The Theater of Existence
Google gives me this definition for the word delusion:
delusion (noun): an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder.
Based on this definition, delusions are beliefs that run contrary to those that are widely accepted. Widely-held beliefs are the standard against which delusion is judged against.
But if we’re talking about truth and knowledge, whether something is a delusion or not should be evaluated against an objective standard of truth, not popular opinion. The problem is that the idea of an objective standard of truth is itself a delusion. All models are wrong, some are more useful than others; all knowledge is delusion and some delusions are more useful than others.
How can this be? After all, science and physics are fields built around the pursuit of objective truth. Are you saying that science are physics are wrong?
No, I am not saying they are wrong, I am going one level up in the Matrix and pointing out that the idea of there being an objective truth to pursue is a delusion, albeit a very useful one. The hard sciences, operating under the notion that there are objective truths that describe the universe, have given us enormous power over our physical environment.
If you look at the scientific progress and the evolving laws of physics, you will see what I mean. First there was Newtonian Physics, then Atomic Physics, and now Quantum physics. None of these are objective truths; clearly they have or will be succeeded by newer and better theories. What they are are a sequence of increasingly useful delusions. Newtonian physics, despite not being able to describe what happens at the atomic level, is still incredibly useful for describing macro-scale events. It has not become any less useful; we’ve just found the limits of its usefulness and come up with new theories (delusions) to describe the things it can’t, hence Atomic Physics and Quantum Physics.
Progress in science is simply coming up with new delusions that are useful in describing what we are seeing or revising existing delusions to be more useful. This is done with the objective of “seeking objective truth” which everyone knows will never be found, but they still pursue anyway. The value in operating under this delusion, even if objective truth is unattainable, is the resulting power we gain over the physical world. In many ways, this is the true objective of science.
Any activity that involves the pursuit of an unattainable ideal (like religion) works in this way — you will never achieve the ideal (and it must be unattainable, or else you actually might achieve it, and then what?), but in the pursuit, other things happen as a result. True believers focus on the delusion while practitioners of the delusion focus on the results.
NB: Atheists are quick to point the finger at the absurdity of the religious setup, calling it deluded and instead choosing science as a more modern, enlightened source of guidance. What they fail to realize is that in the process of avoiding delusions, they have moved from the delusion of God to the delusion of objective truth. Remember, everything is a delusion, but some delusions are more useful than others. In the case of Atheists, they have simply chosen science as the delusion that better suits their life.
“I really can’t believe it,” Clevinger exclaimed to Yossarian in a voice rising and falling in protest and wonder. “It’s a complete reversion to primitive superstition. They’re confusing cause and effect. It makes as much sense as knocking on wood or crossing your fingers. They really believe that we wouldn’t have to fly that mission tomorrow if someone would only tiptoe up to the map in the middle of the night and move the bomb line over Bologna. Can you imagine? You and I must be the only rational ones left.”
In the middle of the night Yossarian knocked on wood, crossed his fingers, and tiptoed out of his tent to move the bomb line up over Bologna.
— Catch 22
Being able to manage which delusion you actively engage is incredibly useful. Many things require complete, unwavering conviction in order to be successfully completed, even if this conviction is no way warranted. In these cases believing the delusion makes you more effective not because of its rationality or accuracy but because of the effect it has on your mind and other people’s minds (think of the phrase “fake it until you make it”). The best examples of this are cult leaders, preaching, and extreme sports. These are all “100% commit or fail” tasks where any doubt or hesitation will immediately undermine the desired outcome.
The Red Pill community seems to have stumbled across this idea. They call delusions “frame”, and their entire theory around picking up women centers around building a strong frame. In short:
1. Women are attracted to you because you have a stronger frame than they do.
2. Women would rather fuck an ugly guy with a strong frame than a handsome guy with a weak one
3. A girl can ONLY get horny for you if you have a stronger frame than her.
10. Women will test [your frame] brutally when they want to sleep with you
— From this post on Reddit
Building a strong frame is another way of saying increasing the strength of a delusion (it just doesn’t sound as good phrased that way). Assuming that this person is correct, it naturally leads me to ask, why does this work? Why would women even bother testing frame when they could look at the different markers of genetic fitness, like height or facial symmetry?
The answer lies in the fact that women are looking for two things from a guy — good genes and resources to raise a child. Physical features like build, height and facial symmetry all signal good genes, but a strong frame correlates (or used to correlate) with access to resources. Let me explain.
Having high confidence in your delusions is a risky bet. It lets you move faster and take bigger chances because you’re not constantly second-guessing yourself, but at the same time, if you’re wrong the consequences are often much more dire since you don’t second-guess yourself as often (or if at all). If you have high confidence in your delusions (which is another way of saying strong frame) you either go down the right road faster or the wrong road faster, and if you go down the wrong road, you’ll be much farther down it before you realize what has happened. Women are attracted to strength of frame (i.e. strength of delusion) because men who have survived up to that point with high confidence in their delusions are the ones who went down the right road and (thus) have the most useful delusions. The other men with high confidence who went down the wrong road either have failed, are poor, or are dead. Women don’t want to hitch their wagon to a high-confidence loser because they’ll end up going off a cliff. They can hitch their wagon to a low-confidence achiever, but why do that when they can get where they want to go faster with a high-confidence winner?
Keep in mind here that the only difference between a high-confidence winner and a high-confidence loser is luck, which is why being high-confidence (i.e. low-doubt, i.e. strong frame) is such a risky proposition — you either win huge or get ruined, and where you end up isn’t really within your control. Women only want you when you win because they see that your delusions were useful, and those delusions will give them greater access to resources. Being a low-confidence achiever (i.e. high neuroticisim, low confidence, i.e. weak frame, i.e. weak confidence in delusions) is the safe bet because you are unlikely to ever get ruined because you’re always second-guessing your decisions, but on the flip side, you are unlikely to ever make it big as well (since you’re always second-guessing your decisions).
I said earlier that a strong frame used to correlate with access to resources but that this isn’t as much the case anymore. Part of this is simply because certain guys (like the ones in the Red Pill community) have figured out how to emulate stronger frames without actually being a high-confidence winner. In addition to this, the consequences for trying things nowadays are less dire than they used to be, and so it takes a longer time to figure out if they high-confidence man you’re looking is a high-confidence loser or just a high-confidence winner that hasn’t made it yet.
Everything we’ve talked about up this point is a variation of “fake it until you make it”, or choosing a delusion and committing to it 100%. The next logical step to take is to learn how to swap out delusions at will.
The Theater of Existence
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…
— As You Like It, William Shakespeare
Let’s run with this Shakespearian metaphor — the world is a stage, people are actors, and each person plays many roles in their lifetime. Each role in this metaphor is represented by a mask that the actor puts on. Playing a role is the same as acting out a set of delusions.
We often think of actors as having an onstage persona — their character— and an offstage persona, their “true self”. In this metaphor, the mask represents their onstage persona and their face underneath represents their “true self”. Notice the similarity between “objective truth” and “true self” and subjective truth and onstage persona. Someone’s “true self” is who they really are in the same way that the “objective truth” is how reality really is. Just as we’ve established earlier that “objective truth” is a useful delusion but nothing more than that, the same can be said for the idea of a “true self”. (The idea of “true self” and is used to identify consistent patterns of behavior. It helps to know these behaviors when predicting what somebody will do next.)
If there is no “true self”, then everyone is always acting (wearing a mask) and there is no face (“true self”) under that mask, only another mask. Instead of onstage and offstage personas, there are only personas (masks), and you never escape the stage. Whenever you leave one stage you enter another, and whenever you take a mask off there is another underneath. It’s masks all the way down.
And so we arrive at the Gervais Principle’s description of Sociopathy:
Sociopathy is not about ripping off a specific mask from the face of social reality. It is about recognizing that there are no social realities. There are only masks. Social realities exist as a hierarchy of increasingly sophisticated and specialized fictions for those predisposed to believe that there is something special about the human condition, which sets our realities apart from the rest of the universe.
The mask-ripping process itself becomes revealed as an act within the last theater of social reality, the one within which at least manipulating social realities seems to be a meaningful process in some meta-sense. Game design with good and evil behaviors.
Losing this illusion is a total-perspective-vortex moment for the Sociopath: he comes face-to-face with the oldest and most fearsome god of all: the absent God. In that moment, the Sociopath viscerally experiences the vast inner emptiness that results from the sudden dissolution of all social realities. There’s just a pile of masks with no face beneath.
NB: I capitalize Sociopath and Sociopathy to indicate Gervais Principle Sociopath and to differentiate it from the psychiatric condition of sociopathy.
“Social reality” = play in the Shakespearian metaphor. It is the “reality” that is being acted out by the actors on stage. The term “reality” here is not objective reality (you already know that) but a subjective reality, a social reality, as Rao describes it. You can think of it more like an improv show than a scripted play. The Sociopaths’ ability to switch out masks (mask-ripping) that gives them the power to manipulate the direction of the play in any way they choose.
Sociopaths understand that there is no “true self” under the masks, that there are only masks, and they learn to change their masks to best suit their interests. Non-sociopaths either still believe in the idea of there being a “true self” (which is itself another mask) or aren’t good enough at changing masks yet to be considered a Sociopath.
The Red Pill’s idea of frame is analogous to the mask in Shakespearian metaphor. When girls “shit tests” you to test your frame, they’re trying to make you break character. They’re testing how good of an actor you are because your skill as an actor is a good indicator of how well you will perform in the various theaters of life.
You think narcissism is about grandiosity, that the narcissist delights in masks, that they will love the final form, but that does a great disservice to the masquerade. In all of these, the narcissistic response is the same, and it’s not caring for the mask. Narcissism is: “All of these idiots care about their masks. I am so much more. If they’d let me act, I could show them.” In our final contest, the narcissist then crafts an impossibly prestigious mask, one that would show “what their skills really are if they could use them.” But there’s no real contest, and they’re stuck in potential. They might be able to act, but who knows? They’ve never tested themselves. This is a double movement: They simultaneously distance themselves from the mask (“I’m so much more”) while overidentifying with it (“it still signifies what kind of person I am, because I could act this well”).
— A Taylorism For All Seasons, samzdat
Here, masquerade = play. In our Shakespearian metaphor, a narcissist is an actor who refuses to act but still wants to be recognized as their mask. They distance themselves from the mask because if they don’t know how good they are at acting and don’t want to find out. At the same time, they over-identify with the mask because that’s the only thing they have to define them. The antidote to narcissism is simple — act. But, as with most things, easier said than done.
NB: The Shakespearian metaphor we’ve outlined here are essentially the core ideas of postmodern philosophy. These are nothing new — Sociopaths have been using them since the beginning of time — but this is the first time (that I know of) that they’ve been popularized as a school of thought. Postmodernism is the philosophy of Sociopaths, and whether it’s fit for consumption by everyone else, we shall see.
The Final Act
Here we draw the curtain on a world ruled by objective standards, full of objective truths and real selves and deluded and crazy people that aren’t like us normal people. We now step into the next play set in a world full of actors, wearing masks, playing parts in plays that are set inside other plays that are part of even larger plays. There are no truths, only delusions; there are no faces, only masks, and what you decide to do is up to you.
Just remember: Everything is a delusion, but some delusions are more useful than others. Everyone is an actor, but some actors are better than others.