Wishful thinking, lies, self-deception, empathy

Theory experiments in the search for the right human image

Sigmund Freud can be credited with having co-initiated a large number of important research projects, theoretical developments and social discourses. But if one compares his portrayal of man, as a being dominated by drives, with a quasi static psychic basic structure, with the roughly simultaneous works of James and Mead, one is irritated how precisely such a grotesquely simple caricature of man could become so influential. One could say salop "sex sells", and that Freud was an excellent writer, but the urgencies he asserted and enforced go well beyond that. Especially astonished at someone who is considered a great psychologist, the considerable lack of empathy visible in his work. Instead of trying to comprehend the insights of his former companions and integrate them into his theories, he wrote to Jung on January 1, 1907: "My tendency is to treat the colleagues in resistance no differently than the sick in the same situation". Since people are particularly vulnerable and manipulable in the area of their sexual identity, it is not surprising that the psychoanalytic societies founded by him sometimes appear in their sect-like tendencies as a model for the many psycho-sects that emerged in the following time. The fact that he denied the considerable influence of Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, and especially Alfred Adler in his late work, gives a deep insight into his character.

There is hardly a topic, about that as much is lied, as that of the lie. If you look for empirical data on the average frequency of lying, you will find a surprisingly wide range of results. Between 3 and 300 times a day people are supposed to lie on average. I don't know of any other empirically measurable parameter whose values diverge so much. The result seems to me to depend to a decisive extent on the willingness to look closely, e.g. I am not aware of any investigation which includes non-verbal lies. Perhaps the actual average frequency is even one order of magnitude bigger. Similarly as a statement can have several different meanings at the same time, a statement in several partial statements as well as on several levels at the same time cannot correspond to the truth. If one overinterprets the Adorno saying "There is no right life in the wrong" for the definition of a lie, then the true statement even becomes an absolute exception. Evolutionary, it has always been an advantage to present oneself in a better light, and to hide handicaps. The intellectual honesty or humility to correctly present the basis of one's own knowledge and convictions has always seemed downright exotic.

The good liar differs from the bad that he has learned to present his lies convincingly and credibly. This requires not only the rapid modification of a multitude of mental representations, but also the unconditional willingness of a lie to let follow by further lies. If the group of people affected by a lie reaches a certain size or the facts concerned a certain number, the complexity becomes cognitively no longer controllable. The lying person loses the overview and the distinction between original and modified mental representations gets lost. A self-deception up to a false memory syndrome is inevitable. Together with these self-deceptions, it is the sweeping moral condemnation of lying that makes it difficult to timely resolve a lie that causes unwanted consequences. Only then do lies develop their occasionally fatal destructive effects. For someone who tries to do without lies, life quickly becomes very complex. For someone who lies exessivly also only completely different. Perhaps the general frequency of lying lies somewhere close to the current socially possible minimum of complexity. Which raises the question of what a society should look like in which it is easier to lie less. In particular, I find the often epidemic-like occurrence of easily avoidable comfort-oriented lies annoying. Often I have no moral problem with the lies, because the motives are much too understandable to me. Nevertheless, I get uncomfortable when I look at the vast number of possible resulting misunderstandings and their consequences. Sociologically, lies could be described as encroaching or defensive actions, since it implies a violation of conversational maxims.

The colours of lies

Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald have in their book "Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People" from 2013 introduced a colour typology of lies that I would like to expand a little. If one follows Immanuel Kant's moral rigorism, it seems to make no sense to distinguish between types of lies, since every lie is morally to condemned. Beyond that, however, one often finds the distinction between white and black lies. Politeness lies that tend to be morally harmless are distinguished here from lies for the purpose of fraud. The principle of lying to a good cause, which is often attempted to justify as a white lie morally, can even be developed to the idea of a mandatory lie. If one tries to apply this black-and-white scheme to empirically observable lies, one quickly comes to the conclusion that most lies lie somewhere in between. Grey comfort lies exist in all possible shades. This differentiated typology of lies can be further extended by asking the reasons and intentions of the lying. Blue lies can be understood as lies that arise from the wish that the said would be true. Red lies, on the other hand, serve to increase one's own attractiveness. In order to make full use of the trichromatic space of our colour perception, I would like to add the type of green lie. This describes religious wishful thinking, e.g. of one's own divine choice or the divine choice of one's own group. When viewed together, wishful thinking plays a decisive role in all lies, in blue in relation to the world, in red in relation on one self and in green in relation to the absolute. In addition, every lie has a certain transparency. Fully opaque lies are conscious in all contexts and consequences, whereas fully transparent lies correspond to unconscious self-deception.

Open versus closed human image

An open human image means in extreme cases that there can be no psychology of the human, but only a psychology of one human. The following table is extremely simplified. I would like to argue that all more or less closed human images are based on more or less authoritarian basic assumptions.

Dialectical materialism
(Marx, Engels)
Psychoanalysis (Freud)
Analytical psychology (Jung)
Structural psychoanalysis (Lacan)
Individual psychology
(Watson, Skinner)
(Dawkins, Diamond, Voland)
  Neo-Freudianism (Fromm, Erikson)      
Freudo-Marxism / Critical theory (ReichMarcuse / Horkheimer, Adorno, Habermas)      
the human being is the ensemble of social relations the human being is drive- and affect-controlled Striving for validity and sense of community human behaviour consists of reflex chains human behaviour is based on biological dispositions genuinely social social behaviour is genetically designed
class-antagonisms repressed sexual conflicts nervous character
inferiority complex
reflex chains
disturbed biochemical, psychological and/or social Dynamics evolutionary conflicts
sociologistic obscurantistic psychologistic behavior reductionistic
open human image
biologistic / gene reductionist

- Ego psychology (Anna Freud, Hartmann)
- Self psychology (Kohut)
- Object relations theory (Klein)
- Attachment theory (Bowlby, Robertson, Ainsworth)

Humanistic psychotherapy (Maslow) - man is good and society is evil - blocked self-updating tendency as disturbance trigger
- Person-centered therapy (Rogers)
- Positive psychotherapy (Peseschkian)
- Psychodrama (Moreno)
- Gestalt therapy (Fritz-, Laura Perls, Goodman)
- Body psychotherapy (Reich)
- Psychosynthesis (Assagioli)
- Logotherapy (Frankl)
- Daseinsanalysis (Binswanger, Boss)
- Transactional analysis (Berne)
- Integrative Therapy (Petzold)

more or less open human image
- Behavioural research (Pawlow, Lorenz)
- Gestalt psychology (Lewin, Köhler, Koffka, Wertheimer)
- Activity theory (Vygotsky, Luria, Leontiev)
- Developmental psychology (Piaget)

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