Tuesday 1 November 2016

How do we know what is going on behind the lies? By observing how other people think ('the law of projection')

We can know how other people think, despite that they are habitually dishonest and live-behind an edifice of lies, because we can observe their us of what some people have called 'projection'. In other words, people accuse others of behaving in the way they themselves behave.

Projection is a misleading term (false causality) if you understand the psychoanalytic reasoning behind it; but the actuality is straightforward enough: By and large, we understand other people's thinking in terms of how we ourselves think.

We could call this 'the law of projection'. 

But there is an extra spin on this generalisation - which is made very clear in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: The law of projection applies primarily to evil.

In other words, insofar as a person (or institution) is evil - that is to say, is strategically working for the destruction of Good - their understanding is constrained by projection.

In other words, the evil can only imagine others as being as evil as themselves. In other words, we can recognise evil by the way of thinking, by the fact that their world view is constrained by imputing evil intentions to others.

The  evil cannot even imagine that others may be different from themselves, may not be evil.

Thus Sauron assumes that everybody will want to seize and use The Ring and never even considers that they would try to destroy it; Saruman assumes that Gandalf is also plotting to rule The West and keep the One Ring for himself - and so on.

In sum - evil cannot imagine Good - and cannot understand the rationale of Good: cannot predict the actions of the Good.

But, by contrast, Good can imagine evil - Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, Aragorn are all able to understand and predict the behaviour of Sauron. But why? 

It cannot be merely that any Good person also contains evil aspects (and uses these to understand evil) - because the reverse also applies: any evil person also contains Good aspects, indeed often a great deal of Good and yet the evil are blinded to Good in others...

My guess is that although everyone is a mixture of Good and evil; the evil are blinded to Good, while the Good are not blind to evil. It is not the special virtues of the Good which make them wiser; it is the malformation of thought which is induced by evil intent. 

In sum; we can recognise evil firstly by its projection of evil onto others, and secondly (and more important) by the fact that it evil is constrained by this projection: evil cannot imagine Good in its enemies.

But, my point is that lies, no matter how comprehensive, do not obscure evil - we can see past the lies.


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

The evil will consider their enemies evil because of projection -- but the good will also consider their enemies evil because their enemies are evil! Considering their enemies to be evil is something the good and the evil have in common, so it's not clear how observed "projection" can be used to recognize evil.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WIlliam - The answer is there in the post - because the evil (can) *only* impute evil.

Dualist said...

Bruce - you believe those in governement view US as evil? Or just contempt?

Samson J. said...

The law of projection applies primarily to evil.

Hrm , I don't at all agree with this, not at all. Even after everything I've read, I personally have a very hard time - a naivete of sorts - believing and/or accepting that people could "really" do some of the things that are alleged to do. And I often wonder if the things that I find shocking, to the point of disbelieving them (because of my own projection - "no one would DO that!"), are actually the milder of what's going on out there...

Misanthropist said...

I believe it is correct that people tend to assume that others are as bad as they are themselves. Yet it also tends to be the case that people have trouble believing others are more evil than they are themselves.

For example, if you tell most people that politicians are largely corrupt and on the take they will likely believe it (as most people can easily see themselves exploiting positions of influence to enrich themselves if given the same opportunity). But try telling people that (say) there are secret networks of Satanists operating that commit horrendous crimes such as sacrificing children, or that governments engineer most terrorist attacks as 'false flags' for the sake of building support for various public and foreign policy objectives, and they will have trouble believing it. That is because most people cannot imagine committing such calculated evil themselves, so they have a hard time understanding that others or even those that govern them could be that evil.

People have a hard time understanding that which is more good than themselves. Yet they also have a hard time understanding that which is more evil than themselves.
The result is that people are often oblivious to the extent of the evil that surrounds and rules them, yet they are also oblivious to the good that could be of assistance in combating the evil.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Samson & Misanthropist - Good people can know about evil, and can 'model' it in their minds - if they have relevant experience. GK Chesterton's Father Brown was supposed to know the scope of evil from the confession box; I certainly learned a lot as a psychiatrist (whether or not I count as 'good').

But I think much of evil can be seen among ordinary people doing ordinary things - it may be unspectacular, but it is nearly always there, and often very evil in motivation.

For example there is much evil to be seen in gossip, practical joking, personal coments, small acts of sabotage, lies, greed, even glances and expressions that momentarily reveal inner motivations.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your very interresting site.

Perhaps one should try to look att the so called good and the so called evil from a related perspective? To ask oneself what is good, and what is evil, or bad, in relation to:

For whom? To whom? By whom? For what? To what? And so on...

That which then can be seen as being something good for one group, and it´s particular aim, for its gain, survival, power, influence or controlcapacity, in defencive for it´s own survival capacities and so on, could then, at the same time, perhaps be seen as something evil, or bad, for another groups, or another things, influence, controlability, selfdefence and thereby survival?

Different groups, or different things, (political ideas or different religions for example), are then identified and named as the evil enemy, and becomes automatically seen as evil just by its, or theirs, simple existence.

The battle for power, influence, control, in the name of selfdefence, and the battle between good and evil, goes on as it has always done.


Bruce Charlton said...

@JB - That zero-sum perspective is secular - but I'm arguing from a Christian perspective - Good is pro- God's hopes and plans for Man; evil is anti-...