The degree to which you are divided is the degree to which you are conquered
Shout out to @romeostevens76 for this banger of a catch-phrase:
It’s easy to approach the topics of introspection and self-deception from a moralizing lens. We have commands like “Know thyself”, and Socrates says if you aren’t going to introspect you should probs just kill yourself. Oof, high stakes. Mandates and moralizing frames are unhelpful for understanding most things because in the act of compressing a domain down to a uni-dimensional “good” and “bad” so they can plug into ready-made mental circuits, they lose most of the mechanistic understanding of the relevant situations that would allow you to make all of trade-offs that you are 100% going to encounter.
Romeo points to how there are costs to a divided mind, and I aim to explore the nature of those costs (now and in lots of future posts).
Indulge me with a long quote from Julian Assange on why he always expects there to be a paper trail when organizations are up to nefarious stuff at large enough scales:
Assange: […]But systematic injustice by definition is going to have to involve many people. And so while the inner sanctum of cabinet, maybe you cannot safely get records out of this, but as those decisions start spreading down to lower levels if they are to affect many people many people must have either the high level planning that produces some unjust consequence or the shadow of it. So maybe the whole plan isn’t visible by the time it gets down to the grunts but some component of it is visible. And this struck me when we got hold of the two main manuals for Guantanamo Bay. The 2003 manual was the first one we got hold of, written by Major… by General Jeffrey Miller, who subsequently went over to Abu Ghraib, to GTMO-ize it, as Donald Rumsfeld called it, so that manual had all sorts of abuses in it and one of the ones that I was surprised to see was explicit instructions to falsify records for the Red Cross. And how many people have read this manual? Well all the prison captains at Guantanamo Bay had read this. Why would you risk telling the grunts this sort of information? It wasn’t even classified. They made it unclassified — For Official Use Only — why? Because it’s more expensive to get people who have classification clearance. If you want to hire contractors without classification clearance it is cheaper. You can’t whisper to the coal face. You can’t have the president whispering to the coal face. Because the coal face, because the coal face is too big. You can’t have the president whispering to the intermediaries, because then you end up with Chinese whispers - that means your instructions are not carried out. So if you take information off the paper, if you take it outside of the electronic or physical paper trail, the instructions decay. And that’s why all organizations of any scale have rigorous paper trails for the instructions from the leadership. But by definition if you try… if you want people to do something, you are going to have to have those form of instructions. Which means there is always going to be a paper trail, except for small group decisions. Small group decisions that don’t end up going to the coal face. And instructing hundreds of people… are they so important in the scheme of things?
Assange: While okay, you have a good get, you expose some organization and show it has been abusing something in some way, and it just takes something off paper. Well next thing it does, well they just take it, and everything will go to oral form and so on. No, that’s not going to happen, because, if it does go that way, fine, they take everything off paper, if they internally balkanize, so that information can’t be leaked, what is the cost? There is a tremendous cost to the organizational efficiency, of doing that. So that means this abusive organization simply becomes less powerful in its struggle for economic equilibrium and political equilibrium with all other organizations.
There are certain types of things you can coordinate and execute on that can be managed by subtle glances and back-room conversations. There are some types of things that you just can’t actually manage the complexity of without having written records, doing bookkeeping, and using general symbolic representations. Maintaining secrets and compartmentalization requires keeping the dirt out of the explicit, the recorded, and the legible, and in any given situation it’s an open question as to whether or not you can actually organize your dastardly scheme without such tools.
As above, so below.
I’ve sometimes struggled to articulate how this reconciles with the many seemingly obvious ways that your “unconscious” is “smarter” than you. To really explore that we need to drop to a lower resolution and look at the different sorts of information processing capacity different parts of your mind have.
Malcolm Ocean has a great nugget on advantages your “unconscious” has. From “Why you can’t beat your shadow in a fight”:
Your subconscious drives are reorganizing your mind to try new strategies til one works, and since they aren’t conscious, they aren’t nearly as constrained by:
- what you’ve adopted as “acceptable”
- your own… belief… that you’re not allowed to fuck around and find out?!?
Holy shit that actually explains why your subconscious seems (/is?) smarter than you!
That’s a huge advantage! Your “unconscious” has plenty of capabilities. And again, for any particular “unconscious” agenda you may be pursuing, it’s an open question as to whether or not it can be satisfactorily achieved via the “back-channels” or your mind, without roping in the more explicit and symbolic reasoning systems that “leave more of a paper trail”.
I care about unification because I’m greedy and want to be able to point the full strength of my mind at getting what I want. Even if I insist on “splitting” myself, identifying with some subset of me, I can’t escape the fact that I’m stuck in here with me, and me is stuck in here with I. There are costs to having a divided mind, and even more costs to having a mind at war. I want to kick ass and take names, I ain’t leaving alpha like this lying on the table.