There was a comment in NoodleFood the other day, in a thread about lying. The poster told of a girl at college who lied to her parents over the phone. The parents did not believe her lies, and the girl later complained to her friends that her parents treated her like a liar.
The comment ends with the sentence, “Her assessment of her own moral character was totally decoupled from her actions.”
That quoted sentence hit home for me. I used to do psychotherapy with criminals and drug addicts. My clients frequently complained about not being believed, while brazenly denying the actions that had gotten them into trouble.
How does the “assessment of [one’s] own moral character” get “totally decoupled from [one’s] actions?
Liars want to be seen — to be esteemed — as honest people. The importance of this desire is shown in their often outsized anger when a listener shows the “disrespect” of not believing them.
But why is it so important to them to be seen as “good?” Because self-esteem is an important need of human beings. The liar lacks self-esteem, so he tries to make up for the deficiency by influencing others, through lying, to appreciate him, all the while his actions are not estimable. His worst fear is that others won’t think him honorable or worthy; i.e., will see him as he truly is. Hence, his anger at not being taken at his word. He hopes to hide the real him by distorting his audience’s perception.
“Practice makes perfect,” according to the saying. After a time of practicing such deceit, it becomes “second nature” to the liar, and he eventually reaches a point at which he hides himself from himself. At that point, his actual actions have no connection in reality to his self-evaluation.
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Wafa Sultan, a courageous ex-Muslim woman who has been interviewed twice on Al-Jazeera television, has justifiably been the subject of various articles and blogs. Typical articles are those by John M. Broder and Mona Charen Both are well worth reading. They note that Dr. Sultan was Syrian-born and Muslim-raised, and that she has come to see the world’s Muslim vs. infidel problems in a different light.
“The clash we are witnessing around the world,” she says, “is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality.” Aside from Objectivist writers, I have not seen this level of insight into the current world crisis.
Dr. Sultan said she no longer practices Islam: “I am a secular human being.” Of course, her stand has brought condemnation on herself for being a heretic, and has prompted death threats from Muslims who cannot abide dissent.
I share Mona Charen’s admiration of Dr. Sultan (Mr. Broder does not express an explicit opinion). My lone quibble is with a sentence in her final paragraph. She says, “Sultan doubtless speaks for millions of Muslims who similarly deplore the barbarism that has come to dominate large segments of the Muslim world.” I think rather, if she speaks for anyone but herself, it is for Muslims who, like her, have seen that the barbarism is a result of the religion and who have therefore rejected the religion. My guess is there are few of those.
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Diana Hsieh recently asked, on her blog, “At what point in reading Ayn Rand did you realize that she had something really significant to contribute to your understanding of the world?”
Several of her many readers responded with their first encounters with Objectivism. Most of them are appallingly young, recounting first experiences during their high school years. Would that Ayn Rand’s works had been available during my high school years!
If I had replied to Diana’s question, it would have gone something like this: I happened on Atlas Shrugged in the early 1960’s. My mother, a voracious and indiscriminate reader of any new library books, had read AS several years previously, but had said something about the story going “on and on,” and she didn’t understand it. The book was huge, and that, along with Mom’s somewhat negative review, made it uninteresting to me at the time.
In 1963 the 13th printing of the paperback Signet edition of AS was in the drug store book racks (price: $0.95). I recall being discouraged about the novels being published at the time. My conscious thought was, “I don’t think I’ve ever read anything worthwhile by a woman author. Maybe I should give this a try.” I was about 31 years of age.
The story was gripping and its ideas were intriguing. As many people have done, I questioned whether people like Ayn Rand’s protagonists were even possible, but I certainly found them inspiring.
The answer to my question (and to Diana’s) happened when I came to the “About the Author” page at the end of the book. The quotation there was, “My personal life is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence: ‘And I mean it.’ I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books — and it has worked for me, as it works for my characters. The concretes differ, the abstractions are the same.”
It was then that I realized I had not just read a great story. I had happened onto something that would make an enormous difference in my life.
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