Although it’s not readily apparent to me how self-knowledge automatically eradicates the hard edges in human nature, this is an interesting article: Lack of Self-Knowledge: The Greatest Source of Misery. The premise of the article is as such:
Why is it not easy? Because often a man does not want to know himself, for if he did he’d be pained by the knowledge of what he is: selfish, dishonest, delusional, envious, hypocritical, and more.
The tendency to an unjustly favorable self-conception, seemingly universal, is frequently accompanied by a tendency hardly less prevalent, whereby we attribute our problems to the flaws and failings of others. Because we conceive of ourselves as being more moral, more just, and, in a word, better than we really are, we naturally blame others—especially those in positions of power and authority—for life’s evils and injustices: not recognizing when misfortune is self-caused, or the instances in which we choose to do wrong not because of any structural or external influence, but simply for the sake of our own gain or gratification. It is usually instructive to observe two people argue their respective “sides” during a dispute. In most cases, each person, whether consciously or no, will distort the actual events in order to suit his purposes. Neither will show much regard for objectivity or justice. In time, one notices that this is the normal course of things, so great, and greatly deceiving, is our self-love.
I agree with the following strong statement about “reason,” a word that has become an idol for many (especially including atheists and Progressives):
Thus reason deftly furnishes ad hoc justifications for what people want.
And although the following applies especially to the Left, I think this tends to apply across all areas politically, if not also personally:
Indeed, truth, and honesty, matter so little to us that we are able to believe, or appear to believe, conflicting ideas simultaneously.
The executives at StubbornThings, who denounce the centrality of The Daily Drama, certainly agree with the following:
As we take the easy way out—simplifying things and blaming others—many of us nurse an inclination to personal grievance, to the cheapest sort of victimization. As the news shows every day, perpetual outrage—reflecting perpetual self-absorption—characterizes our exceedingly sentimental time.
Here’s a good psychological/structural look at the impulse for socialism which denies the inherent aspects of human nature:
Many liberals, for example, believe that evil is nothing but misguided energy, the result of a wrong-headed course, bad conditioning having led to poor choices and regrettable consequences. There was a lack of outlets or opportunities, etc., etc. But once everyone’s endowment is put in the right conditions, and guided in the right direction—a project for the great big state to engineer—evil will no longer exist. Then, all people will be able to pursue happiness, and know the liberty and equality they deserve.
Here’s a good practical reason for self-knowledge and is certainly one reason our politicians tend to be so corrupt:
Certainly, however, it is easy for people to make such a simplistic assumption; after all, in their understanding of politics as it is affected by human nature, they tend not to bear in mind their own history of moral shortcomings, misdeeds and failings. They rather overlook this, and assume that politics consists of persons like themselves, “fundamentally good and decent.” People, in short, are comfortably unaware of their deep inconsistency, of the contradiction between their rosy sense of themselves and their actual conduct in the world. So, when they contemplate politics, they are suddenly shocked by the very corruption which they could have perceived in themselves, had they not habitually employed the mind’s rationalization ability, which is inexhaustible, in order not to know themselves.
This writer often makes good points without actually getting the runner to home plate, such as:
All history features evil and cruelty on every page, and yet there are many who insist on blaming the unhappiness of our condition on an external source. If, though, we were more willing to know ourselves, we should learn that within us virtue and vice are often commingled.
It’s not readily apparent how “knowing oneself” can cure any flaws in our nature. But with the virtues of humility, integrity, compassion (true compassion, not the political kind), not only can we temper those flaws but I would argue they are the lens through which such flaws can be perceived in the first place. But is something a flaw if the flaming assholes and unprincipled go-getters always grab the brass ring? What virtue is there in being a “nice guy” who finishes last? In the metaphysical context of this article, I can see none. Thus, like I said, a lot of great points here but the runner rarely gets to home plate.
Take this section:
But the more we know about ourselves and other people, the more reasonable shall our expectations be in politics and indeed all other domains. And so long as we are disciplined enough to apply the fruits of self-examination, the better we shall live.
Say it. Say “humility” or a little healthy self-doubt. Or even say that “self-esteem” ought not to be the be-all, end-all of our psychological condition, that a little suffering can be good for the soul (and very likely bring on a little humility and show the virtues of self-knowledge). Thus without some ideas to take it further, “self-knowledge” is no more useful than knowing that the moon is, on average, 238,855 miles away from earth. A fact does not automatically instill a virtue, especially if self-knowledge lays waste to the little games we play to gain material advantage. We give up something but what is put back? “Knowledge” is a nice word but it is morally neutral and certainly doesn’t suggest a course of action.
This next bit, of course, is quite true and very well said:
He is forever criticizing the next fellow and the social structure, overlooking the fact that it is ultimately the flaws of human beings in general—again, flaws that reflect the nature of the world we embody—that are behind our gravest problems, and which, if he is honest, he can find in himself.
The Daily Drama could not exist if the above were not true.
My favorite line from this entire essay is this:
For the final truth is that in politics we receive a reflection of the evil we already are.
That explains a lot. And one of the central themes of this essay (blaming others instead of looking at the plank in one’s own eye) is spot-on:
We are deep in delusion, each in his own particular way, nor can we fathom all the sources. Still, here is the starting point for a progress beyond laws and policies. What we need to do is to take an unflinching look at how our nature itself creates our problems—how we are own problem—instead of going the easy way and always blaming social structures, “power,” government, and the like. This alone is the way to manly self-reliance, which is certainly preferable to our time’s constant victimhood
We are indeed trying to get our laws and social structures to overcome something we do not acknowledge is even present. Thus the idea that “the homeless” are always virtuous, that any type of discernment regarding who gets “free stuff” is mean. The idea that people cheat and take things they don’t need or deserve is an impossible idea for those deluded by the thought of themselves as benevolent social saints. The same regarding Islam. They all must be good because to perceive otherwise would destroy the delusion of myself as the kind, tolerant, and “woke” individual of superior compassion and wisdom. This is also why the dark side (perhaps the predominant side) of homosexuality cannot be rationally acknowledged.
DeGroot does make it to home plate with this next statement:
The moral will, he learns above all, is more important than the mind, which must be answerable to the self’s honesty and discipline.
There is a component beyond, or different from, the will or just plain desire. It’s different from reason or self-interest. Without valuing the integrity of truth itself (which, I presume, is a vital feature of the moral will), then all the self-knowledge in the world is of little use in changing behavior. And how does one strengthen and exercise the moral will so that it has even a glimmer of a chance at operating effectively against the daily avalanche of deceit and delusion, especially if such things are immediately useful and/or emotionally satisfying?
The answer to that would make for a good second part to this article.