In my travels I have occasionally encountered behavior that I found disturbing on a quite complex level; while thankfully it is not common, there is still quite an overabundance of it; examples of it stand out quite distinctly from normal conduct, and evenso from its grittier sides. It’s complexity is such, even, that for quite some time I considered it impossible, yet there it was even before me: a member even, of the class of behaviors that I believed would not ever be displayed–including such as a person sprouting wings, or vomiting live frogs–occurring.
As it did, occur and so, therefore, occur, I was forced to reconcile it with sense, and was given the opportunity. As I’ve said, examples of it stand out clear as a bell from all other behavior I have seen, leaving their signature imprint emotionally as well as logically: as a deep feeling of despair and loss–which was a clue (see below)!
Most recently I became frustrated that I had not a word for it, a single word as it even deserved, and set out to discover one. I was driving at the time.
Let’s go through two examples that will demonstrate the characteristics of this behavior I mean, which will allow us to:
- unpack each of its layers
- highlight its distinguishing qualities
- name and define it
We will conclude with a discussion of why exactly it is so emotionally impactful.
Consider for example a husband whose wife leaves him. Angry, he sets out after her departing car, swerving around in the lanes of the highway in front of and behind her.
His behavior is mean: it is intended to hurt her; it is a badly formed attempt to obtain from her specific information: that she cares about him. It is dumb, as it does not display knowledge of the fact that this is not likely to work. And it is illogical, as one cannot conceive of a coherent chain of reasoning that would lead one to conclude that it might.*
However it is quite typical.
Let us then consider a second example, of a rejected suitor. He is also angry, like the husband above, but he is additionally quite convinced that the woman who rejected him did so because she is “full of herself,” “vainglorious” and “big-headed.” “Stuck-up” is what we used to say when I was a child.**
He also sets out after her departing car; he also seeks to obtain certain information from her (that she cares about him). But unlike the husband, he
additionally also plus wants to convey information to her that he thinks it is important that she know: that she is puffed up swaggering narcissistic, according to him.
So he buys a feather boa and a tiara and adorns himself before setting out. He also invites several of his friends to join him, and buys them similar outfits: maybe some magic princess wands, or movie star sunglasses, or wigs.
Together They set out as a group and swerve around in the lanes of the highway in front of and behind her. Two of them might go ahead and stand on the side of the road with a sign that says “stuck-up” or similar, that they have had printed.
The suitor’s behavior is mean and dumb and illogical, in the same ways as the husband’s above. But the suitor’s attempt to communicate a message (‘you are not as important as you think you are’) is made up of actions that communicate exactly the opposite (‘you are important enough to make me wear a tiara’).
His inability to see this conflict is the distortion that is the
signature defining characteristic of this conduct that I seek to describe. It demonstrates a mental failing: the lack of the ability to obtain certain kinds of information from the real world. The reality of situation is quite humiliating for the suitor, and his actions, completely counter to his goal of communicating the message he wants to— but he cannot see this.***
This conflict is a perfect logical tincture for the characteristic that sets this conduct apart, because if the suitor were capable of seeing that his behavior is completely in conflict with his intended goal, he would logically have to cease or modify it. That he does not cease proves that he is not capable of seeing this; and therefore that something is fundamentally “broken” in his mind that prevents him.
He interprets reality only in the context of his intentions and intended message, and not in the context of what is objectively occurring and is observed by all around him; this I have labeled “distorted self-view” in the diagram below. When this thought pattern combines with the other three shown (illogical, dumb, and mean), we arrive at the behavior I am describing. All four must be present, or the behavior is something quite different and much more typical, as I have shown in the diagram in blue.
As thinkers, we should not neglect this opportunity to acknowledge a more general distinction that this example shows: the difference between what is done compared with that it is done. It is not widely enough known that these two are quite separate, as is shown by the way they can be in conflict with each other as above, and the fact that things are done is often ignored, as we are all too busy and distracted doing them. A cute example of this is saying “I have no time to talk to you”– but this distinction need not be paradoxical at all.
Rather, viewing our actions from both perspectives and aligning both perspectives with our goals makes our thinking and acting much more effective. Viewing the actions of others this way can also help us observe their behavior and interpret their communications much more accurately. If communication from others conflicts with what is communicated by this ‘outer’ perspective, we can logically rely on the information supplied by the outer, as it cannot be manipulated–and question either the veracity of their stated intentions, or their sanity.
As the old adage goes, it’s not what you say, as much as what you do, but it’s neither of these as much as that you are doing it.
Ok, returning to the diagram, I’d like to point out that these other classes of behavior are far less emotionally evocative than the one I am describing, for a quite specific reason. The mind is a self-controlling system: for the most part it develops, heals, and damages itself, through the mechanisms of logic and emotional motivation, and fed by information obtained from its surroundings.
A perfect mind need not develop further, but an ignorant mind must, and will instinctively seek to. If such a mind is illogical, however, it lacks the means to do so independently, and must seek information about these means from the other minds around it. This is usually called therapy.
If such a mind is additionally mean, it lacks the emotional “fallback system” that can also fuel this kind of progress, or at a minimum, prevent it from acting on its own misinformation and broken system.****
If such a mind is
also and? additionally incapable, however, of obtaining feedback from reality–logical or emotional — if it is strangely blind to it — it cannot assist itself nor obtain either assistance!
It cannot regain logic, it cannot re-work its mechanisms for obtaining the most important kinds of information, it cannot learn, in some areas, and it cannot heal. Ever.
The diagram then is a picture of a mind that is irrecoverably mentally ill. I have labelled this kind of mind “toast.”
And so I am sick and weep, I mourn and despair, whenever I see it, as anyone would.
*quite a bit worse even if they never even dated
** I insult people so infrequently that I had to use a thesaurus.
***quite a bit worse even if he never even managed to make an advance
****Our emotional respect for others is a guard against making mistakes, even when we are ignorant.
shoutout to the one man I saw yesterday that I knew, because we said hi and introduced ourselves.