The lies we tell ourselves

In a very interesting but highly trigger-warning’ed article about what causes parents to “forget” their children and leave them in cars, this bit jumped out at me, in a discussion of why other people can be incredibly vicious and hateful to the parents involved:

Hickling is a clinical psychologist from Albany, N.Y., who has studied the effects of fatal auto accidents on the drivers who survive them. He says these people are often judged with disproportionate harshness by the public, even when it was clearly an accident, and even when it was indisputably not their fault.

Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. “We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.”

It jumped out at me because this is just so true of basically everything which pisses me off in society.

We have rape culture and rape myths because the alternative is living every day with the knowledge that the nice young man could just rape you on a first date, or your local minister could just be abusing the children of the parish, or you could be attacked even when you’re out running and you haven’t showered and you’re in your trackpants and surely no one is looking at you.

We have fat hatred because the alternative is understanding that really, it’s a roll of the dice what body type you have, and you having one of the “beautiful” body types has very little to do with your own personal virtues.

And we have beneficiary bashing because it’s a lot easier to hate on poor people and judge their “choices” than acknowledge that the capitalist sword of Damocles is hanging over all our heads on a daily basis.

Because really, the universe IS pretty implacable and heartless a lot of the time.

Of course, if you don’t labour under any of these illusions, the world is a pretty fucked up place to live in.  And then there’s nothing for it but to start up an angry sweary blog and nuke all that shit from orbit.


  1. Megpie71

    It’s called the “just world” fallacy – the fallacious belief that the universe plays by moral and ethical rules, that bad things won’t happen if you’re a “good person”, and that if something bad happened to you, clearly you did something to trigger it. It’s a core fallacy of a lot of religious beliefs (with added frills of “if you’re worried about bad things happening, worship $DEITY and they’ll alter the universe to ensure you’re immune; if bad things happen after all, then clearly you aren’t worshipping hard enough”).

    The best refutation of it I’ve run across was from “Babylon 5” (episode: A Late Delivery From Avalon), where the character Marcus confides that:

    “You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

    As someone with chronic endogenous depression, I also take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe. It means I can write off the miseries as being the result of my brain hating me, and get on with my life.

  2. Kyle MacDonald (@kylemacd)

    Society can’t live without denial. But how much is too much? There is a ton of research that those who are depressed actually see the world more accurately, and that “mental health” requires a certain degree of delusion. But he current political conservative movements exploit this as you say…

  3. Armchair Critic

    We have fat hatred because the alternative is understanding that really, it’s a roll of the dice what body type you have….
    Yep. And we have worship of the wealthy for similar reasons. It’s convenient to believe that it’s all based on merit (we’re a meritocracy after all, or so we were told again recently), but as I become older and more cynical I am inclined to believe that merit plays a tiny role in comparison to luck, and inheritance.

  4. Pingback: The Daily Blog Watch Wednesday 17th July « The Daily Blog
  5. Pingback: The 63rd Down Under Feminists’ Carnival | can be bitter