My field is psychology, but I owe a debt of gratitude to the field of philosophy. My two favorite philosophers are Aristotle (from early Greece) and Ayn Rand (from the 20th Century.) These two philosophers taught me that the underlying tool for all mental functioning is the mind, specifically the use of reason. Reason, as Ayn Rand defined it, is the process of integrating material from our sense organs and perceptions into more abstract concepts. The method for doing so is logic — the art of noncontradictory identification, defined by Rand and discovered by Aristotle.
Noncontradictory identification is everything. Human beings suffer when they attempt to reconcile contradictions. So much anxiety, depression and other mental maladies arise from this error.
In the abstract, it sounds so simple. “Don’t contradict yourself.” But people do it all the time. They’re holding contradictions and acting on them without even realizing it. They expect their marital partners to be one thing, when they know full well they’re not. The contradiction goes like this: “Joe lacks some qualities I wish he had. I know he doesn’t have them. But I’ll proceed as if he does.” This unspoken but very real, underlying assumption is contradictory and it leads to the things psychologists will label problems. The contradiction leads, for example, to marital distress, when Joe feels nagged by his wife for not being who she wants him to be. It leads to anxiety and/or depression for his wife, who becomes both alarmed by, and defeated over, the constant futility of trying to make or wish Joe into something he is not, or does not wish to be. The same applies to friends, coworkers, bosses, employees or any other human association.
Another example of a contradiction is wanting to have your cake and eat it too. In other words, wanting the end results of something without putting the time and effort into getting them. Also, people contradict themselves when they’re angry over not achieving something they thought they should achieve. “I put the effort into it. Why didn’t I get what I wanted?” Many people engage in the false belief that effort automatically leads to success, when it does not always do so, and does not always do so on your desired time table.
Many people feel lost and confused by their emotional states. They turn to the popular literature of psychology and self-help for answers. The problem with this popular literature is that it turns everything into an illness. It talks about your emotional state as if it’s something external, imposed from outside. The implication of this viewpoint is that the solution is from the outside. Something or someone will “fix me.” The common terminology is “treatment,” implying passivity to an external agent. This assigns no responsibility whatsoever to the “patient” for (1) the fact she likely is engaging in contradictions, without knowing it; and (2) has to uncover and correct those contradictions.
Societies engage in contradictions as well as individuals. Societies are nothing more than a large number of individuals, so the principles of human thinking, and human psychology, are one and the same. Most people, academic people especially, treat human thinking and behavior on the group level as completely different from human psychology on the individual level. But when you’re talking about a “culture” you’re simply talking about the dominant trend among a majority of human individuals — thousands, even millions.
The dominant trend in human society is to engage in contradictions and apply those contradictions to government. For example, a person wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants what he can’t have, not because it’s impossible necessarily, but because he wants two things that are contradictory. Maybe he wants to be an artist, but he also wants to make big money, which artists usually don’t. Maybe he wants the benefits of a $100,000 annual income (and spends accordingly), but is only able or willing to do what it takes to earn a $25,000 annual income. Instead of using logic, and accepting that he cannot have two contradictory things, he develops, over time, a sense of anger and frustration, along with anxiety. He also develops a sense of resentment that, “Other people are happy, and I’m not. It’s not fair.” Enter candidate Obama (or whomever) who comes along and says, in essence, “Life isn’t fair — but it should be. YOU got a raw deal. I’m here to correct that. Help is on the way.” Of course, no such thing will happen. President Obama (or whomever the idiot of the day is) will only make things worse as he pursues his own personal quest for power at the expense of the people and things that make society productive and worthwhile. But even if the idiot President or overlord could accomplish something, it would do nothing to make the contradiction a non-contradiction. Not even Barack the Great can turn a square into a circle, or pennies into gold.
The root of human misery is the failure of most people to think. The primary purpose of thinking, at least where psychology is concerned, is to identify your contradictions, correct them and stop expecting the logically impossible. When you let go of the logically impossible, it may feel disappointing at first. But once you let go of the impossible, you set the stage for the possible.