Projection

 

 

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

 

I remember, very distinctly, a conversation from quite a few years ago in which the person speaking with me characterized another person with whom we were both familiar as among the two or three most arrogant people s/he had ever known.  I got a huge kick out of this remark because, had I myself been constructing such a list, my conversation partner would also have been on it, along with that other person.

 

We’ve all, I suppose, met the avaricious person who is convinced that everybody is motivated by greed, the lustful person who imagines that all people are driven solely or largely by the same urge, the ambitious or power-hungry person who attributes her driving desire to everybody around her, the unbeliever who is certain that nobody sincerely believes, the dishonest person who regards everybody else as a thief like himself, and so forth.

 

This is, I suppose, something of what Sigmund Freud meant by “projection.”

 

I just came across a couple of paragraphs that strike me as offering an extraordinarily, even painfully, obvious example of such “projection”:

 

“Over the years, I have developed an extreme and visceral aversion to [name of relatively little known Mormon writer deleted] and what he represents. His boundless narcissism and namedropping, as well as his openly expressed disdain for anyone who disagrees with him or does not appear to worship him now and then, have only served to deepen this aversion. . . .

“This would not be an issue if [the Mormon writer in question] did not continue to shamelessly promote himself and his particular brand of Mormon beliefs as if they were somehow sacrosanct or beyond the purview or right of others to question, but I guess he just can’t help himself.”

 

The irony here is that these paragraphs were written by, in my judgment, one of the most narcissistic, self-congratulatory, haughtily disdainful, and dogmatic message board posters I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter.  And name-dropping?  His principal argument in support of his personal atheism is the fact that a large majority of the roughly 2200 members of the elite National Academy of Sciences aren’t theists.

 

The irony of his comment, above, was too transparently obvious to miss.

 

Projection is a debilitating error.  It interferes with our ability to accurately perceive our social environment.  It’s not far distant from solipsism.  And, while it can sometimes be done positively and rather naïvely, as when innocent people imagine that those around them are as guileless as they themselves are, it’s most commonly done negatively and with hostility, and it can trap people in a prison of cynicism and suspicion that they have freely created for themselves.

 

We should continually pray — and I emphatically include myself in this admonition — for clarity of vision, which, among other things, includes the capacity to see others for themselves and not to read our own desires, incapacities, weaknesses, temptations, and quirks into them.

 

 

  • dangerdad

    You really need to stop hitting that board…. As vices go, it’s probably not the worst thing you could do, but sheesh.

    • DanielPeterson

      Oddly, I find it fascinating. But I spend far less time looking at it than I used to.

      • Elizabeth Scott

        My board is much nicer. :)

        • kiwi57

          And consequently, much less entertaining.

          Have you ever noticed that no-one ever got rich selling tickets for people to watch a civilised conversation between friends, but there’s plenty of money to be made selling tickets to boxing matches?

          • Elizabeth Scott

            True. However, YOU seem to like it well enough. ;)
            (Oh, and I’m very glad you do, btw..*HUGS*)

          • http://kgbudge.com kgbudge

            I look at the history of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which were very popular in their way, and wonder what happened.

  • G Rant

    People who can’t see the beam in their on eyes risk losing their shirts. Carry this to an extreme and you begin to look like a caricature of your own position.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    I discovered the message board several months ago on which your critic posts. Going back to early 2011 (using the site’s search function) and reading from pages of posts, I found this person’s writing engaging, reasonable, thoughtful and very intelligently composed.

    To write that “his principal argument in support of his personal atheism is the fact that a large majority of the roughly 2200 members of the elite National
    Academy of Sciences aren’t theists.” seems to me a hefty overstatement. What’s interesting is that you’d engaged in repartee with this person for a while and then stopped. Too bad. It seems much more fitting to engage him personally. Perhaps a detente is in order.

    It seems to me that people with totally divergent views of religion should be able to agree on something. The theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss brings up the example of the building of the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, which was built in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and engineers
    from over 100 countries, as well as hundreds of universities and
    labs worldwide. He notes that in Geneva, only a few kilometers distant, world leaders often have a difficult time working out the most basic of national issues, while scientists focus on collaboration.

    It may seem impossible for non-believers and the religious to build bridges but guaranteed, there will continue to be a great deal of mental energy focused on this subject for generations to come. One can only hope that the extremists can be marginalized by a forward thinking and rational majority.

    • Ray Agostini

      “It may seem impossible for non-believers and the religious to build
      bridges but guaranteed, there will continue to be a great deal of mental
      energy focused on this subject for generations to come. One can only
      hope that the extremists can be marginalized by a forward thinking and
      rational majority.”

      Would that include Richard Dawkins?

      “Peter Higgs criticises Richard Dawkins over anti-religious ‘fundamentalism’.” http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/dec/26/peter-higgs-richard-dawkins-fundamentalism

      • Lucy Mcgee

        Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival, the first of The Science Network’s annual Beyond Belief symposia, held from November 5–7, 2006 at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, was described by the New York Times,
        as “a free-for-all on science and religion,” which seemed at times like
        “the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank:
        in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on
        an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story
        ever told.”

        I’ve watched this several times and found it fascinating. There were some very prominent presenters who disagreed with Dawkins’ “in your face” form of atheism. Lawrence Krauss had some interesting rebuttals to Dawkins, which continue half a decade later. I’ve heard and read others express similar opinions of his self righteous indignation toward religion, although most would agree that religion and science are like water and oil.

        For me, a blue collar average human, I’ve found that there are extremely intelligent people on both sides of this debate. And although I have zero belief in the supernatural, I at least give it a listen. I made recent comments that I watched a complete LDS General Conference video, and that I would rather listen to scientists than a group of aged and powerful white men. That was wrong of me to write. I would believe that these men who hold influence over millions, would craft their words most carefully to help as many of their faith as possible.

        I question the belief that LDS members are born from a premortal existence which offers eternal exultation after death in an unknown meta-universe.

        To amplify my thoughts, I’d like to turn to Dr. Peterson’s current post of the starving LDS children in third world countries. How does one reconcile starvation of those LDS children in the third world with fat and happy humans in the first world, if premortal existence was in play.

    • DanielPeterson

      You don’t know about our prior exchanges on another board.

      My personal experience with this poster has been very different than what you report. I found him to be as I described him: Arrogant, dogmatically scientistic (in the sense used by MIT’s Ian Hutchinson), perpetually insulting and condescending.

      Moreover, I found his recurring argument to be very much along the lines of what I’ve indicated: Elite scientists (specifically referring to the membership of the NAS) mostly aren’t theists, which more or less proves that theism is stupid and wrong. (Interestingly, you’ve made much the same argument.) I’ve seen little substance from him, little to justify spend more time studying his message board oeuvre.

      We’ve already reached a detente: I decided to have nothing more to do with him.

      As far as getting along well with people of different religious persuasion, or none, goes, I do that regularly and quite easily. But, with some people, it’s not worth the effort. I get along well with most Muslims, but I have no interest in spending much time chatting with Ayman al-Zawahiri or the members of al-Shabbab.

      • Lucy Mcgee

        “You don’t know about our prior exchanges on another board.”

        How far into the 150 pages of comments would one have to read until this arrogance with the insults and condescension becomes clear? Seems to me that till 2011 you engaged in fairly cordial banter.

        I’ve never written that I believed theism to be “stupid or wrong”, and I’m quite certain the vast majority of NAS members wouldn’t either. I believe what the most vocal of the New Atheists (some of whom are scientists) fear, is fundamentalist religious dogma that dampens education and which allows the mistreatment of women. Some also feel that religious belief in the “end of days”, gives people an excuse for not solving important world problems because they are awaiting Christ’s return any time now.

        I’ve been irreligious since age 8 and never looked back. And of course I’ve gone through life without the comfort of support that can be found within religious groups. So it’s nice to know that there are many others who are irreligious and that some of them are scientists.

        • DanielPeterson

          DrW and I have never been cordial. I have no idea what you’ve been reading. I’ve found him a dogmatic and arrogant poster from the beginning — and especially after, early on, he informed us that, in hiring for his company, he believed that religious people should be screened out on the grounds that, being superstitious and into “magical thinking,” as he likes to put it, they couldn’t really be very good.

          I not only found that offensive, but I think it’s probably illegal.

          He had a different pseudonym on the other board — I don’t recall, off hand, what it was — and we were at loggerheads from the beginning. If I understand the story correctly, his “cordiality,” as you call it, ultimately got him booted from the board. (That was none of my doing. But, rather obviously, others reacted to him somewhat the same way I did.)

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Got it.

            I grew up with a large family of very amazing Catholics who were some of my best friends from age 12 to 18. This family excelled at EVERYTHING and each of them went on to become doctors, lawyers, professional musicians and one scientist. They were truly amazing and extremely kind people. And what I appreciated most about them was that their religious beliefs and my total lack of Christian faith had zero impact on our friendship. Although I can’t say the same for a few born-again Christians I knew who did from time to time try and convert me since they feared for my eternal soul.


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