On Human Inconsistency, Hypocrisy, and a Touch of Genius

We think of ourselves and others in simple words and categories: good/bad, outgoing/bashful, assertive/passive, and so forth. Friends are offered halos until we are sad or angry enough to be done with them, and then the devil’s pitchfork becomes a part of the vision we recreate.

Not always, but often.

We are not all one thing or another. Consistency is more self-delusion than a reality. A close inspection suggests carve-outs, areas of our life where we are perhaps better or worse than our “imagined self:the way we like to think of ourselves or the way we can’t help but think of ourselves.

These are boxes and compartments of our unconscious making, to a degree. The parts we like are visible to our internal eye. More dubious sections live behind partitions.

Were the various zones fenced off by fixed lines with clear borders, we’d manage them with less trouble. The blurry, fuzzy, porous demarcations are scarier for us. We sense the leakage of our darker truths, harder to rationalize, harder to live with.

Life would be more fraught if we kept asking the question, “Who am I?Then we would be near relatives of the Wicked Queen in Snow White , who asked instead, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?I’m told her therapist suggested she stick with the first pleasing answer and put the looking glass away.

All of us are hypocrites at times, but call others by the name. When was the last time someone told you, “Yes, I am a hypocrite. I said one thing and did another” — or “I believed one idea yesterday, but acted today as if I didn’t because, well, uh ... ”

Too often the changes are opportunistic, impulsive, or driven by fear. An admirable new direction requires the never-easy task of soul-searching, not a backflip.

Want a dramatic example of human inconsistency? If you are acquainted with Holocaust literature, you know some of the children of war criminals claim the apparent contradiction of having kind parents. Take Edda Göring, who died in December, 2018. She was Hermann Göring’s daughter, the man who headed the Third Reich’s Luftwaffe (air force), and a potential successor to Adolf Hitler.

Here is what Edda said about her dad:

I loved him very much, and it was obvious how much he loved me. My only memories of him are such loving ones. I cannot see him any other way.

Were this lady alone as an example of faith in a corrupt father, we might doubt the possibility. Again, people are self-contradictory. Perhaps Göring’s brutality stopped at the door of their home. He could have separated his villainous inhumanity from his private life.

Who among us, if well-treated by mom and dad, would believe he is the offspring of monsters?

Can anyone bear full self-awareness? Defenses, rationalizations, and mind-tricks must be acquired. Those drowning in self-criticism live in floundering guilt. They struggle to advance, to adapt, to be anything but transfixed by an accusatory finger before their face. The digit is theirs, at least by the time they are adults.

One of the hardest lessons in the social world is this: we must accept people whole — other than the abusers and unrepentant users — or become forever disappointed or resentful. Yes, humans can change, but it is easy to expect or demand too much.

Within our confusing and confused bipedal race, a handful of creatures display a genius of which inconsistency is an essential component. Their elements don’t appear to fit together, but the ensuing unpredictability itself produces fascination. When combined with an untroubled, occasional defiance of convention, their acquaintance causes diamantine delight.

They exist at the intersection of innocence and adventure, vulnerability and bravery. Four-way stops signs are not always observed in this spot. No wonder you wonder how they can survive at all.

Like Vincent van Gogh, you might call them intensifiers of experience and emotion, mimicking his search for a more yellow yellow, a more blue blue, a greener green. Life becomes like a canvass, filled without aid of paint or brush, textured as compared to the flatness many of us exhibit.

Such unparalleled spirits live to their fullest in moments both spontaneous and unselfconscious. Immersion in the present, however, comes at a cost. The world is encountered more through intuition and feeling than among those who lead with thought. Mindfulness of possible danger is given up in the embrace of the now.

Such precious artists of living should take care not to die for their art. Each one is the sole representative of an endangered species, missing even in Borges’s Book of Imaginary Beings.

Few understand them. Perhaps no one can, including the specimen himself. Indeed, if one greets you, you’ll blink before letting their light in again, the better to make sure no hallucination stands at a handshake’s distance.

Don’t mention the meeting to anyone, by the way. Like a unicorn or UFO sighting, no one will believe your report. Keep quiet and consider yourself lucky for the encounter.

If you are looking for consistency in passersby, here’s some advice. Stop looking. It isn’t there. Watch the sky instead for flying things or search the ocean for the life that swims. No complexity will be found in our winged, finned, and four-legged neighbors. You can live with them unperturbed.

Back here in the peopled world, little chance exists of finding individuals who are wholly integrated, top to bottom.

But the inconsistencies make life interesting, don’t they? Here’s to our contradictions. Let’s join van Gogh’s Drinkers, just above; the baby, too.

Salute!

——-

The second and third paintings are by van Gogh: Madame Roulin Rocking the Cradle and The Bedroom. The next image is Picasso’s Man with a Pipe. Finally, three more from van Gogh: The Poet’s Garden, The Drinkers, and Red Vineyards at Arles. All of these come from the Art Institute of Chicago with the exception of the last, which derives from Wikiart.org.

16 thoughts on “On Human Inconsistency, Hypocrisy, and a Touch of Genius

  1. I’m thinking of Michael Jackson who is in the news now and Woody Allen who had his day of infamy. Some people can still enjoy their genius while others banish them and their work.

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    • Play “Beat It” and I’ll tell you how he molested the boys and where at Neverland. Enjoy his “artistry” then.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Harry. The knowledge you possess sounds enormously painful. Indeed, such contradictions produce a challenge to those of us who might otherwise easily experience an untroubled joy from the artists, painters, composers, and performers who we witness. Please also read my reply to Joan, below.

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    • As a trauma survivor, I cannot support the works of those who are seemingly more likely to have abused people. No matter how much I enjoyed Michael Jackson’s music or The Cosby Show in the past, I will no longer support them by listening or watching their products, respectively. I try not to judge those who do or who hold different opinions about the culpability or validity of the accusations made against them, but then I, too, deserve to have the same respect for my opinion and actions. I am glad that some are unaffected by the news and find enjoyment in their works. I am not one of them, nor do I wish to have someone compell me to be one of them. We can live in harmony while agreeing to disagree.

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      • Thank you, Multinomial. Part of what you describe, the ability to separate an artist from his art, demonstrates what I think most of us do automatically with those we come to know either in person or at a distance. We see them in a unitary way, but we do not see all of them.

        We want to think of them in the simple categories I mentioned at the top of the essay, especially good/bad. Part of what saves us from despair in life, perhaps, is the ability to conceive of the world as a largely good place where evil is anomalous, not lurking behind every corner. And, of course, such a comforting, necessary, and automatic belief sets us up for not only disappointment when an admired hero/heroine, friend/relative owns a hidden evil, but when we are the victims of the dark side of their being as expressed in actions against us.

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    • I might have misled you, Joan. The kind of gross iniquity you describe is not the main subject of this essay. The kinds of contradictions of a Michael Jackson or a child molesting clergyman, for example, are easy for us to take note of, setting those abusers apart from the rest of humanity. It is the subtler forms of internal contradiction most of us don’t think about. Perhaps my use of the word genius contributed to the confusion, if indeed I’ve confused you or anyone else. The genius types to which I refer might or might not be talented in the way we conventionally think of a genius, but I was speaking those remarkable people who live everyday in a manner so utterly strange and unconventional (not iniquitous) that we are at a loss to understand them.

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  2. And here I thought everyone was integrated. Does this mean that we are all fragmented in some way, or that we all have ego states when viewed through a different paychological lens? What you wrote helped me to feel not so alone. And anyone who knows me will say that I have at least called myself a hypocrite once in their presence, or inconsistent in another. I am more apt to self-blame and admit to my own inconsistencies, even though I am also guilty of accusing others all the same. I am no genius, however. I do admire those who are though.

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  3. When we think of the world, it is easier to deal with black/white, absolute differences than with behavior we would do well to place on a normal curve. Think dissociation, something you know about. Yes, there are Dissociative Disorders at the extreme. But when an athlete, for example, is so focused on the game he is playing that he loses awareness of the 70,000 people who are in the stadium and the millions watching on TV, he too is dissociative. We all dissociate some of the time. So, I’d say yes, we are all “fragmented” so to speak, and more so than we think. Please also read my response to Joan, where I clarify that the only genius-type I identified in the essay was a genius of “living,” not a Beethoven or Einstein or Frank Sinatra.

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  4. Thanks for another thought-provoking topic, Dr. Stein. I’m a bagful of inconsistencies. We live in a complex world that, at times, demands fragmentation for our survival.

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  5. You put it very well and perfectly succinctly. Thanks, Rosaliene.

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  6. I personally think there’s a difference between (1) normative dissociation (being distracted; partial amnesia possible), (2) stress-based dissociation (affiliated with cognitive dissonance in the present, having out-of-body experiences based on trauma-related or non-trauma-related situations such as when one is emotionally threatened or when one is overcoming stage freight; partial amnesia possible), (3) flight/avoidance-based trauma-related dissociation (fleeing one’s self, one’s identity, one’s recollection of traumatic events, and present-day triggers affiliated with traumatic events, full or partial amnesia possible), (4) fight-based trauma-related dissociation (that which is commonly seen in personality disorders, psychotic breaks that are not affiliated with personality disorders; partial amnesia possible), (5) freeze-based trauma-related dissociation (inability to move and/or use the senses; partial amnesia possible), and (6) combination-based trauma-related dissociation (that which is often seen in dissociative identity disorder, which includes #3 above plus one or more of the following types: #2, #4, #5, and/or #6). I also believe that cognitive dissonance, belief fragmentation, dissociation, and memory are all connected. Here are a couple of links that I just found which I thought could add to the literature on dissociation in the future, if it isn’t already connected today or yesterday: http://fragmentationproject.uni-graz.at/?page_id=7858 AND https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11098-017-0962-x

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    • My above thoughts are just opinions. It’s just something I thought of just now as I pondered about the everyday experience versus that which concerns mental disorders.

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      • Thank you for this and the just preceding recent comment. Much appreciated. One thing to keep in mind: at extremes, it seems that many challenging, unusual, complex and complicating things happen to us. To my way of thinking the number of ways people compensate or succumb to extreme pressures can be multiplicative not simply additive. To use a poor analogy, during “normal” times people behave, more or less, normally. Yet in combat one finds PTSD, dissociation, depression, sleeplessness (sometimes for days at a time when under continuous assault), floods of adrenaline, the inability to control bodily functions, viciousness, heroism, avoidance, self-sacrifice, emotional deadening, etc. I would add that the enlarging pile of psychological and physical maladies under such circumstances might well interact with each other. I realize you have more than a little personal experience with this. Feel free to add more or challenge what I’m suggesting.

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      • I personally think it is both multiplicative and additive, as evidenced by cumulative trauma (theory?) studies and by trauma profile studies and by polyvictimization studies. There’s a “norm” for each individual, and then there’s a “norm” as a whole. Whether the “norm” for the individual falls within the range of the “norm” that is at least just shy of meeting clinical range criteria depends on what that “norm” for the individual is. I believe the “norm” of an individual can change over time, especially if one has chronically experienced trauma/victimization. For example, a person who has been in combat situations may behave normally under normative conditions, but a different person who has experienced both childhood trauma and combat situations may *no longer* behave within the normal range under normative conditions post-combat, even if that same person was able to behave under normative conditions pre-combat but post-childhood-trauma. It is a faulty assumption to believe, for instance, that trauma survivors who react to adulthood traumas are simply delusional or overly reacting when, in fact, they have both experienced present-day trauma and a trigger to a past trauma at the same time, which often reinforces the idea that the world or a particular stimulus is not safe and therefore a threat when done repeatedly from one time point to another. The question concerning why victims are often revictimized (in similar or different ways) has many answers, and one likely answer could be the cognitive dissonance related to the newfound therapeutic techniques that may lower trauma-related symptoms, but may also increase vulnerability for being revictimized (and therefore retraumatized). Such possibilities have rarely been looked at, and to the polyvictim’s cognition, what is reinforced in treatment may contradict with what is reinforced in the real world – e.g., the confusion that can occur between whether or not to assume a person is a potential danger or is safe, whether or not standing up for oneself is in one’s best interest or not, whether consequences of further ecological loss will ensue when asserting one’s boundaries or even one’s self, etc. The social norm for those with fewer traumatic experiences is therefore not the same social norm for those who have experienced polyvictimization – particularly those who reside in hostile territories (e.g., crime-infested neighborhoods, abusive families, abusive partner, stigmatizing/prejudiced neighborhoods). Even if a polyvictim were removed from an unsafe environment, or even from an unstressful situation, the norm for them has changed no matter where they go, especially when things like race-based trauma or any other discrimination-based trauma is widespread, or especially when stigma has increased from victim/polyvictim to now disordered/mentally ill, or from victim/polyvictim to now foster kid/divorced, or from victim/polyvictim to now unemployed/disabled. In many cases, the victim has more ecological losses than the perp, and such ecological losses coupled with new victim-based/trauma-based disorders changes the ways in which a person’s norm is. There’s no way back; once disordered, always disordered – but treatment does offer reduction of symptoms and improvement of quality of life. The problem is, there are new limitations to a person’s norm; the added daily management of a trauma-related disorder that would have never existed had (poly)victimization never existed. The same could be said for those with terminal illnesses, those involved in car accidents, those trained for tough jobs, or those reared in violent neighborhoods/impoverished neighborhoods. When the trauma is systemic and/or repeated, the norm for the person will nearly always comprise higher levels of cognitive dissonance than those who never experienced polyvictimization. And, depending on what a person’s life experiences have been (either as a child or as an adult, and across the lifespan), the norm for that person may or may not fall within today’s chronosystemic standards of social norms. –That’s my argument, but I also agree that it is also highly likely for us to commonly experience fragmentation/dissociation under normative circumstances – with or without traumatic histories. Perhaps it is more difficult for a (polyvictim), however.

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  7. I strive to be good but sometimes I am impatient, irritable, and may lash out and then I cannot stand the pain this brings me. I have difficulty with any unpleasant reactions I may have, and it places me into a state of disgust and anxiety. I will over-apologize to try to make it right to alleviate the angst this brings me.

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    • drgeraldstein

      I try to under-apologize.;) Seriously, if you must give an excuse (and you don’t always have to), one is enough.

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