Why Keeping Contradictory Ideas in your Head is Actually Helping you.

In his latest book “Beyond Order”, Jordan Peterson describes the phenomenon of self-deception and the contradicting ideas we tend to hold, which can go undetected for a long time and can bring a chasm into our inner world. One of the forms this manifests with is the case called “performative contradiction”, which is what happens when there is a gap between our thoughts and actions and the path we decide to embark on comes as a total opposite to what we were preaching just previously.

“Dissociation of thought and action is necessary for abstract thought even to exist.” says Peterson. “It is fine when merely thinking prior to acting, but perhaps not so good when we promise or claim to believe something and then act in a manner indicating that we truly have faith in something else. This is a form of deception, a disjunction in character, a contradiction between modes of being. It has even been named to claim one belief and then to act differently constitutes a performative contradiction.”

This contradiction is what happens for example when you have family members that you both love and hate at the same time or when a jealous college accuses the unrestrained ambition of others that got them far ahead in the game while he claims to be the victim of the circumstances and his inability to deceit others. In all instances, we are susceptible to self-deception in a way that helps us achieve our goals and as it turns out it is a mechanism that in many ways benefits us instead of the other way around.

According to Trivers’ theory, deception plays a crucial role in human behavior. Adopting a set of beliefs allows you to influence others and convince them about your integrity. For example, this is the reason someone can act so overconfident when attracting a woman and so underconfident when he is in the presence of people with power where they can pose a serious threat if he was to stand out.

It’s also the reason why Trump keeps supporting the notion that he actually won the elections even so long after it finished when it is quite evident that this is not the case. Holding this belief is so important that he is willing to head right into self-deception just to sustain a form of cohesion.

What would have happened to his supporters if he was to just admit defeat. They would lose the trust and respect they had for their party and would probably turn to something new instead. When you admit loss, you also admit that things need to change and that would mean the end for Trump’s chances altogether which would come as its logical conclusion.

That’s why men sometimes can be so self-delusional when they lose in sports or games. They will start pointing fingers left and right avoiding any responsibility on their part or even pointing the result to luck or weird circumstances that influenced the process. Admitting their mistake would force them to accept notions that they wouldn’t be ready to do and this sort of honesty would get them into a path of extreme difficulties both psychologically and physically.

Deception is a fundamental communication pattern and seld-deception, in particular, allows us to keep our mind intact so that we can move on with our lives without the strong impact the other path would implicate. As Thivers put’s it you are “hiding the truth from yourself to hide it more deeply from others”. And that’s the pattern that allowed this mechanism to survive and play such a strong part in society in the first place.

“Freud understood that the human personality was not unitary”, writes Peterson. “Instead, it consists, of a loose fragmented cacophony of spirits who do not always agree or even communicate”

If you take a closer look at people who cheat on tests and inflate their grades by lesser means, you will realize that they have actually identified themselves with the actual results as if it was their doing. They have completely bypassed the fact that they cheated as if it never happened and they moved on believing that it was actually their skill that allowed them to find a way and make it happen eventually.

This pattern exists everywhere and it’s a natural tendency to create moral justifications for the wins or losses we observe around us. We’ll rationalize the successes with reasons even when they are undeserved and blame people for their losses even though it wasn’t exactly their wrong as if there was an inherent characteristic that blocked them and that was how it was meant to be.

An athlete that is taking some form of steroids to advance his performance is going to create a very mistaken idea about his true abilities and will attribute his wins more to his innate capabilities than the boost he retrieves from the drugs. And the stockbroker that gets insider information to spike his results will not fully comprehend what caused the money flow in the first place and he will refuse to see the truth that he is sitting on an elusive pedestal that is about to break the moment he loses his source.

From this same idea originates the fact that multiple voices can co-exist in a person’s mind at the same time and when one is pointing towards one direction some other is claiming otherwise.

People will assert that they are doing their best and help those around them when it is clearly evident that they don’t. And they will accentuate the role they played in their successes while minimizing the role others play in theirs. Most of the time we need to delve into our heads and face the contradictions if we are to solve these issues once and for all.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store