Overture: Life’s Delusions
Beliefs. Relationships. Emotions. Opinions. Self-Worth. Happiness.
Different yet important aspects that are heavily integrated into our everyday lives.
How much of what we believe is actually real?
What if what we know or experience is not as we perceive it to be?
Think about it — do you like a particular singer or band just because everyone is talking about them? Are we truly as rational as we desperately want to believe ourselves to be?
Or are all our beliefs deeply mired in the roots of our subconsciousness, a part of a different world we are not cognisant of?
Indeed, unaware of all these hidden forces at work, we delude ourselves into living our lives believing we are masters of our fate when we are, in fact, trapped within the deepest recesses of our minds, never truly free of these external forces.
Yes, we coast along the grand delusions of life in our own cacophony of beliefs that shape our “world.” But whether you are aware of these deceptions or not, read on as we uncover the several delusions that life has veiled your perception of the world.
I: The Rational Self
Was there a particular moment in which you felt you acted a bit too “emotionally”?
Perhaps in a moment of weakness, your emotions got the better of you and caused you to lash out and act irrationally.
Yes, these are rare acts of irrationality spurred by the sudden bouts of emotion that muddle the normally rational me; I’m normally quite rational and objective in how I make decisions or go about life, you assure yourself.
But what if this is just our ego feeding words or thoughts into our mouths? What if humans, at their very core, are nothing but irrational creatures that delude themselves into thinking we are more rational and “free” than we really are?
As humans, if something eludes our understanding, then we naturally seek an explanation for it; we might even form our own hypothesis for the issue. However, this is where the trap lies – our own hypothesis, i.e., our own preconceived notions of what we know and understand and how the pieces might fit into the puzzles that we have essentially reconstructed within our minds.
“What could I have done differently?”
“Why did X do that to me? What should I have done instead?”
In the pursuit of understanding this enigma, we channel the fumes of our internal framework to answering this conundrum, often churning up the most “plausible” or “rational” answer to such mysteries.
“Yes, I might be partially at fault for not being more diligent, but clearly, it is mostly due to Y’s poor performance..”
“If only Z didn’t happen at the time, then it would have been so much different.”
Indeed, we like to believe that we can look at information and evidence impartially and arrive at an objective, unbiased conclusion. But the confirmation bias warns us against this cognitive fallacy. In fact, the confirmation bias suggests that humans are more adamant about purposely searching for new information that best fits their pre-existing beliefs and views than actually assessing them in an objective light.
For example, has your friend ever sought you out for advice regarding any issues? Perhaps in the affairs of love matters. Yet, despite whatever advice you may give them, they still insist on following through with their initial idea even with the red flags emblazoned as clear as day to you. Certainly, the truth of the matter is that people often just want their own ideas and preferences to be validated by another third party so that they can be assured that they are “right.” If anyone dares to challenge their thoughts, they can become highly offended and perceive your contradictory views as a direct attack on themselves and their beliefs.
It is precisely because of this cognitive bias that certain people can remain so steadfast and adamant in their own beliefs even at the absolute incredulity of others, i.e., flat earthers or anti-vaxxers. Inevitably, they might scrounge all kinds of sources to uncover any sort of evidence to back up their beliefs, even if they do originate from dubious origins. Ultimately, our ego condemns our desire to be ‘right’ to be far stronger than the truth.
Therefore, to avoid such pitfalls, finding evidence that discredits your beliefs is always best. By analysing both pieces of information equally, you can truly say that your decision is free from the reins of the confirmation delusion.
II: The Infallible Self
One day you are given a ring that grants you complete invisibility, akin to the one ring from Middle-Earth. But you soon realise that the ring also grants you complete anonymity, and thus power to commit all sorts of crimes and get away scot-free. In such cases, could you still promise that you will not abuse this ability for your selfish ends?
The first iteration of this thought experiment originated from the tale of the ring of Gyges, a story adapted from Plato’s Republic. In it, Plato’s brother, Glaucon, argues that no man can truly resist the temptation of power and that even the most just of men will eventually fall prey to the overwhelming power and comfort that complete anonymity bestows.
It’s true that, as humans, we like to think of ourselves as paragons of virtue or, at the very least, virtuous and honourable people. We may tend to look at the past wrongdoings of our ancestors and scorn their actions deeply, resolute that we would not have done the same if we were in their shoes; we are free to reject conformity and remain steadfast in our beliefs. We can prove Glaucon wrong.
Yet, are we truly as infallible as we deeply wish ourselves to be?
The 1971 Stanford prison experiment conducted by Zimbardo tells a different side of human morality. The focus of the experiment was to investigate the psychological effects of power and authority on human behaviour, and it involved participants being randomly assigned to the role of a warden or a prisoner. The participants were not given strict directives on how to behave for their new roles, and at first, the roles of warden and prisoners were not taken too strictly. Yet, things started taking a turn for the worse rapidly. By the sixth day, the experiment would be aborted completely due to the inhumane treatment lashed onto the “prisoners” by the “wardens.” The participants in the experiment neither came from a terrible background nor possessed any pre-existing cruel tendencies; they were just ordinary college students, yet many left the experiment feeling traumatised or dehumanised by the experience. Aptly named ‘The Lucifer Effect,’ the experiment opened many people’s eyes to the overwhelming corruption that power begets and allows us to understand the need for people to conform in the face of absolute power and fear.
As flawed humans, it is important to understand that no such person is truly impervious to external power or pressure. We are not nor will we ever be as infallible as our favourite heroes in the tales of fantasy, and even then sometimes these beloved heroes fall prey to it as well. Despite that, there is always hope that we can remain virtuous and resist the beckoning of the ring of Gyges.
III: The Romantic Self
In conjunction with this month’s special occasion, Valentine’s Day, let’s take a look at the idea of love.
Love, whether it be for the feeling of exhilaration, or to have a sense of comfort and stability, may vary greatly between each person. One thing’s for sure. The desire to seek this ethereal feeling called love is a shared universal experience.
Alas, many don’t last as long as expected, especially when the relationship starts feeling like an obstacle to overcome daily. But why is this such a prevalent phenomenon?
We have to ask ourselves: Do we truly understand the epitome of true love? Or have we been deceived this whole time?
The act of loving someone is not something that comes naturally. It is instead a concept that has to be learned over the course of one’s life. “How does one acquire the skills and knowledge to love?” you might ask.
Well, the first few years of our lives are the most crucial in terms of learning. Time and time again, we are exposed to numerous forms of content produced by mass media at a fairly young age, learning to internalise these messages that are conveyed to us.
Take Disney as an example.
For those whose childhoods were built on Disney tales, you may recall the scene where Snow White is awakened from a curse after a prince bestows a true love’s kiss. This classic ‘saving the princess’ trope is repeatedly utilised in other Disney princess films such as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty and countless others. The downfall of this trope is the influence on young ones, who may believe that they need to find love in order to attain self-fulfilment and happiness. Gender roles are also established, where female characters appear weak and require saving while male figures are portrayed as strong and courageous. This is merely the beginning of a child’s framework of love.
As the child begins to mature, so does the content they consume. In the genre of romance, there are a number of popular titles, including The Notebook, Titanic, Pride and Prejudice, and classics such as Romeo and Juliet. Films like these pose situations that are too good to be true; from couples kissing in the summer rain to forbidden lovers sacrificing their lives in the name of love, among many other acts of chivalry. With these ideas and concepts implanted in an individual’s mind, one may come to ponder the thought “so this is what falling in love is like”.
And what happens when this individual grows up and is of the age where people are getting into relationships?
They look back onto all the ideas about love that they had acquired.
Are these romantic scenes portrayed in films realistic, or are they romanticised? More often than not, the aforementioned scenes are only snippets of what love looks like, glorifying the reality of what love is. Once these unrealistic standards have been ingrained into an individual’s standards and beliefs over time, they will eventually be used in comparison to the individual’s personal relationships.
Couples may envision a smooth-sailing relationship, one fueled by passion and bliss. However, therein this mindset lies the reason why a great deal of relationships do not flourish in the long run. For example, if a person were to forget a special occasion or not consistently shower their partner with gifts, they may be viewed as a partner who is ‘lacking’ in some way.
This is where the term ‘red flags’ come into play, a popular topic of discussion circulating all over social media platforms. In this digital age, it is difficult to evade up-and-coming content produced by social media users worldwide. Thus, these users would have come across videos, detailing ‘red flags’ to watch out for in people, commonly portrayed in the form of short sketches on TikTok.
The problem with social media content like this would be the over exaggeration or misinformation regarding dating. As can be seen from typical videos discussing ‘red flags’, more often than not, certain quirks a person may exhibit has become a determining factor for whether one should date the person or not. It can be argued that some red flags to watch out for ring true. However, what appears to be harmless quirks of an individual’s personality are sometimes taken to the extreme and labelled as dealbreakers in relationships. Society is told to look out for these minor quirks in their partners and think twice about their current relationship, further raising doubts concerning the already unrealistic expectations for one’s partner.
This is a prime example of how our exposure to media, whether intentional or not, has deceived us about the ideals of love and how our partner should be.
And what about ourselves?
With all that talk about needing our current or prospective partner to treat us right, the truth is that we do not have the capacity to change the way others choose to act at the end of the day. The only aspect of a relationship that we can control is ourselves and how we approach love, and YouTuber oliSUNvia provides substantial insight into this topic.
To summarise her thoughts, she mentions that love is an active process, which many fail to realise. Referring to the influence of the media, we have been taught that love will “work its way to us eventually”. Unlike films that have deceived us into thinking so, this is reality, and no one will come running to us if we do not put the work into building a connection with them in the first place.
Even with us actively searching for love, this does not guarantee a relationship if people are diving into the dating scene with the wrong intention. This brings us to oliSUNvia’s next point about working on ourselves. A recurring piece of advice given to those in search of love is the importance of self-love, a type of love that has to be cultivated from within, in order to attract others. However, the concept of self-love ends up being misconstrued, deviating from its original meaning or purpose.
Self-love in the eyes of social media users now consists of becoming the best version of yourself, with influencers educating the masses on how to ‘glow up’ and change one’s outward appearance. There is nothing wrong with taking care of oneself, but this message can be misinterpreted to the point that we are now exclusively focusing on external aesthetics to appeal to the likes and preferences of potential partners rather than looking inwards to incite lasting change and personal growth within ourselves.
Oftentimes, one gets into a relationship to fill the void or to have someone love and care for them. Once again, the media plays a role in exerting pressure on teenagers and adults, creating this newfound, undying need to plunge straight into a relationship for the sake of fitting in with societal expectations. Hence, for those wanting to successfully move forward on their quest for love, what has to be done involves learning how to love someone, or to give love rather than just focusing on receiving it.
With that, I leave you with an important question to consider: Do you enter a relationship with the intention to be loved, or to love another?
Therefore, it is safe to say that the media has had significant influence on the masses, causing us to develop a flawed perspective on love without us truly realising it. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to consume media content. Alternatively, it is our onus to be wary of what we view through different forms of media, and to rethink the prevailing standards and expectations we have set when it comes to our own relationships.
Distinctively different topics have been discussed, and yet all three call for an open mind and thoughtful reflection to avoid falling prey to the intricate web of delusions and illusions that life conceals.
Written by: Yun Jing & Merissa