“We understand nothing! If you understand this, you understand everything.” ~ Paul Mic
The title of this piece (minus the subtitle) is the last sentence in a book I’m writing, entitled Self-inflicted Philosophy. Why is it the last sentence, you might ask? Because I’m aware that everything I wrote could somehow be false.
More than likely a great percentage of what I wrote reeks of ill-logic, false correlations, tautological reasoning, and maybe even some inadvertent solipsism. In some places it may even be downright wrong.
Then again, maybe not. But “maybe not” still doesn’t get me off the hook of hypocrisy. Nor does it get any of us off the hook. Indeed, our very existence is the hook.
Socrates realized that no one was wiser than he because no one understood their ignorance as well as he did. Similarly, no one is wiser than the one who understands his/her own hypocrisy. If we open our minds, realizing that we might be wrong or mistaken, then we may be ready to learn.
No matter how much we think we know, there is nearly an infinite amount of information that we don’t know. We are all hypocrites just as we are all ignorant of things, but the intelligent thing is to become aware of this fact. Ironically, you’re more likely to be right by admitting that you’re more than likely wrong than if you were to declare that you’re more than likely right. Huh?!
As Robert Kurzban wrote in Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite, “The modular design of the human mind guarantees hypocrisy. What remains to be explained is why you think this doesn’t apply to you.”
As such, the modular brain has become the modular mind. Our multifaceted nature makes us conflicted and inconsistent. Even hypocritical. But it also makes us flexible and fluid in the face of change. And when it comes down to it, change is really all we have to hang our hat on. It’s the only impermanent permanent, even if it is just an illusion mixed in with the equally powerful illusion of Time.
In a very real way we are all completely delusional. We’re each surfing on precarious waves of illusion that we claim to be reality. And really, we can’t help it. It’s inherent within the human condition. Hypocrisy is our core. How could it not be? Think about it. We are mortal animals in an ancient universe, torn between spirit and flesh.
We hold mortality in our heart and immortality in our head. We’re fallible and prone to make mistakes. We’re housed in clumsy, fur-less, animal bodies on a planet with environments that require both grace and fur in order to survive them. And yet we’re blessed (cursed) with large brains that give us the power to create mesmerizing technologies in order to survive them. And, in a lot of ways, we’re prone to mistakes precisely because we have big brains.
It seems Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum: I think therefore I am,” ought to be replaced by Saint Augustine’s “fallor ergo sum: I err, therefore I am.” Indeed. When it comes down to it, fallibility is implicit in the concept “human.” We might as well own up to it.
“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin
In our human bias, we want so bad for the universe to be the thing that’s paradoxical. But it’s not. It’s us. More specifically, it’s our consciousness. We are the paradox, all wrapped up in our little biased animal-hearts. The trick is to embrace the paradox, to reconcile the hypocrisy.
If we can do this then we’ll discover the humility necessary to transform our certainty into sincerity, and with enough genuine sincerity we become more capable of living in the moment, authentic and engaged with the experience of being a hypocritical animal in a mysterious, counterintuitive universe. Sure it sucks that “being certain” turned out to be overrated. But as Oscar Wilde articulated, “The secret of life is to appreciate the pleasure of being terribly, terribly deceived.”
If, as Thomas Berry said, “The only viable option for the universe is for it to be in a state of creative disequilibrium, holding together sufficiently to not fall apart, but open enough to be expanding,” then it stands to reason that the same thing applies to us, as microcosms carrying a macrocosm on our back. It behooves us to embrace our uncertainty so as to remain in a state of open, creative disequilibrium.
We are so overwhelmed by the impact of ourselves that it’s incumbent upon us to counteract our insecurity by weaving intricate symbolic webs that act as a sieve for our hypocrisy. It’s not that hypocrisy goes away, not at all. Its highest honor is the symbolic.
That which we call individuation is nothing more than a symbol of filtered hypocrisy. The key is not to get so caught up in it that we lose the creative spark, the sacred mystery. In other words, don’t make religion out of the symbolic, make art instead.
Indeed, as Julie Mertz intuited, “Hypocrisy has its own elegant symmetry.” We just need to tap into this symmetry, synergize with it, and then create art out of the paradoxical tangle of it all. Sure, it’s all fleeting. It’s all painfully impermanent. But the subjective creative process and the objective art derived from it, is a way to transcend the transitory. As Ben Wilson said, “Everything is transitory, what’s important is the creative process.”
“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” ~ Douglas Adams
When it comes down to it, what is belief? Is it not just our vain yearning to force an idea, ideology, or worldview into being foolproof? Is it not our futile attempt at pigeonholing hope? Is it not pretense in hard makeup? Slow death beneath fast masks? We believe we need belief in order to remain “sane.” We believe that without hope or belief or something solid to keep us grounded, we’ll go “crazy.”
We tend to dodge the difficulty of thought, sidestep the challenge of imagination, ignore the superiority of having a good sense of humor, and then we go straight for the easy way out: leaning like a cripple on hand-me-down, ill-conceived, outdated beliefs in religion and politics that are spoon-fed to us in the form of propagandized cultural conditioning and indoctrinated brainwashing.
But if our inherent hypocrisy teaches us anything, it’s that it behooves us to take things into thoughtful consideration rather than blindly believe. As Benjamin Franklin (of all people) said, “He that lives upon hope will die fasting.”
Another thing hypocrisy teaches us is that all religions and all politics are created by human beings, and human beings are fallible and hypocritical, so we should definitely take it all with a grain of salt. The same thing applies to all things created by mankind, even words. Down the rabbit hole we go!
Philosophical fallibilism can help us with this. As Rebecca Goldstein said in Plato at the Googleplex, “There is a kind of quiet violence in philosophy’s work. Philosophical thinking that doesn’t do violence to one’s settled mind is no philosophical thinking at all.” Indeed, good philosophy should lead us to Aporia, an impasse, where we’re unable to proceed a step further without honoring the inherent ambiguity, fallibility and hypocrisy of the human condition.
And in that state, a kind of hypocritical Zen overcomes us. We become truly okay with being completely hopeless, exceptionally imperfect, and absolutely flawed. We become fully able to accept our own fallibility, and that of others. Everything is seen through a cracked lens, and that’s okay. We know now not to take our imperfect perceptions so seriously.
We know now the cost of not accepting and embracing our hypocritical nature. As Longchenpa humorously stated, “Since everything is but an apparition, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may well burst out in laughter.” And so we laugh, realizing as Tony Schwartz did: “The opposite of certainty isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.”
In the end, we’re all flawed and fallible. But so what? Let’s embrace it. Let’s have a sense of humor about it. Let’s make imperfect, crazy, otherworldly art out of it. But let’s improve upon it. So we’re all full of shit. Knowing it sets us free. I’ve been known to use reverse psychology on the cosmos.
But I’m nothing more than a man with a pen and the audacity to put the universe in its place. Between “I” and “we,” “I” and “cosmos,” it’s all just one giant, pulsating, cosmic modularity interdependently smeared out, and we’re smack in the middle of having the honor to perceive it, no matter how hypocritical our perception may be. As Richard Feynman famously articulated, “I: a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe.”
So what we don’t need belief anymore? So what all we need is imaginative thought and a good sense of humor? So what we can never be certain about anything? So what we’re hypocrites par excellence? Paraphrasing Stephen Jenkinson: “Awakening in our times does not happen to the sound of hallelujahs and choruses of angels, it happens to the sound of weeping.” Indeed, but it can also happen to the sound of laughing.