The delusion of grandeur

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One of the greatest endowments that humanity has received from nature is the ability to completely and utterly delude ourselves. Some Darwinian philosophers may opine that man is what he is through other physical or mental traits, but surely the ability to delude himself is the trait that most separates man from the beasts.

Certainly, this talent for self-delusion is not always benign. History is littered with stories of the foolish missteps that even the most brilliant and competent people are apt to make as a result of deluded optimism, from Caesar's unarmed appearance at the Senate House to the jubilance that greeted the Munich Agreement. Modern people like to look back and laugh at the silly delusions that their forebears held, but they invariably overlook the prevalent idiocies in their own heads. From the great to the small, all of mankind views themselves through a misty and sentimental veil. For example, I think it likely that Mr. Bush really believes that he has been a good President, and likewise that a girl wearing low-cut jeans to let her love handles hang out believes she looks sexy.

Mankind would never have risen from the muck without a deluded self-regard to propel him upward. Whenever man looks at himself with a cold, unsentimental eye the result is invariably something self-destructive like artistry or alcoholism. The delusion that a professor is smart, that the ATF is honest, or that a priest is moral is also responsible for every lurch forward of civilization, albeit through billions of trials and errors and a fair amount of dumb luck.

3 comments:

Christopher said...

The most painfully beautiful piece I've read in some time... goodness gracious, nothing hurts more than the truth.

il Tucc said...

Then the key question to ask one's self is "what are your own delusions?" How do we all become more Socratic and know what we don't know? Or is this a delusion in itself? In Plato's "Apology of Socrates" it's clear that Socrates is under as much delusion as he claims he is the only one without delusion -- what a conundrum.

Wendy said...

The burden of truth ironically transformed into optimism...if you believe the lurch forward is at least worthwhile. I like it. Well-written.