Projection

Posted on 2012 June 18

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There’s a concept in psychology called “projection”, where we take our uncomfortable feelings and desires and pin them on others, blaming them for our own impulses. Sounds weird, but we do it all the time:

–We desire the darker things — drugs, gambling, prostitution — but we feel guilty about it, so we forbid these things and then blame and punish the people who provide them to us.

–We crave inexpensive high-tech gadgets, but we feel vaguely culpable in how poorly some fabricators are paid, so we seek out the companies who provide us with the products and punish them.

–We tire of the tedium of our work, so we slack off, get in trouble, and blame the boss.

–We love our rich lifestyles, but a side-effect is pollution, so we blame industry and penalize it.

–We’re afraid we might be homosexual, so we tease and bully gay people and pass laws to punish or restrict them.

–We’re especially zealous about punishing child abuse — not sure exactly what that implies about families — yet we have no problem sending seven-year-olds into violent combat in junior football leagues, as if they were apprentice Klingons and not kids with delicate nervous systems. And then we get mad at them if they lose the game. (Are we exploiting our own children to embody our more violent fantasies?)

–We take umbrage at slights and insults, so we sue others, but our resentment makes us feel bad, so we blame our lawyers.

–We want to control and dominate others, but that makes us uncomfortable, so we hire politicians to do it for us and then blame them for the results.

It’s all made worse in the moral universe of city life, where we must negotiate between what we were taught as kids and what everyone else seems to think is proper today, while navigating through the ever-changing high-tech landscape — and the dilemmas it poses — of our urban culture.

There’s an old saying that always applies, though: “That which we despise in others is what we cannot accept in ourselves.” It speaks to today’s rancorously polarized political rivalries.

Leo Rosten put it even better: “Everyone, in some small, sacred sanctuary of the self, is nuts.”

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