Out of curiosity, how often do you think in the back of your mind, or perhaps even say out loud, “what the f*&k is wrong with _____?!” Fill in the blank with any human or group of humans, that may be irritating or baffling to you at any particular moment. Do you think something like that a few times a year? A month? A day? I have a strong suspicion that most of us think something along those lines at least occasionally, if not frequently. Wouldn’t it be great to actually know the answer? Well, I have one for you.
In short, the answer is that all humans are crazy. No, really. I don’t mean this as a sassy, or dismissive answer, but with all sincerity. Human beings have no idea what reality is and are rarely in touch with it. As it turns out, if you don’t understand reality, but think you do, you’ll say, do or think crazy things.
Allow me to explain.
It seems our troubles started tens of thousands of years ago, when the first of our prehistoric ancestors gained the gift/curse of cognition. (Thanks to Yuval Noah Harari for writing the amazing book Sapiens, where I picked up this particular tidbit). Our evolutionary “leap frog” over all other life on earth came because we started using our minds in a very unique way. We gained the ability to make something up, forget it doesn’t exist outside of our imagination, and then believe it to be a true fact of existence. Quite crazy when you think about it.
What this means is that our minds trick us into believing things that aren’t true — all the time.
As an example for how this works — money seems to be an obvious and pervasive delusion. In “reality”, what we call money is nothing more than pieces of paper or bits of metal (and more often now, merely data in a computer). And yet, because our minds let us believe that money has some sort of value beyond its physical matter, we can exchange paper and metal for almost anything else. Our shared delusion allows me to give someone a dollar bill for a chocolate bar, and we both agree it’s a fair trade. Imagine traveling back in time before money had become prevalent and asking someone to give you a chicken for a rock. I am fairly certain they would think you were insane. We just constantly live with our particular flavors of insanity, so we lose sight of their absurdity.
What else isn’t actually real, just a believed illusion? All governments, all laws, all politics, all countries, all words and language, the value of marriage, that you can’t wear white after Labor Day or black shoes with a brown belt … all of these things are ideas that have no value, physical properties or powers on their own. They are not really real because we made them up and their entire existence is dependent on our believed imagination — either as individuals, or collectively.
This is our most powerful trait. We can pass down the “rules for survival” through ideas and concepts alone. Why wait for slow and pesky biological evolution? Let’s just believe a story! But oh, how easily we forget those stories are not actually real, and how quickly they get warped and distorted.
Tens of thousands of years with imagination disguised as truth running the show, and we no longer live in a physical reality based on matter and facts, we mostly live inside our own heads, tricked by our own minds into thinking we live in a world of external conditions. We actually live in a world of made up story, piled on top of made up story, piled on top of made up story. Personal stories, familial stories, cultural stories, societal stories, economic stories, health stories, relationship stories, religious stories … I could go on forever.
There are very few things in your life that aren’t based on make believe and fantasy. Pretty much everything you believe is based on a story about life others made up and passed on to you, or something your mind completely made up on its own because it didn’t have enough information, so it filled in the gaps with a best guess.
We’ve mastered the art of getting by on little more than guesses. Your mind makes a countless number assumptions every day without you even knowing it, just to allow you to function. Inevitably, it will lead you to things that are not true, but allow you to believe that they are anyway. It’s a powerful party trick, and there is not a human alive that doesn’t fall for it, constantly.
Not a single one of us is anywhere near as close to the truth as we think we are. We all live in a mangled house of mirrors of our collective and individual delusions. This makes life look difficult, or challenging, or weird, or unfair. Our lies do this to us.
The truths of life are actually quite simple (a 5 year old could understand them), they’re clear (they’re impossible to misinterpret) and they’re universal (they’re always true, and they’re true for everyone). These truths are incredibly powerful, but they are buried under layer and layer of misinterpreted distortion and illusion, passed down through the millennia and freshly stirred with modern society’s spoon. But because we don’t know that, because we believe what our own deranged minds tell us, life becomes more and more convoluted. Is it any wonder that we’re crazy? That we do and say crazy things?
To me, this human mechanism, the thing that allows us to lie to ourselves without knowing that we are lying, explains every single thing that you can put in the bucket of “what is wrong with humanity”. Our views of life and the things in it, either collectively, or as individuals, are always distorted and as a species we are really bad and discerning fact from fiction.
How come we can’t all get along? Because my house of mirrors shows me a slight to drastically different image of people, myself, and the world, than yours does. I assume my view is correct, you assume yours is, and no matter how much we talk about it, we lock heads.
Ever wonder how someone who disagrees with you can’t understand you and see your point, no matter how clearly or passionately you think you’ve explained yourself? Easy — their view is distorted in a different way. But you both think you’re right. Alas, no. Sorry. Everybody’s brain is a lying bastard. We all range from a little bit to a lot mistaken about practically everything. The human mind is really, really good at making you think you’re right though, because it makes up all the check points to verify itself. It’s a classic fox guarding the hen house scenario. What causes us to disagree is not that any of us has the truth on our side and others don’t, it’s not that some of us are smarter or kinder and others are ignorant jerks — it’s that our individual delusions clash.
When you see anyone and think, “what is wrong with them?” the answer is always that your story about life and/or their story about life is wonky.
The mind working in this way also explains personal problems, I might add. Ever have the thought, “what the f*&ck is wrong with me?!” Feeling anxious or depressed or troubled and can’t seem to stop it or figure out why? Thank evolution for putting a pathological liar behind the steering wheel of your mind. Struggle with your weight or appearance? Can’t move past a traumatic experience? Can’t seem to get ahead in your career? Addicted to anything? Not doing the things you think you should be doing and beating yourself up for it? It’s your poor misunderstood mind feeding you misinformation about yourself and life.
It may sound odd, but I find this extremely comforting. The crap going on in the world and inside our own heads isn’t our fault. Life gave us one of the most powerful tools in existence, but forgot to give us the instruction manual. While we’ve done some pretty amazing things with our minds, we’ve also accidentally been using them against each other and ourselves. This has gained us domination over our physical world, but at the expense of our mental one. We never do this on purpose, it’s just that we are all so very confused.
That being said, I don’t think we can carry on this way much longer. We are at a point in human history where we’re going to have to understand ourselves and our minds in a completely different way. Our intellectual, analytical, rational minds are going to have to loosen the grip on the steering wheel because they cannot be trusted. That aspect of humanity has taken us to some amazing places, but its delusions have also caused our greatest sufferings.
I believe we will have to look past the seduction of what the mind creates, and begin to understand how it creates. How does the mind create stories and give them power in the first place? What is the mechanism that conceives and eludes through thought alone? How does it work? We must understand this part of ourselves, because this is the part of us that exists beyond the crazy parts. This is where a different kind of reality resides. This is where we can all meet. This is where we find relief from the delusions of the world and of ourselves.
“WTF is wrong with people?” They’re mad. You’re mad. We’re all bloody mad. And yet … if you understand what that madness is, where it always comes from, and how it works, that madness will no longer be a detriment.
If I still have your attention, I will end by saying this — be kind to yourself, and to each other. In a world gone mad, we’re going to need each other as we wake up to the truth that our reality is not nearly as real as we thought.