documented that this phenomenon influences a multitude of human behaviors, because it makes people so uncomfortable that they are motivated to seek change. Unfortunately, inherent to life is constant change. Therefore, trying to resolve the tension produced by opposing forces through fortifying, or doubling-down, on a single point or node that is polarized toward a specific side is ultimately self-defeating. It is as if one is so disturbed—and, consequently, dysregulated (out of balance)—that balance is subjectively restored through the solidification of a single position. Furthermore, this single position is then fallaciously used and treated as if it is inherently self-sufficient.

Let’s take an example to further illustrate what is being said by this point. Take the example of rigid and flexible. If I were to resolve the tension between these two opposing forces by deciding that rigidness is all that matters, then this would be an example of being one-sided. However, if I were to take one more movement in this cognitive direction and decide that I was so happy by the security and comfort from believing in only rigidness, then I can start to discredit the existence or the necessity of flexibility.

We should pause at this point. It is quite easy to carry on from this line of thinking, transforming into subsequent arguments; however, at this point in the example, we have reached a point where, if we were to proceed, it would be rooted in a false dilemma; that is, there is not an argument originating from categories that exist in pairs of opposites. To belabor this point further, one cannot start with a premise that is rooted in a belief that the end is better than the means; particulars are better than universals; permanence is better than change; product is better than process; and individual is better than social.

For any of the above examples, as well as any other family of oppositions, to proceed with an argument that one side is better or worse than the other is starting an argument from a false dilemma; therefore, nullifying any subsequent arguments, premises, or conclusions made after the fact.

Hope for More

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In times of turmoil,
You are there to help in the toil.
For don’t let these opportunities be spoiled by fears that you won’t succeed here.
God has a plan for those that seek His face
However, this journey is set at His pace and you must learn to trust and have patience, even in the fear and uncertainty of the duration of this race.

God & Money

One general objection I have with some of the messages within the Christian faith is selective emphasis—that is, emphasizing certain verses of scriptures over others—in addition to selection bias: omitting certain verses from scripture.

Recently, there has been one verse that continually keeps coming into my life: “‘No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money’” (Matthew 6:24, NLT). While I had heard this verse in messages before, it was infrequent and rarely the center of any serious analysis; however, in my personal life, I recently had felt a great sense of comfort not merely by reading this verse in isolation, but in its complete context, spanning Matthew 6:19-34. It was through the added context of Jesus’ words that I truly understood what was being said in verse 24; moreover, the context and rich examples that Jesus uses provided me with the comfort, guidance, and reassurance of faith that I needed.

In our world, especially in American culture, materialism, work, production, and success are all encultured into you; moreover, they are blended up and somehow attached to your self-worth. As Jefferson Bethke writes (playing off Descartes’ famous words), “America’s mantra is, ‘I produce, therefore I am.’” It seems that our lives somehow have become intertwined with what it is that we produce or can show others. This goes hand-in-hand with our media-driven culture—however, let us return to scripture.

In John 15:5, Jesus says, “‘I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.’” Here, is a clear verse illustrating that we are called to produce fruit, but what kind of fruit? Well, John 15:15 says, “lasting fruit” or “fruit that will remain.” And, how do we accomplish such a task? We do so by following Jesus’ command: “‘Don’t store up treasures here on earth…Store your treasures in heaven.’” (Matthew 6:20-21, NLV).

So, why is this all so important? The issue comes back to what is being emphasized. As Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:34 say, “‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (NIV). This is a matter of our hearts and, thus, is of remarkable relevance; moreover, it is regarding how our relationship to the material world should be, which is of paramount importance in the current culture in which we live.

Unfortunately, this message seems to not receive as much attention as it deserves—in fact, the attention it has received by some leaders within the Christian faith has been to emphasize the opposite point, and conflate the idea that inner works can be manifested materially. I will speak more on this in my next post as I discuss the emergence and growth of the prosperity gospel.

Warning: Contains Political Content

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I have refrained from talking about the current political climate in America because the polarization of the “Us vs. Them” mindset seemed impossible to surmount. Out of fears of my inadequacies, I have chosen to remain silent, rationalizing to myself that my silence was justified: Peoples’ minds have chosen sides, and there is nothing that can be said or done to sway peoples’ opinions.

Upon recent reflection, I realized that I had let my cowardice get the best of me. Moreover, I discovered that within this presumption outlined above was the implicit acknowledgement of the “Us/Them” false dichotomy. However, even after this revelation, there still have been persistent beliefs within myself that allowed me to continue to bite my tongue: “You have nothing to offer, and, even if you did, it wouldn’t matter. No one would read it, even if they bothered to read it, it wouldn’t change their minds.” It was this last part that has compelled me to break my silence and finally write.

I am a counselor by trade, even so, it is still fascinating to discover irrational beliefs that produce internal (psychic) tension. The last part of this negative self-belief is where I illuminated a fundamental error in my line of thinking. Similar to the counseling process, the goal is not about changing someone’s mind, rather it is about providing new perspectives, experiences, reflections, etc. that further inquiry and help to refine and better define their beliefs, values, and aspirations.

Furthermore, this shift in my perspective about the starting point for political discussion has also allowed me to reflect upon the array of experiences I have been collecting. I am a member of groups and organizations that would be deemed “far-right,” as well as ones which lean towards the “far-left.” Initially, these group experiences produced a great sense of tension within me that was further exacerbated by the division being portrayed within the American news. However, through maintaining the delicate balance between being open-minded while, simultaneously, having the courage to hold to certain deeply held convictions, I have been able to resist the pull of absolutism; that is, the tendency to want to resolve my internal discomfort produced by the tensions of both sides and foreclose on one of them as the absolute truth and guiding principle that all people should adopt.

This has been a difficult endeavor to undertake, especially considering the political and cultural climate of America growing more rigid and extreme by the day. However, I am grateful for being able to be a part of the “in-group” for both groups of the left and the right, because it has allowed me to understand some of the more mundane experiences, issues, and concerns that are at the root of the larger movements and politics that flood the internet and media. It has provided me with faces and verbalized expressions of the people who hold certain ideologies, instead of the abstract, dehumanized, and dogmatic view of such ideologies that are often portrayed through media. The importance of the medium through which information is absorbed is often overlooked. When ideologies are provided, devoid of any relation to actual experience, it allows the individual’s assumptions, preconceptions, unconscious biases, and a host of other psychic content to be combined with their imaginative capacity. In turn, this perpetuates ideologies and beliefs as having a sort of life in and of themselves, outside of the lived experienced of individuals.

Moreover, this separation between ideologies and actual experiences is doing damage to our democracy, for many individuals have become so certain of the absolutism of their beliefs that there is no room for common ground. While the overt differences in beliefs are emphasized, the nuances within the ideologies of either side are overlooked or disregarded. Furthermore, these nuances have become beyond reproach, since they are entirely overshadowed by the perceived irreconcilable schism of the defining features of each ideology.

Therefore, the impetus for my writing about the topic of politics in America is to emphasize the aspects that are being overlooked. While the differences in ideologies and beliefs between the right and the left are being magnified–and, in fact, personified through the attack or defense of President Trump– the similarities of experienced shared by being a human being living in a world of struggle, change, uncertainty, with feelings of isolation, desire for belonging, and striving for purpose and meaning, are being entirely overlooked. Insofar, that these aspects that comprise life are being eliminated from communal discourse, unless both parties identify with one another politically and ideologically. This lack of communication between members of opposing sides will only deepen the divide that is already present, and it will erase the opportunity to live and interact as fellow citizens of a democracy, learning from one another and enriching each other’s lives through the sharing and celebrating of differences, as well as those of similarities.

A Self in Society

Conditioned to be polite,
We converse wearing our social decorum.
But, is this for us or for them?
Moreover, since when did disagreement become synonymous with intolerance –
If we all agree, will we still be free?
To some degree, it would appear that the fervent desire to unify as one
Is causing our nation to become undone.

With that said, there are issues on which we must agree:
Some form of common sense logic must be present as foundation to stand upon.
This does not dictate any issue,
Rather it provides us with a necessary tool to engage in discourse.
Embarking on these sorts of endeavors without common ground
is predestined to forever circle round and round.
Therefore, remember that it is okay to have some remorse;
It’s okay to change your mind in light of new evidence.
This is not something to feel ashamed of though –
It is, however, a test of letting go,
The pieces of one’s ego necessary for growth.
Through taking this oath,
One may become flexible enough to tolerate viewpoints of both.
This requires great vulnerability, and without this there is no true strength –
Only an inflated self-esteem kept afloat by the desperation of others
Who, too, refuse to change and prefer to remain the same.

This is the what it means to be enslaved to oneself, ensnared by pride.
Terrified to be denied, one chooses to continually lie.
For the sake of pride, one cannot hide;
Therefore, the fear of mortification leads to emotional amplification.
Allied together under a noble cause: Defend this nation, at all costs.
However, the lack of insight veils the perception of one’s self,
Instead, projecting outward blaming others for their rage.
Not knowing that it is a manifestation of residing in a cage of their own making.

Coercion & Freedom

What truly is freedom and how important is it? I think many would say it is the most important thing. I am American and our whole country was founded on this belief.

But if it is the most important thing shouldn’t we keep striving for more?

Americans believe themselves to be free and they usually contrast this statement by comparing their lives to totalitarianism regimes. Yes, by contrast, we are most definitely free. But what if we compared our freedoms to utopia? I think then our ‘freedom’ would seem quite inferior.

We believe ourselves to be free; but are we actually?

If I spend my whole day watching Fox News and find myself voting more conservative, I will think I did so because of my own volition, but did I really? Or was I passively influenced?

Similarly, if I see 7 commercials for McDonald’s cheese sticks, and then, the next day get in my car when I am hungry and buy them; did I do that out of my own free will? Or was I coerced?

So, when we Americans think about life. When we think about happiness and when we think about our futures and goals, reflect on who told you those assumptions you are making. Because it is likely some ambiguous outside source we call the media or society.