Opinion psychology

Who’s Saying What? Our World of Subpersonalities

“Are people a means to an end or are they an end in themselves?” Other than being momentarily intellectually stimulating, the question – posed by a professor in a course about ethics – wasn’t very meaningful. But I find myself thinking about this question more often as time passes.

I was reminded of that question by watching a Jordan Peterson lecture where he describes the behavior of pickup artists as psychopathic. His point is that these people are deliberately trying to deceive a faceless woman in the future into sleeping with them – without taking their free will into consideration. They would teach each other strategies that worked well that range from dress codes and effective one liners. Women were objects that they wanted sexual favors from.

But this kind of behavior is pervasive. Political campaigns, addictive games, junk food, tobacco, advertisements were all designed with the intention of exploiting people. And there are books like “The Prince” by Machiavelli, “Influence” by Cialdini, “The 48 Laws of Power” or “The Art of Seduction” by Robert Greene that teach you how to manipulate others by using words as a potent instrument. I consider these to be essential reading – not because you will necessarily use these tactics to further your own goals, but to be able to recognize when others are using them against you.

But what else are words supposed to be used for? Are they simply not tools for us to either help us survive or communicate meaning? .If I was using language to make someone laugh to disarm them and get to like me so that I can later exploit them, then I’m being deceitful. My intentions weren’t pure. But how do we know what someone else’s intentions are? How do we even know what our intentions are?

Our brains are a complex amalgamation of communities that interact with each other, some independently. These sub-personalities – the different voices in our head are in constant conflict.

  • Productive Pete is obsessed with getting more done faster – constantly revising our work schedule and habits, looking out for tips, insights, and systems. Pete hates laziness, and procrastination.
  • Lazy Larry wants us to relax and stop worrying so much. Life is short, and everything will turn out fine. Working hard is nowhere near as good as watching Netflix.
  • Scared Sally doesn’t want to take any risks. Rebelling against authority and moving outside our comfort zone are unwise things to do. Sally hates meeting new people, being seen in public, risking our reputation, and getting into conflict.
  • Wise Wendy asks questions about our behavior, and scans our memories for patterns that help inform our behavior.

When we choose to obey our sub-personalities, they become stronger. Their voices become louder and more frequent. When we ignore them, they shrink in potency. But of course, an unhealthy amount of repression can result in psychological illness.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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