How People Lose Themselves to Self-Rationalization
The easy art of trumpbotting, claiming a trump card that wins all debate.
Posted Dec 12, 2019
Suppose you got some big beautiful insight. Maybe you inherited it. Maybe you got it from someone charismatic. Maybe it came to you in a flash.
It could be religious, spiritual, political, philosophical. Whatever it is, you want to keep it fresh and alive for you, as though it is you, your identity, your most meaningful meaning. You want to tell the world. You resolve to promote and defend this insight with your life – as though it is your life.
Trouble is the world isn’t buying it. This insight that gave you a big beautiful buzz is apparently buzzkill to some people, people who have embraced competing insights. Others just dilute its power by suggesting that your insight doesn’t mean all you think it means. People question, attack and threaten your big beautiful insight – a buzz-killing threat to your buzz-generating new identity.
You embraced your insight hook line and stinker. You got hooked on it, you recite its justifying lines and if others doubt it you just want to stink bomb them for threatening your buzz. But your buzz comes from feeling like your insight makes you right and righteous so no, you can’t just stinkbomb the competitors. You need to maintain your lofty look of righteous right-mindedness. You can’t just sputter. You have to act like you’re wiser than your competitors.
Language comes to your rescue in such situations. Language affords us an ability that no other organism has. With language, we can imagine anything. A dog can’t imagine heaven and hell but you can. Language can make anything seem possible to someone. Just think of all the crackpot “insights” people spout. Notice that a dog, cat, cow or chimp can’t have such crackpot insights. Those possibilities are inaccessible without language.
Language is both the problem and the solution to defending your buzzy insight.
The problem with language is that if anything can seem possible, we’re all going to feel overwhelmed, as though we’re trudging through a sandstorm of erosive possibilities made possible by language – people all around us saying “Hey what about this possibility? What about that possibility?”
The trouble with language-driven insights is that any damned fool can have them. These days, through communication and transportation technology, all tribes can hear each other think, our insights are under constant risk of erosion. We live in the tower of babel populated by rabble threating our insights.
That’s, actually why you loved your insight in the first place. It was not just something to protect. It was your shelter protecting you within the language-driven sandstorm of possibilities.
But that shelter is still in the sandstorm. You’re no longer just defending yourself and your insight. You defending your defense, keeping your sheltering shell from getting eroded by that sandstorm of possibilities.
Here, language, that cornucopia of possibilities, comes to your aid. With language, you can protect yourself, your insight and your shelter without just throwing stink bombs. You can present yourself as more wise, right and righteous than your competitors just by claiming that you see possibilities they don’t see.
Start with earthly possibilities. Respond to your challengers by saying they’re too sheltered in narrowmindedness. They’re missing some crucial tangible evidence that proves your insight is right.
That’s a start but it doesn’t always work. Your challengers may have more tangible evidence than you have – especially because sheltered as you’ve been, you haven’t been attending to tangible evidence except to rationalize your commitment. You’ve just looked for evidence to support your insight.
Confirmation bias became your mission. If the tangible evidence affirms you, you embraced it, memorized its details. If it doesn’t affirm you, it’s irrelevant. After all, your insight was meant to be the last word on things – no need for further evidence except evidence that you can use to promote and defend your insight.
Luckily language means you don’t have to stop at the limits of available tangible evidence. You can say that someday there will be further tangible evidence not yet revealed that will prove that you were right all along. With language, you can imagine all sorts of future reveals that will prove you right. For example, if natural science doesn’t yet confirm your insight, give it time. It will catch up with your insight eventually.
You don’t have to stop there either. You can talk about what’s possible beyond the senses. You can say that you have access to revelation, some supernatural truth revealed to you from beyond all tangible evidence. You have special access to intangible evidence from beyond the senses and why you? Because of your insight. It put you in the wise frame of mind to have your insight revealed to you.
Your insight gave you the right frame of mind for the truth to be revealed, the divine truth that those dealing only with tangible evidence can’t divine – the intangible superior all-trumping supernatural truth that proves your insight is right.
Your insight gave you the right frame of mind for perceiving the imperceptible, sensing the unsensible, knowing the unknowable. No one can touch that with their challenges, because they just don’t know. Lacking your insight they lack the right frame of mind for discovering your insight.
At this point, you've achieved perfect merging with your insight and its shelter from the storm. You are no longer a human being guessing what’s most likely within the sandstorm of possibility.
You can now drop the insight’s meaning altogether, becoming one with your sheltering defenses. Thinking about the meaning of your insight only hamstrings your defense of it. All that matters is you and that shelter. Go on autopilot.
From now on, all positives flow to you, all negatives flow to the competition. “Wise? That’s me. Narrow-minded? that’s them.” Whatever you do, don’t pay attention to what those words refer to. That will only slow you down.
Your circle is now closed. You have become your shelter in the sandstorm. You can circle your wagons and defend your insight because that’s all that’s left of you. Run on self-protective habit. You can’t and shouldn’t care what your insight implies. Drop the insight altogether as anything more than a self-branding. You can wail and flail in defense of your insight without a care in the world about what you’re defending. Your mission is only to defend your mission. You forgot about that mission long ago.
In a word, people become trumpbots – small-T here because it’s general human trait, not limited to the cult of our aptly named trumpbot president.
trumpbots are mindlessly robotic, fully addicted to trumping all challengers to their insight, long ago forgotten. They’re the zombies of the current apocalypse. We’re suffering a trumpbot epidemic because the sandstorm of possibilities has become a squall.
trumpboting becomes a force of habit. trumpbots have mastered a small collection of cheap generic defenses that they spew them mindlessly. Those defenses, however farfetched are all they’ve got. They parrot them mindlessly at people. All that matters anymore is defending themselves, defending their sheltering defenses.
trumpbots reach for the stars and beyond, whatever possibilities they can imagine even beyond the universe itself, anything that they can pretend proves that they’re at one with some insight that they long ago forgot. They’re in it for the trumping buzz, not for the inconvenient meanings that drew them to their insight in the first place.
To be absolutely clear, one can become a trumpbot via any insight at all. There are leftist, rightist, spiritual, religious and philosophical trumpbots. It’s not about which insight the trumpbot embraces. That insight no longer means anything to them. They got cornered into defending themselves over it and the defense became their automatic response. It’s a big mistake to think they care about what they claim to care about most.
trumbotting is a trap anyone can fall into – you and me both.
Here’s my podcast episode illustrating how trumpbots operate, reaching beyond the stars, claiming to know the unknowable in order to defend their long-dead insights.
And here’s a video about how having language got us into this sandstorm mess.