Self-Deception: Social identity vs. personal identity and its relation to politics and religion
A wholly truthful and authentic life necessitates thoughtful self-examination, that is, the willingness to recognize even the most difficult of truths present within our lives. When the avoidance of truths about certain aspects of our lives extends beyond a single choice, and develops into a pattern of avoidance, self-deception is born. This conscious choice to avoid reality, prevents us from facing difficult facts and certainties, and allows us to remain consistent. In this purposeful distancing of oneself from reality, one adopts a policy of avoidance, which he or she uses as a shield, defense mechanism, or self-created blinder to the sometimes harsh and bitter truths of reality.
The natural tendency to maintain consistency compounds man’s inclination to self-deceive. A lifetime of commitments and experiences can lead men to ascribe to ideas and realities which indeed have changed or ceased to be present. In efforts to uphold a certain sense of stability and self-awareness, the tendency to self-deceive, ignoring obvious changes and truths grows strong. Towards this end, it is those who are good and sincere by nature, that are most prone to self-deceive. The serious tone of these people’s lives holds them in fear, lacking the courage to face reality, and therefore the possibility of their own shortcomings and inabilities.
In an image-based society, where appearance and status make or break one’s individual quality of and outlook on life, it becomes necessary to some to retain a certain self-image. Fear of losing a particular sense of identity disallows a full embrace of the whole of reality. Towards this end, the language, labels, and ideas that surround a person’s sense of self become highly important, as there has become a desperate search and push to “know oneself,” and to gain a firm grasp of who you are as a person. Consequently, identities adopted are not quickly changed, despite changes in the person.
The link between personal identity and social identity has grown increasingly, concurrently pushing the need to maintain certain types of social roles. Often, our actions are sharply influenced by the social group to which we ascribe ourselves, or find our identity in. Actions that are perhaps against our own sense of morality are performed, and subsequently rationalized, simply due to our assumed or presumed social role. Additionally, values and ideas may be professed which are against our own, yet personally heralded, in efforts to remain consistent with a social role. Essentially, it is the fear of change, and the subsequent fear of losing a grip on one’s sense of self-identity, that provides the primary cause of self-deception.
Marked as a defense mechanism and coping device, self-deception can be perceived as either positive or negative. At times, self-deception proves to be necessary in order for existence. Often, one must self-deceive by means of blocking out painful images and memories, in order for healing to become a reality. Overburdened by pain, grief, or negative self-imagery, self-deception becomes nearly compulsory, as the burdened individual seeks to temporarily avoid reality in order to establish a positive outlook. However, when this temporary self-deception used as a coping device develops into a permanent life pattern, it moves beyond a coping device to a destructive pattern of thought and avoidance. Illusion cannot be the dominating force within the mind. The extent to which self-deception can be considered healthy, is the extent to which the mind concurrently holds a grip on reality in some sense.
In consideration of and reflection upon self-deception, I am forced to evaluate my own life, and the extent to which I avoid reality. With a personality dependent upon stability, order, and routine, and a concurrent strict and traditional upbringing, the factors which perpetuate the need or drive to self-deceive are highly present in my life. Additionally, the labels I have come to associate with my identity suggest that I ascribe to certain social groups, requiring an additional reflection of the genuineness and originality of my actions.
In consideration of my self-image, several dominant features surface as irremovable and essential to my being. I cannot imagine living a life void of my “Christian” label. However, the stigma of religion often yields a wealth of attached assumptions and social roles. Attacked and marked as a fundamentalist, I recognize that in my youth I overemphasized my conservative beliefs, in attempts to both uphold my controversial label and to stir up dissension amongst my peers. However, as time has passed and the attacks grown more intense, I found myself proclaiming a “more liberal” mindset to old friends, in efforts to gain their respect while detaching myself from the assumptions surrounding Christian fundamentalists. This active proclamation of a “newfound liberality” was due primarily to a subscription to a new social group. Several years ago, the large majority of my friends were those which maintained similar sets of values and ideas as I did. However, upon my attendance at a liberal and Catholic institution, I had been brought from a position of esteem, where my ideas and values were respected and shared, to a place of scorn. Nearly weekly, my fundamental Protestant and Bible-based beliefs were openly mocked and looked upon as intellectually inferior to those not only of the Catholic church, but of the so-called philosophical agnostics, too intelligent to buy into the idea of “God” and a necessary dependence upon Him. Towards this end, I had systematically quieted my beliefs, moving those things which are intrinsic to my being from the forefront to the shadows. Classroom participation in heated religious debates has ceased, arguments with friends surrounding political and moral issues have dramatically decreased, and my promotion of “my new liberal beliefs” has risen.
Some may survey the situation and decide that the changes made in my life were positive, removing enmity with friends while concurrently opening my mind to differing viewpoints and ideas. I myself have heralded this false adoption of liberal ideas as mentally expanding, self-promoting as one willing to move outside of a “narrow” mental perspective. However, reality remains. Despite the repercussions which may follow, I am not and most likely never will be a liberally minded person. Towards this end, I do not hold that liberal ideas bring about mental expansion any more than other schools of thought do. Additionally, I feel that those who prescribe to liberal ideas as strongly as conservatives, are as “narrow” as fundamentalists. My false ascription to a set of ideas, through both silent acceptance and active denouncement of conservative ideas, had served to perpetuate a form of self-deception, in that I had been avoiding the reality of the ever-present existence of my conservative ideals.
This self-deception suggested that I placed my identity in things other than self. This altogether negative habit speaks of an over-emphasis on the opinions and thoughts of other people, as well as a fear of losing this social identity. Reparation of these wrongful avoidances of the truths concerning my true self and ideals can be found in the willing embrace of my belief system, regardless of the reaction of those around me. With or without social esteem or the acceptance of my peers and professors, I am without question, a conservatively minded, Christian fundamentalist. I must forget about survival within a particular social group, and value self-survival as of higher value. Self-deception will breathe no more, as I now willingly face the reality of my true self. Yes, I voted for Bush. Twice. I’ll vote for McCain, and I don’t care what you think about it. I am who I am.